Tuesday, October 30, 2012

meatloaf and mashed potato caves

I was back at the BMO Centre at the Stampede Grounds yesterday, following up last week's Vital City Report with yesterday's Centre City Congress.  We city lovers are the new bronc riders, apparently.

It was a different crowd at Centre City, though.  Where the Vital City Report was populated with NGOs and educators, Centre City Congress was filled with dignitaries and captains of industry.  I wound up sharing a table with three Aldermen and the GM of Transportation for the city.  They were quite gracious, despite my obliviousness to most of the in-jokes. I really must brush up on my municipal witticisms.

The Spousal Unit and I met downtown for an early supper.  Seriously early - senior supper early.  We tried a new Vietnamese restaurant in Arts Central.  The coconut shrimp appetizer was lovely - fat, juicy shrimp in a crispy coconut batter with a zesty dipping sauce.  The mains were a bit mixed.  My noodle bowl was a bit bland with the wrong meat, but the SU's salmon was perfect, although they seem to have forgotten the coconut part of the coconut rice.  It was a beautiful room, with dark gleaming woods and orchids and a stainless steel ceiling, and we will likely return.  Probably just for appetizers, though.

After dinner, the Spousal Unit headed home to dole out belly rubs to the SRK, while I headed to work to facilitate Blues Mondays at the NMC.  Sometime during the evening, the fog that had been flirting with the tops of the downtown towers swooped down to ground level and socked everything in its clammy grip.  Imagine my delight, when I finally climbed into the Urban Assault Vehicle near midnight, to discover that some sonofabitch had stolen my windshield wiper.  While I was parked in a well-lit lot that cost me a king's ransom. Next time I'm parking in a back alley beside a dumpster and take my chances.

I'm avoiding driving during the snow for the next couple of days, until I can find time to buy a new wiper blade, which, of course, I will not be able to install myself, since it's no longer possible to fix anything on a vehicle with only a screwdriver.  It almost makes me miss old Russell, whom I used to start by propping open the carburator with a nail file while I revved the engine. I felt like such a G in those days.  Now I will have to go bat my eyelashes at the service station guy just to put on a new wiper blade.  How far we have fallen.

What skills have you lost to technology?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

tuned to the right key

First Spring Grass Fire 
- Rae Spoon

I'm always curious to read books written by musicians.  There's a tendency to believe that reading something penned by someone who makes music that I admire will give me deeper insight into the music itself.  Or at least into the person who made the music.

I've long been a fan of Rae Spoon.  The former Calgarian with the haunting voice continually makes some of my favourite music, be it acoustic cow punk twang or the more recent turn to electronica.  In the few personal encounters I have had with Rae at shows and festivals, I have always been struck by a sense of  enormous presence within a diminutive person, tempered with a slightly awkward shyness and an easy-going, keen sense of humour.

Naturally I was very curious to read Rae Spoon's first book, First Spring Grass Fire.  The slim volume of interconnected stories is a work of fiction, but the tales of growing up queer in a strict Pentacostal family undoubtedly has a lot of overlap with the author's own life story.  The oldest child in a troubled family, the narrator (also called Rae) tells, in a series of brief non-linear chapters, about incidents that shaped their upbringing - the religious fervour, the siblings born and lost, the increasingly combative struggles with a schizophrenic father, the increasingly certain recognition that they were born the wrong gender.

First Spring Grass Fire is written in refreshingly simple language.  There is real power behind those straightforward words, and often I was forced to pause at the end of a sentence, just to let the impact of what was divulged really sink it.  A natural storyteller, Rae Spoon has a way of getting under your skin with just a few simple words.  

There is a lot of humour in First Spring Grass Fire.  As a city not traditionally known for being an easy place to grow up queer, Calgary definitely takes a few well-placed shots.  But much of the humour is self-deprecating as well.  Teenaged angst, after all, is pretty ridiculous when you look back at it from the safety of years passed, even when that angst is muddled with the complexities of gender confusion.  Rae Spoon recognises this, and that is one of the many things that makes First Spring Grass Fire an immensely readable, funny, and moving book.

