Tuesday, April 12, 2005

 

The Other 50: Episode 16

Wondering what all this is about? Before you begin, you might want to read days one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen The List so Far: Round 1: Hockey: Jane Siberry (Mike) Helpless: Neil Young (Keith) I Go Blind: 54-40 (Peter) Nothing at All: Maestro Fresh Wes (Aaron) Tired of Waking Up Tired: The Diodes (Carol) A Case of You: Joni Mitchell (Carl) Round 2: Have Not Been The Same: Slow (Mike) Hallelujah (Live): Leonard Cohen (Keith) Wheat Kings: The Tragically Hip (Pete) Vetoed By Carol Subdivisions: Rush (Carol) Vetoed By Keith Rags and Bones: Nomeansno (Carl) Round 3: One Great City!: The Weakerthans (Mike) Westray: Weeping Tile (Keith) Vetoed By Pete Deeper Than Beauty: Sloan (Pete) Having an Average Weekend: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (Aaron) I've Been Everywhere: Hank Snow (Carol) Illegal Bodies: Simply Saucer (Carl) Round 4: Help Me Rhonda: The Langley Schools Music Project (Mike) Vetoed By Pete Secret Heart: Ron Sexsmith (Aaron) (FC's note: Actually Aaron's Round 2 Catch Up Pick!) Daylight: The Nils (Keith) Barrett's Privateers: Stan Rogers (Pete) Vetoed By Mike War in Peace: Skip Spence(Aaron) Vetoed By Carol Static: Terrible Canyons of Static; Chart #3; World Police and Friendly: Godspeed You Black Emperor! (Carol) What About Me? The Nihilist Spasm Band (Carl) Vetoed By Keith Round 5: Blues For Big Scotia: Oscar Peterson (Mike) Sudbury Saturday Night: Stompin' Tom Conners (Keith) Little Girl: Death From Above 1979 (Pete) Brian Wilson (Live): The Barenaked Ladies (Aaron) Vetoed By Carl New York City: The Demics (Carol) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: Buffy Sainte Marie (Carl) Round 6: Blues for Pablo: Gil Evans with Miles Davis (Mike) O Marie: Daniel Lanois (Keith) Can't You See: The Matt Minglewood Band (Pete) OK Blue Jays: The Bat Boys (Aaron) Vetoed By Keith Put the Blame On Me: Handsome Ned (Carol) Carl's pick TK Round 7: Mike's Pick TK Curling: The Dik Van Dykes (Keith) In tonight's random source of joy and meaning: Steve Earle v. Bruce Springsteen. Canada v. Kanata and the rambling Fred Eaglesmith. Love the OTHER 50? HATE the OTHER 50? Hate Emm Gryner as much as Chris Iorfida does? Be sure to leave a comment. Keith: Carl, are you ready to start us off? Carl: I'm nominating Time to Get a Gun by Fred Eaglesmith. (Listen to Time to Get a Gun) Probably the best country songwriter this country's ever had, a roadhouse-circuit star in the U.S. and Australia and Europe who still has trouble getting recognition here, our chronicler and protester of the disappearance of rural life, brings his wit and venom to bear on a most unusual subject - the pros and cons of gun ownership (particularly to shoot the "government man" who tells you they're going to put a highway through your farm) - and makes his peaceable Canadian audience squirm plenty in the process. Putting this track on the list is also a sidelong way of honouring its producer, the too often forgotten great Ontario folk-meets-new-wave songwriter of the 1980s, Scott Merritt. Carol: This is the first I've listened to Fred Eaglesmith. I liked it. For some reason, it sounds very "Alberta". Perhaps the disenfranchised feeling I got from it. It sounds like a dark side of Stompin' Tom's "Sudbury Saturday Night". I particularly liked the line (paraphrase) "put something between me and the sun". Somedays you just feel exposed and no one is going to help you. The government helps itself. The bank helps itself. And when you work hard and you see little for it, you feel taken. Then we have the Gomery Inquiry. Peter: I'm not going to veto Eaglesmith, as I think his music is okay and I recognize that a lot of people are wild for it, and I admire him for his relentless touring to all corners of the country. But I have to get something about him off my chest. Eaglesmith will always be tainted for me because of the first and only time I've seen him play live. While his music was enjoyable enough, the show was really bogged down by stories that were just plain dull. I also found it a bit odd that nobody else seemed to recognize them as such. It was at the Black Sheep Inn, an excellent venue in Wakefield, Que, just outside of Ottawa, and the room was packed with a Fred-loving crowd that clapped and hooted at his every word. But for the life of me I couldn't figure out what was so great about it. When he actually played, it was good, but between every song was a long, long, bland anecdote about something or other. One was about touring in Scotland and how cheap Scots are: I mean, really, what's next, a story about lazy Mexicans or rude Frenchmen? I'm not being politically correct here: I wasn't in any way offended by his stories, I just found them predictable and boring. There was not a single thought in the Scotland story that I hadn't heard a hundred times before, but people cheered and hooted as if it was genuinely entertaining. I can think of a dozen old jokes about Scots that are funnier than anything Fred said. (What's the difference between a Scot and a canoe? A canoe will tip.) It's not hilarious, I know, but at least it's brief, which is more than can be said for Fred. I wanted to stand up and shout "stop encouraging these trite stories so he'll shut up and play some damned music!" I can't even remember what the other stories were about, as every one was forgettable, but I clearly recall thinking the crowd's insistence on pretending the stories were in any way enjoyable was surreal. I mentioned this to a couple of certified Fred fans, and they shrugged and said ya, that's part of Fred's charm, that he tells the old stories every time he plays. Well, maybe I caught him on a bad day, but why anybody would want to hear any of those stories a second time is beyond me. It was like sitting in the room with a bunch of yes-men who laugh at anything the boss says, regardless of how boring it really is. I suggest the best service his fans can do for Fred is to stop encouraging stale anecdotes and suggest he get on with the music. I bet he'd become a lot more popular. I do like the way he sings about