170. The Shape I’m In: Etc #7 2008-11 with Rush, Austra, Stephen Malkmus, Cyndi Lauper, John Hiatt, Levon Helm, Carole Pope, & Margaret Cho

170. The Shape I’m In: Etc #7 2008-2011 with Rush, Austra, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Cyndi Lauper, John Hiatt, the Levon Helm Band, Carole Pope and comedian Margaret Cho.

NOTE: Over the course of this series, I will occasionally be publishing compilation pieces that are a collection of encapsulated reviews covering gigs I am not writing full entries for. This 7th iteration of the Etc. round-ups is appearing first, owning to my back entries not yet having caught up to Etc. #1.   That one will be coming up as no. 29.

In retrospect, the Rush/Hiatt/Helm gig should have been an entry on its own, but … oh well.

So, in sequential order …

Margaret Cho with Liam Kyle Sullivan aka Kelly, Southam Hall, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Sunday October 19, 2008, $57.

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In this series, my focus is on live music rather than the broader spectrum of in-the-flesh performances I attend, such as theatre, but I’m throwing in this Margaret Cho show regardless.  Besides, Margaret’s like a rock star anyway: she lives for it, she’s at home on a stage, often over the top, has attitude to spare, and is transgressive in all the right ways.

If you don’t have a developed/askew/sometimes outright silly sense of humour, we’re probably not going to get along.  Humour and comedy have a variety of appeals for me — and I perhaps see it in inappropriate places far too often.  That said, I’ve never much been one for Stand-up and its surrounding culture. Ms. Cho is one of the exceptions.

Cublet and I had laughed catatonically through her first two live movies/videos: I’m the One That I Want and Notorious C.H.O. But by the time of Revolution, her act was getting stale and repetitive — from her parodic-yet-loving impersonations of her mother through her great-but-we’ve-heard-it-several-times-already championing of sexual minorities. We lost interest in watching the vids after Assassin.

When her first Ottawa date was announced as part of her Beautiful tour in 2008, we went hoping that we’d get a Margaret that was as genuinely fresh and unexpected as she was sharp and risky.

We got our wish. I was physically sore the next day from laughing so hard the night before.

A bunch of us met up ahead of time at the Heart and Crown in the Market and, after a few pints, slunk over to the NAC on a cooler-than-normal October night. We settled into our comfee seats, sitting next to our friends Mr. Bear and S as things got rolling with opener Liam Kyle Sullivan.  He’s best known for his Kelly character but also has a gaggle of satiric internet videos featuring his larger cast of created personalities which he largely portrays on his own.  I’ll be honest: I find most drag a drag, and fairly predictable, but Sullivan’s performance and personas are more in a vintage John Waters vein: something closer to “drag terrorism” as Waters might put it, rather than another boring Bette fucking Midler pastiche.

As for the night’s star, Cho was relentless from the moment she hit the stage in front of a packed NAC.  While she evoked her key themes such of gender, race, and sexuality — and the small and large “p” politics around them — the material came off as fresh once again.  The entire night was one long chucklefest although I particularly lost it during the bit about her going to see The Passion of the Christ and yelling at the screen “Jesus, use your safeword!,” or the bit about the woman who owned the anal bleeching salon and had a framed picture on her desk of her showing off a client’s spread anus like a prized heifer.

Margaret’s returned in 2011 but unfortunately we had to miss last time around. Next time, Margaret, I promise.

A YouTuber has assembled highlights from Cho’s Beautiful show. NSFW or for the prudish.

Cyndi Lauper, Queen’s Park, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Saturday July 3, 2010, Free Concert.

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Lauper on the cover of a 2008 edition of Xtra!, Toronto’s premier gay publication (image from xtra.ca).

This show was a textbook example of a blown opportunity.

I mean, think about it: gay icon Cyndi Lauper putting on a free, open air concert at, ahem, Queen’s Park, which sprawls out like a large sylvan blanket in front of the Ontario legislature in downtown Toronto on the Saturday night of the Pride weekend (one of the three or four largest Pride’s in the world), at the moment when everything is building towards the 1-2 fever pitch punch of the late-into-Saturday-night partying and Sunday’s massive parade, possibly the largest attended, single-day event here in Canada. Weather-wise, it was a hot, clear, sultry evening, truly one to be outside on.

The right singer at the right place at the right time with the right conditions at a more-than-right price. So, how come this was such a trying disaster for so many?

Cyndi as part of Pride weekend festivities is a no-brainer. While I’ve never personally been a big, big fan, I was still looking forward to seeing her as part of a fun night out, particularly in this context. I’ve always liked Cyndi, especially that first blockbuster album, She’s So Unusual. My Cublet, 80s dude that he is, loves Cyndi, and it was a given we were going to make our way over for the shindig.

So, apparently, was everyone else.

Based on chatting with many we’d run into over the course of the previous few days, it was clear to us that a multitude of revellers were planning to descend upon the provincial parliamentary grounds to hear Ms. C — something that should have been a surprise to no one with half a clue.

Clearly, whoever was responsible for the logistics of this gig didn’t get that memo.

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Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual (1983) and Memphis Blues (2010).  One of these CDs is up on our shelf.

Arriving at around 7:30 pm, our group expected to find a wide open expanse in front of a stage in advance of the legislative building. Instead, we were greeted by The Longest Lineup I Have Ever Seen, peopled by naively optimistic folks with hopes of gaining entrance to the woefully inadequate penned-off area demarcated to hold the crowd. This seemingly endless snake of humanity extended so far back that for the longest time we couldn’t see where it actually ended, spending several minutes walking until its conclusion was in sight.

We speculated that admittance had perhaps been delayed, and that the lineup would start flowing forward fast once they began letting people in. However, within minutes of waiting in this stillborn lineup — and following a recon initiative from someone in our group to find out what the hell was going on up front — it became clear that the overwhelming majority of folks who had turned out wouldn’t be getting inside.

