Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Sound, The Speed, The Light

Well, it's almost over, both the year and decade. For the past three months, I've been using the podcast to recap the hell out of the Aughts. In case you missed it, check out the following episodes:

I think they came out pretty nicely, if I do say so myself. As for 2009, I wanted to do my annual list of my favorite music, so here goes:

1. Them Crooked Vultures--self-titled: A lot of so-called supergroups promise much but rarely deliver the goods. These guys--Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Freakin' Jones--brought their A game. A pummelling, intense collection that essentially combined Queens of the Stone Age with Led Zep's rhythm section, this album is a blast. And seeing the band play in a club was my favorite live rock experience of the year. I've read that they may already be laying down tracks for a second album, which is good news indeed for rock fans.

2. Jarvis Cocker--Further Complications: From his days with the great band Pulp to his first solo album a few years back, Cocker cultivated a reputation as a clever, very British wordsmith. This album teams him up with indie rock "recorder" extraordinaire Steve Albini. The results contain plenty of the classic Jarvis combined with heavy rock.

3. Art Brut--Art Brut vs. Satan: This band is essentially the British equivalent of The Hold Steady. Charismatic, verbose frontman who shouts more than sings backed by a terrific bar band. "Alcoholics Unanimous" may be my favorite song of the year.

4. Patterson Hood--Murdering Oscar (and other love songs): The Drive-By Truckers frontman releases a solo album that was recorded over the last several years. The album is packed with powerful, slow-burn rockers. Highlights include the title track, "Heavy and Hanging" and "Walking Around Sense," which features a long solo break that reminds me of Built to Spill's live take on "Cortez the Killer."

5. Mission of Burma--The Sound, The Speed, The Light: These geezers don't know when to stop. And thank goodness for that, because their third post-reunion album is another winner. There are moments that recall the early '80s Burma sound and then others that go way beyond it.

6. Mastodon--Crack the Skye: A trippy, undeniably heavy, just plain fun album for any metal fan. Where the band's previous albums were big on the sturm und drang, this one stretches way out into prog-rock land but never forgets the band's roots. The nearly 11-minute epic "The Czar" is positively mind-blowing.

7. The Dead Weather--Horehound: Jack White's back with yet another band, and yet another great record. Allison Mosshart of The Kills is the frontwoman here, but White's fingerprints are all over this album. He plays drums, contributes lead vocals and crafts some kick-ass garage-psych rock songs. Highlights include "I Cut Like a Buffalo," "Treat Me Like Your Mother" and a demented cover of Dylan's "New Pony."

8. Japandroids--Post-Nothing: Two dudes from Vancouver unleashed this killer combo of guitar-drum noise. Great album to run with.

9. Sonic Youth--The Eternal: This band's been around forever, but they're still making great music. Back on an indie label (Matador) after nearly two decades on a major, Thurston, Kim, Lee and Steve (with Pavement's Mark Ibold along for the ride on bass) are playing pretty much the whole album in concert and every song holds up with their classic material.

10. Dinosaur Jr.--Farm: J, Lou and Murph are back with their second studio album after reuniting and although it's not as strong as 2007's Beyond, Farm is a quality record. It's chock full of feedback-drenched rockers, Mascis soloing all over the place while Barlow roars on bass and Murph pounds away. What more could you want?

Honorable mentions (some included here because I didn't have enough time to listen to them): Brendan Benson--My Old, Familiar Friend; The Tragically Hip--We Are the Same; Sloan--Hit and Run EP; Alice in Chains--Black Gives Way to Blue; Yo La Tengo--Popular Songs; Dananananaykroyd--Hey Everyone; Johnny Foreigner--Grace and the Bigger Picture; Arctic Monkeys--Humbug; Eels--Hombre Loco; Gaslight Anthem--The '59 Sound; Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; Obits--I Blame You; Living Colour--The Chair in the Doorway; Wilco--Wilco (The Album); Pearl Jam--Backspacer.

All in all, a great year and strong decade for rock. I'm looking forward to the next 10 years. No, really.



