Thursday, July 31, 2008

Woolly Leaves, One Hundred Dollars, and at Divan Orange

These three bands put on an interesting, heartfelt show at the Divan Orange last night. The crowd was so sparse. So sparse that I wondered if the entire audience consisted of me and a room full of performers. However, none of these acts (I missed the big finishers, Quest For Fire who took the stage after midnight) merited such a mediocre turn out. These were solid acts, certainly a good representation of the twangy, alt-country genre of Canada's indie scene. These performers would have been at home at the annual cowboy themed Stampede Breakfast held at the St. Catherine Theatre. Maybe (hopefully) next year.

Kicking things off was Wil Kidman's solo project, the Woolly Leaves. Wil Kidman is the keyboardist in the Constantines, which should draw all kinds of Canadian music fanaticos based on association with a major band alone. Well, having seen him, he should draw all kinds of music fanaticos simply because he's great. Just a man and a guitar. No pyrotechnics. No clowns. No magic tricks or dancing poodles. This particular set-up can suffer from being boring if the music is too similar from song to song, but Kidman managed to cover enough range to hold my rapt attention. He sang, by and large, about broken heartedness and disconnection. Thank God for heartbreak, or all these musicians would be singing about Steven Harper. Anyway, Kidman had good lyrics, a sedate stage presence (he doesn't pander to the audience or explain his songs, which is to his credit!), and a very sweet, shy manner about him. Genre-wise, this was folk-country stuff (emphasis folk over country).

Next up was a far twangier, trippier performance by Deloro, a band featuring Dallas, who is the bassist in the Constantines. Again, where the hell were all these Constantine fans? Anyway, this was borderline jam band music. Not jam music funky, but jam music rootsy. I was thinking... Mississippi All Stars and MOE. This is swamp music. Which is awesome, certainly. But what these artists brought to it was mood. I felt them feeling the music, digging deep into their inner bayous. Hootin' and a-hollerin' is wholly appropriate.

Last, of the three that I saw, was the ensemble country-folk (emphasis country over folk here) One Hundred Dollars ($100). Despite falling in the same genre, this band, headed by Ian Russell and Simone Fornow, complete with a lovely pedal steel, was very different from the two others. The songs were about real folks, real people, a sort of urban downtrodden emphasis to the lyrics. The synergy among the performers was great and sincere. The audience which had assembled over the night from four to a small but mighty crowd was enamored, which always helps feed the energy of the show. Looking like they rolled in Divan Orange having just finished a two week camping trip, this band is proof enough that tight pants have nothing to do with talent and honest performance.

Sadly, I missed the headliners, Quest for Fire, but even more sad, I missed Starving Hungry and Devil Eyes at the Bar St Laurent 2. Well, you can't get to them all... and I have no idea why everyone that interests me plays on the exact same night.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Brideshead Revisited Bores

One complaint about animated children's films is that they are cinema length advertisements for dolls, T-shirts, video games, toys, trips to Disneyland, food products, sneakers, and anything else that parents are willing to spend their hard earned shekels on in order to please their grasping brood. In contrast, I feel that an adult film that is based on a book is successful if it makes the viewer want to go out, buy the book, and read it. I recently had just such an experience with the Golden Compass. The movie was not the best I'd ever seen, but I was intrigued enough by the film to want to read the Pullman Series.

Which leads to my point.

Brideshead Revisited makes me want to burn the book.

Funny, because I never read the book. I've read other Waugh books and this one is a butchery.

I twisted. I turned. I wiggled in my seat and prayed for it to end. I can't remember the last time I hated a movie so much. I can't call it a bomb, because it isn't a bomb. It has high production values and Albert Finney. It doesn't suck necessarily because the acting is poor (save for the actress who plays Julia who is a mediocre actress playing a bad character). Rather, it sucks because it is a poor adaption of a novel that is satiric, a chance to make fun of the upper classes and their pretensions. Waugh is usually quite funny to read. Brideshead Revisited 2008 is serious and takes itself too seriously.

The worst part of the film is the terrible development of Charles Ryder as a character. Ryder at first, in theory, is a complex character with many competing motivations -- his infatuation with both Sebastian and Julia, his infatuation with the aristocratic life he discovers, and his distaste for Catholicism and committed atheism. I could ascertain how Waugh handled these matters, including one of the climactic scenes when Ryder an avowed atheist sees the family praying at the bed of their father -- how absurd it must have looked to him and how alien. But in the film, Ryder comes up empty. Rather than identifying with his conflicting motivations, I found myself wishing he'd simply jump off the beautiful balcony and end it all there and shorten the film a bit.

