Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Calgary Folk Fest, wow.

It was a hot, sun-soaked weekend in Calgary for their folk festival. And damn, what a weekend. The music was great and non-stop for the 2.5 days I was in attendance. I came to see the Squirrel Nut Zippers (who did not disappoint in the least) and heard a bunch of new artists (not necessarily new, but new to me) that were fantastic. Polyjesters, Eleni Mandell, Mary Flower, Watermelon Slim (unbelievable!), Final Fantasy, William Elliott Whitmore, the hummers... plus some familiar faces: Hawksley Workman, Sarah Slean, Great Big Sea, Chumbawamba, Geoff Berner (who I didn't even see, there was so much going on), Don MacLean, not to mention Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, who I was looking forward to beforehand, but had no idea how explosive their performance would be. I don't dance, but I was a dancin' fool.

Photos, music, and words to come at a later unspecified time...

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's Squirrel Nut Zippers time!

I'm headin' down south to Calgary today for a Squirrel Nut Zippers weekend. Celebration! Rejoice! It's the Calgary Folk Fest, folks. And while there are some other exciting artists like Hawksley Workman, Neko Case, Sharon & The Dap-Kings, Don McLean, Rufus Wainwright (oops, already missed him)... it's the ol' Squirrel Nut Zippers that has me stoked. They're playing the main stage tonight and here's some of the weekend side-stage sessions I'm looking forward to :

Saturday, 10:30am - 11:40am Alley of Tins and Pans
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Eleni Mandell
Mary Flower

Saturday, 11:50am - 12:55pm Six String Nation
Steve Dawson
Paul Rigby
Jon Rauhouse
Hawksley Workman
Lubo Alexandrov

Saturday, 2:00pm - 3:05pm Up Next...
Ridley Bent
Final Fantasy
Jon-Rae & The River
Jeremy Fisher

Saturday, 3:20pm - 4:05pm In Concert
Geoff Berner

Saturday, 4:15pm - 5:30pm Blues with a Feelin'
Chris Smither
Jim Byrnes
Mary Flower
Watermelon Slim & the Workers
Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers)

Sunday, 11:55am - 1:00pm Keys to the Kingdom
Sarah Slean
Henry Butler
Anne Loree
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Sunday, 4:20pm - 5:30pm Out of the Frying Pan...
Squirrel Nut Zippers
Watermelon Slim
PF Sloan
John Boutte & Henry Butler

I've posted it before, but here it is again: the first Squirrel Nut Zippers song I ever heard, which is also cosmically appropriate since the new Simpsons movie comes out today too.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hell [Springfield Mix]

See you next Wednesday!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Weird Covers

Weird Al Yankovic came through town last night at the Capital Ex, our city's annual exposition/festival thingy (formerly known as Klondike Days). I haven't been in a couple years, but the festival organizers usually get an interesting (if eclectic) group of performers for essentially a free concert with gate admission. It's hard to emphasize the impact that Weird Al has had on my wee little brain growing up. There are just so many songs that I first heard as a Weird Al parody or polka, it's quite unbelievable. For example, Yoda was a particular favourite of mine and thinking it was one of his originals, I was floored years later when I first heard the Kinks' Lola. For the record, I think Weird Al's version sounds better and the lyrics seem to fit the song better. Similarly, Jurassic Park is practically proof that he owns a time machine because I swear he "planted" MacArthur Park just so he could parody it years later. Even songs that "everybody knows" like Hey Jude, LA Woman, Hey Joe, Sharp Dressed Man, My Generation... yep, my first exposure was via a Weird Al tune. My affinity to one of my favourite bands Harvey Danger began after I scanned the liner notes of a Weird Al polka to find out who sang that "I'm not sick, but I'm not well" song. That would be Flagpole Sitta and Harvey Danger. Thanks Weird Al, you've left an indelible imprint on my musical tastes.