Saturday, December 26, 2009

Completely Conspicuous 107: That's a Wrap

The podcast's back for the last show of the year, and the decade, with special guest Matt Phillion. We conclude our look at our favorite movies of the decade. Click here to listen to the show in streaming audio or download it directly here (right click and "save as").

The show notes...

Topics:

- We both loved Iron Man

- Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark

- Geeking out on comics

- Shaun of the Dead elevated zombie movie genre

- Appreciating Danny Boyle

- LOTR trilogy: Making the "unmakeable" movies

- Matt praises the Pirates of the Caribbean movies

- Hey Hollywood, leave Matt's childhood alone

- Critically acclaimed movie Matt hated: The Royal Tenenbaums

- Critically acclaimed movie Jay hated: Crash

- Matt's pick for best movie nobody saw: Brotherhood of the Wolf

- Jay's pick for best movie nobody saw: In Bruges

- Joseph Gordon Levitt has done good work in recent years

- Jay's actor of the decade: Clooney

- Matt's actor of the decade: Downey, Jr.

- Actress of the decade: Blanchett or Winslet?

- Director of decade: Coen Bros.

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

- The Sons of Hercules - Numb

- White Rabbits - Percussion Gun

- Neutral Milk Hotel - Holland, 1945

- Dinosaur Jr. - Forget the Swan

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The White Rabbits song is on the album It's Frightening on TBD Records. Download the song for free at Insound.

The Neutral Milk Hotel song is on the album In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea on Merge Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Dinosaur Jr. song is on the album Dinosaur on Merge Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Sons of Hercules song is on the album A Different Kind of Ugly on Saustex Media. The song is courtesy of IODA Promonet:

A Different Kind of UglyThe Sons Of Hercules
"Numb" (mp3)
from "A Different Kind of Ugly"
(Saustex Media)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at Rhapsody
Buy at Napster
Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Amazon MP3
More On This Album



The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service. Use my special code at Budget.com and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography here.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects

Another Christmas has come and gone with Santa delivering the goods. The girls got a Nintendo Wii and tons of other toys, so they were thrilled. Deb and I already had the new laptop, but I got the DVD of Inglorious Basterds (which I still haven't seen, so I'm psyched), the Obits CD, a TomTom GPS system and some other cool stuff.

Hannah mentioned in passing a week or so ago that someone at school had told her that Santa wasn't real. Hannah's 7 and her faith in Santa is intact, but eventually she's going to put it together. Actually, Lily almost busted us this year; on Christmas Eve, the girls had been in bed for a few hours before we put the gifts out and filled the stockings. I was watching TV around 11 p.m. when Lily came downstairs. Fortunately I jumped up and took her back upstairs before she was able to see anything incriminating.

I was Hannah's age when I figured it out. I'm pretty sure I had already heard plenty of anti-Santa propoganda at school; hell, I had already heard some of the basic swear words. It's funny, because I feel like I was so much more worldly at 7 than Hannah is; I'm not complaining, but I love that she's so innocent and wide-eyed about things. I think it's because I spent a lot more time on my own or with friends than she does. I was a latchkey kid at that point. I walked the 1.5 miles from home to school and back with my buddies and let myself in. You can't do that anymore.

Hannah, as with most kids her age, is never out of the sight of an authority figure, whether she's on the bus or at school or her after-school program. The fear of a kid being hurt or abducted or whatever just wasn't as prevalent in the mid-1970s. It was just a different world back then.

So in addition to hearing that stuff about there being no Santa, I also stumbled onto the secret stash of presents one year. The big mistake my parents made was putting them in the closet of the downstairs room that I often played in. I don't remember everything that was in the big trash bag, but I do remember there was a tabletop rod hockey game that my brother and I eventually used all the time. I never told my brother, who was almost five years younger than me. I didn't want to ruin it for him.