As the hour rounded up to 8, the queue fractured as punters dispersed across the park’s lawn, nesting in the grass and awaiting the consolation prize of at least being able to hear the show.  Or something close to it. Once Cyndi started, it became clear that even this back-up plan had its limitations as the sound system barely reached beyond the intended confines. I guess that was because of noise regulations, downtown Toronto being so pin-drop quiet’n’all (rolls eyes).

What we were party to outside the fence was more an of an echoey, bass heavy xerox of what those inside the pen were hearing at a somewhat-audible volume. We, along with hordes of others, tried moving to position ourselves so that we could at least see a portion of the raised Jumbotron. Emphasis on “portion.”

So this is what the gig looked like. Lauper performs “True Colors” for thousands during the 2010 Toronto Pride weekend, while thousands more couldn’t even get in to the inadequate audience space. Whoever was in charge of the logistics behind this one … nice goin’! (YouTube)

Then there was her material. Lauper was promoting a then-new album, Memphis Blues, and while I like blues, Lauper would be one of the last names that comes to my mind to put on if I wanted to listen to it. I prefer the wacky, chirpy, pop-wise Cyndi. Suffice it to say, playing earnest-yet-rococo blues tunes to a E/booze/whatever-feulled, orgiastic patchwork of celebrants resulted in an anti-Cynergy.

It’s not like people were booing or anything. Polite-but-disappointed would probably describe the mood of many that night based on what I witnessed in the shut-out throngs surrounding us.

We left after about a half-a-dozen or so numbers, as did many others, deciding we could better use our time as the evening hours began to tick, but did end up having to walk past Queen’s Park about a half hour later. We were then able to hear reverba-echoing versions of a few of the big pop hits we’d hope to have gotten earlier, while those inside the pen cheered.

Toronto tends to throw its support behind Pride (the current pestilence that is Mayor McCheese and his twisted cronies are an exception) and do a great job, but this was a pretty stupid miscalculation for what could have been a really special night for all who tried to attend. Oh well. I ended up partying until dawn amidst the bacchanalia, so it was hardly a dull night.

Hopefully Cyndi will come back sometime and it’ll be done right next time.

Rush, John Hiatt, & The Leon Helm Band, Ottawa Bluesfest, LeBreton Flasts, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Sunday July 11, 2010, $19.17.

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This Sunday was the mid-way point during the 2010 Ottawa Bluesfest and the end of two weeks off from work. A big chunk of Week One and the early part of Week Two was spent in Toronto for extendo-revelry around Pride (including that Lauper fiasco — see above) only to return to Ottawa during a punishing, muggy heatwave that was enveloping Ontario and region. Cublet and I kicked off that year’s Bluesfest shows on the Thursday with The B-52s, Hole and Joan Jett on the Friday, and then The Flaming Lips’ overwhelming set on the Saturday night.

I ventured out on this fourth consecutive evening on my lonesome to see John Hiatt and ex-Band man Levon Helm and his group. Theoretically, this more laid back milieu should have been just what the doctor ordered after two weeks of going out almost every night and living it up.

It was one of those serene summer Sundays, gauzy and glistening. I arrived around the dinner hour so as to have a bit of downtime away from the action at the site, with my notes reading that “I’m sitting on the back lawn area of the Subway Stage, overlooking the flowing Ottawa River. The humidity has largely gone and it’s a beautiful, perfect, warm summer evening, with blue sunny skies, while an occasional breeze sweeps off the water, soothing the crowd. People are laying in the grass, some on the riverbanks on the other side of the fenced perimeter, eating, chatting, and in repose. For a few seconds, it feels like Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières.”

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Ottawa Bluesfest 2010?

I noted that “Tonight is just the kind of proposition I want and need after 3 nights of craziness and volume. Some more laid back, songwriting stuff.”

But I was antsy. I also wrote “I’m still reeling from The Flaming Lips’ jaw-dropping show.” Whereas an extended period of kinetic activity should have wholly depleted my energy silos, priming me for a more aesthetically “slippers and Ovaltine” type of experience, the ceaselessly chugging, fidgety, unbound adrenaline that table-clothed the bedrock of exhaustion underneath wouldn’t quit. While one interior voice was screeching “for the love of God, slow down!,” and even louder one was pummelling the first into submission with a helplessly automated “go, Go, GO!”

Hiatt appeared on the Subway stage at the expected 7:30 to a greeting as warm as the night itself. This was my first time seeing him solo. While I’d been aware of Hiatt’s name since the ‘70s, it was with 1987’s career-changing Bring the Family that I really discovered him, as did many others at that time. It remains a gold standard example of soul-baring writing, effortless tunesmanship and an inviting vein of Americana courtesy of a to-die-for cast of backing musicians: guitarist extraordinaire Ry Cooder, new wave’n’roots legend Nick Lowe on bass, and famed session drummer Jim Keltner.

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Bring The Family (1987)

Recorded on the cheap for small UK indie Demon records just as his also-ran career had sunk right to the bottom of the tank, the hastily-yet-tightly recorded Bring the Family unpredictably turned everything around for him, slowly building as a word-of-mouth favourite among plugged-in music fans and driven by a wave of press raves, changing his fortunes and visibility.  Bonnie Raitt later scored a big hit with her cover of “Thing Called Love” from this disc.

It’s also another “time and place” album in my life: almost everyone I knew owned and was listening to, talking about, and cheering its success on in 1987. Family is a memorable part of a soundtrack to that important, shifting year for me.

Hiatt had a run of well-received albums following Family, with its core band reconvening as a proper group for 1992’s highly anticipated but disappointing Little Village project (I saw them on their one and only tour at Toronto’s Massey Hall, coming up as no. 74). That period of success enabled him to build and sustain an ongoing career, cultivating a dedicated fan base. Admittedly, I haven’t heard much of what Hiatt has done since the early 90s and hadn’t thrown on Bring the Family in some time, a practice I rectified in the days before this gig. I was pleased to discover that it sounded every bit as wonderful as I’d remembered.