He goes through so many costume changes during the show, practically every song I think. During these breaks, we're treated to classic bits of AL TV like a particularly ridiculous interview with Paul McCartney. While Weird Al "interviews" hilariously make use of some clever editing, I cannot possibly imagine the context of the real interview in which Paul McCartney says and does the wacky stuff he does in the clip. It's probably on YouTube, but it's a riot. To me it was quite shocking how many people know the lyrics and can sing along to The Saga Begins, his Phantom Menace parody to the tune of American Pie. Cheers erupted when the big screen showed the beginning bit of his Fat video and sure enough, he waltzed out minutes later in full fat suit glory. Awesome. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a blast. You know what's crazy? I was just looking as his wikipedia entry and his first studio album was released in 1983. He's been doing this for as long as I've been alive. Way to go, Al!

Now the moment you've all been waiting for... covers of Weird Al!

Attack Slug - Dare to be Stupid
Your Mother - Dare to be Stupid
MC Chris - Dare to be Stupid
There are not a lot of Weird Al covers, but Dare to be Stupid seems to be popular. I've been told it was used in the 80's Transformers movie. I must have had a deprived childhood because I've never seen it, which is perhaps one (of many) reasons why I don't think this summer's remake of Transformers was the "Greatest Action Movie of All Time". If you browse the imdb listing of the animated movie, you'll find quite possibly the most unlikely voice cast ever assembled.

J.B.O - Ich glaube, Du liebst mich nicht mehr [originally You Don't Love Me Anymore]
This German cover of a Weird Al original is like some sort of extreme excercise in Post-Postmodernism. I love it.

Throwing Toasters - Good Enough For Now (live)
Another cover of a Weird Al original. While the original was in the style of a twangy country song, this cover distinctly reminds me of Cyrkle's Red Rubber Ball. Probably just me...

Laura Barrett - Smells Like Nirvana
Quite simply this is brilliant. Laura Barrett was making the indie blog rounds last year with Robot Ponies, another great track. Last year she was also up for a SOCAN songwriting award for Canadian indie artists, in which she was up against the likes of The Stills, Propaghandi, Final Fantasy, and Wolf Parade. If you haven't heard her music, it's kalimba-based (an African thumb instrument), which may sound gimmicky but she makes it work quite beautifully. And she's not afraid to unleash her inner nerd with this Weird Al cover from last year's Earth Sciences EP. I bought the EP around Christmas and it came in a unique hand-stitched CD case that I will treasure always (how many hand-stitched CDs do you have?). Presumably it can be still purchased directly from her myspace site.

A Weird Al tribute album made by fans called Prosthetic Lips can be downloaded in its entirety here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

White Stripes Maritimes Extravanganza

It's been work, work, work since I got back from holidays. And then what little free time I had was completely usurped by Harry Potter this weekend. But I guess I should be getting back to this blog. If you're not a White Stripes fan, you're going to have to bear with me just a little longer. Non-White Stripes posts coming up next week after I go to the Calgary Folk Fest.

When the White Stripes full Canadian tour was announced back in April, plans were immediately underfoot to see them as much as possible. The hometown Edmonton show was a given, but how many shows could I possibly weasel out of my bank account? It was decided early on that the best plan would be to do the Maritimes swing. Four shows within reasonable distances, 3 of which are within distances actually closer than Edmonton is to Calgary which are in THE SAME PROVINCE! The ultimate coup was the Glace Bay show in the historic 750-seat Savoy Theatre, which would coincide with the White Stripes' 10th anniversary to the exact date. With a little luck and sheer force of will, we obtained 4th row tix to the key show and general admission tickets to the other 3. The Maritimes roadtrip was a go!

I don't have the effort to fully recount the first three stops of the trip in Moncton, Charlottetown, and Halifax, but needless to say the shows were a blast and the band seemed to be gaining steam going into the homestretch of the Canadian leg of the tour. By this point, their afternoon secret shows were becoming the stuff of legend and the media coverage was inevitably getting heavier. Bowling alley in Saskatoon, public transit in Winnipeg, YMCA in Toronto, where will those wacky White Stripes turn up next? The Moncton secret show seemed to have been scuttled, one of the very few if only stops on the tour with no secret show. Charlottetown revived all the excitement. I practically walked into Jack White when we went to pick up our tickets at the Civic Centre. I let out a wimpy wave and supposedly got a smile back, but I was in utter shock and kinda blanked out. About an hour later we were gathered at Peake's wharf based on a rumour (later substantiated by an official post on the WS forums). In the distance some guitar-like noises were starting to emanate from the water. Then a boat rounded the bend and there were Jack & Meg rocking out on Catfish Blues. The boat neared the harbour and shifted back and forth for about 5 or so songs before fading into the distance as mysteriously as they had appeared with the crowd cheering in appreciation. Classic. Interesting sidenote: Dan Sartain's drummer was staying at our hostel in Charlottetown. We're not quite sure why that was, but it made for some funny jokes. Poor Ringo.

