Saturday, November 26, 2005

Lowest Of The Low may be playing their final two Canadian shows ever this weekend (you can read more in an article I wrote this week at, so I went to see them at the Horseshoe last night because the band has so much significance to me.
I gave a rave review to the band's Shakespeare My Butt debut album after it came out in 1991 and, to this day, it remains my favourite Canadian album ever. If you haven't heard it, get it. I don't know anyone who has the album who doesn't have a major soft spot for it. The music from that album, and to a lesser degree from 1994's Hallucigenia, formed a large part of the soundtrack of my life in the early and mid-'90s. In addition to playing the albums for both myself and friends all the time, I rarely missed a show — and there were a lot of them.
I got drunk to the Low. I got laid to the Low. I first bonded with my former girlfriend of three years through our mutual affection for the Low. That got me laid a lot, too.
There was an intelligence to the lyrics that I could identify with, and there were a lot of Toronto references that helped give me a sense of ownership of the songs. They were singing about places I'd been and things I'd done. There wasn't anything complex about the music and the playing wasn't exemplary, but there were tons of melodic rook hooks everywhere. And on stage, there was an energy and an edginess that was unmistakable.
When the group broke up and the members went their separate ways from 1994 until 2000, I felt a void. But I was there for the reunion shows in 2000, and they were great. They spawned the Nothing Short Of A Bullet live album. I've seen the Low a handful of times since then, essentially whenever I could. But it wasn't quite the same. Prior to last night, the last time I had seen the band was in August 2004, when it played with the Golden Dogs and The Trews at the Kee to Bala. But I was there more to get away for a weekend with some close friends than I was to hear music (though that was good, too).
The Low released Sordid Fiction last year during the same week I left for my around-the-world trip, so I didn't get to hear it then. When I got back in February, none of my friends were talking about the record and it didn't really register in my head. But I finally got a copy of it this week, and it's a very solid record. It's just not Shakespeare My Butt or Hallucigenia.
I was in the Horseshoe dressing room talking to and reminiscing with Craig and Leslie when the band hit the stage last night, and we all agreed that the new arrangements for some of the older songs weren't as good as the originals, and the new songs just didn't have the same kind of impact live.
About a half-dozen songs into the set, Leslie and I went out to stand at the side of the stage and watch the show. With two encores, the band played 25 songs in almost two hours. While Ron Hawkins played piano and Lawrence Nichols took over on guitar for some songs — including the Rusty Nails song Turpentine, a rollicking, slightly honky-tonk number where Lawrence added some fine harmonica playing — the band only reached the old energy, emotional and edginess levels in certain places when Ron and Steve Stanley were both playing guitar. The highlights of the main set were 4 O'Clock Stop and Beer Graffiti Walls.
Steve admitted that he didn't like Salesmen, Cheats and Liars before the band played it as its first encore. Many of us loved the song from the first time we heard it, and still do. After doing Everywhere And Nowhere from Sordid Fiction, the band got pumped for Gossip Talkin' Blues.
It left the stage and returned for another encore, beginning with Giulietta The Just from Sordid Fiction. For the Hand of Magdalena took me back to the early days, and was my favourite song of the night, though show closer Eternal Fatalist wasn't far behind in the pecking order. I would have liked to have heard Henry Need A New Pair Of Shoes and a number of other songs, but you can't have everything. A lot of people in the packed club said that they'd be back again for tonight's show. Unfortunately, I'm too busy and can't go. But if the Low have ever touched you in any way, you should see the group tonight. And get there early because there's a good chance it will sell out.
I was pleased after last night's show. If it was the last time that I'll ever see the band, I can live with that. It's probably a good time for both of us to move on. There will still be lots of fond memories. After all, we'll always have Ultrasound, and Sneaky Dee's, and the El Mo ...

np Frank Black - Honeycomb

I was walking down Queen Street West around 2:15 this morning, making my way home from seeing the Lowest Of The Low at the Horseshoe. I saw a small crowd of people in the street ahead of me at the intersection with Denton. When I came on the scene, I saw a man lying in the middle of the road, a few metres away from this cab. While I didn't see the accident, and I don't know who was at fault, the cab obviously hit the guy — who went flying into the windshield. The victim was wearing one shoe, and I spotted the other one at least 15 metres down the street, which gives you an idea of the severity of the impact. The man was lying face down and motionless, but I could tell that he was breathing. Paramedics arrived at the scene and got him on to a stretcher and drove him to hospital. I decided not to take a photo of the victim for the sake of his distraught friends who were standing nearby. While I couldn't see any obvious exterior body injuries, you couldn't see his face for all the blood — and there was a thick pool of it left on the road. Firemen arrived shortly afterward and started asking a few questions. Inexplicably, no police officers showed up during the 10 or 15 minutes I had stopped to watch. The accident happened too late to make the newspaper this morning, but I'll have another look tomorrow to hopefully find an update. I hope that the injuries weren't too serious and the man makes a full recovery.

