Archive for the writing Category

quitters never win

Posted in drama, music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , on February 22, 2012 by bex0r

If you have been following my writing, you might have noticed that I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from music journo/blogging. It’s really nothing to do with the wonderful sites/publications I was writing for, or the great quality of artists I’ve gotten to review in Vancouver, but more to do with the fact that I’ve come to view music criticism (in the professional voice) as a bit of a sham.

No one really cares what I (or anyone else, for that matter) thinks about a show.  As Dan Bern said, “The age of specialization is over”. Meaning, we all have our own opinions and ability to assess talent and quality, and what’s more-through the democratization of media (like, the interwebs and da blawgs and da twitters and such) we all have a medium through which to amplify and broadcast those opinions. So why would anyone care about what I think? You have the power and creativity to put down your thoughts in a cohesive and engaging manner, all the more power to you! Go for it! (confession: I pretty much only read music reviews for the pictures anyway…)

Not to knock anyone who is currently writing professional music critique/reviews, but I’m just SO OVER IT.

I’m returning to my roots, which is self-indulgent, navel-gazing, confession-based blogging. If you’re curious as to what I’m up to now, or would like to read about my social experiment (complete with highly personal, exploratory musings) they can be found at www.oneyearoffun.com .

peace out wiggas!

xo

b.

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Portishead at PNE Forum, Vancouver, Oct 24 2011

Posted in music journalism, reviews, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , on October 24, 2011 by bex0r

Last night, Portishead reminded all music fans to never stop carrying a torch for your favorite artists – long after you’ve given them up for dead they can always surprise you.

Vocalist Beth Gibbon’s public battle with alcoholism, depression and paranoia kept her from touring North America for years and many PH fans on this side of the pond had completely given up hope. But a big surprise was in store for all who attended the PNE Forum Oct 24; even the cavernous smelly barn couldn’t kill the vibe that emanated from this timelessly classic three-piece British ensemble (who performed with a few back-up musicians).

With a polish that only comes from years of playing, writing and recording together and a sensitivity that can only come from age, experience and a truly creative spirit, this group impressed with both their vivacity and soul. Beth Gibbon’s strikingly melancholy voice and her visible emotional and physical fragility were set in sharp relief by her large band of energetic and strong male accomplices. Like having your heart wrenched from your body and ground into the dirty sidewalk, Portishead killed Vancouver Monday night, but it felt so good.

Credit: Ashley Tanasiychuk for The Snipe News

Sia at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Aug 19 2011

Posted in music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2011 by bex0r

Credit: Ash Tanasiychuk for The Snipe News

Aussie songstress Sia (not to be confused with American drumstep artist Ana Sia) along with two pals, Ximena Sarinana and Oh Land, impressed the sold-out Commodore Ballroom crowd Friday night with a show featuring all aspects of the feminine. From the cute and petite Spanish soul stylings of Ximena, to the waifish avant-garde posturing of Oh Land to the gutsy barroom growls and toilet bowl humor of Sia Furler, each female brought a distinctly different character and a sound for every palate.

Definitely the black-horse up ‘n’ comer Ximena stole the award for straight-up star quality, charisma and talent. Putting the insubstantial and at times inane Oh Land to shame, Ximena had a solid crowd gathered to worship her powerful voice and exotic lyrical stylings.  Seeing her on stage you would never guess the petite singer/songwriter was barely 5’2 – her voice projected in a manner of operatic divas three times her size.

Next up the theatrical Oh Land took the stage to treat the audiences to her latest rehash of late 2000’s electro-clash meets ’90s Euro house. This reviewer admired her costume, but that was about it.

Finally, the performer everyone had been waiting for appeared before us in a ruffled cape (which she joked was covered in vaginas) and cascading tiered skirt. “Quirky, extroverted and fun” pretty much sums up Sia’s onstage presence. Her stage set was decorated with custom carpets, crocheted blankets and every other stand and boom had been yarn-bombed in true East Van style.

Her witty, infectious banter won the crowd over in between her trademark gut-wrenching, pitch-perfect vocal performances. Bringing out material from all three of her major label releases, she also performed her crowd-pleasing cover of Madonna’s “You Can’t Hurt Me Now” – her unique homage to an ’80s pop inspiration and not ironic in the slightest. She left her two biggest hits, “Breathe Me” and “Clap Your Hands”, for the encore, which seemed fine with everyone. “And now for the two songs you all paid to see,” she snidely quipped. We didn’t mind at all.

Bass Coast Project – 2011 Review

Posted in friends, journal, music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2011 by bex0r

This past weekend marked the third inception of the art and music celebration Bass Coast Project in Squamish, BC. Produced by founders Andrea Graham, Andrea Oakden and Liz Thomson, along with a large team of volunteers and staff, this event took place at the stunning Squamish Valley Campground and set the bar a notch or two higher for festivals in Canada.

