September 29, 2009

Remastering a Masterwork

In October 1984 U2 released its fourth album, titled The Unforgettable Fire. It was a huge departure for the rock combo; featuring atmospheric soundscapes, layers of echoing guitars, and a collection of rather unconventional songs.

Gone was the bombast and three-chords-and-the-truth, in-your-face rock solids. In their place was a melodic, moody, poetic, and ambient recording. It was their first collaboration with producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and it was a bold risk for a band known for its heart-on-their-sleeve-guitar-drum-bass elements.

Music critics have always been hard on U2, typically seen as an average band for the common man rather than for the in-the-know cognoscenti. The Unforgettable Fire confounded their base audience and brought in a new listener. It was the first time U2 made a wider audience take notice, largely on the back of the accessible hit single "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and the exquisite "Bad". When U2 would perform a 15-minute version of the latter at Live Aid it was their turning point from hot college radio band to global presence.

The Unforgettable Fire remains an important album for me, as it represents the first time I heard U2. 25 years later it is a pleasure to listen to the album in its entirety; I am particularly fond of "A Sort of Homecoming", "Promenade", and the bizarre stream-of-consciousness "Elvis Presley and America". Plus, the aforementioned "Bad" remains my overall favourite U2 song.

Next month a remastered 25th anniversary edition will hit the stores. In the meantime let me leave you with what I think is the album's choice cut, "Wire". It represents the band at a wonderful stage in their evolution and craft.

September 26, 2009

Queen's Football 4-0


Queen's Football Gaels, at the hands of outstanding QB Danny Brannagan (pictured), clobbered the visiting York Lions 67-0.

Brannagan threw for 543 yards, the seventh highest in Canadian university football history. Of course, the mighty Queen's defense were also a key part in the shut-out, manhandling York's QBs.

The win moves Queen's to number-5 in the national football ranking.

September 25, 2009

Art After Dark

Last night a group of eight of us strolled around Kingston's downtown core to take in the first "Art After Dark" gallery tour.

From what we saw it was a resounding success, with attendance quite healthy at many of the sites we visited. Luckily, the weather was perfect so it helped to make the night pleasurable.

Kingston's gallery scene has literally exploded within the last three years. There is the potential for the city to become a desirable cultural destination for travellers in a 3-hour radius.

We made a shortlist of the available sites and took in the gorgeous creations at Kingston Glass Studio, then we saw a video installation at Modern Fuel Gallery, new work at the Sandra Whitton Gallery, huge b/w photographic prints at the Robert Macklin Gallery, some lovely sculpture at Studio 22, and then we finished with what I believe is the best-in-show, the Sydenham Street Studios.

I should also mention that part of the reason for taking in the gallery tour is that a member of our group is planning to open his own gallery. So we were helping him do some market research and he was able to connect with some local artists that he may be interested in representing. How exciting!!



[Attached image by Donna Brown]


September 24, 2009

September 21, 2009

Queen's Football remains undefeated

The Queen's Gaels posted another win this past weekend, downing the University of Ottawa Gee Gees 20-8. Key to the win was the Gaels' mighty defense, bringing back memories of what was called the Queen's "Golden Wall" back during my undergrad years. The win moves Queen's up a spot to number-6 in the national top-10 football ranking.

Uncorking Adventure

I recently signed up for Savvy Company's wine-of-the-month club, and received today my first selection of wines from Lailey Vineyard of Niagara-on-the-Lake. In the so-called "Savvy Selection" this month is a 2008 Riesling, a 2007 Cabernet-Merlot, and a 2007 Pinot Noir. The selection also comes with the Savvy e-zine, which includes a profile of the winery, tasting notes, and even recipes.

Ottawa-based Savvy Company is a group of down-to-earth sommeliers whose focus is on wine tastings, wine events, and wine tours. Since they launched the monthly "Savvy Selections" in 2004 they have featured nearly 50 Canadian wineries for their subscribers. I look forward to uncorking these bottles and matching them with some great food pairings.


