Category: Music

Choir Performances

In case you did not know, I am in a choir, The Choir, actually, and we have much fun practicing and performing. We’re doing three shows and an open rehearsal next week, so please come and sing along (or watch and wave).

The Choir Open Rehearsal at GVPL Downtown – Wednesday Sep 16 – 730
We’re hosting our (first ever) open rehearsal at the Greater Victoria Public Library Atrium, always an interesting space for music. Join us as we rehearse for Rifflandia. This is a free preview, a rehearsal, so not quite the finished product. But we’ll have as much fun.

Rifflandia Performances Friday Sep 18 – Sunday Sep 20

If you’re coming to Rifflandia (and you should if you can spare the money, lots of great acts including A Tribe Called Red, Modest Mouse, Mother Mother, Joey Bada$$ and so much more, and The Choir!) We open the Royal Athletic Park on all days, so come early to the gates, which open half an hour before show time! It can take 10-15 minutes for you to queue up and get in, so come on in and stay. You’ll need a park pass at least.

Friday – September 18 – Main Stage Royal Park 3 PM.

Saturday – September 19 – Rifftop tent – Royal Park 12:30 PM

Sunday – September 20 – Rifftop tent – Royal Park 12:30 PM

What the choir is about …

See you next week!

Float On

 

All refrains "float on", except the 9th one, which is "even if things end up"

All refrains “float on”, except the 9th one, which is “even if things end up”

Sometimes, learning lyrics is hard, and making a table out of it seems to help (disclaimer: I do not use pie charts for anything serious)

Call Direction Response
We’ll all float on Up All right, already
We’ll all float on Up Now don’t you worry
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up All right, don’t worry
We’ll all float on Up, hold All right, already
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Down All right, don’t worry
Even if things end up up A bit too heavy
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up All right, already
We’ll all float on Down Okay, don’t worry
We’ll all float on Up even if things get heavy
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up don’t you worry

(Direction refers to whether float is higher in pitch than all, or lower)

Old-School Music Snobbery

(Warning, fact-free reminiscences, no policy, science or anything resembling analysis, possibly of interest only to my indulgent friends)

Obscure knowledge was once a kind of currency. To get it, you had to be in the loop. You had to know the right people to learn about the right bands. You had to know the right record stores to hear those bands.

via Why the Old-School Music Snob Is the Least Cool Kid on Twitter – NYTimes.com.

This article took me back to my 15 year old self. I grew up in pre-cable, pre-“liberalized” India where access to “Western” popular music was very limited, and class and income segregated. The top 40 stuff of the time was available as cassette tapes. Finding albums was almost impossible, most of the time, you got “Now this is what I call music” type compilations. The music popular and available as LPs was a mix of big names like The Beatles, ABBA,  and an eclectic mix of  Boney M, Osibisa, The Ventures, Uriah Heep? (don’t even ask). The popularity of these more off-the-wall choices was probably linked to their willingness to tour India and bring their records.

My mom was a huge Beatles and Cliff Richard fan growing up, catching it on Indian and Sri Lankan radio in the early to mid 1960s. As I cast my mind back to my parents’ collection, I see a bunch of Beatles LPs (The Red, Blue and Rock’n’Roll Double LP compilations), some ABBA, Boney M, Uriah Heep, The Ventures 🙂 I didn’t have money to buy my own, and we didn’t really have too much money to spend on records anyway.

Which brings me to 15, my music tastes have stagnated, I’m occasionally listening to random mixes of music, done with ABBA, still liking the Beatles (I still like the Beatles!), but need more. Where can I find music that will move me? Well, there’s no internet, and no radio/TV playing anything other than Top 40 stuff (very rarely) or the Beatles. I don’t have rich relatives in the US to send me music either. In hindsight, I guess I could have tried short wave radio (which we definitely used a lot for sports), but how do you know what’s cool?

I was “rescued” by a friend, with whom I listened to a very scratchy recording one day. This friend was lucky enough to have an older brother who had access to music. The first minute of Black Dog changed my life! I “discovered” Led Zeppelin in 1988(9), and all the usual suspects soon after. I can’t even begin to express how I felt the first time I heard Bohemian Rhapsody. I know, right, what a lot of my friends from when I was older and living in the US and Canada  think of as the most clichéd over-exposed, un-cool songs set the cool kids of Madras apart from the rest.

