We’ll go too

Last Thursday, about 20 minutes after we got home from New Orleans, we took off out the door to meet up with our friends CBGB at C’est What. They were in town for part of CB’s birthday present: a special concert by The Tragically Hip at the Air Canada Centre to celebrate 22 (?) years since the release of their seminal album Fully Completely.

I used to be a big Hip fan, but haven’t seen them live in over a decade. My last time out I was pretty hard on them (and their fans) but twelve years has given me some distance from hearing the same body of work so many times. Thursday’s complete retelling of their best album, wrapped by some more of their better songs (“Grace, Too”; “My Music At Work”; “Blow At High Dough”), made for a set list that brought back some fond memories. My only disappointments were a) no “Cordelia”, and b) they didn’t put the spotlight on Bill Barilko’s retired jersey during “Fifty Mission Cap”, one of my fifty favourite songs of all time. That seems like a missed opportunity in Toronto.

Set list

Saturday night we threw a party at our place in CB’s honour. She and GB helped us empty St. Lawrence Market of cheese that morning, then met us again later at Triple A for some pre-party barbecue. Thus armed, we prepared to receive boarders.

It was a good time, filled with tasty snacks and great drinks. JP brought his home-brewed Saison, which was stellar. Among the bottles of wine we pulled out were a Hidden Bench 2011 “Tête de Cuvée” Chardonnay, a Le Vieux Pin 2012 “Ava” Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, a Hinterland 2009 “Les Étoiles” sparkling, a Hester Creek 2011 “The Judge” Bordeaux blend, and a bottle of Meerlust 2009 “Rubicon” which CB wanted to marry.

We had the good sense to pre-rinse all the glasses before going to bed that night. Good thing, too, because they sat there for the entirety of Sunday.

Photo from jackwhiteiii.com, taken Oct 4 2012 by Jo McCaughey.

Turn the oscillator

There are concerts you go to because you’re hoping the live show transcends the recorded material. There are concerts you go to because you want to see a band or artist of significant importance play live, just once. And once in a while, you see a concert that delivers both. Once in a while…like when Jack White schedules two nights at the Sony Centre.

We had an insanely busy week leading up to the concert (the second of the two) so I didn’t even know who was opening. Turns out it was a band called Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three, an entertaining little contraption of a band that impressed mostly via their rock star harmonica player and enthusiastic old-timey image. They dutifully played their set, got the energy level up, and were on their way. Then the roadies — all dressed in zoot-suit-ish garb — reset the stage.

When Jack himself took the stage, he did so with his all-male band. I was sad to miss his all-female band, who had played the previous night, but my disappointment was short lived. The band ripped into a 5-song sequence with no break, and this band let it all fly. The drummer and keyboardist especially; both were large, muscular guys who played the hell out of their instruments, contrasted against the waifish White. I found it hard to take my eyes off of them, especially as they were positioned at the front of the stage, framing White as he lurched about. The only difficulty I had was seeing through the 6-6 Shaggy-from-Scooby-Doo looking jagoff in front of me who kept swaying and dancing and then hugging his girlfriend every time she recognized a song. For once I knew what it felt like for Nellie to go to shows and not be able to see anything but the back (and iPhone screen) of the person in front of her.

The set was seventeen songs long, plus four in the encore: eight of his songs from Blunderbuss, eight White Stripes songs, two Raconteurs, two Dead Weather, and one collaboration/feature Jack White did with Danger Mouse. The set list didn’t seem to stray too far from the previous night; I would have liked to hear “John The Revelator” and “Hotel Yorba” but I was happy that he ended the main set with “Ball And A Biscuit” on the second night too, as it’s probably my favourite White Stripes song. It was a crushing version of it too; playing with a powerful backing band just gives the songs a lot more depth.

The range of styles White pulled out that night, the breadth of the bands and side projects, the tightness of the band, the art integrated with the show, the monumental musicianship…it all paid tribute to Jack White being one of the most influential and meaningful artists playing today. It was a fun two hours, but ten years from now it’ll feel momentous.

Pictures here.


Photo from jackwhiteiii.com, taken Oct 4 2012 by Jo McCaughey.


"Attention…Mon Ami…Fa-Lala-Lala-La-La"

Last night, following Montreal’s disappointing game 5 overtime loss to Boston — which I got to experience in Kilgour’s, probably the only Montreal Canadiens fan bar in Toronto — my buddy Joe and I strolled down the block to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Lee’s Palace. GY!BE had been on hiatus since 2003, so when these tickets went on sale last fall we snapped them up.

