Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Pointed Sticks present a very fun night indeed (with Strange Breed, Eddy D & the Sex Bombs, and the Modernettes!)

Strange Breed. All photos except the Pointed Sticks by Allan MacInnis

Ha! That was a very fun show, though suffused for some with a certain level of anxiety.

For instance, I spent a good part of the way there worried I would miss Strange Breed altogether. I felt there was an imperative to see them, though I did not like the half-of-one song of theirs I heard on their website, which was (it turns out) not at all representative of what they do. I am most happy that I liked them live a hundred times more than I liked that half-of-one song, which didn't seem particularly garagey or punky or at all what their self-description seemed to promise; it seemed, in fact, like an attempt to appeal to people for whom garage rock and punk are not draws, which further seemed an odd thing for a punky garage band to do. I wanted to be reassured that they were in fact cool, since they sure sounded like they would be.

Good news: they were and are!

I also wondered, in terms of keeping up with language change, at their describing themselves as four "queer females;" having been around people who happily described themselves as lesbians - I met Rachel Melas, once, and observed the Animal Slaves sitting around a kitchen table in a house in East Van spontaneously making up Seussian rhymes around the theme of "I like dykes;" I've interviewed Annie Sprinkle and her partner, who used the term middle-aged lesbians to refer to themselves; etc - I have begun to sense that the word "lesbian" may be entering a time of slight political disfavour, like, say, the word "homosexual." I generally only hear it these days implied in the form of the L in LGBTQ+ formulations, or in The L-World. 

In any event, the band's using two words ("queer females") where one ("lesbians") once would have sufficed caught my notice and made me think I might be onto something, there. Maybe I'll put the question to Strange Breed someday?

Strange Breed

By the way, apropos of my Toiling Midgets article, yes, "midget" is actually an offensive word in the dwarf community. The FAQ on the Little People of America website points out that in addition to terms that are not considered offensive - like the rather Leprechaunish "little people" or the Tolkienesque "dwarf," "most people would rather be referred to by their name than by a label." This is true and worth saying (said the fat, bald white guy on the cusp of getting old, though, you know, I am sure somewhere I have been thus described as a landmark in someone's directions: "No, she's the one standing by the fat, bald white guy on the cusp of getting old." It is fine with me if that is so. I find it, in fact, less annoying than being mistaken for other fat men, apparently based on our fatness alone. And for the record, once again, I do not own or work at Audiopile Records, though people ask me that at least once every couple of years. That guy is Geoff Barton, and we really don't look much alike: he has mostly a moustache while I favour a 'stacheless goatee; he wears glasses and I do not; his hair is naturally lightish, while mine is dark; our patterns of hair loss are dissimilar; and he has more soulful eyes than I do, while I am a tad taller. I am also not, while we are at it, Ty Stranglehold, though Ty and I once had a conversation about Chris Walter mistaking me for him to my face, with Ty remarking - as we stood in line for some show or other - on how we look nothing alike "save for being white and large." Which was pretty entertaining, actually, so thanks, Chris!).

Anyhow, good news! In contrast to the one song I heard on their website, the description of Strange Breed as a garage rock band was accurate, though they were definitely on the punk/ riot grrrl end of the spectrum. Like, fans of L7 and Bikini Kill should be checking them out. It wasn't just me, either. I forget who said it, but I recall a vintage Vancouver punk or two voicing the opinion that they were pretty awesome. Mike Armstrong of East Van Halen said it, maybe? (He who pogo'd drunkenly up, down, and off my back, later in the evening, when the Modernettes kicked into "Barbra?") Or was it Gord McCaw? Or both of them? Or was it John Werner? Or Ed Hurrell?

There were lots of old punks around, as you might guess, so I'm not sure.

