cross-posted at NXEW.ca

It's hard to say what role Hot Hot Heat play in the Canadian music scene. The Victoria quartet (who have gone through a few original members over the years) have been around since '99, though you could argue that their modern incarnation didn't start until 2002 with the release of their debut full-length Make Up the Breakdown. Even so, that puts them smack dab in the middle of the garage rock revival of the early 00s, following the 2001 releases of the Strokes' Is This It and White Blood Cells from the White Stripes but preceding (and anticipating) the dancier new-wave sound that would be cemented by Franz Ferdinand. At the same time, they were one of the first independent Canadian rock groups to start making waves around the world and usher in the modern golden era of CanCon, pioneering the movement alongside the New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene, generating northern buzz a full three years before Arcade Fire blew everything out of the water with Funeral.

"Bandages" from Make Up the Breakdown"

And yet, despite the critical and popular success that Breakdown achieved, Hot Hot Heat never quite reached the status of musical geniuses given to any of those groups, even though Make Up the Breakdown is one of those rare beasts where every song could be a hit single, and the follow-up Elevator saw them successfully transition from a singles band to an album band that still managed to put out great singles (in the form of "You Owe Me an I.O.U." and "Middle of Nowhere"). And since they failed to secure genius status, that meant by the time 2007's Happiness Ltd. came out the musical elite were prepared to write them off as has-beens who were just riding the scene created by other, more talented groups, even though Hot Hot Heat were there from the start and have released more stuff worth listening to than the Strokes. Regardless of how middle-of-the-road you take Happiness to be, it's certainly no less listenable than any of the last three Jack White projects. All things being equal, it's Bloc Party who should be opening for H.H.H. on their Canadian tour, and not the other way around.

"Middle of Nowhere" from Elevator

Revisionist history being what it is, however, Hot Hot Heat now find themselves in the unfavourable position of being one-hit wonder bargain-bin fodder unless they can mount what will have to be, regardless of how inaccurate the term is, a genuine comeback. And last night at Nanaimo's the Queens Pub, they gave a preview of what that might sound like. Having had to drive in from Victoria just to check them out (what's with snubbing your hometown, Hot Hot Heat?) I unfortunately missed the first ten minutes of the set, so can't comment on that. But walking in, if it weren't for the familiar voice of Steve Bays moving over top of things, I could have sworn I walked in on some sort of punk-metal fusion band. This was to be expected, perhaps, with the addition of bassist Parker Bossley of the spastic Fake Shark, Real Zombie and Bays warning Spinner magazine that the new album actually started as a side-project with the goal of making "a crazy album that sounded like it was from the future and it wasn't anything that we had done before."

While it's hard to judge live performances of what are essentially works in progres, I think it's fair to say this new sound draws on groups like At the Drive-In and even Rage Against the Machine for inspiration, because while HHH aren't going as far down the heavy-fusion road as either of these groups, they're definitely headed in that direction. It actually makes sense when you consider how rhythm heavy the group has always been and the fact that lyrically Bays has always had more in common with the verbosity of rap and speed metal than he has with most minimalist rock bands. What will be key for making this sound like a natural evolution on record will be how high up in the mix Bays vocals are and how much of his hook-writing skills he retains. Unfortunately, that is not something I could judge last night thanks to a rather muddy sound in the high-end.

All that being said, though, if you are a Hot Hot Heat fan of old, do not be discouraged from checking them out when they come to your hometown-- and if you never have, definitely go. They retain the energy that gave them a reputation for being a worthwhile live show, and managed to get the audience packed on the dancefloor even when they were playing multiple previously unheard songs in a row. And they are not stingy on songs from either Breakdown or Elevator, playing all the singles from the latter and at least "Bandages" and "Talk to Me, Dance With Me" from the former to close out the night (I would guess they opened with something from Breakdown, too, but cannot guarantee this). However, if you want to hear Bays ask the crowd "Are you ready to be burned by Hot Hot Heat?" as he did last night, you're probably out of luck. As he said, "That's the first and last time you'll hear me make a band-name related pun."

Hot Hot Heat on tour:

23 Apr 2009 20:00
Avalanche Courtenay, British Columbia
26 Apr 2009 20:00
Commodore Ballroom (Sold Out)* Vancouver, British Columbia
27 Apr 2009 19:00
Commodore Ballroom (Sold Out)* Vancouver, British Columbia
29 Apr 2009 20:00
Shaw Conference Centre* Edmonton, Alberta
30 Apr 2009 19:00
Big Four Building* Calgary, Alberta
1 May 2009 20:00
The Distrikt Regina, Saskatchewan
2 May 2009 19:00
The Odeon Events Centre (Sold Out)* Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
3 May 2009 19:30
Burton Cummings Theatre (Sold Out)* Winnipeg, Manitoba
*opening for Bloc Party

Talk to Me, Dance With Me on Letterman

Cross-posted at nxew.ca.