We weren’t worried about staying through the entire hockey game, including one and a half overtime periods, because we knew very well they wouldn’t hit the stage until 11:30 or so. As it turns out they began taking the stage around 11:45 and began playing at about 11:50. By the way: it takes them five minutes to take the stage because there are nine of them, and they came on a few at a time and began playing their instruments. That tuning and tweaking turned into “Hope Drones” before drifting, some fifteen minutes later, into “Gathering Storm”, the best part of their best song from their best album and one of my favourite songs of all time (honorable mention). I could have left right after that and felt like I got my money’s worth.

But they kept going, obviously, playing seven more songs over the next couple of hours (their songs tend to be in the 15-20 minute range, and all instrumental, with black and white film footage looped behind them) from F#A#∞ and Slow Riot For New Zer0 Canada and more from Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven and one more song (“Albanian”) that apparently is only ever played live. Nothing from their last album Yanqui U.X.O. though, which was disappointing…they’d played “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls”, their second-best song, the night before.

Just after 2AM they wrapped up, and I walked out feeling a little underwhelmed. I’m glad I saw it — this may be my last chance as they’re obviously pretty mercurial — but it just didn’t feel like as big an experience as I’d hoped for. Maybe it was being at the back, kind of blocked (distracted?) by the film projectors. Maybe it was being too near the bar and all the assholes who feel entitled to yell inanities to each other that could surely wait until they’re outside. Maybe it was that my mind kept making the obvious comparison to Mogwai, who thumps me mercilessly every time I see them, unlike last night’s show.

Like I said, I’m glad I went. I guess I was just hoping for more of a storm.

The playlist, according to the internets:

  • “Hope Drone”
  • “Gathering Storm”
  • “Monheim”
  • “Albanian”
  • “Chart #3”
  • “World Police and Friendly Fire”
  • “Dead Metheny”
  • “Moya”
  • “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III”

"Remember it was me who dragged you up to the sweaty floor"

Last year Frightened Rabbit (myspace) kind of appeared on my radar from out of nowhere with The Midnight Organ Fight, an album I loved instantly and which landed in my top ten of the year. When I heard they were coming to town I thought I’d better get on it, Ticketmaster service charges be damned.

And so it was that last night Joe, Sheila, Nellie and I went to see them at the Horseshoe, stopping first for dinner at the Adelaide St. Pub…which isn’t quite a pub, but whatever. It’s a decent spot that serves decent beer in the decidedly indecent entertainment district, and such things are not to be taken for granted, especially when they have a decent patio.

We missed the first opener entirely (almost as if we planned it that way) and arrived just as The Antlers (myspace) took the stage. I was actually pretty impressed, enough so that I came home and downloaded their newest album from eMusic. I have to say, though, they’re a band that sounds very different live than they do in the studio. Watching them live I thought they were about 70% Walkmen, 20% Wolf Parade, 5% Jeff Buckley‘s voice and 5% bombast from This Will Destroy You or Explosions In The Sky…certainly a winning combination for yours truly. Listening to their music right now, though, it sounds nothing like that. It’s over-engineered, over produced. The singer’s voice loses all emotion and the drums might as well not even be there. It’s too bad…I really enjoyed their set, and was hoping it would translate off-stage. It’s not bad, mind you, just less impressive than I found them last night.

A few minutes later Frightened Rabbit was up to do their thing, and it was just what everyone wanted. They blasted through just about all the songs on Midnight Organ Fight (except “Floating In The Forth”, dammit) and a few from their debut (“Mu! Sic! Now!”), then came back out for an encore, which was pretty cool: first Scott Hutchinson led a singalong of “Poke” without a mic, and then did a blazing “Keep Yourself Warm” to end the night. They seemed to enjoy it, the crowd loved it. We loved it too. $16 well spent.

A few miscellaneous observations:

  • The bouncer dug my The Suburbs Are Killing Us tshirt.
  • My hearing is just now returning to normal. We were a little close to one of the speakers. They’re no Mogwai, but locations counts for a lot in a place like the ‘Shoe.
  • It seems wrong, somehow, that the Horseshoe would carry Mill Street Organic beer.

Wake Up And Go Beserk

It’s been nearly seven years since I last saw Mogwai live. Their gig that night in 2002 was one of the most ferocious I’d ever seen, or have seen since. I’d been warned about the volume, but in tiny Lee’s Palace there was nowhere to hide, and my friend Mike and I bore the brunt. I loved it, though, and was excited to see them again night after missing them the last couple of times around. In fact, seeing them last fall was supposed to be a celebration of finishing the MBA, of returning to seeing the occasional gig. They just made me wait a little longer is all. Silly inconsiderate Martin had pacemaker problems so they had to postpone the tour. That’s so like him.

