Johnny Marr: Call the Comet

Johnny Marr is a man that needs no introduction to anyone who grew up listening to his music with The Smiths, his perfect 1990 super-group with Bernard Sumner, Electronic, his contributions with The The, Billy Bragg, and many more. Marr has made a habit of guesting on more albums than has been publicly tracked, but you know his unique sounds when you hear them. In the 2000s, Marr kept innovating and collaborating with up and coming bands, joining Modest Mouse and The Cribs for periods of time. This month, Marr has been touring album three across the U.S., with a full slate of dates in the U.K. and Europe to follow into early December.

Music fans in Toronto and the same clusters of kids around the globe would talk about Johnny Marr over cases of Molson Special Dry in dark, loud living rooms of their teens and twenties the way sports fans talked about Michael Jordan, George Best or Wayne Gretzky. This beloved star was a natural, but also, a champion, one who weathered the pressures and obstacles of his profession with an impossible grace. We were not nostalgic, rather, eagerly awaited Marr’s next appearance on other bands’ records and tried to best each other with news. Fans like us were well versed in the U.K. music press from downtown music stores that were this city’s beating heart, passed from hand to hand and cherished, dog-eared, like hardcover books, and we were innately tuned to his signature sounds in a way that is almost impossible to articulate without sounding like bad poetry. But it’s true. Once, our hearts beat to jangly guitars, the sound of our own beating, hopeful lives. Once. This is the place Marr’s music holds for many and it’s a flag held aloft, with joy, to this day.

A bit of history: we got The Smiths late over here. Once we found them, they were already flirting with Strangeways. Most people never saw them play live in this city, and the lore of such a thing is treated to this very day with reverence and skepticism. That was the downside of being Canadian. We kids had no mobility, or notion of following a band, or of an overseas flight. We got the music just a little late, but like all great music, the rarest great music, The Smiths transcended not only genre, place and time, but also space and geography for a generation and now, the generation that has followed our own. There is a strange sort of nostalgia going on in the youth today, one that wants to know and understand a phenomenon that cannot be synthesized through retro TV shows and films. The places where everyone is dressed just a little too day-glow or cookie-cutter Goth, in a climate where everyone’s references are Tumblr-shallow. The attempt is endearing. They want to know. They want to believe. And that’s a good thing, because they are right to covet what was special and forever misunderstood. Curiosity is welcome as long as the young leave the memes and imagined silly feuds alone, and know that art never sits still or it would turn to dust. The past is long gone. Johnny Marr can only talk about the work he did at 23 for so long. His Smiths legacy matters. It’s not either /or. But what matters most is what lives on within us. What we took out of our own youths, and what he gave us in his. It’s here, before the crowds who understand, on tour. Some are still seeing this artist for the first time.

Bonus Material: We still remember, and treasure, poring over this chart from the late great SELECT magazine about how the world of Pop Music itself revolved around Johnny Marr. And this was early days.

On his 2014 tour, Johnny Marr, on the stage of Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall, produced something indescribable to fans who’d been waiting a lifetime. 90 minutes slipped away like a music video: we wanted to hit repeat, repeat, repeat. To hear him sing the songs our young hearts beat to, our older legs still dance to: “Big Mouth Strikes Again” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” (and so well) in harmony with those guitar riffs left a standing concert hall of people gobsmacked. JFM T-Shirts were seen everywhere in block text that even ex-Catholics can’t wear in the street, flown like flags that night. The new material fit seamlessly and energetically with the classics. The only thing to do the next day was to fantasize that we were rock stars: that a trip and a ticket could be procured for the next tour stop, stateside. It was one of the five or ten greatest sets of a lifetime of shows we’d seen, even as none had ever had more anticipation built up, or more risk for the nostalgic.

Johnny Marr is no nostalgist and deserves to be free of same from fans and reporters. The Smiths’ break up assured their greatness, mourned as it was, hijacked as the narrative might have been at the time. Marr is a musician’s musician, brimming with ideas, full of creativity, a musical prodigy.  And so he didn’t sit idle, allow himself to become melancholy. He never will. Which brings us to the new era of Johnny F*cking Marr. Through his continued musical collaborations, Marr took his time going solo. It’s clear that the man likes to work and play with others, to be part of a band. This was the way for many years. But when he was ready, Marr carefully waded in and did it in Johnny Marr fashion: with care, grace and quality. It couldn’t have been an easy or natural progression to begin to sing after so many years standing beside others in control of the mic, other frontmen. His playing is intricate and unique, and this would be like adding another job to the list to be done simultaneously. But Marr built his vocal sound like everything else he’d done before: with care. Gradually. Step by step, layer by layer, the hard work unseen, unpaid, until it looked effortless.

There is something rare and special about the artists that came from Manchester, that global kids knew at the time was a hotbed of innovation, of cool and of talent. Some are household names, others are not, but their own culture and scene was and still is something to behold. It is, to this observer, loving and kind, the biting, quick Mancunian wit reserved for keeping oneself humble, for football commentary and that world of sport that serves as therapy for everyone in the UK, while their unabashed affection and familial ways are reserved for one another, bottomless, awe-inspiring. They cheer for each other, whether on Glasto’s pyramid stage or trying out new sounds in intimate rooms, through the waxing and waning of the fickle and brutal industry and the shifting sands of American culture and the music world with all its seduction, heartbreak, and brutality. These great men and women can laugh and still weather all that has happened to music, to the business, to the radio, to journalism. They are stalwart, iconic, they carry on.

Johnny Marr’s cool, measured return to music as a solo artist brings along his signature traits: he will always have a crisp haircut and a relaxed but well-turned out look, head to toe. He stakes a new marker in his long and beautiful journey with a new band who he collaborates with and with whom he finds new colours. Marr is still evolving, never falling back into the self-referential. Call the Comet hits that third record sweet spot. He’s found a niche, he’s grown more comfortable and playful with his vocals and with each strum, the long ago past falls another inch away. So much is happening today. So much urgency, so much need for pure and driven music to keep us aloft, fighting, getting out of bed.

On Call the Comet Marr, joined by former members of Haven Iwan Gronow (bass) and Jack Mitchell (drums) as well as Doviak, casts his keen eye at the world, issues he cares about, and the diciest of all subjects today, the news, interpreting each of theme artistically and calmly. There’s a global perspective here that Manchester artists, uniquely, have a way of capturing. It’s rare, and impossible to generate from within an American mind. There is something in the mix that Johnny Marr has always expressed, something about being northern. That context versus London, versus the neon blinking myths of America, gives an outsider perspective that can allow for detached reason even when you’ve lived everyhere, and it’s coupled with a sense of humour that relates well to the one Canadians like to think of as our own.

But then there’s this:

“I’d climb in under skies so blue it yearns
Hand over hand, carried all the memories
And don’t look down in fate or fame
I tumble and glide into the white wide tide
Whirling and whirling
And let the slamming waves decide my fate
Because hope is all I need” (Walk into the Sea)

This reads like the energetic and open-hearted song writing of a young man, a fearless sort of writer. It is the eternally open creative mind at work, but it’s also the work of someone with life under his belt, survivor stories, brushes with fate, a cool kind of fame that is understated, and an ability to reflect on life. He has said in earlier press for the album, which came out in June, that he explored magic realism on this album. Marr is having fun with literary approaches that people don’t often link with music, but they should. All great writers find their way to the surreal, the magic realism, and the archetypal stories, if they develop enough. This is the album on the other side of a very well-received autobiography, Set the Boy Free. This is also the album made in a time of increased risk for artists and crowds, stages and arenas. It’s made by a man who stepped on the stage in Manchester one day after the attack in May 2017, with our own Broken Social Scene, no less. (Kevin Drew had also appeared on Johnny Marr’s Toronto stage in 2014, to the delight of all of us in a crowd that sees little spontaneity in big Toronto gigs, but is ever hopeful, and waits for news. Call the Comet is Johnny Marr’s strongest yet (and we loved Playland) further, with its storytelling, layered riffs and psych references, an innate ability to create anthemic sounds, and having come into his own as a singer, it stands up next to anything Marr’s done in his storied career.

Jacqueline Howell

Keep it Goin’ Full Steam: MCA Adam Yauch’s 20 Greatest Hits & Hidden Tracks

(Reposting on the 2018 anniversary.)

