Playlist Friday: Creative professions

If you noticed a hiatus here on the blog – or anything else awry with the universe, for that matter – I have a very good explanation: artistic temperament.

“Andy Warhol” – David Bowie

At the David Bowie Is exhibit, I learned that Andy Warhol didn’t think much of this song, but as far as I’m concerned it’s brilliant. Incidentally, Bowie’s portrayal of Warhol in Basquiat is spectacular too.

“Stage” – Live

They’re loud, they’re from the ’90s, they vehemently refuse to give up the stage. I can get behind that.

Little Egypt” – The Coasters

You can tell this song is old because when the dude falls in love with the mindblowingly talented burlesque dancer, she has to give up her art for the priviledge of bearing him seven children. This wouldn’t happen now because women have made tremendous strides towards gender equality. She’d only have two kids, three tops.

“Do It With a Rockstar” – Amanda Palmer

Wait, needy lonely rockstars actually exist? Asking for a friend.
P.S. Awesome video, which I set to start 2 minutes in, where the song begins. Do watch the whole thing if you have time.

“Paperback Writer” – The Beatles

The only song about writers I could find is by a band I absolutely loathe, and the sad reality of this is not mitigated by the fact that the lyrics are actually pretty good.

“The Piano Has Been Drinking” – Tom Waits

And speaking of amazing lyrics…
Now I want a drink. Wait, that’s how the blog ended up on hiatus. Nevermind.

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Playlist Friday: Drinking songs

It’s another Friday! This calls for a celebration. Cheers!

“If You Don’t Start Drinkin’ (I’m Gonna Leave) ” – George Thorogood

George Thorogood’s problem is that he’s got too many good drinking songs. Oh, and also, he’s a really bad influence on his sober friends.

“Salt of the Earth” – The Rolling Stones

So you’ve succumbed to peer pressure and the evening’s first brew is in your hand – let’s toast to something worthwhile. Here’s to the hardworking people, the salt of the earth. The two (now seven) thousand million. Hopefully not to each one individually.

“Drinking Song” – Jason Webley

Your typical drinking song tends to sound like a sea chanty because the same rhythm that helps a bunch of people keep a cohesive pace while oaring also helps them keep a cohesive swaying and glass-thumping pace while boozing. I’m just guessing here.

Jason Webley, by the way, also collaborates with Amanda Palmer on Evelyn Evelyn – a conjoined twins act. Yeah. But I mostly like him because he sounds like Kevin Quain.

“Catch You in the Rye” – Kevin Quain

Who’s Kevin Quain, you ask? This guy. He kicks ass.

At this point in the evening, it’s time to dance.

“Jockey Full of Bourbon” – Tom Waits

Still dancing, but starting to trip up now.

“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” – John Lee Hooker

I like bourbon, so let’s stick with that. It’s last call anyway.

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Playlist Friday: And now, for the weather

The outdoor art show season is upon us, so if I may address the weather gods for a moment: “You’ve pulled some interesting tricks this year. That hail-bordering-on-snow in May was a neat one. But let’s not go crazy this weekend. Some of us have outdoor exhibits to set up. Go have a beer on a patio, relax, listen to some tunes about your heroic exploits, let the sun do its thing. Kthxbye.”

“Stormy Weather” – Pixies

Sometimes there’s just nothing more to be said. When it’s time, it’s time. That time is not this Saturday. Just sayin’.

“Lightning Crashes” – Live

This is an epic, life-and-death thunderstorm they’re singing about. Once-in-a-lifetime thing. Statistically unlikely to happen this weekend. Unless your baby is due?

“Moanin’ Wind” – Michelle Rumball

This is how I feel about wind, too. But, as this lovely Toronto singer points out, you just gotta stick it out. And make sure you weight down your tent properly, or it’ll fly away.

“Strange Weather” – Marianne Faithfull

Just a really beautiful song. Not really about the weather at all.

“More Than Rain” – Tom Waits

Neither is this one. Wait, none of them are. Forget I said anything.