real, down-home Canadians and real issues. I do appreciate him as being authentic. There's nothing phony or contrived about Eaglesmith. And I like the bus, the Fredmobile, or whatever it's called. Just stop with the dull stories, please. Keith: I have to admit I had a different experience when I saw Fred live. I can't say I became an immediate convert, but the whole vibe of a barrel chested dude in a plaid shirt running his mouth worked for me (then again, I never felt like it was taking away from the music, so maybe you got a particularly vociferous performance, Pete). Peter: Perhaps the location was part of the problem, as Black Sheep crowds tend to listen to what the performers are saying and singing, rather than talking all the way through it. Usually that's a good thing, but listening quietly to Fred's stories was tedious, indeed. Some things should be talked over, if only to send the performer a message. I note you didn't actually say his stories were worth hearing, you just said you didn't find they took anything away from the performance. That, believe it or not, is the strongest defence of them I've heard to date. If that's the best that can be said for his stories, his fanbase should stage an intervention: "Fred, we love ya, baby, but come up with some new stories worth hearing or cut the old ones short." Maybe you can set up a turn-clock, like they use in chess, so he knows when the between-song banter time is up. I too like the idea of Fred Eaglesmith, the plaid-shirted everyman having his rant, but actually hearing them reminds me of those who've never learned that speaking your mind is not the same as saying whatever pops into your head. Aaron: Talking between songs rarely works out well in general. I'd say five out of every six times a rock star opens their mouth in public, it fails to turn out in their favour. I don't mind a little bit of the talky, but too often, it awkwardly becomes part of the act. Too pre-conceived or something. Seemingly off-the-cuff remarks that they obviously trot out at every show. My all-time favourite between songs story surely goes to the lead singer of Keane. Last fall they played Pop Montreal and he introduced one song as being about "having the courage to be yourself." He's adorable. Peter: My current favourite thing from the "Hello Cleveland" file of on-stage remarks came last year when I caught the last few minutes of a concert by Comfortably Numb, a Pink Floyd cover band from Ottawa. At the end of the concert in Ottawa by the Ottawa band, the singer said, "Thank you, Canada!" Maybe he was still pretending to be Roger Waters? Keith: I think you misheard. He said "Thank you Kanata" He thought he was at the Corel Centre. Peter: Ahh, that explains it. I also wondered about the guitar techies. Are guitar techies in a Pink Floyd tribute band pretending to be Pink Floyd guitar techies? Keith: I don't know about the guitar techies, but this is a good subject. In my experience, the all time greats of between song patter are Tom Waits (the name of this blog comes from one of his semi-extemperaneous between song rambles) and - perhaps surprisingly - Lyle Lovett (who has had me in stitches every time I've seen him live, save last year's Ottawa Bluesfest where his chatting with the crowd was reduced to him telling the "hippies" in the front row to stop smoking marijuana . . . ). Peter: And then ratting the hippies out to the security types. Carol: I don't mind stage banter. In fact, I prefer it. If I want to hear the record, I'll sit at home and listen. I want to here the person chat and be human. Notice I said "chat" and not "lecture". Billy Bragg was the WORST! I've seen him perform a couple of times and decided twice was enough. Preaching to the converted is tiring especially when a good number of his songs do it anyway. "Billy, I agree. Now get the fuck on with it, lad. Do a love song and cheer us up!" Peter: Banter can be a lot of fun, so long as the musician doesn't take it too seriously. I've seen Tom Waits only once but he was hilarious every time he spoke between songs. Steve Earle can be rewarding too, though usually more for his passion than for his humour. But when I saw him a few weeks ago his banter had taken a tediously political turn, just more bland Bush bashing. The Ottawa crowd cheered it all, to my embarrassment, as there was nothing clever or insightful in it. I hear the Toronto crowd made its disinterest in a lecture known the night before, so maybe there is hope. Aaron: I heard the same things about the Toronto show. On a side note, I started out a Steve Earle guy. But now I think I'm more of a Bruce Springsteen guy. Peter: Are they contradictory? Can one be a Steve guy and a Bruce guy, or is that some sort of bi-type thing? Aaron, my coworker who partied with you at the Junos was at both those Steve shows, and she said the Toronto crowd did indeed get a bit surly with him. He made some sort of comment to that effect at the Ottawa show the next night, but I can't remember what it was. It was about that moment that I thought, "I've seen Steve Earle at least five times, and this is the first moment I've ever felt just a tiny bit bored." Aaron: In the year after Sept. 11 I came up with this idea that there was an important difference between Springsteen and Earle - in so far as their music and their reactions to the world. And I thought I sided with Earle. Now I think I actually might side with Springsteen. Anyway. I think maybe it's just that I see Springsteen v. Earle as roughly equal to Me v. All My Hippie Friends. Peter: You make a good point re the two of them and post 9/11. I remember reviewing Steve in 2002 shortly after seeing Bruce and writing something to the effect that they both had something profound to say about America at that moment: Bruce was the one who sang of sunny days and how it would all be okay, while Steve sang that cheating on your taxes and writing letters to the editor was "the best that you can do," and that things were in no way okay. Aaron: I too wrote reviews. Only I came after Bruce for letting Steve Earle take his place as voice for the common man. I went after Bruce