Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for July, 2005

Small Craft Warnings

July 31st, 2005

Having hyped it up so much, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer some post-game notes for my boys Drumheller after last night’s cd launch at the Tranzac:

1. No matter how you mix up the repertoire, it’s always a bad idea to open for yourself. Josh Thorpe’s material came across nicely - quite a trick to orchestrate the indescribable “off” rhythms of the Shaggs, and I especially loved the reinterpretation of the Runaways’ Cherry Bomb - but it meant that we got the same ensemble for Set 2. Change refreshes the ears. Also, for newcomers you got a little case of identity confusion - what kind of band is Drumheller, they wonder? Maybe it would have worked a little better if Drumheller had broken its own material up with a middle section of Thorpe instead.

2. I wish all improv/jazz bands could have a private room somewhere to play the first 15 minutes of their sets so that they could hit the ground running. At first Drumheller didn’t so much sound like a band that plays “out-of-jazz” but just a band that plays jazz. Sometimes the avant-garde could stand to pay attention to the tenets of showbiz - good rock bands blast off with a hot number, bringing the audience into their own aesthetic zone dramatically and decisively. Unless there’s a sound conceptual reason not to do that, why not establish your voice as distinctively as possible right away? I think of this band as being bound to jazz with a gaudily coloured elastic that they constantly threaten to snap, but never quite do - but last night it took too long for the elastic even to get taut.

3. The next point is related: Nick Fraser, the drummer who also spoke for the band throughout the show, noted that “a gig is like hosting a party.” That’s true. And the best parties have a real shape, quiet parts, the boisterous dancing parts, perhaps a surprise (ice cream!) at midnight, and are brought to a gentle denouement rather than collapsing in a heap. But a concert (as opposed to a club gig, which has looser rules) is also a piece of theatre, a narrative that you want to shape. So to say, as Nick did at about one in the morning, that the band is just going to keep playing indefinitely because they have a lot of material, and they “won’t be offended if people have to go home,” is to abdicate from half the task - and worse, to say you don’t really care if people go makes it feel as though you don’t really care that they came or whether they ever come back. Half the audience left after the piece Nick introduced with that line - including me, and I’m a pretty huge D’heller fan. Two-and-a-half hours is a long time to listen to instrumental music, and one’s ears get tired - unless you have some sense how much more there is to come, you bail. I know it was well-meant, just underconsidered, and it’s the kind of error anyone could make, but I hope it won’t be made again - unless, again, you introduce the open-endedness as a more structural, conceptual component, it comes across as an indifference to your listeners. And indifference is not one of the seven heavenly virtues of experimental music.

4. All complaints aside, much of the show was terrific, especially the second half of the second set, pre-”class dismissed” moment. Rob Clutton’s pieces were especially strong. My favourite (whose name now escapes me, sorry) was one that opened with the horns, Doug and Brodie, in duet and then broke into a middle section with the strings playing a lovely drone-fiddle (bowed-guitar) trio with Fraser, and then returned to the horns - it was a piece in which each note just burrowed into the ears, undulating through the mind and down the spine.

5. On non-musical notes - I was happy to hear that Drumheller won the hearts of the Godspeed-lovin’ throngs when they opened for the Silver Mt. Zion at the Tranz. earlier in the week. Speaking of hearts, I also found out that Brodie West’s upcoming decampment for Amsterdam will be preceded by his marriage to a lovely young woman named Heather, whom I met last night because we happened to sit at the same table. Congratulations and best of luck to you both.

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Er-Hell-Drum!

July 30th, 2005

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No column this week, so just another reminder - that’s Drumheller (photomontage above by Kevin “Aperture Enzyme”) & Josh Thorpe, tonight at the Tranzac, main hall, 292 Brunswick (just south of Bloor), 10 pm. I don’t know the cover charge but I’m sure it ain’t steep.

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But Wait, What About Payola?

July 29th, 2005

Here’s what you might wanna read about that. Let’s follow the hokey-pokey and meet up back under the streetlight next week. Come alone.

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DRUM-HELL-YA!

July 29th, 2005

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Eric Chenaux (upper left corner & elsewhere) of Drumheller, and Martin Arnold, not of Drumheller. See below. Photo montage by the always wonderful Aperture Enzyme.

