Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ben Lee

Last thursday I had the opportunity to check out Ben Lee at the Sidetrack Cafe. More than just playing good music, Ben was entertaining between songs as well, telling goofy stories and personally pledging to aid Justin Timberlake's cause to "bring sexy back" by the year 2008. During his set, he covered Modest Mouse's Float On as well as Montreal band Pony Up!'s Matthew Modine about the all-girl band's collective crush on the actor Matthew Modine (hilarious when sung by one guy and with his acoustic guitar). And to fulfil his Canadian content requirement, Ben and his band performed BTO's You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet in the encore.

After the show, Ben hung around to sign stuff and pose for photos. How many artists are this approachable? Being a huge fan of The Bens (i.e. the side project he did with Ben Folds & Ben Kweller), I asked him when they're going to reunite. "Soon...when the timing's right..." he said, mentioning that Kweller just had a baby. I hope they do a full album because their 4-song EP is just a teaser of great things. Another Ben Lee project I'm looking forward to is his "Mix Tape" project to be released. . . next year? Word on the street is Zooey Deschanel sings and plays piano on a song. How cool is that? We definitely need more Zooey on CD (and screen).

My growing unhealthy fascination with YouTube continues... here's some footage I shot at the concert:

"Ben Lee - Catch My Disease (live in Edmonton)"

"Ben Lee - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (live in Edmonton)"

Ben Lee - Float On [originally by Modest Mouse]
Pony Up! - Matthew Modine
Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone - Baby, It's Cold Outside [originally performed by Betty Garrett & Red Skelton]
The Bens - I Touch Myself (live in Melbourne) [originally by The Divinyls]

Friday, August 25, 2006

Rodrigo y Gabriela (y Led Zeppelin y Ben Folds)

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Wow. What can I say? These two were incredible. Rodrigo y Gabriela are an acoustic guitar duo from Mexico (based in Ireland) who, for the official record, do not play flamenco. It's hard to slap a label on their music, but according to the folk fest program they prefer to call their music "acoustic-folk-rock-metal". I caught wind of them while I was in the UK in June and I absolutely couldn't believe it when I found out they were going to be playing in my hometown at the Edmonton Folk Festival, which I already had a ticket to! As part of the folk fest, artists are slated to play on the side stages at "sessions" or "workshops" with 2 or 3 other artists, usually in various genres. Sometimes the individual artists play their own tunes, but in the best situations they'll all jam together. So with eager anticipation I went to a workshop on the Saturday to get my first taste of Rodrigo y Gabriela live with Rickey Skaggs, Solas, and Dirk Powell. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed as an MC regretfully informed the crowd that "there will be a scheduling change and Gabriel Rodriguez will not be playing". I scoffed disappointedly at the butchering of their name and hoped they would even be there for their next show on the Sunday when they were scheduled for a solo show. The next day I went early to stage 1 to see the band perform before them and to ensure I had a good spot for Rodrigo y Gabriela. As I approached the stage from behind, I saw the distinctive figures of Rodrigo y Gabriela mulling about the festival site. Excellent! At least they wouldn't be no-shows for today. My sister and friend joined me before the show where I had staked out a prime seat in the middle front of the stage. I had been ranting and raving about these guys the whole weekend, so they were obligated to check them out. For those who don't know, there are concerts concurrently on 7 different side stages, so you have to pick and choose your daily schedule of concerts. Part of the excitement for me was seeing the unsuspecting crowd growing. 99% of the people would have never heard of Rodrigo y Gabriela and would have checked them out based on the blurb in the program or just by random chance, so they had no idea they were about to be blown away.

