Monday, January 31, 2011

every winter coat you've owned since 98

I'll be stopping by the post office tomorrow, to mail off the handmade items that I have pledged over on the Facebook to produce for five people.

I couldn't decide what to make for this project, so I made a little bit of everything. Line drawings, paint chips, crocheting, recycled greetings cards, neurolinguistics, beads, they all combine to make five hot messes that are surprisingly cute.

Mailing off some handmade goodies will be a good way to usher in a February that thankfully does not contain a leap day. I do not need winter to be even one day longer.

It does help me peer over the snow banks and into the future now that the Calgary Folk Festival has begun announcing Leak of the Week every Monday. With the Secret Sisters, C.R. Avery, and Inhabitants already having been announced, it's shaping up to be a grand festival. Personally, I can't wait to soak in the pure sweet Americana of the Secret Sisters.

I'm especially excited to start a new folk festival volunteer gig this summer. Much as I love working in the record tent, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to work as one of the office support crew, which is a year round volunteer position. The inner sanctum, baby, where the magic starts. While most of the shifts are scheduled during the ramp-up to the festival, I'll be starting in March by helping out with some folk festival concerts. Nice work if you can get it, n'est pas?

What's getting you through the winter?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

barricade

Blood red walls
bear silent witness to
the death
of dreams.

Periwinkle
beckons you to the water,
offering glimpses of escape.
Day pass.
Stay of execution.

When the pounding stops,
when the water stops,
silence descends.

Silence follows you to the grey room.
Silence peers through frozen glass with dead eyes.
Silence cannot escape this wall of white.

The dead world holds you firm inside this cage.

---
The above is my submission to the First Annual Cabin Fever Competition being held by the clever umbrellalady, who knows exactly what we need at this time of year. Check out the details here and play along.

Friday, January 28, 2011

flap your wrists in the air

BASH'd: a gay rap opera
High Performance Rodeo

At just over an hour in length, BASH'd is a relentlessly energetic musical tirade against homophobia. Introduced by the angels Feminem and T-Bag, sporting feather-shedding wings and pink hats, BASH'd celebrates the tragic love story of Dylan and Jack.

In verse. In hip-hop verse.

Sassy, irreverent, hilarious, and touching, BASH'd features such memorable characters as Dylan's homophobic father and lovingly addled mother, Jack's advice-spewing dads, and all the stereotypes of the queer world who populate the gay bar where the two star-crossed lovers first meet.

Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow, the creators and actors, have created a world in which homosexuality is seen as both the norm and an abomination. It's a world that is filled with misunderstanding and acceptance, with tenderness and rage.

With the only props being two pink-cushioned stools (which are rarely even used), the staging is furiously paced and sweaty. Since we were seated in the front row, we got to shake Dylan's hand after the wedding, so we can attest first-hand (pun only partially intended) to the sweat factor in the production. Many of the scenes take on a filmatic sensibility, with flash-backs, stop-motion, and slo-mo techniques, techniques which add another layer of theatricality and further blurs the line among genres. You know, just in case a gay rap opera isn't genre-blurring enough.

BASH'd is a rousing, moving and gloriously over-the-top experience. You should go.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

talk talk: deconstructing the house concert phenomenon with Olenka Krakus

We have yet to sort out the details, but it looks like late August will once again see Casa del Zombie rocked by a house concert. I’ll keep you posted on the details as they solidify.

I thought it kicked all kinds of ass, that very first house concert I ever hosted. Olenka and the Autumn Lovers mesmerized that packed living room, pretty much everybody bought CDs, and we somehow ended up with more bottles of wine than we started with. From a host’s perspective, and judging from my hangover, it was an unparalleled success.

But I wanted to get the opinion of someone who has a far better sense of what makes for a successful house concert, someone who is a seasoned musician and herself a veteran of many house concerts, so after the dust settled, I picked the humungous brain of Olenka Krakus, frontwoman of Olenka and the Autumn Lovers:


BB: What’s the most unusual venue you have ever played?