While physically I am here in the city of perpetual flowers (Victoria), spiritually, I am in Prince George, and it's on days like today I miss my northern home. Because, as you should know, tomorrow is Record Store Day, and where better to celebrate than in Canada's Number One Independent Record Store?

So, if you happen to be in downtown PG this week, head over to Meow Records and check out some of the performances taking place. It gets a little loud in the morning, before calming down a bit, then loud, then soft, soft, loud, soft. Or something like that. As I write this, the performers are:

10:30: Vexen
11:20: The Loudest Thoughts
11:50: Illicit Dissent
12:45: Colin Pearson
Corbin Spensley (of Tiny Little Boom and Big Old Eyes)
2:35: Maple You Know
3:20: The Concerns of Royalty
4:15: Gyibaaw
5:00: The Arbitrarys

I haven't seen all of them, but I can vouch for the Arbitrarys and the Concerns of Royalty for putting on very good live shows.

Cross-posted on nxew.ca

You may remember the Raccoons as a classic Canadian cartoon portraying the adventures of Bert Raccoon and his friends in Evergreen Forest. However, I predict that within a few months, the top Google result for "The Raccoons music" will be not "The UnOfficial Raccoons Homepage" (as good as this page is), but instead the website of Victorian up-and-comers the Raccoons.
The first I heard of these guys was when they opened for Mother, Mother, I quickly grabbed a copy of their EP and set about praising them (show review here, EP review here). It seems I was only slightly ahead of the curve, as they have now won the Monday Magazine award for "Most Promising Band" and been touted by none other than Grant Lawrence of CBC Radio 3 as the heirs-apparent to Hot Hot Heat, Wolf Parade, and Black Mountain.

Well, as it much as it pleases me to be able to say "I saw them when," I am a little disappointed I won't have the chance to check them out live again until  June, when they return to British Columbia for the release of their first full-length album. The reason for this long absence is what seems to be a North American tour, starting in Hollywood, California on April 20, and then winding its way all across this great country of ours. If they're coming to your neighbourhood, I strongly, strongly recommend you check them out (tunes below the tour dates).

Tour Dates
20 Apr 2009        20:00  The Knitting Factory     Hollywood, California
27 May 2009       20:00  TBA                               Montreal, Quebec
28 May 2009       20:00  The Casbah                    Hamilton, Ontario
29 May 2009       20:00  Lee’s Palace                   Toronto, Ontario
30 May 2009       20:00  Zaphods                         Ottawa, Ontario
2 Jun 2009          20:00  Royal Albert Arms         Winnipeg, Manitoba
3 Jun 2009          20:00  Amigos                           Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
4 Jun 2009          20:00  Liberty Lounge               Calgary, Alberta
5 Jun 2009          20:00  Pawn Shop                      Edmonton, Alberta
8 Jun 2009          20:00  TBA                                Vancouver, British Columbia
9 Jun 2009     20:00 Official CD Release - TBA  Victoria, British Columbia

If you've never been to the Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria, British Columbia, then consider yourself among those who have not experienced one of the better concert venues around. And if you've never seen Jill Barber in concert, then consider yourself among those who have not experienced one of Canada's better live performances. And so, if you were among those who saw Ms. Barber at the Alix Goolden last night, you may consider yourself lucky.

The show was opened by a game David Myles, who entertained the crowd with the story behind the song he wrote to convince his wife to marry him ("I wrote it five years ago, and we got married last fall, so it didn't work as well as I wanted it, too") and how despite being an East Coaster, failed to visit Cape Breton for years because he had it so built up in his mind. An old friend of Barber's, he was a good fit for the opening act.

Barber, for her part, took to the stage with a four piece band that included a stand-up bass and multi-instrumentalist (violin, clarinet, saxophone) and a glittery backdrop that was, apparently, the first thing she ever bought online. I was curious as to how she was going to mix the fifties soul sound of her most recent disc, "Chances" with the singer-songwriter-country-folk fare of her earlier releases, but she pulled it off ably. She started with a couple of "Chances" songs, before donning a guitar and delving into her back catalogue. She switched back and forth throughout, sometimes losing band members for the more intimate numbers. What gave it all continuity was her gift for putting fresh legs on old themes (love found, love lost, love never had), and her formidable pipes. Powerful but never overdone, she can lay claim to being a female chanteuse in the tradition of Patsy Cline.

The highlight of the night came with the last song before the inevitable encore, this is when she pulled out "Chances" first single, the propulsive, call-and-response blues of "Oh My My." With the audience joining in, the band going all out, and the church setting, you could easily picture a similar sound coming out of a southern gospel church circa 1923. Alas, that's the only song she has in that style, I'm sure if she wrote a few more, there would have been dancing in the aisles. As it was, there was simply a rush to the merchandise table. Definitely a show to check out.

Jill Barber plays Vancouver tonight at The Rio Theatre and in Penticton, BC, on April 5 at the Dream Cafe.

