Friday, May 26, 2017

Slowdive, May 5, 2017

At it's best, the Shoegaze genre is a transcendent musical experience where the listener is enveloped in a wall of sound, a blissful noise that overtakes all of the senses. I've been a fan of the genre from it's heyday in the nineties, through to it's rebirth in the early two thousands as nu-gaze, and now I'm enjoying its resurgence in the twenty teens. I'd like to think that longevity within the scene means that I can speak with some authority about the subject. And with that authority,  using the proof of their latest show in Toronto, I would like to take this opportunity to say that Slowdive are the epitome of Shoegaze awesomeness. I'll admit, this isn't news, it's not a controversial opinion, and in fact I would expect that most Shoegaze fans would agree with me without any question. But it's a statement that I should try to remember every so often, because their absence from the music scene over the last twenty two years has made it easy for me to forget just how awesome they are.

I'll admit, I was a little late getting to the party, but my earliest recollection of Slowdive was when they released the Souvlaki album in 1993. There was a haunting beauty to that album, an otherworldly quality that really resonated with me. The combination of beautiful vocals and layered guitars on the album was striking and inspired, and I spent more than a few hours lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, actively listening to this awesome collection of songs. I saw them at Lee's Palace that same year with Catherine Wheel, and Slowdive's live set was just as impressive as the album, a spiraling chorus that enthralled and amazed. They were magical that night, sublimely wonderful.

But somewhere between the release of "Souvlaki" and their next album "Pygmalion" in 1995, I lost touch with the band. I'm not really sure what prompted that shift. I don't think it was an active or conscious decision, it may have just been a proximity thing. Around that time I was getting more and more into ambient stuff, and I guess that new interest moved my attention away from some of the things I had been listening to previously. It happens, right? But there was still a soft spot in my heart for Slowdive, and I would think fondly of them whenever I was given reason to remember them, mostly in connection with Gregg Araki films (his use of Blue Skied 'n' Clear at the end of "The Doom Generation" is sooooooo moving...). I never stopped liking Slowdive, but I stopped actively liking Slowdive.

Then in 2014 they reformed to do some gigs and my appreciation for them was reborn. They did a show at the Danforth Music Hall and it was a beautiful reunion for me, almost as if none of the intervening years had happened. They played Alison and Dagger and When the Sun Hits and of course they played Souvlaki Space Station, and it was all magical and beautiful and it was almost like seeing them back in the 90s again, but this time around I had all of the context of their influence and all those extra years of loving music, not just Slowdive's music but all the music that I listen to, and I think in some ways I was in a better place to really understand the full impact of what they were doing. It was a perfect juxtaposition of feelings, and it was enough to reassert my standing as a Slowdive fan.

And here we are in 2017 and there's a new Slowdive album out, and I'm pleased to say that it's still just as transcendent and magical as their earlier work, a logical extension of their original sound and that feeling of space that they used to create in their music. And I'm even more pleased to say that their live show continues to be just as impressive as it was in the past. They still create that same blissful noise that defines the Shoegaze genre in my mind, and they're still able to take me away to a happy place where my senses are overtaken and I just exist in a state of cocooned sonic happiness.

Slowdive played at the Music Hall again this time around, and I was pretty struck by what a perfect venue it was to see them in. For those of you that don't know, the Music Hall is a big box-y building with huge high ceilings, and the sound kind of travels around and through you during shows. I like it there, and I think it was a great choice for a Slowdive show. The guitars chimed and echo'd and sounded amazing, and the vocals were crisp and clean and perfect. It's important to have a good venue when the sound of a band is so much a definition of what they do, and the Music Hall was pretty much perfect for what Slowdive were doing.

They opened with Slomo off the new album, and it was pretty inspired in it's beautiful simplicity. A few strummed chords, a steady drum beat and some delayed notes on the guitar all combined perfectly, ringing around the Music Hall and setting the tone for the rest of the evening. And while it may not be as familiar of a track as other older material, it worked really well as an opening song, entrenching the band in the present while still acknowledging their past.

In keeping with that idea, it should also be noted that one of the biggest cheers of the evening came for their new single Sugar for the Pill, confirming that there's still an interest in Slowdive not only as a nostalgia act but also as one with current appeal. One audience member even went so far as to call it out as "your best song ever", and while I wouldn't necessarily say that (I mean, it's not Alison or Blue Skied an' Clear, is it?), I would agree that it's a song that stands with the best of their work. Give it ten years and ask me again, maybe it will be by then, but best song or not Sugar for the Pill was performed beautifully, fully capturing the sound of Slowdive 2017 while still remaining true to the spirit of Slowdive 1993. Great stuff.

So yeah, the new stuff sounded really great, but clearly Slowdive recognize that most of the audience were there to hear their earlier work. And as much as they may have been promoting the new album, it was clear that the band were just as excited about celebrating their past work too. Souvlaki Space Station was big and expansive, with guitar work that spiraled around the audience, wrapping us up in tendrils of musical awesomeness, and Alison was beautiful and wonderful, tugging at my heartstrings while I did that head to the side nodding dance that I've done so many times before, thinking about how their messed up world still thrilled me. Blue Skied an' Clear made me swoon, reminding me of every Gregg Araki film ever made, and Amy Blue driving into the distance, forever changed.

It was really kind of an emotional night for me...

Did I mention the light show? The visuals for the show were stark and simple, beautifully effective compliments to the music. I could have watched them for hours. I mean, I did watch them for a couple of hours, but I could have stayed and watched them for a few more. Really beautiful lights for some really beautiful music.

Needless to say it was a glorious concert and a glorious evening, and I'm glad that I got to see Slowdive again. I don't know what will happen with them in the future, whether they'll continue to tour, whether they'll continue to release music, but I'm really happy to have had the opportunity to be able to surround myself in their songs one more time and feel that blissful noise again. And if nothing else, it reminded me how very much I enjoy their music.

Hopefully that reminder will keep me from drifting away from that music again in the future, because the world really is a better place for having Slowdive in it...

Friday, April 21, 2017

PJ Harvey, April 13, 2017

I've been a fan of PJ Harvey since picking up a copy of "Rid of Me" when it came out back in the nineties. At the time she was getting a lot of really positive press in the British music weeklies, so I was curious to see what all the hype was about. "Rid of Me" proved to be a revelation for me, an incredibly powerful album displaying amazing songwriting skills and a ferocious intensity.  Songs like Yuri-G, Man-Size, 50ft Queenie, the eponymous title track, pretty much everything on the album was stunning work that impressed me greatly. I saw Harvey as a cross between Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux, sharing Bush's penchant for story telling and Sioux's passionate performance. This comparison was further strengthened when I saw Harvey at The Spectrum on the tour for "Rid of Me" shortly after the album's release. I was mesmerized by her set, a live show that lived up to and surpassed the intensity of the album, displaying incredible vocal skills and a fantastically charismatic stage presence.

In the years to follow I continued to enjoy and admire Harvey's work, picking up albums as they came out, going to shows whenever I had the chance, and inspiring friends to seek out her music. Albums like "To Bring You My Love", "Is This Desire?", "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea", each one of them was incredible, building on the brilliance of "Rid of Me", developing her songwriting and expanding her musical horizons. She did a lot of touring in those days, played a lot of shows. It was a good time to be a PJ Harvey fan.