In any event, like I was saying, there was a low level of anxiety throughout the night, and not just from me. Turns out when I reached in my wallet to hand John Armstrong $20 for the Modernettes t-shirt I bought off him (custom-ordered at 3XL, with an Rd Cane photo on the front that looks just great), I unwittingly handed him a five instead. I had mostly $20's, and thought I checked, but, I dunno, with the dim light, beer, and CBD caplets - my kidney stones are acting up - I must have fucked up! He then, apparently, spent the next half hour or so too worried to mention it - "embarrassed," was the word he used - in case I had paid in advance or something and he'd forgotten it, or so he explained later. I in turn - when he finally pointed out my mistake - spent the next while worried that maybe he thought I had tried to rip him off, or perhaps overweeningly presumed to get a hefty discount based on my article. Conversely, you know, I did also entertain the thought that maybe he had successfully ripped ME off! I mean, it's vastly more likely that I just handed him the wrong bill, but, whatever; no doubt he entertained the possibility of my malfeasance, too, and for fairly good cause!

Anyhow, we got it all sorted.

Eddy Dutchman and Bob Petterson

After that, it was my turn to stress out: I spent a good part of Eddy D and the Sex Bombs' very fun set worrying if I might not have misspelled Eddy's name (as "Eddie") in my Modernettes article. I am afraid to look; I think I might have. Still, I shot some video and made a mental note that I actually like this band. Erika particularly loved the vibe off bassist Bob Petterson ("cool to the bone," I believe she said), and his sideburns, too, which information I later relayed to Bob; I believe he made, by way of comment, some remark about contemplating growing them out, to have "a full on chinchilla like Trevor Bolder." (Bolder makes a surprise appearance in that Toiling Midgets article btw, presumably when he was touring Ziggy Stardust with Bowie). There was a song about being "too tight" that particularly merits further investigation: I got the impression that the band playfully riffed off several different variants of that phrase, from not being able to fit into one's clothing to encountering someone cheap to, who knows, maybe having trouble with anal sex? (There is also the "tight" that comes from a well-oiled band's performance, and "Too Tight," if that's what it was called, was one of the tightest songs of the night). EddyD & the Sex Bombs don't seem to have a bandcamp or website I can find, besides what's on Youtube or Facebook, but I do think they have at least one album to their name. Very sexy, playful, fun rock'n'roll, kinda a 70's punk cabaret...

All the while that Eddy D. and his crew were onstage, John Armstrong must have been worrying about his voice. He'd posted on Facebook about having rehearsed so much his throat was sore, and later, in his stage patter, cracked a joke about the Chloraseptic he was using. He needn't have worried. I have seen (and enjoyed!) much, much rougher vocal performances, including a couple of heroes of mine (Chris D., when the Flesh Eaters played here; or Rob Wright, who, at one of three Nomeansno shows I caught in Ontario, went so raw in the throat during some of his roars that it sounded like he might start coughing blood... though he made a full recovery by the next night at the Horseshoe, somehow. Plus I've seen Ozzy Osbourne in recent years. John had nothing to worry about; he sounded fine).

I also wondered if having a giant article focusing entirely on him, given that he hasn't played live in awhile, might have put a certain pressure on him to deliver (as no doubt the packed house filled with his peers did)?

The vocals weren't the high point of his set, mind you: the high point was Armstrong's guitar soloing and interchanges with Adam Sabla, which reminded me a little of seeing Lou Reed and Mike Rathke in Tokyo, years ago, on the Ecstasy tour. They engaged with and complemented each other in very similar ways (though Reed and Rathke went into things at greater length, riffing around and into each other like some sort of New York version of Neil Young and Crazy Horse).

Jim Cummins looks on as John sets up

There was a pleasing sampling of some of Buck's best older work in the set, including "I Can Only Give You Everything," "The Rebel Kind," "Suicide Club," "Red Nails," "Teen City," and others -  plus a few rude cries from the audience of "play the old stuff" when John digressed into songs only a few people know. (I know Doug Smith and Noize to Go's Dale Wiese, in the house, knew "Sal Mineo," and obviously any people who worked on the song, like most of the Pointed Sticks, but I am not sure how many people overall had heard it before, either live or in studio; I would guess not many). The melancholy debauched romanticism of "Party Girl" made the set, too, as well as an awesome song that I didn't expect he would do, the Crazy-Horse-ish anthem "Hold Tight." I shot video of a song I've chosen to render as "Sorry When I'm Dead," though I don't know the formal final title - the one with the great couplet, "Chinese heroin and Mexican beer/ who do I fuck to get out of here?" I think everyone in the audience was very satisfied, including me - and they didn't even do my favourite of their new songs! ("Delivery Boy").

