Sunday, January 28, 2007

Show Business Giants, Nomeansno - Vancouver shows

Photo by John Chedsey

Nomeansno fans ahoy: Nomeanswhatever webmaster Monsieur le Chedsey, last seen hereabouts in referee duds for the recent Hanson Brothers show, announced today that an April 4th Nomeansno gig is confirmed at a yet undisclosed venue for Vancouver, just before the band heads off to Europe. Fans should also note, if they've somehow missed it, that there will soon be a gig by the rarely-seen, playful-as-all-heck Show Business Giants, led by Nomeansno guitarist Tom Holliston (pictured above) and featuring John Wright on drums (and Ford Pier and Scott Henderson for this show). They'll be playing the Anza Club on March 17th. I'm rooting for Tom to do a few songs from his solo albums and workin' on getting an interview with him; those unfamiliar with his work outside Nomeansno may want to trundle down to Red Cat, where copies can still be found (I'm partial to his solo projects more than the Show Business Giants stuff, but he's a very perceptive, quirky, and entertaining songwriter, in either form - he has, as le Chedsey has put it, "the soul of a self-depracating frontman." I'm quite stoked to see what he does as leader!)
My enthusiasm for Nomeansno, of course, is boundless - the smartest and most musically adventurous of North American punk bands. If, somehow, you've missed it, part of my interview with Rob Wright is here; the rest of the same, very lengthy conversation made it into Skyscraper #23. See you at the shows...

Must see: Our Daily Bread at the Vancity Theatre

After Old Joy, this was my second favourite film at the last Vancouver International Film Festival: Our Daily Bread, a beautifully and carefully composed documentary described on the official site as "a wide-screen tableau of a feast which isn’t always easy to digest - and in which we all take part." It shows, without commentary or narration, the realities of the industrial production of food, from fish being gutted by machines to salt miners at work to the sorting and packaging of tomatoes on long conveyer belts. Though the film doesn't flinch from slaughterhouse sequences, which may upset some, it's no PETA piece; remarkably, it takes just enough of an aesthetic distance from its subject matter to allow you to form your own opinions and to perceive the film in more than one way. For me, this made it all the more unsettling: though eating is one of the most intimate and nurturing of experiences, we are so sheltered/estranged from the processes by which our food is produced that at various times I felt like I was watching life on a technologically-fetishistic, thoroughly alien planet. (I dimily recall that Kurt Vonnegut once wrote of an alternate world where the porn was comprised of images of people eating; in such a world, this would be the Boogie Nights.) Fans of Manufactured Landscapes would find this a worthy companion piece. Til Thursday at the Vancity Theatre, at Seymour and Davie - strongly, strongly recommended.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hold the Chikowski, but throw in some extra Nels Cline

Hm. Chikowski piece is stalled, nevermind that last. Will update when/where it'll see print.

Nels Cline-wise, it surprises me to see that my interview with him in Discorder from seven months ago is still, in fact, up (wow, that seems really long ago)! There'll still be a short piece on him in the Nerve Magazine, comin' up. This is a must-see show for anyone who likes ANY sort of intense guitar - jazz, rock, improv, what-have-you: February 22nd at Richards on Richards (moved from the Red Room, where the Bughouse Five and the Blasters are gonna play that night instead. With all due respect to the Blasters, y'all should come to Richards on Richards...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

JEM Gallery Lowdown on Lowbrow

Haven't made it out to the JEM Gallery yet, but this show looks like a must-see!

Upcoming gigs and articles: the Furies, DOA, Terry Chikowski, Nels Cline

I'm excited: Chris Arnett of the Furies, one of Vancouver's first and most energetic punk bands, will be putting the group back together for a Vancouver show, opening for DOA on February 10th. Anyone who saw Arnett with his second group, the Shades, at the Vancouver Complication gig knows that this is one not to be missed. I'll have an interview with Arnett up in the next little while, to correspond with something on the Furies/DOA show I've done for Discorder. Meantime, next month, make sure to check out the Terry Chikowski interview in Nerve Magazine - he was the security guard injured in the Litton Industries blast, back in the days of the so-called Squamish Five. There'll also be a brief piece on Nels Cline (in town Feb. 22, at a gig relocated from the Red Room to Richards on Richards).

