Friday, December 31, 2010

and you hear the gathering sound: most memorable concerts of 2010

I hope it's not a sign that I am becoming staid, the fact that a lot of the concerts I attended this year were performances by musicians I have seen before, often multiple times. I know I can always count on events like the Calgary Folk Festival to fulfill my need to discover new artists, so I can allow myself the indulgence of seeing some favourites repeatedly. Besides I am giving myself adventure points for hosting a house concert this summer. And I did manage to tick another off my must see before I die list.

Here then, for your end of the year list-reading pleasure, are the shows that best exemplified why we will always need live music, with snippets of the original reviews:

Bad Tempered Zombie's Ten Most Memorable Concerts of 10

1. James

Absolutely perfect. A big sweeping sound, complete with trumpet and drama and yes, even the famous Tim Booth dance. It was an amazingly high-octane, lots of love, feel-good evening, and even if you had never heard James before, you would have been completely swept up in the solid musicianship and the vibe of communion.
2. Josh Ritter

The writer in me is in complete awe of Josh Ritter's talent. Yes, his songs are musically wonderful and melodically satisfying, but it's the lyrics that elevate him to the status of one of the finest songwriters in the world. I had the feeling that Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band would have been happy to play all night long, had somebody only thought to ask. I know I wasn't the only person who filed out of that church with a huge Ritteresque grin on my face.
3. Wilco / Califone

Rapidly establishing themselves as indie darlings, Califone makes music that is dense and diverse, a beautifully hypnotic melange of rich layers, vibrant percussion and melodic fuzz. I was swept into a rhythmic trance by the music, and particularly enjoyed watching the old hippie guy grooving on the maracas.

Watching Wilco perform such masterpieces of experimentalism as Spiders (Kidsmoke), where each member seems to veer off onto their own noise path, only to bring it all back to a cohesive piece in the end, really illuminated the strength that Wilco has in unifying seemingly disparate elements into something noisy but glorious. On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, gorgeous harmonies speak to the country sensibilities of the band and the diversity that they have mastered.
4. Dan Mangan / the Burning Hell

I had a moment during the Burning Hell's set when I was transported. Warm lights illuminated the suited men on the stage, rapt faces of those seated were upturned and bathed in what felt like candlelight. I was acutely aware that there was a storm roaring outside the walls, and the room felt like a haven on a windswept prairie night, with the band performing at a dance in some long forgotten prairie hall. And when Darcy began playing an achingly lovely waltz on the cello, the moment was perfect. And then we all had a singalong.

It's obvious that, after so many years of touring solo, Dan Mangan really enjoys playing with other musicians. The joy was evident in the enthusiasm with which they attacked each song. There was still the touch of the troubadour in the music, but there was also musicians playing off one another and even a great cacophonous jam.
5. Olenka and the Autumn Lovers

The Autumn Lovers brought us on a soulful journey through revolutionary Poland and Vancouver's east side. For over an hour, they serenaded us with a powerful acoustic rendering of their award-winning music. The aspect I found most satisfying was glancing around the room during the show, looking at the rapt expressions on the faces of my friends. The inclusiveness of the experience brought such a relaxed vibe to the show, a feeling you could never find in a larger concert venue. The between-song banter was not a one-way street. People commented and asked questions, jokes were tossed back and forth and the barrier between performer and audience was blurred and obliterated. I absolutely love it when that happens.
6. John K Samson / Kris Demeanor

It really was an inspired pairing - one of the country's finest story-tellers matched up with one of the country's most eloquent poets, in an evening of acoustic wordsmithery. Two men, two guitars, and a whole lot of imagery.
7. the Buzzcocks

For a couple of old guys, one in a pyjama shirt, the other in a giant patchwork clown-inspired button down, the Buzzcocks' energy certainly belied the years. At times I really felt like I was in 1970's Manchester, especially during the rather limited banter, where I could barely understand a word of what was said.
8. the Mountain Goats / the New Pornographers

There was no opening band. Okay technically, the Mountain Goats opened for the New Pornographers, but if you know the Mountain Goats you immediately realize how ridiculous that concept is. Both bands are undisputed headliners, both have seriously devoted followers. It was a lineup that made for a high-spirited evening that came roaring out of the starting blocks. Anybody who stayed in the beer garden while the Mountain Goats played is a idiot.
9. Owen Pallett / Little Scream

Little Scream, with whom none of us were familiar, was an endearing and musically compelling opener. Channeling a little of the sound and esthetics of Jesca Hoop, but with a tremolo voice reminiscent of Amber Webber (of Lightning Dust and Black Mountain), she looped her way through a highly original and evocative set.