In 2007 Harvey released "White Chalk" shortly after my partner and I started dating, and that album became our soundtrack for a number of months. I remember the first time we played it, actively listening, not moving, just staring at the ceiling while we heard it for the very first time. We didn't say a word, we were just so fully absorbed in its sparse piano based structure and Harvey's restrained vocals, completely spellbound by what we were hearing. When it was done I just started it over again, and I think we listened through maybe four times before either of us could speak, we were just so overcome by the experience of hearing that album. I had hoped that Harvey would tour for it, I was really looking forward to seeing her play live again and I wanted to take my partner because she'd never seen Harvey in concert before. But there weren't any shows in Toronto that year, with Harvey opting instead for a tour through Europe and some promo in New York and Los Angeles. So we waited.

In 2009 when Harvey released "A Woman a Man Walked by", a collaboration with John Parrish, I was sure there would be a show but no such luck. And when she released "Let England Shake" in 2011 it seemed like a foregone conclusion that she'd tour for that album, I mean, by that point she hadn't done a major North American tour in years, wasn't it obvious that she should play some gigs? But she never came to Toronto.

What I'm trying to say is that it's been a long time since PJ Harvey last played here, and I've been waiting anxiously to see her again. With the release of every album I've become more and more curious to hear her new songs live, to see what she'd do with them, how she'd recreate them in a concert setting. So when she announced that she'd be doing a North American tour for her latest album "The Hope Six Demolition Project", and that it would be opening at Massey Hall in Toronto, I was justifiably excited.

The weeks that led up to the show were spent familiarizing myself with the new album, revisiting older stuff to get into the mood, listening carefully for clues in the music about what to expect at her show. PJ Harvey may not be the chameleon that David Bowie was, but throughout her career she's displayed a definite habit for reinvention, and has always presented a very distinct focus and persona on each album. There's a sense of purpose and clarity that defines each of them as a distinct musical entity, and of course her latest, "The Hope Six Demolition Project", is no exception to that rule, with Harvey taking on the part of impassioned journalist. I was really curious about how this role would translate for the show in terms of both newer and older material, but I resisted the urge to track down any video of her performances in Europe over the last few months, opting instead to be surprised when I finally saw the show. And even though I really wanted to,  in retrospect I'm glad that I didn't do any prior viewing beforehand. The anticipation and prickly excitement leading up to the moment when the lights dimmed at Massey Hall were well worth all of the wait.

The set opened with Harvey and the band marching in a line onto the stage to perform Chain of Keys. It was a dramatic opening, executed with precision and focus, and it perfectly set the tone for the rest of the night. This wasn't going to be a loose rock show where anything could happen, this was a planned and choreographed performance, designed to highlight the strength of the songs being played. It clearly suggested that there was no ego here, the music was much more important than Harvey or the band's individual talents. And true to this idea, after the song was finished Harvey retreated to the back of the stage where she had some water and let the rest of the band build up the next song, The Ministry of Defence. There was no in between song chatter, there was no "HELLOOOOO TORONTO!!!!" carefully enunciated over a searing guitar solo leading into the big new single, it was all very understated and planned out.

And I really liked that.

Over the course of the next ninety minutes Harvey traveled backwards through her catalog, focusing largely on material from the new album, playing a suite of songs from "Let England Shake", a pair of songs from "White Chalk", and a handful of classics from earlier releases, including 50ft Queenie and her manic cover of Highway 61 Revisited from "Rid of Me", the album that started it all for me. And I would argue that each song she performed was perfectly executed, masterfully played. New songs like The Wheel and Orange Monkey sounded great, and I quite enjoyed the stomp and urgency of The Words that Maketh Murder from "Let England Shake".

But it was When Under Ether and The Devil from "White Chalk" that really stood out as particular highlights for me. On album both tracks feel very fragile, reveling in their sparse arrangements, coming across as almost delicate in their execution. Performed live they took on a new life with a more fulsome arrangement that complimented their strengths without lessening their beauty. I'm sure that my own personal connections with the songs made me inclined to appreciate these two more than others, but I really do think that they were the two best songs of the evening.

Throughout the show Harvey had minimal interaction with the audience, choosing instead to creep forward to the front of the stage to sing a few verses, and then retreating to the back or the side to let the band spend some time in the spotlight. It was a habit that brought to mind waves on a beach, and that idea struck me as very significant as it fits in so well with Harvey's work, filled as it is with water imagery, rivers, drownings, seas. I'm probably just projecting my own thoughts onto the experience, but in some ways that ebb and flow added to the performance for me, bringing together the themes and concepts in her songs even more effectively, a holistic approach to her work that spoke to the totality of her vision.

Or maybe she just wasn't feeling very talkative that evening. That's a possibility too.

I suppose I could go on, rhapsodizing about how awesome Harvey's feathered fascinator was, or the way she brandished her saxophone like a sigil meant to conjure up magical forces, or how great The Community of Hope sounds live. I could tell you about the little finger gestures she made during Down by the Water, or the glory of hands clapping, or just how cool it was to finally see a PJ Harvey show with my partner, but I worry that's getting into minutiae that won't matter to anybody else but me, so I probably shouldn't bother telling you about all of that. Suffice to say that PJ Harvey continues to mesmerize and inspire in her live performances, and her music continues to impress and intrigue me after all these years.

And of course I anxiously await her next visit to Toronto...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Nouvelle Vague, March 26, 2017


Carolyn and I went to see Nouvelle Vague at the Phoenix earlier this week and I was inspired enough by their performance to make some time to write something about it. I like the idea of Bossa Nova covers of New Wave classics, so I was a big fan of their first album in 2004, and I've maintained an interest in what they do throughout their career, picking up albums here and there and catching shows whenever I have the opportunity. They're quirky and cool, and they fully embody my belief that a good song is a good song however it's played, that the truth of a well written piece of music can still be found in whatever way it's presented. Given their set up of vocals, acoustic guitar, a cello used as a bass, some keys, and percussion, the band has to be a little clever with how they present their song choices, but they always seem to find the truth inherent in a good song and I really enjoy that. I've always felt that there's a real and apparent appreciation for what they're playing, a passion for what they're doing that keeps their act fresh and vital instead of becoming a novelty, and I was really pleased to see that passion on full display at The Phoenix.






Nouvelle Vague came on stage around 9pm and opened with I Could be Happy by Altered Images. They covered it on their latest album from 2016, and while it isn't one of their liveliest songs, it was still a nice introduction and set the tone of the show. After that they launched into a really great version of Blue Monday, which is of course one of the greatest songs ever written. Stripping the song of any electronic elements meant that they had to rely entirely on the emotional aspect of the track, but they rose to that challenge admirably and everything worked out really nicely. The band were obviously really into it and the audience responded in kind, and from that point on the groove of the night was set and locked.

I'll admit that I'm not really very knowledgeable about Richard Hell, but I have heard Love comes in Spurts before, and I enjoyed their take on it. Following that was Metal by Gary Numan, where they did a really nice job of recreating Numan's automaton pop without any automation. The singer's variations on the Robot dance during the instrumental breaks were a particular highlight, and I quite enjoyed it.

Hmmmmmm, what happened after that? The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, a couple of other songs, and then they did a truly haunting version of All Cats are Gray by The Cure that sent shivers down my spine. Nouvelle Vague have a few Cure covers in their repertoire, they do a version of A Forest on their first album, and I saw them do Lullabye when they played at the Opera House in 2010, but neither of those hold up to the atmosphere and mood they created with this song. I'm not going to suggest that they surpassed the original, but I will say that their interpretation brought something new to a track that I've lived with for over thirty years, and I was quite impressed. Probably my favorite song from the evening.

Dancing with Myself followed, and I'm not really a huge fan of Billy Idol, but Nouvelle Vague were able to infuse it with an infectious energy that I just couldn't resist. I've often thought that the song is hampered by Idol's bravado and self-love, but seeing it performed with less of the original's self absorption made me enjoy it a lot more than I would have otherwise.