“Come Rain or Come Shine” – Etta James

Come shine, thanks. Oh, you’re all out of cake? So my choices are “or, death”?*

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Playlist Friday: Notes from space

This lunatic playlist is dedicated to Mars Curiosity, Sarcastic Rover, and the Interplanetary Internet.

“Planet of Sound” – Pixies

And you know that once the Interplanetary Internet gets going, people will be using it to illegally download music from the Planet of Sound. Pixies tried to get there using a fission drive, but they seem to have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

“Space Oddity” – David Bowie

Somebody else who got famously lost in space is Major Tom. Of course, if one was to compile a playlist of only the very best space songs, it would contain mostly Bowie. Having to choose just one of his, I’d say “Space Oddity” is the most intense and the creepiest. The lines “And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear / Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare” has much the same effect on me as that moment in horror movies when somebody says, “Look, there’s something moving in the forest, I’ll go and check.” You know that things are about to take a turn for the worse.

“Major Tom (Coming Home)” – Peter Schilling

From space horror to space-horror synth-pop, this German’s take on Bowie’s Major Tom story apparently topped the charts in 1983. I heard it for the first time yesterday – thanks to a tip from my husband, may his weird taste in music live long and prosper – and it is adorable.

“Spaceman” – Bif Naked

Bif Naked’s “Spaceman” was overplayed on MuchMusic in that sliver of the ’90s when I actually watched TV, but the reason this song will always have a special place in my heart is that Kat, my best friend in high school, would holler it at the top of her lungs while plugging her ears when she wanted to pointedly ignore whatever you were saying – in that way most people would yell “La La La, can’t hear you!” Not sure why. Fond memories.

“Astronaut (A Short History of Nothing)” – Amanda Palmer

Just think how much happier AFP’s relationship with the astronaut could have been if only the Interplanetary Internet was already in place. They could’ve kept in touch over Twitter and avoided the dismal lack of communication that got them into this twisted emotional head-space.

“In Space” – Ludo

Now imagine this is Amanda Palmer’s astronaut’s story from his point of view. Dramatic irony galore. Star-crossed lovers retold for the star-faring age. Juliet’s not really dead, only the letter where everything is explained never reaches Romeo. The astronaut is not emotionally distant at all, it’s just the lack of Interplanetary Internet.

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Playlist Friday: Colouring songbook

Do try to colour outside the lines.

“They’re Red Hot” – Hugh Laurie

Did you know that Hugh Laurie released a blues album a couple of years ago? He often played piano and guitar on House, Fry & Laurie and Jeeves & Wooster, so he’s clearly been secretly planning this for years. I don’t love his singing voice, but the album is still well worth a listen. There’s also a charming and hilarious introductory essay by him in the liner notes on why it’s ok for a white middle-aged British dude to sing old black men’s music.

Something else that Hugh Laurie wrote, incidentally – and I recommend this without any reservations, because it’s brilliant and not the least bit a vanity project – is a novel called The Gun Seller. It’s a humorous thriller that reads like a Wodehousian parody of noir fiction and it’s very, very good.

Tangerine from MEssing Around by Molly JohnsonTangerine” – Molly Johnson

I chanced upon Molly Johnson performing at the Toronto Jazz Festival nearly ten years ago, and was captivated by her singing. She seems to have gained in popularity since then – winning a Juno and even recording a promotional clip for Ontario. Rumor has it though, that junk mail addressed to her still occasionally arrives at the Cameron Public House, where she used to room in her less-renowned days.

Yellow Submarine, the BeatlesYellow Submarine” – The Beatles

Since we’re rumor-mongering – I heard that these guys have something of a cult following? They’re not my cup of tea, but neither is the colour yellow, so they are welcome to each other.

Moreover, research conducted while putting this playlist together indicates that yellow is the least musically inspiring colour and there are really no good songs out there that feature it, aside from this one and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.

Green Grass” – Agathe & Fine

What do you mean I include Tom Waits in every playlist? He’s so well disguised here, I didn’t think you’d notice.