np We Are Scientists - With Love And Squalor
(Thanks Craig)

George Best died yesterday morning at age 59 from complications arising from his alcoholism.
I'm too young too have seen George in his prime with Manchester United in the '60s, and only remember seeing him a bit on TV in the '70s when he went to the U.S. to play soccer and was as much a marketing attraction as he was a playing force. But even Pele has called him the best player he's ever seen, so let's just say that the Northern Irishman was at least the best European-born soccer player ever.
But he was a larger than life figure who became known for his drinking, womanizing and gambling as much as he was for his incredible skill on the field, so I was well aware of who he was when he walked into The Clarence, a pub that I bartended at in London's posh Mayfair district in the summer of 1987.
George was friends with Brian, the pub's manager, and would come in at least twice a week for drinks. He'd almost always have a woman with him, and I rarely saw the same one twice. He was very friendly and introduced himself the first time I served him, and he got to know my name on subsequent visits. He was also generous and would buy me a beer every evening (instead of tipping like we do in North America, it's customary in England to say "And one for yourself" and then buy a drink for a bartender who gives good service). Sometimes George would stay in the pub talking to people, but at other times he'd take his lady of the evening upstairs to Brian's apartment. I can only assume what he did with her up there.
I've done a fair bit of reading about George since that summer and he was a fascinating figure and the ultimate tragic hero. He'll be missed.
I returned to The Clarence for the first time since 1991 in September 2004. The place had been renovated to look like another of those generic British pubs that are unfortunately running rampant these days. Brian no longer had anything to do with the place. And George was nowhere to be found.
But I still managed to have a celebrity sighting while I was there. MC Hammer apparently likes his Guinness.

Friday, November 25, 2005

My friend Stewart Reynolds from Stratford came to Toronto with his band Brittlestar on Monday night to play the Horseshoe for the first time. But he did more than that, he chartered a bus full of fans from my old hometown who paid $20 each for the ride, a commemorative button and the chance to see the free show. It was a bit odd seeing people who I probably haven't spoken to in years who had entered the comfort zone of my Toronto life, or vaguely recognizing other people but having no idea of what their names were. In the spirit of reminiscing, I wore my high-school football coat and a pair of jeans that I've been wearing for the past 20 years. It's a good thing that I've kept so svelte.
Stewart and fellow guitarist Alan Ferguson were impressive, and the rest of the band, who I didn't know, were also solid. The songs from Brittlestar's Waiting debut album are a little more muscular when played live, which I appreciated. If you like reasonably sophisticated adult pop-rock music that's not excessively polished and shiny, you should check them out. Leslie was impressed enough to extend Brittlestar an invitation to play Lee's Palace. Stewart was so grateful for my support that he bought me a couple of pints of Wellington and gave me a Brittlestar T-shirt. You can find out more information and hear music at, and you can read my article on the band at