It may not be a popular opinion, but I always thought that choosing to cover Just Can't Get Enough on the first Nouvelle Vague album was a bit of a misstep. It's such an essential Depeche Mode track, such a perfect pop anthem that's so deeply entrenched in its electronic sound, that it's difficult to separate the cover from the original. In the context of quirky covers of New Wave classics I've always felt that Nouvelle Vague's version felt a little flat by comparison, but I'm happy to tell you that they did a great job of it this time around, adding a percussion break and a playfulness that finally succeeded in making it their own. In my mind it moved from being a Depeche Mode cover, to Nouvelle Vague's rendition of a Depeche Mode song, and while that might not seem like much of a difference, I think that it's still a small but important distinction.

I may lose some of my Punk cred here, but I was never a big Dead Kennedys fan, so my appreciation for Too Drunk to Fuck is entirely the result of Nouvelle Vague's cover. Back when I saw them at the Rivoli in 2005 (Nouvelle Vague, not the Dead Kennedys) they did a fantastic shimmying lounge-tastic breathy vocal version of the song where the band really stretched out and rocked hard (or is that Bossa Nova'ed hard?), and that's always stood out in my mind as my classic Nouvelle Vague live memory. I'll admit that the version they played this week wasn't quite as energetic or glistening, but it retained an honestly charming pop aesthetic that I couldn't help enjoying. Not enough to dull my memory of that night at the Rivoli, but enough to remind me of it fondly.

They closed the show with I'll Melt With You, and again, I'm not a huge fan of the original but I really enjoy their rendition. They kind of slow it down a bit and make it a little less urgent, a little more longing, and I like that, again it brings something new to the song that I'm quite fond of. I thought it was a nice way to end the evening.

There were other songs played of course, but these were the ones that made the most impact on me. In addition to my thoughts on the performance of good songs, I've also said many times before that the strength of a cover comes from the strength of your connection to the original, and while I can appreciate the Cocteau Twins and some of the other artists who's songs were played, for the most part I was much happier hearing and connecting with the songs that I have in my own record collection or that I have some sort of nostalgia for. And really, that's what nostalgia is all about, isn't it? A feeling of happiness that comes from past connections you've made. I've made a lot of musical connections over the years, and Nouvelle Vague have always done a great job of reminding me about those connections. It's all pretty cool.

So yeah, Nouvelle Vague put on a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed their performance. It wasn't a life changing gig, or a show that would alter the course of my musical history, but it was the kind of really fun and engaging gig that reminds me why I love music so very much. And sometimes those are the best shows of all.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

David Bowie, March 7, 1990


In 1990 David Bowie announced the Sound+Vision world tour. Timed to promote the release of his back catalog in CD format on the Rykodisc label, Sound+Vision was marketed as a greatest hits tour celebrating Bowie's entire career, while simultaneously being presented by Bowie himself as an opportunity to retire a decent chunk of his back catalog. Essentially Bowie had decided that he didn't want to be playing Space Oddity and Fame and all the hits for the rest of his life, so he was going to use this retrospective tour as a last opportunity to play them live, and then move forward with new material into the 90s. The way he was saying it, if you wanted to see Space Oddity or Fashion or Young Americans or any of the other hits, this was going to be your last chance.

The idea of a retrospective tour was appealing to me. I had had a really shitty time at the Glass Spider tour in 1987, so seeing a David Bowie show that focused on the music rather than crappy bloated Vegas-style theatrics sounded pretty good to me. In fact, it sounded pretty amazing. Also, if he was going to play the hits surely he'd play Ashes to Ashes, right? That likelihood was enough to convince me that the Sound+Vision tour would be a really good opportunity to see Bowie the way I had always wanted to.

Now before I continue, I should also point out that around the same time that David Bowie announced the tour, I had just started dating Mara. You know how you meet some people that instantly click with you and you want to be with them forever? Mara was like that for me. She was smart and engaging, she was fun to be around, and she had the most beautiful smile of anybody I had ever met up to that point. My heart filled with light every time that I looked at her, and being with her made me feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Admittedly, Mara didn't like David Bowie quite as much as I did, but she was still a big fan and we were both pretty excited about the possibility of seeing him live. And normally this would be the part in the story where I told you about lining up for a week behind a trash compactor to get tickets, or about selling a kidney to raise some extra cash so I could buy us a pair of tickets from a scalper, or something equally as interesting and compelling that would make for good blog reading. But unfortunately the story isn't as interesting as that. It was really just as simple as a friend of mine with connections knew that I really liked David Bowie and he very kindly and very thoughtfully helped me get tickets for the show. But they weren't just any tickets. They were good tickets.

Like, really good tickets.

Like, really Really REALLY good tickets.

First Row.

First Row tickets for David Bowie.

Fuck. It still amazes me to this day.

When he handed them to me he apologized saying that they weren't dead centre, they were actually on the left side of the stage, but I mean, really, Bowie moved around a lot at his shows, so certainly there would be times where he'd make it over to where we were sitting. My friend also told me that he had gotten a third ticket and his Mom was going to be sitting with us. I was totally fine with that because his Mom was pretty cool and she was almost as big of a David Bowie fan as I was, so, y'know, Mara and I would be in good company.

And just like that, I had first Row tickets for David Bowie.

Fuck.

Just, like, wow...

I didn't tell Mara where we were sitting, I thought it would be better to surprise her when we got there. And on the night of the show when we arrived at the Skydome, we kept walking deeper and deeper into the depths of the venue, through the stands, past the last section of floors, past the middle section, and past all of the first section until we were pressed up against the barrier just three feet away from the stage, along with my friend's Mom who had gotten there ahead of us, already bursting with excitement about being so close. Mara was pretty impressed with our seats too, and she smiled wider and brighter than I'd ever seen her smile at me before. It was the kind of smile that you never want to forget, and for the record, I never have.

So anyway, Mara and my friend's Mom and I spent the next half hour gushing about how excited we were about the show. There was a palpable excitement between the three of us that went beyond anticipation and entered into a very specifically powerful and magical new emotional state that doesn't have a proper word to describe it. So for lack of a better term, I will dub that emotional state as Bowiementumpation, and I trust that you will all recognize that word for all of the sheer awesomeness that it represents.

So I want you to take a moment and imagine this setting for a second. Mara and I were both filled with Bowiementumpation sitting in the first row at the Skydome, about to see David Bowie play all of his hits. I'm hard pressed to think of another moment in my life up to that point where everything had aligned so perfectly. Even before the lights went down, even before a note of music had been played, I remember thinking that show was going to be one of the best concerts I would ever see.

And without spoiling anything I'm about to tell you, it still stands as one of the best concerts I have ever seen. It really was fucking awesome.

When the lights went down the Skydome erupted with cheers and yelling, and I realized that the three of us weren't the only people in the venue feeling Bowiementumpation that evening. And after a couple of minutes of build up, the darkness was broken by a single spotlight that shone on David Bowie, strumming the opening bars of Space Oddity at a microphone three feet in front of us. All of a sudden, the Skydome vanished and everybody except for Mara and my friend's Mom just kind of disappeared around us. We were three feet away from my hero, who just happened to be playing Space Oddity three feet away from us. And while he would walk around the entire stage over the course of the show, he would spend a better part of the next two hours singing directly to me and Mara and my friend's Mom.

From three feet away.

Three.

Feet.

Away.

Let me take this opportunity to say thank you to my friend with connections. You truly outdid yourself that evening, and there will always be a special place in my heart for you...