OK: Well, two spring to mind at this point! The first would have to be a venue that we encountered on our most recent West Coast tour: All Citizens in Bruno, Saskatchewan. It’s an art-space/café that is the contrivance of one Tyler Brett, former Westcoaster who relocated to Bruno SK in order to buy a home and start a scene! Tyler’s place is really the smallest venue in Canada: he books the front room of the café regularly (and has had countless Canadian acts through already), but its capacity is something in the range of 15-20 people, and the point of such an intimate setting is just that: intimacy. The audience is supposed to feel fully immersed in the music. We played to a group of locals and friends who drove in from far and wide to see us, as well as to Tyler and his sweet dog and cat. It was a really cozy and inspiring experience.

The second venue that kinda blew our minds was another house-show space in Saint John, New Brunswick that we lucked upon during our October 2009 East Coast tour to Halifax Pop and back. The home is owned by John Laracey and we came upon it through acquaintances of ours who knew his daughter Leanne. John has been involved in the Saint John scene for a while and has a tonne of music equipment, but we didn’t know this heading into the show. All we knew was that we were supposed to play a house-show with Bruce Peninsula, Entire Cities, and The Weather Station and that we were rather curious to see how any home could accommodate our lineup.

When we arrived we were astonished to discover that there was a full sound system set up in part of the living room – I mean mics and stands, monitors and speakers, a mixing board… the works – not to mention a kitchen laden with potluck goodies! Weather Station opened, then we played, and by the time BP went on stage the show was rollicking and everyone was friends with everyone.

BP broke into a wicked cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, prompted by the excessive spins that Rumours got over the course of the night between sets, and then settled into their set, only to be thwarted by the arrival of the police! Undaunted by requests to turn off the power for the night and shut the show down mid-song, BP finished off their set with an unamplified, a capella finale which involved them leaving the stage area and chanting through the end of their song with the entire audience participating and bouncing along.

Following this display of camaraderie and defiance, the police officer was introduced by Jim to the crowd as an old friend of his and was greeted with cheers, which followed him out of the home when he saw fit to take leave of the party. Entire Cities finished off the night with an acoustic set in the living room proper, and at the end of the night, we all felt a little transfigured.

BB: What is the largest venue you have played? The smallest?

OK: The largest – probably the outdoor stage at the Fred Eaglesmith Annual Charity Picnic, or the festival stages at London’s LOLA or Home County, but in terms of an actual venue, I think the Aeolian Hall in London or Distrikt in Regina (opening for Rah Rah) were among the biggest. The smallest – easy: All Citizens (see above)!

BB: Do you perform many house concerts? What percentage of your performances compared to halls, pubs, etc would take place in houses?

OK: At this point, our shows seem fairly evenly divided between house-shows, art galleries, bars, halls, churches, and various other alternative settings. We certainly encourage house-shows, when they seem to work logistically for us and the person putting on the event.

BB: Can you actually make any money by performing house concerts, or do they function as more of a filler for otherwise unbooked evenings?

OK: That really depends, given that each house-show experience is so unique. What we can usually depend on is an attentive audience, which typically translates into merch-sales of some sort, so there’s often some kind of financial return, but we don’t enter into these sorts of settings thinking we’ll be making a killing; we tend to agree to these types of arrangements when we anticipate a special night during which we’ll get to engage with the audience more intimately. We have had some lucrative events, and we’ve also had shows that eventuated in little more than some good conversation (both duly appreciated).

BB: Following a house concert, musicians will often sleep at the host’s house. Does that ever feel weird or uncomfortable?

OK: Beginner and mid-level touring bands are always crashing on the floors of acquaintances’ homes; it’s a bit weird, but you get over it (unless of course your hosts are a little more eccentric than you bargained for). But aside from initial, fleeting discomfort, we usually feel a great deal of gratitude and humility as a result of the hospitality that we experience on the road. I am consistently floored by the generosity that we encounter from people whom we barely know; it really helps to reaffirm my faith in human decency.

BB: Can you tell me about the worst experience you have had at a house concert (or staying at the house afterward)?

OK: Haha. Well…. without revealing too much for the sake of discretion… we did blunder upon a performance in which various Autumn Lovers felt a little too… um… loved, which resulted in our swift departure post-performance and an uncomfortable night sleeping on the side of the road in our vehicles!

BB: Best experience you have had at a house concert?