np Waco Brothers - Freedom and Weep

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I got home from the CASBY Awards at the Kool Haus (use a very pronounced German accent when you read those words to yourself) a couple of hours ago. It's amazing how a Molson Canadian-sponsored event can make a person opt for spending $6 on a Heineken instead of a free Canadian.
I had my first Heinekens out of aluminum bottles last night. I prefer them over cans because I can put the neck in my mouth and take notes and photos at shows without having to worry about setting my drink down. While some people say that I have a big mouth, I still can't secure it around a can of beer.
I also had my first Molson Cold Shot last night. Luckily, they were free. I'd never pay for one. They're essentially Molson Canadian with 6% alcohol instead of 5%, but the cans are 250 ml instead of 355 ml. Apparently most Canadian drinkers can't handle a full can of a slightly stronger beer. Pussies.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I made it to the Horseshoe about five songs into the Fleshtones' set.
They call their music Super Rock, and they've been doing it since the summer of 1976. I've probably seen these Brooklyn garage-rock veterans about 10 times now, and I maintain that they still comprise the most entertaining quartet in rock-and-roll. The last time I saw the band, in April 2004, I thought that it was a bit of a sub-par performance (the first that I had witnessed) and was worried that age might have finally caught up to the guys. But that concern was cast aside with last night's performance.
The crowd size was disappointingly small, but those who were up front with me were definitely into it -- and the band seemed to feed off that enthusiasm in a set that included Pretty Stupid, You Don't Know, Let's Get Serious, Do You Swing?, Fascination, She Looks Like A Woman, Push Up Man, Break That Lock and an encore featuring guitarist Keith Streng doing his best Robert Plant on Communication Breakdown.
Streng frequently jumped off the stage and into the crowd, while bassist Ken Fox was all over the place as well. Drummer Bill Milhizer would occasionally stand up to play, and singer Peter Zaremba was at his best as a master showman once again. He'd occasionally step behind his vintage Farfisa organ to bang out a few chords, but more often you'd find him dancing on a speaker, bringing his mic stand into the audience to sing, or, during Push Up Man, getting down on the floor to challenge fans to a push-up contest. At one point near the end of the night, Zaremba, Streng and Fox were all standing on tables and benches in the middle of the club while still singing and playing.
The smiles on the faces of the band members showed that their love of playing rock-and-roll in front of people with an appreciation for it still hasn't waned after almost 30 years as a group with little more than a cult following. It's infectious and always leaves me grinning.
Fox was manning the merch booth after the show. We talked for a while and then I bought the band's last vinyl copy of 1998's Only Skin Deep album for $10. It was a good deal for me, and I hope that any little small contribution that I can make to the band's bottom line will give it the ability and impetus to keep on keepin' on.
The Fleshtones rule.

np Leafs 3 Thrashers 1 after one period

After finishing my first week back working full-time for someone other than myself, and having to put on pants to go to an office to fulfill my news editor role for, I drove to The Docks. Luckily, I got a prime parking spot across the street. Even luckier, there was no-one working at the lot to take my money.
I arrived at 11 p.m., just in time to hear the packed house chant, "Let's go Murphys!" I slithered my way through the crowd and used my VIP pass to get on the side of the stage just before the group came on. The band members are big Boston Bruins fans, and even performed at the Fleet Center following a Bruins game earlier this month, so it was quite a surprise to see the bassist wearing the #16 jersey worn by Toronto Maple Leaf Darcy Tucker.
The Celtic-punk band was full of beans (Boston-baked, I'm sure), with bagpipes, accordion, mandolin and bouzouki rounding out the normal rock instrumentation lineup to rip through an hour-long set of fan favourites. There were moments when I thought that the band was harder and heavier than the two times I saw it in 2003, but there were also some quieter, more melodic moments.
The crowd was just as enthusiastic as the band, and moshing, crowd-surfing and stage-diving were the order of the day. On two separate occasions I was hit by a flying shoe and a tube of lip balm. There was a guy in the mosh pit on crutches who had to be pulled on to the stage because he was getting battered. Serves him right, I'd say.
Women from the crowd were invited on to the stage to dance for the second-last song, and then guys climbed up for the last number. There were dozens of people on stage, and things were so chaotic that I could still hear the band but couldn't see it through all of the bodies. But I like that the Dropkicks feel so comfortable with their fans that they can invite them on to the stage for the free-for-all.
I don't know if there was an encore because I left so that I could get out of the parking lot before the traffic jam started. I had to get to the Horseshoe to see The Fleshtones.

