Friday, August 31, 2012

Ariel Pink: Sinking Battleships

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti declares its new mission with the robocall refrain, "Who sank my battleship? I sank my battleship," from "Kinski Assassin", the opening track on the band's sensational new album, Mature Themes.

Rather than build on the louchecore of 2010's Before Today, Pink takes a different path on Mature Themes, one designed to undermine expectations and exorcise a fresh clutch of demons. Pink has always had a gift for the earworm, that ingenious ability to tether inflatable melodies to nonsensical gibberish like "I'm eatin' schnitzel" that relentlessly bounce around the head long after the music has stopped. But this time around there's more deadpan phooey than yacht rock irony, more Devo and Zappa than Toto or Boz Scaggs.

That said, Mature Themes still takes the Porcaro brothers' candied template for its beating heart, while expanding into pure sunshine pop:

Previously, when Pink sang, "I want a lady as beautiful as a sunset on a strip," he came off as a jaded hipster, a cynical poseur, but not this time: now the dream is real. On Mature Themes the band sounds like they've actually grown up and sank a few battleships along the way.

Monday, August 27, 2012

At Bryant Park: Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger has a bone to pick with the editors of Everybody Says Freedom. He wants to know what buffoon at W.W. Norton & Company authorized the "godawful" cover photos. Pete looks like he's at a funeral while the freedom marchers appear to be in search of one. According to Pete, the book is meant to be a celebration of struggle, an uplifting and inspiring collection of stories and songs from the frontlines of the civil rights movement. Judging from the cover, it should be full of songs about death and cholera.

I know this because that's what he told me when I met him at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan on the occasion of his new book's release, In His Own Words. Written in collaboration with Rob and Sam Rosenthal, the book focuses on Pete's writings and letters throughout the years to those closest to him like his mother and father, Woody Guthrie and Pete's wife and partner for more than sixty years, Toshi, about whom he has written: "Thanks to my wife Toshi, without whom the world would not turn nor the sun shine."

I bought a copy for my mum and told Pete that she had been the president of her clerical union at the BC Teacher's Federation in Vancouver in the 80s and early 90s. She found inspiration in his music with the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, as well as his solo work and she would have loved to have met him. He signed the book, "To Marie!" with an exclamation mark.

I then placed Everybody Says Freedom in front of Pete, which I'd also just picked up. He paused and gave it a look over, shook his head and then drew a bright red 'X' through his photo with a felt pen.

It was vintage Pete Seeger: spontaneous, honest and indignant. We shared a laugh and he then signed it for both Yuko and I.

I told Pete I'd follow up and try and track down those responsible for that "godawful" cover. So if you're out there and happen to read this, redo the cover!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Montréal: A Day At The Protest

Protests flared through the streets of Montréal today as thousands gathered at the Place du Canada to march against tuition fee hikes and the Liberal government of Jean Charest. For the past six months mass demonstrations have been held on the 22nd of each month to keep the heat on the government. With a provincial election scheduled for September 4, students are determined to keep the issues of access to education and the draconian Bill 78 alive.

Yuko and I arrived into Montréal late last night, just in time to join the festivities. It was exhilarating to take part and witness the revitalization of the protests. Organizers were encouraged to see more people participating than previous months, but estimates varied widely.

According to the Montreal Gazette, La Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE) put the number at 100,000, while a counting firm hired by Radio-Canada put it at 12,250, and some journalists placed it at closer to 20,000.

(With Guerrilla Panda)
The whole event was conducted peacefully and lasted about two hours. Much of the media has been trying to write off the students, calling past turn-outs "anemic" and suggesting the movement is dwindling. But after today, that may only be wishful thinking.