Hannah and Lily will figure it out one of these years. But I'm in no hurry for that to happen. The world's a scary place and kids seem to grow up too fast as it is. Why not let them enjoy their childhoods for a little while longer?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Christmas While I'm Talking

This month has seriously flown by. I can't believe tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Fortunately, Deb's on the ball and already has everything wrapped and ready. We made it easy on ourselves by buying a laptop as our gift to each other, so all I had to do is get stocking stuffers and a few small gifts. We're staying local tomorrow night and Friday morning, but heading up to my mom's Friday afternoon. On Sunday, Matt, Trish and the boys arrive for a few days, so that should be fun. Although I have a lot of work on my plate, so I might have to go in to the office for at least part of the day Monday and Tuesday.

Hannah and Lily are positively giddy with excitement about the prospects of Christmas morning. They're done with school for about 10 days, which only adds to the anticipation.

Last night, I got together with my regular e-mailing buddies collectively known as The Daily Grind. We met up at The Cellar in Cambridge for some beverages and holiday camaraderie. Bobby D. brought his camera and documented the proceedings with several hundred photos.

And now, here's a modern day Christmas classic with Julian Casablancas of the Strokes, Jimmy Fallon, a skinny Horatio Sanz and the Roots:


Monday, December 21, 2009

Completely Conspicuous 106: Blowed Up Real Good

The podcast returns with part 3 of my conversation with special guest Matt Phillion as we continue our recap of the decade in movies. This time around, we discuss our favorite action movies. Listen to the show in streaming audio or download it directly here (right click and "save as").

The show notes...


Topics:

- Comic book movies were good this decade

- Dark Knight was a great film, period

- Ledger put his stamp on the Joker

- Kill Bill saga: A fun combo of Uma, martial arts and violence

- The Departed: Perfect crime film?

- Alec Baldwin, an acting force

- Hey Hollywood, don't even attempt the Boston accent

- Bourne trilogy: Better than Bond movies

- In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's Bond is true to Fleming's vision

- Children of Men is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece

- The Descent: Best of "hot chicks in danger" movies

- The decade of survival horror

- Saw movies started good, got progressively worse

- Grindhouse: A ton of fun

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

- Dios - Stare at the Wheel

- Elliott Smith - Cecilia/Amanda

- Titus Andronicus - Four Score and Seven

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Dios song is on the band's album We Are Dios on Buddyhead Records, where you can download the track for free.

The Elliott Smith song is a previously unreleased track available from Kill Rock Stars, where you can download the song for free.

The Titus Andronicus song is on the album The Monitor on XL Recordings. Download the song for free at Beggars Group USA.

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com, a leading supplier of athletic footwear, apparel and sports equipment. You can find gear from top brands such as Nike, Adidas, Asics, Reebok and more. Use the promo code AFCOMP15 to get 15% off any order at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 to get 20% off any order of $75 or more at Eastbay.com, and AFCOMPFL to get 15% off any order at Footlocker.com.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography here.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Stiff Upper Lip

Nicknames are a funny thing. They can have a big impact on your life, but they can just as easily be forgotten relics of your past. Many people define themselves by their nicknames, many would like to pretend their nicknames don't exist.

In my freshman year at UNH, my roommate was an unfortunate fellow named Brian who fit most stereotypical definitions of the word "nerd": Huge glasses, painful-looking acne scarring, and a general social awkwardness that was hard to miss. Not that I was the Fonz or anything, but that kid was in tough from the start. But I was an open-minded guy and I was going to have to live with him for the rest of the year, so I was friendly and tried to make it work.

We were living in Alexander Hall, an all-male dorm. The first night of the school year, we decided to take a walk around campus just to check things out. It was dark out by this point and we were walking towards Williamson, one of the bigger dorms across campus, when we saw a couple sitting on a bench with their backs to us. They both had long hair. So Brian says, "Hello, ladies" in his most suave loverman voice. They turn around and it's a guy and his girlfriend. I almost fell down, I was laughing so hard. For poor Brian, it was a sign of things to come.

