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: 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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Fragments of culture: awesome upcoming Toronto events

If I missed these because someone who cares didn’t tell me about them on their blog, I would cry. To spare you this fate, here are some fantastic cultural events happening in Toronto this fall, in order of decreasing urgency:

Doctorow sliding down a rope in a red capeThis week:

Cory Doctorow – Boing Boing editor, sci fi author, Internet rights activist, world-renowned defender of our digital freedom and xkcd superhero – is making a number of appearances in Toronto area this week, including a reading from his new YA novel at Oakville Public Library on Wednesday Sep. 26 and a book launch party at Bakka Phoenix Books on Thursday Sep. 27.

October:

International Festival of Authors is happening Oct.18-28 at the Harbourfront Centre with readings, interviews and round table events with over 100 international authors, including some very famous ones like Alice Munro and some very awesome ones like the fantasy and weird fiction author China Miéville.

November:

The spectacular punk cabaret musicians Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra are doing a show at Phoenix Concert Theatre on November 9th as part of the tour for their recently released Kickstarter-funded and much-lauded darkly pop & glamorously rock album Theatre is Evil. The world tour is sold out in most cities, but Toronto still has tickets. Expect a visually stunning high-energy show full of life, crowd participation, and probably toplessness.

These two videos are gorgeous and you should watch them. (Obligatory warnings: one is NSFW and the other is very bloody.)


Ongoing every Sunday till end of December:

The fantastic Queen St West blues & cabaret band Kevin Quain and the Mad Bastards, who’ve been playing Sunday nights at the Cameron House for the last seventeen years will be wrapping up this landmark Toronto gig at the end of December. Go see them there while you still can! There’ll be dark, soulful, smooth music as well as rousing barfly humour. Kevin Quain, in addition to his mastery of piano, accordion and guitar, is also likely to feature a black eye and play the musical saw.