Category Archives: music

Never take me anywhere but here

A best friend and Riot Fest were my twin reasons for visiting Toronto this weekend, and it was a perfect trip.


I spent most of Saturday and Sunday morning wandering the city with my best friend from college: we went to the beach, a bookstore, and out for amazing Thai food. Sunday afternoon I met up with another friend* at Riot Fest in (at?) Fort York. I skipped the first band but got there in time to see The Flatliners (above), a band I hadn’t heard of before I saw the lineup for this show, but I really like them now. They’re from Ontario and have apparently been around since 2002.

Next up was Best Coast. Objectively, they’re a good band; subjectively, I didn’t like them much. Next was Dinosaur Jr.:


The vocals were way down for some reason, so it was hard to hear the singer. I haven’t listened to much of their music until the past few days, and then only their most recent album (and they’ve been around since 1984), but their real fans seemed to enjoy the set. (I did too, but I only recognized a few songs.) Edited to add: Dinosaur Jr. played a great cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” (Thanks to Ben Apatoff for reminding me.) It must be a popular song to cover – I saw the Bouncing Souls do a version in the early 2000s. I loved it both times. 

Here I should say that the timing of the show was absolutely precise: the set changes were quick, bands went on the minute they were scheduled to and left the stage on time (except The Replacements, who had an encore and went ten minutes over, but who on earth would complain about that?).

After Dinosaur Jr. was Rocket From the Crypt, all in matching outfits, and with some of the strangest banter I’ve ever heard. (“Who likes shrimp cocktail? Make some noise!”)


I’m sure there are better photos out there for those who are interested.

Another nice thing the concert organizers did was to have a water refill station just inside the entrance. You couldn’t bring unsealed bottles in, but you could refill water bottles there throughout the day. Since it was in the low 80s/high 70s and we were standing in the sun all afternoon, this was great.

After RFTC it was time for the first of the final three bands, The Weakerthans. This is a band I’ve been listening to ever since a friend put “Pamphleteer” (from Left and Leaving, 2000) on a mix for me my first year of college. Though they probably wouldn’t make my all-time top ten list, in a way they are my perfect band, because the lyrics are clever, funny, precise, touching and storylike, and audible over the rest of the music (which is also excellent and not to be downplayed). As soon as I got my ticket for this show, I bought their live album, Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre (2010) and listening to it repeatedly. (Along with many songs from Reconstruction Site, it includes “Civil Twilight,” “Tournament of Hearts,” and “Left and Leaving.)

weakerthans1Lead singer John Sampson came out first for a solo version of “One Great City!” (Later, he put on a Winnipeg hat. The way the stage was set up, the bands were facing directly into the sunset.)



I loved every minute of their set, and they played every song I hoped to hear (with the exception of “Civil Twilight”).

Next up, Iggy Pop and the Stooges. They did not disappoint. Iggy came out shirtless, with abs visible from fifty yards away (though probably too small in this photo to tell):


He sang with manic energy, though he wasn’t quite as insane as I was expecting after watching Henry Rollins talk about opening for him several years ago (video footage from Live At Luna Park, about 20 minutes and well worth it). I knew perhaps half of the songs; I really enjoyed “Search And Destroy” and “The Passenger.” Shockingly, the crowd was fairly calm; everyone was enjoying it, and there were mosh pits here and there, but altogether there was very little shoving or jostling; it was the most polite, considerate punk concert audience I’ve ever been in. (Thank you, Canada.)

After Mr. Pop, we made our way as far forward as we could (about 3-4 rows from the front) to wait for The Replacements to come on. We agreed that we wouldn’t quite believe it until we saw them up there, but they arrived on time and opened with “Takin a Ride.”


By then it was approaching full dark, and I must commend the lighting guy (or lighting lady, or lighting persons), because it was perfect: coordinated with the music but basically unobtrusive. Never once did they flash strobes at the audience or zoom spotlights wildly around or do anything clever with disco balls or star-shaped lights.


The high point of the set, for me, was in the second half when they played “Little Mascara” and “Left of the Dial” (from Timfollowed by “Alex Chilton” (from Pleased to Meet Me). Three of my favorites, in a row; I couldn’t have asked for better. I also liked “Favorite Thing,” “Color Me Impressed,” “Kiss Me On the Bus,” “Androgynous” (even though Paul Westerberg forgot the words), “I Will Dare,” “Merry Go Round,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and “Bastards of Young.”


