Thursday, December 31, 2015

Making the most of a seven-day GO Boston Card



I've received very good value from GO City Cards in New Orleans and Chicago on past trips, and made great use of another one in Boston this year.

For those not familiar, GO City Cards enable you to pay one price for an all-inclusive pass to tourist attractions and destinations in the above mentioned American cities as well as in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City, Oahu, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. They also let you use shorter lines in many cases, and less waiting means more enjoying.

GO City Cards are available for one, two, three, five or seven days and can provide substantial savings versus paying admission as you go. My seven-day GO Boston Card cost $153 and was valid for 44 attractions and discounts at a couple of dozen restaurants and stores. I didn't catch all of them, but almost everything that I wanted to -- and still had time to do other things unrelated to the pass.

Day one

The first use secured two days of a hop-on, hop-off Red Beantown Trolley pass  (valued at $42) that does a two-hour loop of several Boston neighbourhoods and their highlights. It's a good way to get an overview of things, allows you to judge distances and lets you stop and check out stops that interest you.



My first stop was at Long Wharf for a narrated 45-minute cruise (valued at $22) that provided expansive views of the shoreline. I got off mid-journey at the Charlestown Navy Yard, where I checked out the Second World War ship the USS Cassin Young and the well-preserved USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides" for the way its thick oak hull withstood attacks in the War of 1812. I also made a quick stop at the nearby 221-foot Bunker Hill Monument before catching the boat again at 4 p.m. for the 10-minute return ride to my starting point.

Day two

A week-long Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority transit pass cost just $19 and came in handy in crossing the city, especially on a very rainy Sunday when I used the subway to return to the inner harbour area to use my GO Boston Card to bypass a long public line for entry to the New England Aquarium (valued at $26.95). It was very crowded and not as big or good as other aquariums I've visited, but it still held my interest and kept me dry for an hour.

I had a day left on my trolley pass, so I hopped aboard and went one stop to the North End, where I got off to visit the Old North Church where Paul Revere kept his signal lamps in the steeple to warn others of British troop movement during the American Revolution.

Paul Revere's house

I followed the Freedom Trail (which is well-marked by a red line on the sidewalk) to Revere's house, part of which has been restored. It didn't take long to walk through, but the $3.50 entry fee was waived with my GO Boston Card.
 

I continued my walk along the Freedom Trail, eventually ending up at the Old State House, which has been converted to a Revolutionary War museum. The GO Boston Card got me in for free instead of paying $10, and it was an informative half-hour visit.

The Old South Meeting House, where colonists gathered in 1773 to protest taxation, is still used as a meeting house and museum. Its six-dollar entry fee was covered by my GO Boston Card.

Dinner and drinks were soon on my mind and the Green Dragon Tavern offered a 20-per cent discount on my meal of Boston chowder, Cajun haddock, mashed potatoes and mixed steamed vegetables with my GO Boston Card.

Day three

Harvard University
Cambridge was my destination on day three, and the subway took me to Kendall Square, from which I walked to the Charles River for a good view of the Boston skyline on the other side. I had planned to take a river cruise (valued at $16.80) with my GO Boston Card, but had difficulty finding the embarkation point and decided to skip it.

I returned to the subway and went two more stops to Harvard, where my GO Boston Card allowed me to take the $10 Harvard University walking tour for free. I explored the rest of the campus on my own, including touring the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the Harvard Museum of Natural History (valued at $12) with my GO Boston Card. It was a fine way to pass a few hours, though a similar museum I'd visited in Chicago a year earlier (using a GO Chicago Card) was bigger and better.

Day four

Beach at Hyannis
I got the most value from my GO Boston Card on day four, which included a day-long Cape Cod bus tour with Gray Line (valued at $62).

A two-hour drive took us through Sandwich, Barnstable and other quaint and picturesque towns before we made our first stop at the JFK memorial near Hyannis. I waded into the chilly Atlantic Ocean up to my knees at the nearby beach.

I returned to the bus for a short ride to Hyannisport, where a boat was waiting to take us on an hour-long cruise (valued at $17). It provided views of beautiful houses along the shore (including the Kennedy compound) as well as beaches, marinas and impressive boats. It felt good to be out on the sea for a short while.

I got back on the bus again and drove a short distance to downtown, where I had about two hours of free time. My GO Boston card paid my $10 admission to the JFK Museum, which included the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame in its basement. Both were pretty small and didn't take much time to go through, but I'm glad I went. That left me time for a pint at a local tavern before boarding the bus for our last stop before returning to Boston.



View of Christian Science Mother Church from Skywalk Observatory
The Sandwich Glass Museum (valued at nine dollars) had a glass-blowing demonstration, information on the history of glass, a gallery and a large gift shop. I wouldn't have gone on my own, but my GO Boston Card paid for it and there wasn't much else to do in Sandwich.

The bus returned to Boston and I was dropped off at Copley Square. From there I walked to Boston's second tallest building, the Prudential Center, where my GO Boston Card got me whisked up by elevator to the 50th floor and the Skywalk Observatory (valued at $17). It provided excellent views of the city and beyond and an informative audio guide provided details about what I was looking at. It also included exhibits about Boston and immigration and took me an hour before I'd had enough.

Day five

Day five was another wet one, so more indoor activities were on tap to begin with. I started at the Christian Science Mother Church, which in my opinion has the most beautiful exterior of any building in the city. I went inside to the Mary Baker Eddy Library (valued at six dollars), the clear highlight of which was its unique Mapparium -- a 30-foot stained glass globe made in 1935 that you walk inside of. I was able to spend 20 minutes looking at the beautiful, accurate-to-scale map, but unfortunately no photos were allowed.

Fenway Park

I walked to Fenway Park, where I obtained a ticket for a noon tour (valued at $17) with my GO Boston Card. I'd attended a Red Sox game 20 years earlier, so I was more interested in the inner workings of the classic ball park than in seeing a game. And since the Red Sox were in Toronto anyway, it was all academic.

Our guide offered a good blend of humour and history, and I spent about two hours seeing the visitors' dressing room, press box, the top of the "Green Monster" left field wall, the Red Sox Hall of Fame, a Red Sox museum, a gift shop and more. I'm a huge baseball fan and this, as expected, was one of the highlights of my week.

Day six

Salem was my destination on day six. A $14 round trip commuter train ticket took me to the city 17 miles north of Boston and back, allowing me to arrive at 11 a.m. The station was a short distance from downtown, which is easily walkable and navigable with a free map.