The Halifax concert was another highlight. Earlier in the day we had been among the mob that chased Jack & Meg Hard Day's Night-style 'round the Halifax Citadel, which was funny but ultimately fruitless (we later missed an opportunity to catch the actual secret show in a local poolhall). At the evening show, Jack was decked out in a kilt and Meg was wearing a balmoral. They proceeded to blow us away. The kicker at the end of the night was Jack threw his pick into the crowd. Long story short, I found it on the ground!

The next morning we set off for Glace Bay. My friend got a speeding ticket on the way up past Antigonish. Around $300, this made an expensive trip even steeper, yikes! As mentioned earlier, the show in Glace Bay was bound to be a show-stopper despite the band playing down the significance of this show saying it was a coincidence that it was their 10th anniversary as a band to this date. There was never any doubt it'd be something special. Prior to the whole tour, Jack had mentioned he may have some roots in Nova Scotia. What started as a rumour turned into truth as a distant relative traced Jack's lineage through his grandparents (his real last name is Gillis) and confirmed that Jack was in fact related to fiddling legend Buddy MacMaster (3rd cousin, once removed); Buddy's niece and fellow Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster (4th cousin); and fiddling wildman Ashley MacIsaac (double 4th cousin). Early in the tour, it was announced that Ashley MacIsaac would be one of the opening acts for the show. Ashley even has his own Live at the Savoy album recorded in that same theatre. Perhaps most shocking of all (to me anyway), was the revelation that Jack White is also related to ex-NHLer Al MacInnis (3rd cousin), owner of one of the hardest slapshots in NHL history. Last month it was announced that Al MacInnis would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside Mark Messier, Ron Francis, and Scott Stevens. In more fun with family trees, Natalie MacMaster is married to lead fiddler of the Leahy musical family, Donnell. I'm a big fan of Leahy, so that was a neat revelation too. If you can decipher all that, here's some related tracks (pun not really intended):

Natalie MacMaster - Second Figure [The Two Mile Bridge/The Champion Jig/Little Jack's Jig/Jackson's Fancy]
Leahy - DA
Leahy - Czardas
Ashley MacIsaac - Devil in the Kitchen

The Hextalls - I'd Take an Al MacInnis Slapshot to the Balls For You
Al MacInnis' slapshot is so legendary, there's even a song about one man's ultimate sacrifice in the name of love. When the White Stripes were playing earlier in the tour in Calgary, Jack White reportedly said, "I want to send a shout-out to my cousin Al MacInnis. This is where it all happened, right?" They were, of course, performing at the Saddledome, where Al MacInnis manned the backend for 10+ years leading the Flames to their only Stanley Cup in 1989 (Al won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP). I still can't get over this random connection.

We reached Glace Bay and found out there would be no secret show that day, which was both disappointing but a relief. We did a little bowling in a local lane candlepin-style, which was new to all of us, and walked down to the shore. On the whole there's not a heckuva lot to do in Glace Bay, quite frankly. Later we were walking by the Savoy Theatre when the strains of Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn (a new track from Icky Thump that hadn't been played live prior to this date) were heard from the backdoor. I rapidly crossed the street and started walking down the alley as fans out front realized at the same time that there was a soundcheck going on. It was hilarious as we crouched next to the garbage in the alley and strained to peer through the door, which was guarded by a friendly Savoy Theatre worker. After a couple minutes someone on stage finally turned and shouted "Who left that door open!" and we all scurried off. But not before snapping this shot of Jack and one of his cousins on the bagpipes (Angus, I think?).