OK: Well, that would have to have been your lovely house-show! …at least for us girls (given that the boys were unable to attend our West Coast tour because of vehicular complications). Barb’s house-show was incredible! The whole night was so carefully coordinated and welcoming, and the audience was so engaged (to the extent of asking questions between songs!) and sweet that it was hard not to feel inspired and humbled by the experience.

BB: I think that house concerts are one way to reach an audience who might not necessarily attend a concert. Do you see this happening?

OK: Absolutely. I think an increasing number of Canadian touring acts are recognizing this aspect of the current touring circuit; possibly due to the reduction of traditional venues across the board in Canada, there’s been an influx of house-show spaces (some more or less installed as legitimate venues) that have cropped up all over Canada. House-show events tend to appeal to an audience that is interested in attending an intimate performance complemented by a close gathering of friends and acquaintances; I think a lot of people find the prospect of engaging with the musicians personally while mingling with friends very appealing.

BB: Do you have any advice for musicians thinking of performing their first house concert?

OK: I guess I’d advise musicians to enter a headspace of genuine humility and accessibility: be appreciative and easygoing, because these sorts of events are really special and require the encouragement of exceptional people in order to exist at all.

BB: Any advice for hosts considering their first house concert?

OK: Know your audience and your performer; a lot of house-shows are successful because the performers are able to accommodate unamplified settings, but not all performers can do that, so to avoid any discomfort for the musicians, hosts should consider pairing their resources (unamplified, live sound vs. a small sound-system) with the acts they’re hoping to host. Hosts should also make an effort to consider the appeal that a given performer/band will hold for the expected audience: are you inviting a bunch of kids to dance the night away to a rookie electro band, or are you bringing in a quiet folk act that will do best with a seated, attentive audience?

BB: Are house concerts the way of the future?

OK: Not necessarily THE way, but certainly a part of the way. Audiences want the experience of intimacy and familiarity that house-shows offer. It’s possible that such settings are increasingly attractive to music goers, but I don’t think that the house-show experience will dominate; it’s just one of a number of ways of interacting with music in the existing music scene. People still want to get lost in the throngs at festivals and stadiums, or chat it up with friends milling about in a dark, dingy bar, as much as they want to hang out with friends and musicians in living rooms.

---

Olenka and the Autumn Lovers are currently creating a healthy buzz with their gorgeous new album, And Now We Sing, which made many top 10 lists for 2010 (including here at Bad Tempered Zombie).

olenkalovers.com

Monday, January 24, 2011

first food network, now this

I place the blame squarely on the Spousal Unit. If it weren't for his bad influence, I doubt I would ever even turn the TV on, except to catch the odd episode of Daily Planet.

But the Spousal Unit, he'll watch anything. Considers himself to be somewhat of an expert in the fine art of television viewing, he does.

It started out innocently enough. I'd wander into the family room to catch a few minutes of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives with him. Then I'd find myself parking on the chesterfield to see who was going to be eliminated from the appetizer challenge on Chopped. The next thing I knew, I was waiting for Come Dine With Me Canada to come on.

But it gets worse.

It turns out that the Food Network is just a gateway channel. We have now crossed the line of good taste and solid judgment, and we are heading straight for the trailer park. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Storage Wars, Hoarders, and now Operation Repo are all proving to be disturbingly fascinating. Can the purchase of a family pack of Snuggies be far away?

And I know that I am never going to be able to break free as long as Sonia Pizarro keeps enchanting me with those fierce as hell chola brows.

Clearly I am doomed.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

another Canadian band you should know: Diana Catherine & the Thrusty Tweeters

They may well be contenders for the title of Canada's hardest working party band. True road dogs they are, Diana Catherine and the three burly men who comprise the Thrusty Tweeters, as they tour their infectious bluesy rock up and down the map non-stop.

When I saw the band perform at the old Ironwood Bar & Stage about a year and a half ago, I was a little awestruck by just how charismatic a performer Diana Catherine is. With a huge stage presence that is part swagger, part vulnerable clown, she is pretty mesmerizing.