Meantime, transcribing my Joey Shithead interview for the above article (and also for a longer piece I'm doin' for Razorcake), I made a fascinating discovery. To capture the flavours of Joe's speech - rich and earthy and charming - I was writing fuckin', as an adjective - not fucking, but fuckin' - and my spellcheck wasn't recognizing it. Not surprising - anytime you drop the "g" to give a more "spoken" feeling to an -ing word, the spellcheck balks and underlines it in red. The thing was, in the list of "alternatives" they suggested - I checked, for the hell of it - "fucking" was not among them! SPELLCHECKS DO NOT OFFER PROFANE SUGGESTIONS! I guess they don't want to scare old grannies who disapprove of such language by it popping up on a list of options. The discovery has prompted whole minutes of fun. If you render "asshole" as "ashole," it also does not suggest "asshole" as a possible spelling (even though it recognizes "asshole" as a word). "Ashore," yes, but not "asshole!" Next I tried writing, "I like your titts," with two T's, and got as a list of suggestions "tats, tilts, tints, tots" and "twits" - NO TITS!!!! There's a George Carlin routine in this somewhere...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Nice Night at the Theatre with the Hanson Brothers

Is that a geoduck in your jockstrap, or are you happy to see me?

The Shittys are the perfect opening act for the Hanson Brothers. Nevermind that they share a member: they play self-consciously stooopid songs (all about "shit and living in Vancouver"), and take themselves none too seriously (bassist Craig Bougie only had two strings on his bass, and both were E's.) The thing is that, almost despite themselves, they play credibly enough that they had an enthusiastic moshpit going on (including two drunks in their apparent 30s and what John Chedsey said looked like a Megadeth fan, swinging his long blond hair to the music). Too bad my favourite tune by them was actually by the Dayglo Abortions ("Acting Like Black Sabbath" - hilarious: quoth the singer, "Quit applauding, we didn't write that one"). They're one of the few bands out there where chucking stuff at them onstage is a sign that you're on the same page with them.
The more ridiculous elements of the rock experience are also foregrounded for the Hanson Brothers: it takes very, very intelligent people to be so good at being morons. What's most amazing is that, somewhat (um) unlike the Shittys, they end up making REALLY POTENT MUSIC at the same time, perfectly distilled, tight, fast, and funny punk-pop numbers worthy of the Ramones they emulate. But it might as well be live theatre. Dig: Johnny Hanson spent most of the time between songs pretending to scream at the audience about what a moron Tommy Hanson was, or occasionally asking people if they liked cabbage, or promoting the "brand new album released three years ago." The pelvic thrusts he offered when singing "Comatose" put a definite new spin on the lyrics, too ("Yeah my baby's comatose, cos I gave my baby an overdose" - thrust thrust). Tommy mostly drooled, and had to be led offstage by referee Chedsey. Drummer Ernie Hanson stole Robbie's bass at one point, playing the riff from "Stickboy" (emblazoned on the back of his jersey. Get it - "Stickboy," for a drummer? Hahahaha!); he pouted when he had to give it back. And Robbie - well, he had the show stealer: he wore baggy jeans, with soiled white longjohns under them, and a fat jockstrap over them. His pants kept falling down, despite ref. Chedsey's earnest attempts to make them stay up, and by the end of the night he was just playing in his longjohns and jockstrap (and jersey and hockey mask, of course - that's Robbie pictured a few posts back, btw). Suddenly, something long and fleshy popped out and was dangling from his jockstrap, almost a foot down his thighs. It was disgusting and tapered and subhuman, with a brown tip. He waggled it at Johnny and the audience and continued to play his bass with the thing hanging there. Finally, he dug it out - it was a geoduck, pictured above, but few people knew this - and he tore chunks of it and threw them into the audience, including the long dangly bit, which was still on the floor after I left. It STUNK! Even the band was surprised by that one...
Anyhow, the Hanson Brothers are fuckin' hoot to listen to, ALMOST as much fun as they are to watch. I just wish I'd been able to get drunk. Five rum and cokes was enough to give me a hangover today... It should have worked better.
Tommy Hanson, aka Tom Holliston, will have a Show Business Giants show on March 17th at the selfsame venue, the Anza Club. More to come; see also the Nomeanswhatever forum.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Alice Coltrane, RIP