To mark the 3rd anniversary of Adam Yauch’s passing on May 4th, we’ve assembled a list of our Top 20 Greatest MCA lines. These include the ones our generation has committed to memory, and that the next generations ought to know. But we begin with a “hidden track” – a showcase of one set of lines that’s not so often quoted. Hidden tracks: you know, the thing we all lived for and searched for at the end of records, tapes and CDs back in the day? This great solo riff is hidden like treasure in an unusual, long track that’s a mix up of many styles and solo rhymes, with a vocal that is softer than usual and buried a bit in the mix. It happens in the middle of the epic, 12 minute “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” from 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, an album so misunderstood and so far ahead of its time that it was relegated to the bargain bins before the Beastie Boys’ return with Check Your Head, and their subsequent album, Ill Communication, made the world take notice of that experimental sophomore effort. In retrospect, Paul’s Boutique would receive mass critical, peer, and audience acclaim and be embraced as a landmark album in hip-hop. Carried within it was Yauch’s early philosophy of life that would form the basis of many of his ideas, statements and approaches to the world for the next 20 years.

And now, for the rest of MCA’s Greatest Hits:

1. “I Keep My Underwear Up With A Piece Of Elastic /I Use A Bullshit Mic That’s Made Out Of Plastic/To Send My Rhymes Out To All Nations/ Like Ma Bell, I’ve Got The Ill Communications.” (“Sure Shot”, 1994)

2. “If you can feel what I’m feeling then it’s a musical masterpiece/ If you can hear what I’m dealing with then that’s cool at least/ What’s running through my mind comes through in my walk/ True feelings are shown from the way that I talk” (“Pass the Mic”, 1992)

3. “Well I’m as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce/ You’ve got the rhyme and reason but no cause/ Well if you’re hot to trot you think you’re slicker than grease/ I’ve got news for you crews you’ll be sucking like a leech” (“So Whatcha Want”, 1992)

4. “If you try to knock me you’ll get mocked / I’ll stir fry you in my wok / Your knees will start shaking and your fingers pop / Like a pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock” (“Intergalactic”, 1998)

5. “I got more rhymes than I got grey hairs/ and that’s a lot because I got my share” (“Sure Shot”, 1994) 

 6. “Now my name is M.C.A. I’ve got a license to kill/ I think you know what time it is it’s time to get ill/ Now what do we have here an outlaw and his beer/ I run this land, you understand, I make myself clear.” (“Paul Revere”, 1986)

7. “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end” (“Sure Shot”, 1994)

8. “Well I got to keep it going keep it going full steam/ Too sweet to be sour too nice to be mean/ On the tough guy style I’m not too keen/ To try to change the world I will plot and scheme” (“Intergalactic”, 1998)

9. “Pass me the scalpel, I’ll make an incision/ I’ll cut off the part of your brain that does the bitching/ Put it in formaldehyde and put it on the shelf/ And you can show it to your friends and say that’s my old self” (“Make Some Noise”, 2011)

10. “Dear New York I hope you’re doing well / I know a lot’s happen and you’ve been through hell / So, we give thanks for providing a home / Through your gates at Ellis Island we passed in droves” (“An Open Letter to NYC”, 2004)

11. “A puppet on a string I’m paid to sing or rhyme/ Or do my thing I’m in a lava lamp inside my brain hotel/ I might be freakin’ or peakin’ but I rock well” (Shake Your Rump, 1989) (Pretty much perfection in a track, samples, rhymes, and penultimate Beastie Boys video.)

12. “Born and bred in Brooklyn the U.S.A./ They call me Adam Yauch but I’m M.C.A./ Like a lemon to a lime a lime to a lemon/ I sip the def ale with all the fly women” (“No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, 1986)

13. “Bob Marley was a prophet for the freedom fight/ ‘If dancin’ prays to the Lord then I shall feel alright’/ I’m feeling good to play a little music/ Tears running down my face ’cause I love to do it” (“Root Down”, 1994)

14. “A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain/I’m just chillin’, like Bob Dylan/Yeah I smoke cheeba, it helps me with my brain/I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane
People come up to me, and they try to talk shit / Maaaaan, I was making records when you were sucking your mother’s dick.” (“3 Minute Rule”, 1989)

15.“Pay attention, my intention is to bust a move.” (“Posse in Effect:, 1986)

16.“I got nothing to lose so I’m pissin’ on the third rail” (“B-Boy Bouillabaisse”, 1989)

17.”I’m bad ass, move ya’ fat ass, cuz you’re wack son/Dancing around like you think you’re Janet Jackson” (“Professor Booty”, 1992)

18. “Well, I’m long gone, word is bond/Don’t need a motherfuckin’ fool to tell me right from wrong/I don’t think I’m slick nor do I play like I’m hard/But I’m-a drive the lane like I was Evan Bernard” (“Get it Together”, 1994)

19. Everyday I drink a “O.E.” and I don’t go to work” (“Hold it Now, Hit It”, 1986)

20. “Finger Lickin’ Good” (every damn bit of it – a clip is below: MCA & Mike D traded off line for line as Ad-Rock scratches over an instrumental track)

No other loss of a public figure, or musician has ever affected us in our lifetime the way the passing of Yauch did. For the generation that grew up on this, it was a shock like no other. He was too young, too alive, too important; we’d seen those three get old together in beards and hats in their videos, it could simply not be accepted. MCA will always be missed, in a huge way: in the heart of our ideals as writers and photographers, as creators, as fans; in our culture and in our world. His spark and boldness, his humour and his personal artistic evolution will always inspire. MCA will forever live on in the musical landscape and our rotation.

For more of Adam Yauch’s greatest moments (public life, statements, life events) Stereogum did a great piece in 2012 with clips of non-musical greatest hits. (That wedding! Nathaniel Hornblower!)

Beastie Boys Albums: Licenced To Ill (1986) Paul’s Boutique (1989) Check Your Head (1992) Ill Communication (1994) Hello Nasty (1998) To the Five Boroughs (2004) The Mix-Up (Instrumental) (2007) Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011).

All lyrics and music cited are the copyright of their respective owners, short exerpts are intended for the purpose of music review. No copyright is implied. All copyrighted music should be sourced via official sources. Link to Beastie Boys official webpage.

By Jacqueline Howell & Dave MacIntyre (B-boy…b-girl…)



Premiere of The Longest Sleep Through The Darkest Days by Winterlight

The Longest Sleep Through The Darkest Days is the second album from Plymouth Shoegaze / electronic project Winterlight. The project was originally a solo endeavor started by Tim Ingham back in the mid-oughts but now sees his daughter Isabel taking on bass guitar duties.

This new album is the culmination of nearly seven years of on and off creative spurts, false starts, and second guesses reflecting the turmoil hinted at in the album’s title. Yet those that follow Winterlight know Tim’s been making music pretty much all along and releasing occasional demos via his SoundCloud page. This lengthy process has yielded one resounding result: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Longest Sleep Through The Darkest Days has all the Winterlight earmarks: divine organs, thoughtfully constructed drums, the occasional electronic flourish, and immaculately soaring guitars. While Ingham considers Winterlight to be Post-Pop, and for the most part the duo still brings those melodies to the table in spades, there are some unique changes happening under the surface in the album’s bookends that move way beyond simple ear candy. This shows The Inghams are starting to take risks while still staying true to the original vision for the project.

The Longest Sleep Through The Darkest Days is out March 16th on CD, 180 gram Transparent Green vinyl, and 180 gram ultra clear with green splatter vinyl.  You can pre-order the record HERE.

But if you’re anxious to hear the new music before it’s officially released, you can get an exclusive listen of the album here first!

RUSTY RETURNS with Dogs of Canada

By Jacqueline Howell, DISARM editor

The early 1990s renaissance continues as even our personal wish list is coming true here in Toronto.

Rusty, whose 1995 debut album, Fluke, was one of Toronto’s best entries into the burgeoning early 1990s innovative Alternative boom, recently announced their new album, Dogs of Canada, their first in 20 years, is nearing completion.

Fluke, an album still cherished by Rusty fans worldwide, is full of blistering rock music that bleeds originality and feels spontaneous, urgent and empowering. Sharp, young, musicians that came of age in 1990 were steeped in rock, punk, glam, eighties post-punk, and indie. These self-taught marvels brimmed with energy and were capable of creating new music forms. Most have been overlooked and overshadowed by the reductive corporate-strangled labels nobody wanted, (such as “grunge”). The 90s was full of good music of the last real youth movement that has sharply failed to flourish in the (corporate-strangled) new age. Rusty was among the best of this music made anywhere in the world.