It was Tara's birthday, so her, Betty and Sonja were celebrating sidestage for last night's Dropkick Murphys show at The Docks. Since I can't make it to her party tonight, here's my present.
After the shenanigans of Friday night, I slept in until noon on Saturday. After doing a few things around the house, I ventured to the Blue Moon to meet Matt Mays. The tall and engaging singer/songwriter/guitarist and I talked for well over an hour and he provided me with some good material for his chapter in my book. I had a pint of some special seasonal brew, but Matt's previous night in Buffalo was apparently about as late and fun-filled as mine was, so he just opted for water. I pointed him to the dollar store across the street where David Arquette was spotted a few weeks earlier and went home.
But Queen and Broadview beckoned again at 7 p.m., as I had made dinner reservations for eight other friends at The Real Jerk. I love jerk food. After a couple of hours of food, drinks and conversation, we went a couple doors down the street to the Opera House, where The Novaks were opening for Matt Mays & El Torpedo.
The Novaks are a rock band from St. John's, Nfld. that shows a lot of promise with its Stones meet Sloan sound. El Torpedo was up next, and the sold-out house erupted. Matt has developed a pretty fervent fanbase in a short time. The band didn't disappoint, as it delivered a blistering set of songs from Matt's two albums.
JC, Tara, Tracy, JR and I headed back to the Horseshoe after the show to catch Sharon Jones again. It was another hot show. Apparently I'm now officially Sharon's Toronto beer opener, as she asked me to crack one open for her (no-one else backstage apparently had my knack for slamming down caps on the edge of desks) before the encore. There were more beers and pleasantries exchanged again and, what do you know, 3 a.m. had rolled around again. Tima had taken a powder earlier in the night, but since JC and Jordan had left for Niagara Falls to gamble and begin their football road trip about a half earlier, Tara stepped into the breach and invited Tracy, JK and I back to her place.
Upon arrival, I went through the liquour cabinet and fridge to check on ingredients and invented a new cocktail. From this moment on, the mixture of vodka, melon liqueur and apple juice shall be known as The McLean. Damn, it was tasty. Tracy and JK left a bit before me while Tara and I talked and had one last nightcap. I didn't feel like an hour-long walk home again, so I stopped in a 7-11 and got some cab fare from an ATM and picked up a pre-packaged western omelette and bacon sandwich while I was at it. By the time I got home, ate my sandwich and checked some e-mails, it was 6 a.m. again.
My friends Kirk and Joe came to Toronto on Nov. 11 because they had union meetings the next day. They arrived at my place around 6 p.m. with a bottle of pre-mixed Sex On The Beach. It felt a bit strange drinking this fruity alcoholic concoction with these big men, but the bottle didn't last long, nor did the remaining beers in my fridge.
We then headed to the Renaissance Hotel at the Rogers Centre (that used to be called The SkyDome for those of you not in the know) so they could check into their room. The hallways of the hotel are really ugly and, while their room was quite nice, it unfortunately overlooked a parking lot and not the playing field. We had more beers there and headed up to the Duke of Argyle. Three pints of Mill Street Coffee Porter washed down my souvlaki dinner, and Kirk splurged for the bill.
We had made tentative plans to see Holy Microphone at Mitzi's Sister, but it was too late by this point. So, with the taste of a good beer now inside me, I suggested that we go to Smokeless Joe's, which has Toronto's largest selection of beers. I had what may be my favourite beer in the world: an Aventinus from Germany. I've always enjoyed the flavour of the world's oldest top-fermenting wheat doppelbock and, with 8% alcohol, it also packs a punch.
From there it was on to the Horseshoe to see Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. I'm typically not a big fan of R&B/soul stuff, but I had seen the band in May 2004 and was impressed, so I went to the well again. The New York City band looks sharp, and its playing is totally tight. And Sharon is a dynamo. Comparisons to James Brown may be too easy, but they're very apt. She's a great show-woman and knows how to entertain a crowd. I opened a beer for her and was talking to her in the dressing room when she came off stage, but then I got in a bit of trouble because she hadn't done her encore yet and the crowd was yelling her name while we were chatting. Sorry JC. When the show was over, we talked and sipped more. She's a great lady and I couldn't believe it when she told me she was 49.
By this time it was 3 a.m. Sharon and I exchanged goodbye hugs and kisses and Tima invited me back to her house to keep the party vibe going. We had more drinks, danced around while listening to Aztec Camera, and went into her backyard to look at Mars. Tima fell asleep on her couch and, being the chivalrous sort that I am, I covered her with towels so she wouldn't be cold. It took me about an hour to walk home and I got to bed around 6 a.m. It maybe wasn't the most solemn way to honour Remembrance Day, but I had a good time.

