Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

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Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

!!!LIGHTBULB!!!!

Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

Barrettbites Preview to Black Friday / Record Store Day 2015

Christmas comes twice a year for vinyl junkies, audiophiles and music geeks around the world, who can’t get enough of the tactile delight one gets from placing a record onto a turntable and watching it spin. The first “Christmas” is the official Record Store Day that falls on the third Saturday in April of each year. The second “X-mas” falls on Black Friday (this year on November 27th), when all of your favourite independent record retailers open a bit earlier to sell, amongst other things, exclusive vinyl and rarities. This year has some pretty cool picks.

First up is the Beck single “Dreams.” Originally released only as a digital download, “Dreams” now gets an extra special treatment. It is being newly released on 12 inch blue 180 gram (audiophile) vinyl with a “puffy sleeve” and download card. The b-sides will include an a cappella version and instrumental of the popular Beck hit.

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Houndmouth are releasing a 7” picture disc of “Sedona”, with the cover containing copies of their iconic Little Neon Limelight album cover and their neon mountains band logo. The b-side will be a live cover of the classic Dion song “Runaround Sue.”

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Right on the heels of their newly released debut Yours Dreamily, Dan Auerbach’s The Arcs are teaming up with Dr. John and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo to release the first in a new series of tunes. Entitled The Arcs vs. The Inventors vol. 1, this ten inch record will include 6 new songs and will be followed by digital releases in the months to come.

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Finally, Spoon is releasing a cover of The Cramps legendary “TV Set.” Originally found on the soundtrack of the Poltergeist remake, “TV Set” will be presented on 10” deluxe colour wax with a spot gloss jacket. The B-side is a reworking of the “fan favorite” song “Let Me Be Mine” from their last release They Want My Soul.

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For you “Spirit Of Radio” fans, some pretty exceptional limited stuff will also be hitting the streets. Perhaps the overall coolest thing RSD has put out recently is the self titled debut of The Clash. Limited to 5000 copies, it is a split “White Riot/Protex Blue” coloured edition. Any fan would love to have this under their Christmas tree.

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If you’re a Nine Inch Nails fan, it will also be a great day for you. The Halo I-IV box set is being released on vinyl.  It contains 12” single versions of “Down In It”, “Head Like A Hole” and “Sin” on 120 gram vinyl as well as the 1989 version of Pretty Hate Machine on 180 gram wax.

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Jumping to the 90’s, the 20th anniversary edition of Garbage’ eponymous record is being reissued on 2 pieces of pink vinyl in a brilliant gatefold cover. The album has been newly re-mastered this year for vinyl using the original analog tapes.

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The Jesus and Mary Chain is releasing Barbed Wire Kisses (B –Sides and more) on 2 “blood red” wax discs. Initially released in 1988, Barbed Wire Kisses contained many of the bands limited B-Sides, including an awesome cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.”

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In other words folks, there is a whole lot to get excited about and this is just a tiny sample. For a complete list, hit the RSD website. Remember that all items are limited, so call your favorite record retailer to find out if they are expecting your pick… and line up early.

I Need A New Drug or Ten Great Alt-Rock Documentaries pt1

For all us obsessed music fans who love to dig deeper into the psyche of our favourite bands, documentaries are the gold mine that allow that little peek. Of course, don’t scratch too far beneath the surface or you might rub away some of the sheen.

  1. Color Me Obsessed: A Film About The Replacements

How do you tell a story about a band without their music, archival footage or band participation? Color Me Obsessed answers the question by having fans, critics and obsessed music geeks tell the story of the world’s most contrarian band.

 

  1. Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong

After the debacle that was the Billy Corgan solo record, filming began on If All Goes Wrong. This 2007 film sees Corgan resume the Pumpkins name with only Jimmy Chamberlain coming back in the fold. Surprisingly, the audiences in the film are indifferent towards new material causing Corgan to wonder about artistic expression and commercial success.

 

  1. Upside Down: The Creation Records Story

One part bands, another part attitude Creation records gets a worthy and shocking documentary. Not only does it feature the story of some Brit-pops best bands, but also how the vision and overwhelming hubris of one man, Alan McGee whose own trials saw the rise and fall of a very influential independent record label.