Rusty’s debut has a song called “Misogyny”. This word is more common today but was not a common conversational or musical topic then. The band’s ideas were grand, theoretical and important – but if you didn’t feel like intellectualizing, they also rocked really hard. This casually-brainy, effective rock music is a mark of the greatest Canadian bands. Rusty were also fused with a then-new snowboarding culture, worked with cutting edge video director Bruce La Bruce, and were a bright part of a cool new Canadiana. But like other iconic (underrated) artists, Rusty’s ideas are translatable, global, universal:

“She moved down to L.A.
She met a dude, okay.
He sawed her head off with a knife,
Now she’s gone away.

California’s nice.
It snowed there once or twice.
Bullets fly across the sky.
The path is smooth and tight.
I caught one at the bus stop.
I said: “Hey man, I’ve been shot.”
I felt the warm blood rolling down,
Now it’s gone away.” – California

As the world cascaded open with social media’s borderlessness and lack of filters, brave people who risk their hearts for true engagement and connection face daily stories like the ones simply, bluntly, told in the song “California”. Every day. Are faced with what to do with this knowledge. How to live, how to cope. How to help? What to do? There’s a laugh but no catharsis from a meme. That’s what music is for.

And in 1995, a song like “California” (and “Wake Me”, and “Groovy Dead”) was more than what social media is today. It was a young person’s newspaper. It blew away 60 Minutes with decibels; it drowned out stale TV and radio debate with something clean and true. “California” was a beacon of a generation waking up to the world, to hard truths, to an unsanitized version of terrible events as they happen. Women were attacked, and killed, brutally, by men who they loved and trusted, or men they met through bad luck. Women still are. Regularly. Innocents catch bullets at bus stops, not just in L.A. anymore, amid a local gang war in a particular cross-street but anywhere, in the wrong-place-wrong-time reality of U.S. out of control gun violence. At school, attacked by fellow students, in a pandemic of violence now. Reportedly there are more guns than people in the U.S.A. today. Are we safe yet?

“California” is also a dichotomy: it is stunningly beautiful. Like all of Fluke, it emotes the rage of a generation who inherited this world and were not going to sit idly by listening to people reminisce about the 1960s. Corporatized nostalgia is a handy way to keep us from action and resistance to whatever we are told is “now”. Now is forever. Singer Ken MacNeil’s throat stripping delivery is relentless, sincere, empathetic; his vocals full of anger, fear and love. “California” speaks about disconnection, of indifference as true horror: “Hey man, I’ve been shot.” This line sounds like a gunshot victim is being ignored, in public, unseen, hit with a smooth tight path of darkness that is possible not just in public but in private. There are no safe spaces. We knew that, once. Were galvanized, organizing against the darkness. It is a Canadian perspective of negotiating our frail border and the world; of travel; of meeting interesting, beautiful people and seeing them leave and face awful fates beyond our reach. It is post-modernity that we are stuck in, lost in now.

Will you wake me up? Will you pull my cuff? – Wake Me

That’s what the era’s music captures, and one reason why it will not be cast aside, is still needed, and why our greatest bands are returning to us to fill a void in the very heart of culture and music in 2018. Despite label help or support. We were supposed to have jetpacks, not emojis. We’re backsliding, overwhelmed by the rapid changes of tech and communication and the disappearance in leadership in both things, so we make our own. New records. Raise funds. Mount tours. Rebuild community. The next era of Rusty is going to be a hell of a party.

In the 1990s, we all raged and rioted inside and in our music-loving way in the crowd, believing our intelligence and enthusiasm could change the world, who certainly must be led by the young people as it always is. The music changed everything then and had limitless potential to continue to. What happened in the back half of the 90s and post – “Y2K” was a deliberate and destructive assault from a dying, exploitative music industry against everything indie: from Kurt Cobain’s regularly misunderstood truly subversive and revolutionary (good) ideas: against homophobia, sexism and hatred;  to the many bands who promoted and created a world of gender equality in music on world stages that made everyone money and made everyone who believed in this progress happy. The music labels, that had contempt for their artists, customers, and tech innovation itself, pivoted whiplash – fast to belly buttons and boy bands, machine music & artists they could control totally. It’s been a cold war ever since. And not just an indifferent war on underexposed bands; Canadian bands who’ve always struggled to traverse and be heard and seen in a vast country, (never mind beyond it) and the Indie world that, at the moment, has no choice but to stay underground. It’s been a long cold war on real music itself. Innovation, new ideas, big ideas, pauses to question violence, misogyny, purpose, survival and new sounds made by instruments have lately been labeled as unimportant, even dying. But real, challenging ideas rarely, if ever, come from puppets owned by dominant music brands, the “music” which dominates public space and most entertainment now. This corporate backlash happened precisely because 80s & early 90s emerging bands were so important, so innovative, and so grown up. So independent and unreliant on the actually dying industry that ate itself. Alternative music by its very nature is wild and cannot be broken.

We link Rusty to this argument because they are a perfect example of this entire story and the “trends” around what has gone down in the last two decades. Because we’ve loved them for 20 years and have never stopped listening to them. Because they’ve stepped back to the fore since 2011 with occasional gigs and tours losing not an ounce of fire, life and passion. Because they’ve worked quietly for two years putting together demos while juggling regular lives and families. Rusty deserved more and better, even at their height. They were and are important whether you’ve heard of them or not, whether you are nostalgic about them (and then) or not, whether you may even be a real music fan who understands there is nothing nostalgic about art because art is timeless. Hey, we all pine for our youthful energy, but what has happened to music and the chances of independent artists to break through and to grow and to stay and earn their way is way more painful than nostalgia. The truth is very different. And darker. All this great music must be heard out loud and in full and sat with and listened to from track (song) one to ten to really get or know. Slow down. Think about what is missed. What was denied. What is owed to our generation. And what can still be.

Rusty during their 2011 reformation show in Toronto. Photos by Dave MacIntyre

The Afghan Whigs: In Spades Tour. Love, Loss & Power

By Jacqueline Howlett

The Afghan Whigs take the stage in Toronto at the ambient, refurbished Opera House like it was theirs. For it is. The stage set up, all the usual amps & instruments and a few water bottles, is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the typical rock club show. The amps are all white, lit in a pleasing way, and adorned with some fine art in black and white that mirrors the album artwork for their latest album, In Spades. But this is decoration with a special purpose. For this tour, this show, and this season, is to tour the record, but at least equally, to celebrate their much loved and missed guitarist Dave Rosser, who died in June 2017.

The Whigs are a band whose fans know their history and feel a deep connection. One whose return in 2011 after a decade away signaled a personal resurgence ahead of the larger, global one we are still holding out for in emotive, lyrical, deeply musical, powerful rock of the kind that made the 90s (and this band) a marvel to behold. They bring their past with them, their legacy, their growth & their mastery and so do we, if all we have is our applause and our attention. And when they hurt, so do we. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this much electricity in a room. It is certainly very rare, even among the addicted; music writers. Here, tonight, are waves, and shifts, and everyone is riveted. The rare person who does not hold up the social contract around flash photography is roundly shunned, and given a proper dressing down in a way that makes the heart flutter like it does when you hear fearless candour, I actually cheer. And for certain, we are in the presence of a powerful, fearless leader in Greg Dulli. I am just feet away from his work space. Anyone this close had better learn the rules quick or leave. Or deal not just with Dulli, but all of us.

Dave Rosser’s passing is, naturally, foregrounded tonight. Or maybe, not naturally. Some bands take a path that is quite different up there as they must deal with these terrible losses with an almost superstitious “don’t say Macbeth” way of warding off their dead friends or a fear of some sort of band curse. Many older musicians are fraught, bowed by the heaviness it can create, the air it might take out of the room or of themselves. But not The Afghan Whigs. They shake that shit off with an athletic ease. Tonight, star QB Greg Dulli foregrounds the story of Dave’s passing from the outset, adding a true air of poignancy to the melodies, adding another layer to the rich power of the poetry. It is very real. Very raw. Very noble. Very effective. For the best gigs are always a trip to church, and tonight it’s a special one. Fans along the tour hold up signs for Dave. They are acknowledged, thanked. Dulli tells us early on that the band was just here last May, with Dave. By the end of June, this sweetest, kindest, funniest, most talented man was gone. This is a stark reality that too many of us relate to in any crowd at our age. The man to my left, at my side, escaped death this year. We are both very keen to raises our voices and our applause for Rosser. And so the album art, the lighting, the mood, is thoughtfully designed, speaking to someone like me who looks for little signs, clues and silent cues. Tonight, the stage is rich with them. And then there’s the music.

