Charles Bradley: A Lesson in Appreciation

I wrote this after I saw Charles Bradley perform last year. At the time, I was unhappy with my writing style so this post was filed away in the depths of my draft folder. However, with news of Mr. Bradley’s illness, I decided to re-live this night through what I wrote, and in an effort to grow, finally post it.


I knew he would sell out the Commodore Ballroom. I knew I would be moved. I knew I would feel a slew of emotions through his live voice. But I didn’t know it would be like this. It twisted my heart strings and had me smiling harder than I had in awhile. Sometimes, its just a set list and instruments. Other times, its an experience.

If you don’t know anything about Charles Bradley, he might seem like just another soul singer with a strong voice and an old school approach to music. But he’s more than that. Bradley spent most of his life performing as ‘Black Velvet,’ a James Brown impersonator. Years of jiving, gyrating and belting out #1 hits that weren’t his own, but became his on stage. Luckily for Bradley, and even luckier for us, he was discovered at one of these small performances. Already well into his 50s, he was picked up by Daptone Records and finally afforded the freedom to release his own music. Can you imagine, waiting most of your life, just for it to really begin?

There was something so different about what Bradley has to offer. Yes, he has pipes and knows how to use them. Yes, he can dance and move like no other, let alone a 67 year old man. But there was such a kindness to him, a true appreciation for everyone who had paid (with their time and money) to spend an evening with him. I attend a fair amount of live music and sometimes the rock star attitude grows stale and old. Hell, not too long ago, Lauryn Hill wrote an open letter to her fans, citing her own reoccurring tardiness at performances is acceptable because its part of her artistic process. Well, I call bullshit – anyone with an attitude like that needs a lesson from this man.

“Without you, there is no me” he said to us in between two songs. You could see his heart shine through that beautiful face, filling the room with love. It was obvious that he was honored to share with us, and we were honored to receive. I had forgotten music could be this emotional. I spent that evening trying to convince myself that if I wished hard enough, this wouldn’t come to an end.

But after several costume changes and an overwhelming amount of soul, it did end. Humble as ever, Bradley wandered down from the stage with arms outstretched, giving an individual hug to anyone that could reach him. Its hard to describe the exact feeling within those walls that night. Perhaps the right words just don’t exist. It was overpowering, it was different. But it all made sense in the end because, well, he’s a different kind of man.


Set List:

1. Tony Danza (Extraordinaires instrumental)
2. Revelation (Extraordinaires instrumental)
3. Heartaches and Pain
4. You Think I Don’t Know
5. How Long
6. Nobody but You
7. You Put the Flame on It
8. Mulatu
9. Luv Jones
10. Love Bug Blues
11. The World (Is Going Up in Flames)
12. Lovin’ You, Baby
13. Ain’t It a Sin
14. Changes (Black Sabbath cover)
Encore
15. Why Is It So Hard

I’m a victim of loving you.
I’m victim of wanting you.
I woke up this morning, I found your love
Laying beside my soul.

~Charles Bradley

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Power in the Throat

           Traditionally, throat singing was a game Inuit women would play to pass time while the men were away, hunting and gathering for their families. The game is simple and it goes a little something like this:

           Two women stand facing one another, while holding each others arms. One woman begins with a short rhythmic pattern, while the other fills the silent gaps with a complimenting pattern of her own. Typically, the women can be seen doing a small shuffle, or dance, amid the competition. The women continue until one cannot keep up with the other, either running out of breath or losing concentration. The goal? It’s easy, beat the most challengers. The tones and sounds coming from each woman alternate between an earthly rumble from the lungs and small escapes from the throat. Anyone watching for the first time might mistake this as an act of intimidation or dominance, but it’s far from that. The game is light-hearted, often ending in laughter and a loving embrace.