Hark, A Vagrant

It's been a good, long while since I posted here, and yet I'm still getting something like twenty visitors a day, so I should probably start up again. Before we get to today's post, let me just point you in the direction of a new, pan-Canadian music blog I've been writing for, called North by East West, and which seems to be taking off very nicely.

So, what I want to direct your attention to is the online comic Hark, A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. Basically, Ms. Beaton riffs on history, mostly Canadian but a fair amount of British and American, as well, in simple-yet-detailed line drawings. The more familiarity you have with the people and events being depicted the better, but many of them are accelssible to anyone who ever saw those Heritage Minute bits during their Saturday morning cartoons, one of my favourite Beaton pieces is a direct take-off on the Heritage Minute depiction of the invention of basketball.

According to the Maclean's profile on her she has no interest in writing a book, but according to her homepage caption a while ago she's actively working on one. In the meantime, it looks like she's published in the National Post fairly regularly, and, of course, she's online. If you like skewed humour and have seen any episode of Canada: A People's History, definitely check it out.

I talked about how great Nathan Fielder was on This Hour Has 22 Minutes before on this blog, but have been somewhat less impressed with his output this season. I haven't caught the last few episodes, but I just found this one from two weeks ago. It works if you're into this sort of humour.

Save CBC Radio 3

If you read this site, you're probably a fan of Canadian music. And if you're a fan of Canadian music, then I almost guarantee that you listen to CBC Radio 3 (if you don't, you should). Well, it seems that due to the financial situation taking on the world, Radio 3 might be on the chopping block. This is a problem. To my mind, CBC Radio 3 is one of the most important components of the Canadian music scene, providing a national forum for independent bands to be heard. It is 100% Canadian, and is better than any other music station I have ever heard, and losing it would be monumentally bad for this country. If you feel the same way, I would strongly urge you join the Facebook group, sign the petition, and get involved.



Facebook Group

Contact CBC

I'm a bit behind on my live reviews, so I'm condensing them into one post here.

First, the Tranzmitors at Lucky Bar last Friday. I was relieved to see that Lucky, which I'm going to be seeing more than a few more shows at, is a good and honest rock bar, well set up for drinking, dancing, or just watching. The Tranzmitors make the kind of music for doing the first two, and the audience obliged. They clearly learned from the past, taking to the stage with skinny suits and vintage gear, including an Ace Tone keyboard, which is probably the only kind of keyboard that should be allowed in bands like that from now on.

Between the jagged guitar, vocal harmonies, and ska-influenced keyboard, I couldn't help but feel like  I was seeing the logical next step in a lineup that starts with Buddy Holly, moves over to the Beatles pre-Please, Please Me, and was picked up by the Clash of 1977, the Specials, and Elvis Costello. If you ever wished you could have been packed into the sweaty early shows of those groups, the Tranzmitors are a must-see.


On to Hawksely Workman, who also draws on rock history, only a lot more of it comes from the 80's and the alt-rock movement. Opening act Geoff Berner was... interesting... as a one-man accordion band who writes songs about World War II and government programs that are cut while the Olympics continue to get funding. There were laughs, yes, but awkward, awkward laughs, too.

As for Workman-- well, he can sing and he can play the guitar, no question, but it would be nice if he spent a little more time doing it and less time telling long, rambling stories that go nowhere, are unrelated to the song, and are full of pauses as he tries to think of words that I don't think once came to him. Banter is one thing, but this was more listening to a less humorous Grandpa Simpson.

As much as I might be rattling old-school Workman fans here (if there are any), this is an act who could benefit a lot more from focusing on his newest albums and ditching his back catalogue save for a few songs. Between the Beautifuls is easily his strongest album and he only deemed to play one song from it, "The City is A Drag," completely foregoing "Piano Blink," one of the single best songs of the last three years, and one that he actually has placed on CD THREE times over the last year. Why would you not play it?

Instead, he chose to focus on his Eurocentric dance-rock stuff, resulting in extended jam-ups that were only interesting half the time. Basically it was song (3 minutes) jam (4 minutes) awkward talk (3 minutes), which drains a lot of the momentum. The only place it really picked up was when "I'm Jealous of Your Cigarette" went into a medley of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," and then, INSTEAD OF AWKWARD BANTER, they went right into "Striptease." He also spent some time with ballads, such as the opening song "Almost a Full Moon," which musically has the gravitas of U2, but whose feeling is undermined by shopping list lyrics ("Pumpkin and parsnip, carrots and turkey bones/Bay leaf and pepper, potato and garlic cloves," ending with multiple repeats of "Let's make some soup"). Again, given the strength of the lyrics on his later work, it just seemed odd he would spend time with this.

In the interest of full-disclosure, he did get a standing ovation and an encore, but in my opininon people are WAY too generous with both of those things these days, and the encore was just an attempt to get him to play the songs that people came to hear (he did do "Smoke Baby," but, as I said, no "Piano Blink"), and if it weren't for the fact that we were blocked in, we probably would have taken the opportunity to leave early. If you're an old-school fan, yeah, you'll like the show, but otherwise I wouldn't go over a $20 ticket price.


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