(Socking it to Charest)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In Limbo: Wikileaks In Ecuador

Ecuador is my new favourite country. This small, South American nation has blown a raspberry in the face of Washington and London by offering asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. Kudos to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa's government for recognizing the sham that Sweden has been attempting to pull off for the US. Now all Assange has to do is get around the army of police officers waiting for him outside Ecuador's London embassy...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Live! At The Gaslight Café

Come you ladies and you gentlemen, a-listen to my song
Sing it to you right, but you might think it's wrong
Just a little glimpse of a story I'll tell
"Bout an East Coast city that you all know well... ~ Hard Times in New York Town
The other night I fulfilled a long-standing dream of treading the boards at the legendary Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village, now known as 116 MacDougal St. During its heyday from 1958-1971, the Gaslight hosted the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Mississippi John Hurt, and was "overrun by every guitar-picker who had ever migrated to Greenwich Village," according to the late Al Aronowitz.

This time it was all about the inspired word - sans guitar. I signed up for a full evening of poetry and panic bliss and had a blast. The room is literally underground, beneath MacDougal, and is easily missed if you're not looking for it.

I first heard of the Gaslight when I came across a three-record box set of Dylan's Gaslight Tapes on sale at Track Records on Seymour St. in Vancouver in 1987, just before my first busking trip across Europe.

It's a fantastic album, full of classic folk standards, audience murmers and the odd clinking glass. I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd discover the remarkable room in a New York City village that conjured both Jimmy Dean and the Child Ballads...

Monday, August 06, 2012

Katz's Deli: Ess Gesunt!

Katz's Delicatessen
in the Lower East Side has been serving up fat pastrami and knoblewurst sandwiches since 1888 and orgasms since Harry met Sally. Today you can sit at the actual table where the iconic scene took place and draw on the magic (we passed):

Yuko and I don't eat meat, so I had a bagel and lox, a can of Dr. Brown's Cream Soda and the best sour pickle I've ever tasted...

Yuko ordered the Matzo Ball Soup and Dr. Brown's Black Cherry soda...

For dessert we shared a slice of pecan pie and a plate of blintzes...

Katz's Deli has been known as the best in town for decades, attracting everyone from Bill Clinton to Dom DeLuise and the Wu Tang Clan. Photos cover the walls of people seeking the manna...

As original owner Willy Katz put it in yiddish, Ess Gesunt! or eat in good health!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Rebels Without Pause: Public Enemy

It doesn't get much better than "free," as in a free Public Enemy concert at Wingate Park in Brooklyn. As part of the Martin Luther King Jr. concert series, Public Enemy teamed up with Salt n' Pepa and brought some old skool noise to shake up the Brooklyn borough on July 30th.

After riding the subway for about an hour east from Manhattan, Yuko and I arrived anticipating a fun night. But after winding our way through the line up under the heavy stares of New York's finest, we were stopped by neighbourhood security at the entrance. We couldn't enter the park with our camera. What?! We pleaded that we'd come all the way from Japan & Canada to see the gig, but they still refused. Our only chance, it was suggested, was to find some decent person to take care of our Canon EOS 50D for a few hours. Hmmm... Here we were in an area of Brooklyn once known as "Pigtown," not far from where Ebbets Field once hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers. We didn't know a soul. 

We walked up a few blocks to Nostrand Avenue, found a Chinese restaurant and asked the woman inside if she would take care of our camera. Without blinking, she agreed. We hustled back to the park and settled in for an awesome gig, right across the street from a hospital and what might have been a crematorium.

Salt n' Pepa were fine and put on a great show, working the crowd by giving shout outs to all the "pretty ladies" in attendance. But I was there for Public Enemy and when the lights went down and the siren call went up I was ready for the terrordome. Chuck D and Flav were solid and the Bomb Squad was tighter than a cat's ass. The PE flame not only burns, it illuminates.

(c/o Public Enemy)
We returned to the restaurant a few hours later, picked up our camera, bought a large dinner and left a tip. So if fortune ever delivers you to Wingate, Brooklyn NY, be sure to drop in at the China City Restaurant on Nostrand and have some delicious grub!