Lately I've been revisiting the CD that I brought home from that show - The Spirit Ranch Sessions - and it transports me right back to that night at the Ironwood. This album manages to capture much of the exuberance of the Thrusty Tweeters' stage experience. From the opening wail of Diana's harmonica on Walk, through to the crying muddy guitars and heartfelt yearning of the closing notes of Drifting, The Spirit Ranch Sessions is the journal of a traveling band. It's also a journal of drinking and fighting and getting your love on the run.

Sober (Is Too Hard To Stay) is an unapologetically boisterous track that hooks you with handclaps and a call and response chorus, while Train Song hypnotizes with lazily seductive blues. These are tales of restlessness and the road, hard living and the sweet regrets of tender loving.

This is Southern rock served up Northern style. And it's tasty.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Essex County - Jeff Lemire

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that, if you don't count Mad Magazine, Essex County is the first graphic novel I have ever read. I knew full well that there was a world of difference between graphic novels and comic books, and that there are many acclaimed graphic novels gracing the shelves of serious bookworms, but I somehow still carried the BIFF, BAM, POW prejudice within my psyche.

And that may be why I was so taken with Essex County. It's a stunningly beautiful book, comprised of three interwoven stories that explore alienation, family, love, loss, and betrayal in a southern Ontario farming community over the decades. An orphaned boy who wears the shield of a superhero, two hockey hero brothers torn asunder by secrets, a public health nurse whose entire life is the community are the rich characters who are depicted so strikingly within the novel.

I took my time reading this book. I wanted to savour the experience, to give this haunting book the full attention it deserves. I found myself pouring over the black and white artwork, marveling at the emotions that Jeff Lemire brings to the faces of the characters with just a few lines. Their eyes in particular speak volumes, while the people themselves are largely silent.

Lemire manipulates perspective and space so masterfully in his drawings that you can't help but get lost in them. From the intimacy of facial closeups to the staggeringly open spaces of his large panels, Lemire tells an incredible story with a few strokes of the pen and a handful of words. The large panels, of field and sky and forest and staircases, are especially striking. They often function as scene changers, but they are so much more than just place markers; at times I was overwhelmed by the sheer power of these enormously silent panels.

Essex County is one of the novels battling for this year's Canada Reads championship, the first graphic novel ever to be included in the competition. It will be championed by Sara Quinn and (fun fact!) came to be on the Canada Reads list via a nomination by our very own book meister.

My copy of Essex County fell into my hands via the thoughtfulness of my very dear friend, who sends me wonderful things. I owe him enormously for this.

Essex County is a poignant novel, which leaves you deeply wistful after the last page is turned. But within the poignancy there is profound beauty. I know I will be opening those pages again and again to return to Essex County.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

your icy blue heart

I have an uneasy relationship with my deep freezer. It's great for filling up with batches of planned leftovers - lasagna, chili, soups, but should a hunk of raw meat find its way into the depths, it is gone. I will not see it again for at least three years, at which point I will toss its freezer-burned carcass into the garbage.

So when the Spousal Unit brought home five massive frozen Hutterite chickens last year that someone at his office was selling for his kid's school fundraiser, I knew I was doomed. It's one thing to throw out a package of pork chops, another thing entirely to huck five chickens, each the size of a small turkey.

I knew I had to break with tradition, and make a concerted effort to cook these behemoths. I roasted the first one, which was a big mistake. This bird was not brought up to be a roaster; I think it used to pull the tractor on the colony or something, judging by how stringy and tough it was.

Over the next few months the remainder were boiled and turned into soups and chicken pot pie. I am pleased to announce that today I turned the final dinosaur bird into 250,000 pot pies, which are now in the freezer. Okay it was actually nine pies, but I am pretty pleased about the whole thing. I have been strutting around like Martha Stewart right after the ankle bracelet came off. Plus there's some chicken left over which can be turned into burritos or something.

I should not have cook for the next two years.

What's in your freezer?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

don't stay in the lake too long

It's not just me.

The January blues are rampant this year, perhaps because the shit weather is so widespread across the continent. We are a grumpy disengaged collective of miserable people. There is little solace in that, but there is camaraderie in the uniformity of blank stares, dead eyes being the new secret handshake.

I've never been fond of winter, but neither have I been so sick of it so early in the season. Maybe when this latest deep freeze loosens its stranglehold upon the city and upon my psyche, I will be able to throw off these thousand pound shackles from my feet.