Afghan Whigs are 8 albums deep spanning nearly 30 years. It’s a rich time to be a fan of bands of their vintage (man, it’s our vintage too and we are all aging well) when they are in the sweet spot of choice and ease, and can have a little fun sorting through hits, deep cuts, b-sides and newer material fitting side by side in this out-of-time musical moment of the messy new millennium. I don’t need to tell you that the band has always had a way with a cover song too, with a mastery of the room that means almost nothing is out of bounds. There is room for surprise, laughter, shifts of dramatic mood. Tonight in Toronto, there’s a heavy weighting on the new material, a mark of confidence that only the most self-assured bands can pull off without the weak but buzzing wrath of the internet and its vocal minority of bores who like to keep score. They seem to have been driven off tonight in the strong wind of The Afghan Whigs.

Powerhouse Greg Dulli is one of those multi-talented visionaries whose intelligence is visible, and who misses nothing. Producer, songwriter, and leader, Dulli has been prolific over the years inside and outside The Afghan Whigs including as the lead vocalist for “The Backbeat Band”, a supergroup that included Mike Mills, Dave Grohl and Thurston Moore who created music for the film Backbeat, a biopic about the Beatles. He’s also done some acting turns and more interesting quietly cool collaborations than I can list.

But on to the newest project: In Spades gets a terrific helping: “Arabian Heights”, “Demon in Profile”, “Into the Floor”, “Light as a Feather”, “Oriole” and “Toy Automatic”. From Do to the Beast we get “Algiers”, “It Kills”, “Matamoros” “Can Rova” and “Parked Outside”. All the records get some play. Old and newer weave together cohesively, expansively, masterfully. But the centerpiece of the show, coming about halfway through the main set, is the spare, gorgeous, feels like it dropped out of a ceiling in the 90s but with today’s polish, “Can Rova”. It’s “a Bonnie & Clyde thing”.

This song was a favourite of Dave Rosser’s. And tonight, and on this road, it is his song. We don’t catch this, maybe others do, but his amp and area is set up just in case he wants to drop by and join them. And there’s such a stirring, you have to wonder. You have to wonder if the light and power of music can do almost any miracle on earth. You have to marvel that music IS our healer, our teacher, our comfort, our side-effect free antidepressant, our rage soundtrack, our mood setter, our caffeine, our rubber to the road anthem, our therapy. Ours. And I realize here tonight, that should you live long enough, any love & heartbreak song can be converted cleanly and profoudly into a dirge, a lament, in time. It’s a revelation. And it happens here:

“If I’m uncivilized child, that’s okay
You gonna see me light a fire some hot day
But you don’t see me
You don’t see me
You don’t see me
I can’t see you anymore”

This is the song that is a diamond even among the songs out there of its type. It’s an anthem. It starts from almost a murmur, builds to a cry, and can shape-shift to be a defiant call, a lament, or a celebration. All within four minutes. All of this, the masterful shifts of mood through the generously full show, the surprising bursts of cover songs, the weaving of Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” into “Can Rova”, the meaningful moments of remembrance for the lost (including our own, in our quiet way) the near misses, the close calls, the weight of life and the persistence of love carried on these chords, all means something. He is as in control leaning over the room balanced on one foot as an athlete in flight. It moves me so. It moves the gears in my head, my head that lives for moments like this and are rarer than love.

“If all in vain I call your name
As though the end was near
A slow decay, a sad refrain
And then I disappear

We leave tonight
Ain’t nothing but the stripes”

And since I’m a lifelong melancholic, who loves to mourn not just the specific person of the moment, and feels the still fresh ache of the person at my side (who almost was taken by illness), and the moms and the grandfathers and the dreams and the beloved pet, I’ve got room inside this experience to become wracked with all that angst that a band this grand, that has no doubt achieved and traveled and bent the world, is not at the echelon we all know, along the tour, that they deserve. This song, in a just and fair world, in that window where Alternative and Rock music rightly last reigned, would be a number one. Here, at the Opera House, we get a band and a show that could slide onto Glastonbury’s big stage with ease, and fill that space all the way up. Can flex to make The Opera House feel like a stadium. Could light a match and turn this whole Titanic music has been feeling like in the biggest and most hollow stages right around that iceberg and clear on to America. This is the work of genius. Too goddamned often, nearly always, unsung. It means, though, that I get to have my Dancing in the Dark moment I’ve always longed for, and will never forget: Greg Dulli comes and leans directly over me at a certain point to ask “How you doin’?” mid-song.

A music geek goes through this turmoil and rages inside without missing a beat or a note of this jaw-dropping show. In fact, pinned to the very front of the stage, my photographer and I, always lucky to be here, do not leave our post for a moment. This resurgence of the bands that came to the fore around that exciting time of 1990, the end of the century, the music of half a century maturing and growing, diversifying, electric, sensitive, and learned, were so special. But never mind movements and scenes that half the time were some record company’s wet dream that just as easily swept aside brilliant acts from the wrong city, and can take no credit for the self-made, the stoics, the survivors. The kings whether in absentia for periods or not. Tonight and this tour and the perseverance and fearlessness of The Afghan Whigs is simply a master class, the proof of what we’ve always been raving about, that we were almost starting to forget, that we’ve always needed.

The Afghan Whigs are Greg Dulli, John Curley, Rick. G. Nelson, Jon Skibic, Patrick Keeler.

Rest in Power, Dave Rosser.

The Afghan Whigs play tonight, October 27th in New Orleans, at Voodoo Music + Arts Festival. (Tour info)

(The writer apologizes for the lateness of this review due to unforeseen circumstances. The photographer was on time, even early.)

The Farm: All Together Now at Shiiine On Weekender

In short order (probably as it was happening) The Farm’s gig this past Sunday at Shiiine On Weekender was firmly established as an absolute high of a weekend packed full of great bands and diverse DJ parties that went on until 4:00 a.m.

Our friend Charlie summed it up better than I can.

Here is what The Farm did in just about an hour on Remembrance Sunday under a big top in Butlin’s: per Charlie, they gave a “performance showing respect to those who lost lives in war; about wishing for more love in the world and about stamping out racism. Genuine people. True people who use music to show passion.”

And that’s exactly right. The set list for an established band can go in many directions, considerations among them are fan service, time allotted, and band preference (possibly in that order). But in just an hour that flew by, The Farm managed to meaningfully address the events of our distant past (that we must never forget) the resonance of thoughtful, sensitive anti-war messages still very much needed in the world today, launch a new song (seamlessly) “Feel the Love” (not Viva Love…) that reminds us who were there, why the 90s optimism is no less urgent today, and make a clear call against the vile disease of racism, that is today front page news in our leading nations, as it troubles our politically unstable policies and has come screeching out of the long shadow of Brexit and the Reality TV horror show of last week’s US Presidential election.

But here, under a big top, a playground for music fans, all these serious concerns rise in music and words, each song bookended by exciting musical cues including one from touchstone film Trainspotting (which while being about the adventures of heroin addicts is also a cry for creating a life free of authority and prescribed values that all of us 90s kids cherish as bible). Trainspotting 2 will arrive shortly, it’s back. Like Merseyside legends The Farm, like the best of our deeply formed and forever cool music, it’s back in the wider spotlight but it never went away for those in the know, those who love forever. It has never lost meaning and ability to move us.

Instant anthem “All Together Now” from 1991’s Spartacus has always been one of the best story songs ever written in a nation famous for its literary prowess and love of history. It’s alternative history, the story the warmakers will never tell you. It never fails to give chills, even tears for some of us. And it’s all true.

A spirit stronger than war was at work that night, December 1914, cold, clear and bright.”

“It’s about the working classes being sent to war. People across a divide who probably had more in common with each other than the people who had sent them to war in the first place,” said Hooton ( via BBC).

All Together Now, written and shaped through the early years of the band, began as a recording for a John Peel session. It was written about “The Christmas Truce” during World War One in 1914 when soldiers in the trenches on both sides decided to lay down arms and meet in No Man’s Land for a brief time at Christmas. The event, and the song it celebrates, speaks about humanity itself, showing war as an unnatural state, which can be ended by an agreed upon ceasefire, by listening to hearts instead of directives from the powers that be (mostly cozy in warm homes many miles out of range of The Front). Music was often a component of these peaceful periods of respectful fraternization. So was collecting the injured or dead for treatment or burial. There’s the bitter. There’s the sweet. There’s the humanity.