Hiatt came out of the gate with Slow Turning’s “Drive South,” sliding into a number of tracks from more recent albums such as the then-new The Open Road and the The Tiki Bar Is Open, … but owing to that unyielding adrenaline, Hiatt just wasn’t happening for me. He himself sounded fine, but whether it was that still-coming-down-from-the-Lips euphoria from the previous night or the unrelenting vibra-nerves of two sustained weeks of out’n’about’n’indulging, it turned out that I needed less subtlety and something more visceral at that moment. I may have reasoned that laid back is what was good for me, but my id and body had other ideas.

And so it was within this context that I made an unthinkable impulse decision and hauled my ass over to the main stage at 8 pm to see Rush.

While I have been aware of Rush dating right back to the time of their very first album in 1974, I’ve never cared for so much as a single note of music they’ve produced. The styles they’ve traversed in through the years — lumbering Zeppelin-copycat-style hard rock, dweeby prog epics, squarely mainstream RAWK anthems — all hold little to highly negative appeal for me.

However, I’d place them among a diverse personal collection of musical acts that would also include The Tragically Hip, Melissa Etheridge, Frank Zappa, the Barenaked Ladies, and Lady Gaga: artists I have respect for even if I don’t particularly like what they do. Not only have they carved out and nurtured their own niche, I’ve also known a number of people who, throughout the years and in a variety of circumstances, have encountered select members of Rush, with each of those folks reporting that the pertinent Rush-er was friendly and grounded without the standard Rock Star prima donna-isms.

And let’s not forget the great job Alex Lifeson did Guest Starring in my favourite episode Trailer Park Boys episode ever, Closer to the Heart.

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Let’s see now … Roxy, Rundgren, Sade, Santana, Satie, Scaggs, Schubert … nope, no Rush on our CD shelves (Photo by VA).

As much as I’d been looking forward to Hiatt, I needed something more immediate than he at that moment. Figuring that this was the one and only time I would ever see this legendary band and that they better fulfilled the “high energy” quota, I decided to check them out, plopping myself down near the ascending back end of the assembled mob, sparked one, and sat back, taking in the first hour of their three-hour set.

I can’t say they made me a believer or that I ran out to start playing catch up with their catalogue, but will admit, given that right moment and headspace, I enjoyed taking them in as a live band.  For one hour, they worked for me. Opening with the everybody-knows-it (especially up here where Rush and Rush fans are ubiquitous) “The Spirit of Radio,” the trio played material during that first third that was either recent or obscure as I didn’t recognize much of it. While the dopey, filmed intro played before their stage entrance was eyeball-rolling worthy, the band themselves seemed engaged and charming, playing their first ever open air gig in Ottawa to an enormous, excited audience.

John Hiatt, “Have A Little Faith In Me,” from Bring the Family at Bluesfest, one of the songs I missed because I’d wandered over for this …

That pre-set opening video was/is brutal (Both videos via YouTube) .

Me being at a Rush gig was such an inexplicable occurrence in my life that I phoned up my pal M. Zeppelin on my cell during the set with a “You’ll never believe who I’m watching right now …” call, as Geddy Lee’s helium wail pierced the surroundings.

At some point during their set, my previously sequestered inner-voice which had been lobbying on behalf of my latent exhaustion gained control of the floor, stealthfully vanquishing my compulsion-powered energy vapours. With my Rush curiosity satiated and my stamina gauge free-falling into the dead zone, I made my way back to the Subway stage to see legendary Band man, Levon Helm.

The Band are truly one of The Great Groups for my money, not to mention having grown up with a stong sense of regional pride shared by many from my originating neck of the woods as all members, save Levon, came from in and around my Southwestern Ontario stomping grounds (Garth Hudson grew up in my hometown of London, Ontario, and attended my alma mater, the University of Western Ontario).

I don’t know if this was the case elsewhere, but I grew up with a succession of hit singles by The Band heavily played all over the AM radio of my childhood, with Levon’s signature drawl on songs such as “The Weight” or “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” imprinted upon my mental hard drive forever. Sadly, a cancer from a few years ago zapped much of Levon’s voice: sadly not only for Levon himself, but also for his audience. Because of that, The Levon Helm Band is short on Levon but long on Band (his own backing band, that is).

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The B-side of my “Rag Mama Rag” 45, “The Unfaithful Servant”: my all-time favourite Band song.  Both tracks appear on their classic, eponymously titled sophomore release from 1969 (Scan by VA).

It’s not Levon’s fault that his voice is now basically gone.  Still, that’s small comfort for an audience there to see and hear him but instead finds Helm a bit player in what’s billed as his own starring show. The musicians and singers who dominate the proceedings are all technically skilled but, as with the Brian Wilson concert I saw in 2011 wherein key Beach Boys favourites were disappointingly sung by group members with little involvement from head B Boy, the result is a disappointing anti-climax. It was little more than a perfectly competent corner-bar covers band doling out Classic Rock favourites. No thanks.

The vibe of all this resulted in a faint-echo-of-The-Band-meets-yuppie-casino-entertainment nexus. Once again, it was all very … proficient. But I wanted magic, not proficiency, and after days of getting alchemical gold, three or four of these Birkenstock Vegas numbers were about all I could take before I fled for home and bed and quiet. The Arcade Fire, (a stunning) Crowded House, The Hold Steady, and a sonically-live screening of The Night of the Living Dead all lay ahead of me during the following week.

The Levon Helm Band at Bluesfest doing “The Shape I’m In.” Levon’s drumming well … but still … (YouTube).

Carole Pope, Dyke Stage on Church Street During Toronto Pride, Ontario, Canada, Saturday July 2, 2011, Free Show.

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 Carole Pope performing in Toronto on July 2, 2011 — still taken from MarkinToronto’s video posted on YouTube.

Carole Pope was the gender-button-pushing lead singer and face of Rough Trade, the grossly underrated Canadian new wave band of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s that had one of the first overtly lesbian-themed hit singles anywhere in the world, with “High School Confidential” — still a radio staple.