Faced with the fact that my roomie was an unmitigated dork, I came to the mature decision that I should mock him. The next day, I christened Brian with the nickname "Lip," which was a name that my high school buddy Tim used to call people. It basically was synonymous with "loser" or "nerd," but beyond Tim and our little high school circle of friends, it had no meaning. But man, did it stick with Brian. After a few days on our floor of freshmen, nobody called him by his given name anymore. He WAS Lip. And it just seemed to fit him perfectly.

I'm not looking back on this with pride, because I do feel bad that I picked on the kid, but he was dealt a tough hand to begin with. He was a computer science major, but unfortunately for him, he wasn't any good at it. And his parents had never let him stay up past 11 before, so to be suddenly set loose on a college campus with no rules was tough for him to deal with. It was tough for me, too, in that I liked staying up late and soon found that I couldn't stay awake in my 8 a.m. calculus classes (but that's a story for another day).

I don't think Lip had much, if any, prior experience with alcohol (again, neither had I). We had quickly begun hanging with different crowds. I made fast friends with the football players who lived right next door and the guys across the hall, so we were going to parties and generally whooping it up. Lip went to Nashua High, which had something like 100 kids at UNH as freshmen that year, so I guess he met up with someone he knew from those days and went to a party on the other side of campus on a Friday night early in the school year. I didn't know where he went and frankly, didn't care. But I did find it odd that he didn't come back to the room that night. Or the next day. It wasn't until Sunday that he returned and I learned that the Lipster had consumed a few mixed drinks and was found puking up blood in the dorm bathroom by an RA. He ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

I'm guessing his parents were notified because after that incident, Lip started going home every weekend. The jig was up. I didn't mind because we were able to use my room as a good venue for playing quarters or just drinking whatever crappy beer we could get our hands on. I had a dartboard on the inside of the door and we would mess with Lip by poking holes in a paper target and sticking it to the brand new lacquered loft his dad had made him. I still saw him during the week, but we didn't hang out much. After freshman year, I think he commuted from home because I never saw him again. And I heard that he dropped out after sophomore year.

Hopefully for Lip, he found something he was good at and forged himself a decent career and life. But unfortunately for him, he'll always be known as Lip to a group of about 20 guys who went to college at UNH in 1985-86.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cold as Ice

Fenway Park was a busy place to be today. While the Red Sox announced their big free agent signings, John Lackey and Mike Cameron, work crews from the NHL worked feverishly on the field to build the rink for the Winter Classic game on New Year's Day.

For you non-hockey folks, the Winter Classic is the outdoor game the NHL has staged the last few years in Buffalo, Chicago and now in Boston. The first two games were terrific, bringing the desired "backyard hockey" feel to a massive media event. Right now, the hope around here is that the weather will stay cold enough for good ice on January 1, and it looks like the next several days will be downright chilly.

I decided not to try and get a ticket to the January 1 game between the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers because the prices were so high, but I have procured one for the Boston College-Boston University game at Fenway a week later. I'm looking forward to that game, which is usually a good battle no matter where those teams play.

I just like the whole concept of playing hockey outdoors. Pond hockey is a total blast. I try to get out and skate on ponds whenever I can, but the warmer winters in recent years have made those occasions few and far between. Even when we get cold weather, we've gotten a lot of snow, which of course makes for tough skating. I did some pond skating in Canada when I lived there, but I really got into when we moved to Kingston, NH. Our house had a huge pond behind it and it was frozen all winter long back in the early to mid-80s. My brother and I would get out there and skate for hours. Unfortunately, I didn't know anybody else who might want to play hockey, so it was just the two of us. Still fun, though.

At UNH, I played a lot of street hockey the first few years, but when I moved off campus, I started skating at an outdoor rink with some buddies. We knew the rink operator and he'd let us skate at midnight. It was awesome. When I moved to Beverly, I tried to get out and skate whenever I saw people out on Kelleher Pond, a man-made pond that freezes quickly. Sometimes I also go to Redd's Pond in Marblehead, where I work. Most of those skates are by myself, but it's still fun.