Capture

           The game and the women that aspirate this form of art, really captivated me. I remember seeing two young girls perform for our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, during his swearing in. I never caught the name of what they were doing, but I couldn’t deny being interested in their audible exchange. These young girls, with full lungs and big smiles, completely unaware of how interesting this part of their life is. Spending my whole life in a Caucasian dominated west coast Canada, I know little about First Nations tradition. If I’m being candidly honest, I have never explored the culture past what was required of me in school. So naturally, I grew curious.

           Upon reading more about this form of entertainment, I came across Tanya Tagaq, arguably the most successful Inuit throat singer of our time. This Nunavut-born solo artist has taken a piece of her heritage, transformed it into a genre of music, and owns it solely. Once I heard a few of her tracks, it became obvious why Bjork sought her out to sing on Medulla. It’s no surprise to discover she beat out the likes of Drake and Arcade Fire for the 2014 Polaris prize. Tanya has created a punk hybrid without losing the organic roots the original sound came from. It’s creepy, weird, and at times, hard to believe these deep vibrations are coming from a singular human. Nothing is more inspiring than a Canadian artist pushing boundaries and creating something that makes us take that second glance, willingly.

           Tanya’s latest release is a single titled Aorta and personally, I think it’s her best work yet. Take a listen for yourself. Even if it doesn’t end up being your jam, you can come away saying you’re a little more ‘cultured’ at Sunday brunch with your hipster friends.

           [Written in response to writing excercise: Voice]

Iggy, Josh, and their baby, Gardenia.

           Yesterday, news broke that Iggy Pop and Josh Homme had spent the last few months working on a secret album, Post Pop Depression. Not only that, they were going to be premiering the first single on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I don’t know about you, but I flipped. This is huge. Two musicians that know how to growl, riff and get down. Two guys who just enjoy playing some rock n’ roll, while gyrating their hips like the crowd owes them money. Iggy Pop, who is, well, Iggy. Not much else needs to be said. Iggy puts out music, you should be excited. Then there’s Josh Homme, king of collaboration. This project has picked up Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys) so there’s a powerhouse on every instrument. If Them Crooked Vultures is any indication of how well Homme can coordinate a band, then we can expect the album to be nothing short of bad ass.

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           I have never been much for Colbert, or late night talk for that matter, but I watched intently. As the camera pans over, the first thing I notice (and much to my surprise) is Iggy Pop wearing a shirt. And a jacket, to boot! My attention is quickly turned when the bands starts up and Iggy’s voice deeply snarls into the mic. I watched the whole performance last night, and then revisited it on my commute to work this morning. I keep circling back to the same conclusion: Bowie.

           The voice, the music, the overall feel of the song has some major Bowie vibes. It’s like a tribute and a posthumous release all wrapped into one. It’s no secret the close relationship Pop and Bowie had, so who knows, it might even be intentional. Don’t get me wrong, the single has it’s own independent sound and you can definitely hear Homme’s touch of gold. However, I can’t help but feel like there’s an inkling of the Thin White Duke in there too. Regardless, the song, band and album are sure to be a treat. Take a listen to Gardenia for yourself, there’s no way to be disappointed.

It’s all smooth sailing from here on out.
I’m gonna do the damage that needs getting done.

~Queens of the Stone Age

Another ‘best of’ list; my favorites from 2015.

            This year’s releases really hit a high note with me. I discovered new artists and enjoyed the new sounds my old favorites created. I think its fair to say, this year really gave back. So here’s my top 5 albums for 2015.


[5] BAPTISTS – Bloodmines

           Okay, I’m cheating a bit with this one. This album actually came out late 2014 but I didn’t pick it up until 2015. I’m including it because its one of my most listened to albums of last year. My metal tastes have been changing lately and it appears faster/ louder seem to be where I gravitate. These guys are Vancouver natives and its no secret I have a special place in my heart for a local artist. The thrash is erratic but controlled, which isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. ‘Chamber’ opens the album up, luring you in with a creepy sound-scape of scrapping and distortion. After this, its full throttle and you better hold on. Every song delivers a punch and its not comparable to any other band out there. Bloodmines truly stands apart.
           Recommended track: Bloodmines (especially the video!)