My first stop with my GO Boston Card was the Peabody Essex Museum (valued at $18), which houses one million works, including collections of photography and African, American, Asian, Native American, Oceanic, Indian and Maritime art, as well as rotating exhibitions. I most liked the gallery of Maritime art and a special exhibition dedicated to Frank Burton's vivid and cinematic paintings.


Salem Witch Museum
I then walked along the shore past wharfs and historic buildings to The House of the Seven Gables, a 350-year-old house that inspired the title of a novel by local icon Nathaniel Hawthorne in the 19th century. My GO Boston Card saved me the $12.50 entry fee. A guide took us through the house and explained things, and then I went through Hawthorne's nearby house and the grounds on my own.

After walking through more of the city, I used my GO Boston Card for the third and final time of the day at the Salem Witch Museum (valued at $10.50). The witch trials of 1692 are what Salem is best known for, and an informative 20-minute performance involving a narrator and animated wax figures told the story in an effective and entertaining way. After we were told to wait in the gift shop for 10 minutes after that, we moved on to an exhibit where we were told about witchcraft for another 20 minutes.

Day seven

This was my last day in Boston, and I used my GO Boston Card twice. The first stop was the Museum of Science (valued at $23).  It's more child-oriented than Chicago's science museum, which I used my GO Chicago Card at the previous summer, and had a lot of interactive elements. I let the kids play and just looked around for about 90 minutes.


Swan Boats
I took the subway to Boston Common, the city's expansive and centrally located park, and used my GO Boston Card for the final time by taking a 15-minute, pedal-powered Swan Boat ride (valued at $3.50) with other passengers around a man-made pond.

That allowed me just enough time to return to my accommodations to pick up my bags and make my way to Logan Airport by 1:50 p.m. in anticipation of my return flight to Toronto.

So, let's do the math. I received a 10-per cent discount when I purchased a $170, seven-day GO Boston Card online, for a cost of $153. For that I received $341.95 worth of admissions and discounts over a week. That's a savings of $188.95.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Steve McLean's favourite music of 2015

The top 10
 

1. Guantanamo Baywatch - Darling … It's Too Late
2. J.D. McPherson - Let The Good Times Roll
3. The Mavericks - Mono
4. Tough Age - I Get The Feeling Central
5. Frank Turner - Positive Songs For Negative People
6. Dogheart - What Burns The Best
7. Best Coast - California Nights
8. The Bottle Rockets - South Broadway Athletic Club
9. Wilco - Star Wars
10. Dune Rats - Dune Rats


Honourable mention

Twin River - Should The Lights Go Out
The Libertines - Anthems For Doomed Youth
The Strypes - Little Victories
Lindi Ortega - Faded Gloryville
Whitehorse - Leave No Bridge Unburned
Elvyn - Valley Of The Kilowatt Hour
Barrence Whitfield and The Savages - Under The Savage Sky
Blur - The Magic Whip
Kitty, Daisy and Lewis - Kitty, Daisy and Lewis The Third
Beans On Toast - The Grand Scheme Of Things
Corb Lund - Things That Can't Be Undone

EPs


The Struts - Have You Heard
Sam Roberts Band - Counting The Days EP
The Bends - Bikini Grandma
The Key Frames - Monophone Heart
Jennie Vee - Spying EP

 






Reissues, compilations and live albums
 

Stompin' Tom Connors - Collector's Series: Bud The Spud & Other Favourites
Bob Marley and The Wailers - Easy Skanking In Boston '78
Pete Townshend - Truancy: The Very Best Of ...
The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers: Deluxe Edition
Drive-By Truckers - It's Great To Be Alive!
Frank Turner - The Third Three Years
Simple Minds - Sparkle In The Rain (Reissue)



 

Concerts (chronological order)

Frank Turner at South by Southwest
Steve Mahabir - Feb. 6, Cameron House, Toronto
Dwayne Gretzky - Feb. 6, Horseshoe, Toronto
Hushdrops and The Dickens - Feb. 21, Cameron House, Toronto
J.D. McPherson - March 7, Lee's Palace, Toronto
Beans on Toast and Frank Turner - March 9, Horseshoe, Toronto
South by Southwest Music Festival - March 16-22, various venues, Austin
The Real McKenzies - March 26, Horseshoe, Toronto
Canadian Music Week Festival - May 6-9, various venues, Toronto
The Pixies - June 7, Horseshoe, Toronto
North by Northeast Music Festival - June 17-20, various venues, Toronto
The Black Lips - July 10, Horseshoe, Toronto
Teddy Fury's 60th birthday party with Beatles cover band and The Millwinders - Aug. 6, Horseshoe, Toronto
Catl and Barrence Whitfield and The Savages - Aug. 22, Horseshoe, Toronto
Robyn Hitchcock - Sept. 11, The Drake Underground, Toronto
Robyn Hitchcock with The Sadies - Sept. 13, The Drake Underground, Toronto

The Pixies at Toronto Urban Roots Fest

Toronto Urban Roots Fest - Sept. 18-20, Fort York, Toronto
Low Cut Connie - Nov. 7, The Drake Underground, Toronto
The Arc Sound - Nov. 29, Artful Dodger, Toronto
Communism and The Lowest of the Low - Dec. 4, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Skydiggers - Dec. 19, Horseshoe, Toronto
Joe Strummer tribute with The Kensington Hillbillys (The Crooked Beat) and others, Dec. 22, The Old Laurel, Toronto
The Sadies with Robyn Hitchcock - Dec. 31, Horseshoe, Toronto

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Booze variety sampling at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

Less than a decade ago, when I used to go to beer events or Ontario beer retail outlets, it was difficult to find a beer that I hadn't already tried. Now, with the explosion of small breweries everywhere, it's very difficult to keep up with all of the new brews that are becoming available.

So while there were several beers that I'd previously sampled available at the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo on Saturday evening, and 18 more I added to that list at the event on Thursday, I was still able to make some new discoveries during my second visit this year to Toronto's biggest annual food and drink event.

Saturday's drinking began with Beau's Patio Saison, a 5.9-per-cent, gold beer topped with a small white head. The Belgian-styled beer has a slightly spicy aroma, a mildly hopped and not too funky flavour, and a pleasant finish.

Beau's Sleepy Time is a very dark ruby-coloured Belgian-styled imperial stout that poured with a large tan head. The relatively high eight-per-cent alcohol content came through a bit in both the nose and taste. It lacked the rich body I was hoping for, which ultimately made it a little disappointing.