September 17, 2009

Review: U2 in Toronto

U2 must surely find themselves in an odd situation when they tour. On the one hand you have a dedicated core group of fans whose love for the band is based on the fact that U2 refuse to stand still, reinvent themselves, and push their musical boundaries. On the other hand you have a wide-ranging audience, who are simply familiar with U2's enviable catalogue of pop/rock hits and who want nothing less than a greatest hits show.

So, despite being in the game for 30 years it was to U2's great credit last night that their 360 experience opened last night with four songs off their latest album. I am not aware of any of the remaining touring supergroups (Rolling Stones, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, etc.) that would dare attempt to open a 60,000-person show with songs that, quite frankly, only the hardcore fans were familiar with.

It was a gamble and, for the most part, it paid off. I happen to be very fond of the new album and it was a joy to hear the band transmit their sound in the way it was meant to be heard. U2 is the quintessential live band and certainly the kings of the stadium experience; a mantle they stole from Pink Floyd during the tour for 1987's "The Joshua Tree". You can currently watch Coldplay and especially their earnest frontman, Chris Martin, doing their best to assume the throne. Don't get me wrong. I love Coldplay's music. Their melodies are gorgeous. But Chris, for all of his likeability, is not Bono and Coldplay is not yet in U2's league in terms of the audacious wall of sound that these four men can produce.

The attached picture shows the set, which was a monstrous claw-like creature that was superbly lit and featured a retractable screen that raised and lowered. It made the huge venue look a lot smaller and made it feel just a bit more intimate. The production values were top-of-the-line and the sound was heart-stoppingly crystalline. A curious thing has happened as a 20+ year U2 fan--I have started to pay much more attention to the drums and bass, and the mix last night was perfect to appreciate how very good U2's rhythm section of Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton have become (or maybe always were and I never noticed?).

As for the setlist , U2 are in the enviable place of having a rich catalogue to choose from and not enough time to play all the songs that their vast audience wants to hear. In their 2 1/2 hour concert they offered a real grab-bag of material, stretching back to 1983. For a hardcore fan such as myself, any U2 concert is about what is played as well as what is not played. Notably (and probably for some shockingly) absent were war horse standards such as "Pride" (1984), "Bullett the Blue Sky" (1987), "New Year's Day" (1983), and "Bad" (1984).

In their place U2 offered a beautiful version of "The Unforgettable Fire" (1984), a brilliant "Ultraviolet" (1991) and the completely obscure "Your Blue Room" (1995) from a side project they did with Brian Eno. The latter was appreciated by me, although it did not translate all that well into the cavernous stadium.

As for other highlights, I was pleasantly shocked that U2 managed to bring the house down (myself included) with three of my least favourite U2 songs: "Get on Your Boots" (2009), "Elevation" (2000), and "Vertigo" (2004). This trio of songs absolutely rocked the place. The groove was intense and I realized that these songs are meant to be played really loud and live, not sitting on your tiny iPod speakers. These were all-out, old-fashioned guitar riff sex and drugs songs that I have never fully appreciated before. Good on ya, U2.

Biggest surprise of the night was the live remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (2009), which was just absolutely amazing. I was gobsmacked at the sound quality and the whole sound field was impeccable. It produced the night's first "Holy F*ck" from my lips. The second biggest surprise was a thunderous version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday"(1983), a song that I had hoped would be dropped from the setlist due to overexposure. How wrong I was, for it was the first time I have heard this old song delivered with such intensity and new life!

At one point Bono just stopped singing and the entire stadium stepped in to carry the lyrics to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (1987). Beautiful moment. The OMG-hairs-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck came with the superb "City of Blinding Lights" (2004), "Until the End of the World" (1991), and "Where the Streets Have No Name" (1987). I swear on that last one the Rogers Centre actually shook. It was breathtaking and the sound was pure and crystalline.

Towards the end of the show U2 played the requisite "One" (1991) and "With or Without You" (1987), the former with a lovely opening video featuring Bishop Desmond Tutu. U2 being U2 they had a great message video about Burma's Ang San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 20 years, and then played their song written for her, "Walk On" (2000). The stage was flooded by Amnesty International volunteers sporting Ang masks. It was cheesy but I have never given Bono flack for his genuine and passionate activism for social justice.