Bowie was dressed in a pair of black slacks and a white shirt with a black vest that evening. I was pleased to see that he was no longer wearing the mullet that he had sported on the 1987 tour, and his hair was styled in a very fashionable short but sassy cut that was both sophisticated and flattering. I should point out that the white shirt he was wearing was kind of a frilly pirate shirt, but seriously, I'm not going to hold that against him, he still looked fucking awesome.

The stage was very stark, with microphones for Bowie and guitarist Adrian Belew at the left and right side of the stage respectively, and a drum kit in the back. Erdal Kizilcay played bass on that tour and I have a vague recollection of him being on the right side of the stage. Behind the band there was a large video screen that stretched from the floor to the lighting rig, and many of the songs had really cool black and white videos that played along with the band. But really, when you're that close you're looking at fine detail, big picture items and spectacles like videos kind of lose their effect.

A really sweet run through Changes followed after Space Oddity, and then Rebel Rebel was up next. I've always loved that song and I was really impressed that he played the single version of the track with the "La la la lala la la la la laaaaa" vocals rather than the album cut with the "Doo doo de doo doo de doodoo" opening, I've always preferred the single version. And as the song progressed he spent most of it looking at the three of us, Mara and my friend's Mom and I, staring at me directly and even pointing at me when he sang the line "Hot Tramp! I love you so...". When we talked about it afterwards Mara was pretty sure that he was pointing at her, but I was certain Bowie recognized me as the bigger fan. It just seemed more reasonable that he thought I was a Hot Tramp and that he would love me. Mara and I never settled that debate, but to this day I remain sure that he was talking to me.

So yeah, Bowie called me a Hot Tramp and told me that he loved me, so I've got that going for me.

And that's pretty good.

During Be My Wife, Bowie came up to the very edge of the stage and started reaching out to the crowd. And part of me really wanted to shake his hand, but I just couldn't do it, I just couldn't reach out. As much as I enjoyed the connection we had with him during the show, as much as Bowie's music meant to me, I just couldn't reconcile the idea of him being a flesh and blood human being. I wanted to keep some distance between the David Bowie that I had constructed in my head and the person that he really was, and while seeing him perform live was in keeping with the Bowie construct in my head, shaking his hand just didn't work for me. I guess a lot of people would have felt differently if they had the same opportunity, certainly a number of people had no qualms reaching out and shaking his hand that evening, but even after all these years I still think I did the right thing. Or at least I did the right thing for me.

As expected, he played Ashes to Ashes shortly after that, and finally seeing that song performed live was everything I had hoped for and more. The live version maintained the haunting quality of the original but added a certain raw element that made it more visceral and present. It was an inspired performance, and if the show ended then I would have been ecstatic.

But it had only just begin.

Fashion was amazing, although I have to admit that the version on the Glass Spider tour packed more punch, a little more manic energy. I guess some songs aren't meant to be stripped down into a tight quartet. Blue Jean and Let's Dance were punched up and made all the more cool. Stay was ferocious and huge, and Bowie's voice was particularly stunning on that one.

After that there was a short intermission and I ran to the bathroom. I bumped into some friends on the way back and they agreed it was one of the best shows they'd ever seen. We spent some time guessing about songs for the second set, and I was pretty sure that we'd hear Station to Station and Scary Monsters among other things. We hadn't heard Fame or Young Americans yet either, those were probably going to be there too, and after a couple more minutes of speculation I headed back to my seat to find Mara and my friend's Mom comparing notes on the high point of the first set. My friend's Mom suggested that Bowie actually pointed at her during Rebel Rebel, and I was willing to entertain the possibility to make her feel better, but in my heart I knew that Bowie was singing to me.

And then the lights dimmed again and the second set began with the sound of steam and a swirling guitar, and a smile grew on my face as Station to Station slowly began to take shape. Definitely a high point of the show, Station to Station was epic and enormous, and Bowie and the band moved through the song's movements like consummate artists. It was incredible, absolutely incredible.

Ziggy Stardust and Suffragette City followed, garage-y versions of both of them that Iggy and the Stooges would have been proud of. There was a fantastic version of Panic in Detroit, that one has always been a particular favorite, and of course Young Americans and Fame rounded out the set. My memory is failing me here because I can't remember if Louise Lecavalier of La La La Human Steps appeared in person to dance with Bowie during Fame or if it was just a video, and I realize that's a pretty significant item to forget, but whichever it was, her dancing really added an extra element to Fame that was pretty special.

The second set ended after that and then we headed into the encores, which started with a hauntingly beautiful run through Heroes. It truly is one of Bowie's best songs, isn't it? Jean Genie and Modern Love were played as encores as well, along with a track from Adrian Belew's new album that Bowie sang on called Pretty Pink Rose. The night closed out with Rock 'n' Roll Suicide, with Bowie reminding us all that we were wonderful. Such a fantastic ending to a fantastic concert. There was no sign of Scary Monsters, but after everything else we'd seen that night I was totally fine with that.

Mara and I stumbled home after the show with ringing ears and perma-grin faces, and a feeling of shared experience that I've never been able to replicate in quite the same way. I can't speak for Mara, but that show was a religious moment for me, an epiphany of sorts that completely erased all of the bad memories I had of seeing Bowie on the Glass Spider tour a few years earlier. I've been to hundreds of concerts since then, but none of them have ever been able to capture that combination of elements that made the Sound+Vision show such a perfect night. You know how certain moments stay in your memory forever? David Bowie at the Skydome with Mara is a night that I'll always remember.

I mean, really, David Bowie called me a Hot Tramp and told me that he loved me.

How could I ever forget something like that?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Cure, August 28, 1989

 
Upon reflection, I would say that 1989 was a pretty good year.

I saw REM play at Maple Leaf Gardens on the Green Tour, and I went to two shows by The Who at CNE Stadium.  I also saw New Order on the Technique tour with Public Image Limited and the Sugarcubes, that was an amazing show. John McGeoch played guitar for PIL, the Sugarcubes were riding the success of their first album, and New Order were mind-blowingly amazing, playing brilliant versions of "Ceremony", "Temptation", "The Perfect Kiss", "Blue Monday" and a ton of other songs. It was my friend Carrie's very first concert and even though we didn't know each other then it makes me happy to know that it was another moment that we shared together in a long history of shared moments.

That summer I went on a date with Bernadette P. who had a job at the donut store in the mall where I worked, and while that doesn't mean anything to any of you, it stands in my mind as a perfect day that always make me smile when I think about it. We went to Lime Ricky's in North York and shared brightly coloured drinks in big martini glasses. Afterwards we went to Toys R Us, and Bernadette bought a garbage can filled with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Retromutagen Ooze and I bought a Joker action figure. I still have the Joker and a little vial of Ooze that she gave me. The day was all very innocent and nice, and it remains perfect in my memory. It's been years since I've seen her, but I hope that Bernadette is happy and doing well wherever she is.

But of all the things that happened in 1989, the release of "Disintegration" by The Cure and the tour that followed are what stand out most in my mind. I've written about the significance of moments before when I posted about seeing Depeche Mode on the Music for the Masses tour, and I think that "Disintegration" was another one of those times that felt like it was special, like it was important. And it was special. It was very special and significant.

I had already been a Cure fan for a while by that point, having seen them in 1987 on the Kissing Tour, and I got really excited when Lee Carter announced in February that they'd be releasing a new album in the early summer with a tour to follow. Their last album "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" was an incredibly strong collection of songs, and I was optimistic that the new release would be even better. But we'd have to wait sooooooooo long to hear anything...  You'll remember this was long before the internet so there were no leaks or teasers or whatever, so as a fan I would have to wait with baited breath until the album was finally released.