And so, on Monday, Joe and I staked out a spot near the front of the Phoenix’s balcony just minutes before opener the Twilight Sad began their set. A funny thing happened: I noticed this guy pulling on the door out to the little catwalk along the Phoenix’s upper wall, as if he planned to get out there to take in the show. Padlocked; foiled. The guy turns to walk away and as I see his face I realize…that’s Stuart Braithwaite. By the time I processed that he’d spun off to find another vantage point. Weird.

Anyway, the Twilight Sad was good. Solid. I shall sample more of their stuff, which I suppose is the point of the opening slot, so well done lads. I laughed to Joe that, after their set, I looked down to the main floor and saw a girl covering her ears and (presumably) complaining to her boyfriend that it was too loud. I felt bad for her. It certainly wasn’t to get any quieter from there on. Fifteen minutes later Mogwai emerged to drive her from the building, pleading for her life. Or so I imagined.

A few songs in it was clear that this would be a very different Mogwai than I’d seen before. Thankfully, of course; who wants to see the same show again? Their music has gained more depth and nuance, and I was happy to see that it translated well to the stage, perhaps was even augmented by it. The additional textures of Barry Burns’ keyboards and (highly effects-ridden) vocals gave the first half of the night a mellower feel than I think most people expected. Stuart even broke out the soft words of “Cody” to much applause. They were covering a lot of ground too; by the end of the night they’d have played songs from eight different albums, by my count. But in the final half of the show, they tightened it up and started throwing serious punches.

They hit us with “You Don’t Know Jesus” and “Auto Rock”, gave us a breather with “Thank You Space Expert” and launched the perfect segue: “Hunted By A Freak”. I’ve always found that song ominous — maybe it’s because I can’t understand the vocals, or because I’ve seen the highly disturbing video — but until tonight I don’t think I ever fully grasped what a brilliant, beautiful song that is. Really. Still, that feeling of impending danger that comes with it was accurate: they bled straight from that song into a version of “Mogwai Fear Satan” that had everyone gleefully reeling, and then laid the crunch of “Glasgow Mega-Snake” on us to close out the set.

I had a hunch about what the encore might be — I knew they’d played “Like Herod” and “Batcat” in Montreal the night before, and they’d tended to alternate — so I was more than happy when they began playing “My Father My King”. It’s one of my 50 favourite songs of all time, and it destroyed the last time I saw them. I settled in. I prepared. I tried to keep my hopes from getting too high, but needn’t have bothered. This was better than last time, better than I’ve heard it played live before. It declined, dissolved and, as the band left the stage, descended into punishing feedback, just to remind us that nuance and maturity or no, they were still the boss of us.

After so many years of loving their music I think it’s safe to say that they’re my favourite band, even if they do try to kill me through my ears. Actually, I exaggerate: even though my ears were ringing when I got home that night, when I woke up six hours later my hearing was fine. I guess the much larger space of the Phoenix spared me from 2002’s result, when it took more than two days for my hearing to return to normal. I was almost disappointed.

And thus, I was awakened from my long gig slumber. Have I mentioned that I prefer a loud alarm clock?



  1. I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
  2. Killing All The Flies
  3. Travel Is Dangerous
  4. Scotland’s Shame
  5. Small Children In The Background
  6. Cody
  7. You Don’t Know Jesus
  8. Auto Rock
  9. Thank You Space Expert
  10. Hunted By A Freak
  11. Mogwai Fear Satan
  12. Glasgow Megasnake
  13. My Father My King (encore)

okay this is a song about killing everybody, let's all sing along now

this is a riot, right?
let’s all riot, riot,
let’s tear this place to shit,
commit pact suicide.

these were words of inspiration …and you will know us by the trail of dead send us along into the night with. useless words, really, since they’d already done most of it themselves. i’d listened to the new cd source tags + codes countless times in the 10 or 11 days since it arrived in the mail. i’d seen them before. i’d been to lots of shows in general. i knew what to expect.

kind of.

jason reece disappeared. much of the crowd was hit with water. jason and conrad keely got into a wrestling match. danko jones tried to push us out of the way (’cause he’s really short). but i’ll start at the beginning.