Carole emerged onto the stage looking amazingly fit and well-preserved. I had to wonder: is there an aging Dorinda Grey painting hidden in a closet somewhere at home? She and her band charged through a set of originals peppered with Rough Trade favourites, such as the opener “All Touch” (Top 10 here in 1981).

As the stage was located in the parking lot just behind Zipperz on Carlton St., Carole and the band were competing with the thumping vibra-building that housed the club, just yards away.  “Turn that shit down,” shouted a fist shaking Carole. “Don’t make me come over there, motherfuckers!” she cheekily joked.

But once the band launched into a song, they sonically owned the surrounding molecules, delighting the fans congregating in the late-afternoon sunshine.

I’ll be writing about Rough Trade and Carole a few times during my series (they’re coming up fairly shortly), so I’ll save the in-depth career recap for that time. For now, I’ll just remark on how much fun this late Saturday set was during this past Toronto Pride weekend.

And full sartorial points go to the woman in the audience wearing the vintage T. Rex t-shirt with The Slider cover shot.

Carole opens the show with “All Touch.” Cublet’s face and my shaved head and sunglasses are visible for a millisecond (YouTube).

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks with Holy Sons, Ritual, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Thursday September 22, 2011, $27.25.

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Ahhh, the 1990s! All that fin de siècle jollity! Post and Pre the uptight and socially regressive 1980s and 2000s! Identity politics! A leftward shift! Indie cinema exploding! Alterna-rock, Britpop, and Electronica hit big! Cable channels make TV bearable once again!

And during that decade — one that started with the Berlin Wall’s decimation and ended amid century’s-end, global Y2K hysteria — my favourite band was probably Pavement; my favourite solo act, Beck.

I was drawn to each’s creative mix of peculiar aesthetics, hooky tunes, cockeyed lyrics, and distinct sonic trademarks. I even came thisclose to seeing both of them on the same bill, during the final Lollapalooza I attended (in 1995, coming up as no. 85). Pavement, who had a notoriously hit-or-miss reputation as a live band, were definitely in “hit” mode that day, delivering a brilliant set of their quirky-yet-rockin grooves. Alas, we didn’t arrive early enough to catch Beck (or Elastica for that matter).

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Frequent visitors to VA’s CD player in the 90s: Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994), Brighten the Corners (1997), and Terror Twilight (1999); and Beck’s Mellow Gold (1994), Odelay (1996), and Mutations (1998).

Pavement ended in tandem with the decade/century, as lead vocalist and principal songwriter Stephen Malkmus launched a solo career with his backing band, the Jicks. Pavement reformed for some very successful shows during 2009-10, but stayed true to their word that the reunion would not be permanent (although they never said it wouldn’t be intermittent).

As for Beck Hansen, after 2002’s superb, introspective Sea Change, he settled into a string of meh releases for the rest of the noughties.

Well, here we all are in ‘10s and those alterna titans of yore have joined forces, with the latter producing the former’s new one.

Actually, Beck’s been on one helluva roll in the producer’s chair as of late with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s I.R.M. (which he also largely wrote), Thurston Moore’s Demolished Thoughts (which strongly recalls Sea Change on a number of tracks), and Malkmus and the Jicks’ career best, Mirror Traffic. Based on these very strong releases, especially when measured against his last few patchy discs, Beck can simply carry on wearing his producer’s hat until he feels truly inspired again to be an artist in his own right as far as I’m concerned.

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Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Mirror Traffic (2011)

I’ve followed Malkmus’ solo output to varying degrees, liking what I’ve heard but only occasionally being as bowled over as I was with Pavement. I guess the Beck connection and the strong buzz preceding its August release compelled me to scoop up this new one at my local gramophone shop upon its appearance. In a year saturated with five-star albums (as I wrote in my 2011 recap over on my OpenSalon blog), Mirror Traffic jumped out to me as one of the finest and is still in regular rotation on my personal jukebox.

How splendiferous, then, that it’s with this tour that Malkmus made his virgin visit to the National Capital.

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Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks + crowd at Ritual, Thursday September 22, 2011 (Photos from the show by VA). Below: The cover of local weekly XPress, from the week of the gig.

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“It’s my first time in Ottawa,” he remarked to a packed, enthusiastic house. He’d spent some time earlier on walking around the Market area where Ritual resides, in that section’s northern peak. Noting how the Rideau Canal divides the middle of downtown Ottawa between the Market and the business district, he commented that “I didn’t realize it was a thriving metropolis. I guess they keep the trash over here on this other side of the river,” which was fine by him. “That’s how I consider myself,” he jested.  Or maybe not.

Stephen and band had hit the stage around 11pm to a boisterous reception, following an earlier opening set from a post-rock-esque band that I believed was called Holy Sons (and were good). As for the headliner, given my focus on Mirror Traffic, I was pleased that the lion’s share of the gig focussed on playing most of this new album, although older numbers thrown into the mix too, such as “Ramp of Death,” a personal favourite, which turned up as one of the encores.

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Good natured hijinks and buffoonery during the Ottawa show last September, with Malkmus and bassist Joanna Bolme chuckling along.

“Senator,” the album’s single, got a particularly big response, whereas I was particularly pleased when I heard the opening notes of “Share the Red,” a mid-tempo highlight from the new one. I had been talking pre-set with a transplant from New Brunswick and fellow Malkmus/Pavement fan who was excited to be seeing him in any capacity for the first time, and was similarly championing “Red” as Traffic’s finest moment.

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Meanwhile, the attendees jostled to be heard between numbers. “I want the penguin song,” shouted someone loudly amid an aural blur of hopeful appeals. But Malkmus was faux-unmoved. “All requests must be emailed 24 hours in advance,” was his deadpan quip.