Still, I wish I'd taken advantage of my youth (and free time) more and did more pond skating back in the day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Completely Conspicuous 105: Laugh It Up, Fuzzball

Back with the podcast as special guest Matt Phillion and I continue our look at the best movies of the decade. This week, we focus on comedies. Click here to listen to the show in streaming audio or download it directly here (right click and "save as").

The show notes...


Topics:

- Matt implores you to see In the Loop

- Another Coen Brothers shout out

- John Goodman's ideal job

- Love for Pixar

- Apatow made a huge impact

- Ben Stiller nails it with Tropic Thunder

- Best in Show continues Christopher Guest's brilliant streak

- Matt reluctantly saw Amelie and dug it

- Superbad rang true for high school dorks everywhere

- A non-comedy pick: Once

- High Fidelity simultaneously salutes music nerds and reveals how guys think about girls

- Anchorman was the best of the Will Ferrell movies

- Paul Giamatti steps up with Sideways

- About Schmidt was comedy, but also horror because of Kathy Bates nudity

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

- Liars - Scissor

- Flight of the Conchords - Sugalumps

- Jason Collett - Love is a Dirty Word

- Jawbox - Savory

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Liars song is on the band's album Sisterworld on Mute Records. Find out more and download the track for free at TheSisterworld.

The Flight of the Conchords song is on the album I Told You I Was Freaky on Sub Pop Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Jason Collett song is on the album Rat a Tat Tat on Arts and Crafts Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Jawbox song is on the reissue of the album For Your Own Special Sweetheart on Desoto Records. The song is courtesy of IODA Promonet:

For Your Own Special SweetheartJawbox
"Savory" (mp3)
from "For Your Own Special Sweetheart"
(DeSoto Records)

Buy at iTunes Music Store
Buy at Napster
More On This Album



The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com, a leading supplier of athletic footwear, apparel and sports equipment. You can find gear from top brands such as Nike, Adidas, Asics, Reebok and more. Use the promo code AFCOMP15 to get 15% off any order at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 to get 20% off any order of $75 or more at Eastbay.com, and AFCOMPFL to get 15% off any order at Footlocker.com.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell; find out more at . Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography here.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Fang

Hey, there. Just blogmafying away in my living room...on our new laptop. We used part of the proceeds of the Maxima sale to purchase an HP last night. Nothing too fancy, just something that we can use whilst in other areas of the house than our so-called "computer room." So far, so good. It was relatively easy to hook it up to our wireless network, unlike the laptop we got for Deb's mom last Christmas; it took me literally hours to set up the router and network and then more hours several months later when I had to do it again (lots of time spent on the phone with a customer service rep at Linksys). Luckily, it worked like a charm this time. We also got a wireless printer, but I haven't set that up yet, so maybe I should just shut the hell up.

Deb and I took a lot of the headaches out of this holiday season by opting to have the laptop serve as our Christmas gift to each other. Shopping for the girls is already done, so we won't be schlepping around the malls over the next two weeks.

We picked up our tree last weekend at a tree farm in Georgetown and decorated it with the girls this week. The Christmas season is in full swing around here. It's fun to see the wonder in their eyes. The only thing that will make them happier is if we get some snow before Christmas. In the meantime, let's enjoy a fine holiday classic:


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Completely Conspicuous 104: Celluloid Heroes

The podcast's back with special guest Matt Phillion as we look at the decade in movies, starting with our picks for best dramas. Click here to listen to the show in streaming audio or download it directly here (right click and "save as").

The show notes...

Topics:
- Matt's picks are in "gutpunch order"
- The decade of the Coen brothers
- Christopher Nolan did good work
- Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen teamed up for two great films
- There Will Be Blood: Epic or too over the top?
- Woody Allen's European tour was rewarding
- Mickey Rourke's return from oblivion
- Pan's Labyrinth was a freaky take on fairy tales
- Almost Famous: Cameron Crowe's last good movie
- Soderberg did a lot of good work
- Matt doesn't dig Charlie Kaufman or Wes Anderson movies
- Coming to the realization that Leo DiCaprio is a good actor
- Jim Carrey's Oscar hunt
- Away We Go made an impact on Matt
- Pixar has made excellent string of films this decade
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
- Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Even Heroes Have to Die
- Shout Out Louds - Walls
- Shearwater - Castaways
- Sweet Apple - Do You Remember

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Ted Leo and the Pharmacists song is on the band's forthcoming album The Brutalist Bricks on Matador Records, where you can download the track for free.