Seriously, though, for a story that must capture the inner struggle of the protagonists' infatuations and his own belief system, it was poorly developed and poorly introduced. This could have been a much better film if it had emphasized different aspects of the novel and the characters. Despite the rave reviews I noticed by a few notable critics, I have to give this film a resounding yawn of disapproval. Don't bother. Support literature and read the book instead.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shakespeare in the Park in Greenport

I'm not in Montreal these weeks -- hence the lack of posts on Montreal's current festivals, art events, and happenings. But, one does not cease to be a culture junkie just because one has left the city. Here, on the eastern end of Long Island, I managed to catch art as local as it gets: Shakespeare in the Park in Greenport.

Shakespeare's comedies have never been my favorites. I prefer your standard Hamlet, MacBeth, Julius Caesar type stuff. But, summer theater groups seem to prefer the light hearted and zany comedies to match the levity of an outdoor, sunset performance. And, indeed, watching Shakespeare in the park is always an enjoyable thing to do on a summer evening, provided one has enough bugspray, a bit of potage, and a nice blanket to sit on.

The Greenport crew put on a Comedy of Errors, in which mistaken identity of long separated twins leads to considerable confusion in the town of Ephesus. In order to reduce the distance between the bard and the plebs of today, updates included a setting in what appeared to be the 1920s, a few musical numbers, and a very witty computer screen projection in the back reminiscent of B&W films sans dialogue.

My parents didn't last the show nor did they follow the plot. My father retreated to starbucks and my mother fell asleep. I thought it was a tour de force of locals and a rolicking good time. While glitches, such as microphones that didn't work or the occasional musical number that wouldn't make it to the gong show, were apparent, overall the entire production was well acted and well executed. The physical comedy was coreographed beautifully, the acting excellent by the principals, and general fun communicated to all. Shakespeare can be very distant from a modern, average audience, and I think this troupe did a fine job bringing it to the masses of Greenport.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Martin Sexton and Angela Desveaux at the Juste Pour Rire Theatre

Other than the Classic Rock my dad woke me up to every Saturday and Sunday morning, I have the longest continuous love affair with the music of Martin Sexton. At age 14? 15? 16? I think 16, I heard him playing on the streets of Cambridge. He wore a big black sombrero like hat and played a few sets a day. I sat at his feet pretty consistently, enamored by both man and music. I read a number of political philosophy books at his feet, yellow highlighter on my hands and face from falling asleep in the Widner library of Harvard University. One time, the stripe ran clean across my face, over the bridge of my nose. Nonetheless, there was always Marty with his big lungs and creative guitar soul, and that made it all worthwhile.

I haven't seen Marty, now, in gosh, 10 years almost, since I saw him in Toronto. 10 years does a lot to a man, or a woman (in my case), but one thing stays the same. Martin Sexton is a musical orgasm. But the musical orgasm has changed. Previously, I felt Sexton in the lower chakras -- some deep primal sensuality that awakened desire. But now he hits the higher ones -- heart, throat, brow, and crown. The energy flows, but I feel it differently than I did 10 years ago. Is it me? I can only point to a single change. He's gotten somehow more effortless in his playing. He plays with the same effervesence that greats like Eric Clapton manage. It's as if and Martin Sexton can get any sound he wants out of his guitar, can make it sit up, beg, roll over, jump through hoops, and fetch a beer from the fridge. But he does it without making anyone aware of his fingers, the stretch, the pressure. I suppose true masters on the guitar are like this -- they play in some kind of supra-present state of existence, as if the music existed in sound before touching a string or a fret. It's a rare thing. Of course, from show to show, Sexton is always a different man. Perhaps this is where he was at tonight -- in his heart and head and not in his heart and loins? Chakra metaphors only make sense to people who buy into that mode of thinking anyway.

But, that said, a Martin Sexton solo show is a religious experience. For me, anyway. This is as close as I get to evangelism, praying in the temple of music. Sexton's evangelical references, hallelujahs, thanks you childrens, and amens, certainly make the transition easy. The crowd is, as at every show, enraptured, eager and hungry for the experience Sexton delivers. But, this is not just showmanship. When I think of those through whom the higher powers communicate to the world, Sexton immediately comes to mind. Each performance is a journey and by the end, all the pilgrims are believers, eager to walk on water for more. Those in the know shout for old songs, always Purple Rain, but in a way, the show is best when Sexton just plays what he likes. He's not a trained circus monkey. The man should be given free reign to take us where he'd like to go, and it would be nice for the audience to be open to his vision, rather than their own.