Attendees with license plates from as far as California and Winnipeg (and everywhere in between) enjoyed a delicious selection of electronic music throughout the weekend. Focusing on the best of bass-heavy music, the diverse festival boasted genres from house to straight-up funk, breaks to dubstep, drum & bass to reggae mash-up.

Musical highlights of the weekend were hard to keep track of – virtually every performer brought something new and exciting to the three stages. Friday night stars included Self Evident, Prison Garde, Dave Nada and Lorne B. Saturday boasted a slew of non-musical events including a mud wrestling competition won by Vancouver’s own warrior goddess DJ Blondtron, a fashion show presented by House of Bass, and a variety of interesting workshops and yoga classes.

The energy, innovation and insightful track selection by Robot Koch got many people moving on Sunday night. The Librarian (aka Andrea Graham) played a beautiful birthday set later on, despite having broken an ankle earlier in the festival. Other performers of note included Timothy Wisdom, who wowed the crowd at the Slay Bay Stage with his crazy distorted harmonica licks and belly-dance crew Luciterra, who enchanted the Bass Coast audience with beautiful movements and enthralling storytelling.

Another aspect that topped other music festivals was the incredible amount and diversity of art installations on site. The larger pieces included the main Bass Coast Stage, which was constructed to resemble a fairy-tale house reminiscent of Tim Burton movies, and the Slay Bay Stage, over which hovered a twenty-foot high praying mantis assembled from recycled wood strips. In the forest a geodesic dome housed a large altar, composed of giant whale bones, animal skulls, feathers and shells.

Video installations dotted the festival grounds, and these often surprised festival -goers with beautiful imagery imposed over trees, screens, a sandy beach and tents. A video light-painting exhibit enabled participants to paint with LCD light swords onto two giant projection screens.

The beauty of the natural scenery of the Squamish Valley Campground, including the Squamish River, waterfalls, mountains, sandy beach and peaceful forest were treated well by all attendees, with staff, volunteers and festival-goers alike making a great effort to keep garbage off the ground. Ample facilities for recycling and waste management were provided and environmental consciousness was high for the duration of the festival. The attitudes of partiers and staff also set this event apart, with a friendly, relaxed and enthusiastic vibe pervading the space and making social dynamics gel smoothly.

Bicycles proved to be a necessity for most, as the campgrounds were much farther from the stages than expected. One thing that could be improved would be a bike-locking area by each stage and in the downtown core, as well as a greater variety of food vendors. Some thought could also be put into the orientation of the stages, which both faced onto the beach and resulted in cross-bleeding of audio in one of the most attractive chill spaces on the grounds. Other than these few very minor tweaks, Bass Coast Project was a resounding success.

Handsome Furs at the Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, July 22 2011

Posted in journal, music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , on July 22, 2011 by bex0r

On Friday night, Handsome Furs made their much-anticipated return to Vancouver on a shared bill with Brooklyn post-hardcore band Les Savy Fav.

Originally slated for the larger Commodore Ballroom, the show was moved to the Rickshaw Theatre on East Hastings at the last minute. While Montreal-via-Vancouver husband/wife duo Handsome Furs did draw a big enough crowd to fill the Rickshaw adequately, it seemed that perhaps Les Savy Fav’s fan base was a little thin and the venue shuffle was probably a smart move.

Handsome Furs took the stage at about 10 o’clock to much anticipation and an overly aggressive smoke machine pumping out clouds of smelly dry ice. Through the haze came Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry, the sexy, married couple-turned-international-indie-dance sensation, complete with multicolored lasers (they must have known I was coming).

Boeckner, formerly of Wolf Parade, truly shines as the musical backbone of this group. He played an amazing lead and rhythm guitar, in addition to intricate synth melodies and lead vocals reminiscent of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis. Partner Alexei Perry provided much of the energy and punchy back-up vocals along with cuing their drum and synth loops and playing some simpler synth lines. While Boeckner stands out for his musicality, Perry equally shines for sheer enthusiasm and stage presence.

The move from more traditional guitar-based indie-rock to electronic-based dance is a successful one for Handsome Furs. Although initial spins of their new album Sound Kapital left this reviewer underwhelmed, their live performance adds a dimension that is often missed on recordings. Performed live, the tunes highlighted their strong songwriting and arranging talents. While the album mostly feels flat and robotic, lacking the sonic texture, emotion and grit we’ve come to associate with Handsome Furs’ sound, their live performance truly is a robust and energizing spectacle with all the guts, balls and heart missing on the record.

The addition of two percussionists and back-up vocals/off-stage antics of Vancouver indie-folksters Basketball on “Serve The People” reinvigorated the crowd, and also tested the bouncer who tried to keep the band from climbing over the barricade onto the stage. Although not a totally spontaneous moment (Basketball had provided opening support for the Furs’ previous Canadian tour dates), it was nonetheless one of musical serendipity.