Yet another Canadians-are-nice anecdote: about halfway through the set, I saw a security guard leaning over the barrier to pour sips from a bottle of water into people’s mouths. He was so careful, and the crowd was so non-jostle-y, that I don’t think any was spilled.


I have to do it: even though they didn’t play “Unsatisfied,” I think everyone there was satisfied, if not ecstatic. It was well worth the trip.

A better photo, videos, and the complete setlist can be found from a Pitchfork post that went up less than an hour after the show ended. Edited to add: Replacements write-ups can also be found at Rolling Stone and Spin (includes video).

*Edited to add (9/7/13): Read his (much better) write-up of the Replacements’ set here: The Replacements at Riot Fest.

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This Time of Year

In the past month-plus, I’ve seen two great concerts (three, if you count watching the Rolling Stones’ December 15th show on pay-per-view). One was Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan at the Garden before Thanksgiving, and the other was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones at the House of Blues on December 29, one of the Hometown Throwdown shows (link to Globe review).

bosstones-12-29-12Bosstones shows, like Reel Big Fish shows, tend to be incredibly fun, happy, high-energy shows; they don’t disappoint, and they didn’t this time either. The set was preceded by a pared-down but lively version of “Riot on Broad Street” (one of my favorite songs, from Pay Attention) and it was a great set all the way through.

Naturally, they played “This Time of Year” (“this time of year, it gets me / and it never lets me / act like I don’t care”), while foam “snow” floated down from the ceiling. (“This Time of Year” is positive about the holidays, unlike “Jump Through the Hoops,” which they didn’t play:  “holidays have got to be the worst / I’ve seen so many, I’ve got it well rehearsed…holidays are not for me, chop down the tree / they’ve got to be the worst”).

They played a good mix of old and new songs, obscure and popular: “Kinder Words” and “Toxic Toast” from Question the Answers, at least four songs from Let’s Face It (including “Rascal King” and “The Impression That I Get”), “Don’t Worry Desmond Dekker” from Medium Rare. They also played a fantastic cover of The Clash’s “Rudie Can’t Fail,” which I never expected to hear live.

All in all, a great show. And after the foam snow inside, there was real snow outside – at least six inches of it. Which means…sledding!

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Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, and the Karma Sweatshirt

On November 18, I saw Bob Dylan at the Garden, with Mark Knopfler opening. Before that week, all I knew about Mark Knopfler was that he did the soundtrack for The Princess Bride (my all-time favorite movie, closely followed by Empire Records, High Fidelity, Snatch, and Love Actually. And Sliding Doors). A few days before the show, a friend of mine told me that Mark Knopfler had been in the band Dire Straits; the only song of theirs I knew was Romeo & Juliet, featured in the above-mentioned Empire Records. I really liked that song, but for some reason had never hunted down more of the band’s music.


So I was not prepared to be TOTALLY BLOWN AWAY by Mark Knopfler and his band of multi-instrumentalists. I know I’m late to the party on this one, but wow. Wow. I listen to a lot of music, but narrowly: punk, ’90s alternative rock, the Beatles and the Stones and the Who and the Clash. Knopfler’s music seems somehow more musical: more instruments, more styles, more influences – American folk, Irish and Scottish ballads, stuff I don’t normally hear much of.

It’s the kind of music that inspires movement – not a mosh pit, but at least some standing, swaying, clapping, maybe a twirl or two. But no: the audience remained in their seats as if they were glued to them. WTF? (It’s still weird to me to go to concerts where there are seats at all.) All right, though, this was the opening band, probably not who most of the audience was there to see. They’ll stand up when Dylan comes on, surely.

Knopfler-11-18-12 Or, you know, not. (As my Latin teacher used to say, “Don’t call me Shirley!”) Granted, it wasn’t a set designed to be rousing: the stage design was minimal, the lighting was minimal (which was fine with me; any lighting person who uses strobes, or flashes lights over the audience instead of the band, earns my immediate and violent dislike). It felt like a living room, or a street corner, or a pub, and the setlist started out pretty mellow, too: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Early Roman Kings,” “Trying to Get to Heaven,” “Visions of Johanna.”

But still: it’s BOB DYLAN. If he is going to play music for you, you should at least stand up to listen to it. It’s disrespectful and lazy not to. Sure, the audience was mostly older folks – people who grew up listening to Dylan – but they got to the venue on their own steam. (I didn’t see anyone in a wheelchair; most people seemed to have full use of their legs.) To be fair, there was one woman who occasionally stood up – during both the Knopfler and Dylan sets – and seemed like she was genuinely enjoying the music. (Not that you can’t enjoy music sitting down. As many people were demonstrating.) She might have felt like standing the whole time, and only the silent pressure of thousands of eyes made her sit during some songs; I’m only guessing.