(And that was the song I devoted the most print to, even).

The stresses weren't all internal, note. There was a wee drum mishap and a snare had to be traded out, when duct tape was not enough to solve whatever issue manifested itself. That Mr. Fixit moment preceded "Barbra" (I do not know who the other guy was who got moshy, but Mike Armstrong sure had a good time during that tune). Then came the evening's final song, which I am stunned to discover I cannot now call to mind (was it a cover? It was a song I knew, but now can't find on Get It Straight! Once again I blame the beer and CBD).

Jim Cummins introduces the Pointed Sticks

Finally, the Pointed Sticks took the stage. Erika and I ended up leaving a bit earlyish to escort Bev Davies out of the 'hood (she has been heard to remark that she can't believe she ever lived in that neighbourhood; she, like Erika and myself, has gotten accustomed to a less intense level of streetlife out here in the 'burbs.)  I was delighted that the Sticks opened with "Put a Little English On It," my favourite Polly song and a fine tribute to its author, the late Paul Leahy. I knew that it has been in their set from catching them at the Smilin' Buddha (the last I show I ever saw at SBC was the Sticks and Gerry Hannah); this time I was ready and caught it on video. (Polly's version live here). David M., of Leahy's previous band, NO FUN (playing the first of several Christmas shows on Monday, by the way) commented on Facebook that the Sticks' cover was "pretty good stuff," which is like a rave review coming from him (he has understandably high standards where such things are concerned).

I do not know if the Pointed Sticks themselves had anything to worry about last night, mind you. They always seem pretty at ease onstage. Certainly they didn't need to worry about attendance: the Rickshaw was as full as I've seen for a local show in years. Maybe I helped in some small way with that? (I heard tell of at least one person who wasn't going to come, then read my article, and came, so...).

(I hope that person enjoyed himself!) 

Video aside, I didn't actually get any worthy photos of the Pointed Sticks, so here's a couple by bev davies. Check out the green pants on Nick (loudest pants of the night, and that's sayin' somethin').

Pointed Sticks by bev davies, not to be reused iwthout permission

All in all, a great night out. Sadly, I'm going to miss the month's other must-see at the Rickshaw, Keithmas, but I hope those of you who go enjoy it. If someone could capture a clip of Bison covering the Rolling Stones, I'm really curious as to what that might look like!

Friday, December 06, 2019

Modernettes! John Armstrong interview outtakes

I have a major John Armstrong interview online, apropos of Friday's show at the Rickshaw (technically later today but it's only midnight as I write this, so it feels like tomorrow). If it isn't obvious, I think this new Modernettes stuff (or New Modernettes, if you prefer) is just great (better than the old stuff, actually!). I have a few outtakes for y'all below. (Read the Straight piece first).

Allan: For me, “Delivery Boy” brings two very specific things to mind, even though both are quite a bit eviler than your bearer of bad news: Jim Thompson’s portraits of a simmering but unseen evil under the surface of everyday American life, and a story by Richard Matheson called, I think, “The Distributor,” about someone who moves into towns, and while keeping the fa├žade of normal suburban life, quietly and evilly digs into the discords and tensions that underlie neighbours’ relationships, so they end up at each other’s throats. The seeds of hatred sewn, he moves on to somewhere else. I do NOT imagine you know that story, but are there literary antecedents for that song?

John: Hahaha - I’m familiar with both, and the Matheson is wonderful, written in acid. Thompson was a fabulous writer as well, and terminally fucked up, poor guy. There’s another in a similar vein about a man who moves into a neighbourhood and sows discord among the little community - he feeds on suffering. Shirley Jackson? No... [Some discussion on Facebook brings us to John Cheever's "The Swimmer" as a candidate, but it remains uncertain].