And now the show itself... I feel like I can barely talk about it since I can't do it any justice. You just had to be there. This was the first time in a long time I didn't bring my camera in to a concert. Even though I probably could have snuck it in, I was determined this time to just soak it all in without distractions (I recommend this, it's very liberating). This whole show was being filmed for a future DVD, and knowing this made this choice easier. Our seats were in the 4th row, but right against the wall. My view in particular was hampered by the speakers and I was kinda grumbling during Dan Sartain, but luckily early into the White Stripes set we had shuffled into the aisle with no hassle from security. At the end of Ashley MacIsaac's set, he invited Buddy MacMaster to the stage. This was a genuine treat and everyone in the theatre knew it was special. As he and Buddy fiddled, Ashley even moved to the front of the stage for a little stepdancing as everyone clapped and stomped along.

Ashley MacIsaac - Sleepy Maggie
Probably his biggest hit. I remember this getting radio play back in the day. Haunting Gaelic vocals by Mary Jane Lamond.

My friends and I were among one of the lucky rows to receive champagne served by the White Stripes immaculately dressed roadies. This was during the break between Ashley MacIsaac and The White Stripes, so I wasn't sure if we were supposed to drink it right away or save it for a special 10th anniversary toast. I ended up saving it and toasting the first song, although it was apparent there was no elaborate plan except to drink up! The crowd was filled with Jack's east coast relatives. His mother was there, brothers, sisters, and so many cousins. One of Jack's brothers who bears a striking resemblance could be seen mingling with fans and family alike. It was just a big family brouhaha and we were a part of it. In our row was Jack's 91-year old great-aunt who somehow managed to endure the whole rockin' show. I felt bad for her since it was so loud and I saw her cover her eyes during the strobe lights. She did stand up for Prickly Thorn, which was heartlifting. An average White Stripes concert is roughly an hour and a half including encore. Here, Jack & Meg just unleashed nearly 2.5 hours on us. I can't even think of any highlights since the whole show was one monster highlight. Throughout the show we had to constantly jump out of the way of the Black Hat roadies running in and out of the stage door with cameras and film. I can't wait to see the DVD and maybe someday you'll catch me on it wearing my homemade Canadian tour shirt. It was the be all and end all of White Stripes concerts (at least for me). I simply can't imagine topping that experience. Maybe in another 10 years?

If you managed to read all that or even if you didn't, here are some cover songs. "Finally!" you say.

Whirlwind Heat - You're Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl) [originally by the White Stripes]
The Raconteurs - The Seeker (Feat. Pete Townshend) [originally by The Who]
Jack Johnson - We're Going To Be Friends [originally by the White Stripes]
Infadels - Steady as She Goes [originally by the Raconteurs]
DJ Zebra - Icky Thump (Whole Lotta Funk remix) [White Stripes vs. Led Zeppelin]

I'm also selling a couple things from the shows on eBay. A limited edition Rob Jones concert poster from the Glace Bay show, which I'm actually selling for my friend to help recover the cost of that pesky speeding ticket. It's so collectible and highly sought after that someone just bought one on eBay recently for nearly $700! Yikes, that would cover the speeding ticket and our concert tickets! I'm also selling 1 of 100 hand-made White Stripes kilt pins they were selling at the Halifax and Glace Bay shows. The trip cost an arm and leg, so bid away! Just kidding, it was an unforgettable and completely priceless experience. And seeing how my Ben Folds cruise was unceremoniously cancelled for next year, my wallet can take the hit.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Just a quick note to let you know that I'm still kicking around. If you're a particularly diligent reader, you may have realized that I've been gone on my week-long White Stripes Extravaganza roadtrip, which culminated in the ultimate 10th Anniversary show in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia last Saturday. Needless to say, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWING. I'll do a proper post in the near future about it once I sort through photos and such. But for now fun time's over, got to get back to my real jobs.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Folk/Blues Roots of the White Stripes

As the display person at the library I work at, I sometimes take some liberties with what goes on display including a massive White Stripes display that's been up for the past few weeks (and the next few). I made my own Canadian tour poster (see above) using a doctored version of some Rob Jones art, who's also doing the official posters for the tour. I'm sworn to secrecy, but I can tell you that I was THIS close to having the White Stripes come play the Edmonton secret show at my library. Seriously. I still got to go (see previous post), but how amazing would it have been if it was at the library?