Drummer Jake Morris thanked the faithful “for coming to our house party” during the four-song encore, with the foursome finishing out the night via an off-the-cuff cover of the Looking Glass’ “Brandy,” suggested by keyboard player Mike Clark who lead the band through it. Malkmus got creative with the lyrics when he couldn’t remember the originals. Following a spirited run through of “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” from his debut — and head Jick playing a few licks fromRush’s “The Spirit of Radio” — they were done like dinner, off and away.

Upon Pavement’s reconvening a couple of years back, I’ll admit that I’d hoped the reunion would produce some new material, and was disappointed that, instead, Malkmus went back to the Jicks. While I’d still love to see Pavement reform more than once, albums like Mirror Traffic and shows like this make me miss Pavement a tad less.

Someone posted a short clip on YouTube of one of the first numbers of the night, “Spazz,” admittedly not one of my favourite tracks on the new album. This, however, is: “Share the Red” (below).

Austra, Ritual, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Saturday December 3, 2011, $13.

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Having just endured an imperious Prince delivering a truncated set that I wasn’t able to see from overpriced seats with an obstructed view at the Palladium, er Corel Centre, er, Scotiabank Place, way out in the perpetually exciting environs of Kanata earlier in the evening, this set by rapidly-up-and-coming Austra in a small, packed, sweaty club to an enthusiastic downtown audience was just the anecdote I needed.

We’d purchased tix for this Austra show a couple of weeks before the announcement of Prince’s Ottawa gig, so some logistic planning was required in order to see two shows in one night in completely different parts of the city (thanks to VA Jr for the taxiing, and thanks to Austra for being late and not starting until midnight, moments after we arrived, allowing us to see their set in its entirety).

The evening was also a flashback of sorts, as we moved from seeing an ‘80s icon to a clever reinterpretation of an ‘80s-based sound. At times I was half expecting to turn around and see a woman in leg warmers drinking a can of New Coke while over-applying mousse to her big hair — accessorized with a rat’s tail, of course.

In one year, the electro-focussed Toronto unit have gone from obscurity to Polaris and Juno nominations and a swiftly rising visibility — particularly in Europe, but now also here at home in Canada — with their excellent debut disc, Feel It Break. It landed on a variety of “Best of 2012” lists (including mine), snagging the Album of the Year huzzahs from the Toronto Star and New York Magazine.

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Austra, Feel It Break (2011)

Opera-trained Katie Stelmanis was centre stage with her dramatic, swooping vocals, rocking a look that could be described as a blonde Nico in a Hansel and Gretel dress, while twin sisters Romy and Sari Lightman bookended her, dancing, singing and flailing in doomy black unitards to terrific dramatic effect. In some ways, the theatrical-synthpop-with-operatic-touches, and the onstage symmetry of the front person flanked on either side by dramatically gesticulating backing vocalists, brought to mind the late, great Klaus Nomi’s performance in Urgh! A Music War.

While synths, played onstage by Ryan Wosniak but on record by Stelmanis, are the primary instrumental focus on recordings, the bass and drums, courtesy of core members Dorian Wolf and Maya Postepski respectively, are sonically forefronted when Austra appear in the flesh. The musicians collude into a full, dynamic live sound, providing a grounded counterpoint to Stelmanis’ soaring voice. Meanwhile, the two parallel rows of three persons created a sharp visual on the crammed stage.

“Hate Crime,” “The Noise,” and “Lose It” were enthusiastically received high points of the night, but it was the best known single, “Beat and The Pulse,” that had revellers going looney. “You recognize that one,” chimed in Stelmanis as excited cheers greeted its opening notes.

Encore “The Future” rounded out this night which wrapped up a successful five week tour of Canada. “Thank you for coming and celebrating with us,” enthused Stelmanis, before she and the rest of Austra headed off for a second trek through Europe, where most of the venues had to be upgraded to accommodate ticket demand.

Austra: Icy and engaging in all the right measures. I’ll be looking forward to next time.

“Lose It.” Even the vid is retro.

Terrific live-in-the-studio version of “Beat and the Pulse,” on CBC’s Q, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi.

Next On Stage –> Bluesfest 2010 continued with a much-anticipated performance by the Arcade Fire, weeks before the release of their third album, The Suburbs 

152. Ready To Start: Arcade Fire, Ottawa Bluesfest, Lebreton Flats, Ottawa, Ontario, Tuesday July 13, 2010.

… and I kick off my 2012 concert-going season via a magnificent performance by returning hometown hero, Katherine Edwards …

171. Chameleon/Comedian: Kathleen Edwards with Hannah Georgas, Bronson Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Thursday February 9, 2012.

© 2010-12 VariousArtists

Comments From The Original opensalon.com Posting

I saw Cyndi Lauper in her prime of hits at the Ottawa Civic Centre and she was wonderful. She came out with this giant hat that covered most of her and the whipped it off an began to sing. She was amazing. Rush, like you not a huge fan but they are a Canadian institution and everyone must see them once in their life like Triumph..:) Okay not in the same league but they are amazing.
Lots of work wonderfully done.

HUGGGGGGGGGG

 
Groovy, man! I have never seen any of these folks in concert, but your thorough reportage and analysis made me feel like I was there. It’s been years since I’ve been to a concert, although my husband and I try to make it to the Hudson Clearwater Revival in NY every summer. Rated.
 

Ah yes, The Band. Like you, I have regional affection for the lads, but I was a big Ronnie Hawkins fan first. Still am, for that matter. But what they did following their association with him — and latterly Dylan — was nothing short of remarkable. Even Baez’s anaemic, warbly cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ couldn’t ruin it.

And “The Last Waltz” is, for me, one of the greatest rockumentaries ever (along with the little known “Festival Express”). We were very disappointed by a lacklustre performance by Garth Hudson at the Windsor Blues Fest a few years ago — he mailed it in, after being given an award for his musicality.

As for Geddy Lee, I agree. I’m aware of Rush, but his most significant contribution ever (as far as I’m concerned) was “Take Off” on the album “The Great White North”.

 

I actually remember your call to me during Rush and the giggling that ensued!