My only contribution to The Globe this week is this review of the just-out-of-the-oven debut by “out-of-jazz” quintet Drumheller, on Rat-drifting, whose launch concert tomorrow night at the Tranzac is the (non-Caribana) gig of the weekend. A couple of notes on the review. First, the paper version is misprinted, changing the very first sentence from “Toronto’s creative-improv scene, from free jazz to abstract electronics….” to “Toronto’s creative-improv electronics…” This is wrong. Second, to throw back the editing-room door, I originally didn’t just call Eric Chenaux “an egregiously overlooked musician” but “perhaps the most egregiously overlooked musician in town.”

[tangent]Egregiously, peoples! Why are you sleeping on Eric Chenaux, why why? Sure, his once-upon-a-time art-punk bands Phleg Camp and Life Like Weeds still get some loving memory (scroll down to the final question there), but that is so the past. He’s reinvented himself as a post-Derek-Bailey-sidelong-glancing-to-John-Fahey improviser, which I know sounds like a dimestore cage but in this case just isn’t, because he’s got that spooky ability to make asymmetry symmetrical and dissonance sing under his spider-web fingers. Eric’s now-sadly-defunct duo with Michell McAdorey (with whom he played for awhile in Crash Vegas too) yielded two of the most gorgeous recordolas in all Torontopia, last year’s Love Don’t Change and the way-back Whirl (note: that was a secret passageway). Meanwhile his re-funked newer duo with Martin Arnold is a marvel of mini-maximalist guitar-banjo wobble that amounts to a much more intense interpretation of the whole idea of “psych-folk” than any of the fashionable sets flying that flag, tho they were at it before then and will continue thereafter, hopefully with some overdub-drenched cerebellum-sludge albums to mark their route. And that is not to mention his hundred other projects, including Rat-drifting itself (also with Martin Arnold). Or the fact that he keeps writing these beautiful ballads that I can never believe are new songs and not some traditional classic or legendary lost Gordon Lightfoot song rewritten by Syd Barrett. [/tangent]

Not to underrate the rest of Drumheller, Rob Clutton, Nick Fraser, Doug Tielli and Brodie West, each with their strengths and endearing flaws. (Also: They all compose, and they all improvise, and the band walks the drunken late-night cop-car-pulled-them-over line between the two.) The other part cut from today’s review is this final, not entirely happy line:

“Unfortunately, West is moving to Amsterdam this fall, but the band plans to carry on; with luck it will have the chance to grow into an institution you can point out proudly when youíre asked what Toronto improv is all about.”

To expand on that, I know the rest of the Drumhellers (formerly known, by the way, as Bourbon Leaves) plan to visit West in Holland and gig there, which is exciting, but I both selfishly and community-mindedly want the band to continue developing as a local entity too, which I think may require a new recruit. My most constructive suggestion is that the stand-in wouldn’t have to be a saxophonist - maybe a violinist or cellist? - so that West could stay a member and the band could morph between five- and six-person ensemble strength. This is one of the curses of Toronto - far too often, the brightest little dynamos are too damn eager to go somewhere else. …. But seriously, all the best Zoilus wishes to Brodie as he goes double-Dutch - I’m sure you’ll do well there, since you’ve already got Han Bennink’s endorsement.

Again, that’s Drumheller, Sat. night at the Tranzac, 10 pm, playing their own compositions along with those of fellow Rat-drifter Josh Thorpe. If you need further convincing, what are you, made of STONE? All right, there are also gung-ho reviews this week in eye and NOW.

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Fearful Rock

July 27th, 2005

After the non-talk talk about “indie music” this week, I’ve been thinking about what people mean most of the time today when they use the term, converting it from economic category into genre, this new loose genre that encompasses the likes of Arcade Fire, Death Cab, the Shins, Iron & Wine, etc. Often what unites them is a fearfulness, a sense of vulnerability, preciousness, fragility - but also a kind of open, eager curiosity, at their best (and emo suckiness at their worst). And then I suppose there’s the escapist indie-kids-dancing complement to that, along with the internal art-noise opposition. It’s all very different than the skeptical anger of the last alternative-goes-mainstream crop a decade ago, aka grunge, and I do think you can use these things as cultural mood rings - their shading can indicate something about what the population that’s listening to the music (educated white kids) is feeling, what they generally hear as an accurate self portrait. I can’t actually think of any time in rock history where fearfulness was so part of the music - paranoia channelled into aggression, sure, but not this shrinking-violet affect, with its isolationist overtones and so on. (For instance there’s a claim that the generation coming of age right now is super-confident and assertive, so self-deprecation and a sense of encroaching doom may serve as the usual kind of peer-group dissent/outlet. And of course there’s the new-millennial terror/losing-side-of-the-culture-war element.) I’m not eager to praise or condemn it tonight, just chalking its outlines on the board, wondering where it intersects the rest of the diagram.