But since you did, I should tell you that Female Tribute to Tom Waits is an extraordinary three-volume collection of Tom Waits covers by women, full of startlingly beautiful, poignant and whimsical interpretations of his songs. There are big-names artists like Marianne Faithfull, Norah Jones and Holly Cole, but also many singers that I discovered here for the first time. There are covers in Spanish, impromptu live recordings, and charismatic French-accented voices. No other tribute collection I’ve heard reveals the depths of beauty lurking in the original songs quite as powerfully as this one.

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Playlist Friday: Describe your ideal woman

You: perfect, unattainable, batshit crazy.
Me:  in a band, lyrically gifted, aesthetically averse to vanilla.
Did I imagine it, or did you also feel that might make a fun playlist?

I have received complaints that the last playlist post had far too much writing in it. So you know what? No more writing after this paragraph. This is a no-justifications playlist. But – if you like it this way, leave a comment, so I’ll know.

Edited to add: I changed my mind so there will be more writing.

“Eurotrash Girl” – Cracker
This epic journey in search of the ideal woman resembles a one-man reenactment of the movie Eurotrip
“Short Skirt, Long Jacket” – Cake
Remember when Lucy Liu posed as an efficiency expert in a black leather business suit in Charlie’s Angels? That’s the girl Cake is looking for.
“Next Girl” – The Black Keys
This song’s greatness pales in comparison with the video for it. Watch it. There is a dinosaur puppet.
“Broken Heart” – Black Lab
These guys made a girl cry and now, apparently, she’s just perfect. Fucking rock stars.
“Atom Bomb” – Fluke
I’d like to date a well-equipped villain with a secret lair too, but a girl whose mind is set on world domination probably doesn’t have time for romance.
“Like a Friend” – Pulp
The “friend” strategy for getting the girl is rarely the right approach. This has been proven by expert stickfigures.

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Playlist Friday: For lovers of similes and metaphors

I can’t promise to do this every Friday, so some Fridays will be more special than others.

This Friday’s playlist was inspired by the lyrics of the Tom Waits song ”After You Die,” which are composed entirely of similes. Similes and metaphors, as you know, are the basic literary trope much abused by poets and songwriters of all ages. So it’s pretty impressive that some of them are still managing to cram songs full of really good ones.

“After You Die” – Tom Waits

What is it like after you die? Pretty surreal, according to this bonus track on Tom Waits’ latest album, Bad as Me. A few great suggestions as to what the afterlife may be like include “Like a rich guy clapping” and “Like a wild-ass painting.” At least that’s how I always heard this line – “a wild-ass painting,” as in “a painting that blows your mind.” But I just saw this written on a lyrics site as “a wild ass painting,” as in “an undomesticated donkey creating a piece of visual art.” I think this interpretation rift may turn into a breakaway religious movement one day.

Rain On the Midway - Single, Kevin Quain“Rain on the Midway” – Kevin Quain

A haunting love song from my favorite Toronto goth blues songwriter is a gripping answer to that age-old question once tackled in a Victorian sonnet – “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”:
   I love you like tornadoes in spring,
   Like old guitar strings,
   Like Nina Simone sings…
Listen to it on iTunes and see if it doesn’t send shivers up your spine.

“Turn Me On” – Nina Simone

As for how Nina Simone sings – here she is, waiting to be turned on “like a light bulb in a dark room.” Gorgeous, heartbreaking song pleading for the return of a lover who left, which ends – appropriately enough – with a request for some fresh ice-cubes in her drink.

“Wild is the Wind” – David Bowie

It was Nina Simone’s cover of “Wild is the Wind” that inspired David Bowie to record his own version of this song. It compares the intensity of his love to the wildness of wind, which is as romantic as the wildness of the painting ass we encountered earlier is not. Incidentally, did you know David Bowie’s new album The Next Day is coming out in a couple of weeks and that he recently released a new wild-ass video for it, starring Tilda Swinton?