Due to glitches setting up the sound, their show started about 25 minutes late and their entire show was barely 30 minutes... but what a 30 minutes! I had totally psyched myself out for this event and they did not disappoint in the least. In fact, they probably surpassed my expectations. The crowd was caught up in their energetic performance and was on their feet by the time the last song came on. Gabriela let us know that this was their first concert ever in Canada and they would be back in October once their album is released in North America. What an honour it is to have them start spreading the word in Edmonton and hopefully they'll be back like they said because I'm sure everyone there was an instant fan. In hindsight, they were also no-shows at their scheduled session later that day so this 30 minute show ended up being the only glimpse anyone had of them. But during the whole 4-day festival, this was the huge highlight for me. In the paper the next day, a reporter described them as the surprise "stars of the festival" and that she cried after the performance because it was so beautiful and unexpected. See, it's not just me. Oddly enough, they didn't bring any merchandise to the event and the merch tent was bombarded after the concert to no avail. A volunteer said based on the demand they could have sold a thousand CDs. Even in today's newspaper in the culture rant section (two weeks after the fact), someone wrote how incredible their performance was.

Anyway, you should check out, keep an eye out for them in your area, and look into grabbing a copy of their CD when it comes out. Here's a video of them performing Diablo Rojo I snagged with my digital camera, which is not too bad quality though it hardly does them justice. Look at her hands fly!

Rodrigo y Gabriela - Stairway to Heaven [originally by Led Zeppelin]

Susan Tedeschi was another welcome surprise at the folk fest. Here's a Zeppelin cover she did, which admittedly is a bit blase compared to the original, IMHO. But I do enjoy this Junior Wells song she performed at Folk Fest on the main stage. What a great voice.

Susan Tedeschi - Rock and Roll [originally by Led Zeppelin]
Susan Tedeschi - Little by Little [originally by Junior Wells]

And while I'm at it, how 'bout some more Zeppelin covers?

Templar - Whole Lotta Love
Dream Theater - Zeppelin Medley
Hangnail - Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp
Tomoyasu Hotei - Immigrant Song

Last week, I reported that Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls wrote in her blog about the phone call from Mr. Ben Folds himself. Now a couple days ago Ben dropped a line on his mySpace page confirming that the Dolls will join him on a few of his Aussie orchestral gigs (ROCK!). The mySpace blog doesn't seem to be working but the full post can be read here.

Ben Folds on the Dresden Dolls:
"speaking of neediness in music or lack thereof... amanda of the dresden dolls, my new favorite band of all time, mentioned that she felt many people thought their music was TOO needy. hmmm... i told her to give me a list of who these people are and i will fly to their homes with a sharpie and draw dicks on their bathroom walls. see, after years of touring, i never succumbed that particular touring pastime . i never drew dicks on walls. but last year, i had to try it. i drew a dick on a brand new clean white dressing room wall. and you know what, it felt good. so i want to draw more, and amanda will hopefully tell me who's houses to go to. feel free to leave a message with your address if you have any criticism of the dresden doll's music at all. and i will come draw a dick on your wall.
same goes for anyone who doesn't like the streets new record. or anything sufjan stevens does. there are a few others, who if you have a problem with, will draw the fiery wrath of my sharpie.... anyway, the dresden dolls will be making a few appearances with me in australia with the orchestras. if you comment with something nice about my favorite music, then i will draw a small child looking in wonderment at a beautiful butterfly (with a big dick)

HAHAHA... absolutely classic! He also talked about the release of his Supersunnyspeedgraphic LP, which is made up of new mixes of some of his EP and non-album tracks, a live orchestral album on the way, and he'll be back in the studio in October to work on a new album! Wow, that made my day,week,month.

Saw Ben Lee at the Sidetrack Cafe last night. More on that next time...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Edmonton Folk Fest Megapost

Wow, I last posted to say I was still alive and then disappeared for about 3 weeks. I just got back into Edmonton last week and I have been utterly consumed by the 4-day Edmonton Folk Music Festival which started last Thursday. This is the first year I've attended the festival on a more than casual basis. While I was away my sister picked up full passes for the whole weekend, so I've been in 100% festival mode for the past few days. That is to say I woke up, went to festival, went home to sleep, and repeated for four days. To compensate for lack of postings, I'll try to generously pepper this post with related mp3s.