again when his foray into last year's election went bust. All the same, I think I've tired of Earle. Maybe it was him saying Kim Campbell had it out for him or whatever it was he tried to claim at NXNE. (All of that said, I was skimming through the Essential Bruce Springsteen the other day - I'd never realized before what a strange sheen there is to all his music. He's totally an 80s artist to me.) Carol: Springsteen has always seemed hopeful to me. Earle not so much; he's angrier. This may be a result of his drug abuse; he's seen the darkness from a perspective most of us have not. Springsteen has seen desperation and sadness that many have experienced and relate to and, importantly, lived through. Is Earle more cynical? I have one his records, "Jerusalem", and I wasn't as moved as I was by "Tom Joad" or "Nebraska". Maybe write this off as a taste thing, but I'll side with hope anyday of the week. It helps me get up in the morning. Peter: Everything Bruce has done since the '80s sounds exactly like the '80s. That doesn't mean it's bad, but it would be nice to see some development. Steve, obviously, has developed, as it's a long way from Guitar Town to Transcendental Blues. I love every step of that journey, but all that Kim Campbell stuff from NXNE made me wonder if he's gone a bit wonky. And his between-song banter about being a "border-line Marxist" - a bit of casual chat he used every night, if the reviews are any indication - smacked of political fashion. I fear Steve may be slipping into extremism, just like the people he disses in his songs. The next album will tell, I suppose. Aaron: is he on the verge of becoming music's ralph nader? Peter: Jebus, you think he'll run for president and keep the Democrats out of office? Carol: LORD Christ, I hope not. I could see him backing Nader. Hmm. Then he could call his next record "St. Jude". Peter: St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless campaigns. Nebraska is the best thing Bruce has done, but it's really nothing like any of his other discs, wouldn't you say? And have you heard Hank Williams III's cover of Atlantic City? Nowthat's a lesson in how to do a cover song - take it and make it your own. Carol: Nothing like his previous work. Parts of "The River" forecast the stripped down Bruce, though. And no, I haven't heard the cover, but I'll find it. "Atlantic City" is my payday themesong these days. Peter: That's funny. You taking a bus over to Jersey to do a job for somebody? Carol: Me? You tawkin' ta me? Who anythin''bouta job? I'm just girl whose gotta make a livin', ya know? Actually I took a cab to Jersey through the Holland Tunnel. DUMB. Took the PATH train back in 1/8th the time. I'd live in Jersey. The rent's cheaper and you're STILL closer to NYC than y'are now! Atlantic City? Um. Only for the pretty lights and the ocean...always for the ocean. Keith: Pete, you're up. Pete: Any list of essential music of the past 50-odd years has to include rap, and if the list is Canadian that means rap that’s comparatively young. Aaron got his list off to a solid start with Maestro Fresh Wes, who is, by virtue of Let Your Backbone Slide (On the Corp's list but not on our's), the ground zero of Canadian rap. There’s been some other good stuff too – Dan-e-o’s Dear Hip Hop is an undiscovered gem; the Dream Warriors did good music, of which I especially like Edmonton Block Heater from the disc of Hard Core Logo songs that came out shortly after the movie; and k-os surely deserves to be the Canadian rapper who breaks internationally. But the one I’m bringing to the list is the song that I consider to be the Left Coast’s grand moment in hip hop to date, Deep End, by the most unfortunatelynamed band in Canadian music history. (Listen to The Deep End) Swollen Members was a silly name, and I hated having to say it when I recommended the music to friends. I’m not being prudish, the name was simply juvenile and, worse, it didn’t reflect what the group was about. Granted, they weren’t choir boys, but the name made it sound like they were some Ludicrus/L’il Jon sex fiends. That always pissed me off: I’d like to ask them what they were thinking. (Don’t ever try an internet search for the band. Ahem.) Anyhow, they did some solid music, and to my ear they reached their peak with Deep End, from the 1999 disc Bad Dreams. Deep End is a sober, brooding song, with a groove so deep it was first discovered by seismologists. Everything moves over that ominous, steady synth bass note that never lets go in the background. Add a straight-ahead drum, a muted cymbal and that furiously flattened guitar riff and the song could go on for days. “Working late night/ not that we hate light/ just feels like that’s when tracks come out right” – and indeed they do. The song sounds like it always existed somewhere and was discovered fully formed. The lyrics aren’t profound, but the flow is smooth, and there is a certain homespun wisdom to them: “I like people ‘bout as much as they like me/ haven’t found a way to say fuck you politely . . . “ What else can I say about the song, besides the fact it’s on my list of the best hip-hop songs, Canadian or otherwise? I’ve always thought the key to a great rap song – It Takes Two, Brothers Gonna Work it Out, Jump, Pistol Grip Pump, How I Get Down – is to find an irresistible groove and stick with it. Deep End does that superbly. It also has the great merit of ignoring the tedious predominance of the Eminem/Dre sound and the other regrettable trends of mainstream American hip hop. You never saw the Members hanging with the bullshit gangsta crowd, you saw them working with Jurassic Five and Vancouver’s indomitable Moka Only, making sounds that hold out hope that hip hop has a future beyond the bitches and bling. The blunts can stay, though. Time to Get a Gun is available on Fred Eaglesmith's Lipstick, Lies and Gasoline. The Deep End was recorded on 2001's Bad Dreams. There's even more of The OTHER 50 available in DAY SEVENTEEN.
Comments:
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Bruce is an 80's artist?? Guess I should throw out my copies of Darkness, BTR, Wild & the Innocent, etc.