Finding full albums of music of decent audio quality was another matter. We soon heard through word of mouth (probably the brother) of this magical small store in Anna Nagar, on the other side of the city. So, we took the bus out one day. Anna Nagar was a gridded sub-division, which for some reason confused people like me who lived in older parts of the city. We had an address, which led us to a house on a mundanely residential street, with a small sign board for the “shop”, only open evenings. We walk in, and, magic, it was many rows of LPs stacked and arranged alphabetically by band. You told the guy at the store what albums you wanted, gave him blank cassettes and money, and a week later (a long week later), you went back and picked up your magical tape. A 90 minute cassette could fit two albums, of course, so I always associate Led Zeppelin II with The Best of Cream (back to back).

Wow, clear LP transfers of music, I still remember all those little discoveries like the bass pedal response of Mitch Mitchell to Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze riff, and scratching “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky” on every desk I sat in for a couple of years.

I was also part of a crack school quiz team at a time when these quizzes were basically wank fests for people like us. We got quiz “masters” asking us obscure music trivia and playing songs from the 60s and 70s for us to identify and win the quiz shows. Looking back, our smug superiority was probably unwarranted 🙂 This period was the peak of musical snobbery, limited access meet obscure knowledge! I hoarded, I judged, I laughed at people who listened to the wrong music, not a very nice 19 year old at all. We had no internet, but I had “discovered” that libraries were a great source of music books and my obscure minutiae quotient was off the charts. That strange intersection of my “discovery” of music and its scarcity was a magical and intense place.

Things changed. MTV hit India in 1993, and grunge showed up in Madras at about the same time it took  over the US. I could also hit up my US based sister for music, band shirts, merch. Stores started bringing tapes in (and CDs, though those were some shiny unaffordable jewels). But there was still that class-based division, and access was limited, though every year made the music more accessible.

Moving to North Carolina hipster heaven brought the rather unwelcome news that classic rock (oh, so my music has a genre?) was associated with middle aged white folk, and as uncool as it got. Oh well, it didn’t stop me from listening, but parties became a bit less fun. My music tastes expanded into the roots of all that rock, into blues, jazz, and funk.

As I understood the politics of appropriation and where all that music really came from, my attitudes changed, and I listen less. But those riffs still have a direct connection to a very emotional part of my brain. I will always be that uncool kid who knows every Jimmy Page solo in my head even as I cringe at the misogyny and racism of the lyrics and laugh at the bombast and obvious masculine posturing.

I am very glad that the internet has mostly erased the boundaries. The ability to listen to a song just by searching for it is life-changing. Yes, people will still judge, but it is harder and harder to hoard, and use scarcity as a filter. I love it. My relationship with the music has not changed. When I hear something I like, it is still such an intense emotional experience, especially when it links back to memories, the people I first heard it with, the things I did when the music was playing in the background, it’s lovely.

To end, another quote from the article…

Populism is the new model of cool; elitists, rather than teeny-boppers or bandwagon-jumpers, are the new squares. There are now artists who sell out concerts while rarely getting played on commercial radio

 

Suzanne Vega

I was lucky enough to win two fantastic tickets to a show by Suzanne Vega at the McPherson Playhouse on Sunday, the 30th of January. Thanks CFUV for holding the draw and picking my number 🙂 It was not a show I would have gone to otherwise Also on the billet were finalists from the Victoria Idol competition (music as a competitive sport, my favourite kind) and Jon Baglo.

The Entree

I have not listened to much of Suzanne Vega’s music before, except of course, Luka and Tom’s Diner, which I guess everyone has heard (yes, she did play those songs, thanks for asking). I also have 99.9F somewhere in my digital music collection, it’s good! Her current incarnation as an artist involves her recording and touring behind stripped down and reinvented versions of her back catalogue. Why?