[...but as for] Jim Thompson: Forgotten for years - and barely known at the height of his career - then suddenly everybody knew about him, when Black Lizard put his stuff back in print. In my giddiest moments of narcissism I imagine that’ll be me, dead, and suddenly acclaimed by all. Goddamnit.

Allan: Who are your favourite writers?

John: Favourite writers? Celine, William Burroughs - the funniest American writer since Twain - Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal. Liz Hand, Alice Sheldon, who wrote some incredible stuff as James Tiptree. The Screwfly Solution, The Women Men Don’t See. Read her and your life will be richer, guaranteed. So, so many. Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg, two guys who elevated genre writing. Philip Dick.

Allan: Was there any stuff I've missed?

John: Nope - unless you want more about the books that are out and the ones to come. There’s going to be an audiobook of Guilty of Everything, me reading it. More public readings - we’re talking to people in the UK and Europe about touring in the summer, with the new album out. I can’t wait. I really missed playing and just being with these guys.

There’s still some songs unrecorded or unfinished just because you can only load so much onto the public in one shot without overwhelming them. Books, I have two novels out to go with the three memoirs, two more ready to come out when I can commission the cover art, a horror novel about the Burnaby Art Gallery - the infamous Ceperley Mansion - and a novel about a young transgender witch, named Abra. And another in the research and note-compiling stage, an American theocracy novel. I struggled with this one - I wanted to write something about the fundamentalist Christian faction and the whole Dominion philosophy, but I couldn’t find a way to hang a story on it. Until one day it hit - there’s be a resistance, of course, and that would be the Satanists. They’d be the heroic freedom fighters, the good guys. So it’s your basic battle between good and evil.

Allan: This all sounds great. It's a shame there won't be a Guilty of Everything movie, though.

John: Who knows - maybe if I sell enough books it may still happen. At the worst, I had 20 years of option money. Kurt Vonnegut said Jerry Garcia bought the rights to The Sirens of Titan for a considerable sum and kept making the option payments for decades, year after year, and the movie never got made. Vonnegut said he could live with that.

See you at the show tonight! See here for ticket information, etc.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Karyn Kusama's Destroyer: No

I like that Destroyer attempts to put a new kind of female character on the screen - the soul-scorched wretch played by Nicole Kidman is clearly inspired by figures like that played by Harvey Keitel in the original, Ferrara-directed Bad Lieutenant, but with fewer drugs, less nudity, and a prettier youthful self present in the film.

I like that Nicole Kidman is trying something different, too. I have no problem with her, think she can do fine work when well-used. I liked her just fine in Dogville, Eyes Wide Shut, Portrait of a Lady, and Dead Calm. There are a lot of films she's done that I have chosen not to see, and several films that she's starred in that I did see and didn't like much - even To Die For - but her work in those four films has long since sold me on her abilities.

However: I don't think either director Karyn Kusama or Kidman succeed in what they are trying to do in Destroyer. Whether Kidman is up for the role or not - whether she is to blame for the failure to bring her character to light, I do not know, since presumably some of the decisions made in framing the character are not hers. The prosthetic dirty upper teeth that she wears look ridiculous; I don't imagine it was her idea. She seems like she is unable to move her upper lip, maybe because said denture is ill fitting? And she has so much dirt and grime caked on her face that it started to remind me of that scene in Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break where someone starts describing the complex emotions allegedly flickering across the blank face of Keanu Reeves, because Bigelow, presumably, simply couldn't get a good enough performance out of the young Mr. Reeves ("look, he's just not getting this, can we just have someone describe how he's supposed to be feeling?"). That is, Kidman's excess makeup in the film seems like it's there compensating for something, like the inability to draw a sufficiently believable performance from the actress. People comparing the role to Charlize Theron in Monster are doing Theron an injustice, because Theron didn't just get grimy: she inhabited and sold her character. Kidman's revenge-driven, grief-mad, self-hating cop is so uni-dimensional throughout this film that we never buy her as a human being. The young actress who plays her daughter Shelby - Jade Pettyjohn, who I only know otherwise from the Deadwood movie - acts circles around Kidman. Kidman's good in the "flashback" scenes, is believable as a young, ambitious, and slightly bent undercover cop - but the hard-living, battle-scarred spectre she becomes? I just could not, for a minute, buy it. Sorry.