Whitewater Brewing Co. is located an hour west of Ottawa and is new to me, so I had to try the two beers it had on offer. Farmer's Daughter Blonde Ale is a five-per-cent beer that rates 22 on the international bittering unit (IBU) scale. It's unfiltered and unpasteurized, giving it a cloudy gold appearance. There's little aroma and nothing special about its taste.

Whitewater's Class V IPA was a step up. The 5.5-per-cent, 72 IBU, cloudy amber beer with a quickly dissipating white head has a floral and mildly fruity aroma. The hops didn't hit as hard as I was expecting, which makes this easy-finishing IPA appropriate for mid-level hop heads.

Cameron's
Into The Shade Saison is a gold, 5.2-per-cent beer with a mildly grassy aroma. I like a little more funk and spice in my saisons, but the stone fruit element in the flavour makes it quite approachable.
It's not often that you come across an easy-drinking Belgian-styled tripel, but Cameron's Dry-Hopped Tripel definitely qualifies and was probably my favourite beer of the night. It doesn't taste as potent as its 7.5 per cent alcohol content suggests, which means it could sneak up on you because you'll want to keep drinking this slightly cloudy gold beer. Its fruity aroma and flavour are quite enticing.

Nickel Brook Equilibrium Extra Special Bitter
is a dark orange/amber beer with 5.5 per cent alcohol content. It's very well-balanced and has a pleasant maltiness blended with a hop-forward profile. I don't drink many ESBs, but this is quite solid.

I'm not into sour beers either, so Nickel Brook Uber Raspberry Sour isn't something that I'll seek out again. But the 3.8-per-cent, dark pink/light red beer has an enjoyable raspberry bouquet and an appropriate level of raspberry tartness. This is one of the better sours I've had.

Lost Craft is a new Toronto brewery founded by Shehan De Silva, and its first beer is the 4.8-per-cent, all-natural, pale gold Revivale Premium Lagered Ale. As I told De Silva, I don't mind a Kolsch-style beer if I'm in Cologne, Germany, but it's not the first thing I reach for at home.

That was the last beer to cross off my list at the expo, so I decided to try a handful of new-to-me ciders and coolers next.

Bomb Premium Cider is from Hamilton and uses apples from Puddicombe Estate Farms. The light gold, 4.5-per-cent cider is a little too sweet for my taste and I don't think I could drink more than a couple of them by choice.

Mike's Hard Lemonade can be a refreshing way to quench your thirst on a hot summer day, and its new Mike's Extra Dry Hard Lemonade is a little less sweet and more dry than the original. At seven per cent, it also has a slightly higher alcohol content but remains easy to drink.

Mike's Hard Ice Tea and Lemonade tastes and smells a lot more like iced tea than lemonade. All of the ingredients in this amber-coloured cooler come from British Columbia. If you like iced tea and alcohol, this five-per-cent drink is for you.

The same can be said for American Vintage Hard Iced Tea, an American-made, cloudy orange-coloured refresher made with cane sugar. You can't taste the five-per-cent alcohol content at all.

Palm Bay Iced Tea blends mango and lemon. The mango is most prevalent in the bouquet and the iced tea comes through in the flavour of this easy-drinking, five-per-cent alcohol cooler.

Palm Bay Dragonfruit and Watermelon is peach-coloured and has a sweet watermelon aroma. It's five per cent, not too sweet and went down very easily.

With my beer snob credibility hanging by a thread after those coolers, I elected to spend the rest of my night trying new liquors.

I've had El Dorado 5-Year-Old Rum before, but there were three other variations available at the show. El Dorado 3-Year-Old Rum is a white rum that tastes like a darker rum with its vanilla and brown sugar notes. It's quite smooth and priced competitively with Bacardi white rum.

El Dorado 8-Year-Old Rum is an amber-coloured Demerera rum that's very tasty and pretty smooth. El Dorado 12-Year-Old Rum is another amber Guyanese Demerara with a nice, spicy aroma. While it's easy to sip, it also has a bite.

Collingwood Blended Canadian Whiskey, a relatively new Ontario product, is 40 per cent and nothing out of the ordinary.

As with El Dorado, I've had Nicaragua's Fleur De Cana rum before, but not the Fleur De Cana 12-Year-Old Rum I sampled on Saturday. It's definitely drinkable, but not great.

Chic Choc Spiced Rum incorporates spices from Quebec's Chic Choc Mountains, including peppery green alder, pine forest spikenard, whiterod berries, lovage root, sweet gale seeds and wild angelica. The 42.5-per-cent amber rum has a spicy bouquet and feels pleasant in your mouth.

Rum Chata is a blend of Caribbean rum, dairy cream, natural and artificial flavours. The American-made liqueur has an alcohol content of 13.75 per cent and has a pleasant aroma, but I prefer other cream-based liqueurs that aren't as sweet as this one.

I'm a fan of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire is a similar product attempting to capitalize on the former's explosive popularity. Its alcohol content is 35 per cent and a shot of it goes down well.

Last call arrived, and these last few shots helped make my cold and wet walk home a little bit warmer.

Eighteeen beers to open Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

It's called the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, but my time spent at Toronto's biggest food and drink event of the year last Thursday evening was spent sampling new beers.

Things began at the Strathroy Brewing Company booth. The brewery opened in June 2014 and I wasn't familiar with it, but president Alex Martin provided me with a good overview of the company and its bottle-conditioned beers.

I first sampled 1815 Lockstock Ale, a four-per-cent alcohol, non-gluten beer with a nice peach-citrus aroma, crisp fruit flavour and dry finish. It  looks a bit like champagne in the glass and, perhaps because it uses Australian hops, reminded me of the always enjoyable Cooper's Sparkling Ale.

Even better was 1812 Independence Pale Ale, a dark gold, 5.5-per-cent English pale ale with a Belgian twist that was the brewery's first beer. There were herbal lemon-lime hop notes and peach, banana and clove esters. The Belgian Trappist yeast it uses makes one think of a wheat beer.

The 1815 Smokin' Cannon Stout is a five-per-cent, dry oyster stout with a dark ruby colour and nice tan head. Elements of chocolate and pepper were present.

The final selection was the brewery's first batch of 1815 Freedom Framboise, a 5.5-per-cent, gluten-free fruit beer made with raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. It pours a rich dark red and presents a well-balanced, slightly tart flavour, a fruity bouquet and dry finish.