But man, what a terrible, terrible baseball team the Arcade Fire would be.

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Proposition Retracted

July 27th, 2005

Nah. You’re right, I’m wrong - the list of prime targets does show that hip-hop’s not under any special scrutiny here - and Clear Channel is. I think the campaign may have resonance with the current anti-entertainment-industry waves in Washington, but mainly Spitzer seems like an A-1 consumer-advocate type.

It was just the kind of lazy thought that wobbles across the mind in late afternoon.

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Proposition

July 27th, 2005

Just speculating, here, and I don’t know if it will lead anywhere. But given that the famous 50s-60s payola scandal was, as much as anything else, a political attack on rock’n'roll - is it possible that the current one is in some part an attack on hip-hop?

The rhetoric of it doesn’t lead me to think so, necessarily, but it seems a question worth raising.

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Er…

July 27th, 2005

… was it something we said?

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Crispin Glover Love

July 27th, 2005

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As we ponder what to make of the payola scandal, as in whether payola possibly actually makes radio less boring than it would otherwise be (I will either back this up later or not, if it proves an unsustainable burst of contrarianism; unrelated favourite detail, beyond the trips and laptops and plasma-screen TVs handed out like lollipops for being good little drones: when Sony via Epic Promotions was having staff call in to make fake requests to radio stations, the promoter complained that radio guys were telling him, “[The girls] are not inspired enough to be put on the air. They’ve got to be excited. They need to be going out, or getting drunk, or going in the hot tub, or going clubbing… You get the idea” - the idea being, HIRE MORE PORN STARS), this exciting bit of non-musical news provides a welcome distraction:

Crispin Glover film and slide show, Bloor Cinema, Aug. 28: “Crispin Glover will conduct a Q&A following the screening of his film and Big Slide Show … as an official guest with Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear. … What Is It? is the first in a trilogy of surreal, inter-connected features directed, edited and financed by the eccentric character actor Crispin Hellion Glover. This August 28th 2005 at 9pm, sees the long-awaited Canadian premiere of the completed film in a blown-up 35mm print. Told almost entirely with a cast of Down’s Syndrome actors and including the voice of Faruza Balk. What Is It? is about the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are salt, snails, a pipe, and how to get home, as tormented by an hubristic inner psyche. Crispin Hellion Glover’s ‘Big Slide Show’ is a multimedia presentation/performance Crispin mounts using images from his beautifully bound hardcover art-books, audio sampling from his album The Big Problem and text read aloud. Victorian precedents are recalled with the creepy, sinewy etchings and, expository titles (What It Is and How It Is Done; Concrete Inspection and A Family Story Where a Mother Is Looking for Something & Finds It), but all modified through Crispin’s own highly developed aesthetic.”

Zoilus has been a nervous admirer of Crispin Glover ever since The River’s Edge, ever since the Letterman-show “I - I - I can kick!” extravagonzo, ever since he gave the best silent-film performance of the age in the middle of the Charlie’s Angels movie (how did that happen?). Sometimes I suspect he is going too California cutesy-weirdo, but I’ll keep the faith and check this out. It’s better than a Las Vegas “flyaway” for which you have to pay with your soul, i.e. by playing Celine Dion.

PLUS - nearly forgot - there’s a musical appendix: An After-Party with Mr. Glover himself as well as, Jaymz Bee, DJ Shannon, DJ Video Dave and (what an appropriate matchup) Mr. Wax Mannequin, at the Drake that night (again, Aug. 28), 11 pm, 10 bucks.

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Big Star: For All You Sister Lovers

July 26th, 2005

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The reformed Big Star, with Alex Chilton third from left. Photo by Tom Erikson.

That headline ought to generate some disgusting site traffic, but for those of you not seeking sibling-incest porn, it’s actually a reference to 1970s power-pop band Big Star, who have just announced the release date for their upcoming reunion album, In Space - Sept. 27. Of course, by “reunion,” they actually mean Alex Chilton, drummer Jody Stephens and members of the Posies, one of the most Big Star-influenced bands around, since key member Chris Bell is long dead. Still, it’s the first Big Star record in 27 years, and in celebration I thought I’d post a piece about the band I wrote a couple of years ago when there was a Big Star tribute night being held in Toronto, recapping their career and the myth in which Chilton’s enshrined in the “former child star” flame-out archetype. Eyeball it on the flip.

If you do not groove to the guitar-hooks-and-jangle-jangle, perhaps you would prefer some Veronica Mars news. (Also, the Mountain Goats return to Toronto on October 17!)

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