But the wait wasn't as long as I thought it would be, because in April the band released not one, but two, Two, TWO (!) advance singles, a full month before the album was scheduled to come out. "Lullaby" was the lead single in the UK, readily available as an import at any number of the Yonge Street record shops, and "Fascination Street" was easily obtainable everywhere else, including the record store I worked at. It was an unexpected treasure trove of riches, and it was enough to keep anticipation at bay long enough for the full album to come out. I remember the first time I heard "Fascination Street", all low slung bass lines and chiming guitars, Robert Smith coaxing the listener down into the deep depths of deepness. It's a great song and well deserved of the high praise that most Cure fans have for it. "Lullaby" is equally as good, violins and strings and threats of an unpleasant date with a Spider-Man that would give Peter Parker nightmares. It's The Cure at their playful scary best, a catchy track that kind of scares the crap out of you if you listen closely enough. Needless to say both songs are great, really strong work that confirmed all of my suspicions that "Disintegration" would be an awesome album. My anticipation continued to grow over the weeks that followed.

About a month later, Lee Carter got an advance copy of the album and promised to play a few tracks from it on his radio show. I remember listening to them with my headphones late on a Thursday night with all the lights off and my eyes closed so I could concentrate on the music. He played "Plainsong", the track that opens the album with the sound of wind chimes and deep synth lines and I was pretty much overwhelmed by it's beauty, the lyrics about a cold that's like the cold if you were dead, After that he played "Lovesong", and I guess it would be a little silly to say that I fell in love with it right away, wouldn't it? But I did. It's another amazing song by The Cure, somehow perfectly attuned to my own feelings about love and forever and all of those other things.

And then the sound of breaking glass introduced my very favorite Cure song of all time. "Disintegration" is an epic eight and a half minute tour de force filled with self-loathing and despair and some of the best lyrics that Robert Smith has ever written. For example, "Now that I know that I'm breaking to pieces, I'll pull out my heart and I'll feed it to anyone, crying for sympathy, crocodiles cry, for the love of the crowd and three cheers from everyone". How can you not agree that this is Smith at his very best, truly a high point in an illustrious career? Brilliant stuff that connected with me from my very first listen and still resonates with me today.

The album was released shortly after that, and I bought it on CD at the Record Peddler while it was still on Carlton across from the Carlton Cinema. It was, and is, a perfect album and will always stand as The Cure's masterpiece. I mean, honestly, you can argue that you like other Cure albums more, and I can appreciate that their catalog has favorite albums that fans may prefer for various reasons but really at the end of the day "Disintegration" is the best thing they've ever done. They've never been able to reach such dizzying heights, such heart-aching beauty, such crushing lows. I like to think that Eric Cartman is absolutely correct in his assessment that ""Disintegration" is the best album ever".

Once the album had been released, The Cure announced dates for the Prayer Tour which was billed as the last tour that the band would ever do. Looking back on it now it obviously wasn't the last time the band would tour, but that feeling of finality combined with the awesomeness of the album they were supporting gave this show a real sense of importance, an air of gravitas, and when tickets went on sale for the Toronto show at CNE Grandstand at the end of August, well, Dave H. and I made sure that we got a pair.

The night of the show we arrived a little bit late, so we missed Shelly Ann Orphan's opening set, but we made it in time to see The Pixies. They had just released "Doolittle" earlier in the year and they put on a pretty good show. They did a great version of "Monkey Gone to Heaven" that night, and there was a big cheer when Robert Smith and his wife Mary walked across the field with Simon Gallup to watch their set from side stage.

Love and Rockets played that night too. I've always like Love and Rockets, I mean even if you skip over their pasts with Bauhaus and Tones on Tail, they still have a very impressive catalog of songs. "No New Tale to Tell", "So Alive", "Kundalini Express", they're all solid tracks, and they were all delivered really well that night. I'll admit that I went into the show hoping that they'd play "Holiday on the Moon" and I was a little disappointed that they didn't, but overall I was pretty impressed by their set.

As good as the opening acts were, and really, they were all very good, we were really there to see The Cure. And as the lights went down to be replaced by a dark purple glow, the chimes of "Plainsong" signaled the band taking the stage, opening the set just as majestically as it opens the album. Robert Smith was wearing a long black sweater and his hair was perfectly coiffed like the nest of a giant dark winged bird of doom, it was really cool. Simon Gallup wore a gaucho hat and a long white shirt over tights and army boots, and he looked really cool too. I'll be honest, I don't really remember what the rest of the band wore, I think Roger O'Donnell was wearing a jacket over a dress shirt, and I think that Porl Thompson may have been wearing a long black shirt with tights, but I've seen The Cure a number of times and I may just be confusing shows. I really have no idea what Boris Williams wore, he was kind of hidden behind his drum kit the whole night and I don't remember him ever getting out from behind it at all. Regardless, I'm sure he looked just as cool as the rest of the band.

They played everything from "Disintegration" that evening, even the two songs that were only released on the CD and cassette versions of the album, and it all sounded amazing, each song given a new life and energy in a live setting. "Pictures of You" and "Closedown"were dreamlike and beautiful, and "Last Dance" (another favorite of mine) had a particular poignancy to it that made it all the more impressive. "Fascination Street" was a great opportunity for Simon Gallup to stretch out and remind us what an awesome bass player he is. All of the new stuff sounded really great.

But it wasn't just songs from "Disintegration" that night. Interspersed between tracks were some Cure classics from earlier albums like "A Night Like This" and "Just Like Heaven", all delivered with passion and intensity. "Charlotte Sometimes" was amazing, and "A Forest" was another highlight, stretched out to double it's original length, always a great live moment.

"The Same Deep Water as You" was haunting and perfect, and Robert Smith sustained that note in "Prayers for Rain" for an interminable length, long enough to make me wonder how he could keep breathing at the same time.

"Disintegration" closed the set proper, the sound of breaking glass and a heavy bass line opening the song, a steady strobe playing throughout it's entire length. It was a physically and emotionally draining performance, and when it was done I felt like I'd traveled to the heart of darkness and been left there as a quivering mass of gelatinous gooey quivering goo. What an awesome feeling!

The first encore included "Lullaby" and "Close to Me", and the best extended version of "Why Can't I be You?" that I've ever heard, breaking it down and throwing in verses from "Young at Heart" by Frank Sinatra, "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" from the Aristocats, and their own "Lovecats". Smith's delivery of the lines "Life gets more exciting with each passing day, and love is either in your heart or on it's way, Don't you know that it's worth every treasure on earth to be young at heart?" were particularly moving, a few simple words that speak volumes about The Cure's work. Funny that a song from 1965 could capture a band so succinctly almost twenty five years later.

"Homesick" and "Untitled" were part of the next encore, along with "A Strange Day" from the "Pornography" album. They closed out the night with a foursome of songs from "Three Imaginary Boys" which has become kind of a live Cure tradition, And after that, about three hours after they started, the show was over, a perfect performance if ever there was one.

 
The day after the show, I hopped on a bus to Detroit so I could see the show again. I didn't have tickets, I didn't know how to get to the venue, I was really kind of jumping into the darkness on this one, but I was determined to see the show again, and I figured that determination would be enough to get me through any difficulties. And it did. They played in an indoor arena in Auburn Hills called the Palace and the set was pretty much identical to the Toronto show, but it was still magical, still a perfect performance. I'm glad I had the chance to see it again.

I wrote in my post about The Cure show in 1987 that it will always be special to me because it was the first time I ever saw them live and that show will always be special to me for that reason, but I'll always remember those two nights on the Prayer Tour in 1989 as the best shows I ever saw The Cure do. And that makes them pretty special too.