As an added bonus, Stephen Beaumont dropped by while I was at the Strathroy booth. He's one of the world's foremost beer writers and told me about the latest trips he's made around the world in pursuit of his passion and the 10th book that he's in the process of putting together.

Railway City Cranberry Festive Lager is released every December by the St. Thomas, Ont. brewery. It uses Bala, Ont. cranberries and the fruit is subtly evident to the nose and palate. The 5.5-per-cent beer isn't particularly fruity and I can't envision myself drinking many of them in one sitting.

Brew Ginger Ale comes from a Windsor, Ont. brew pub called Brew. This alcoholic ginger beer has a very strong gingerbread aroma and its biscuity maltiness makes it taste more like a gingerbread cookie than the sharper ginger beers I prefer -- most notably Royal Jamaican Ginger Beer.

Amsterdam Testify Brett Pale Ale is a 5.7-per-cent beer that's pale, cloudy gold with a rich, white head and a nice hoppy aroma with elements of citrus and pine. Its use of Brett yeast and Nelson, Sauvin and Mosaic hops makes it quite hop-forward and leads to a very nice finish.

Amsterdam Cruiser is a medium to dark gold, 4.9-per-cent pale ale with a pleasing hoppy aroma and flavour and a dry finish. It rates 40 on the international bittering unit (IBU) scale and is very good.

Mill Street Betelgeuse is an 8.5-per-cent Belgian-styled beer that pours dark gold underneath a small head. The Belgian malts dominate and the high alcohol content isn't immediately evident. I wouldn't drink more than one, but liked its pear and bubblegum finish.

Mill Street Scotch Ale is a dark ruby, almost brown, malt-forward beer that poured with a small head. I'm generally not a fan of Scotch ales, but I prefer this one to most I've had.

Hop City 8th Sin Lager Beer is a black lager that uses eight types of malt and has hints of espresso, cocoa, caramel, dried fruit and smoke. It has five-per-cent alcohol content and rates 25 on the IBU scale.

Hop City Big Mouth Pale Ale is about twice as bitter and uses Cascade hops from the United States and Kent Golding hops from the United Kingdom. It has a pleasing gold colour, a flowery, citrus aroma and a five-per-cent alcohol content.

Oast House Kentucky Hill Bourbon Sour is dark brown and pours with a nice tan head. This 5.4-per-cent beer is somewhat sour and a bit acidic. It's OK, and maybe even good, for the style. It's just not my thing.

Lake of Bays Wild North Midnight Bock Lager
is a very dark brown and quite malty 5.5-per cent beer that -- like almost everything I've had from this Ontario cottage country brewery -- is pretty unexceptional.


Beau's Fous Allies is based on the Belgian saison style and is infused with organic mango puree to give it a light orange colour and very pleasing fruit flavour profile. It's 6.1 per cent alcohol, which is a good number to enjoy a few -- but not too many -- of.

Beau's Screamin' Beaver is much more potent, checking in at 9.9 per cent, though it doesn't taste quite that strong. The oak-aged double IPA has a hoppy aroma and flavour and a dark amber colour.

Old Tomorrow Rye Raw is pretty good for a rye beer, another style I don't drink much of. It has a 5.5-per-cent alcohol content.

There's nothing wrong with Guinness Blonde American Lager. It's just another average-tasting, unexceptional beer. Stick to the brewery's world-famous stout. You'll be much happier.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

TURF's third year offered something for everyone

While I was able to attend all three days of the just-ended Toronto Urban Roots Fest (TURF) at Fort York, circumstances prevented me from getting there as early as I had during the two previous years and I didn't get to see and hear as much as I would have liked.

But I packed some fine music and plenty of socializing into the time I was there, and here are my personal highlights from the weekend:

The Avett Brothers
Any band that covers George Jones' "The Race Is On" is OK in my book. The fact that the group followed that up with my favourite of its original tunes, "Slight Figure of Speech," sealed the deal -- although I could have done without the drum solo and other wankery inserted into the middle of the song. Ending the set with the mid-tempo ballad "I and Love and You" left the large and fervently supportive audience happy.


UB40

UB40
I've been buying this Birmingham, England reggae band's records for more than 30 years, but this was my first time seeing it in person. It was worth the wait, even if personal differences have split the band in two and left various members launching lawsuits over who owns the rights to the name. This version featured original lead singer Ali Campbell, toaster Astro and keyboardist Mickey Virtue, and the other eight musicians on stage were totally tight in lying down reggae-pop grooves.

UB40's biggest successes were from its Labour of Love albums and interpretations of earlier hits, and that's what most of the fans wanted to hear. Things kicked off with Al Green's "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)" and some of the more popular covers that followed included Boy Friday's "Version Girl," Eric Donaldson's "Cherry Oh Baby," Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" and the Elvis Presley hit "(I Can't Help) Falling in Love with You."

A couple of early original favourites, "One in Ten," "Rat in the Kitchen" and "Food for Thought" were joined by the title track of the new Silhouette album and another of its songs, "Fijian Sunset." Neither sounded out of place.

The set wound down with a cover of Lord Creator's "Kingston Town" and, not surprisingly, the band's North American breakthrough hit, Neil Diamond's "Red, Red Wine."

Campbell may be looking a bit like William Shatner these days, but his clean vocal lines will never be confused with the Canadian actor who emoted his way through 1968's The Transformed Man.


Fishbone

Fishbone
It's been several years since I've seen Fishbone, but the passing decades don't seem to have slowed down frenetic frontman Angelo Moore and the two other original members who formed the group in Los Angeles in 1979. Bass, guitar, drums, keyboards, trombone, trumpet and saxophone delivered the funk-fuelled rock that has long been the band's trademark.

Although Fishbone has never made much of a mainstream impression, you should at least be familiar with "Everyday Sunshine," "Ma and Pa" and the group's covers of Sublime's "Date Rape" and Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead." All were played with aplomb, as was the crowd-pleasing set-closer "Party at Ground Zero."

I would have loved to have gone back to the beach with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon by skanking to "Jamaica "Ska," but there's not much else that was missing from this set.


Wilco

Wilco
The Chicago group surprised almost everyone when it dropped its Star Wars album out of the blue in July, and it was an especially pleasant surprise for me since I enjoyed it more than any record by the group since 2004's A Ghost Is Born. So while some of the folks in the audience may have been disappointed that Wilco played the album in its entirety to start its Saturday set, I was okay with it -- especially considering what followed.