we got there just as raising the fawn was finishing up. i was a bit perplexed; during the final song the singer began singing, “young hearts…be free…tonight”, a rod stewart lyric that the constantines use in one of their songs, and they opened for trail of dead last time they played here. don’t know if there’s a connection there. anyhoo…

explosions in the sky was up next. they were good enough the first time i saw them (also opening for trail of dead last time they were in town) that i bought the cd and loved it. long instrumental quiet-loud songs, like mogwai with a simpler song structure. they opened with a song that i didn’t recognize, but it kicked my ass. let’s hear it for foreshadowing. they then ran through a few songs from those who tell the truth shall die…, closing with another crusher during which the tall among us could see the bass player kneeling over his bass and bashing it with a tambourine. that was about as much emotion as they showed all night, but they’re just about pushing the music off the stage and onto the crowd, letting them put it on and try it out. the word i always think of with their music is “lush”. always. it punched up a notch or two, though; at one point i could see neil busch (i think) stick his head through the curtain and rock along. also, it was during their set that i noticed danko jones standing next to us. the man is fucking short. he was trying to see over the crowd; he left partway through the set…i think he was looking for a chair to stand on.

trail of dead came on right after i saw (i think) hawksley workman on his way into the calcutta of a washroom, around 12:15. first of all, i’d just like to point out that they opened with “it was there that i saw you”, just as i predicted. thank you, thank you. next, just to get the technical stuff out of the way, the sound was better than at the horseshoe (clearer mix of the instruments, and you could actually hear the vocals), and it wasn’t as mercilessly loud, but they were having a lot of problems with feedback and broken strings. this frustrated them. which, i think, worked out in the long run really.

the set list…they ran through four songs from madonna (the obvious ones…”mark david chapman”, “mistakes and regrets”, “aged dolls” and, of course, “a perfect teenhood”), one from the first self-titled cd (“gargoyle waiting”), but only three from the new one: “it was there that i saw you”, as i mentioned, “baudelaire” and “homage”. they might have played “another morning stoner”, i can’t remember. it was near the end, as they pummeled us with “aged dolls” that you could really see them letting us have it. much, much moreso than back in the fall at the ‘shoe. they were pretty reserved then, just punishingly loud. this time they were playing to get it into the end zone, not just tackle us solidly. we held on.

early into “aged dolls”, jason reece — conrad keely had switched to the drums again for this one; as good as he is out front with the guitar and vocals, the guy is an even better drummer — got fed up with his guitar and just tossed it onto the stage. this wasn’t the first time; he done it during “gargoyle waiting” or “homage” as well. he’d gone on a little walkabout too…up onto the speakers (during which he started shaking and leaning on one of the stacks that hangs from the ceiling and, well, had it fallen it would’ve taken some patrons through the floor with it) and precariously along one of the railings. he finally managed to make it back onto the stage in one angry little piece. this time, though, he went straight into the crowd screaming, “i am…a motherfucking god!”. we lost sight of him (he’s only marginally taller than danko jones), but he made it all the way to the back of the pit before returning to the stage. he crawled up to the drum kit and took conrad’s place. “a perfect teenhood” came at us.

now, they usually close their shows with ‘teenhood’. not tonight. it fucking killed us, it did. conrad really let it fly, jumping onto the crowd at the end screaming the “fuck you! fuck you! fuck you!” that ends the song, and the crowd was thrashing around at the foot of the stage in a way i haven’t seen since grunge. everyone was expecting the guitars to drop, the lights to come up. they didn’t. we were expecting to be sent home with a scolding. instead we got another whipping. jason and conrad began flinging bottles of water — some open, some not — into the crowd. they announced their final song: “richter scale madness”. madness indeed. they played the song in such a way to make it almost unrecognizable; conrad spent most of the song dropping the mike or taking mouthfuls of beer and spitting it onto the front rows, using the bottle for a slide. the only verse i made out was the one seen above; fitting, really, since this preceded the four nice boys of …and you will know us by the trail of dead demolishing the stage in the manner to which we who read their press have become accustomed. the bass went sailing into the far corner by the fire exit; jason tore the drum kit apart and threw it around the stage. conrad keely just let his guitar fall off, eyed it like a bullet that had been removed from him. kevin allen didn’t do any damage but, then again, he’s the john entwhistle, the john-paul-jones-with-two-extra-strings of the band. jason came to the microphone and apologized for “sucking”, for which conrad keely tackled him and a wrestling match ensued. neil busch thanked us from the bomb crater of the stage and told us they’d be back in a few months.


i may as well make it official now: this is the best rock n’ roll band the world has to offer.

i’ll be there.

this is a riot, right?