[4] TWIN SHADOW – Eclipse

           This album was my summer anthem. It was hard not to dance when any of this album came on. A little 90’s, a little funky, hell I even picked up some Tina Turner in there somewhere. This album has it all. Even without accompaniment, the vocals are out of this world. Smooth, but rough when it counts.
           I was privileged enough to see Twin Shadow perform at a music festival in the summer and that’s what catapulted this album into my top 5. Watching George Lewis Jr high kick and lunge at a cymbal while hitting the vocals hard was nothing short of entertaining. Watching a mass of people go silent as the single ‘Eclipse’ started to play, was truly mesmerizing. He had all of us under his thumb. Couldn’t get enough.
           Recommended track: Turn Me Up


[3] THE DEAD WEATHER – Dodge and Burn

           When the video for ‘Every Million Miles’ came out, I had two initial thoughts: Sweet lord, where is the REST of Alison Mosshart, girl is half the size! And, how does her voice keep getting better?!
           This album was a long awaited one for me. Jack White, solo, is great. The Kills, also awesome. But nothing ever beats the rhythmic writhing of those two sounds molding into one. They have a unique way of making one song sound like 3 separate ones, and then loop it all back together at the end. The high, lulls, screeches and whispers are in all the right places. Another bonus: it is impossible to play this album too loud.
           Recommended track: Three Dollar Hat


[2] GRIMES – Art Angels

           Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. This was EVERYONE’S favorite pop album this year, topping lists and taking names. But I had to include it because it has truly earned its spot. My first listen, I really wasn’t sold. Quite frankly, the poppy beats and new sound completely threw me. Even the reanimation of ‘Realiti’ made me stop and think, ‘Do I actually like this or have I been so blue-balled for new Grimes material that I just WANT to like this?’
           Well, results are in and I LOVE it. In her typical style, Grimes takes a bunch of depressing lyrics and dresses it up into a dancing phenomena. Before you realize what’s going on, you’re having too much fun to care about the fact that the lyrics are actually kind of sad. The lesson in all this: sometimes new is scary and you have to forget the old to appreciate it.
           Recommended track: Kill V. Maim


[1] FKA TWIGS – M3LL155X (MELISSA)

           Oh boy, I had this one on repeat for awhiiile. Blaring through my apartment, I’m sure my neighbors were starting to get sick of the same 5 songs. Not me, though. FKA Twigs always delivers a raw, emotional sound and this was no different. Her past endeavors have been soft and gentle but this EP brought out the claws. Hard hitting and experimental, this album is rife with a strong darkness that I think Twigs is just starting to explore. It’s an EP, so of course it’s short but it is arranged perfectly. Everything blends together together into a 20 minute masterpiece. The other element that really hit home, was the video released for tracks 1-4. There is something intriguing about an arrangement of images that makes you want to stop blinking but look away at the same time. Undoubtedly, my favorite listen of the year.
           Recommended track: All of it. Every. Single. Bit.

Oil and gold. Tar and coal. All for blood.

~Baptists

Hawskley Workman: An Old Cheetah with new tricks.

      When it comes to attending a live Hawksley Workman performance, not only are you subject to what feels like a musical experiment, but you’re part of a big family for a couple hours. I’ve seen him play more times than I can count on one hand and it’s never the same show twice. He draws you in with stories, anecdotes and banter that are more than just filler between songs. I would compare his shows to those times you have a large family gathering at your house. There’s a considerable living room, but you all end up squished together in the kitchen, listening to your outrageous Uncle tell all his crazy stories. Hawksley Workman is that uncle.

      October 29th was no exception. The turn out was surprisingly small and I made it to the front with ease. Front right, my favorite spot at the Commodore Ballroom. As Hawksley, Mr. Lonely, and the rest of the band filtered on to the stage, you could feel the energy levels rise.

