Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip

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The Tragically Hip is one of those bands that seems like they’ve always been around.  You don’t think about them very much (unless you’re a fan) because they’re like the furniture: a solid, steady presence that gives you comfort and entertainment, but otherwise doesn’t get in the way. I’ve never been much of a fan, so this particular band has always been more like furniture in someone else’s house, but I still feel a little bit like the rug’s been pulled out from under me.  See, because The Tragically Hip was always there, I always figured I could catch up with them somewhere down the line.  There wasn’t any real urgency to listen, since I could always rely on them to be there.

Not so much, anymore, it turns out.

When lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he decided to go out on one last tour with the band he’s fronted for some 30 years.  Keep working as long as you can, go out doing what you love.  That seems to be what musicians faced with the end of their lives these days are doing more and more.  (Dying music looks like it’s gonna become a whole new sub-genre, kind of like divorce albums.)

Last night, The Tragically Hip played their last show in Downie’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario.  By all accounts, it was an awesome concert. I might go back and watch it someday, after I’ve caught up with the rest of their catalogue.  Because just listening to this one tune from their final album, Man Machine Poem, this is one band I should’ve been paying attention to all along.

I’m sorry there isn’t going to be any more of this ageless music.  The style is such that it could be perfectly at home in the 80s, 90s, or right now.  Americans suffer from a great deal of myopia as far as music from other countries goes, and this Canadian band has been fairly tragically neglected by the mainstream American press.  It might even go as far as Criminally Underrated.  So there might not be more music coming, but at least I have plenty to discover.

As Gord said to the audience last night, “Thank you for that.”

“Girl In the War”

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If you’re not listening to Josh Ritter, then what the fuck is wrong with you?  You don’t like sublimely good, emotional, intelligent music?  If that’s the case, go away.  I want nothing more to do with you.

And I’d now like to apologize for those lines.  I don’t really want you to go anywhere, and you really do have the right not to enjoy Ritter’s music (but I’m going to question your taste just a little if you don’t).  I’m just kind of hyped up right now.  I just reserved myself a spot to see this wonderful singer-songwriter at Fingerprints in Long Beach, and on a scale of one to ten, my excitement level is something like 1,000.

I think I first found out about Josh Ritter from a review in Rolling Stone.  Or it might have been a piece on NPR one morning where they played a couple clips from songs.  However it was, I promptly forgot about him until I was browsing in a soon-to-close Tower Records one afternoon.  They had what was at the time his newest release, The Animal Years, at one of the listening stations so I cued it up.  “Girl in the War” was the first track, and I listened to the whole song right there in the store.  I sampled a few others (including the outstanding “Wolves”), and promptly added the disc to my pile of purchases.  I haven’t looked back since.  I’ve posted a couple of Ritter’s songs before, but if he’s new to you, please discover him the same way I did.  I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry.

Got Live if You Want It: Counting Crows

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I’m still feeling a little bit disconnected.  I don’t really want to do anything, although I still find pleasure in the things I normally do (I’m really looking forward to next week’s new episode of Sleepy Hollow).  I think it’s my inherent laziness rearing its ugly head, so I need to put a stop to it right now.  Because when given the choice, I will choose doing nothing over, say, putting the laundry away.  But it’s making me feel kind of bleh to lay around so much, and I don’t like feeling that way.

I know once I get moving again, I’ll be fine.  I just have to get off my ass.  (I know there’s a chance this is the beginnings of depression, or something else, so I am monitoring myself pretty closely.  Don’t worry.)  Part of it is knowing I don’t have to go back to work for a couple more weeks; I’m applying for other jobs, but the one I have doesn’t begin for me until early February.

The upshot (or downshot, depending on your perspective) is that I’m in a bit of a Counting Crows kind of mood.  But I couldn’t decide on which song fit my mood best, so here’s a concert by them someone was kind enough to post.  It’s the perfect kind of music for disconnected bleh.

“Straight into Darkness”

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Picture this: I’m about 21 or 22, at my first Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers show.  I’m standing, along with the rest of the crowd, in the cool night air of the Pacific Amphitheater.  One song had just ended, and Benmont Tench began playing the opening piano notes of “Straight into Darkness.”  Just at that moment, a breeze rose up and blew back my hair, filling me with unbridled joy, and a peace so perfect I still have no words for it today.

For just a few seconds, with the sea breeze in my face and music in my soul, everything was right in the world.  There was no pain or time.  For just those few seconds, the outside world just disappeared, and left me in a place where nothing was real and everything was possible.  Sometimes when I hear this song, I can still feel that moment.