“I don’t own those other recordings,” she told the (Wall Street) Journal. “I don’t own the masters. Those are owned by A&M Records and Blue Note, and I’m not with them anymore. I wanted to own a physical copy of my own back catalogue. In this economy, it’s important to own what you make. If I tour for the next 20 years, I have recordings I can sell at concerts and people can buy them directly.

http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment/Suzanne+Vega+back+control/4175741/story.html#ixzz1Cf0k5w3v

She has released Parts 1 and 2 of Close-Up, a four part set of recordings. Victoria was her only gig in Canada, and am I glad I was there, twitterific enough to enter CFUV’s draw for free tickets, and lucky enough to actually win, thanks @CFUV! Vega has a down to earth style of singing that brings out the essential emotions of whatever she is singing about. Her lyrics are smart, witty, self referential and always engaging. Her voice sounded natural, her singing seemingly effortless, yet soulful, funny when she needed to be, sad when she needed to be, it was a very good performance. I have not listened to her music much, so I don’t know how different these productions are from the way she’s done them in the past. It worked very well in a live setting and now, I would love to listen to the new studio versions! As an assured performer, her storytelling between songs was quite funny, she rambled for quite a bit about a song she wrote when she was 16 about a brief fling at summer camp, a story that involved the secret society of Leonard Cohen listeners, the differences between Canadians, Americans and Brits, and lots of other asides! She poked a bit of fun at herself for only writing sad songs about depressing places (Liverpool, Newark, NJ) and not about beautiful places like Victoria, she very easily laughed off a glitch on her second song.

Vega was on stage with an acoustic guitar, and Gerry Leonard (aka Spookyghost) on electric guitar. Though to just call it electric guitar is a bit limiting. He had a whole set of floor pedals, and a stack of rack mounted effects to his right as well. He was playing a beautiful pearly white double cutaway semi-hollowbody with stereo output (Paul Reed Smith?). The production was sophisticated, restrained, thoughtful, and really fleshed out Suzanne Vega’s voice and skilled finger pick acoustic style guitar. It was great accompaniment, always complementary, never overwhelming, but capable of quickly breaking out of the restraint for an excellent solo or three. He was able to produce a wall of sound at times with the effective use of looping and tonal layering. He’s also geeky enough to detail his gear setup, check it out! Anyway, a lot of music was produced by two people and you did not miss the lack of percussion one bit

She came back for an encore and did a very funny song about writers from her upcoming off-Broadway musical Carson McKellars sings about love, makes me want to see it.

If she is ever in your neighbourhood, do go and catch her show, you’ll definitely enjoy it a lot. I was not a big fan before the show, I will listen to more of her music for sure after the show, which I guess is the best compliment for a live performance!

The Side

Jon Baglo rounded out the opening set with a virtuoso guitar performance. He, held me (and I suspect the rest of the audience) with an indescribable technique, a mixture of percussion and touch play/tapping on acoustic guitar. The right hand keeps moving, sometimes playing a beat, sometimes strumming very close to the left hand, sometimes just tapping the strings, it was quite a show, a pity he only played one song. He’s a skilled musician.

The appetizer

It takes a combination of courage, skill, presence and experience to open successfully for a famous performer at the McPherson Playhouse with just an acoustic guitar in your hand, let alone a capella. The Victoria Idol performers all showed courage in spades, vocal skills, some presence, and some even hinted at emerging individuality in instrument playing. They also mostly featured original compositions. But, they are currently not capable of holding an audience with such a minimalist production. This is not an open mic, or an  intimate coffee shop, it’s a big hall that needs to be filled. In fact, some of the better performances featured more accompaniment, like an upright bass and violin, and some very nicely done harmonies on backing vocals. Overall, the production was too stripped down and they could not quite pull it off.

What I would have done is brought together a few experienced musicians to back them and bulk their sound up, so their yet growing skills on instruments and vocals could melt into the music and enable us to pay more attention to the songs they had written. It would also have given them some experience with building songs, production, etc. Their performances lacked punch (hard to sound punchy without percussion!), and their singing sounded a bit strained and derivative, their natural singing voices did not come through. I don’t fault them, it’s the enormity of the task they were faced with, having to open for Suzanne Vega with just a guitar in your hand. One performer actually sang a song a capella, which I found a bit ambitious. Yes, you have a decent singing voice, but no, it is not yet good enough to carry a room bigger than a coffee shop, sorry! There’s no reason it needs to be, music is about collaboration, music is about making the whole more than the sum of the parts.

Image of Suzanne Vega from her website.