Man... or Astroman?
Saturday's festivities began with a trip to the recently renovated and pretentiously re-named Koolhaus (formerly the Warehouse, formerly RPM) to see Staggered Crossing and Midnight Oil. Staggered are a local rock outfit - tight, solid, great voice on the lead singer (J.T. - a sweet guy, hasn't succumbed to the rock-star swagger yet). Midnight Oil, on the other hand, failed to capture our attention. They seemed to be going through the motions; the (small) crowd they attracted looked like they'd been following them for fifteen years, and were so happy that they'd finally arrived in Canada, that it almost didn't matter what was happening on stage. By the third song, the group abandoned the new album they're meant to be promoting in favour of that hit they had back in the day. Next!
Next was a trip downtown to the 'Shoe, where Atomic 7 were warming up the stage. a pared-down three man (drums, upright bass, and the ever-amazing guitarist Brian Connelly of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet and Neko Case and her Boyfriends) unit, snappily dressed and tight as anything, they looked like (and, during the surfy cover of Stand By Your Man, sounded like) they belonged on stage at a high school prom in Twin Peaks. Very spooky cool.
During the break, the stage was transformed into a white-screen moonscape, ready for projection. The crowd of devotées (one guy I overheard had been waiting for years to see them, and had driven hours to get there) crushed towards the stage through a brief soundcheck. Finally, the latest incarnation of Man or Astroman appeared on stage: Coco the Electric Monkey (bass and keyboards - of the apple variety), Birdstuff (drums and general mayhem), and Trace Reading (guitar and "vocals").
My old buddy Greg used to say that the first job of an entertainer is to entertain, and these guys take that dictum to heart. Instrumental music can be distancing; the audience has no words to sing alng with, and there is a tendency for instrumentalists to concentrate on what they're doing rather than who's watching. That's not an issue with MoAM. In addition to great hot music and a visual show featuring live streaming video projection, they perform for the audience, and not just themselves. In addition to robot-themed stage antics and general tomfoolery (Birdstuff mugs for the cameras just about constantly while playing), they interacted with the audience in a variety of ways: no need for the drummer to stay behind the kit when there's a mic to yell into, right? Coco, alternating between bass and a keyboard ripped from an Apple computer, dropped and gave us twenty (well, seventeen) pushups. They even pulled a hapless volunteer from the audience (full disclosure: it was me) to operate a song composed for an Applewriter dot-matrix printer (brilliant - anyone who's ever used one of those knows the rhythms they pound out can be addictive). The merging of instro-surf with electronic feedback works wickedly well musically, in addition to appealing to the geek-boys that make up the majority of the instro-surf fan base, and providing the boys with great opportunities for schtick. There were the occasional shouts of "more rock, less talk" from the audience, but the mood was overwhelmingly appreciative.
Especially leading up to the finale: these boys don't compose odes to the two-mile linear particle accelerator for nothing, they know their science (hence their rabid following among the geek-boy comic-book crowd). The stage went dark. There appeared a creation: the tesla coil. A platform (with much soldering, wiring, etc.) from which a column arises, topped with a torus with a diameter of over a metre (the entire structure was about two metres tall, glistening silver in the darkeness. They've built bigger ones in the past, but due to the costs and bad karma associated with destroying equipment (phone system, P.A.) of three separate bars, the tall version had to be retired. plans to inistall an eight-metre version on top of a restaurant in Atlanta sadly failed to be approved by the city). Controlled by Coco, it pumped out rhythms in purple sparks, shooting a metre in every direction (with incidental smoke adding to the aura of danger - the Tesla coil is not for use by amateurs).
The crowd was happy. The crowd was screaming for more. Do not miss an opportunity to see Man or Astroman if they visit a planet near you.
Holy Joe's was one of the sweatiest places to be last Thursday. Not only was it home to the release party for the second Stratochief cd, a live recording called "take the party home" (appropriately enough), it was also the birthday of the inimitable Johnny Trash/Paul Bullock/Pope of rock'n'roll.
Joe's is a cozy spot at the best of times, being high on the third floor of the Big Bop, and crammed with easy chairs and comfy couches. The twinkly lights that cover the ceiling add to the heat. But mostly the heat was due to the crowd: jam-packed like sardines and still trying to find room to dance. Birthdays always make people that much more unruly, as well as inspiring them to buy more drinks: Johnny was fenced in at one point by a small wall of vodka tonics, but he didn't let that stop him from putting on a show. He was not distracted by women throwing flowers; no, he was so undistracted by it all that he didn't even notice as Terrence "T-bone" Bone (the opening act) carried his birthday cake up to the stage. Before T-bone could pass the delectable dessert up to the stage, Johnny, in true Trash style, ripped off his shirt and threw it to the ground, taking the cake with it. Oops. Oh well, at least it gave everyone an excuse to smear chocolate all over his naked torso.
In spite of all of this, in spite of the heat and the cake and the booze, the band was as tight as ever, happy to respond to the inevitable requests. It was the first time in a while that I have seen such a thorough Stratochief lineup: James Grey (fiddle, accordion) was in town between tours (Blue Rodeo is on their way to Sydney for the Olympics), and the ever-busy (and multi-talented) Tim Bovaconti was in attendance as well, although he didn't get around to playing the ukelele. That's okay, his pedal-steel is enough to satisfy anyone. Romping through an assortment of covers (Dolly Parton, Fred Eaglesmith, the Mavericks, Tom Waits) and originals (mainly from Johnny, Scott B. Sympathy, and Vaughn Passmore, although bassist Terry Wilkins and even Duncan the drummer have been known to contribute) swinging between raunchy drinkabilly twang and sweet vocal harmonies.
When dave and I arrived, I was (quite frankly) tired and cranky. But by the time they got to their show-stopping rendition of "Nights in White Satin," Stratochief had drawn me to the dancefloor once again, wailing along with every yippee-ki-ay. It's no surprise that they had run out of CDs to sell by the end of the evening. This is a party everyone wants to take home.
Lots of people say they hate country music. I have said it myself sometimes. But it's the same as people who say they hate jazz - it's only because they've been listening to the wrong stuff. Sure, everyone hates Shania and the rest of that new-country dreck that's trying too hard to sound like middle-of-the-road eighties pop. but fortunately, There are many bands out there who not only have a proper respect for the roots of roots music, but are also willing to take it to another dimension.
Take the Sadies, a band that walks the line between bluegrass and surfpunk, a line we like very much, thanks.
Dressed like mods in big-shouldered suits and skinny ties, their twangy take drew a packed house of devoted followers to Ted's Wrecking Yard: a mix of cowboy hats and college street hipsters. The dancefloor was largely empty, due not to a lack of appreciation, but to respect: one guy, looking kind of like Richie Cunnigham waiting for puberty to happen, dominated the floor, giving new meaning to the phrase "cut a rug." Occasionally a girl would try to partner him, but no one could keep up. He was amazing! You rock, boy, whoever you are.
Meanwhile up on the stage, the boys were keeping everyone happy with their superhot guitar playing, a mix of sweet ballads and moshalongs, and even some instrumentals accompanied only by Dallas' amazing whistling skills (sorry, I am always impressed by people who can whistle, as I am useless in that department). Brothers Dallas and Travis of the multi-talented Good family invited their daddy up to sing a few songs and play the zither (now that's not something you see everyday).
They're on tour, so see 'em if you can. Definitely an evening to remember.
Catch the Sadies live at a watering hole near you (check their tour schedule)
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