Despite the fact that “Farewell to Kings” (particularly Cygnus X-1) was my go-to album for Vitamin “A” trips, I do not have any Rush in my collection either.

 
OK, first you have Silk Degrees between Death and The Maiden and Erik Satie- that is awesome! 3 of my favorite things in a row (though I don’t know about an Orchestral version of DATM).
Next, the Band is way way up there for me.
And you have my respect for sitting through Rush, I don’t think I could do that. I also kind of respect them, but that singing makes me squirm in a bad way.
Too bad about Lauper, I heard one of the blues tracks, not the best career idea.
Great post, as always!!
 

Linda: That’s cool that you saw her at the now-closed Civic Centre 😦 It sounds like it was a blast. I’ll soon be writing about the first time I became aware of her, via a video I saw at Danceteria in NYC. Hugggggs back.

Erica: Well, glad I can go and do the reportage in your stead — I just wish all “work” was this much fun! I didn’t know of the Hudson Clearwater Revival so I looked it up — it sounds like it’s a great event. Hope you’ll enjoy it again in 2012. Thanks for stopping by.

Boanerges: While The Band were pulling from a variety of very clear influences and references, what they created was unprecedented. There really is no one before them to compare them to. Meanwhile, every year I hear something new where I can hear their enduring influence. Certainly, parts of 2011 releases from Lucinda Williams, Wilco, and the Fleet Foxes clearly tap into a lineage The Band inaugurated.

I’ve probably watched The Last Waltz about a dozen times and will probably watch it another dozen before I croak. I never get tired of seeing it. I definitely know of Festival Express and have wanted to see but just haven’t gotten around to it yet — but I will.

And since we’re talking about The Last Waltz AND The Great White North/SCTV, I have to mention The Schmenge Brothers’ Last Polka special. We just rewatched it a few weeks ago. John Candy and Eugene Levy and the gang are all great in it.

MZ: Nice to see you were taking your “vitamins” back then.

Kevin: Well, Schubert is more Cublet’s territory and Satie is more mine although we each like both. All of Satie’s 3 Gymnopédes were part of the music played during our wedding ceremony along with Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 Op 9-2 in E Flat … and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together.

Yeah, normally Geddy Lee’s voice drives me nuts but, what can I say, I enjoyed the hour I spent watching them perform live, but that was quite enough. Always nice to see you here Kevin.

 
Cyndi and Madonna appeared on the scene about the same time and I was SO rooting for Cyndi. I saw her in a band called Blue Angel and this was the song that smittened me:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNhqimarJNg&feature=related

And John Hiatt is one of the true musical loves of my life. Saw him at the Bottom Line at the release of “Bring the Family” and stayed thru 2 shows. I dusted off “Riding with the King” and played just last week, reliving the mesmerizingly endless version he did at the Bottom Line. Your energy and scope continue to amaze me. I am just happy when I can say “me too” here in these chronicles, and live vicariously.

 
I haven’t seen any of these acts (except The Band a couple of times in the 70s) and like you, I’m not a major Rush fan. Nonetheless, they’re probably the top band ever out of Canada and a couple of their numbers (Subdivisions and Fly By Night) are great. I like Margaret Cho too but I’m not sure I could take a whole show. Her raunchy chick shtick, for my tastes, is good for about 15 minutes so that clip you included is just my size. Too bad about Lauper. Always very frustrating when the logistics fail.
 

You’ll love Festival Express, if you can find it. (If you uncover a source let me know.) The Band, Janis, Delaney and Bonnie, et al. It’s so … of its time. My time. Saw it back in the day, and borrowed a copy a few years ago from a co-worker. Good stuff.

We’ve watched The Last Waltz many times (only video I’ve likely seen more often is On Any Sunday, since I’m a motorcycle psycho). Waltz is truly a work of art.

And oh my. The Schmenges. What a blast from the past. Got your cabbage rolls and coffee?

 

dirndl: I knew of Blue Angel but had never heard them, so thanks for the link. She re-recorded that song for the True Colors album, but I prefer this version with BA. And you saw Hiatt at the Bottom Line when Bring the Family was released? Wow! Very, very cool — I’m jealous. He was good at Bluesfest, it’s just that my headspace wasn’t there. Haven’t heard Riding with the King in eons, and that’s wild that you played it just last week.

My energy amazes me sometimes too, lol, although I’m 50 later this year and know those energy pods need larger recharge times as I get older. And I’m always happy when I see you drop by!

Abra: OK, you are the ONLY person I can ever recall interacting with who actually saw The Band back in the day: TRULY, TRULY impressive and would like to hear more about that. After writing about them, I’m itching to watch The Last Waltz again.

 

Boanerges: Did you know that the sons of the original producers of Festival Express used to used the cans of film to demarcate a net while playing road hockey in the 70s!

I’m unaware of On Any Sunday so will have to investigate. The title rings a few bells but can’t place it. The first thing I thought of was Never on Sunday with Melina Mercouri but then realized that wasn’t what you were talking about.

Off now to watch an episode of Strikes, Spares, & Schmenges …

 
VA, you have a great memory for the many details of these concerts and what a lot of interesting venues! I haven’t seen any of them perform live, but certainly have caught a number of videos on YouTube. I rented one of Margaret Cho’s relatively recent dvds about a year ago and had a lot of laughs watching her in action. I have somewhat of a six degrees of separation with Levon in that he and my brother are friends. Thanks for another fascinating concert story and ticket/video/photo essay!
 
Various, even though I saw The band twice, in neither case were they the headliners. First time was in 73 where they were Dylan’s backup band. They also did their own half an hour or so set. A few years later they were on a bill where CSN&Y were headliners. Very solid band live and lots of hits in both concerts. Of course Stage Fright and I Shall Be Released were well received in the Dylan concert.
 