The song’s power has made it iconic as an unusually cool and catchy protest song (as far from folk as you get get) from the creatively rich time of 1991, and has had lives as a football anthem (Everton FC and others) as well as being a catalyst for forming instant camaraderie in festival crowds of all types, as it did for all of us at Shiiine On year one. We were all together, now. In a world still troubled, in bittersweetness, outright sorrow, in uncertainty; music, always the steadying metronome of life to keep us alright.

Tonight it’s sung on Remembrance Sunday, in a country where most people younger and older still wear their specially fabricated, decorated and pretty poppy brooches with dedication, where memories are long, where wars of different kinds persist and encroach, and the significance is lost on no one. If feels particularly poignant because it is. Cheers, hugs, laughter and tears follow a rousing repeat refrain, aided by the thousands in the crowd, who is captured in a photo by the fabulous singer Shona Carmen, for a quick memento.

Peter Hooton has long campaigned through musical activism- tours, recordings and speaking out-for Justice for The 96, the people, children and adults killed in the Hillsborough disaster, the terrible and senseless loss of life in 1989 that, while being the worst disaster in British sporting history (and among the worst in the sporting world) was denied both fair reporting and any sense of justice for decades, an open wound that could not heal in the face of bias and corruption and cover up by authorities and the rags. He spoke to the Shiiine On crowd last year about campaigning up and down the country for this cause as the families of the victims and the wider community of Liverpool fans, and increasingly, the country, have watched in pain as inquests and trials come and go and appeals failed in the face of corruption and cover ups. The Farm played The Clash’s “Bankrobber” in support of this initiative.

And at this year’s Shiiine gig, the issue is revisited again, but remarkably, justice has finally been achieved in the intervening year (2016’s Golding Inquest at last found that the 96 were killed unlawfully due to gross negligence by the police & ambulance services failing in their duty of care.) For a second straight year, fans of The Farm (and of The Clash) and all who happen to catch the Farm’s cracking show at Shiiine On Weekender have been treated to a rousing version of Bankrobber. This is a perfect addition to The Farm’s set; the punk rock ethos of The Clash is our shared, impeccable and incorruptible living cultural shorthand for resistance, for individuality, for free thinking, for music as protest and protest as music. And, occasionally, like tonight, despite all the shit of the wider world, as unity, as celebration.

Jacqueline Howell

The Prophets of Rage Remind Us That The Party’s Over

By Jacqueline Howell

The Prophets of Rage have hit the road (and the skies) for a large scale tour- there are 27! dates left so you have no excuse to miss this- bringing a much needed, couldn’t-be more- timely-message of, well, RAGE. But in case you aren’t clear, this is not Rage (Against the Machine) under a different name or some kind of cover. This is actually the rarest of things, a risk, a gamble, a big deal. A Supergroup.

That’s what this is.

That’s what these guys are.

For the price of one ticket, you are getting a new collaboration from masters of a number of the most innovative genres of our goddamn modern age (pre and post the 21st century).

Prophets of Rage is Tom Morello, who can shred better than your most over-hyped metal god and doesn’t even seem to break a sweat, Chuck D (who needs NO introduction) the tireless and full of life B-Real, drummer Brad Wilk & Bassist Tim Commeford (Rage) and DJ Lord (Public Enemy). We know Chuck D is the heaviest rap voice (and mind) that has ever lived, a title unchallenged. What is insane though, is that B-Real’s own distinct and differently pitched drawl is a perfect contrast to the legend who came before him. It works so well. And who else could stand in and do Rage Against the Machine Songs? No one but these guys, they are the dream team.

Prophets of Rage are bringing their hardest hits of all three of these iconic, different flavored groups and their own musical touches to this inspired collaboration.

Prophets of Rage is not some name that’s hacked together, Rage-but-not-Rage style. Know (be reminded) that “Prophets of Rage” is a Public Enemy song. Rage’s Zach de la Rocha has given the project his express blessing.

Timing is everything. In life, in music.

And the world utterly NEEDs Prophets of Rage right now to blast out the cobwebs off of culture and music and remind us what music is for.

Music never needed to know what other people thought on social media or blogs or even magazines before creating new sounds. Music is a direct line from them to us, uncorruptable and true.

And the show is a non-stop, energetic tour-de-force that gives fair play and time to each of these groups’ catalogs- rich with serious gold. No one in the world would hear their music suffer if spit by Chuck D, if anything, it’s given new life. The night moves smoothly back and forth from the music of Public Enemy to Rage to Cypress Hill and includes a couple of great covers, Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (helped out by AWOL Nation’s frontman Aaron Bruno) which is a great side trip and still fits the overall tone somehow. And something remarkable happens in the life of a Toronto audience that’s long on concert experience, jaded, even, and short on the capacity to surprise: Dave Grohl walks out like nothing to do a quick number of MC5’s “Kick out the Jams”. The thrill stadium-wide, then rippling out to friends at home and beyond, is real, and makes us wonder, why no one has ever done this for us before? Not even when bands known to work together are sharing a bill? Why have things gotten so stale?

But this is different. Prophets of Rage are among those musicians with real, quiet power who are doing it their own way. It’s a new world, a world where all the corporate gatekeepers seem to be shut out, and musicians can jam with each other just for us, just because they vibe off each other, just because we are in the right place at the right time. B-Real is in a Public Enemy hooded shirt that we’re dying for. And Chuck D returns the nod wearing a Cypress Hill T-shirt provided by a fan. This is not your average tour. Or night. Or music. This new band in itself is revolutionary and made by people who already reinvented the game at least once each already. And are still innovating. Tonight’s Toronto show is live-streamed on the band’s Facebook page for those watching from home.

And tonight, like every night, there’s The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” merged with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” which really shouldn’t work, but does because those songs are both killer jams locked into a sound that could only come from New York City in the 80s. The circle is complete. The Beastie Boys, who’ve had to leave the road forever, are still included in this party, and this song seems like a big nod to them and their place in things. There’s a brotherhood of musicians that is unstoppable in the face of indifference, bad politics, media noise, foolish hype. Because who is louder than musicians? Who drops it harder? Who is cooler? Who is tougher? No one.

Tom Morello stops the show only once: to tell the audience, that, as is customary on this tour, they’ve earmarked a percentage of the proceeds from the show to a local charity to help the hungry in our city. As we cheer, we wonder, why does no one do that? When it seems so relatively simple? And so, our expectations are raised. And we suddenly begin to remember that we are allowed to ask more of our musicians, especially those taking in far more per night than this band (whose tickets tonight start at just $20 and end in the $80 range, when  other band’s who are millionaires nosebleed seats start at $120.) And we remember we can ask more from ourselves. It’s awesome, actually awe-some, and it’s inspiring. What a musician can do from that stage through both art and words is infinite.

Out of Supergroups and in this new and important era of bands coming back out on to the road that needs them, something new is created. Forget the album cycle, the pre-rigged chart, the McMusic and the factory Frankenstein fuckery that goes on to make a pop song at the moment. Remember this shit? Remember all this? Better yet, discover it, if you weren’t there before. And this is just a sampler. This is just an overview of all these groups’ music and all the covers they might want to do or stuff they could create in time. Look backwards and look ahead.

The songs flow, seamless and ebb-less, and the fans are not just told to stay woke, they are woke in a way they’ve maybe never been. Or not for 20 years. Others are stoned beyond comprehension, they’re doomed to miss Grohl and miss Killing in the Name, they 90s-Alternative-danced and whipped their hair just so, and blazed too close to the sun, too much too soon. It’s that kind of night. They won’t care. They were here.

These Prophets of Rage say, Nobody for President. (People can demand change. Someone else. Reforms. Protest. Do we?)

They say, Make Canada Rage Again. (Canada’s rarely raged but the personalized banner and hats for sale, nicely stealing Trump’s dumb and ill-conceived slogan are yet more thoughtful touches that most bands do not bother with, and mean something to us.)

They rap, those great, iconic raps, about all the concerns of their original band’s exact moment they changed culture and music forever- don’t let the media or the state of music today tell you any different. Noise, clutter, crap will always try to drown truth and truthtellers. But doesn’t last like this music does. Prophets are prophets because they do it all sounding as fresh as the day they laid those beats down, and knew they had something. And, we notice much later, they do it all without relying on the words that inflame, the bitches and the hateful N-word. Even though these men are more trustworthy with live grenades than anyone we’ve ever seen up there. But they don’t need any tricks, they are the real deal.