Jeez. First Robert Anton Wilson and now Alice Coltrane - a bad month for artists I admire dying. If you don't know her work, check out A Journey in Satchidananda - a unique fusion of jazz, Indian music, and maybe just the slightest smidgen of early 70's rhythmic rock/funk. Her piano on later Coltrane, after Tyner left, is really quite lovely, too. I haven't followed her recent work closely, but I'm sure there's much to admire.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Archive of obscure RAW essays online

Those unfamiliar with the work of the newly-late Robert Anton Wilson are suggested to check this here stuff out...

Pan's Labyrinth

If anyone's curious, I found Guillermo del Toro's new film, Pan's Labyrinth, delightful and moving - it's large-scale commercial filmmaking that Jean Cocteau would approve of, if you can dig it (and a dark cousin to Miyazaki Hayao's Spirited Away). It's marvellous to see del Toro hitting his stride (I confess that I quite enjoyed Hellboy, as well, and am looking forward to its sequel). I have nothing substantial to add to the buzz the film has already received; a very pleasant surprise that it's in Spanish with subtitles! See it theatrically.

Friday, January 12, 2007

RIP Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson's final blog entries (and many comments sending him off) here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Modernettes, Pointed Sticks - Vancouver reunions at Richards on Richards

Photos by Cindy Horie

I'm a bit overwhelmed with other writing projects (just finished talkin' with Nel Cline on the phone about his Feb 22 concert at the Red Room and other things, from punk nostalgia to why I owe Willie Nelson a second chance; have promised to phone Tim Ray soonish; and am pitching around a No Neck Blues Band interview... among other things). I have thus committed a grievous omission: I have not written here about EITHER the Modernettes gig the other week, or the Pointed Sticks two shows on the 6th. It's not that I wasn't there! All this will be amended - I'll be doing a concert review in Discorder and hope to speak to members of both bands sometime soon - but there's only so much I can juggle. The Pointed Sticks show was amazing. The Modernettes show, there were a few rough moments, but it was great to see Buck back in action! Thanks to ace photographer Cindy Horie for documenting both nights!

Roeg and Cammell's Performance, January 19th

Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's 1970 film Performance is finally set for North American distribution on DVD in mid-February, via Warner Brothers. Since previous versions of the film available here looked utterly lousy, had scenes cut, and, I'm told tho' do not personally recall, had a few voices re-dubbed, people have been a little uncertain what to expect, though I'm told the runtime of the announced disc (105 minutes) corresponds with the runtime of the most complete version previously available. Thing is, there WAS an excellent version of the film - in widescreen format, with colours much deeper and richer than the North American VHS -- issued in Japan (also running 105 minutes) on VHS some time ago. I'm interested in looking at that again, to set the standard of comparison for the upcoming DVD. Those interested should join me on January 19th.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hanson Brothers January 20th Anza Club

Attention, Nomeansno fans: a limited number of tickets are currently on sale at the usual Vancouver venues for a Hanson Brothers gig at the Anza Club on January 20th! Believe it or not, I'm only a recent convert to their fandom; while Sudden Death and My Game were fun, it wasn't until I heard Gross Misconduct just a few months ago that I really fell in love with these guys (their single of "Brad" is pretty special, too). This will be my first (and I suspect my only) time to see them play live! Yay!

Thanks to John Chedsey for providing the photograph!

Words Against the Darkness - a visit from an Al of Yore

Welcome to post 500 on Alienated in Vancouver (noise of party favours blaring in the background, over loud group cheers and the thump of distant music). I was digging through a box of old writings today. Damn, there's everything in it, jumbled with little regard for when it was composed. There's a letter of reference from a 7-11 I worked at in 1989. Spelling workbooks from kindergarten. A comic strip in which I illustrated my attempts to quit smoking. Some doodles I did on acid in my mid-20's - not many of those have survived! Pages from magazines I saved. And lots of handwritten and typewritten scribble, from the days when I was a confused young man, deeply introverted and scared, romanticizing a self-indulgent, protracted suburban adolescence by writing about it, hoping to make it seem more important than it really was. Whatta loser I was! And how fond I now feel of said loser, on contemplation.