Yeah, upon further reflection I would say that 1989 was a really great year. New Order, 2 shows from The Cure, and a perfect date with Bernadette? It doesn't get much better than that, does it?






Monday, February 8, 2016

Siouxsie and the Banshees, October 25, 1988


I have a tremendous respect and admiration for Siouxsie and the Banshees, not only for their music, but also for their bravery. Listening through their career there's a continuing fearlessness that allowed them to define their work on their own terms and avoid being unfairly categorized. As a fan that bravery and fearlessness have always been coupled in my mind with the ideas of potential and possibility and living life on one's own terms, which is a pretty liberating set of ideas if you ask me.

Chances are you already know that as members of the mid 70s UK Punk scene, Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin played a significant role in developing the fashion and style of the era before becoming musicians, helping to establish a vital and important sub-culture that continues to influence music, art, fashion, and attitudes even now. Simultaneously, they were also contributing to a redefinition of artist and audience roles, creating an environment where the audience became just as much a part of the performance as the artists were, adding to the spectacle and contributing to an aesthetic. Through their embodiment of Punk's Do It Yourself ethic, Siouxsie and Severin led a shift between artist and audience that would give rise to a new musical paradigm where roles and influence were fluid and interchangeable, a paradigm which was fully realized when Sioux and Severin formed the Banshees to fill an empty spot in a concert at the 100 Club in London playing with The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Despite never having played a show before, despite not even having any songs to perform, that evening the newly born Banshees displayed a bravery and confidence in themselves born from this new ideal, and that bravery and confidence would carry through the rest of their career as their work shifted and evolved, helping to define them as innovative performers who pushed the boundaries of what they were doing, all the while inspiring generations after them to do the same.

Now I'll admit, I got to the Banshees' party pretty late. As you can imagine, the suburbs of Toronto were about five billion light years away from the streets of London during the height of the UK Punk scene, and y'know, I had just started grade school at the time, so I missed out on that debut show at the 100 Club. In fact, I missed pretty much all of the Banshees career up until one night in 1983 when I was sitting up late watching City Limits and out of the blue the video for Dear Prudence began to play. I already knew the song from The Beatles' White Album (which you may be interested to know was the very first album I ever bought when I was 10), but there was something so beautiful and mysterious about the Banshees' version, something that made it just *that* much better.  Siouxsie Sioux's vocals had an emotional quality that added to the lyrics, making the song all the more appealing. The instrumentation had a more psychedelic quality to it, something alien and mystical, much darker and lush than The Beatles. Dare I say it? I think, and I still do think, that the Banshees' version of Dear Prudence is better that the original. The video was pretty cool too, with Sioux and Severin and Budgie and Robert Smith all slinking around the back alleys of Venice. There was a sparkle to the video, a particular playfulness that I really liked, and it also hearkened back to David Bowie's video for Ashes to Ashes, with negative images and blobs of flowing colour popping up every so often while the band crept around. I was pretty impressed.

So if you've been following my concert posts over the last few months you can probably figure out that I immediately started trying to find out more about the Banshees. A cassette copy of Once Upon a Time quickly brought me up to speed on the broad strokes of the band's career, and I remember the glory of discovering Christine and Spellbound for the very first time, the majesty of Israel, the deceptive playfulness of Happy House, and everything else on that tape.

It would take me a while to find more, but I stuck to it and was able to track down the rest of the Banshees' catalog after considerable effort. A number of their albums weren't available domestically in Canada at the time, but regular trips to the record stores along Yonge Street eventually yielded the goods. And every one of those albums was a wonder, a marvel, something to be cherished. Admittedly, Kaleidoscope and Juju were my favorites, followed closely by The Scream and Kiss in the Dreamhouse, and then Nocturne and Hyaena (though I continue to have a soft spot for Dear Prudence), and then finally Join Hands. Alright, I'll admit, I'm not too big on Join Hands even now, but y'know, it's an okay album, just not as good as the rest of them.

Anyway, parallel to my efforts to collect the band's albums, I also found out a little bit more about the Banshees history and where they came from. I heard about their days as music fans and how that led to their first gig, and how they eventually became the band that I would become so enamored with. And that history was soooooooo exciting to me! The idea that a music fan could make the switch from fan to performer was completely inspiring, opening a world of possibilities and wonder with huge possibilities for the future. I've written extensively in this blog about how David Bowie helped me come to terms with myself as a person, how he helped me find an identity and accept myself for who I am. And that's all very important and significant, and I'm sure that many people feel the same way that I do, and that's really cool. But the Banshees helped me realize that I didn't have to accept who I was at face value. The Banshees taught me that I could do anything if I was brave enough to try. And the freedom and liberation that came from that realization was staggering, an incredibly exhilarating realization that made me dizzy with possibilities.

But you know, despite everything that the Banshees meant to me, and despite the dizzying possibilities they inspired, I didn't get around to seeing them until 1988. I know that they came to Toronto at least twice between my discovering them and then, but for whatever reason I didn't go to those shows and I really can't say why. In retrospect it seems like a really significant oversight in my concert going history, and I'm kind of kicking myself for it.

I finally got around to seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees live in 1988, and they were amazing. Like, totally awesomely fucking amazing. They had just released the Peepshow album in September of that year, and it was a radiant and beautiful album that equaled Kaleidoscope and Juju in my mind, a collection of brilliant songs that all resonated with me on a variety of different frequencies. I was fascinated by Peek-A-Boo and all of it's backwards and forwards distorted accordion looping genius. I loved the string-y elegance of The Killing Jar, and the the harmonica driven country twang of Burn-Up. The stately beauty of The Last Beat of My Heart brought me to tears on more than one occasion, and then there was Rhapsody, which stands as my very favorite Banshees song of all time, six and a half minutes of Siouxsie singing Severin's poignant lyrics with near-operatic perfection. I mean, really, the album is a fucking masterpiece, truly a highlight in their impressive career. So thinking about it now in retrospect, maybe it was a good thing that I waited until 1988 to see them live, because it may well have been my best opportunity to do so. Extensive concert-going experience would suggest that a band with a strong album will usually do a strong show, and there's no question that Peepshow is one of the strongest albums in The Banshees' career.

The show was scheduled for late October at Massey Hall, which is one of my favorite places to see a show in Toronto. It's a small-ish theatre that holds about 2500 people, much more intimate and better acoustically than the majority of Toronto venues. I had a ticket in the fifth row on the right side of the orchestra, and that was pretty much the perfect place to be sitting, as it was close enough to see the band in detail but also far enough away to appreciate the spectacle and theatricality of the performance.

When I got there, a large curtain covered the entire stage (what is it with me and curtains?), and as the lights went down the band marched out from behind it to the front of the stage and began a stripped down version of The Last Beat of My Heart. It was such a simple way to start the show, so elegant and understated, and I think that it worked far more effectively than something more flashy and show-y would have. From the start there was a sense of intimacy created, a sense of the band playing "with" you rather than "to" you. I suppose I'm probably projecting my own thoughts about the band on top of everything else here, but it was an opening that really made a connection with the audience, and I really liked that.

The Banshees all looked particularly stylish that evening, with flashy clothes, long tailored jackets, hats, kind of a vaguely surreal Victorian look. Siouxsie wore a top hat, her hair was cut in a bob at the time, and the resulting effect was quite sophisticated. Martin McCarrick wore a vest, and he might have had a top hat as well. I'm pretty sure that Jon Klein wore a leather cap, and he looked very long and insectile, almost spider-like. Budgie wore a top-knot on his head and that was about all I could see of him when he was behind his drum kit, bobbing along in time with the music. I'm afraid I can't remember exactly what Steven Severin wore, I'm pretty sure he had a waist coat, but I worry that I might be confusing that evening with one of the other Banshee shows I'd see in later years. For the purposes of setting the scene let's assume that he wore a blue waist coat and go with that. Whatever he wore, I remember that he looked very dashing that evening.

