Friday, November 17, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The less you know about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, the more you will enjoy the film. Which poses a quandry for people who want to write about it and serve a readership (though it does spare me having to fully come to terms with the content).

Here are some spoiler-free obersevations, however.

First, let me declaim that Martin McDonagh is one of my favourite current filmmakers, and certainly my favourite working more or less in the field of black comedy. It is true that none of his three feature films quite equals, in  outlandishness, emotional impact or savage bite Todd Solondz' 1998 masterpiece Happiness - which surely (with apologies to Terry Zwigoff, Bobcat Goldthwait, the Coens, and such) is the greatest, most squirm-inducing, and funniest dark comedy of the last 20 years - but they have a bit more weight to them, are bit more socially engaged, more "responsible." Love Happiness as I do, it is impossible not to watch it - the tale of a pedophile and his extended family - in horror the first time through, embarrassed to laugh, unsure it is safe, challenged to find a comfortable moral perspective from which to view it, and even though I've come to love it and accept it and can laugh quite wholeheartedly along now, I'm not entirely sure that it isn't ultimately reducible to a misanthropic self-indulgence, and a guilty pleasure at best, brilliant and funny and, well, pleasurable as it is. And none of Solondz' subsequent films seem to ratify my love for that one, not even his ostensible sequel to it, Life During Wartime, which was the last of his films I attempted, having liked none of the others. (Are Dark Horse and Wiener-Dog worth seeing? Should I care? I don't, that's how much I liked everything post-Happiness). 

On the other hand, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards are an amazing run of wins, showing Martin McDonagh getting more confident and creative each time. Especially if taken in concert with Martin's brother John Michael McDonagh's movies, The Guard and Calvary - which share some similarities in tone and content - there are very interesting thematic recurrences, from rage at Catholic pedophilia (most thoroughly realized in Calvary but relevant to In Bruges and Three Billboards) to playing with politically unacceptable speech to (only in Martin's case so far) an interest in casting dwarves (note: Jordan Prentice, from In Bruges, is NOT Peter Dinklage, who appears in Three Billboards; there was a time that I mistook the men for each other, I am embarrassed to admit). Not sure what that last thing is about - a way of poking fun at taboos about political correctness while still sticking with white men, the safest butt of any joke these days, as their target? - but the fact that Martin McDonagh has worked with two different dwarves in two different films suggests that it is not the actor he is interested in but having a dwarf IN his movies... unless maybe he wrote Three Billboards with Jordan in mind, and then Jordan couldn't do it...

There's also perhaps a politically questionable element of finding redeeming qualities in men who do, say, or believe inexcusable things, in all of these films. Both In Bruges and Calvary have very specific things to say about the nature of forgiveness and redemption, which may connect to the McDonaghs having been raised Catholic (no idea if they were). But it remains that case that Colin Farrell in In Bruges, Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards, and/or Brendan Gleeson in (John Michael McDonagh's) The Guard, all do horrible/ unforgivable things at times, including assaulting Canadian strangers for being presumed Americans (In Bruges); killing a priest (In Bruges); working as hired killers (In Bruges); kidnapping dogs, lying wholesale, and irresponsibly suckering friends into a bloody and violent standoff (Seven Psychopaths); torturing people of colour (Three Billboards); and/or - in all of these films - indulging in epithets that are racist, sexist, or - what do you call prejudice against dwarves, anyways, heightism?* It's worth querying WHY we want to redeem such men: there's something of Clint Eastwood's very forgiving portrait of a cranky old racist in Gran Torino in these characters, especially in the case of Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards. McDonagh makes his characters work harder at their redemption, and - in Three Billboards - balances that tale of redemption against an apparent complete and utter lack of forgiveness for the perpetrator of a different crime. But I could see critics on the left finding fault here, am not entirely sure how I feel about the politics of these movies, ultimately.

But screwit: Three Billboards is really really fun. It's filled with surprises. It relates in interesting and timely ways to "call-out culture," though it predates that.  I liked Frances McDormand in it much, much more than I've enjoyed her in any of the Coens' films save for Blood Simple (I thought her characters in Fargo and Burn After Reading were far too much caricatures). She's great. Sam Rockwell is great. Woody Harrelson has started of late to be just too damn Woody Harrelson for me, but his performance is fine and he gets some of the most touching lines. Caleb Landry Jones remains a consitently interesting presence on screen, and gets some really fun lines too; and John Hawkes makes a great asshole ex-husband. I am actually not sure WHAT the political implications of the film are, from its attitude to direct action and vigilantism to the aforementioned redemption of ugly male characters, but it will certainly keep you attentive, and certainly will leave you with food for thought. It might not be a safe film for everyone - it's strange to me that in the age of the trigger warning, movies as provocative as this seem to be universally loved - but it's probably going to prove one of the most well-remembered and regarded movies of 2017. (One of the rare negative reviews of the film also targets McDonagh's choice of who to redeem and why, but it's got a fairly accurate description of the film, if you're looking for more; I've avoided revealing any plot details, however, so you might have a chance to go in fairly fresh, but I agree with this critic, I think, that the film's last act is its weakest; I didn't care, though).