I cannot but give you a sample. The following rant was found, typewritten and undated, on a sheet of lined and holepunched notebook paper, presented, as below, in one big block, which I have considerately broken in two. Based on surrounding strata, I would guess, if forced, to place it around age 25 - circa 1995, when (I am not particularly embarrassed now to admit) I was still a virgin, probably unemployed, a drop out from school, and quite possibly given to occasional drug use. That's just the kinda guy I was.

Note: for the most part, the ellipses are in the original, and though they are sometimes awkward, I have preserved them (I must have been reading Celine or something). I have occasionally repaired the grammar.

Words Against the Darkness

The danger of art, as told by a man who has sought all his life redemption through it, is that it cultivates capacities for meaning not necessarily fulfillable in the realm of the actual; as long as the desires for communication that it awakens can further be sated by art, that isn’t necessarily a problem, and life would certainly be INTOLERABLE without recourse to the realm of the aesthetic... but should one arrive at a place where one desires to live in real worlds... REAL worlds, so to speak, with real people in them – the fabled land of unmediated experience... the knowledge of the POTENTIAL of human communication can only act to sabotage those interactions which, by and large, fall short of said potential... isolating one from those one would most desire to contact and making all others seem impossible freaks, mediocrities. Safely placed, at the all-important critical distance (necessary to aesthetic contemplation), one paces in dissatisfaction, desiring the Grail or at least a sip of the blood, and granted, as the reward for vision, endless welfare mothers pushing babies in carts to the mouth of Moloch; drunken crude and insecure men thrusting their phalluses out further than their beerbellies; the endless neon buzz of the vacuous, all-pervasive marketplace; and legions of pain and fear that serve no transcendental purpose, NEEDLESS pain and fear that teaches the sufferers nothing, save perhaps that the world is not a safe place for desire...

...such that those who desire no less are branded as freaks and outcasts, staggering stoned along the pavement, masturbating in the men’s room of suburban shopping malls, or, trapped like rats in cages, pacing the too-secure walls of the art-womb, built to insulate us against outer dark and now turned into a prison from which, to all appearances, there is no escape – raging in impotent fury against the abyss, which, now that it has descended, seems like to never leave... which, when one comes to recognize it, in the space between the dead dream homes of murdered businessmen and their subservient suburban wives, in the frightened eyes of those who perpetually hide from themselves, in the spaces inside where one can yet remember once being alive, now filled with nicotine or grass or just a swirling vacuum, those black spaces, those emptinesses which, when they are recognized for what they are, when one looks into the true face of this death, are suddenly seeable everywhere, surrounding us now in our desperation, sliding between the hungry eyes of lovers, threatening even now to pull them apart from each other and then to rend what’s left, demanding some act of defiance which one may no longer have strength for, pacing the empty streets at night praying for a moment’s respite, even to be delivered finally of desire so that one might rest. It is death. The world is dead, the human world, and only we freaks and outcasts retain our humanity, a flame carried through dark times, forever and amen, the blackest of times in which we burn now, brighter for the darkness around us, but so alone, so afraid, so far apart.


(So dramatic, so angst-ridden, so intense, so YOUNG! "Raging in impotent fury against the abyss!" ...tho' hey, that line about Moloch is kinda inspired; for awhile, I had the words "Moloch in whom I sat lonely," from Howl, typed out and tacked to my bedroom wall, back in Maple fuckin' Ridge). I have about six more boxes of such stuff to weed through, with no guarantee that I'll find what I'm looking for, and no doubt that I'll fail to be entertained when I deign to read what I've written. There is MUCH, MUCH more where that came from, folks; I'll be wincing and smiling and straining to remember: good God almighty, was that really ME?