And it’s time for a reality check in music.

Today the Prophets of Rage’s new song, The Party is Over, is #1 on the  rock charts.

It’s a new day. Get on out there.

With special thanks to Chuck D.

Toronto Setlist:

Prophets of Rage
Guerrilla Radio
Miuzi Weighs a Ton
People of the Sun
Take the Power Back
(Rock) Superstar
Hand on the Pump / Can’t Truss It / Insane in the Brain / Bring the Noise / I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That / Welcome to the Terrordome
Sleep Now in the Fire
Cochise / She Watch Channel Zero?!
The Ghost of Tom Joad (Bruce Springsteen cover) (with Aaron Bruno)
Bullet in the Head
Cathedral (Van Halen cover)
Shut ‘Em Down
Know Your Enemy
The Party’s Over
No Sleep Till Brooklyn / Fight the Power
Bulls on Parade
Kick Out the Jams (MC5 cover) (with Dave Grohl)
Killing in the Name

Prophets of Rage Facebook, twitter, official site.

Belly Talks to Us about Collaborations, Friendship, Inspirations, New Music and Touring Again

Belly, the influential American band who gave the early 1990s Alternative music scene much of its patina and some of the best female-led harmonies and songs to emerge out of the decade, is back on the road together touring the US after time away from the band pursuing other career paths and other musical pursuits. The reunion of Belly was one of Step On Magazine’s biggest wish list news items when the resurgence of important early 1990s bands took off in the last few years, and we rejoiced when the announcement came of a US and UK summer tour as well as the potential of new music (the latter being a secondary concern for us.) Belly is a band that for many dedicated fans, has never left the turntable/CD player, with two solid albums Star (1993) and King (1995). The first album brought us “Feed the Tree” a gold record and multiple Grammy-nominated Number One hit on Alternative charts. King charted well in both US and UK but led to some industry and label pressures and disappointment that ended in the band calling it quits rather than being given the time to breathe and grow into more albums and take breaks.  Star put the band on the map at a most interesting musical time, but for our money, the sophomore King is an album length endlessly rotated let-it-player, growing in stature over time, an increasing rarity in the years since the mid-90s and something rather rare in popular music today.

Belly’s music creates both musical and voice-driven ringing, layered harmonies atop lyrics rich with subjects from the affecting, intellectual song writing and enduring milieu of their time, which proved, ultimately, timeless; environmental concerns wrapped in timeless mythology, love and growing pains, ideas about connection and disconnection (even “super-connectedness”) the tools with which we cope with modern life and pain, frustrated and enacted sexual desire & power, and the hard questions of true adulthood. But all of this is a side dish that comes after many listening sessions with the main courses – a body of work that is addictive and rich in scope, that ought to have been as big as any male-fronted band of the time, that captured more of the bigger stages and headlines. Belly deserved more recognition, it must be said.

The musical output both before and after Belly’s two albums and early career are significant. Tanya Donelly founded Throwing Muses with step-sister Kristen Hersh, and The Breeders with Kim Deal. Post-Belly’s break up, Gail Greenwood spent years with L7 and later, Bif Naked. In a fertile time for new bands, these bands impressive output stands up today as some of the very best created in that time. Tanya Donelly has since Belly released four albums under her own name including 2016’s compilation of EPs known as The Swan Song Series. Beyond music, Gail has gone on to a career in graphic design and Chris and Tom Gorman have both gone into commercial and fine art photography in New York. These musicians are artists, all, remaining creatively connected with the world in the years since the heady early 90s when they once toured for over a year. They’ve remained rooted to causes they care about, to activism, and to their musical community. One imagines in the dawn of social media, their fans have become like extended family. It would definitely appear so from the comments, shares and photos.

The press has been keen to celebrate this music news, following the tour with both national and local coverage. The Guardian sums up the UK tour experience (Leeds) thusly: “…as a setlist including gleeful renditions of Feed the Tree, Gepetto and the rest nudges past 20 songs, it beggars belief that this band has spent years in cold storage. Belly songs are darkly beguiling fairytales that erupt into big, uplifting choruses, but otherwise run the gamut from vulnerability to intensity and exuberant pop. ”

And their reemergence on the scene in 2016 is a significant statement after so many years. It’s a very good thing for music itself. It’s nourishment, it feeds the tree we remember but younger audiences have forgotten, have not been able to see live for too long in the changing, difficult culture and landscape where rock clubs and bars are disappearing and music and the music industry is a very different world. Belly’s return reminds us, again, that music of quality lives on and is now indifferent to the industry’s whims and gatekeepers. Direct fan interaction and sharing of music has cut out the middleman and with some cooperation and guts, bands can operate on their own metrics and with their own goals and plans, reaching fans in the cities that await them with all the love that’s long been their due. It’s a time of gumption, DIY art and grassroots, again. A time for celebration for passionate fans around the globe. And it’s part of a larger wake up call to the industry about quality music, songwriting, guitars, and voices not made in laboratories or prepackaged and mimed. It’s real versus processed. It’s entirely different than what is sold as popular or fun today, but getting out there and showing audiences there is a choice is what’s most essential to listeners both long time and of a new generation. Here’s hoping the reinvigorated music festival scene in US & Canada will take notice and approach Belly for dates on 2017 bills on the strength of this wildly successful tour.

Diasrm: What are your goals for the current tour? With the UK/Ireland leg completed, how do you think US audiences or shows will be different?

Chris: We don’t have and didn’t set any real goals for this tour other than being able to hit the stage with a degree of confidence, and that we wouldn’t let our audience down. This is a total ‘seat of our pants- DIY’ sort of tour that really takes us back to very early days. No real crew (sound man) no luxury travel, no days off, no production- just a band playing shows. We won’t change much for the US, hopefully our momentum will hold and we will continue to play well. We continue to tweak our set list and we have plenty of songs so that we can switch things up.

Tom: Fundamentally I think the goal is simply for us to have fun, for the audience to have fun…the world looks to be going to hell-in-a-handbasket, so a couple hours of musical joy isn’t such a bad thing. UK/Ireland was fantastic, there was something really special happening at the shows, and we hope the US goes as well. It’s a little hard to know- it seems the music culture over there is more ‘enthusiastic’ than it tends to be here, so we’ll see, but we definitely count on the audience a lot to help generate whatever it is that makes a performance ‘special.’

Gail: So far we are having the same wonderful emotional connections we felt with the unbelievable UK/Ireland fans. I don’t know how to say this without sounding corny but it truly has been a beautiful experience.

What are your current preoccupations?

Tom: Obsessing about the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it while having fun with this reunion tour.

Gail: Bear Bear and Maurice! (Ed Note: Greenwood’s trained therapy dogs who perform in libraries and nursing homes, star in Benny Sizzler videos and have been featured on the PBS Kids’ show “Martha Speaks.” – per Belly’s official website bio.)

What should people know about you?

Gail: I’m plant-powered.

Chris: As little as possible.

Tom: Only what I want them to know.

What can you tell us about your upcoming album?

Tanya: Not much at the moment! We are writing together, taking our time with it, and will eventually release a new batch of songs in some form. Hopefully sooner than later, but we are making sure we give the songs the time they need.

Tom: Somehow working out a couple new songs and saying there would be something has turned by the press/social media into promises of a new album! Whether it ends up being individual download/streaming releases, or an EP, or a full album kind of remains to be seen, and depends on so much coming into alignment with people’s jobs, families, lives, etc… But there will be something, that’s pretty certain.

What was the first record you remember loving or buying for yourself?

Chris: Everyone will have a different answer but for me the first record I ever bought was the first BOSTON album. That was during a time when i was young enough to be swayed buy the tastes of my classmates older siblings. But the first REAL music buying experience that was truly pivotal was going to Doo Wop Records in Newport, Rhode Island as a 7th grader and buying Damaged by Black Flag, and Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by Dead Kennedys. Around that time Tom was digging into imports by The Smiths and the Jam. We were listening to a college station WSMU and suddenly music was something totally different- This was stuff you never ever saw at the mall. The discovery of a REAL RECORD STORE with a guy (we called him Jim Doo Wop I think) who curated the selection and really shaped and encouraged the tastes of a whole community was life changing.