It's hard to dance when you are chained to the floor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

the quickening power

Viper at the Virgin's Feet
- Allison Brown

Allison Brown makes it all appear so effortless. She is blessed with one of those big voices that can fill a room and the sense to hold back from belting that voice up to the rafters with all her might.

In her new album, Viper at the Virgin's Feet, Allison Brown uses her gift wisely, imparting the primarily gospel and roots recording with a powerful yet smooth depiction. The album was recorded in two parts, a large portion at the island studio and under the tutelage of legendary producer, David Essig, and the remainder half a nation away in the heartland of southwestern Ontario, but the resulting recording has a beautifully cohesive feel. It's a compelling mix of original, traditional and cover songs, that showcases Brown's songwriting talents while paying homage to troubadours who have gone before.

It's the mixture of such solid original tracks as the sprightly All The Birds, the whimsical If I Was a Weathergirl and the darkly yearning Something Holy, amongst such standards as Towne Van Zandt's Poncho and Lefty, Patty Griffin's heartbreaking Long Ride Home and Iris Dement's Our Town, that makes Viper at the Virgin's Feet such a deeply satisfying album. Brown's treatment of the covers and the standards is respectful and faithful to the original, but she manages to impart her unique stamp through gutsy arrangements and a voice perfectly suited to the joy of a gospel hymn and yearning of a roots refrain.

There is something for everyone on this album - holy roller harmonies, wailing harmonica, plucky mandolin, weeping violin, quietly assertive bass. There is the quickening power of religion on the edge, the beautiful melancholy of aging and loss, bittersweet respect for bandits, and reminiscence for life's longings.

When I find myself playing this album, as I have been doing a lot lately, I always find myself singing along. For I have been moved.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

gun like a jawbone

Today:

- I discovered that, at -23C, orientation matters. If I only had parked the urban assault vehicle facing into the sun, perhaps the windshield would not have turned into a complete block of ice during the 20 minutes I was in the grocery store.

- I made a hybrid of paella and jamalaya. Called it paelaya because it was fun to say.

How was your day?

Monday, January 10, 2011

a vaguely unsatisfying treat

Portobello - Ruth Rendell

I've always considered Ruth Rendell to be the undisputed queen of the disturbing psychological thriller, so I was chuffed when I found this relatively recent Rendell novel at the library. Rendell's impressive series of Inspector Wexford novels are also highly readable, but it is in the non-Wexfordian books that her unsettling prose truly shines.

But not, sadly, in this book. In fact the most unsettling thing about Portobello is that it all seems rather pointless, petty almost.

This may be somewhat intentional on Rendell's part, to reflect the silliness of the addiction to a particular brand of sugar-free candy that the primary character, Eugene, finds himself spiraling into. I found it difficult to believe that anyone, even a man as secretive and set in his ways as Eugene, would allow a candy to destroy the most important relationship in his life.

There are a series of coincidences that lead to the unfolding of events in Portobello: Eugene's decision to tape a note to a post about a sum of money he found, rather than keep the money or take it to the authorities, and then to ask Lance to come to his home to make his claim instead of just asking him over the phone how much money he had lost. This allows Lance, a petty criminal, to case Eugene's neighbourhood. That Eugene's girl friend, Ella, happens to be a physician who returns the money to its rightful owner, Joel, who happens to be in hospital and who then happens to become her private patient, is the next in the series of happenstance. And it continues on and on.

Portobello is actually an enjoyable read, and despite the unclear motivation behind many of the characters' actions, the characters are memorable in their own way. The deeply disturbed Joel is the most Rendellesque character and the one who offers the best promise for delicious creepiness, particularly after he becomes haunted by the specter of Mithras, the angel whom he inadvertently brought back with him from the brink of death.

But ultimately, the finale feels soft and unworthy of a Rendell novel. Portobello is certainly not Ruth Rendell's most successful effort, but it does pass the time quickly on a snowy weekend.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

science show host

Talk to me about the stars.
Tell me about the orbital dance of the planets.
There is clarity in the discourse of dark energy, light years within my grasp, beautiful theorems in the shadowy wobbles of distant epochs.
When you talk, I understand; when you stop, I am left with the music of the cosmos.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

looking for soul food

note to self:
- do not visit farmers' market just prior to dental appointment

Do you even know how many samples of market delectables I had to turn down because I didn't want to show up at the dentist with food in my teeth? Broke my heart to say no thanks to the tapenade and the berry pie.