I didn't exactly get the perfect shot, but Jack and Meg were waving the Alberta flag at the Edmonton show on Sunday. Man, I love this band!

Anyway, in honour of the White Stripes Canadian tour, which is turning out to be more and more monumental by the day, I've assembled a selection of songs from artists that have heavily influenced Jack White. Most of these are songs that the White Stripes have covered on their early albums or in concert.

From the liner notes to the Son House compilation Heroes of the Blues:
"In my hometown of Detroit, nothing stirs me up more than knowing that Son House died just miles from my home; before I was even old enough to even know what he had done to father modern music." - Jack White III (The White Stripes)

Son House - Walking Blues (Death Letter)
The White Stripes' eponymous debut album was dedicated to Son House. Their version of Death Letter appears on their 2nd album De Stijl. It's a staple at their live shows and is absolutely electrifying to watch live.

Son House - John the Revelator
A traditional song, The White Stripes incorporated part of it into Cannon, which appears on their debut album.

Son House - Grinnin' in Your Face
The White Stripes have been known to play this live. As an aside, here's one of my other favourites Andrew Bird tackling the same tune:
Andrew Bird - Grinnin'

Robert Johnson - Stop Breakin' Down Blues
The White Stripes recorded a cover of Stop Breaking Down for their first album.

Blind Willie McTell - Southern Can is Mine
De Stijl, which features a wonderful cover of this song, was in part dedicated to the influential Blind Willie McTell.

Blind Willie McTell - Lord, Send Me an Angel
Another song the White Stripes have covered (as a B-Side, I believe). There's a wonderful 3-CD set called Statesboro Blues: The Early Years 1927-1935, which consists of the complete recordings of Blind Willie made between those years. Definitely worth checking out (from your local library).

Bob Dylan - Love Sick
They have covered Bob Dylan numerous times including One More Cup of Coffee on their debut album and Outlaw Blues on their Under Blackpool Lights DVD. Love Sick was one of the songs I saw them perform a couple years ago in Vancouver.

Jack White & Bob Dylan - Ball & Biscuit
A few years ago, Jack got to join his hero on stage for a performance of the White Stripes' Ball & Biscuit from their 2003 album Elephant.

Now here's some fun playing connect the dots . . . you may or may not have noticed that the illustrations of Son House and Blind Willie McTell are by famed underground comic artist R. Crumb. In 1980, a series of trading cards featuring the Heroes of the Blues were illustrated by R. Crumb, an avid collector of 78 rpm records including early blues records. Some of these illustrations were used on a series of Heroes of the Blues CDs including the aforementioned Son House CD with the Jack White quote. The 2005 book, The R. Crumb Handbook, came with a CD of music from several of R. Crumb's bands, from which we get this cover of the traditional folk song St. James Infirmary:

The Crumb Family - St. James Infirmary
Another cover of this song also appears on the debut White Stripes album.

Blind Willie McTell - Dying Crapshooters Blues
The tune to St. James Infirmary was adapted by Blind Willie McTell for Dying Crapshooters Blues, a song (you guessed it) also covered by The White Stripes on occasion.

The White Stripes - St. James Infirmary/Dyin' Crapshooters Blues (live)
Here are Jack & Meg covering BOTH live in 2005.

Bob Dylan - Blind Willie McTell
Bob Dylan himself wrote a tribute to Blind Willie McTell. . . to the tune of St. James Infirmary. From a series of sessions with Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler.

The White Stripes - Blind Willie McTell (live)
And the White Stripes also covered this live in Perth, Australia in 2003.

Toshiyuki Honda - St. James Infirmary
On a personal note, the first time I had ever heard this song was this Toshiyuki Honda arrangement from the 2001 anime film Metropolis (awesome soundtrack by the way), which was inspired by Fritz Lang's influential 1927 science fiction film Metropolis. And just to give your head a final spin, one of the latest shirt designs at the White Stripes online store is of Maria. . . from Fritz Lang's Metropolis.