 

What is your perfect moment?  When did you feel everything fall into place, even if just for a few seconds?

Got Live If You Want It: SXSW

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This year’s SXSW festival is in full swing.  My cousin the Roadie went to Austin to work it this year.  (He was disappointed not to be on the crew for this year’s Super Bowl, so this is a nice gig for him.)  For those of you not in the know, South by Southwest is the finest indie music festival in the country.  Actually, it’s probably the finest music festival at all, period.  Of course, like the Sundance Film Festival and San Diego’s Comic-Con, SXSW has gotten a little big for its britches, but I’m not gonna throw stones.  There just aren’t enough outlets for quality, independent music, so if the festival wants to expand to include established artists, technology, and film, I am not going to complain.

SXSW has been happening in Austin, TX since 1987, and it has gained not only a huge following, but the kind of cultural cache generally reserved for the Steven Spielbergs and George Clooneys of the world.  (I’m not criticizing those guys, just pointing out that their names automatically lend an air of seriousness and prestige to virtually anything.)  If your band plays SXSW, then either you’ve made it, or you’re about to hit really big.  And this isn’t just crappy Top Forty pop.  These are really good acts from just about every genre–although as I’m listening to NPR’s Austin 1oo playlist there seems to be a definite bias toward singer-songwriter types.  There’s rap and hardcore metal (there’s a group called Skeletonwitch, if you’re interested, Sandee).  There’s twee girl singers.  There’s art school synth bands.  It’s like Baskin Robbin’s 31 flavors, only cooler.

Here’s an example from last year.  The utterly awesome Alabama Shakes played a set, and they were quite predictably awesome.  And they’ve since gone on to play every other major festival, release their first full-length album, and get nominated for a handful of Grammys.

Since it’s pretty clear none of us have ended up at SXSW (unless Cousin Roadie is reading this, then I’d like to add, “Hey, Ferret Face!  Bring me some swag!”).  But we can still enjoy the music.  For free, even.  NPR’s Steven Thompson (from the Pop Culture Happy Hour) has curated a playlist called The Austin 100, which you can download as one massive file.  Did I mention it was free?  Let me repeat that:  It’s FREE!  At least until April 4th.  Then I guess you’re screwed.  Click the link; you can stream it if you’re not sure about making such a large commitment on your hard drive.

Sorry this is such a link heavy post, but I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry visiting any of these other sites.

Got Live If You Want It: The Hollywood Bowl

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It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Bowl.  Two or three years, I think.  For those of you who don’t live in SoCal, it is the perfect place to go see a concert of any sort–everything sounds good there.  Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, it is blessed with history, beauty, and an aura of otherworldliness.  It’s like you leave the freeways, pollution, crime, and superficiality of California behind and land in this green theater filled with music and magic.

image from www.seeing-stars.com

Pretty, isn’t it?

I’ve seen Yo-Yo Ma there.  I’ve seen Sting, Fleetwood Mac, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers there (twice for the last one).  I like to sit in the cheap seats (those benches in the foreground of the image; you can rent a cushion for seventy-five cents if you don’t bring your own).  It sounds just as good, and I’ve long since lost the need to be right next to the speakers.  You can bring your own food and wine, and dine under the stars.  That’s really great if you take advantage of Park & Ride, which gives you time to sober up before you get home–and ensures you don’t have to deal with the nightmare of parking at the Bowl itself.  (Park & Ride is this fabulous system in which you park at a pre-determined meeting spot near your home, and ride a bus up to the Bowl.  It saves time, only costs a little extra, and you might even make friends on the way.)

One of my fondest memories is going to see The Who in 2002, their first show after the death of John Entwhistle.  It was also right after my aunt had died, so I was feeling really melancholy.  I went with the BFF, who called me spur of the moment to go.  We just felt the need to be there, to honor the memory of one of our musical idols.  It was a breathtaking and cathartic experience.

I found out later that one of my mom’s (and aunt’s) cousins and his wife were at the show, too, probably feeling a lot of the same things I was.  The whole audience was transported.  I know I couldn’t have been the only one brought to tears by their rendition of “Love Reign O’er Me” that night (wish I could’ve found a clip of that).

The Hollywood Bowl just released its 2013 schedule, and I want to try to hit a couple shows there this year.  The ABBA show might be fun, but I’ll bet everyone will want to see that.  It’s just so much damn fun to be out in the open air, surrounded by trees and music and joy.  We could all use a little more joy in our lives.