There was a good cross-section of material from the band's catalogue, including "Handshake Drugs," "Art of Almost," "I'm Always in Love," "Box Full of Letters," "Heavy Metal Drummer," "I'm the Man Who Loves You," "Dawned on Me," "Impossible Germany," "The Late Greats," "Red-Eyed And Blue," "I Got You (At the End of the Century)" and "Outtasite (Outta Mind)." There were a couple of extended instrumental jams that I would have rather been replaced by a couple of more songs, but there was no denying that the band was firing on all cylinders.

Cake
Cake is another of those acts that has long entertained me with its music, but I've never seen perform. Singer John McCrea's wry lyrics and deadpan delivery, Vince DiFiore's trumpet embellishments and an overall penchant for incorporating varying styles of music have created a genre over the past 20-plus years that can almost be defined as "Cake."

Setting up shop under a large and shiny disco ball, the group pulled out favourites from a career that has earned its members gold- and platinum-certified albums. The humour was present, the musicianship was sharp and the hits flowed, including "Sheep Go To Heaven," "Mexico," "Sick of You," "Love You Madly," "Wheels," "Never There" and "The Distance."

St. Paul and The Broken Bones
This Birmingham, Ala. band formed three years ago and has created quite a buzz since then with its performances. That was certainly the case on Saturday, as the hill in front of the south stage was full of revellers enjoying the group's old school soul sounds performed with boundless energy. I wasn't able to see the full set, but what I witnessed was enough to convince me that there's substance beyond the hype.

Ron Hawkins (The Lowest of the Low)
TURF is somewhat unique in that, in addition to the three stages at Fort York, it also incorporates club shows at the Horseshoe Tavern and Lee's Palace after things wind down outside.

There was talk that Hawkins' scheduled performance at the Horseshoe on Saturday night would actually be a Lowest of the Low show. Since Shakespeare My Butt is my favourite Canadian album and I've probably seen the band dozens of times through its on and off existence and never tired of it, it was a no-brainer to find out for myself. While I refuse to call the group The Lowest of the Low without Steve Stanley in tow, other valued members were on hand and that was good enough for me.

I moved to the front of the stage and was singing and dancing along as I relived my twenties through such beloved songs as "4 O'Clock Stop," Kinda the Lonely One," "For the Hand of Magdalena," "Bleed a Little While Tonight," "Salesmen, Cheats and Liars" and "Eternal Fatalist."

Neko Case
I just can't get enough of this woman's voice. Although I was disappointed with 2013's The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You compared to Case's earlier records, I still enjoy seeing her and become enraptured with her singing. It's even better when she has Kelly Hogan providing harmonies and acting as the other half of a female comedy duo with Case, but she had other obligations and unfortunately didn't make this trip.

I arrived just in time to hear the Virginian end her Sunday evening set with "Maybe Sparrow" before she and her bandmates left the stage. A short encore included "Lady Pilot" and a cover of a song written by Canadian singer, songwriter, actress, director, radio and television host Sook-Yin Lee.


Pixies

Pixies
I was lucky enough to see the Pixies' last-minute show at the Horseshoe on June 7 when its scheduled performance opening for Robert Plant at the Molson Amphiteatre was cancelled due to the former Led Zeppelin singer being ill. Ironically, I was even closer to the stage for this performance, which closed TURF on a very high note.

Perhaps my favourite band of the late '80s and early '90s played a lot of the same songs from three months ago, but in a different order, so the set seemed fresh. I was surrounded by friends and TURF performer Steve Poltz at the base of the stage, and there were thousands of people behind us revelling in what frontman Frank Black (who I saw at the bar of The Drake Underground for two Robyn Hitchcock shows earlier this month), guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and bassist and newest addition Paz Lenchantin tossed our way.

"Cactus," "Magdalena," "River Euphrates," "Blue-Eyed Hexe," "Silver Snail," "Nimrod's Son," "Indie Cindy" and "The Holiday Song" set a more than respectable baseline. But things were taken to another level of intensity and audience fervour with "Crackity Jones," "Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Bone Machine," "Caribou," "Gouge Away," "Tame," "Mr. Grieves," 'Wave of Mutilation," "Broken Face," an amazing cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Head On" and "Planet of Sound."

There was a chorus of "ooh ooh ooh" echoing through Fort York for "Where Is My Mind?" and, although there was a vociferous demand for an encore, a City of Toronto-imposed 10 p.m. curfew ended the show at that point.


TURF hosts Donny Kutzbach, Jeff Cohen and Dave Hodge

Epilogue
TURF was conceived by and is run by good friends of mine, and many other associates worked serving drinks and food, hosting and making sure that everything ran smoothly. But even if these connections didn't exist, I'd still say that TURF has become the best music festival in Toronto over the past three years and is deserving of continued support and respect so that it can carry on this celebratory tradition for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Barrence Whitfield and The Savages deliver in studio and on stage


Barrence Whitfield made a great return to the music scene in 2013 with Dig Thy Savage Soul, his first album in two decades, which became my favourite album of the year.

The new Barrence Whitfield and the Savages album, Under The Savage Sky, was just released by Bloodshot Records. While it won't top my 2015 faves list, it will certainly be on it.

The 12-song album, featuring eight originals and four covers, is brimming with short, straight to the gut tunes that blend vintage '60s soul and garage rock and combine to form a damn near irresistible package.



The 60-year-old Whitfield is a bona fide belter, guitarist Peter Greenberg (The Lyres, DMZ) pulls off licks that stick with you, the rhythm section of drummer Andy Jody and bassist Phil Lenker (The Lyres) propel things at a spirited clip, and saxophonist Tom Quartulli plays a more noticeable role than on the last album.

"Bad News Perfume" stops just short of becoming unhinged while down and dirty ballad "Adjunct Street" provides a nice change of pace. Timmy Willis’ “I’m a Full Grown Man,” Kid Thomas’ “The Wolf Pack,” Eddie Snow’s “I’m a Good Man” and Mercy Baby’s “Rock and Roll Baby” blend seamlessly with Whitfield's own songs.

But as good as Whitfield and the Savages are on record, things kick into an even higher gear on stage. They played Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Friday night, which he said was his first appearance in the city since the Blue Jays won the World Series. Local baseball fans are hoping that lightning will strike again but, even if the Jays fall short, Friday's electrifying performance was of championship quality.



The 22-song set kicked off with "The Wolf Pack" and the vintage "Bip Bop Bip" and included lots of songs from the two most recent albums while also reaching back farther into the catalogue several times. While I definitely liked Under The Savage Sky, hearing several of its songs live added to my appreciation of it, and the soul element of Whitifield's music came across even stronger in person.

