February 24, 2009

When B is better than A

Throughout their career U2 have made some surprising cuts to the final track listings of their official album released, relegating some great songs to the B side of singles or, worse, to the great and mysterious archives we hope will one day be opened by proclamation of the Irish government. And so it was with great pleasure I learned today that members of the U2 fan club will be getting a special 2-cd set of rarities and b-sides in the mail shortly. Here's a sample, a fun track called "Levitate" that never made it onto their 2000 album, "All That You Can't Leave Behind". More to come...   

Despite living just a block away Mark and I finally went to our first show at the 13-month old K-ROCK Centre this past weekend to see "So You Think You Can Dance Canada" tour. While the show was clearly designed for girls aged 12-16 (the men spent most of their time without shirts on and all dances lasted no more than 45 seconds) it was a fun time, with a handful of stunning routines amidst a cacophany of screeching teens. As it was the last night on the tour the dancers were a little sloppy but the winning dancer, Nico, was truly the star. You not only missed him when he was not on stage you were electrified when he was. There may have been better dancers in the competition but Nico is an extraordinary entertainer with grace and power on stage. Unlike the U.S. verson's Benji, for example, he is not campy and silly but a virile and sexy yet eloquent dancer. He deserves the praise heaped on him, and his good looks and charisma certainly help his star quality.

I am so very tired of the legions of Kingstonians who do nothing but heap scorn on the K-ROCK Centre (in their wit, they prefer to call it the CROCK Centre). There are few, if any businesses of any type which reach planned financial results in the first year of operations. And as for parking, folks in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal could only dream to be able to park free just one block away from an entartainment complex. Or, heck, to park for $8 close by! Our back windows face the Food Basics parking lot and our street is packed with cars on events nights, and rare is the night when both don't empty out within 15 minutes of the show closing. When I last saw U2 at Scotiabank Place (formerly the Corel Centre) it took 25 minutes just to leave the parking lot.

At the "So You Think" event the whole gang of women behind us drove in from Montreal to see the show. They loved the comparative intimacy of the venue and how close and cheap (!) everything was to the downtown core. The night of the packed Anne murray concert the area was lined with tour buses of patrons from other cities in Ontario, Quebec, and New York state. As for criticisms of the artists booked to date, a venue can only book whoever is touring at the moment who also wishes to perform in 5,000-seat arenas. Some acts are too small and some acts are too large. Furthermore, a successful business plan requires repeat patrons and it is only reasonable that the majority of entertainment acts booked to date (Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Brooks & Dunn, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, Il Divo, Rankin Family, kd lang, Neil Young, Celtic Thunder, etc) happen to fit perfectly with Kingston's actual demographics. Recent momentum suggests that the K-ROCK Centre is growing its profile amongst booking agents and performers/entertainers/events companies and will be offering events that meet an array of tastes and budgets.

February 22, 2009

The Wonder Years

Here is a picture of me circa 1976. It's my favourite picture of me as a child. I am sitting on the grass in a park in Ottawa with some sort of sailor outfit on. Not sure why my mom had me in this get-up, but I love that she took this photo in black & white. There is something timeless about b&w photography, and this image is a lovely sign post in my story. 

When I look at this little guy I can't help but think of that time of my life. I lived alone with my mom in Ottawa and I remember these as very happy times. Of course, I was a kid so my memory of things may have been skewed but I remember her happy and I remember her music more than anything else. My mom had a fantastic record collection and she had great taste in what we now call classic rock and pop. So in a moment of nostalgic reverie I thought I would share the soundtrack of that 1-bedroom apartment in Ottawa in the mid-70s. I can smell Jiffy Pop on the stove top and I can hear some of the following songs:

"Come Sail Away" (1976) -- Styx 

"Piece of my Heart" (1968) -- Janis Joplin

"It's Too Late" (1971) -- Carole King

"Go Your Own Way" (1977) -- Fleetwood Mac

"Night Moves" (1976) -- Bob Seger

"Show me the Way" (1976) -- Peter Frampton

Sweet, sweet memories and music that takes me back in an instant (sniff, sniff).

February 18, 2009

Reviews Are Pouring Over the Horizon

U2's forthcoming album, "No Line on the Horizon" is out worldwide on 2 March. I've been scouring the net for reviews and here's what the critics have to say:

Neil McCormack, Telegraph (London)

“It is a great record, and greatness is what rock and roll and the world needs right now. From the grittily urgent yet ethereal title track all the way to the philosophically ruminative, spacey coda of ‘Cedars Of Lebanon’ it conjures an extraordinary journey through sound and ideas, a search for soul in a brutal, confusing world, all bound together in narcotic melody and space age pop songs. It certainly sounds like U2 (as do a lot of groups these days) but in its boldest moments is as fresh and ambitious as the work of first timers, not veterans 33 years on the road. But what a place for a band to be, in orbit around their own myth, making music that bounces off the inside of a listeners skull, charged with ideas and emotions, groovy enough to want to dance to, melodic enough to make you sing along, soulful enough to cherish, philosophical enough to inspire, and with so many killer tracks it might as well be a latterday greatest hits. It is, at the very least, an album to speak of in the same breath as their best and what other band of their longevity can boast of that?”

Pete Paphides, The Times (London)

“It's a relief, then, to report that on their 12th album U2 come out of the traps sounding like, well, their old selves…No Line on the Horizon isn't U2's best album. But irrelevant? When four members of a group click and the tape is running, irrelevant doesn't really come into it. And, over 54 minutes, there are enough of those moments to remind you that you write off U2 at your peril.