With this show being the fifth time I have seen Owen Pallett perform, I couldn't help but be struck by the unfailing consistency of his performance, which somehow manages to also continually evolve. His wizardry with looping is increasingly impressive, his confidence in experimental sound is unparalleled, and of course his violin playing is glorious.
10. Eels / Jesca Hoop

Think Regina Spektor meets Cindy Lou Who, with a little Bjork thrown in for good measure, and you get the gist of the sound and the picture of Jesca Hoop. With songs that were simultaneously ethereal and experimental, she was imminently fascinating. A lapsed Mormon who had to leave the church when her hair would no longer fit through the church doors, Jesca told the most amazing between-song stories.

Eels played a tight set, comprised of a great mix of hard rocking anthems interspersed with heartfelt romantic ballads. But, despite the fact that there were people dancing in front of the stage, there was a distance between band and audience. That connection, which is the truly magical part of any live performance, never really happened, at least not for me.

Having drinks with our new Seattle friends afterwards, though, was a true highlight of the evening. It's always life-affirming to make new connections, and we were so glad that we ventured out on a rainy Seattle night.
What are your most memorable concert moments of 2010?

Happy New Year, my preciouses, and may there be lots of music in your 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

how we spent our Christmas vacation

we claimed our beds

found some toys at Market Collective

baked our annual batch of subversive shortbread,
remembering of course to represent the Hasidic Jews

ate our greens

defended our Christmas presents

settled our brains for a long winter's nap

and some other stuff that we forgot to document.

How did you stay out of trouble this past week?

Monday, December 27, 2010

the most wonderful day of the year

Just as the lunar eclipse aligned with the winter solstice this year, so too did Pyjama Day coincide this year with Get Your Own God Damn Supper Day, known amongst religious circles as the Festival of St. Grazings. I did take mercy upon my poor starving family and prepared a large platter of cookie matter, but after that, they needed to sharpen their own hunter-gatherer skills and fend for themselves for 24 hours.

Despite the strong chinook arch in the southwest sky, and the rising mercury, no foot was set outside the doors of Casa del Zombie. The dining room table was commandeered into board game central. I went low-tech with the annual board game purchase this year, sticking to the tried and true Parcheesi, which I was stunned to learned neither the Spousal Unit nor the Resident Offspring had ever played before.

Why, I was practically raised on that game! Parcheesi and Monopoly are where I gained all my Machiavellian prowess.

We played so many games of Parcheesi that by the time we switched to Crokinole, we could no longer keep the direction of play straight in our heads. Wine consumption, I am sure, had no bearing upon this.

Do you have favourite games to play at Christmas time?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

still milking it

The red envelope stood out amongst the bundle of holiday cards in the mailbox on Christmas Eve.

My extensive training in
bomb disposal made me immediately suspicious of the lack of return address. My keen detecting skills also noted that, although there were abundant postage stamps afixed, there was no post office mark. And our address suffix was assigned to the wrong quadrant of the city.

I suspect these oddities were all red herrings, and that the envelope was, in fact, hand delivered.

It was, as you may have guessed, the glorious return of The Attack of the Twelve Days of Christmas Gifter.

Very clever too, I thought, to wait until Christmas Eve, when in previous years the gift had arrived late November. Completely threw me off the scent, it did. Perhaps the mysterious gifter read my recent post about the lack of the Eighth Day gift this year and decided to forgive us for not playing along very nicely last year, with the ill-fated swans.

Rest assured that I have scrutinized the card, the envelope, and the accompanying ransom note very closely for clues of its origin, all to no avail. I do not recognise the milk maid, the barn or the cows. The milk maid is obviously known to the Gifter, as you will notice that she is holding the ransom note in one of the photos.