Damn, it WAS.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Iraqis on the Execution of Saddam Hussein

Another Iraqi speaks out about Saddam Hussein's undeserved "martyrdom" here - one who had been jailed for his opposition to Baathist rule. Riverbend on the "sordid lynching" here. Must-reads (Dec 31).

Old Joy again - go see it this week!

Ten reasons to see Old Joy at the Vancity (that's the official site; details here), in no particular order:

1. This is the third time I’ve reviewed it (first was for Discorder, before the film festival; next was on my blog, when it played the fest.) Any film I recommend THREE TIMES in writing has got to have something to it. (As of tonight, I’ve actually seen it four times, and plan to see it again on Sunday).

2. The film is a two men and a doggy film. The doggy, Lucy, actually gets third billing, after the two men and before the other people. Her name really is Lucy, so onscreen, when the credits roll, it reads, “Lucy.........Herself.” The dog doesn’t do anything in the movie but be a dog, following two friends on a camping venture, and that’s remarkable enough, that the dog is a dog and the landscape is the landscape and that almost nothing in this film STANDS for anything. No: being a dog is important enough, and sometimes the camera spends time on her to acknowledge that. You get to like her, and get to know a bit about what kind of dog she is, and you like that the film thinks she’s important enough to give her a minute. Or two. Or three. A dog could probably enjoy watching this movie alongside its owners, if they let dogs in theatres. The shots outside the car window of the landscape passing – what dog doesn’t stick its head out and watch?

3. And, oh, the landscape is lovely – similar to that of BC, and filmed in such a way that you both feel despair and pain at the ugliness of it, when it’s ugly (the suburbs), and an aching joyous desire and awe and wonder at the beauty of it, when it’s beautiful ( the forest - tho’ very little of the forest is shown without some trace of human presence – garbage, roads, wires. There's a reason why that is). And the experience of going from the suburbs to the forest - the feelings you have en route - and the reasons for doing it– they’re in this film, they’re central. When did you last see a film centered around something so real? The film does for you exactly what it does for the characters in it. It has a deep, deep integrity.

4. I’m not sure what role Yo La Tengo played in scoring the film, compared to Smokey Hormel, who also gets credit, but the music is – well, look: frankly it reminds me of Jerry Garcia’s guitar solo in Zabriskie Point, and say what you will, I think that’s one of the most lovely uses of music in a film score ever. Or, well, think of Wim Wenders’ soundtrack to Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road). Damn, was a CD ever released of that? (Holy shit! YES THERE IS!) Is there a score for Old Joy? More stuff I wanna buy: damn. In any event, the beauty of the music and the beauty of the landscape and how it is photographed go together perfectly. If I have a complaint about the film, the contrast the music sets with the talk radio stuff in the suburban scenes is a little obvious, formally, but only after you see the film twice. And then you stop noticing the fact of it, which is momentarily a bit distracting, and start paying attention to how it interacts with the film thematically. Then it’s okay again.

5. There are observations made that express quiet and real truths, sometimes painful, and sometimes simply just sweetly familiar, about the life we now lead, that we often don’t stop to consider, but will resonate with you, reminding you of things that you have considered and maybe not dwelled on that much. The way that sometimes a perfectly obvious thing suddenly becomes profound and revelatory and surprising when you really start to think about what it means - when you’ve been smoking pot, say. This is fitting, because many of these observations are issued through the mouth of the film’s aging pothead main character, Kurt, played so perfectly by Will Oldham that I kinda want to talk to him and find out if he smokes a lot of pot himself (cf the “liner notes” to Superwolf, my favourite of his albums). He may well. Some of these observations include: “You can’t get real quiet anymore.” Or that the forest and the city aren’t as different as they used to be: now there are trees in the city and there’s garbage in the forest. The sort of thing you don’t notice so often unless maybe you're high, but that really rings true. At some point, his monologues become utter poetry, as they play against the rest of the film - when viewed from the right angle. You notice how I’m not going to tell you them here.