np Angela Harris - Roots

I was a contestant on a game show called You Bet Your Ass and taped my episode on Nov. 9. The Comedy Network won't be airing the series until the spring, so I'm not going to divulge many details about the format of the show or my performance on it so that you can all get the "shock and awe" experience when you see it on TV. However, here's a photo of what the set looks like.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Excluding Living Elvis Karaoke shows, which don't count, last night was the first time that I'd seen The Royal Crowns play in a couple of years. Canada's best rockabilly band doesn't play as much as it used to and, when it does, it's usually not at The Horseshoe anymore. (Don't worry, Teddy's still bartending there.) But the band returned to the Shoe last night to launch its new After Dark album, the follow-up to the excellent 32 Miles from Memphis. In addition to enjoying some old favourites, I thought that the new songs sounded great, too. Danny Bartley is an excellent guitarist, Scott Gibson knows how to handle a stand-up bass, Teddy Fury is an impeccable drummer and showman, and Bob Taillefer (who replaced guitarist Cricket) adds an interesting new dimension on pedal steel. Hopefully the Crowns will start opening for some more bands at the Shoe again. I missed them.

np Matt Mays & El Torpedo

I think an evil alien took over Teddy Fury's eyes at last night's Royal Crowns show.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I went to The Fermentation Cellar in Toronto's Distillery District tonight for the Canadian premiere of Kate Bush's new double album, Aerial, which will be released by EMI Music Canada on Nov. 8.
I was greeted at the door with an Aerial martini, comprised of pomegranate juice and citrus vodka. I made myself a couple of roast beef sandwiches, watched some old Bush videos, talked to a few people, grabbed some cranberry juice and sat down to watch the video for King of the Mountain, the album's first single, and hear seven other tracks.
Bush has sold 1.2 million copies of her previous seven albums in Canada, but this is her first release in 12 years. Some people in attendance had hoped that she'd be at the party, but, with her reluctance to travel and tour, I correctly assumed that she wouldn't be. I still get chills when I hear her debut single, Wuthering Heights, which she wrote and recorded when she was just 17. I also liked Hammer Horror, Coffee Homeground and Babooshka from her next two albums, and I thought that she was the hottest looking woman in music in the '80s. She released three more albums in the '80s and The Red Shoes in 1993 and, while they were all successful, they didn't leave much of an impression on me.
The eight songs that we heard were easily recognizable as Bush, with her distinctive voice and very rich sound. She wrote and produced the entire album, and it's as carefully crafted as you'd expect. There are also some orchestral arrangements by composer Michael Kamen, and Aerial was the last album he worked on before he died two years ago. One song had a very strong jazz element before it turned to samba and flamenco flourishes.
Still photos and graphics accompanied the songs on a large screen, and there was a lot of bird imagery in them. In keeping with that theme, I suppose, two dancers suspended from cords hanging from the rafters descended and did some choreographed swinging around near the end of the set.
If you're a Bush fan who's suffered through her dozen-year absence, you should be pleased with Aerial.

np Mike Scott - Still Burning
I'm doing research for an interview I'm doing with Sum 41 singer/guitarist Deryck Whibley tomorrow and I found out that both of our birthdays are on March 21. Of course, he is 14 years younger than me. I'm exactly the same age as former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Al Iafrate.
Last night was Halloween, and the first kids arrived at my door around 6:45 p.m. Three out of the first four had UNICEF boxes that I contributed coins to. I had 20 more kids the rest of the evening and none of them had UNICEF boxes. I don't want to be accused of racial profiling, but the three kids who had UNICEF boxes were East Indian. Maybe they understood and had more empathy for what children in poorer countries than Canada go through because they may have relatives in Indo-Asia, or their parents have told them about it. When I was a kid, almost everybody went trick-or-treating with UNICEF boxes. I don't know whether it's kids or parents that don't care anymore, but I was disappointed nevertheless. Or maybe these people are all on to something that I'm not.
Warren Campbell told me that, while he was in Texas last week, he found a radio station "that was all conspiracy radio all the time. They hated Bush but they were extreme Right Wingers....they felt that sucralose and aspartame and all that kind of stuff was made to poison us. They also said that the money collected for Unicef every year is part of a grand conspiracy and that money went to fund a New World Order."
Warren's sons Rhys and Evan came trick-or-treating, and Rhys asked for a baseball. I told them to come in for a moment, while I ran upstairs, got a baseball, and came back and dropped it into his bag. I gave Evan extra chocolate.
One kid came to my door holding a football. That was it. That was his costume. I told him that it was very lame and that he should be ashamed of himself, but I gave him a chocolate bar anyway. A black kid who had done nothing but colour his hair white came to the door. When I asked him what he was supposed to be, he said, "Dennis Rodman." I told him that he was lame, too, then gave him a Wunderbar and sent him on his way.

np Pilchard - Dowabetty