It troubles me
, though, that she looks somewhat sad.

Cheer up, milk maid! You have bested us and we salute you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

forehead resting on a record shelf

I make the same sad excuse every year. Too much fine new music released to properly listen to it all, much less pass judgment on it. And I missed out on some big ones this year too - Beach House, LCD Soundsystem, Sufjan Stevens, Owen Pallett, M.I.A., Caribou, Jonsi, Holy Fuck, Wintersleep, Black Mountain. Shameful, really, the level of my neglect.

There is time to discuss my failings later. For now, I would like to celebrate those albums that I can embrace as thoroughly as they embraced me, those albums that engaged my brain and my senses, those albums that logged a lot of serious rotation on the record player, those albums that ultimately won my heart.

In years past I have declared the top 7 of 07, top 8 of 08, top 9 of 09, but 2010, I think, needs a departure from the usual pattern. Instead, I've chosen my favourite album of the year, followed by the next three, and the next three and the next three, etc. But within those groups of three, the albums are not ranked; rather they are alphabetized. Because I am feeling my Libran indecisiveness tendencies particularly strongly during these dying days of the year.

Bad Tempered Zombie's Favourite Baker's Dozen of 2010: Albums

Frightened Rabbit - Winter of Mixed Drinks

From the first blast of muddy guitar heralding in the heartbroken yelp of the thick Scotch brogue right through to the final hope-filled anthemic chorus, this album is filled with such foot-stompy, hand-clappy military tattoo drummy goodness that it never fails to fill me with joy. The themes may range from hopelessness to redemption, angst to ascension, but within the introspection Winter of Mixed Drinks is ultimately uplifting.

I have never once regretted putting this CD into the player. There is no tiring of this album.

the next three:
Arcade Fire - the Suburbs
- proving yet again that Arcade Fire cannot produce a bad album. Rock solid.
Eels - End Times
- absolutely beautiful melancholy. The end of the world never sounded so good.
the National - High Violet

- a highly satisfying album that lives superbly up to the high expectations of its release.

the next next three:
the Extra Lens - Undercard
- intelligent subversive lyrics through John Darnielle's iconic voice
the Lightning Bug Situation - Call
- heart-stopping sensitivity and late night introspection
Olenka and the Autumn Lovers - And Now We Sing
- a voice that grabs you, solid songwriting, making this a breakthrough album

the next next next three:
Handsome Dan and His Gallimaufry - Provincial Parks and Breaking Hearts
- indie sensibility meets vintage Canadiana in a gorgeous EP
Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away
- thoughtful maturity from one of the world's best songwriters
Little Scream - the Golden Record
- a wonderfully ethereal voice melding with strangely beautiful experimentation

the final next three:
Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love
- much-loved Scottish twee band grows up, makes beautiful music together
Lohio - Family Tree
- exuberant and layered sonic blasts
Rae Spoon - Love is a Hunte
- rockabilly cowperson goes to a disco, finds love

I would love to know what music you loved this year. What's on your best of list?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

twelve days of drama

No mystery parcel has shown up on our doorstep this year.

I suspect we must have sufficiently pissed off our secret twelve days of Christmas ornament sender, for them to finally throw their arms up in frustration and declare us unworthy. The past seven years, a box bearing neither identifying marks nor Gwyneth Paltrow's head has always made its appearance around the end of November.

As you may recall, there was a bit of drama involved with the attempted delivery last year. As a consequence, the twelve days of Christmas will be reduced to seven, evidently. Take a lesson from this, kiddies; if you refuse to pay the postage on a parcel that someone is trying to send you, they will be offended.

Naturally the Offspring and I were delighted to find that there was no shortage of drama in the lineup at Safeway this afternoon. Even though we were trapped in line between the warring parties, not daring to look at one another for fear of losing it, we both agreed that our lives have been enriched by the exchange between the ditzy shopper and the impatience grandmother, who shall be henceforth known as our own personal Hot Slut of the Day.