Anyhow, I recommend it. 

*And yep, prejudice against dwarves is called "heightism."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

storc, BRASS, HEDKS SBC gig Nov. 18th

So I did that big Vicious Cycles piece and was kinda relieved: whew, one more article off my plate! Just gotta finish a couple other things that I've been working on - bev davies, Art Bergmann, Pere Ubu, Flesh Eaters, and maybe some older stuff I have long wanted to tidy up, and then I'm FREE, I can be FREE, I have no new bands I have to wr...

...oh, yeah, there's the Slow reunion, and Red Herring have a new album, and Coach StrobCam have a gig on Friday and then there's David M's Christmas show and..., no, no: I have bills to pay! I need work! I can't be distracting myself any further - I need to be EXTRACTING myself from the non-lucrative world of music journalism, where 90% of what I do gets no pay beside the odd guestlisting, usually for gigs I don't end up making it to ANYHOW... like the joke goes, I'm gonna die of exposure if I don't stop, I need a FULL TIME JOB, and soon, and one that doesn't end in the union going on strike (leading to layoff of all junior staff), or the company going bankrupt, or the contract ending and being rejigged or...

...And then I stop in Neptoon Records, and (Vicious Cycles drummer) Ben Frith wants to give me an album, for another band he's in.

No, NO Ben Frith, I... a vinyl album? For free? Um.

Well I can LISTEN to it. (What's the line in The Godfather III again?).

And damn it: I like it. storc - all lower case - is a noisy, slightly spazzy* (more-or-less) punk band (featuring local stalwart Luke Meat on vocals) that reminds me immediately of another great noisy, slightly spazzy local punk band, BRASS, whose debut album, No Soap Radio, I reviewed here. And it's not actually that off the mark as a comparison, since as soon as I mention BRASS to Ben in a Facebook message he writes,

"Hey Allan! We love BRASS! They're one of our favourite bands to play with, in fact, we held off on doing our release show until they were back in town from their tour." (And as you will see, the two bands are soon to play together at the SBC Cabaret...).

BRASS vocalist stage dives while James of Bison works the merch table, June 2016; photo by Allan MacInnis

The new storc album gets a fuller writeup, not by me, in Exclaim! There are things in it I had not noticed or thought about the album, myself, but "unhinged" is definitely a good word for their music. It's certainly the most sonically brute stuff that I'm aware of Joshua "Magneticring" Stevenson having a hand in - though I haven't followed everything he's done, and there may well be some subtleties in the music that I didn't fully appreciate, since what I noticed most on spinning it was the primal (if tuneful) ROAR the band makes... My main observation/ question for Ben is that the liner notes say the sessions for the LP were recorded in 2014. So what's with the delay in the release?

Ben responds: "We really took our time in between giving mix notes. We actually didn't have final mix until July 2015. We weren't in a hurry, and nobody knew we had it coming, so anytime we got a mix, we'd sit on it for a while before sending in notes. I think we only did a couple of minor revisions, but we wanted to know we were happy with it instead of rushing. I guess the delay between then and now would be that we all just got super busy. Matt went on a couple of longer vacations, I went on tour for a couple months, Luke went away as well. Just never got to all sit down and get the rest of it done (art, etc). The really ironic thing is, we are going into the studio to record our 2nd LP this weekend....being the weekend before we release the first one, haha!"

It actually sounds like a pretty good way to do things, though it does make me wonder why I haven't ever heard of storc before, if they've been around since 2011 (but I don't have my ear THAT close to the ground). Anyhow, it looks to be a great cheap gig to be at - I mean, $10 is gonna buy you more manic energy, sweat, and moshable music than you're gonna get in a year at Rogers Arena, no matter who is playing.

But speaking of arena shows - I actually fucked up in that Straight Vicious Cycles piece, it turns out. I knew that Ben had toured Europe with Black Sabbath; Rob had mentioned it to me, and then I saw Ben on the Main Street bus and heard about it from him direct over the time it took to get from Neptoon to the Skytrain Station. But I misremembered key details: he was NOT actually a Black Sabbath drum tech (he tells me he didn't mind the error, though, because it makes him sound cooler than he actually is!). While we're chatting, I ask him to clarify, and he explains that he "worked as the drum tech for Rival Sons for the three Canadian shows, and then they hired me as a bass and keyboard tech for the European tour (also opening for Sabbath). Which was extra funny, because I can't play bass or keyboards!"