But then Dylan starts playing “Like a Rolling Stone.” And I cannot sit down for that. (At this point, I would like to rescind a comment I made earlier this year to the effect of preferring the Stones’ version of the song over the original.) So it’s this one other woman and me, and farther back a small handful of others, and I’m thinking it’s a good thing I went to Hampshire, because Hampshire is all about being in the minority that goes against the flow, but damn if this isn’t a good song, and that really is Bob Dylan up there, holy shit, and then…did someone just kick my foot?

Dylan-11-18-12Why yes. The man seated behind me – the man who, if he had been seated in front of me, I would not have been able to see over, because he was at least 6’2″ – was kicking my foot. You realize we can’t see, he said. Could you sit down, he asked. “Could you stand up?” I asked back. “It’s Bob Dylan.” That’s about as confrontational as I get with strangers, and I could feel the adrenalin, but NO, I was NOT going to sit down. In my experience, if you are at a concert where there are seats, and the person in front of you stands up, the way you deal with that is by standing up also. (Is my experience out of the ordinary? Any other 5’5″ rebels out there want to weigh in?)

With great reluctance, I sat down after the song ended, but I was still pretty pissed. I tried not to let it ruin my experience, and focused on enjoying the music. Dylan closed with “All Along the Watchtower” and a version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was much more alive and appealing than the recorded one, which can sound a little droning and repetitive. And karma’s real, y’all, because the man behind me left his brand-new concert sweatshirt behind. Finders keepers.



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Victory over Ticketbastard

A couple days ago there was an article in the New York Times that caught my attention: the band String Cheese Incident end-ran* Ticketmaster so its fans wouldn’t be charged the usual outrageous “service charge” fees.

I’m not even a fan of String Cheese Incident (though they have a great name), but it delights me to see someone figuring out a way to get around Ticketmaster’s pernicious and unreasonable fees – which, as the article points out, can add 30-40% to the cost of a ticket. So rock on, String Cheese Incident!

*”End-ran” sounds horribly awkward but is the correct usage.

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Book Review: John Lennon: The Life

I hate to say this, but this book was disappointing on a number of levels: it compared poorly with Keith Richards’ autobiography Life, which I read just previously, both in content and style; there were a number of mistakes in the text (on the copy-editing level); and it turns out that John was, simply put, kind of a jerk, especially when he was younger.

However, it was perhaps unfair of me to read it right after Life; if I could jump back in time two weeks, I’d read them in the opposite order. Keith’s book had the immediacy of a first-person narrative, whereas John’s was, necessarily, a biography. There were other factors going in as well: The Beatles’ image as a smiley boy band, in suits and ties (despite their later long hair and other late-’60s/early-’70s trappings) raises the bar of audience expectation of the individual Beatles, whereas the Stones’ bad-boy rock ‘n’ roll image lowers the bar. One expects all kinds of bad behavior from the Stones, but is more surprised to learn about the Beatles’ very early years playing (and misbehaving) in the red light district in Hamburg.

Preconceptions aside, the Beatles did start out more rock ‘n’ roll before Brian Epstein cleaned up their act, and one gets the sense that John may have been happier with a grittier image, like the Stones. One clear point of contrast between the two is that Keith’s love for music and for playing live shows shines through his whole book, but John came to hate playing to live audiences. No one was prepared for the unprecedented phenomenon of Beatlemania, and so “the boys” were not well guarded against it – not hidden behind a wall of security as they would be today. Additionally, it’s easy to see how fans claiming to love the music and then screaming so loudly during the concert that the music was rendered inaudible could be extraordinarily aggravating.

The wonderful thing about Keith’s book was his happiness, his enthusiasm about life and music and other people, and his sense of humor. If John had lived to write an autobiography, it might well have been a more enjoyable read than Philip Norman’s biography of him. John’s story as told by Norman is drier and more scholarly (Keith certainly couldn’t be accused of either). And Keith has the perspective and distance of several extra decades; the flaws that stood out in John’s youth and Beatles years were beginning to mellow before his premature death, but – if both accounts are to be taken at face value – John was far more insecure and had a much worse temper anyone who hears “I Want to Hold Your Hand” would suspect.