Whitfield threw air punches through much of "Willie Meehan," a song about a relatively unheralded boxer who knocked out the legendary Jack Dempsey twice in their five bouts in 1917 and 1918. And since I was standing in the front row for much of the show, I was hit a few times by the beads of sweat that flew off his face and prompted him to wring out his shirt towards the end of the gig.



Whitfield lied down on the stage with his head resting on the monitor at the conclusion of "Walkin' With Barrence" and stayed there until rising like a phoenix from the ashes to ask the crowd if it wanted to hear more music as the rest of the band members who had left the stage made their return.


Folks weren't disappointed as the encore kicked off with "Ramblin' Rose." It had less punch and more soul than the proto-punk MC5 version and while it may not have been played as fast, it remained a powerful force. The audience clapped along to "Georgia Slop," which was followed by "I'm A Good Man." The high-energy 80-minute performance came to a too-soon conclusion with oldie and goodie "Dig Yourself."

Whitfield promised that it won't be another 22 years before he returns to Toronto, which is great news for the people who were there to see him and all of those who weren't but should. I don't think it will have quite the same impact when the man is 82.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A taste of Irish at Toronto's Festival of Beer


When you think of Irish beers, Guinness is the first thing that comes to mind for most people -- and for good reason. It's a great stout that has stood the test of time.

Some stout drinkers may prefer Beamish or Murphy's, while ale drinkers typically go for Smithwick's or Kilkenny, and Harp is probably Ireland's best known lager. But there have been some newer breweries that have come on to the scene in recent years and, while their market share may pale in comparison to the aforementioned old standbys, some of them are making quality stuff.

The Irish Pavilion at Toronto's Festival of Beer was a great place to sample several of them, accompanied by some decent music and good conversations with brewers and servers.

The first beer I had, Trouble Brewing's Graffiti Pale Ale, may have remained my favourite through the seven hours spent at Exhibition Place on July 24. It's made with five grains and three hops, with the Citra standing out from the rest and giving the beer a surprisingly hoppy aroma and fruit aspect. It's fairly complex and packs much more flavour than expected into a brew with an alcohol content of just 3.6 per cent, making it a great session beer.

Unfortunately none of Trouble's beers are available in Canada at this point, but that still didn't stop me from exploring the three other beers it had on tap at the festival.

Equinox S.M.A.S.H. is made using just Maris Otter barley and Equinox hops, and this pale gold, 4.8-per-cent pale ale consequently isn't as complex as the Graffiti. It's slightly resinous and a bit toasty and grows on you a bit with a decent finish.

Vietnow IPA is a 5.5-per-cent, amber, unfiltered ale made with six hops and two grains, including the subtle use of crystal rye. It has a gently citrus aroma without a lot of hops and a relatively simple but noticeable malt profile. Bitterness is definitely evident in the finish.

The last Trouble Brewing product I had was its heavy-hitting Hop Priority Triple IPA. It uses pale ale malt, cane sugar and four hops to create a gold beer with a decent white head. It has an 11.1-percent alcohol content, and it's evident, which turned me off a bit -- especially on the rather bitter finish.

The Dingle Brewing Company's Crean's Irish Lager was rich gold and poured with little head. It uses fresh spring water from County Kerry and, while it's a rather clean and refreshing 4.2-per-cent alcohol summer beer with a noticeable biscuit element, there's nothing exceptional about it.

Finbarra Novohal Cidery's Stonewall Craft Cider from County Cork is a pale straw-coloured, medium dry cider made with a variety of apples. It has a lovely apple nose with a crisp and fruity taste that's not too sweet, and it closes with a pleasing aftertaste. I enjoyed this more than a few of the Canadian ciders I tried later in the evening, including some from Ironwood Hard Cider, Thornbury and Shiny.

The White Hag Black Boar Imperial Oatmeal Stout was my second high-octane beer at 10.2 per cent alcohol by volume and 60 on the IBU scale,  and I preferred it over the Hop Priority Triple IPA as the alcohol didn't overpower the rest of the flavour profile. It provides a good blend of malt and bitterness with tastes of dark chocolate and a hint of coffee. I could probably only drink one of these, but I'd enjoy it.

I've never been a big fan of rye beers, but I liked the two on offer from Donegal's Kinnegar Brewing.

Rustbucket Rye Ale had a rich head and a fruity aroma with a hint of spice accompanied by 5.1 per cent alcohol.

Another farmhouse ale from the brewery, Black Bucket Black Rye IPA, didn't have an overpowering rye flavour, which I appreciated. It pours a very dark brown with a small tan head. Roasted malt, a hint of fruit and biscuit, a pleasant hop aroma and 6.5 per cent alcohol made me enjoy this more than I expected.

Bru Rua Irish Red Ale is dark amber and poured with a small white head. I don't drink a lot of red ales these days, but the tangerine and citrus flavour it offered made it quite drinkable, if nothing special.

McGargles Cousin Rosie's Pale Ale uses mostly German malts and, while this 4.5-per-cent alcohol beer was easy drinking and had a clean finish, I would have liked more hops from the bouquet and flavour.

McGargles Granny Mary's Red Ale was dark red and very malt-driven with a pleasant finish and 4.4 per cent alcohol by volume.

McGargles Fancy Frank's Lager is a crisp, gold-coloured, 4.5-per-cent alcohol beer with a slight floral bouquet and a slightly bitter finish.

O'Hara's Stout is fairly robust and the roasted malts provide a dark coffee profile with a tinge of liquorice. It was pretty smooth, but I'll still take one of the traditional Irish stouts that I'm more familiar with over this one.

Eight Degrees Brewing's Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale poured a medium dark gold with a small white head. It's made with three hops, which gives it a decent hoppiness with a bit of a fruity citrus nose, but the malty sweetness also evident took it down a notch for me.

Dublin's Porterhouse Brewing Co.'s five-per-cent alcohol Hop Head IPA had a hoppy aroma with a hint of pine. Four malts and four hops, including Cascade and Centennial, give this five-per-cent beer some complexity.

Porterhouse's award-winning Plain Porter poured dark brown but didn't have as much body as I would  have liked. Its composition includes three malts, two barleys and three hops. This 4.2-per-cent beer has a nice coffee-influenced flavour that goes down well.