Tom: Hmmmm. First loving was undoubtably a Beatles record my folks had, buying might have been Jim Croce, ELO or George Harrison…

Gail: Neil Diamond’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull soundtrack.

Who inspired you to take up music?

Gail: My dad played harmonica in the Pawtucket Boys Club Harmonica Band and always played “Danny Boy” whenever we asked him to. It made me so happy to see him make my mom and his mom so happy.

Tom: It wasn’t so much inspiration as inevitability. But discovering the hard-core punk-rock scene in the early ’80s was an inspiration to start performing.

Chris: Our parents started Tom and I off on piano lessons at an early age and we stuck with it right up to high school when we discovered punk rock and found a community of young kids forming bands, Tom got drafted into a project to play bass, and I bought a friends beat up old drum kit for $50.00 and that was our start.

What was your most memorable day job?

Gail: Cleaning horse stalls at the racetrack.

How do you spoil yourself?

Gail: A walk with the dogs and my “husboy” every night when home.

What is your favourite era of music?

Gail: 70s Funk.

Tom: Every era has things that are great and things I enjoy listening to, but as I age I find I listen to more Classical (Baroque, in particular) and Jazz- probably because I don’t really understand it, so it doesn’t distract me. If I’m listening to Rock, or Pop, or Country or Indie I can’t help analyzing the writing, etc. and losing focus on whatever it is I’m doing…

What is your favourite journey? Or What is your dream vacation/trip if money was no object?

Gail: My home in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

Tom: I’d love to take a few years and sail around the world, but slowly enough to stop in places long enough to get to know them. But at the same time, just being at home in upstate New York and being able to take a walk in the woods every day is a kind of dream trip.

What was the last great movie / TV show you saw? 

Gail: First season of Bloodline.

What is your favourite curse word / the phrase you overuse the most?

Chris: douchebag, douchebaggery, douchyness, all the variations of dbag.

Gail: ‘In the neck!’

What is your most treasured tool or instrument?

Gail: Tweezers.

Chris: You can’t live without a mitre saw.

Tom: My beat-up old acoustic guitar. No electricity, no amp, no effects and cords… just some wood and some wire. If I could have only one instrument that would be it.

This question is for Tanya: We are big fans of your collaboration with Catherine Wheel, “Judy Staring at the Sun”. It was such a beautiful harmonious blend of different, unique vocal styles,and was clearly the product of a true collaboration and not the mash up-never met types of guest vocals that have become common in music today. How did it come about?

Tanya: I met Rob through Gil Norton and we hit it off immediately. Belly ended up playing a couple of shows here and there with them, long before the full tour that we did, and Rob and I talked about a collaboration of some kind. When they asked me to sing backups on Judy, Rob flew to Boston to oversee the recording of my vocals at Fort Apache, and the idea to tour together came soon after. That tour was a highlight of that time for us — they are one of my favourite bands and the loveliest people.

We know about your remarkable achievements with early chart success in both US and UK with Feed the Tree / Star. What has been, personally, the most significant achievement you’ve had with your music?

Tanya: I think just the simple fact that we still find ourselves to be working musicians decades later is a pretty significant achievement. Very personally, our continued friendships, and my continued friendships with almost everyone I’ve played with, is a very rare and fortunate thing.

Gail: The amazing emotional connection between the band and the audience every night on tour this summer.

With special thanks to Gail Greenwood, Tanya Donelly, Chris Gorman and Thomas Gorman / Belly.

Jacqueline Howell

Belly’s official website

Tanya Donelly’s Facebook page

Belly’s Facebook page

Third Eye Blind Shine On at Wayhome 2016 Review & Photos

Third Eye Blind has been in the news very recently. They’ve been in that news that everyone is stuck in right now, the muck and the mire that is the US Election, that brutal mess with all its talk talk talk and emotion and button pushing, and its satire that even at the highest level has failed to right the ship, to allow true democracy to happen after all.

But Third Eye Blind, who’ve continued to make new music over the years since their explosive success in the glorious late 90s, gave the world a moment of true enlightenment, actual humour, and a pause for thought that our comedians and pundits have fallen over themselves for months and failed to do. They “trolled the Republican National Convention”.

They did what musicians are supposed to do, and sometimes still do- use their formidable weapons- the only weapons that ought to be open carry (and not by most civilians, either, only the skilled) to create a moment. To resist. To speak out. To criticize. To call out. It was astounding, and it was beautiful. The silly jaded bloggers took notice, and stepped away from their Kardashian coma haze for a minute or two to write about something else. The mainstream media huffed and puffed in disbelief that some band who comes from a time of actual free speech and is not beholden to anyone, who are grown and do not have ugly corporate ties like most big artists, pulled off something out of The Prestige.

The accurate story is that Third Eye Blind “played a benefit concert for “Musicians on Call”, a charity, near the Republican National Convention. The band took the opportunity to speak out against the Republican Party, criticizing their views on science and LGBT rights, and playing tracks specifically critical of their stances, including “Jumper”, and “Non-Dairy Creamer”. (Wikipedia) The media/blogosphere/citizen social media reporter is perhaps so out of practice at seeing normal and necessary dissent, they freaked out a little. This band has always been outspoken, free-thinking. The time is just right for them to jump back into the fray. Let’s all limber up and see if we can get our mosh on again.

Culture watchers, those of us on the margins of the new media counter-culture (as we’ve coined it right here) and fans of this band cheered and laughed, for once, at something interesting, real and actually noteworthy in an ocean of noise, ugly noise emitting from Trump who is here because he’s a Reality TV star and people are TV zombies, and for no other good reason. We laughed at the rediculousness of the whole terrible situation in the US, because what else can we do? What else can a band do, and in fact, no one else seems to have done this, except these guys.

And a week later, Third Eye Blind is slated to play the second annual, and now historic, Canadian music festival, Wayhome. We love good humour up here in Canada. We gave the world the best comedians Hollywood has ever (will ever) know. We are of the frontier mindset, a little wild, yet, and we are free thinkers. We embrace this band with our open enthusiasm, maybe even a little harder than we might have a few weeks ago, but those of us who’ve embraced them since their forever great 1997 self-titled debut do not follow trends or waves. We were always gonna be here, and here we are.

At Wayhome as we have since 1997, our big moments are not the sing-along singles, the ubiquitous “Semi-Charmed Life” (which we will always remember with amusement was used in a Tigger movie trailer, minus the little red panties and meth references, of course, in fact, it could only have been the do do dos…as this was the last time bands were allowed to make blantant drug references in plain English) “Jumper”  and “Graduate”, but the epicly beautiful dirges “How’s It Gonna Be” and “Motorcycle Drive By” for which we still know every word, intonation and strum.

The last of these, “Motorcycle Drive By”, gives us “those f0ur right chords (that) can make me cry” Jenkins sings about in Semi-Charmed Life. But it’s more like 8 chords. It gets us every time, and it does today, too. It’s a piece of musical poetry, far away from the misconception of late 90s bands and gigs as a brofest. This is a song about a romantic man being denied a future by a toxic, destructive, troubled woman, a backdrop of drugs and despair and the growing pains everyone endures in their 20s, this time, put to paper and sent around the world. “There’s this burning. Just like there’s always been.”

“Visions of you on a motorcycle drive by
The cigarette ash flies in your eyes
And you don’t mind, you smile
And say the world doesn’t fit with you
I don’t believe you, you’re so serene
Careening through the universe
Your axis on a tilt, you’re guiltless and free
I hope you take a piece of me with you”

What Motorcycle Drive By, is, too, is the example of more than a great song on their first album but indicative tight musical unit that’s been paying their dues and singing in bars and parties working for this moment for some years. It could have been a stand alone, one hit wonder, and thank god it wasn’t. Follow up album Blue brought us “Never Let You Go” and we walk through the crowd seeking optimum viewing spots while singing “the girl is like a sunburn” in scorching heat, and badly sunburned.

Seeing Third Eye Blind on the same day as The Killers it becomes clear that in some sense TEB was the prototype. It was rock, with heart, with highs and lows, rawness and pain, and soaring crescendos. It was anything but Grunge. Or maybe The Killers and other bands who’ve emerged post 2000s who play in the same endless, perfect sandbox of hearfelt rock and roll are really a throwback to something we’ve sorta lost lately, but always need.