The Ditzy Shopper did not get off to a good start, there in front of us in the fifteen items or less line. I'm sure she didn't mean any harm, but when she spread the Royal Wedding magazine open on the conveyour belt so that she could read it, she did cause a bit of a cart unloading backup, a fact which I am sure did not go unnoticed by the HSotD grandmother behind us. But she sealed her fate by remembering, as she was paying for her groceries, that she had forgotten to get what she called "school milk" for her son. The grocery bagger went to go fetch it for her, as the line behind us grew.

And grew. And grew. Until finally, HSotD demanded rather loudly what's the holdup here?

My kid needs milk Ditzy told her.

Hot Slut's voice rose, in octave and volume what do you mean, your kid needs milk? Why didn't you buy it when you were shopping?

They went to get me some milk, Ditzy explained, and then tried to defend herself against Hot Slut's deepening glare, I offered to get it! I could have gotten it a lot faster than them.

Hot Slut straightened up and fixed her with a baleful eye, I noticed you reading a magazine there.


Just noticing the way you shop, Hot Slut dismissed her, and then turned to the woman behind her in line and proclaimed, some people have got it and some people haven't!

At this point Ditzy tried to make light of things by offering up lame jokes like I'm wearing heels, I can't shop in them, and when that didn't break the ice, I was born to shop, not to cook.

At this point the cashier, who had earlier disappeared in search of the bagger who had initially gone to fetch the milk, returned and apologized to Ditzy for the delay.

Tell it to the lady who yelled at me, Ditzy told her.

I think the cashier assumed that was me, because when she started ringing my groceries through, she looked up at me and it was just like a deer caught in the headlights. Too bad she didn't know it was actually the best thing that had happened to the Offspring and I all day.

Have you been privy to any good drama lately?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

the kid's not quite alright

Youth in Revolt - C.D. Payne

I have not seen the film which this book spawned, but I can already tell you that Michael Cera is horribly miscast in it. Nick Twisp, the protagonist of Youth in Revolt, has little of Cera's stock in trade awkwardness and none of his sweetness. Truth be told, I did not like Nick Twisp. Nor did I like The Object of His Affection, Sheeni Saunders. I kept thinking to myself, you two deserve each other.

Both characters are capable of great cruelty. Sheeni manipulates every male she encounters. She is a Siren masquerading as a pseudo-intellectual fourteen year old. Prior to meeting Sheeni, Nick was a decent enough thirteen year old, ruled by his masturbatory tendencies, but loyal to his friends and somewhat sweet in his Frank Sinatra-loving geekiness. After meeting Sheeni, Nick's efforts to get together with The Woman He Loves lead to an escalating series of misadventures, which he approaches with an increasingly Machiavellian single-mindedness. He becomes not only reckless, but turns nasty - betraying friends, ruining lives and property without regard.

That said, I did enjoy Youth in Revolt. The sardonically funny daily journals of Nick Twisp held my attention far more than I would have expected of a 500 page book. The lack of chapter breaks can be daunting to someone who hates to put down a book mid-chapter, but the daily journal entries, further broken into timed subsections (this kid is an obsessive journal keeper), provide the natural breaks that keep you from going insane.

As a work of absurdist fiction, the nihilist tendencies within Youth in Revolt are to be somewhat expected. I can accept the reassembled Chevy in the living room, the conflagration of an entire city block, and the Mussolini Revivalist alter ego, and I admire the subtlety of Nick's creative editorial pranks. But the utter abandon with which he back-stabs friends made it difficult for me to like him.

And, perhaps I am just being thick or a grammar Nazi, but I still have not figured out the purpose of the quotation marks in the book's tagline: Every "Revolution" Needs a Leader.

Youth in Revolt is engaging and memorable, but I am not sure I will be in any hurry to read the sequels. Not until Nick and Sheeni get smacked up the side of the head a couple of times, anyway.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

parcel tape and kids' sticking plasters

Today I received a three-page letter, handwritten in multi-colour, from an old friend. We used to meet up nearly every day, back in those halcyon days when life revolved around playgrounds and daily walks along tree-lined streets. We were part of a close-knit group, the kids all playing together, the moms and the odd dad bonding over a shared sense of humour and the grace to be at the same place and the same space in our lives.

I can still picture Di so clearly, striding down the Wortley Village sidewalk, pulling behind her a wagon spilling over with her three kids, a huge grin on her face when she spotted me.