Not that I expect musicians (or writers or artists) to be paragons of virtue or shining examples of character, but it was a bit disillusioning reading about John in detail. I had a positive impression of his before I read the book, less so now. (Keith, on the other hand, was surprising in the opposite direction, as it were: despite all the drugs and trashed hotel rooms, he seems to have a relatively sunny outlook and peaceful personality. If I could hang out with one of these two, on the basis of these two books alone, I’d pick Keith, and not just because John’s dead.)

Another difference between John and Keith is that Keith is primarily a musician: he goes into great detail about various chords and open tuning and riffs. Though it goes without saying that John was a brilliant musician as well, it seems he was primarily a writer; he wrote and drew from a young age. This difference is reflected in their respective songwriting processes as well as in their music. (When Keith and Mick wrote together, Keith usually came up with with central riff and a few words, usually the chorus – “it goes like this” – and Mick would fill in the verses.) In John and Paul’s songs, there is often a strong story element; the lyrics are just as important as the music. In fact, the Beatles began printing the lyrics of their songs on their album covers, starting with Sgt. Pepper. Think of “A Day in the Life” – it tells a whole story in itself.

On a personal level, having been brought up to loathe Yoko Ono, there’s really no way to do that after reading Norman’s book, and that’s a bit of a letdown. One does certainly feel for Cynthia and, especially, Julian, when one considers the radically different treatment of the first wife and son compared to the second; but, at least as presented in this book, it seems as if John did much better as a husband and a father the second time around.

Overall, John simply wasn’t a person who could be constrained by one image or even one medium. He was undoubtedly creative and brilliant, but after nearly a decade, he didn’t love being a Beatle the way Keith loved being in the Stones (or the way Paul loved being a Beatle; maybe I’ll read a book of his next). Though the Beatles broke up fifteen years before I was born, I’ve always been sad about it (and also always blamed it on Yoko), but I don’t know if I am anymore.

A final note: there were numerous typos and other small errors that ought to have been corrected in the copy-editing process. True, 850 pages is quite a long book, and this was a first edition, so some errors may have been corrected in subsequent editions. However, it makes this thoroughly researched book seem sloppy.

And it was thoroughly researched, and the writing was competent, if not lyrical or inspiring. There were certainly good tidbits about the origins of many of the songs, about who wrote what and why. There is solid primary source material, letters to and from John, quotes from many who knew and worked with him. But John Lennon: The Life just doesn’t blaze off the page the way Keith Richards’ Life does.

See additional quotes on Goodreads.

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Twinkling Felicitously

If I gave you twenty guesses as to who used the phrase “twinkling felicitously,” would Keith Richards be in your top twenty? It was him, though, describing the chemistry between him and Ronnie Wood when Ronnie joined the band (the band being the Rolling Stones, for anyone who has recently arrived on this planet from elsewhere). Specifically, he’s referring to “Beast of Burden,” which is one of my all-time favorite Stones songs.

I just finished Keith’s book Life. The book was given to me as a gift back when it came out in November, and I read a few pages here and there over the past few months, but I didn’t fully get into it because I didn’t want to carry it around with me (it’s 500 pages in hardcover). But then I realized I’d never finish it at that pace, so I began bringing it around with me, and finished it in a matter of days. What a wonderful storytelling voice, what little linguistic gems, what good stories. Of course a lot is left out, and undoubtedly others have different perspectives on certain events, but no book is all things to all people; for those who are Stones fans, this is an absolutely great read.


You can listen to Keith’s intro on his site’s page for the book. Here are a few of some of the really memorable quotes:

“I imagined everything. I never thought it would happen.”

“It’s one of those astounding things about working in the theater. Backstage you can be a bunch of bums. And “Ladies and gentlemen” or “I present to you,” and you’re somebody else.”

“What is it that makes you want to write songs? In a way you want to stretch yourself into other people’s hearts. You want to plant yourself there, or at least get a resonance, where other people become a bigger instrument than the one you’re playing. It becomes almost an obsession to touch other people. To write a song that is remembered and taken to heart is a connection, a touching of bases. A thread that runs through all of us. A stab to the heart. Sometimes I think songwriting is about tightening the heartstrings as much as possible without bringing on a heart attack.”

“Of the musicians I know personally…the two who had an attitude towards music that was the same as mine were Gram Parsons and John Lennon.”