Much to say, here, VA. She’s So Unusual had some pretty cool compositions. Did you know Julian Casablancas namechecked it as an influence for his solo album?
 

ohhhh, John Haitt…

She came on to him
Like a slow movin’ cold front
His beer was warmer
Than the look in her eye…

This is and brings on a great mix of feeling and place and time, VA. Too bad about the other stuff, and Levon’s voice… but this of yours is great:

‘Whereas an extended period of kinetic activity should have
wholly depleted my energy silos, priming me for a more
aesthetically “slippers and Ovaltine” type of experience, the
ceaselessly chugging, fidgety, unbound adrenaline that table-
clothed the bedrock of exhaustion underneath wouldn’t quit.’

Thanks for letting me tag along a bit ~

 

Various: I’m late here … been on a couple road trips and because of roaming fees – ouch – could only check OS infrequently. Well, you saw the same Margaret Cho ‘Beauty’ Show as I did. It made me laugh and made me cry… guess that’s when you know comedy is working, huh. Missed Mz. Joan Jett in 2010 though I was in Ottawa. Damn —was it raining that Friday night too? Can’t comment on all the acts here but loved your John Waters and Bette Midler pastiche line among others.

You and I are on the same page as far as RUSH is concerned with one exception — a couple years ago they put out a cover CD called FEEDBACK and I loved it. Believe it or not, Geddy was mostly missing his helium wailing on the blues-based tunes, thankfully. Who doesn’t love Neil Peart though? He grew up right here in Port Dalhousie too. And Liveson and the Trailer Park Boys, who I’ve seen live twice now … you don’t know how I wanted to write about that but I had absolutely no idea where to start to honour Dartmouth’s TBP’s without sounding like a white trash (I hate that term) pop cult essay. Gotta say in a strange way it doesn’t get any sweeter than Bubbles singing Closer To The Heart. 🙂

FYI: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ruir0Eyjfo&feature=related

 

designanator: I have an usual memory. I seem to remember a lot of the stuff others forget, possibly because in my mind I tie it in with other elements from a given time. Among my relatives who I grew up with, I’m sort of known as the go-to guy for family history/dates/events etc. However, ask me to remember someone’s phone number, address, name or a shopping list, where I parked the car sometimes etc, and I can be pretty useless.

Abrawang: Headliners or not, you saw them. Lucky guy.

Chiller: No, I didn’t know that. That’s a surprise influence.

catch-22: I’m glad you mentioned the place and time aspect: it’s one of the things I strive to capture. As for that passage, alas, once the table cloth came off, it was time for home and slippers and Ovaltine after all, at least metaphorically. Glad to have you tagging along anytime!

Scarlett: I’m late in responding here, so no worries. I remember reading about that Rush covers CD coming out because I noticed “7 & 7 Is” was on it. I still can’t imagine what that sounds like.

As for Trailer Park Boys, it was just really great absurdist satire, particularly in the early seasons, like an SCTV sketch or Christopher Guest film in episode form. (Most of) the characters weren’t smart or knowing, but the show was, and that’s a key distinction. And the incongruities, like Bubbles quoting Plato or going on about how someone was “rocking” a particular look. For the rest of my life, I’ll think of Sam Lasco and Barb falling over drunk whenever I hear Lighthouse’s “Pretty Lady.”

As for the Joan/Hole evening, it had been raining and cloudy, and literally a minute or two before Courtney hit the stage, the sky cleared and it stayed that way for the rest of the night. An incredible evening. (BTW, the link didn’t work)

 
Damn near snorted tea out of my nose while watching the Margaret Cho video here! I’d love to see Cindy live—or even hear her from a bit of a distance. 😉 I’m glad you took advantage of teh opportunity to see Rush. It’s a band my hubby has always loved-probably in part to the genius that is Neil Peart. But I’ve never liked Lee’s voice. Then one night we were home and a Rush concert came on tv and low and behold, I began to enjoy them live–well, live on tv anyway.The tequila shots may have influenced my thoughts, but still–their music was interesting. The photo of part of your cd shelf has me envious–not for the choices themselves, although they are great–but for the fact that the other person who shares my abode does not share my affinity for keeping things organized and in alphabetical order.I have finally caved in and given up on it. But it still drives me nuts.
 

lschmoopie: Well, I am the one who tends to file the CDs away, so that’s part of it. Mind you, what’s not pictured is the revolving pile of discs that sit on top of the cabinet that holds all the audio/visual equipment. Newer ones that get played often tend to spend quite a while in that holding zone before making it home to the shelf.

As for Rush, yep, they worked for me for that one hour, and probably that one hour only. You had your tequilla shots; I had beers and something greener on hand — I’m sure the stimulants helped. And you’re a fellow tea drinker too! I lift a cuppa in your honour.

Every day, I learn something new about my favourite OS-ers ….

 
VA: On the go Twining’s English Breakfast Tea is my favorite, although I’ve lately been enjoying their Chai also. But for 18 years my best friends and I often have tea together–the full-on, English style with loose leaves brewed just right into a pre-warmed pot, with homemade scones and homemade lemon curd. It’s also our go to comfort drink in times of stress–like last week as we gathered to bury one of the mothers in our group. A shared cup of tea in Diane’s honor…

 

VA ~ I wasn’t familiar with the groups you’ve featured here tonight so I appreciate finding out about them! More great bands to add to my list.

I am figuring all of the concert photo montages are yours and that’s a nice touch in addition to your stories, ticket scans, videos, and other visuals! As always, I can appreciate how long it takes to put these posts together–I’ve been working over a week on my upcoming installment on the college senior year series and complicated posts always take a while to complete!

 
Various: Our own lovely and talented Carol Pope! Nice … see’s looking a little Ron Wood-ish these days. Didn’t see her at the Rock Hall either. I’m going to read more here and try and find you and Cublet. 🙂
 
Such an amazing, interesting post. I’m most touched by your phrase: “Ahhh, the 1990s! All that fin de siècle jollity! Post and Pre the uptight and socially regressive 1980s and 2000s! Identity politics! A leftward shift!” It seems just like yesterday, yet it’s a long time ago. And how perfectly kept are your tickets!
R♥
 
Malkmus was just here and I missed him! Now I’m even more sad about missing him.
 