Black Sabbath drum tech indeed. Oops.

Anyhow, I doubt very much that I will be at the SBC Cabaret on Saturday, for the Womankind/ HEDKS/ BRASS/ storc album release show, but I have seen two out of four bands on the bill, and spun vinyl of the headliner, and enjoyed them all a ton. HEDKS (rhymes with "Smashface") is the band of one of the Art Signfied people who I now know primarily by her Facebook monicker, Taser Fraser. BRASS have one of the more furious, fun, stage-divin'-centric live shows out there. And storc sound to be great - energetic, unruly, not without a sense of tunefulness or artistry but also noisy and hyper and - I would call them "shambolic," since "unhinged" is taken, except "shambolic" suggests something slow, and there's nothin' slow about storc, howevermuch of a (controlled) shambles may be found on the album.

So check it out.

*note: "spazzy" is meant as a term of praise

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Time out, plus some photos from the East Van Opry last night

So if I have my way I'm going to do only a few more bits of writing before Christmas, barring offers of paying work or events or concert announcements I cannot ignore: something on Pere Ubu, if the band makes time for it, and part twos for my Art Bergmann and bev davies interviews (for Big Takeover and BC Musician, respectively; part ones of both either are or should be out soon).

There is also, of course, the Flesh Eaters in January. I won't be ignoring them, and neither should you! Epochal gig, their first Vancouver show, with members of X, the Blasters, and Los Lobos, and some of the most pulpily literate, B-movie-steeped lyrics ever written (by Chris D., Yakuza movie expert, filmmaker, actor, programmer, novelist, and one of the most unique vocalists in punk). As far as I know, Mo has not yet picked an opening act (or hasn't announced one). It should be someone super cooooool, who understands the honour they have of playing in front of this band for their first show in Canada... I am excited to see who it will be.

Of course, concertwise, we're all fretting about whether we're going to get to see Slow (or griping that the first show announced now ends up the second show, which is, in fact, a bad form thing to gripe about if you're talking to people who didn't get a ticket at all). But there's lots else of note coming up. My favourite local reunion act, Red Herring, has a gig at the Princeton coming up (Nov. 11th I think), and a new album in the can, to my understanding (!). And there's Coach StrobCam, and then David M is going to be doing something (I think at the Heritage Grill) next Monday (I think it is) to replace the gig that got cancelled. You can find all that on Facebook though. (David usually posts gigs in the NO FUN: the Beatles of Surrey group. Join it).

I am open to offers of paying work, for the record - the more steady and lucrative the better, of course. Scraping by has become a stone drag. Writer, ESL teacher, tutor, proofreader, whatever (but I don't drive, am scared of tools, and hate heights, so no roofing or cab drivin' for me). Feel free to get in touch (maybe leave me a comment on this post). Al needs work.

Meantime, he doesn't need the distraction of writing.

But as a partin' shot for now, I caught most of the East Van Opry last night, then realized after we'd ducked out (to run an errand at the SBC pertaining to the Vicious Cycles gig - I delivered a Stiff Little Fingers DVD for JJ) that we'd missed the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, assuming they played. The surprise was CR Avery, who was much, much more dynamic as a performer than I ever realized, doing "white James Brown" kinda interpretations of Dolly's "9 to 5," "Be My Baby," and - demanding people get up and dance - "Walkin' on Sunshine," interspersed with spoken word poetry (which was pretty good, too, though I hope the line about playing someone's "tulip [two-lip] harmonica" was intended to get laughs). There was lots else to like, though. My favourite song of the night was a guy who called himself "Johnny 99" - John Sponarski? - who I can find no trace of online, but who sang a very potent song called "Bad Habits." Dawn Pemberton gave the vocal performance of the night on a very moving rendition of "Oh Susanna" (yep). Squirrel Butter was the most authentically Appalachian act and made the best use of their feet. And through almost every act, Paul Rigby sat at his guitar, hearing acts he'd never heard before play songs he'd never heard before, and - concentration briefly flickering on his expressive, earnest face - would find a way to add steel guitar licks (pedal steel? lap steel? I actually don't really know the difference) to their music, almost always right on the money, smiling more often than he grimaced at his own playing (though he did that a couple of times, too! He obviously knew Geoff Berner's stuff the best, but he produced the album! And thanks, Paul, for getting Geoff to do "Phony Drawl;" I hadn't seen that one live yet). Rigby deserves some sort of award for his contributions to local music in recent years, also including his work on Art Bergmann's superb The Apostate).

So - some photos. All by me, use them if you can. Here's Annie Lou, putting the death back into country:

Eli West...

Host Kyle Bottom, joking about his (pretty great) facial hair:

Bassist from the Airstreams, with better facial hair still:

John Sponarski:

Dawn Pemberton...