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Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra at the Phoenix, Toronto

Having just wrapped up the European leg of her Theatre is Evil tour, and still recovering from bronchitis, Amanda Palmer put on a lavishly energetic, masterful rock show for an enthusiastic crowd at the Phoenix Concert Theatre last night.

Driven by the confident and charismatic singer, who was clearly in her element, the show felt both like a big hot glam punk performance and an intimate house party.

Introducing her first opening act – bass player Jherek Bischoff’s solo project – in a kimono, and doing a warm-up dance with the second, Amanda chatted affably with the audience, spoke warmly of her band members “who are not only great musicians but also beautiful people,” and complimented Toronto and “that place with the donuts and the coffee,” which the band had visited “at least three times” in the one day they’ve been in the city.

Jherek Bischoff, Amanda Palmer, The Simple Pleasure stretching arms up

Amanda Palmer warming up for “crancing” with the The Simple Pleasure.

She also shared proudly the fact that, minutes before the show, Trent Reznor tweeted a laconic compliment to her just-released “Do It with a Rockstar” video (NSFW).

The all-white clad Grand Theft Orchestra launched into the main part of the show with the instrumental “Grand Theft Intermission”, backed up by a string section enlisted from local Toronto violinists and cellists – a customary invitation Amanda extends to local musicians on every stop of her tour. One of the violinists set the record last night for the youngest person to play with GTO onstage, at 15 years old.

Three violinists in background, Amanda Palmer on keyboard on stage

Local Toronto violinists backing up AFP & GTO onstage at the Phoenix

With hit singles from the new record, Theatre is Evil, and older songs both from AFP’s first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and her former band The Dresden Dolls, there was a satisfying musical variety of hard rock, pop rock and ballads in the set list. Visually stunning crowd surf performance during “Bottomfeeder” (see gorgeous pictures of it from the NYC show here) and slapstick band member changeover routine during “Missed Me” made for great entertainment. Often biting, but always thoughtful lyrics that dig deep under the surfaces of relationships made for an emotional experience.

intense AFP & GTO performance

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Bluegrass night at Barfly, Montreal

Barfly, Montreal logoWhen I lived in Montreal six years ago, bluegrass night had already been a decade-old Sunday night tradition at Barfly. Last weekend I had the chance to visit this favorite haunt of mine after a wretchedly long absence, and was happy to see that this landmark of the Montreal music scene is still going strong and about to celebrate its 15th anniversary on November 11th.

Though a legendary dive, Barfly can be hard to find with its tiny front on St. Laurent boulevard in the heart of Montreal’s trendy Plateau district. Decorated with Montreal Canadiens hockey memorabilia, dents in the walls, and a bust of Elvis, the bar with its cheap beer, excellent live music and free pool draws a crowd of university students, music lovers and whiskey-sodden barflies in varying proportions.

The musicians that show up to play old time country and bluegrass music on Sunday nights are equally varied in age, style, and musical experience. With a typical turnout of about ten, the group usually includes a couple of guitars and banjos, a mandolin and a lap steel guitar, a stand-up bass and a fiddle. The players rotate in fronting the band for three songs, in a lineup randomly generated by chalking their names on a blackboard as each arrives. This spontaneous arrangement results in a new show every week, the style, feel and quality of which often varies immensely depending on who shows up and at what time of night.

A group of musicians on stage at Barfly

A typical bluegrass night lineup with fiddle, mandolins, upright bass, guitar and Dobro

If you think you don’t like country music because you associate it with the mainstream acts in oversized cowboy hats and glittering outfits singing about keying their ex’s car to the overly engineered sound of electric guitars, you are in good company. That’s how most patrons of bluegrass night feel the first time they are reluctantly dragged to Barfly by their enthusiastic friends who have been there before. The raw, acoustic, alive, complex bluegrass sound you will hear there is as far from what you think of as country as you can get. The intricacy of Flatt & Scruggs breakdowns will knock your socks off, the multi-part vocal harmonies of Stanley Brothers‘ gospel songs will give you goose bumps, and the dexterity of the banjo pickers will blow your mind. Inevitably, the extensive oeuvre of Johnny Cash will also be featured.

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