The Black Keys at Deer Lake Park, June 27, 2011

Posted in journal, music journalism, rock & roll, writing with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2011 by bex0r

Sure they’ve won a bucket of Grammy awards, have a platinum-selling album, have graced the cover of every major music publication in the civilized world, and probably scored more sexual favors than Stifler’s mom, but here are the real reasons why you should see The Black Keys live (if you weren’t among the 2000-odd folks at Deer Lake Park this evening).

•    You might get to rub shoulders with Danger Mouse (!!).
•    You may witness (as I did) eight security guards take down one hapless stoned hippie during the blazing finale to old school Keys track “I’m Busted” (oh the irony).
•    You’ll enjoy a refreshingly DIY-style stage and lighting design which oozed a unique, effortless cool and distinctly different character than the usual high-end LCD/smoke machine jazz (yawn).

•    You’ll hear throwbacks to early Black Keys years with the duo performing their songs as they were meant to be played (strictly two brothers, two instruments, and pure raw, unrestrained rock and roll magic on “thickfreakness” and “Girl is On My Mind”).
•    If you happen to hear Otis Redding’s version of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” play before the show, you can glibly inform the clueless teenagers next to you that no, that’s not Mick Jagger.
•    You’re guaranteed to get a decent second-hand buzz from merely standing in the general vicinity of the mosh pit.
•    If the beer garden sells out of beer before the band even goes on, you can pay some chick $20 for the warm flat Granville Island Pale Ale she was triple fisting (but thanks Live Nation for capping beer sales—this is a responsible move more concert promoters need to ape).
•    While still a little awkward and disjointed at times, tracks like “Howlin For You”, “Long Gone” and “Everlasting Light” played with a full backing band sound MASSIVE, lush and pack a visceral punch. Having a backing band also means guitarist Dan Auerbach has the lead to pull out those amazing extended solos without having to hold down the rhythm guitar line.

•    You’ll get to see the largest disco ball to likely ever grace a rock & roll stage (I can imagine the bragging rights that go along with that but I’ll steer clear of the obvious “big balls” pun here).
•    You’ll be listening to one of the greatest rock and roll bands to come out of the States, well – pretty much ever.  And that’s something actually worth bragging about.

If you reside somewhere other than Vancouver, keep your eyes out for The Black Keys in your hometown as they journey across the country this summer!

Invasion Festival at Thunderbird Arena, Vancouver, June 25 2011

Posted in electronic music, music journalism, writing with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2011 by bex0r

On Saturday, June 25, MSH Sessions hosted Invasion Festival at UBC Thunderbird Arena. The night boasted a 100,000 watt sound system, direct from the Village stage at Shambhala, and a lineup unheard of in Vancouver history – Datsik, Excision, Dieselboy and Crystal Method. Both old school techno/d&b fans and new school dubstep fans were in luck, as both sounds were well represented by these legendary artists.

The venue, perhaps not such an odd choice if class had in fact been in session, was quite a trek to reach. The hour-long bus ride, crammed with smelly old men and screaming babies put a bit of damper on the fun. The choice of using UBC’s brand new Thunderbird Arena was definitely strange, as classes at the university were out in April and the venue was only at half-capacity the entire night. Perhaps the lengthy distance from downtown and the ‘burbs, along with the $55 ticket price, early start time and lack of alcoholic concessions, contributed to a less-than-stellar turnout.

That said, the quality of talent and production value most definitely warranted a higher priced ticket. MSH Sessions booked a solid lineup of world-class talent and PK Sound brought the bass in a serious way, which for dubstep and D&B is a must. Those without the foresight to bring earplugs were no doubt ringing for days after. Sound quality overall was excellent, which is a feat for an arena show. With the exception of some technical difficulties during the switchover to Crystal Method’s gear, the musical part of the night went off without a hitch.

The visuals were impressive, with two large projection screens and a custom made lighting rig that resembled a huge spaceship hovering over the stage. The lighting and smoke were complementary for the most part and added an element of the theatric to the show. One major disappointment, however, was the distinct lack of lasers, which are to be expected in big arena shows catering to the “nu-rave” generation.

The standout act of the night was no doubt Excision, with his punishing blend of vocal-driven anthems and industrial-influenced dubstep. Bringing the energy levels up after a lukewarm reception to the Crystal Method (perhaps a little too old school for the majority of a 19-22 year old crowd), Excision blasted the crowd with more bass than they could handle. His style, while thoroughly modern, is perhaps not pushing any boundaries for musical innovation, but his crowd-pleasing anthems and engaging stage presence made it difficult not to enjoy his set.

Other points of note were the very professional and friendly event staff who did an excellent job of running the event smoothly. A minor police presence was noticeable, but they were mostly doing casual spot searches for contraband (which is to be expected at a dry event).

A distinct lack of strung-out zombies or excessively high dance floor causalities was a pleasant surprise for this reviewer, perhaps proving that you can throw alcohol-free 19+ electronic music events in the city without suffering from over-usage of other less legal substances. Massive props to MSH Sessions and PK Sound for another very successful event!