The Shout Out Louds song is on the forthcoming album Walls on Merge Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Shearwater song is on the forthcoming album The Golden Archipelago on Matador Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Sweet Apple song is on the forthcoming album Love and Desperation on Tee Pee Records. Download the song for free here.

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental. Help out the show by patronizing my sponsors and rent like a genius with Budget.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography here.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Behind the Wall of Sleep

For a guy who loves to sleep, I really don't get much these days. Through nobody's fault but my own, of course. During the week, I get an average of six to seven hours of sleep a night, usually closer to six. I tend to stay up late doing stuff like this on the computer or watching TV, and then I have to get up at 6 a.m. to roust the girls and get them ready for school before I head off to work. But occasionally, I will have a stretch of days in which I push the limits.

Last Wednesday night, I played hockey for the first time in five weeks and now we're starting at 10:30 p.m., so when all was said and done, I wasn't in bed until 1 a.m. Thursday. That night, I went to the Sloan show at TT's, which didn't end until 1:15 a.m. and my head didn't hit the pillow until 2:20 or so. Had to get up again to get the girls up, but fortunately I had taken the day off from work, so I was able to go back to bed for a few hours. Friday was actually a busy day because of an eye doctor appointment, visits to our insurance company and the registry because we sold the Maxima and had to switch the plates and insurance, and other errands. I didn't go to bed until 12:30, but I was able to sleep until 8 a.m. Saturday.

Saturday night, I went into Cambridge again to catch the Ted Leo and the Pharmacists show at the Middle East. It was snowing like crazy on the way in, so I had to be careful. I stopped by the Breitlings' hizzy before the show and hung out with Jay, Amy and baby Chloe for a few hours, which was most enjoyable. When I got to the club, it was about 60 degrees warmer than outside because the show was sold out. I caught most of Titus Andronicus' raucous opening set; they play a very entertaining brand of the punk rock.

Ted Leo is a terrific performer. Jay, Amy and I actually caught him at the old Avalon venue on his last tour. This time around, he's only playing a few dates in the Northeast before heading off to Europe. His forthcoming album, The Brutalist Bricks, isn't coming out on his new label Matador until March. So it was great to see him in a small club like the Middle East downstairs, even if I did sweat my nads off. Ran into Mike and Cathy P., who also were at the Sloan show a few days earlier. Leo came out with a newly shorn fauxhawk-looking 'do, which made him resemble the great Ed Grimley:




Okay, maybe Leo's pants weren't hiked that high up. But he and the Pharmacists proceeded to bang out a 100-minute set, sprinkling some new material (which sounded excellent on first listen; "Even Heroes Have to Die" is available from Matador as a free download) among some of his better known stuff from his string of excellent albums over the last decade. He had guitar problems throughout the show and had to borrow one from one of the other acts at one point, but it didn't detract from the gig. Highlights included "Timorous Me" from The Tyranny of Distance, which was my first introduction to his music, and fan favorites like "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?," "Bridges, Squares," "Walking to Do" and "Me and Mia." It was a great time and I was glad I went, but by the same token I was also dreading the next 12 hours.

Because at 1:15 a.m., I had to drive home in some slippery, snowy conditions, past a few spinouts and wary of the left lane because it was extra slick. I got to bed around 2 a.m. and had to get up at 5:15 so I could catch a ride up to Nashua for the Mill Cities Relay. Yep, three hours of sleep. But I woke up, got changed, drove across town to the house of a fellow member of the North Shore Striders, and rode with him and another runner up to frigid Nashua. I had the first leg, a 5.6-miler, which I was glad for because I could get it over with. As I did on Thanksgiving, I was exhausted but managed to run a really strong race for me, finishing in 42 minutes. There were four more legs for my teammates to run before the relay ended in Lawrence. It was only on the ride back to Beverly that the lack of sleep really hit me; I caught myself nodding off a few times. But at least I was in the backseat and not at the wheel.