Danielle Cahill, Evening Herald (Dublin)

“No Line on the Horizon delivers a range of sounds you wouldn't normally associate with one of the biggest stadium rock groups in the world. Throw in a brief homage to '70s rock, a hint of folk music, a touch of otherworldly tones and add some of the longest tracks the band have ever released and what you end up with is an interesting mix of eclectic sounds that promises to dominate radio airplay in the coming months…It's not just another album, it's a multi-faceted offering from a band who are smart enough to understand that every brand needs options. Whatever listening option you choose, this is one album you will be playing over and over again.


Barry Egan, Independent (Dublin)

“With this album, U2 have created a work that stylistically refuses to stand still. Even their most virulent critics would have to acknowledge that No Line on the Horizon isn't U2 following the formulaic or easy route. No Line on the Horizon is U2's b... (I almost typed bizarre) best record since Achtung Baby [1991]. The dream team behind the production console -- Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite -- are to be congratulated on a job well done.


Ben Thompson, Observer (London)

“This third album in what might fairly be called the "lap of honour" phase of U2's career -- in which they have gleefully inscribed ever-increasing circles around the triumphalist spectacle of their own ongoing medal ceremony -- offers a brutally effective summation of their achievements to date, and something entirely fresh and new at the same time. While every wannabe world-beater from Arcade Fire to the Killers seems to have fixated on the brazen grandstanding of phase two from War to Rattle and Hum), U2 are the only ones with the courage to remember that they moved backwards as well as forwards in that period, becoming not just the biggest band on the planet, but also for a while the most pompous and boring…U2's fourth coming has set their music free to become the holy-owned subsidiary it always promised to be.


Stuart Clark, Hot Press (Dublin)

“No Line on the Horizon is a mature, tender, reflective record of great musical variety, depth and beauty that could only have been made by four people who've experienced just about everything that life can throw at you. 32 years in, and the buggers are still worth every column inch that No Line on the Horizon's going to garner them. To say that U2 fans will love it is a gross understatement.  NLOTH is a very powerful record indeed.”


Irish Examiner

“If anything, No Line on the Horizon is the most conventional collection they have put together since the 1980s. Having sloughed off their earnest image on 1991's Acthung Baby, only to anxiously re-embrace it a decade later on All That You Can't Leave Behind, the band has spent much of their recent history in a state of nervous flux -- a period from which they have finally emerged with a record that adroitly brings together the best bits from their various incarnations.”

Stephen Dalton, The Times (London)

“Perhaps, after 25 years of qualified loathing and grudging admiration, I've learnt to stop worrying and love U2. After two drab albums, No Line on the Horizon marks a step change for U2. Although not quite the Achtung Baby-style leap promised by early reports, it is their most sexy and experimental work for more than a decade. A mix of lustrous electronica, Arabic instrumentation and revved-up guitar riffs, it sounds like a band having fun again.

John Meagher, Irish Independent

“No Line on the Horizon may not be a masterpiece, but it is unquestionably a very good, consistently strong collection that's every bit the match of their two huge selling albums of this decade, All That You Can't Leave Behind and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. No Line on the Horizon is unlikely to disappoint the band's multitudinous fanbase. They haven't reinvented themselves as they have suggested, but instead play to their strengths. Fledgling bands with stadium rock ambitions could certainly learn a thing or two from this album.

Eamon Carr, Herald (Dublin)

“That U2 have delivered a 12th studio album of such elegance and abandon at this stage in their career is quite remarkable. I'm not bigging up my buddies here. Nodding terms suits both parties. But I'd be remiss if I didn't highlight what I consider to be an artistic heart at the core of this new work that's unerring, fragile and true. Taken collectively, these songs are a serious piece of work. Impositional structures are overturned, yet songs build from one memorable hook to another as U2 push a few boundaries. The effect is to create layers of mystery which gradually unfold to reveal some brushstrokes of great beauty.”



February 9, 2009

A Landmark to Close

After 42 years of service to legions of LGBT folk the world's oldest gay & lesbian bookstore, Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, will close March 29 due to the financial recession. This store was not only an important piece of modern queer history but also a beacon for countless people searching for books and stories about their lives and identities. Founded in 1967 by Craig Rodwell the bookstore served as a much-needed meeting place, activist hub, and resource in those decades before the internet.  

In his recent article in New York magazine on the legacy of the bookstore David France writes,  "In 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots, when most gay activists still used fake names to avoid arrest, [Rodwell] took his savings from cleaning Fire Island hotel rooms and opened the nation’s first gay bookstore.  Not that there were many gay books then. The real action was in the cramped back room, where Craig and his staff—he hired men and women in equal numbers—plotted a better future. The city’s first gay-pride march was planned there. Strategies for getting the Mafia out of gay bars or confronting police brutality were discussed".

I was fortunate to go on a pilgrimage to Oscar Wlde's in May 2008, with Mark and our dear friends Ingrid and Edward. I took the attached photo of them standing at the entrance to this beloved and venerable destination. How sad that soon all that will be left is a plaque to mark a sanctum where men and women flocked to better understand themselves and to find the courage to walk unafraid 

February 6, 2009

The Names of Things

Recent conversations have had me reflecting on how complicated language can be, with its built-in meanings and assumptions. Nothing seems to me to be more complicated and more political than names. What we call things is so entrenched with power relations that it can be confusing and even absurd. To wit, a fascinating article called "From Negro to Black to African American: The Power of Names and Naming" by Ben L. Martin (1991). 

February 3, 2009

Signs of Despotism

The 1946 short film "Despotism" provides a scale by which you can judge your community and nation for signs of despotism. It's rather fascinating to apply the author's 63 year-old model of respect/power and economic distribution/information onto the nations of our time. I encourage you to watch the film and think about Canada and the United States with this assessment at hand. You may find some unsettling results...