 

  1. DIG! (Dandy Warhols & Brian Jonestown Massacre)

Decried as more fiction than documentary by the bands involved, DIG! has absolute Spinal Tap moments with band disagreements and so-called ‘dust ups’ that leave no one unscathed. Two rival bands attempting to rise above obscurity in the midst of rockstar excess without the benefit of having been rockstars first.

 

  1. The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks

Chronicling the history of the self proclaimed “art-rock” band whose origins go back to the 70’s, director Bradley Beesley films the band over a fifteen year span covering from 1990 until 2005. The evolution of a band from “no talent garage rockers” to “alt-rock pioneers” is both frightening and life affirming.

Can’t Beat This; The English Beat Recording and You can get in on the action!

Trolling the internet as my seven year old sings along to “Mirror in the Bathroom” and I start to wonder about the sweet ska sounds of The (“English” In North America, “British” in Australia) Beat emanating from my speakers. So a quick google later and BANG!

The Beat is using Pledge Music to raise funds for a new record with plenty of exclusive items being given in exchange for your participation. Some of the items included are t-shirt ($25), autographed CD ($34), vinyl ($40) a phone call with vocalist songwriter Dave Wakeling ($103), and a bundle that includes the CD, vinyl, t-shirt, stickers, poster and a recent tour pass laminate. Not only will you be helping the band get a new record into your hands but also 10% of all proceeds will be given to Doctors Without Borders.

If you’re interested you had better act quick, items are selling fast (seriously, the autographed vinyl is already gone) and many items are down to their last few.

Check it out at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/theenglishbeat

A Wish Come True…. or Violent Femmes – Eponymous

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One month and sixteen days ago I wrote a little piece on the Violent Femmes eponymous debut lamenting the fact that nothing new in vinyl had been re-released since Rhino did the job back in 2003. Well, that changed today folks…. YAY!

Newbury is offering it in exclusive green marble vinyl.

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It looks pretty damn sweet. Anyway, here is a link to the original review and another to Newbury if you want this prize as badly as I.

Cheers!

 

The Breakfast Club stuck in a VCR at the cabin or Yukon Blonde – On Blonde

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Shooting for the sound of Joy Division and hitting the Psychedelic Furs instead means only one thing to a fan of Yukon Blonde; the sound was overhauled in a total ‘WTF’ way. Confusion can be forgiven when a leap from R.E.M. mixed with Teenage Fanclub becomes an analog synth driven kaleidoscope of the 80’s New Wave movement. The opening track “Confusion” may not have been written as a message to fans, but the coincidence certainly matches the sound I’m hearing.

That said – I’m digging it!

Gone are guitar fronted loose ‘extenda jams’ that were present in Yukon Blonde’s eponymous 2010 debut and in is the more atmospheric layered production of a far more evolved unit. The change shouldn’t be entirely shocking as synth-pop has always been an element of the Yukon Blonde sound. “Make U Mine” with its playful flirt has a slight Prince feel and single “Saturday Night” lays out that “Safety Dance” vibe that has weird haircuts and pastel clothing running for the dance floor.

The whole Yukon Blonde experience is built around fun and On Blonde is no different from Tiger Talk in terms of lyrical themes. Still, to have so completely transformed from one record to the next makes one wonder if they had The Breakfast Club stuck in a VCR at some old woodsy locale. You know, a few friends, some odd flavoured cider and that guy who says every line a step out of cue until you all start yelling.

Good Times…

For vinyl lovers, go to the Kings Road site where they are offering On Blonde in a pretty cool looking gatefold cover with orange/black splatter wax. Only 300 are available so move quickly.

Self Sabotage Genius or The Replacements – Pleased To Meet Me

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Pleased To Meet Me should never have worked, yet it stands tall as a masterpiece. Lead guitarist Bob Stinson was out because of substance problems and the remaining band members were stumbling at best. Paul Westerberg’s songs were all over the map, and still the album is full of such gems that you can hardly tell that they had begun to disintegrate.

Recording at Ardent Studios in Memphis with producer Jim Dickinson, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that the band sound was less their typical brilliant boozy swagger and more an awesome well practised piece of power-pop. Of course, like his hero Alex Chilton, Paul Westerberg attempts to self sabotage his own career aspirations with tunes designed to be hated. The reaction therefore is that fans and critics alike see it as a ‘sign of genius’ – ‘a change of direction’ and rightfully heap praise.

Jazz and soul undertones (“Nightclub Jitters” & “Skyway”) mixed with punk pathos (“I Don’t Know” & “Red Red Wine”) and the aforementioned power-pop gems (“Alex Chilton” & “Can’t Hardly Wait”) help to create an album that demands devotion.