We got back to Beverly around 1:30 and I drove home, where I watched the Patriots play an ultimately disappointing game against Miami. I probably should have just taken a nap, but what are you gonna do? We went out and bought new running shoes for Deb and me, and then ended up taking the girls out to dinner at the restaurant next door. After we got home and put the kids to bed, I lay down on the couch to watch TV and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. I got seven more much-needed hours last night, which was important because I had an important editing project to deal with today at work.

And as I type this, the clock's approaching midnight again and I'm starting to feel really tired. This fellow Ozzy doing his best ELO impression will explain:

Friday, December 04, 2009

Keep on Thinkin'

If you know me at all, you know that whenever Sloan plays Boston, I'm there. And last night, the Toronto-by-way-of-Halifax rock machine rolled into TT the Bear's in Cambridge for some late night power pop excellence. Already tired from playing hockey Wednesday night and getting five hours of sleep afterward, I got to the tiny club a little after 9:30 to see Scarce on the recommendation of Mike Piantigini of ClickyClicky (check out his photos from the show). Scarce was a band I was unfamiliar with but which has an interesting history as an indie It-band out of Providence in the '90s that signed to a major but fizzled out after lead singer Chick Graning had a brain hemhorrage. They were pretty kick-ass, rocking a heavier Pixies sound. I definitely want to check out their old stuff.


Doobs and Karen showed up toward the end of Scarce's set and I hung out with them in the back of the club for Magneta Lane's set; they're an all-female trio out of Toronto who played competent rock, but they didn't really grab me. The three of us headed up closer to the stage to see Sloan. It was Karen's first time seeing the band in 10 years, when we saw them next door at the Middle East. She amazed me at the time by actually falling asleep on her feet, which before then I hadn't realized was possible. But she stayed awake last night.


Sloan's not touring behind a new album, but they do have a five-song digital EP, Hit and Run, that they're selling through their Internet home page. The title refers to bassist and singer Chris Murphy's recent mishap in which a car hit him while he was riding his bike; he broke his collarbone and was out of action for a few months. But he was in fine form last night, playing to the crowd, mugging for photos and rocking the bass and drums.

During the 85-minute set, the band played everything from the EP, which by the way is top notch and well worth the $4 cost. But they also dug into some songs I hadn't heard in years: "The N.S.," "Don't You Believe a Word" and "Friendship" from 1999's underrated Between the Bridges, "Keep on Thinkin'" from 1998's Navy Blues and "Autobiography" from 1997's One Chord to Another. Other standouts included Murphy's Beatlesque tour de force "Fading Into Obscurity" and Patrick Pentland's roaring guitar work all night long. Drummer Andrew Scott came up front to perform several of his compositions, including the rocking "Where Are You Now?" from the new EP and "The Great Wall," a gem from 2001's generally denigrated Pretty Together (which in retrospect is pretty good). Jay Ferguson sang a bunch of his 1970s-influenced tunes, including the classic "The Lines You Amend" and the killer new one "Midnight Mass."

Although it is truly a shame that this band isn't all over FM radio, it's great to see them still in top form coming through town. This was as good a performance as I've seen by the band, and I've probably seen them 15 times over the years. This band should be huge, but in a lot of ways I'm glad they're not.

Here's another classic tune they played last night:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

For Those About to Rock

Although much happens during the course of a year, in hindsight we tend to look at years as a whole: Either it was a good year, just okay, or it sucked out loud. For me, 1981 kicked total ass.