6. And the thing about it: you won’t even identify with Kurt, probably. I mean, people like Kurt would probably like this film – because it’s Kurt’s film in many ways; the film gives the Kurts of this world their due, sadly aware that they’re being beaten into marginalization and isolation and shame – in North America, anyhow. So much so that it’s far more likely that your life will resemble that of Mark, the other main character, because there are a lot more of him around. I certainly can identify with him more than Kurt. And I can tell you, even though he maybe doesn’t know it himself, Mark needs Kurt. He needs the trip that he and Kurt go on far more than Kurt does. Kurt is the man who gives something away in this film; Kurt is the one who stands to lose. What Mark stands to lose, he’s already almost lost, which is, perhaps, his problem. And though Kurt would sure like things from Mark that he doesn't really get, he doesn't, ultimately, begrudge him. We see him struggling. We get closer to him than we might be comfortable with, even – particularly if we hold our own personal Kurts at arm’s distance, since he’ll likely remind you of someone you’ve known... but we have to acknowledge him. This one’s for Kurt.

7. And though the landscape is the landscape and the dog is the dog, Kurt is not just Kurt. He represents the dreams of a different, more innocent, more poetic and passionate time, that allowed people like him briefly to have a toehold in the culture. He’s somewhat of the last gasp of the 1960s. Or something like that. I think the title of the film ties in with this...

8. And that’s why Old Joy almost seems almost like a ritual, to me; like a church service aimed to impart something to it's congregation that might just be needed. It’s a movie, that, like Kurt, sees how tense and worried and hung up we all are, and is briefly, quietly generous to us, asking very, very little for itself. It thought about its audience with tears in its eyes, and about how it was almost too late to give us anything at all, and then it made up its mind. And we’ll receive it, if we have the capacity to meet it, to see the film with an open heart, and we might not even notice that we've received it, but it'll be good for us. Which makes it a pretty moral film experience, really. I can’t recall the last time I’ve described a film as “moral.”

9. And the best reason to see it at least once is because then you’ll have the option of seeing it again. In my opinion, like a piece of great poetry or a supremely evocative short story – or a beautiful piece of music – the film is bottomless and rewarding, even moreso each time you see it. With great simplicity of form, it achieves amazing depth.

10. Finally, it’s paired this week with Andrew Bujalski’s terrific little film, Mutual Appreciation, which I also loved, but don’t need to say anything about. The less I say, the better off you’ll be. I think Mutual Appreciation would be better seen second, on a double bill, frankly - it's less subtle, less quiet: better to work up to it than try to come down off it to tune into Old Joy.

Old Joy is the finest piece of American cinema I have seen in years.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Eugene Chadbourne Returns ... in June

Dr. Chad checks the piano at the Western Front. Photo by Allan MacInnis

Okay, so here's LOTS of advance notice for discriminating freaks: Eugene Chadbourne, the Doctor Himself, is returning to Vancouver to do a tenure at the VCMI as part of the next jazz festival, in, uh, the summer. Certain dates seem tentative but see the House of Chadula site for more! Dr. Chad is known for determinedly veering all about a musical map that extends from whacked-out (but often strangely lyrical) avant-garde banjo explorations and/or Bach interpretations (again for banjo) to covers of popular songs that range from the unquestionably sincere (Tim Buckley, or Phil Ochs' "Knock on the Door," say) to the more irreverent-seeming (Michael Jackson's "Beat It," for instance, done live when he was last in town... or, dig, download Shockabilly doing "Are you Experienced?" or "A Hard Day's Night.") I am not sure where to locate the Johnny Paycheck, Roger Miller, and Merle Haggard covers on the sincere-to-irreverent-seeming spectrum and at some point you just gotta stop and enjoy it, 'cos he clearly is. And he claims he isn't an ironist, so... uh... Anyhow, some serious psychedelic guitar murk - "soup" -- tends to swirl up out of the delirium, too, often accompanied by a vocal style that owes at least a little to Looney Tunes. Documentary about him as a younger man on Youtube, here, plus -- ooh! -- footage of him playing in Warsaw in 2006, using what appears to be the same guitar seen above! I must check this out! (Oh, hey, there's a song I don't even know - "Feelgood music for fucked up people?" Indeed! Oh, wait, there's SHOCKABILLY FOOTAGE!) LOTS of Dr. Chad on Youtube. Must investigate.
Excuse me.