My final beer at the Irish Pavilion was Porterhouse's Oyster Stout, which uses the same ingredients as the Plain Porter minus Crystal malt and with the addition of fresh oysters in the conditioning tank. It's smooth, well-balanced and slightly sweet with an alcohol percentage of 4.6.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Nick Waterhouse rules Friday at NXNE

 
San Marina

My Friday's North by Northeast activities got off to a somewhat slow start at the Horseshoe Tavern at 8 p.m. with young quartet San Marina, which played with slow-fast and quiet-loud dynamics but wasn't a particularly dynamic act to watch.

Orange O'Clock
I got my first glimpse of temporary venue NXNE Hub next to see young Sherbrooke, Que. pop trio Orange O'Clock, which recently won out over a few thousand other acts to capture the CBC Searchlight talent contest title. The sound was a bit more slick than I would have liked, but this is a keyboard and guitar-driven group of talented musicians with a singer who has a voice a bit reminiscent of David Bowie that seems to have a good shot at achieving commercial success.

The Sour Notes
Austin, Texas quintet The Sour Notes were staying at my friend Michael's place during the fest and his recommendation led me to the Bovine Sex Club at 10 p.m. There was a heavy '60s psychedelic rock element going on and at times it was a bit spacey for me, but the shorter songs definitely hit the spot.

Shark Week
I stayed around for Washington, D.C. quartet Shark Week, whose drummer had a broken arm but kept the beat surprisingly well to drive the group's indie, garage, surf and psych material. I was optimistic going in, but my expectations were exceeded.

Nick Waterhouse
Nick Waterhouse provided my favourite set of NXNE at midnight at the Horseshoe, where I'd seen him with a larger band blow me away about 15 months earlier. This performance drew Toronto mayor John Tory, who watched from the club's office. Saxophone added a lot to the singer/guitarist's vintage rock and soul sounds. There was lots of energy, the sound was great and Waterhouse is an amiable frontman who has his niche nailed.

Tijuana Panthers
I'd seen Tijuana Panthers in Austin, Texas during the South by Southwest Music Festival a few years ago, but the band seemed more confident this time and delivered a much better show of stoner surf that had elements of retro indie rock, power pop and punk, and occasionally left me hearing elements of The Gun Club and Joy Division.

American Wrestlers
American Wrestlers closed things off at the Shoe at 2:15 a.m. and, while I ended up paying more attention to conversations with friends than what was happening on stage, I liked the melodic indie rock that I heard from the quartet.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Surprisingly good NXNE Thursday

I had schedule holes to fill and I wasn't sure about all of the bands on my North by Northeast Music Festival to-see list when Thursday started. But despite a couple of missteps, things turned out much better than I was expecting.

Heaters
I got an earlier start and arrived at The Garrison's front bar just in time to see Michigan trio Heaters take the stage at 4:20 p.m. There wasn't a lot to set it apart from other psych/drone bands, but I enjoyed its mix of instrumentals and vocal songs delivered with a '60s vibe.

EZTV
Free Panago pizza was offered after the set, and a couple of small slices hit the spot before EZTV came on. When I saw the drummer wearing a Dwight Twilley T-shirt, I was pretty sure I had made a good choice -- and I did, particularly since there were few alternatives at this hour. The New York City quartet was relatively EZ on the ears with its chiming guitar-driven power pop, but I started noticing the lack of big hooks as the set went on. The group was solid but not that exciting.

Mick Futures
Moss Lime was supposed to play next, but was a no-show, and I found out that Naomi Punk had been moved from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., so I figured my best option was to have another pint and wait for a 7 p.m. set by Mick Futures, which I hadn't planned on seeing. The quartet delivered short, snappy and energetic punk and post-punk songs with indecipherable lyrics. This proved to be the first of a few acts that I ended up catching on Thursday that weren't in my original plans.

The Garrison has the best selection of craft beers of any music venue in Toronto and, during my time there on Wednesday and Thursday, I tried five that were new to me. Here's how they rated:

Good: Great Lakes Brewery Thrust IPA, Duggan's Raspberry Hefe
OK: Cruiser Pale Ale, Spearhead Wheat
No thanks: Old Woody Alt

I had time to kill and a void to fill so I got a steak and cheese sandwich at Subway and a tall boy of Double Trouble Kickin' Ginger Red IPA at the LCBO and had them while watching softball in Trinity Bellwoods Park. The beer was disappointing.


Wave of Terror
My friend David told me that The Comfort Zone was a late venue addition to the NXNE schedule, and he recommended a few acts playing there that weren't on my radar. The first, at 9 p.m., was Wave of Terror. The trio was high on all surf, garage and indie rock quotients and, while its short songs were nothing that I hadn't heard before, I'm a fan of those genres and was satisfied.

Unlike The Garrsion, The Comfort Zone ranks down there with Virgin Mod Club and Revival for having the worst beer selection of any live music venue in Toronto, and tall cans of Pilsner were the best I could do.


The Muscadettes
Montreal's Muscadettes were on my agenda for Friday, but I took the opportunity to see the blonde twin-fronted group at The Comfort Zone. The sisterly connection was evident in their vocal interplay and their guitar and bass contributions were backed by members of one of my favourite Montreal bands, Les Breastfeeders, and a drummer who Grant Lawrence told me was from The Stills. The nine-song set of '60s garage-inspired indie rock was as inspired as that pedigree suggested it would be.

Needles//Pins
Like at 9 p.m., I had an empty time slot at 11 p.m., so I stuck around for Needles//Pins, a Vancouver trio that played short, melodic punk songs. They were pretty good, but far from great.

I had planned on seeing Gen Gorman at Coaltion at midnight, but was told by the NXNE volunteer working the Comfort Zone door that the club had reached its capacity of 25 for badge and wristband holders, even though there were only 50 people in the club, since people who left and came back were counted twice. If I left and come back like I had planned, I would have to pay to get back in despite my badge. I wasn't informed of this when I first entered the club, and the door person agreed with me that it was a stupid policy, but she had to follow the orders she was given.


Tranzmitors
I stayed, and it turned out to be a good decision after all. Vancouver's Tranzmitors came on stage wearing suits and played a very high tempo 11-song set. The group follows in the footsteps of Vancouver's Pointed Sticks,  but with more of an emphasis on punk than power pop. Things ended on a high with "Weekend."

Guantanamo Baywatch
The group that I most wanted to see was on last. I missed catching Guantanamo Baywatch in Austin, Texas during the South by Southwest Music Festival in March, but the band with the best name of NXNE also turned out to be one of the best bands with an explosively enjoyable mix of instrumental and vocal tunes. There was nothing but good times included in the group's first Canadian performance, which included a nod to our country via an amazing cover of Paul Anka's "Diana."