I'm thrilled that we now have a farmer's market close to our hood. Based on the way we scarfed down the lamb sausage, hearty rolls, beet salad, and organic salad fixings at supper tonight, I have a feeling I am going to become a regular fixture haunting those aisles.

One of the vendors was selling the most beautiful eggplants I have ever laid eyes upon. I bought one just for the incredible feeling of stroking its smooth firm purple skin. I was gentle as a new lover with that beauty today, but tomorrow night at this time, it's going to be residing in my belly.

I don't know what kind of radio station they play at my dentist's office, but while I had my mouth stretched open wide I heard Walk On The Wild Side, immediately followed by High School Confidential. And then they ruined it by playing Avril Lavigne.

When my dentist asked me where I was working these days, I told him that I am still writing freelance. He took a step back, obviously impressed: You're writing for The Lancet?

I wish! Hey Lancet, call me; I'm cheap!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

man who shows nothing

Like Birds, Too Tired To Fly
- Shawn Clarke

There's a deceptive simplicity to the arrangements on Shawn Clarke's debut full length release. With his clear agreeable voice and a sweetly folky style of finger-picking, the subversiveness of many of Shawn Clarke's lyrics may not be immediately evident. With the exception of the gleefully repeated chorus of "fuck you, I hate you, fuck you, no I don't" on Hurt Before, the caustic emotions behind many of the lyrics are rather more subtle.

The tracks comprising Like Birds, Too Tired To Fly are a pleasing mix of toe-tapping banjo (Working Man), sweetly crying guitars (Empty House), upbeat finger-picking (Hurt Before), and quiet introspection (I'll Miss You When You're Gone). The lovely To Think I Once Was Lost is a particularly noteworthy track, a love song to Toronto, made sweetly poignant with gorgeous harmonies and weeping instrumentation.

Shawn Clarke has called in some big guns to back him on Like Birds, Too Tired To Fly. With the backing of Olenka Krakus (Olenka and the Autumn Lovers), The Wilderness of Manitoba, Nick Zubeck, Mark Hart (Carly and Mark), and Rebecca Rowen (Kensington Prairies), this album is elevated from a simple acoustic effort into a fully rounded offering.

There's an autobiographical feel to many of the tracks on this album. Although the decidedly anecdotal nature of Sick Song conjures up flashbacks of that Family Guy episode in which Randy Newman makes up songs about what he sees, it's still a fun ditty, with a charming la-de-dah chorus that's difficult to resist.

Requiem for 33 Yale, an instrumental piece, is cleverly placed as the lead-in song to the final track, Untitled, which serves as a tutorial about songwriting and the elusiveness of lyrics. The latter part of this song ultimately showcases the power of the backing talent lending their voices to this album. When that final chorus begins and builds into a pinnacle of of la-la-las, words seem completely unnecessary.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

wore it for a while, that Sunday smile

The Christmas tree has received a one-day stay of execution before it gets recycled into mulch or tiger toys or whatever it is that the city uses them for these days. With the Resident Offspring flying back to university today, it would have been too much for the Slightly Retarded Kitty to handle. With the house so suddenly quiet and empty, she needs to vanquish that tree skirt more than ever before. And we need all the sparkly lights we can get.

We've moved the dining room table back to its spot under the window and put the board games back down in the basement. The Parcheesi game that I bought for this year's incarnation of the annual Christmas board game challenge was a huge hit. I've lost track of how many times we played, but the cut-throat aspect of the competition was escalating at such an exponential rate that it was good that Christmas vacation ended before we could do lasting damage to one another. Dang fun it was, though.

So we will be dusting off the Skype machine, weaning ourselves of our cookie dependancy, and emerging from self-imposed exile. Eventually the baby steps will stop hurting, and we will sprint into the next year, tilting at windmills and taking baseball bats to mailboxes as we pass.

How are you going to deal with January?