At this show, Sexton pulled out some new stops and old stops. For the purple rain fanatic, he played The Wind Cries Mary. But I was all too glad to hear him fit the theme of the Jazz festival by jazzing and bluesing up some of his now older songs: Gypsy Woman. A false start on some lyrics didn't stop him giving Diggin' Me a repeat. But, as an old old old fan, I tend to think that the songs from his earliest recordings are the best. It's my sentimental side. I was thrilled to hear In the Journey, a song I could listen to every single day of my life until death. Perhaps Black Sheep is my desert island disk???

Opener Angela Desveaux is a bit of a new discovery for me. I'd not heard her before, even though she is part of the pack of Montreal's fantastic roots-rock scene... these are the bands one can catch at places like Divan Orange and Casa del Popolo. She paired herself with Mick O'Brien, another much loved local. The two were great together, and I think they both have me as a new fan. Desveaux claims Neil Young as an influence and she played.... can't remember which one now, but it fit well within the rest of her country-tinged roots rock set.

All in all, a fabulous show. I'd jump through hoops if I thought it meant Martin Sexton would pass by these parts more often, but since he's in demand all over, I'll have to be patient with his erratic appearances and dream about the day when he'll next come.

If you've not heard Sexton live, well, make a road trip to his next performance. Conversion is inevitable.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The WInter Gloves and Our Book and The Authors at Quai des Brums

Lord knows why the Winter Gloves refer to their high energy, body shaking music as healing/easy listening on myspace. But, hey, irony is hip, cool, fun. Though, with bands just starting out on what promises to be a tremendous career, those who are not in the know will not know the irony. But, no matter. I'm pretty sure this is a band that we'll be hearing about for years to come. At the moment, their 5-6 song repetorie is short, but proud. Every song is gripping, energetic, and sprinkled with enough musically complicated components to warrant it distinct from most of the palp indie-pop out there. This is not your navel-gazing music. When Charles f. lays it on the tambourine, he beats the devil out of it (to quote Bob Ross) and then flings it behind him with wild abandon on to the next. He's clearly the main force behind the band, but he blends well with his equally energetic compatriots. I can't wait for this band to write a few more songs, put out its first album, and get its van and start the revolution. Until then, I'll take what I can get, even if it is just five songs at Quai des Brumes.

Openers Our Book and the Authors was a sweet little duo. This band is also led by the force of one man, Gabriel d'Amour, who sings with his sweet, clear voice as he plays the keyboard, while backed with the computer wizardry of Jean Arod. This duo is much softer than the Winter Gloves, and less frenetic energy. This is more pointed and contained, but somehow a very good pairing as an opener.

These two bands show that the Montreal music scene continues to spill forth talented, listenable, and joyous indie-pop music and are well worth catching as they grow and develop.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

North American Premiere of Bach at St. James United Church

The North American premiere of a newly discovered work by Bach (Choral fantasie BWV 1128) brings me to St. James United Church on a Tuesday afternoon. The church is surprisingly half full, considering that its a f*!*ing Bach North American premiere. I mean, this is the stuff people should be scalping tickets to on ebay for hundreds of dollars. Instead, it looks like a bingo convention. But, upon some reflection, I am the only person I know who would make a point of coming to see this and there was no one I could have asked to join me. I don't have friends who dig classical music that much.

At any rate, here's the dealio on this little work. This piece was just discovered in March 2008 by two German researchers examining new acquisitions of the library of Halle University. The 85 baar piece was found among the papers of Wilhelm Rust, a 19th century successor to Bach as Kantor at the Thomas Kirche in Leipzig, Germany. The piece was pubished only three weeks prior to this.

The piece is played second and was indeed the gem of the entire recital. I'm not an expert or even an amateur on what makes classical music good or bad, but I find it to be... very... um... Bach-ish. I mean that in the best way, as Bach is one of my all time favourites. It sounds like Bach. It moves at a good clip, takes some minor turns off the main theme, has a nice little flourish at the end before reaching a harmonic resolution. It is certainly moving, perhaps precisely because it is a new discovery and I feel honored to be alive and hear it performed. Had I died a month ago, I would never get to hear this piece.

The organist giving the recital today is Kurt Ludwig Forg, a German organist and academic. He has a tremendous personality, and he introduces all the songs -- not just the Bach piece -- with his own little thoughts on their importance. It makes the whole recital rather delightful. One thing I can say, though, is that the organ is not my instrument of choice. At least, not the organ at this cathedral. During the recital, Forg plays on two different organs and I found the sound sort of muffled and not crisp. I guess "crisp" isn't quite the word one uses to describe an organ, but it didn't have that haunting precision I associate with organ playing. Perhaps that is why the entire concert is in part a fund-raiser to pay for an organ face-lift.