I don't usually sit around dwelling on that particular year, because it was 28 freakin' years ago, but a particularly entertaining post on the fine blog Popdose had me reminiscing. The post focused on a mix of AOR (that's album-oriented rock radio to the unitiated) staples from '81 and most were from bands I was listening to a lot that year: Rush, April Wine, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Foreigner, Journey and Pat Benatar. I was blissfully unaware of punk back then, although I did like some new wavey artists like XTC, Joe Jackson and the Police. But it was primarily hard rock that interested me. I still have some mix tapes that I made off the radio in '81 with songs by Triumph, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Billy Squier, Ozzy...you get the picture.

I had started getting into comedy, watching shows like SCTV and listening to National Lampoon on the radio (one of the rock stations dedicated Sunday nights to comedy programming) and going to see Mel Brooks movies in the theater: "History of the World, Part 1" had come out that year, and "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein" had both been re-released in the theaters so I caught them, too. It didn't get much better for a 13-year-old wiseass.

The year was a pivotal one for me because when it began, I was in eighth grade. I went to Bayview Heights Public School in Pickering, Ontario, Canada, which was a k-8 school. Being an eighth grader meant you were at the top of the heap. We moved to that town in the suburbs of Toronto when I was a wee second grader, so six years later, it was good to be the king. In a lot of ways, it was the last hurrah for we denizens of Grade 8; by the fall, we'd be off to high school, where we'd be transformed into dorky freshmen to be either picked on or ignored by the upperclassmen. And there were two large high schools in Pickering, which was growing rapidly as more people moved out of the city and into the suburbs. Where we knew everyone at Bayview, we'd soon be scattered among a school full of strangers.

I had a pretty tight-knit group of friends that I hung with: Darwin, Charlie, Vincent and Wayne. We all went to Bayview and had been close for several years, playing endless street hockey games and just goofing off in general. But Charlie's family moved to Calgary the year before, and Darwin stayed back a grade, and Wayne had already graduated, so the group was pretty much splintered by '81. I started hanging out with more of a "burnout" crowd, kids who liked the same music and movies I did. Not that I ever drank or smoked back then; I was still a good Christian boy, at least for the sake of not disappointing my parents. I was a good student, but I had started to value a good wisecrack almost as much as a good grade. In one of my report cards, I think from sixth grade, my teacher Mr. Grummett wrote, "Jay needs to learn to keep his sharp remarks to himself." I never did learn that lesson.

It was that winter, early in 1981, that my dad started looking in earnest for a new job. He felt he had been bypassed for promotions too many times at Ontario Hydro, where he worked as a draftsman. By the spring, he had taken a new gig: In Washington freaking state. He moved out to Richland, Washington, in June to start working; the rest of us stuck around until we could sell the house. I kept hoping he'd go out there, hate it and come back so we didn't have to move.

We graduated from Bayview and there was a big dance afterwards. I got to slowdance with the hottest girl in school, Jennifer Harris, who was 13 going on 20. She already had a ridiculous body and we had a playfully antagonistic relationship because she was a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers and their hated captain Bobby Clarke, while I of course rooted for the Leafs. We danced to "Stairway to Heaven," the last dance of the night, and by the end her mascara was running down her face from the tears. When the song ended, she gave me a big smooch and like that, my stint at Bayview Heights was over. It didn't really hit me, though; I rode my bike home high as a kite on the wings of that kiss. It was the last romantic one I received for quite some time.

The summer quickly passed and me, my mom and my brother still hadn't moved, so it was off to Pickering High School. It was tough at first, going from kingpins to outcasts, but I eventually made some friends and even met a girl who I thought there might be a spark with. But as soon as that possibility entered my brain, it was time to move to Richland.

We moved at the end of November into the duplex my dad had rented, which was about a third the size of our old house. I was sharing a room with my 9-year-old brother, an arrangement neither of us was thrilled about. I was going to a junior high and because I wasn't supposed to start math classes at my Canadian school until second semester, I was way behind. We moved a month later to a house across town, and I moved to another school, which I liked a lot better. Still, I had to make friends all over again. Nobody there knew or cared about hockey and the radio stations sucked. I listened to those early mix tapes all the time, in addition to the new records I purchased with regularity. That was pretty much what kept me going in those days.

But when I look back at it, I still think 1981 was the balls.