She and her family moved out of town shortly before we moved out west, and although we denied it vehemently at the time, we all knew it was the end of an era. They visited us once and we did the same, and there has been the odd phone call, but now contact has settled into the annual Christmas card exchange.

I am one of those annoying people who insist on penning a Big Braggy Letter every Christmas, and everyone on my correspondence list with whom I have not otherwise been in regular contact gets one. I've heard from numerous friends over the years that they actually appreciate receiving the Big Braggy Letter, so I continue to send them out, even to people who don't sent out cards themselves. Once you are on my Christmas list, the only way to remove yourself is to move and leave no forwarding address, or to die.

And today, catching up on my friend's life and that of her kids who now tower over us, I felt intimately connected with her once again. She'd sat down numerous times the past few years, she said, to write back to me, but the writing had always been pushed aside by other demands. I get that. And I have always appreciated receiving her friendly if brief note in her card every year. But to read three pages today, spilling over with eight different ink colours, brought me right back to her kitchen where we would squeeze ourselves and all those kids around the table and laugh the afternoon away.

This is why I will always send out Christmas correspondence.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

all your frilly things scattered round my room

I risk venturing dangerously into gynecological territory - definitely into the over-sharing realm - by telling you this, but I did not have to drop my drawers at my physical examination today.

The health protocol has changed so that, barring any abnormal pap results in the past three years, pap tests are now recommended every three years, instead of annually. Intellectually, I am not sure I am in favour of this, because an awful lot can happen in three years. But I have to admit I was pretty thrilled to be spared the indignity today.

I'm not sure I appreciated the look of surprise on my doctor's face when he told me that my blood pressure was excellent, but I was high-fiving myself over having apparently gained an inch of height in the past year.

Perhaps an athletic career is still in the cards after all.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

move like cagey tigers

I can only assume that she likes it.

I grew a pot of cat grass for the Slightly Retarded Kitty, in anticipation of needing an enticing distraction from the Christmas tree that we bought this weekend. She doesn't actually eat much of the grass, but she has been burrowing her face in it. A little while ago, she draped herself over it and lay on it.

I am taking that as a sign of acceptance.

I have to admit I was concerned that she would attempt to climb the tree, but after an initial exploratory batting of the lower branches and a dipping of the paw into the tree water, she seems to be content to lie on the tree skirt, basking in the warmth of the lights. That ramrod straight tail has knocked off a couple of low-hanging ornaments, but we are giving her the benefit of the doubt on that one.

She has yet to discover that the fireplace mantle is now piled high with fir, cedar and pine boughs. I'm looking forward to the tightrope walking demonstration that will ensue once she figures it out.

How do your animals handle Christmas?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

my absolutes

- buy the opener's CD
- pay the busker

- apologize or explain
- turn down dessert

What are your absolutes?

Friday, December 10, 2010

hats off to the man

There's a good reason he's been called the Krokinole King. Even clutching a monster glass of wine in one hand, he can still whoop your ass any day.

And then there's the matter of his often envied but never duplicated barbeque prowess. Let's just keep this between us, but if you were to show up at our place, he would grill you the best steak you have ever eaten. In your life.

Don't even get me started on his uncanny recall of the minute details of decades old television programs.

Happy birthday, Spousal Unit! Stay fine, stay funny, stay fabulous.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

hymn for the postal service

I stood in line at the post office for about 20 minutes yesterday, while in front of me people were making strange time-consuming transactions like buying money orders and renting post office boxes. My favourite was the elderly gentleman who pulled a list out of his pocket, straightened out the wrinkles in the slip of paper, cleared his throat, and proceeded to place his order in a ringing tones: 17 - 1 cent stamps, 8 - 2 cent stamps, 9 - 5 cent stamps, 7 - 10 cent stamps, and, my favourite, 16 - 43 cent stamps.

I didn't even know they made 43 cent stamps any more, but the post office lady (who is a paragon of efficiency) darted into the back room and a couple of minutes later emerged with a sheet of 43 centers.

I was impressed, and only slightly impatient.

Hopefully the exam survival package now winging its way to the OFKAR brings her a little touch of down-home Christmas and makes her extra smart.

Stood in any good queues lately?