The music made me dance, or whatever it is I do when my feet and arms are moving, and moshing broke out during the encore that the appreciative audience demanded. There were minimal jiggling breasts and no torture, just a lot of fun courtesy of Guantanamo Baywatch. I purchased its new Darling … It's Too Late album as I left the club and then hit the pavement for the walk home.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

NXNE off to great start on Wednesday

The opening night of the North by Northeast Music Festival was so good that I'm afraid it will only go downhill from here.


Twist
My night began at The Garrison with Twist, a four-piece band fronted by BB Guns' singer/guitarist Laura Hermiston. Don't expect the more garage rock-oriented material of her other band, but a larger and more expansive rock sound with atmospheric moments and occasional tinges of psychedelia. Effects are used and things get loud. While I wish Hermiston had a stronger voice, the blend of different elements was quite effective and left me impressed. 

Wreckless Eric
The night's guest of honour was no doubt Wreckless Eric, a 61-year-old, self-described "bubblegum with dementia" artist from England who apparently hadn't played Toronto since 1979. I was lucky to see him in Austin several years ago, but for most of the people I knew in the too-small crowd, this solo performance was their first time.

I consider Amy Rigby's husband's early albums for Stiff Records near classics and was hoping to hear lots of songs from them, but the man born Eric Goulden focused on more recent and unfamiliar-to-me repertoire. The lyrics and between-song banter were very reminiscent of Robyn Hitchcock, which can never be a negative in my book. The underrated wordsmith ended the set with his signature song, the much-covered "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World," which had the whole wide crowd singing along. 


Blaire Alise & The Bombshells
I left with a big smile on my face and that didn't leave when I arrived at the Bovine Sex Club to see Blaire Alise & The Bombshells. The trio's combination of '50s pop and garage rock, presented with an old school girl group feel and a modern edge, hit the spot perfectly. It makes sense that the band is from Detroit, a city close enough that welcomed return visits should be in order.

Les Chausettes
I really wanted to stay for the entire set, but another similar group was playing its only set of the festival down the street in The Cameron House's back room and I wanted to see a bit of it as well. Les Chausettes also combine elements of '60s surf and garage rock with girl group pop, but include male/female lead vocals and harmonies. The band wasn't as polished or proficient as Blaire Alise & The Bombshells and I didn't like it as much, but it was still enjoyable and I'd like to see more than the 20 minutes I caught.

Johnson Crook, a roots rock band not affiliated with NXNE, was in the front bar and provided a great intermission soundtrack during the changeover in the back.


LuxDeluxe
Young Massachusetts quintet LuxDeluxe ended my night and was the most eclectic band of it. One song was indie rock with a vague Guess Who influence, some incorporated reggae, ska and wore rhythmic elements, while others were more straight-up rockers. But all of them were good, except perhaps one in which three keyboards were used. This was another act that deserved a bigger crowd than the 25 folks it had at the beginning, and which dwindled as things went on.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

CMW Saturday starts with seafood and ends with old punks

The Music Nova Scotia Tiki party hosted by Mike Campbell is a Canadian Music Week tradition for me and, right on schedule, Cam Carpenter gave me a couple of drink tickets as soon as I walked in the back room of the Rivoli at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. The always delicious seafood chowder was gone by the time I arrived, but I was still able to avail myself of several tasty scallops, three oysters and some cucumbers, onions and dill pickles.

In addition to the food and drinks, and talking to people I sometimes just see once a year, I also caught three- or four-song sets by Alana Yorke, Don Brownrigg and Gianna Lauren. I preferred the two women, but none of them will have me rushing to hear more of their music.


The Bends
I moved on to The Hideout to see The Bends, a St. Catharines, Ont. quintet that was supported by several parents in the small audience that was on hand to hear its melodic indie pop. "Bikini Atoll" is an ear worm and is on the four-song CD I was given, and a faithful version of The Smiths' "This Charming Man" was appreciated. The rest of the songs were nice, though nothing exceptional, but at least The Bends wasn't a Radiohead cover band.

The Pinholes
I left midway through The Bends' set to catch the end of The Pinholes, who I thoroughly enjoyed the night before at The Paddock. Three young women who were dancing up a storm in front of the stage on Friday were back on Saturday at Cherry Cola's Rock 'N Rolla Cabaret for what was apparently purple and black-striped trouser night for the band. The group's vintage rock-and-roll was just as much fun this time and the lead singer/guitarist unfurled the Singapore flag at the conclusion of the set. A band member gave me a download card and a Pinholes bottle opener at the end of the set, which was a nice touch.

Steve Lane and The Autocrats
Australia's Steve Lane and The Autocrats were up next. The band has been around for several years and while its last four songs were the best of the night, most of their mid-tempo rock songs just seemed to blend into one another and didn't jump out at me.

Red Mass
I strolled up Bathurst Street to Sneaky Dee's to see Montreal quintet Red Mass. Lead guitarist and group founder Roy Vucino and a female keyboardist shared lead vocals in a set of pretty aggressive indie rock and proto-punk songs. It was OK, but I was hoping for more in some way that I'm not exactly sure of.

James O-L and The Villains
I dropped down to Dundas Street to the inexplicably named Magpie Taproom, which has no beers on tap. But luckily it had tall cans of delectable Nickel Brook Headstock IPA. Windsor, Ont. roots rock quintet James O-L and The Villains played in front of the fifth straight small audience I was part of. The performance was a bit unassuming and could have used more of the edge delivered in the band's lone instrumental track. The music was solid, but there was nothing particularly noteworthy about it.

Dead Ships
I returned to Cherry Cola's to see Dead Ships, where Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn and Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning were also on hand. Canning produced the Los Angeles group's new EP, and the up-tempo indie rockers from it were played fervently. I wasn't blown away as I'd hoped to be, but I liked it. Bonus points are assigned for the belly dancer in the window ledge, although there were other women in the club that I would have rather seen shaking it up.

The Meatmen
My night of music ended at Hard Luck Bar with 36-year-old Detroit punk band The Meatmen. "We're the Meatmen … and You Suck!" is the rallying cry of the Tesco Vee-fronted group, and that aggressive attitude was on display throughout the set, which spawned lots of moshing at the foot of the stage and some jerk dumping a beer on me. It was straight-ahead punk rock, augmented with a cover of Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," and was pretty much what I expected it would be after seeing the group for the first time.