Hank III's version is only about the 3rd or 4th best "Atlantic City" - it's been covered so often and so well.
Even better is The Band's (great Levon vocal) and best of all (if you can find it) a mid 80's version by the Reivers (which Bruce undoubtedly heard as his subsequent full band versions of A.C. sounded remarkably alike - kinda like Dylan adopting Hendrix's Watchtower version). Other decent versions are by Ed Harcourt and Mike Rimbaud.

Stage banter? Sorry Carol but I've seen Mr. Bragg 11 times and often look forward to the anecdotes as much as the songs - he's one of the few musicians who has a stand-up's timing. Other funny ones - John Prine and Richard Thompson (if you have time, go to his website journal for some hilarious stories of coaching a youth soccer team in Cali that includes the son of a certain action star turned governor).
 
the most unfortunately named canadian act is Rainbow Butt Monkeys, ahem, Finger 11, and the best canadian rapper of all time is Kardinal Offishal.
 
I like the digression into stage banter today: surely a thread to be picked up in the future. Fred's banter I found enjoyable, overall, but clearly as much a part of his image as Bragg's or Earle's. I think a lot of it is not as impromptu or spontaneous as we might be led to expect.

But whatever the merits and demerits of banter, it's surely better than none at all. I paid $40 bucks to see a Lucinda Williams show that a robot could have delivered. Well, a *hot* robot, anyway. Not a peep from the ol' gal.
 
Chris,

I agreee with you pretty much completely on two of your points (I'm not as familiar with the springsteen covers as you are).

As I've said to the group (it'll probably come out tonight or tomorrow) you can't call Bruce's tracks "80s" just because they're anthemic (Does Thunder Road sound eighties to anybody? Rosalita?)

As for Billy Bragg live, I think he's one of the funniest musicians going. One time I saw him live he changed the words of The Short Answer to talk about the Clinton "I didn't inhale" headlines of the day (http://www.crrh.org/hemptv/news_didntinhale.html)
very funny stuff.

Keith
 
TT,

The one and only time I saw Lucinda Williams live she had all of her lyrics in a coil binder on a music stand.

To call her delivery robotic would be an insult to the spontaneity of robots.
 
hmm...Lucinda was downright effusive the last time I saw her at Massey Hall. She's gotten a lot more comfortable with stage banter over the years.
I must admit bias though - I've met the lady and she regularly gives gifts to my friend's daughter (after learning they both share their first and middle names - too much cosmic karma for Ms. Williams to ignore)
 
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