Carole Pope- I have been looking at her videos and yes she does look like Ron Wood. At first I had trouble with the video but played around with it and thought she looked like Keith Richards then changed my mind.

BUT her voice is still fantastic. Just having her on your page made my day.
HUGGGGGGGGGG

PS Palladium, er Corel Centre, er, Scotiabank Place

Now that made me laugh.. you have to be from the area to get the joke..:)

 

designanator: Thanks for recognizing the time it takes to put these together. Although, as I’ve said in one of your postings, you’re so prolific and include so much ephemera and so many great photos, I don’t know how you do it — and still manage to find time to sleep!

The photos from the Malkmus show were just taken with a basic digital camera, but I was particularly pleased to nab the perfect elevated spot, just feet from the stage and right next to the bar, to boot!. Mind you, I was almost legally deaf for most of the next morning as I was not far from the main speaker cabinets.

Scarlett: I always felt as if Carole was musically channeling Joan Crawford, but I see your point about Ron Wood. Good luck trying to find Cublet and I … I had to go frame by frame as I knew we were there.

Fusun: And thanks for such a nice comment. Yes, the more progressive 90s fade farther and farther into the past (although I think a “90s revival” is due shortly, as these revivals tend to look at 20 years past), and today so much seems dark. However, I believe that we all have to keep looking forward, hoping that things will turn more towards the light again. Although I think there will be more bad before the good. I hope I’m wrong.

Midwest Muse: Definitely see him if he comes through again/next time. It was a fun evening, and I really got the sense that everyone there had a terrific time, including the band.

Linda: Glad you got that one — we’ll share that between oursleves. I thought the Palladium was the best moniker they ever had for the place, for the whole 15 minutes it held that name. It opened almost at the exact moment when I first moved here. I so hate the renaming of buildings to appease corporate interests.

Always glad to be able to make your day, Linda. Huggggs back.

 
Nicely covered various and I’ll second Fusun’s thumbs up about the spirit of the 90s. That Carole Pope really has a stage presence.
 
More time travel! With deadpan humor to boot. You work hard, you play hard…or the other way around?
 

Abrawang: She still has it, Abra. I’ll be writing about Carole and Rough Trade a few times over the course of the series. I still particularly play “Rough Trade Live!” (my personal favourite) and “Avoid Freud” all the time.

catch-22: Now that I’m writing this series, I do both at once. And deadpan humour is always a good thing.

 

Gotta admit, I’m a fallen away rocker. My sights are firmly on the past, having just finished Eric Clapton’s autobiography and being about to dive into John Kay’s. (Long live Mars Bonfire.)

But I can most certainly agree on one thing: Carole Pope is vastly under-rated. What a piece of work.

Good to see you back here, VA.

 
1) Thanks for bringing Carol Pope to my attention, I was completely unaware of her
2)Awesome and SO true: “Ahhh, the 1990s! All that fin de siècle jollity! Post and Pre the uptight and socially regressive 1980s and 2000s! Identity politics! A leftward shift! Indie cinema exploding! Alterna-rock, Britpop, and Electronica hit big! Cable channels make TV bearable once again!”
3) I’m sorry you missed Elastica. I was quite smitten with them in 1996.
4) Couldn’t agree with you more about Beck.
5) Can’t wait for the Lollapalooza ’95 post (as we’ve discussed, I saw the NYC end of that tour – and witnessed the ugly behavior of people who would later fuel Nu Metal)
6) Rated for your unfailing concert writing awesomeness
 

Boanerges: Yep, Carole was way ahead of the curve. I loved her bio, Anti-Diva, from many years ago. Always great to see you here!

Chiller: 1) My pleasure. Carole/Rough Trade weren’t really known down in the States but they were a big deal up here back in the day. Sort of an arch, sardonic, campy’n’kinky group of new wave Cole Porters. I’ll be writing about them more indepth shortly; 2) The 90s revival is thisclose; 3) Elastica unfortunately imploded owing to too much H; 4) I’m glad to see Beck applying his brilliance in a new way, as producer; 5) Nu Metal: one of the scourges of humanity; 6) As you know, I’m a mutal fan of your insightful and witty pieces.

 

VA: Yes, I definitely see/feel the Joan Crawford connection. I think it’s the hair, sunglasses and vertical lines on her face that have me thinking Ron Wood but she looks great. God (or whomever) Bless, Carole. High School Confidential was really, really ground-breaking but I betcha half the people singing along had no idea what the song was about.

I’m not familiar with the other bands you mention except for Beck. Always great to read your musical adventures regardless. Damn time constraints …I know you’d rather be writing, and you’re right … couldn’t find you in the crowd. (p.s. I had a “rat’s tail” in those days too).

 
Ehhhhh ehhh EHHHHhhhh
 
I love being exposed to new music on your blog, VA. Carole Pope was new to me as was Austra. I’ve been playing the videos you embedded here as I putter about my son’s apt. today while he is at work. Enjoying the hell outta both of them. Hope things are simmering down for you & yours.
 

Scarlett: I totally see what you mean re: Ron Wood, although she’s beating him at his own game these days. As for people not getting what High School Confidential was about … I mean, how much more blatant could she have been?

MZ: Oh my … Anne from Little Britain strikes again with a surrealistic interjection.

lschmoopie: Glad you enjoyed the tunes. As for the simmering down … I hope so too, but don’t think we’re all there yet. Thanks for the thoughts, though.

 
I love reading your post because it always feels like I get to go to a concert with just sitting at home. I am particularly fond of CP for i did a photo shoot with her once and she was just great. thanks for this and the videos too!
………(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
☼•*¨`*•.¸.(ˆ◡ˆ).¸.•*
…………… *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥R
 
Algis: I’d love to see those pics of Carole. I’ve had a couple of interactions of sorts with her through the years that I’ll eventually get to. Glad I could send you the live-concert vibe across the sea.
 
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