Among the many performers: Linda Ronstadt, David Gray, The Neville Brothers, Sarah Harmer, Bedouin Soundclash, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bruce Cockburn, Chumbawamba (?!), and Ricky Skaggs. The stand-out artists for me were in that category of "heard-of-but-never-actually-heard-before". So I'm a newly minted fan of Feist, Susan Tedeschi, Geoff Berner, K'Naan, and Hawksley Workman.

Chumbawamba was an eye-opening performance. Knowing them only for their annoying 90's hit Tubthumping, it was a shock to find out they've evolved into (or always were) English folk anarchists singing political rebel songs and medieval-sounding ballads. The beautiful four-part harmonies and playful guitar strumming are a stark contrast to the angry lyrics and political themes of their songs (see Homophobia). They're a hoot to see live and they entertained the crowd with goofy in-between song banter and translations of the sometimes overly British lyrics. They finished their set with a funny anti-Queen song, an extension of the Beatles' Her Majesty. I was able to record it with my digital camera, which isn't great quality but not bad considering. The line about showing the queen around Edmonton is particularly amusing because she did come to Edmonton last May for our province's centennial celebrations amid much fanfare. I snapped this photo last year at city hall and was so close I could have slapped her if I wanted to (not that I would...).

Chumbawamba - Her Majesty (Live at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival)
Chumbawamba - Her Majesty [originally by The Beatles]
Chumbawamba - Homophobia

Apparently Bedouin Soundclash's rise to fame and eventual Juno for best new artist began last year when their song was used in a Zellers ad campaign. Being somehow one of the only people to not hear/see this ad, I had to ask a friend to point out which song it was. They put on quite an enjoyable reggae/ska set. Here's that song for your listening pleasure, which is good song, might I add):
Bedouin Soundclash - When the Night Feels My Song

I'm not a huge hip-hop fan, but K'Naan was a refreshing voice rapping about actual issues and not just the ghetto, girls, and bling, which he actually takes issue with in one of his songs. K'Naan was born in Somalia and he raps about growing up in Mogadishu surrounded by hunger, warlords, and armed children. The first time I heard K'Naan was in this cover of U2's One with Jarvis Church for a peace album. Of course, Jarvis Church is the stage name of Gerald Eaton, lead singer of The Philosopher Kings, who also co-produced K'Naan's first album The Dusty Foot Philosopher.
Jarvis Church featuring K'Naan - One [originally by U2]

Though not exactly my cup of tea, I ended up seeing a sidestage session with Ricky Skaggs because I wanted to see Rodrigo y Gabriela (who were no-shows). It was still a fun show, especially because local artist Oscar Lopez was called to fill-in and he jump-started some awesome jam songs with Skaggs, Dirk Powell, and Seamus Egan (of Solas).
Ricky Skaggs & Jim Varney - Hot Rod Lincoln [originally by Charlie Ryan]

Feist impressed me when I saw a session where she shared the stage with Hawksley Workman, Geoff Berner, and The Waifs. She performed a really cool jazzy number that I don't know the name of and can't seem to find on her albums (something about everlasting love?). The sidestage performances were great because artists were thrown together and encouraged to jam with each other, which sort of depended on whether the artists were open to such an idea. Luckily at this session, they helped each other out on a few songs which is cooler than each individual artist taking turns playing. This was a prelude to a full set she played on the main stage later, qhich was really good although I did prefer the stripped-down set of tunes (just Feist and her guitarist).
Bright Eyes with Spleen - Mushaboom [originally by Feist]

The Blind Boys of Alabama were a treat and brought everyone to their feet with their inspiring gospel music (regardless of religious beliefs). This version of Amazing Grace, which the performed on Sunday night, is unexpectedly yet succesfully combined with the music of House of the Rising Sun.
The Blind Boys of Alabama - Amazing Grace

In '93, Randy Newman put out an album based on his Broadway reworking of Faust and cast various singers to play his "dream cast" including Don Henley, James Taylor, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, and Linda Ronstadt. Linda Ronstadt played the "good girl" role and Bonnie Raitt the "bad girl", but on Thursday night Ms. Ronstadt said she was going to sing one of Bonnie's songs because "bad girls have all the fun". And the song she sang is Feels Like Home, which I enjoyed even though it's atypical of the most of the stuff I listen to... but that's what Folk Fest is all about: exposing your ears to different sounds.
Chantal Kreviazuk - Feels Like Home [originally by Randy Newman]