So it seems strange that since its initial release in 1987, Pleased To Meet Me didn’t see a re-master and reissue until 2008. For vinyl there are only two choices, finding an original used copy, which will cost you $50 and up

Or

the 2008 Rhino reissue on 180 gram vinyl. New and unopened copies of Pleased To Meet Me start around the $40 mark and even get some resellers asking as much as $100. While there is a new Replacements 2015 box out right now, there has been no vinyl release date set as of yet.

Your best bet is to hit your local retailers and see if you can track down the 2008 vinyl reissue while you still can.

The Emotional Depth of Flanging and Reverb or Ride –OX4

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There was a time before the 90’s wave of Grunge and Brit-Pop when a generation of music geeks had their collective consciousness turned towards the sounds of a UK movement dubbed “shoegaze.” Known for “wall of sound” like buzz and a variety of guitar effects it was the best possible escape for people tired of pop and hair metal but still loved loud electric guitar as the driver behind the tunes.

Ride was one of the best of the era with their own brand of songs crossed between My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths and even American avant-garde noise rockers Sonic Youth. At the beginning what attracted people to the band was the menagerie of influence pooled together under a banner of rock attitude and loud experimentation.

Unlike classic rock bands that would build a song around a guitar riff using it for the more climatic moments, Ride would use a riff like a wave over the song and change its very dynamic. If you listen to “Like A Daydream” even when the songs driving force is held back during the lyrical sequence, the guitar riff is still present as the basis for the rhythm. What changes is the tone and power with which it is played. The song itself gains more emotional resonance by the riff coasting for the duration rather than any one specific moment. At their best, this is exactly how Ride operated, a lyric of longing surrounded by shimmering guitar lines that buzz meaning with flanging and reverb.

Unfortunately, their existence was a brief eight years and it ended with internal disagreements and some half hearted attempt to go in a more ‘commercial’ direction. Some critics have claimed they fell flat looking for a more Brit-Pop sound, but honestly, after reading some of their more recent interviews, it sounds more like they just lost the motivation to be a band.

Still Record Store Day 2015 was a reminder of what brilliant music they did put out back in the day, with the vinyl re-issue of OX4: The Best Of. Three editions were released on April 18th in three major markets. The UK and Europe saw 500 copies each printed in red translucent vinyl while the North American market printed an additional 5000 copies of the same. As of last week when I was visiting record stores in Toronto I still saw copies around at the regular RSD prices.

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On a cooler note, Ride have worked out all their differences, are back together and currently touring. They’ll be hitting the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on June 2nd and are being presented by 102.1 The Edge/Spirit Of Radio.

Shadows Linger Longer Than The Torch Burns… or Violent Femmes – Eponymous

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Some bands can not escape themselves, and a song or album defines them before even they can wrap their head around it. Such was the case for the Violent Femmes and their debut album. It was, and remains, one of the greatest debut records to ever hit the streets, but it also set expectations for the band to fit into a mold they were not prepared to bake in. Even with further albums containing the same spirit thematically of the debut, the idea of musical experimentation at the heart of the band was lost on fans who merely wanted a sequel.

Regardless, Gordon Gano sang songs about how ridiculously awkward teenage life can be in a style that was acoustic punk, improvisational free-form jazz, and early rock ‘n’ roll all wrapped up  together. It was geek anger displayed in a way that made it hip to be socially inept and people responded.

A few years ago I wrote a wish list of albums I “had to have” on vinyl, and the first Violent Femmes was on the top of the list. It wasn’t hard to find, but what has surprised me is the lack of reverence and variety that it has been given. From 1983 until 2001 the album was basically just re-issued “as is” in multiple formats. In 2002, it was given special treatment as a CD that included the basic album, B-Sides and demos, as well as a second CD of live material.

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The following year, Rhino released a re-mastered 180 gram vinyl edition of the album as it first appeared… and… well, that’s it. There is a great sounding 2003 audiophile vinyl and nothing more. That said the sound quality of this edition is top notch, which is essential when you have rocks most amazing xylophone solo ever, and it is very inexpensive to pick up at your local retailer.

However, I’m still looking forward to a day when some double coloured vinyl with gatefold cover and bonus live material gets released; not that it will happen, but damn it would be nice.