In fact I got quite emotional as I watched Bono on the giant screen, for he really is not only one of a kind but perhaps a last of a kind as well. Bono was once rightly called the Pied Piper of rock, and watching him sing, implore, laugh, run, dance, and gesticulate in the way that only he can made me realize that this concert was to be cherished. U2 has not changed but audiences certainly have, and my heart went out to Bono as he worked very hard to do what he does best; to engage with the front row as much as the back row; to inspire, to challenge, to help make collective dreams possible.

I am grateful. It was a memorable night, with a few touches of magic and grace.


September 16, 2009

Destination: U2

Well, just about to head onto the 401 to catch my beloved U2 at the Rogers Centre (formerly the much better-named SkyDome) in Toronto. You can see the stunning scale of U2's set in the attached aerial photo. So that's where I will be in a few short hours, screaming, singing, and--no doubt--crying.

September 15, 2009

R.I.P.












August 18, 1952 - September 14, 2009

September 14, 2009

Welcome Back, Whitney!

Before Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce Knowles, Rihanna Fenty, Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys and a host of other divas and diva-wannabes there was Whitney Houston.

Her eponymous debut album was released in 1985, stayed number-1 for 14 weeks and went on to sell 25 million copies. I was a holder of one of those copies and I fell instantly in love with her amazing vocal ability and her range (and I am pretty sure her stunning beauty too). She went supernova in 1992 with the soundtrack to the movie "The Bodyguard" which sold 42 million copies worldwide and made a global hit of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You".

So, I have been a huge fan of Whitney's since laying on my bed in my parent's house listening to that album for the first time, and it saddened me so much to watch her decline into drug abuse and marital strife. So it was with great joy that I learned that this week Whitney released her first album in 7 years. Welcome back, Ms. Houston. You were dearly missed.

September 13, 2009

U2.com > News > On Air and On The Streets

U2.com > News > On Air and On The Streets

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Queen's Gaels Now 2-0

The No.7 ranked Queen's Gaels moved to 2-0 yesterday with a win over the McMaster Mauraders, in one of the lowest-scoring matches I have ever seen. Queen's defence held McMaster at bay and squeeked by in the end with a 8-7 victory. As with the previous match against the Guelph Gryphons it was the finals few plays that decided the game.

September 8, 2009

Go Gaels Go!

It might surprise some that I am actually quite the sports fan, particularly tennis and Canadian university athletics.

September is always a great time of year here in Kingston, arguably Canada's best college town, as thousands of students descend on the city and bring in energy and buzz to the old stones.

Part and parcel of that energy is the fights on the gridiron, as Queen's Gaels take on contenders from across Ontario. Yesterday Queen's football Gaels edged out the Guelph Gryphons 52-49 in a game designed for television, as Queen's won on a 37-yard field goal launched as the clock ran out. Now that's a good football game!

In pre-season play, Queen's Men's Rugby Gaels travelled to Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH for the Royalle Lyme Classic, with matches against Dartmouth College and Boston College. The Gaels hammered their American opponents, with a 55-3 win over Boston and a 45-6 win over Dartmouth.

Of course, the Gaels are more than just football and rugby. Queen's fields 26 varsity teams in the CIS/OUA and another 15 interuniversity sports clubs, all part of an athletic tradition dating back to the 1880s.

September 4, 2009

Coming Soon from Leo

I'm a huge Leonardo DiCaprio fan (you can laugh at me all you want, I won't care). His next two films look to be dark and intriguing. First up in February will be Martin Scorcese's thriller "Shutter Island" followed by Christopher Nolan's sci-fi "Inception". Click on the images below to see the teasers...



September 3, 2009

Sneak Peak: Le Wedding

Here is a lovely picture of us taken by Mark's sister-in-law Roxane. I will be posting more photos once we've had the chance to review the official photos from our super photographer.

A special note: We did not realize at the time that the flowers on the stunning ties we wore on our wedding day (ordered from Thomas Pink in London, England) are actually Forget Me Nots, the flower of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. As you may know, we lost Mark's dad, Ray, to Alzheimer's Disease a few years ago. We are convinced that Ray somehow had a hand in our choosing these ties and we certainly know he was with us on our special day.