You should read it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

singing the 21st century blues

The Great Recession 
- William Pilgrim 
& The All Grows Up

The debut album from William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up is a testament to the power of music and to the resiliency of the human spirit.  The Great Recession blends blues, roots, and a touch of gospel with a wide-open rock beat and a finger-snapping swing. Frontman Ish Herring has a bluesy voice that sounds much older, more worldly than his less than 30 years.  And there's a good reason for that.

The genesis of William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up is a story that is at least as compelling as the music itself.  You just know that any band that names itself after a Kurt Vonnegut character has got to have something interesting to say.  

William Pilgrim & The All Grows Up was born in Los Angeles when singer-songwriter/producer PM Romero answered an ad for musical collaboration from a homeless musician, Ish Herring.  As the child of a drug-addicted mother and a broken home, Herring had been shuffled around from foster home to foster home until finally finding himself living on the streets of New Orleans and then LA.  Having always found comfort and meaning in music, and having taught himself guitar, piano and drums, he placed an ad offering vocal services for hire.  That ad led to the collaboration with PM Romero, from which the band was born.

The Great Recession addresses questions that stem from Herring's life, questions of social alienation, disenfranchisement, and free will.  But there's hope in the big swinging vibe, and in the gloriously hopeful touches like the hand-clapping gospel choir that takes things home on songs like Farewell and Beautiful.  This is an impressive debut album, filled with songs that have you bopping your head and singing along, while reaching for your battered old copy of Slaughterhouse Five.


Monday, October 22, 2012

hear the footsteps, voices

Frightened Rabbit
Triple Door, Seattle
Oct 15/12

It's hard to believe that a week ago today, I was at the Fun House in Seattle, gathering with my fellow Communiqu3ters, comparing record store finds and preparing to head downtown to see Frightened Rabbit. It seems both mere moments ago, and buried in a distant time and place.

It was our last full day of Communiqu3 and it had been filled with wondrous sights - the gum wall at Pike's Market, the blue trees of downtown, the rows upon rows of meticulously labelled CDs and vinyl at Easy Street Records.  And we still had an evening featuring the musical stylings of Frightened Rabbit ahead of us.

We were lucky to get to the venue, actually.  We had been having an awful time all weekend, trying to get cabs in Seattle, and this time was no exception.  Except that this time we had much more at stake.  After pacing nervously for an hour, we eventually called a different cab company, whose driver barely managed to evade a spectacular collision, as he skidded down a wet hill, brakes screeching, veering at the last second around a stopped car at the bottom.  

But we did arrive, a bit wobbly but unscathed, albeit near the end of the opening set - a psychedelic shoegazey band from Philadelphia called Arc In Round.  I wish I had more time to listen to them properly, because I liked what I did hear, but of course we were busy settling into our seats and ordering dinner.

Yes, dinner.  Didn't I mention that the venue was a dinner theatre?  Of course all the performers made all the obligatory try the veal jokes, but The Triple Door really is a gorgeous venue, and from our 5th row table, we had a completely unencumbered view of the stage. A completely unencumbered view of Scott Hutchison's sweaty little face, as he belted out tortured lyrics, and of Grant (also Hutchison) as he attacked the drum kit. 

It did feel a bit odd to be so comfortable during such a high calibre show, especially since we rushed to clear our plates as the band took to the stage.  Because eating dinner while Frightened Rabbit were playing, well that would have been just too weird.  It was a rock show, damn it!

I personally didn't have any problem staying seated during the concert.  I am an exceptionally good chair-dancer and I have done more than my fair share of standing at concerts, usually behind a gaggle of eight-foot bros. So I was just happy to be where I was.  One of the Communiqu3ters desperately wanted to stand up and dance, but was compelled to move over to the side of the theatre when the guy behind her asked her (very nicely) to sit down.  The crowd at the Triple Door watching Frightened Rabbit was probably one of the most polite audiences I have ever encountered.  

Frightened Rabbit played their hearts out, bantered charmingly in their delightful Scottish brogues, and made me want to follow them around the country, from show to show.

I don't recall the set list, after the passage of a week, but the band did play a lot of crowd pleasers from their back catalogue, including a deep dive into my favourite album, Winter of Mixed Drinks.  And I am happy to announce that one particularly adept concert goer, who just happens to be one of the Communiqu3ters, scored the set list from the sound guy.  He kindly bequeathed it to our resident dancer, which helped to alleviate her disappointment that they did not play Keep Yourself Warm.