Monday, December 06, 2010

a little free Christmas, right this very minute

One of the things that I enjoy most about this music writing gig (besides writing about music, that is) is that it often puts me in contact with some fine people. And sometimes those fine people lay some goodies on me.

Hallie Pritts is one of those fine people who gives me things. Hallie does publicity for Shut Eye Records and lately she's been sending me CDs to review. Emma Hill, Angie Mattson, Lohio - those were all courtesy of Hallie.

In her other life, Hallie is a member of Boca Chica, the Pittsburgh-based alt-folk collective about whom you are starting to hear the growing buzz. And Boca Chica want to give us all something!

As part of the annual Christmas compendium compiled by their label, Indiecater, Boca Chica is offering up a couple of free releases. Not on Christmas Eve is a honky tonk number about getting dumped on Christmas, and Snow Angels is a pretty little folk song about water freezing in your toilet because you have no heat in your house.

You can get the free downloads here. Because even Christmas ditties need a touch of reality.

Also congratulations to Lohio on successfully raising $4,000 through the Kickstarter program to fund the making of a new video. I sure hope they use that big old dog in it!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

in case the wrinkles didn't tip you off

We went to friends' for dinner tonight, good friends whose house we have been to many times. Our friends throw great parties and they generally host at least a couple every year. I always have a great time at their parties, but you don't really get to visit when you are hosting a big party.

That's why tonight's dinner was so lovely. There were just the four of us, and it was casual but very tasty, and best of all, we had lots of time to really talk, not just holler in each others' ears at the drink table.

We all agreed that it's getting harder to have conversations in noisy surroundings. Not only is it harder to hear, but your voice starts to give out after a while. Just when I thought that the ravages of age had reached their zenith...

But not everything is getting old! BC Musician Magazine has a new website. It's much more interactive than the old one, and a lot easier to navigate.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, the publishers are giving away some books. Here are the deets:

~~~~Let us know what you think of our new site & issue!~~~~
WRITE A NOTE ON OUR WALL with your comments about this current issue or ideas for future articles & themes, and YOU'LL BE ENTERED TO WIN one of 5 fantastic music themed books!
Click on READ ONLINE and go to page 5 for contest details.

Even us old farts love a free book.

Friday, December 03, 2010

in my town

It's started, the annual filling up of the parking lots.

Due to a glitch in the organizational machine, I failed to get the winter rugs laundered until yesterday. And I paid for that oversight, having to park at the opposite end of the parking lot, and then having to schlep five giant rugs across the icy ruts. Thanks to my finely tuned muscular body, though, I made it back to the urban assault vehicle without dropping any carpets in the snowbank. But then I couldn't leave because there was a linen delivery vehicle (the irony was not lost on me) double-parked behind me, blocking me in.

I couldn't get annoyed though, because it was obvious that the poor delivery guy was having a far worse day than me. The door to the dental office, to which he was attempting delivery, was inexplicably locked, so he had to schlep his linen all the way back to his truck. There was a lot of schlepping of cotton happening today.

But glory be, I returned home to discover a City of Calgary snow plough making a pass down my street. This is only the second time I have ever seen a snow plough on my street in the thirteen years that we have lived here. Mayor Nenshi continues to make good on his election promises. And I continue to believe we elected the right person to run this city.

And finally, Shaw Cable has announced that they are going to start charging $1.00 for people to watch the fireplace channel. The money will go to charity. I don't generally watch the fireplace channel, as we do have a fireplace of our own, but I am one of the 39,305 fans of the Guy Who Pokes the Fire on the Fireplace Channel facebook page.

What's happening in your town?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

where it's due

I can't move past the topic of NaBloPoMo without giving a heartfelt nod to my friend Toccata. Although I am not going to make a secret of the fact that I wish to hell she would start blogging again, I am very grateful that she posted a comment on my blog each and every day, without fail, for the entire duration of November NaBloPoMo.

And these weren't phoned in comments either. These were legitimate responses to the blog topics, honest reaction from someone who doesn't pull punches or suffer fools, if you want to get all your cliches out there at once.

So to Toccata, a heartfelt thank you for spending the month with me. Your daily comments made me realize just how much I miss your blog.