The crowds at Third Eye Blind are waking up. Lots of them in the massive crowd have not seen this band on their Toronto stops in recent years, clearly. Many of them have never seen the band live, and have forgotten why this CD never left the 6 disc changer or why it was essential to every road trip (and still will make the miles fly by, we promise.) It’s great to see, to be part of, as it’s exactly the kind of shaking up that music festivals are known for, and are capable of. The headliners ensure the party can sell, the new discoveries give us life for the future and let us say we were there, and the much deserved rediscoveries, like Third Eye Blind, remind us who we were and the musical promise of the 1990s that we all still owe a debt to.

And here we are.

Third Eye Blind has a new EP out, Dopamine and is now touring extensively through 2016.

Words by Jacqueline Howell. Photo by Dave MacIntyre

The Killers Pulled Up to the Foot of our Driveway: Wayhome 2016 review

The Killers, Sunday July 24, Wayhome Music and Arts Festival, Oro-Medonte, Burl’s Creek  (north of Toronto).

The Killer’s front man and songwriter Brandon Flowers is smiling in that authentic, endearing way that fans, AKA “Victims” know well and sometimes wait years for. But memory will have to serve as we are firmly, for once, in the beautiful analog-no-photos-please authentic world of Flowers (and those of us over 30) ‘s dreams and visions. He’s atop a monitor. Now he’s behind his trademark, trusty synth. Now he’s singing slightly toward stage right, and when he veers finally over to stage left, we all swoon.

It’s Sunday night at 9:30 sharp and The Killers are back again with us, rapidly and assuredly closing the gaps between the couple of years since their last big tour as if it was but a season ago. Toronto’s been lucky enough to be on every tour since the hardworking band’s formation 14 years ago, with a couple of Brandon Flowers solo stops for good measure (including a smashing solo turn at the inaugural Wayhome last year). But tonight, tonight, something bigger is afoot. Those of us with the Victims official fan club T-Shirts still holding up and still worn have seen all the various stage set ups from glammed up to palm trees to full Las Vegas dazzle to horn sections (Ray!) to skeletons to confidently stripped back, like tonight. As the Wayhome crowds surge from all over the massive grounds to the one and only Sunday finale show, on the day things finally have cooled just a little in the merciless heat and we could take the necessary siestas for this important ritual, The Killers launch right into a no-fuss no-muss 1.5 hours of sheer bangers with nary an interruption and just the right amount of words from the stage.

Whatever people want to assume or claim about a private man and a band that is focused firmly on making music and not selling ancillary products or playing silly celebrity PR games, one thing is certain. This band is full of humility and gratitude. This is evident everytime they leave it all on the stage and the impeccable track record of never dialing it in. This is a fact that is not up for debate- we’ve done the research. We don’t take in music or report on gigs as if we were old players commentating in suits on a footie game. This is life, music, art and soul. This is something you only rate with your heart.

The barely repressed smile and the energy coming down from the stage is the gravy and is also the prize in the Cracker Jack box. One could almost forget that The Killers headlined Glastonbury back in 2007, Flowers in perfect Las Vegas gold lame, and they killed it with ease, cementing their legacy for the larger world which always got them more than their country of origin in the usual US/UK exchange program that includes such esteemed members as Depeche Mode (bigger in US than in UK) and The Cure (bigger and more beloved in Toronto and around the world than in US or UK). Tonight, the smile and the energy and the life coming from up there is as true blue as if it was a newer band finally hitting their stride and getting their shot, or as if we have somehow all been teleported to Glasto in 2007 and are seeing history made.

As if it weren’t enough to have been treated to an immense, deeply crowd pleasing festival bill of over 60 acts, including Arcade Fire’s first full band show in over two years, LCD Soundsystem’s first outing in five years, an unforgettable and utterly artistic FKA Twigs late night show and happy surprises on four diverse musical stages, the festival closes in a way that conjures fantasies that my firm, private comment in the car after Flowers ‘ solo set last Wayhome was prescient and was even as powerful as law:”Now The Killers need to come back and headline. That would be a perfect fit.”

And here we are with Brandon, Dave Keuning, Ronnie Vannucci Jr and touring bassist Jake Blanton. Everyone is where they belong tonight. Seems like everyone is here, in a space that looks scary from above (in a Wayhome-provided drone shot) but is really an amiable wide open field with room to move even at that perfect front /side pocket where those in the know get in early. I am are here with old friends, new friends, and my truest love. We are all here. We 40,000 can’t help falling in love.

The buzz is rising in the strange twittersphere that The Killers are back on the road again like they were for so many years we were spoiled from. The energy is electric, the excitement is palpable and one of the many wild, non-nonsensical totems of this great big weekend is finally the sensible and meaningful “Battle Born” whose carriers fight to the front and before the eyes of all the band to see. Victims, representing,  and The Killers crash onto the stage folding time like a paper airplane. Because that’s what great music does. These are pre-dystopian anthems of just a few years ago in an ever changing and lately, flattening musical landscape. Killers songs have balls. They have heart. They have staying power. They have worth. They can save your heart. They might have already saved your heart from the mean reds or the blues sometime as they did mine not so long ago, something I wear on my sleeve because it’s true, and it’s past and love did not leave my life but returned to it, and all the while, the music held me up and will always be loved in turn, like my religion, because that’s what music is.

Killers songs are about an unbelievable woman who stupidly broke a beautiful man’s heart, fueling a truly great album in our new century. They are about remembering your essence, the gold hearted boy or girl you used to be. They are from a juggernaut of a band whose demos were so damn good, they went right on to the first album. These same songs ring with unabashed, brave, unvarnished, uncool truths (yet made cool when set to music, when brought into the light, when reaching the millions strong who get it and buy in) they are rock and roll poems full of feelings of longing, apprehension, fear & anger. They are the dreams of regular people, music fans, who willed themselves and fought (battle born) and hustled with true grit to stand beside their own musical heroes and belong there. And duet. And cover, beautifully. And be in the game and to change it, too.  And like all the greatest songs we set our hearts beating in time to, for those of us who grew up to the strains of synth pop assuring us that the Cold War was something we could dance through (and so we did), Killers songs ring as true as New Order, as The Cure, as Joy Division, as OMD, as The Smiths & Morrissey, as Bruce Springsteen, as Elvis.

The Killers have always done a cover or two, and have always done them justice, if not breathed new life into them. Fans know all this. Casual listeners can be turned with a few drops of these covers. The Killers have long made Joy Division’s Shadowplay a part of their set (before it was cool, even) and tonight, I see that they’ve now just up and made it their own after recording it for the great Ian Curtis biopic “Control” and playing it steadily down the years. This song is their secret touchstone, that band, Joy Division, the mecca and the root of all British rock post-Ian Curtis’ tragic death and the end of Joy Division, the band that is the grail we start from and look for in our own tours around those few chords and few notes, working to make something we haven’t heard before in a time when it  feels heavy and stale, like its all been done.

But the pace never slows with this band, at this show, and as a veteran of 8 Killers (and one Flowers solo) shows on two continents I can say that as great as they’ve always played, this is the best one yet. That is all down to the band’s impossibly tight, agile, tireless and euphoric show. And has an extra drop of magic of a festival crowd in total sync in the final hours of celebrating the dedication to make journeys and travel to make music matter, to make sure we are a part of it and not sidelined on the couch, an effort that grows more special with every dystopian year lately. No less so as the world continues to ache with public violence, and the bravery and commitment of both performers and fans is not insignificant.

But that’s the last thing on our minds as we all delve in and sing and dance and cheer without a minute’s pause or lapse to Mr. Brightside, Spaceman, The Way it Was, Human (intro) Bling, Shadowplay, Human, Somebody Told Me, Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll, For Reasons Unknown, A Dustland Fairytale, Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis cover), Read My Mind, Runaways, All These Things That I’ve Done, This is Your Life, Jenny Was a Friend of Mine AND When You Were Young. 

The bucket list for this band – if we can’t just be hired to feed Ronnie’s dog on tour-is growing shorter and now revolves around seeing a Killers Christmastime show featuring their annual Project Red charity singles (especially “A Great Big Sled” and “Don’t Shoot Me Santa”) and the Murder Trilogy. Oh and Romeo and Juliet. Oh yes, this is how a Victim conversation goes.

Happily, The Killers decided to pull up to the foot of our driveway once again, and were welcomed back. That feeling soaking your spine was, actually, magic.

Ronnie Vannucci Jr. gets the last word though, and it’s mike droppingly brilliant. After his customary drum sticks toss (his second of the night) he steps to Flowers’ mike and reminds us all “Tell your friends”.

By Jacqueline Howell (Victim)



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