Great show, great venue, great seats, great company.  Great night.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

oceans without turkey

a stone's throw from Granville Island - a very large stone

lucky digs

now that's how you wait for a bus

Thanksgiving at the beach

awkward family photos R us

Saturday, October 20, 2012

doing it anyway

The Sound of the Life of the Mind - Ben Folds Five

The Sound of the Life of the Mind is the first album in thirteen years by the newly reunited Ben Folds Five.  Evidently not all that much has changed in thirteen years, because the album sounds very much the way you would expect it to sound.  This isn't actually a criticism; there is something sonically comforting about revisiting familiar territory in new music.  If you are looking for piano-driven nerd pop, the music of Ben Folds Five is one of the first places you should look.

The album is peppered with heartfelt piano ballads like the wistful Sky High, Hold That Thought and Thank You For Breaking My Heart.  The lead track, Erase Me, is a falsetto-belting, piano-pounding rock opera, while its successor, Michael Praytor, Five Years Later, hearkens back to the glory days of surf choruses that wouldn't feel out of place on a Beach Boys album.  Power pop ballads like Draw a Crowd and Do It Anyway dip into the well of the trademark BFF sassiness with lyrics like "if you can't draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall", "it sucks, but do it anyway" and "read me off the list of things I used to not like but now I think are okay". These tracks are sure to be future concert crowd pleasers.  

With the release of The Sound of the Life of the Mind, the reunited force of Ben Folds on piano, Darren Jessee on drums and Robert Sledge on bass offers up a brand new, yet vintage Ben Folds Five album.  Ben Folds Five fanatics around the world are going to lose their collective shit over this album; the rest of us can enjoy it as a strong musical release in what has been a mixed year for new releases.  Certainly worth a listen.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

citizen returning

The mountains are now snow-capped.  It must have happened sometime over the past ten days, while I was cavorting with chums in Vancouver and Seattle.  It was a splendid trip, even if ten days living out of a suitcase is a bit taxing.  

I think I am now officially a true Calgarian, though. Because when we disembarked from the plane and those frosted doors slid open to reveal a group of smiling retirees in red vests and white hats, there to helpfully point the way to customs, I have to admit, I got a little verklempt.  More than jet lag and a longing for my own bed could account for.

This really is my city.  It's a good thing I feel this way because I didn't leave myself any time to decompress before attending the Calgary Foundation's Vital City Report today.  Not only is my laundry not even done, my suitcase is still in the family room, half unpacked.  This behaviour coming from someone who is normally unpacked and has everything in its right place less than an hour after returning home.  But if I don't work, I don't get paid.  Besides, the mayor was speaking and you don't want to miss that.  

Over the next few days, in amongst work shifts and assignments, I'll be sharing some memories of the Great West Coast Turkeyless Odyssey 2.0 / Communiqu3 with you.  Everything from Frightened Rabbit concerts to gum walls, Justin Timberlake marionettes to record store pilgrimages, and everything in between.  And yes, there will be pictures.

Friday, October 12, 2012

loose the Canadians upon them

I love Seattle colours.  The muddy greens, the muted blues, and all that grey look wonderful in the rain, backdropped by the lush vegetation of improbable October leaves.  

We arrived here yesterday, the first wave of a merry band of Communiqueters who will be holed up in a rented house in the happening Capital Hill area for the next five days.  After partaking of a happy hour (or two) at a bar down the road yesterday, we were thrilled to discover that the grocery store a block away not only has a great selection of wine, they've got stupid awesome deals if you sign up for a store loyalty card.  Guess who's all got QFC customer cards now?

Today's Underground Seattle tour has been delayed due to traffic which is holding up the next wave of participants arriving across the border.  But we will get there eventually.  There, and to the Experience Music Project, and, if somebody plays their cards right - the Duck Bus.  It might all depend upon the outcome of the cut-throat euchre game currently happening around the big wooden dining room table.

Shit could get real.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

sea change

Yesterday may have been the final day of good weather on this trip, with today being cloudy and cool.  Friday the rains begin.  Back home, it's snowing.