Squirrel Butter (second photo with added Carolyn Mark cheering section!).

C.R. Avery (with some Kathleen Nisbet backup vocals):

C.R.'s accompaniment for the "Walkin' on Sunshine" finale:

"Professor Banjo" leading square dances:

Square Dance:

The Alimony Brothers (Erika didn't like the singer's pants but I do!).

People dancing to the Alimony Brothers:

Kim Beggs:

Paul Rigby cheering Geoff Berner:

Geoff Berner:

Carolyn Mark, Paul Rigby, Geoff Berner, and a guy in a hat:

What I thought was the finale:

Where I went next:

That's all I got, folks! Good luck getting into Slow, maybe see y'all at Red Herring or David M.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Slow, the Vicious Cycles MC, and the East Van Opry

Well, there's a cover story in the Georgia Straight I imagine everyone has seen. Slow is back! 

I gather the December gig has sold out already - that tickets to the Fox show went within a few hours of going online. I didn't have the space on my credit card to buy one, and they never made it to stores, so now I guess I wait to see if a second show gets added (or if there's another gig in the future). 

It's kind of hilarious, actually. Did Cleveland feel like this when Rocket From the Tombs reunited? Did Boston, with Mission of Burma? I'm betting not, in fact. Vancouverites sure didn't get this excited for the Subhumans or the Dishrags or the Furies, when they got back together (though the Pointed Sticks did okay, I guess). In fact, I'm betting the stature of Slow, the LEGEND of Slow, in Vancouver, is about as big as such things could be for a band, anywhere. For a reunion to be THIS exciting to people, in this jaded city, besides Slow, I think you'd have to bring someone back from the literal dead. 

Maybe the improbability is part of it.

I saw Slow once, at that Cramps gig at UBC. It was memorable indeed - and I'm pleased as punch Bev was there taking photos; it's the first gig she and I both were at together, as far as I know - but it was also a bit of a sprawling, noisy, unpredictable night, as I remember it, a band of super-charged young people (in bloody nurses costumes, as it happens) that threatened to explode in anarchy and confusion at any moment. It was NOT like listening to their music on my record player, as I recall it, or like watching that polished "Have Not Been the Same" video. Check their live version of Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog," for an example; besides being very, very fun, it captures my sense of what the band actually sounded like live - a (glorious, hot, but undeniable) MESS, kinda like listening to a Stooges bootleg or something. It will be interesting to see what Slow sounds like now that it's made up of polished, seasoned musicians (and presumably mature adults). Contemplating it is not easy (though I am told by Mack that he is not being hyperbolic at all in the article, that this is going to be ferocious indeed. And there's NEW MUSIC? Whoa). 

I would equally welcome a Copyright reunion, mind you - am more inclined to listen to their output than Against the Glass these days, especially that first, brilliant Geffen "Circle C" record. But Against the Glass and the 7" are both indelibly marked on me. "I Broke the Circle" is probably my top local punk 7", or at least up RIGHT there with the Subhumans' "Firing Squad," DOA's "World War III," and, of course, the Spores' "Narcs in My Pants." I will be bummed indeed if I don't get to see the band, but I'm also not panicking yet. 

(Not sure if I'm going to buy the Against the Glass repress, mind you, since I have the original, but... oh, who am I fooling, if I see this in the stores and have the money... I'm under the impression it might have sold out, too, but I'm sure there'll be more... hard to believe it's been over thirty years...).
Anyhow, the cover story on Slow blows anything else that's happening this week a bit out of the water, but I'm happy to be in this issue, as well: a short version of my piece on the Vicious Cycles MC is in print, complimented online by a much longer version (I am told Mack's Slow piece is longer online, too, note). They're a great band, with a 10th anniversary concert tonight. It's an article I really enjoyed writing, even if I asked a few stupid questions ("What does MC stand for?"). Check it out. 

And then there's something I did, for all you roots music fans, on the East Van Opry, tonight at the Rio.  Pretty excited by that, too; I've wanted Erika to see Geoff Berner for awhile now. And we had a lot of fun last year. I'll be taking in both shows, leaving the Opry around 10pm to make the SBC, I guess. Unless Geoff hasn't played yet...

It's been fun, writing these. I've enjoyed some of my articles, lately. (There's a bev davies piece I did in the new BC Musician, too, and an Art Bergmann article, but neither one is online yet). 

However, I also need to find work soon, so I may not be so active writing for a bit. I mean, it's only rock'n'roll, right? I feel the need to do something slightly more mature with my time for awhile... I'll be back in time to do something re: Pere Ubu (whose new album sounds more like Rocket From the Tombs, note, is some of the hardest, most guitar-driven stuff Ubu has done, so you might want to check it out).