After opening the set, The Banshees returned behind the curtain while Siouxsie stayed out front to sing Turn to Stone. She's a really charismatic performer and she really commanded the stage, moving from side to side, her voice rising and falling with the lyrics. She did this arm swaying thing that looked like she was summoning spirits, and it really added to the effect of her presence. Siouxsie has always had an incredible stage presence.

Following that, the curtain swept away to reveal a white scrim that The Banshees played behind for The Killing Jar. Bright lights shone from the back of the stage so these elongated shadows of the band were projected during the song. Martin McCarrick sat on the side of the stage playing cello-y goodness throughout, and his shadow was particularly prominent. Such a simple but brilliant effect.

At the end of the song the stage was revealed, filled with ramps and bridges and catwalks and multi-leveled places to slink and strut and do all that wonderful stuff. As I write this I'm actually wondering how complex it was, because the practical side of my brain is wondering how much you could really fit on the stage at Massey Hall, but the emotional nostalgic side of my brain is yelling at the top of it's brain-y lungs "IT WAS HUUUUUGE!!!! GINORMOUS!!!!! ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY GIANT!!!!!!!" It's hard to argue with that kind of surety. Anyways, it was a very cool set, and the band used it to slink and strut and do all that wonderful stuff as they ran through Christine, Wheels on Fire and a bunch of other great songs. During Rawhead and Bloodybones Siouxsie sang from under a bridge, adding to the claustrophobic quality of the song, They played an amazing version of Red Light with blinding red spotlights that flashed in time with the shutter click of the song, and during Peek-A-Boo, Siouxsie led Martin McCarrick and his accordion on a merry chase around the whole stage. It was all really cool.

They closed the set with a stunning version of Rhapsody that delivered on all of the strength and beauty of the album version and more, while blue skies and clouds were projected in the background. I remember the power that I felt when Siouxsie sang the line "We can dream all we want to...", giving voice to everything I had felt about the Banshees and the inspiration they had given me. It was kind of a moment, y'know? Thinking about that performance I still get chills...

There were two encores that night, the first featuring a manic run through El Dia De Los Muertos from the Killing Jar single, and then an extended and epic version of Spellbound that lasted for, like, ten minutes, with the band all stretching out their parts to breathe new life into one of their best songs. They closed the night with Israel and it was everything I could hope for, Siouxsie's voice still in perfect form even after having played for a couple of hours beforehand. A lovely way to end the evening.

The Peepshow tour stands as a personal favorite show for a variety of reasons, and I'm really glad I got to see Siouxsie and The Banshees on that tour. There was a tremendous energy and a sense of wonder in their performance that night in 1988, and I think I got a little taste of what The Banshees may have been like at the 100 Club when they played their very first show back in the mid 70s. Cool, confident, passionate, and brave.

Like they could do anything if they were brave enough to try...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bryan Ferry, August 17, 1988


Late night TV was a big thing for me growing up in Toronto in the early eighties. It was an era where cable was still in it's early days and TV channels numbered in the low double digits, but there was a daring and sometimes startling creativity in terms of the late night programming that was shown between midnight and seven am. That was a time slot where normal rules didn't apply, where you could see and hear things that would never be shown at any other point in the day.  I was mostly interested in music shows, but there were also a lot of interesting movies and interview programs as well, and I found some pretty cool stuff staying up late to channel surf.

Channel 47 had some very cool music shows during the late night hours, and programs like Flipside played clips of bands from Top of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test which weren't shown anywhere else, so there was a certain feeling of exclusivity to what you were seeing. Around the same time Global TV had a series of shows that featured first person footage of a drive through Toronto while smooth jazz played in the background. There was something eerily hypnotic about being a passenger as they rode around aimlessly through the night. I suppose the vague drowsiness that comes with late night viewing contributed to it's appeal, but I always found it kind of soothing.

There were any number of other treasures that could be found on TV in the wee hours, but of all of them the absolute best place for late night TV in the early eighties was channel 57, otherwise known as CITY TV.  CITY was (and still is) an innovative television station out of Toronto producing a lot of their own content geared towards music and fashion, including classic programming like The New Music and Fashion TV which would eventually gain international syndication, setting a broadcasting aesthetic that would continue to be copied around the world to this day. There was something about CITY that was clever and funky and cool, and it definitely had more edge than any other channel on the air at the time.

I expect if you were to ask anybody from Toronto about CITY programming in the eighties they'd probably mention Toronto Rocks, which was an afternoon video show hosted by a local DJ named John Majhor. It was a great show in the early days of the music video revolution and I have very fond memories of it, but there was also another video show on CITY around the same time called City Limits, and City Limits was really pretty awesome. Hosted by Christopher Ward and running from midnight to six in the morning, City Limits was a lot more daring in what it would show, playing goth, punk, and metal videos that weren't getting played anywhere else at the time. I remember the very first time I saw the "Dear Prudence" video by Siouxsie and the Banshees on City Limits, being spellbound by Siouxsie, Steven Severin, Robert Smith and Budgie prowling through Venice. Something awakened in me that night, and I'm truly grateful for late night programming that allowed me to find that something.

In addition to all of their music programming, CITY also showed movies pretty much around the clock, billing them all as "Great Movies" regardless of whether they were blockbusters, flops, or cult favorites. The very first time I ever saw The Hunger was on CITY, and over the years I saw Subway, 9 and a Half Weeks, Videodrome, and tons of other films I can't even begin to remember, all presented without any edits or cuts to their original theatrical form. I'll admit, there was a lot of crap that doesn't mean anything to me now, but overall it was a good introduction to some of the less popular classics of that era and a nice introduction to film as a whole.
 
One of the films that I watched a bunch of times on CITY was Times Square, and it appealed to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it first introduced me to Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. I remember the first time I saw it was long after everybody else in my family had gone to bed, and I switched channels just as it was starting. I'm going to assume here that all of you are familiar with Times Square and the story of the Sleez Sisters, and I'm also going to assume that you know the opening scene where Robin Johnson's character is walking through the streets of New York while the credits roll. I should point out here that if you aren't already familiar with Times Square you should totally track down a copy and check it out, it's a slice of early eighties New Wave/Teen Angst cinema that's well worth investigating for a variety of reasons not the least of which is a great performance by Tim Curry as a radio DJ. Anyway, I sat there watching the scene unfold listening to an echoing bass line playing and I soon found myself closing my eyes so I could focus on the song, thinking about how much I enjoyed that bass line and the tight rhythm it kept with the drums.

After a moment the vocals began, this impossibly smooth voice, sultry and sexy singing "Nothing lasts forever...", and from that point on I was hooked. During the credit roll at the end of the movie I learned that the song was called "Same Old Scene" by Roxy Music, and though I didn't know it at the time, Bryan Ferry was the man behind the sexy voice. It was kind of a moment for me, and it inspired me to find out more about Roxy Music so I could hear more of this impossibly awesome voice.