Plus there's just too much that evokes other films: Bad Lieutenant, Reservoir Dogs, Rush, even a minimal soundtrack that reminds one at times of parts of The Shining score... Add to which that the "surprise, we aren't actually telling this story in sequence" twist at the end comes across as shallow and gimmicky. Of COURSE the filmmakers manage to surprise you with their reveal - they know what's going on, and you don't. It doesn't enhance the narrative or the theme, it just takes you out of the story for a few minutes as you go back over what you've just seen and reassemble it with the withheld information in place. It's like the twist at the end of The Usual Suspects: it actually manages to detract from the things that were interesting about the film, make you realize that it is even less than you thought it was going to be. Again, it feels like over-compensation: "This story isn't interesting enough as it is, but what if we scramble bits around, but not let people know we're doing it?"


There are a couple of good moments in the writing. I like that one character invites Kidman to a prayer meeting then qualifies it - "it's not like we're handling serpents," or something like that. Witty. I like the cancer patient/ informant who wants to get paid off for giving information with a handjob. I like the bit about the owls. The film is well-photographed.

That's about all.  Best thing that may come out of it is that I may try to seek out and show my wife Girlfight, Kusama's first film, which remains my favourite of the work of hers I've seen. Michelle Rodriguez is also a different kind of female character, in that film, but unlike Kidman in Destroyer, she totally pulls it off.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Robert Forster and Breaking Bad

I've been bugging my wife since Robert Forster died for her to revisit Jackie Brown with me, in tribute to him. I don't have much else that he's in, elsewise, to be honest, and wanted to do something. I mean, there's Alligator, but that's not really her cup of tea (and is only 3/4's good; there's some silly stuff in it, stuff that doesn't really hold up. I'm fond of the film, and like Forster in it, but it's not a great movie by a long shot).

We'd also been talking, on an I-thought-unrelated-note, about watching Breaking Bad, of which I had only ever seen the first four seasons. Erika saw maybe two episodes, years ago - up to the body being dissolved in acid, which grossed her out beyond her tolerance.

That was before our marriage, which in some ways has been a tolerance-expansion workshop for her. Without realizing I was killing two birds with one stone, we began the series a couple of weeks ago, and just finished it and capped it off with El Camino, tonight.

At no point did I realize, until watching the last season, that Robert Forster was in Breaking Bad. He plays the guy - alluded to early in the series, but only showing up near the end - who runs a vacuum cleaner repair shop, whose sideline is helping people disappear, for a hefty fee. It was really nice to see him, but there are, in fact, only two episodes where he's present, and then only in a few scenes. It's nice, but not a satisfying sendoff. 

I don't really want to say anything about El Camino - you kind of have to see the whole of Breaking Bad to appreciate it, but if you're a fan, they do a fine job, despite pretty much everyone looking a few years older, of following up one character's story, detailing how he escapes from his previous life. (An actual El Camino is involved).

Breaking Bad is brilliant, of course, and if you haven't seen it, you should, but that's all besides the point that I want to make. The only thing I really came here to say was how nice it was that they did justice to the Robert Forster character, gave him a satisfying and substantial part to play. It's apparently the second to last thing, one werewolf movie and a TV show aside, that Robert Forster acted in. He does fine work, brings some of the same laconic, world-weary, somewhat bemused, somewhat cynical perceptiveness that you find in the character of Max Cherry. It was really good to see him in this role.

I missed writing an obituary for Mr. Forster when he passed in mid-October, but I'm glad I got to tip my hat to him tonight. You'll be missed, sir.

That's all. (More on Forster from series creator Vince Gilligan here).