“The grind is never the stage performance. I can play the same song again and again, year after year. When “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” comes up again it’s never a repetition, always a variation. Always. I would never play a song again once I thought it was dead. We couldn’t just churn it out. The real release is getting on stage. Once we’re up there doing it, it’s sheer fun and joy.”

I have more quotes over on Goodreads. The other great thing about this book is that you constantly have songs stuck in your head, but you’re happy they’re there, because they’re great songs like “Ruby Tuesday” and “Satisfaction” and “Gimme Shelter.” My next read might just have to be John Lennon: The Life, just to continue the trend. Though I imagine that includes bits about Yoko…

On a different topic, I noticed recently that “top searches” that brought people to this blog recently include “fork spoon toothpick balance” and “goat platforms,” which, actually, do refer to things I wrote about. Score one for search engines and natural language processing, I guess.

What I’ve been reading: Life, Keith Richards
What I’ve been listening to: Exile on Main Street, the Rolling Stones

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Bouncing Souls and Bad Religion at the House of Blues Boston

It’s a good thing I’m not a reviewer (of music OR books), because this is not terribly current; then again, if it was my job to review things, I would review them promptly, and it would be other things that fell by the wayside instead. Can’t be all things to all people all the time.

Anyway, 10/18 was the Bouncing Souls/Bad Religion show at the House of Blues that I’d been looking forward to for ages. I’ve been listening to both these bands’ music for years; I’ve seen them live several times each, and their live shows have been consistently some of the best I’ve been to. They have great energy, a good attitude, appreciation for their fans (without being overly talkative), and great music. The Souls have been together for over twenty years – I saw them play on their 20th anniversary tour in New York – and Bad Religion has been together for thirty. So you could say they’ve also had some practice; for (punk) rock bands, they’re very workmanlike – not consumed with being rockstars, but also not bored with what they do. So, I was really looking forward to seeing them play together.

The Bouncing Souls went on first. I didn’t keep track of the setlist as closely as I usually do, and they played some songs I didn’t know – I don’t have all their albums – but they did play “Kate is Great” and “ECFU!” from Tie One On; “Hopeless Romantic” from Hopeless Romantic; “Highway Kings” from Anchors Aweigh; and “Lean On Sheena” from The Gold Record.

Bad Religion headlined, and were great as usual, though they played a lot of songs I didn’t recognize (again, I don’t have encyclopedic knowledge of their whole canon, but I was there with friends who were also fans, and they said the same). I know they played “Generator” and “21st Century Digital Boy” and “American Jesus” as they almost always do, in addition to “Los Angeles Is Burning,” “Infected,” “Sinister Rouge,” “New Dark Ages,” “Sorrow,” and “Requiem for Dissent.”

Bad Religion is one of those bands whose lyrics are dense, tightly packed, indecipherable to new listeners, and have a political agenda; Process of Belief was the first album of theirs that I really got into, and it took a while me to absorb it. I do love how there are words in their songs that you never expect to hear in music. For example, take this line from “Materialist” off Process: “You’re obsessed and distressed ’cause you can’t make any sense / of the ludicrous nonsense and incipient senescence / that will deem your common sense useless…” Incipient senescence?! I know a lot of liberal arts colleges now have History of Rock ‘n’ Roll courses; I think some history and political science professors could get together and make a great course based on Bad Religion lyrics. (Antioch? Hampshire? Wesleyan?)

Bad Religion certainly isn’t the only band with an extensive and unusual vocabulary; I recently noticed the word “dirigible” in the song “Sons & Daughters” on the Decemberists album The Crane Wife, and years ago I had to look up “autoclave” (from “Fall Victim” off Alkaline Trio’s Crimson). Interesting fact: 90 percent of all text consists of only 7,500 words. I read this in a textbook for school, Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century, in the chapter about dictionaries; the Macmillan English Dictionary bases its selection for inclusion on this fact. As there are, conservatively, a quarter of a million words in the English language, the fact that most books, newspapers, etc. only use the same 7,500 over and over again is…well, not so surprising, really, but it makes it all the more delightful when an unexpected one shows up, doesn’t it? [End of word nerd segment.]

Anyway, back to the House of Blues – it was a good show, and the audience was relaxing to be a part of; the average Bouncing Souls or Bad Religion fan is usually older and male, which is infinitely preferable to dealing with a mass of screaming thirteen-year-old girls making heart shapes with their hands and having the spatial sense, collectively, of a six-month-old golden retriever. (Thus spake the Ancient One who wore foam earplugs and went straight home to bed.)

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