With a little bit of digging I was able to find a copy of "Avalon" on cassette at the library. I also heard a few more songs on the radio, and between all of that I had enough to build up an idea of the band in my head. I liked what I heard, there was a certain elegance to what they did, something kind of sophisticated that I appreciated, though admittedly a little melodramatic and over the top compared to most of the other stuff I was listening to at the time. Roxy Music had a sense of style to what they were doing that other bands just didn't seem to have and that style appealed to me. Shortly after I discovered Times Square, they released a live EP called "The High Road" that featured a cover of Like a Hurricane and it proved to be a pretty big hit for them. The Roxy Music version of Like a Hurricane is totally epic, filled with swooping grandeur and drama, and admittedly it's way over the top, but as stated that was kind of Roxy Music's stock in trade and I was okay with that.

A few years later I started working at the record store and we had a store copy of Bryan Ferry's solo album "Boys and Girls". It got a lot of play from all of us regardless of our individual interests because it transcended genre and appealed to all of our tastes. "Boys and Girls" is a solid album that continues in the same vein that Roxy Music were headed with "Avalon", building on ideas and perfecting a style that would define Bryan Ferry's work in the years to come. It's a pretty solid album and I've always enjoyed it.

It was also around the release of "Boys and Girls" when I started to become aware of the influence that Bryan Ferry had on other musicians. You'll remember that this was the mid-80's and there wasn't nearly as much information available about bands as there is today on the internet. But by this point we were in the early years of MuchMusic here in Canada, and that meant there was suddenly a 24/7 venue that offered regular music-based programming with videos, interviews, retrospectives, live concert archives and more. Nothing on demand, that wouldn't come for a long time, but all of a sudden there was access to all sorts of information that wasn't previously accessible. And along with all that information came the discovery (to me at least) of musical history. I found out that the music I liked had a past filled with significant events and influential people. And one of those influential people was Bryan Ferry.

It's true that he wasn't as culturally important as David Bowie, he didn't change the musical landscape like the Beatles had, and he wasn't anywhere as revolutionary as Jimi Hendrix had been, but Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music had still left a mark on a lot of people that I admired. Being an early star in the Glam scene, his work had made an impact on a large portion of the New Wave artists, and his name was regularly dropped in interviews by artists that I admired. I was particularly impressed that Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin had met at a Roxy Music show, that seemed tremendously significant to me, and that fact gave Bryan Ferry an added coolness quotient in my mind.

Admittedly, I wouldn't have called myself a huge fan of Bryan Ferry, there were tons of other bands and artists that were more important to me at the time, but I liked his work and I had a certain respect for him. And when he released "Bete Noire" in 1988 and announced a tour to support it, I thought I'd go check him out. I already had aspirations of becoming a musician myself by that point, and I think in the back of my mind I had some vague romantic notion of making some sort of musical connection like Sioux and Severin did, but I also wanted to check out Bryan Ferry. And even though I didn't end up meeting my musical soul mate there, I ended up totally enjoying the show.

It was another concert at the Grandstand (in retrospect it seems like every show was there, doesn't it?), and it was scheduled during the CNE, so the midway was in full swing. I got there just as the lights were going down for Ferry's set, finding my seat as the lead in music started to play, a long drawn out version of the opening to Limbo building anticipation. There was a curtain across the stage so the audience couldn't see the band, but after a few minutes of intro as the song built up to a nice drum fill that broke into the song as it was played on the album, the curtain was pulled to the side revealing a tiered stage lit by blue and purple lights with palm trees and lit braziers at each end. The band looked great, all very stylish and well dressed in suits, and I was most impressed by the back up singers who were in sequin dresses and feathered head dresses. I know that seems a little much, but I had come to expect that from Bryan Ferry, and there's no question in my mind that they looked awesome.

The band played on their own for a few more minutes, drawing out the song until Ferry slid out from stage left wearing this fabulously tailored black suit with slim paisley lapels. Like, this was a seriously great suit. He looked amazing! And his hair? Damn. Much has been written over the years by far better writers than me about Bryan Ferry's awesome hair, and I can assure you, it totally lived up to and surpassed all expectations at that show.

So yeah, he opened with Limbo off of "Bete Noire", and it was a pretty amazing introduction. I'll be honest, I'd never really been a fan of the song before the show, but hearing it live gave me a whole new appreciation of it. After that was The Chosen One from "Boys and Girls" and Slave to Love which by that time was already kind of a Ferry classic.

Shortly after that he started digging into the Roxy Music catalog with a really nice version of The Bogus Man from "For Your Pleasure". That's always been my favorite Roxy Music album and I've always had a soft spot for The Bogus Man. There's a certain eerie quality to the song that really does it for me, a haunting and hypnotic orchestration that I really like, and the live version was particularly great that evening. Awesome stuff.

Ladytron followed, and really, what can one say about Ladytron that hasn't already been said? Arguably one of the best tracks from Roxy Music's Brian Eno period, Ladytron is the kind of song that was meant to be played live, spun out and extended, giving individual band members a chance to solo and stretch out. The version played that evening had some awesome guitar work and the band just totally went to town on it. A fantastic live moment.

After that the set moved through a mixture of solo work and songs from the Roxy Music days, I remember him playing Don't Stop the Dance, Windswept, Dance Away, others. There was a spirited take through Kiss and Tell that I particularly enjoyed, and the touring guitarist did a nice job on the solos. He was no Johnny Marr, who had played on the original recording, but he did a pretty good job just the same.

Shortly after that came the highlight of the show for me. In Every Dream Home a Heartache is my favorite Roxy Music song, and in one of those fabulous moments of live music synchronicity there was a magical quality to it that has always stood out in my mind as one of my very favorite concert moments ever. The stage was mostly dark while the sparse synth lines that play through the first half of the song rang throughout the Grandstand, and there was a spiral of white light that slowly spun on the backdrop behind the band. As Ferry sang about floating in pools and his inflatable lover, videoscreens on either side of the stage showed an unfocused view of a Ferris Wheel spinning lazily on the midway outside the venue, slowly moving to it's own rhythm but strangely connected in time with the hypnotic drone of the song. It was hypnotizing, mesmerizing, absolutely enthralling. As the music swelled and the band launched into a manic frenzy the videoscreens kept showing the Ferris Wheel, spinning in it's own time to the song. It was a truly beautiful moment, and I've never seen anything quite like it. I'm kind of breathless just thinking about it...

That Ferris Wheel paired with Dream Home was an absolutely amazing thing to see, and while the rest of the set was really good, including impressive runs through The Main Thing, Love is the Drug, and Avalon, nothing else that night could live up to that particular moment in my mind. I'm pretty sure that Ferry closed the show with a cover of John Lennon's Jealous Guy, which is a good song, but not one that I'm particularly interested in. I have recollections of a single spotlight outlining him as he reached to the sky with one hand, the other holding a cigarette and his microphone. I may be wrong on that one, it may actually have been one of the other times I saw Bryan Ferry in later years, but I'm pretty sure that's how the Bete Noire show ended. And I think that's a good place for it to end.

As stated earlier, I didn't meet my musical soul mate at that Bryan Ferry show like Sioux and Severin did so many years before, but it was a really great show and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Seeing Bryan Ferry was a chance for me to see an artist that had made a significant impact on a lot of the musicians that I admired and enjoyed, and as I watched him perform I could see why he was such an inspiration to so many. Very talented, very charismatic, very much a performer and a showman, elegant and cool. He wasn't David Bowie, but he had something special that night. I saw him again last year at Massey Hall and he still has that something. I wish I could tell you exactly what that something he has is, but its exact nature eludes me except to say that it's some combination of Times Square, great songs, paisley lapels, and Ferris Wheels. The exact measurements of each ingredient aren't quite clear to me, but if you mix them all together they all add up to Bryan Ferry in my mind and that's pretty cool.

Times Square, great songs, paisley lapels, and Ferris Wheels...