For her encore, Linda Ronstadt covered this Warren zevon song, here covered by Bonnie Raitt & Jackson Browne:
Bonnie Raitt & Jackson Browne - Poor Poor Pitiful Me [originally by Warren Zevon]

Bruce Cockburn took the main stage on Saturday night and performed this song. I also enjoyed a song called Slow Down Fast, which is off his new album and features Hawksley Workman who was on hand to help perform it live.
Barenaked Ladies - Lovers in a Dangerous Time [originally by Bruce Cockburn]

Geoff Berner - Lucky Goddamn Jew
This guy reminded me of Ben Kweller with an accordion, at least in terms of vocal stylings. He won over the crowds with quirky sometimes angry punk accordion songs such as Maginot Line, Whisky Rabbi, Song Written in a Romanian Hospital, and this one: Lucky Goddamn Jew, which he performed in front of 20,000 folk-festers. At the end of the weekend, Geoff received an award and cheque from Galaxy Satellite Radio for best new artist. Check out his site here for some more MP3s. Strange celebrity sighting: as I was walking to the bank yesterday I saw Geoff on Whyte Ave buying a newspaper. That's random, thought I as I mosied on by.

A hilarious song Geoff sung was called Don't Play Cards For Money With Corby Lund. FYI: Corb Lund is an Albertan artist and sometime Edmontonian who apparently is a bit of a card shark according to Geoff Berner. A Corb Lund cover for you:
The Corb Lund Band - Sixteen Tons (live) [originally by Merle Travis]

Sarah Harmer was the closing act on Sunday night and included in her set was a cover of The Shins' Gone For Good. Here's a version of that song that Sarah Harmer performed with the Weakerthans on a CBC radio program. I nicked this from B(oot)log but I'm mirroring it myself because I was having a spot of trouble with his EZarchive link.
Sarah Harmer with The Weakerthans - Gone For Good [originally by The Shins]
...and another Shins cover for good measure:
Of Montreal - Know Your Onion! [originally by The Shins]

Hawksley Workman was a huge surprise for me. I knew nothing of his music and I was totally blown away by his main stage performance and other sidestage shows. A friend made an interesting comparison to Adam Sandler (Hawksley often ventures into falsetto) and he reminded me vaguely of a edgy, crazy Billy Joel probably because there's a very faint physical resemblance (at least without my glasses on) and he's accompanied by his piano player Mr. Lonely. Here's a video I got with my digital camera as I attempt to implement YouTube for the first time... At this particular session, he shared the stage with Lynn Miles, Michael Joseph & The Ridges, and Lorrie Matheson and you can see Hawksley motioning at Lynn Miles' drummer to join in. This song is Jealous of Your Cigarette off the album (Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves with a little Pink Floyd thrown in near the end.

The HUGE major highlight of my weekend was getting the opportunity to see Rodrigo y Gabriela and their abrupt 30 minute performance was so epic it deserves it's own post... so tune in next time for that.

On the topic of my last post regarding the Dresden Dolls, I see that Amanda Palmer recently updated her Dolls blog which talks about the hell of Panic! at the Disco fans and the experience of the Fuck the Backrow shows, one of which I partook in (read about that here. Later down in her post she talks about how Ben Folds randomly called her up and chatted for 2 hours, inviting the Dresden Dolls to play at the Sydney Opera House since both of them would be touring Australia around the same time next month. The mere idea that Ben Folds (probably my favourite music artist) randomly called up one of my other favourite bands and invited them to play almost makes my head explode with excitement. If this leads to some sort of collaboration or double-billed show, I'd be very very very very very very very very happy.

The Dresden Dolls - Mandy Goes to Med School
The Dresden Dolls - Pretty in Pink [originally by The Psychedelic Furs]
Ben Folds - Songs of Love [originally by The Divine Comedy]