The Spousal Unit was determined to buy the OFKAR a microwave, so while others were lounging about their homes being driven slowly crazy by roasting turkey aroma, we made a trek to the oddest Canadian Tire store any of us have ever encountered.  Two stories, it was, with a wall fountain in the lobby and roof top (pay) parking.  No white-haired jovial grandfather at the door either to direct you to the fan belt aisle.

Granville Island, the following day, was remarkably peaceful.  Presumably everyone else was still sleeping off the turkey drug.  Not so the hordes of impatient drivers who tail-gated those who dared to drive a mere 10 km/hr over the posted speed limit, when we made a long tortuous trek out to far-flung communities later that evening.  It was lovely to see friends again and to enjoy a home-cooked meal, but we came away from the evening with a whole new appreciation for how navigable and civilized Calgary traffic actually is.

Today there was a coffee date with a friend, birthday cake in the afternoon, and a final meal (for now) as a family, before we all head off in separate directions tomorrow.  The Spousal Unit back home to snuggle with the poor neglected Slightly Retarded Kitty, me to Seattle for Communiqu3, and the OFKAR back to classes to earn those marks that make her mama proud.

Monday, October 08, 2012


Since arriving on the coast yesterday, we have:
- checked out and approved the OFKAR's abode
- consumed sushi
- walked down to the beach
- walked up and down hills
- found an open off-sale
- prepared a somewhat off-kilter but entirely yummy Thanksgiving meal of chicken wings, caesar salad and brussel sprouts at the hotel
- enticed the OKFAR into a sleepover
- bragged about Calgary culture to Dave at the front desk

So, yeah, I'd say this trip is off to a good start.

How is your Thanksgiving/Columbus Day weekend progressing?

Friday, October 05, 2012

ramshackle crew with something to prove

Mirage Rock 
- Band of Horses

Mirage Rock makes me miss Band of Horses.  There are just enough touches of the original scruffy indie folk-rock band in Band of Horses' latest album to make me nostalgic for everything that I loved about them when they first blew my mind with 2005's Everything All The Time

Nobody wants to make (or hear) an album that sounds just like the previous albums, of course, but with Mirage Rock, Band of Horses sounds like a band struggling to define itself.  Granted, when a band has had as many personnel changes as Band of Horses, sustaining any continuity of sound must be a challenge.

Mirage Rock has a promising beginning, with the lead track Knock Knock delivering a punchy raucous anthem punctuated by some infectious drum work. Throughout the album, there are moments that channel the spare earnestness of Band of Horses past, but sadly those moments aren't sustained. And then there's a song like Dumpster World, which is really kind of cringe-worthy, with shouted lyrics like "break out everybody in jail, let's get it on" and "don't pick up that trash, put more of it on the ground".  It's just perplexing.

A bonus disc entitled Sonic Ranch Sessions has a loose and rambling sound, not entirely unexpected from a band that's kicking back and using up some session time. The bonus EP is fine for what it is, but it didn't particularly do anything for me.

Mirage Rock harkens back to 70's country-rock, and not in a particularly good way.  I kept thinking that I was listening to the Eagles.  


Thursday, October 04, 2012

concierge chez-moi, honey

It feels pretty good to get out of the house after three days spent hunched over a laptop, writing to deadline.  Don't get me wrong, I still love writing for a living.  But even I have a limit to how long I can schlep around in stained sweatpants and a ratty sweater trying to think up a clever things to say about bike paths.

Sometimes a girl's just got to get cleaned up, slap on some make up and make a foray back into society.

I even went shopping at a store that wasn't a thrift shop or the discard bag in the OFKAR's closet.  And found some perfectly fitting jeans that are not of the mom variety.  Booya.

The Spousal Unit and I are heading to the coast on Sunday, which happens to be our anniversary, to spend Thanksgiving and a little quality time with the OFKAR. But I am not coming home after that, oh no.  I'm heading directly to Communiqu3 - the third incarnation of our annual blogger convention - this year being held across the border in yet another lovely coastal city.

It's going to be sort of the polar opposite of what I have been doing the past three days.

Speaking of the coast, here's my latest article in BC Musician Magazine.  (Sometimes a girl's got no choice but to stretch a segue till it screams.)