      If there’s one thing I love about this man, its that he’s full of surprises. He’s currently touring on ‘Old Cheetah’ but he opened up with ‘Tonight Romanticize the Automobile,’ a track from over a decade ago. In hindsight, that song was foreshadowing of the night’s obscure set list.

     After a couple more songs, HW took pause. He told us he had a special guest and over the last while, they had spent a lot of time together. In fact, ‘a lot of time drinking wine in our pajamas’ was his exact phrasing. Right then, we know who to expect. Mounties’ partner and Vancouver resident, Steve Bays appears and ‘Teenage Cats’ is in full swing, daring us to move freely.

      Mirrored by Hawksley’s evening attire (black tank top, jeans and a toque), the set was stripped down and inviting. We were taken through a time warp, back to albums like (…Last Night We Were) The Delicious Wolves, Treeful of Starling and other gems. The unique twist was the conscious decision to avoid playing all the ‘hits.’ It was the little, under-the-radar songs like Bullets, Baby Mosquito and Ilfracombe that made me realize just how intimate this was going to be. Always a gentleman, HW thanked us for singing along, and commented that we truly were a ‘rowdy bunch.’

      Later, Ryan Dahle, also a Mounties counterpart, joined the stage and kicked into some stellar guitar work. Going back to back with Hawksley, they riffed, twanged and tore. One thing that truly stood out in this performance was the intense guitar solos and the attention paid to them. Its no secret HW will go off on a tangent when the moment strikes him, but this heavy guitar work was new and intriguing. Like I said earlier, never the same show twice.

      The regular band returned, and after a string of songs from the new album, they closed the show. Before they were even off stage, we were begging for an encore.

      Not one to make us wait, HW returned with Steve Bays and Ryan Dahle in tow. As they tested a few chords, Hawksley said ‘Yeah, let’s play it soft. Just like that.’ A very gentle, melodic version of ‘Tokyo Summer’ played without any sort of electronic accompaniment. Mounties was never my favorite HW endeavor but this rendition was something special. In true form, ‘Smoke, Baby’ was the last song of the encore. It was evident that everyone was trying to soak in the last moments of the night. Singing a little harder and smiling a little bigger. I think we all silently agreed there would have been no better ending, to an evening in the kitchen.

Set list:
1. Tonight Romanticize the Automobile
2. Don’t Take Yourself Away (Instant Nostalgia)
3. Teenage Cats
4. Baby Mosquito
5. Ilfracombe
6. Bullets
7. Clever Not Beautiful
8. Dirty & True
9. Paper Shoes
10. Old Bloody Orange
11. When the Ocean was a Seashore
12. Unknown (‘The snow came too late.’)
13. Song For Sarah Jane
14. All the Trees are Hers
15. It’s Really Starting to Snow
16. Make Up Your Mind Tonight
17. Winter Bird
18. We’re Not Broken Yet
Encore
19. Tokyo Summer
20. Safe and Sound
21. Smoke, Baby.

And what would we do in our last moment in time?
Would we make love, or make haste to a mobile phone?
Or would we break bread, drink the blood that is shed, and pray to our god?

~Hawksley Workman

Throwback

     A few months ago, I bought a ticket to a band I adored all through high school, The Get Up Kids. In the last 8-9 years, I haven’t so much as looked at one of their albums or listened to any of their music. As soon as I purchased the ticket, I had every intention of pulling out my old library of tunes, but never got around to it.

     Fast forward and I am reminded that I’m heading to their show TONIGHT. It was too late to start up their music and reminisce to the familiar sound of Matthew Pryor’s voice. Damn. On my way to the venue, I wondered if I would remember any of their songs. Would it all be lost to my crap memory? Had my mental hard drive been overwritten with new music, experiences and ‘wisdom?’

      I actually attended the show on my own. None of my friends seemed interested in seeing a 90s emo band belt it out on a Monday night. Fair enough, they haven’t been particularly relevant in years (sorry, guys!) All in all, the decision to go solo ended up reaping the best reward.

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      Through the venue’s front door and I could already hear the band ramping up. I grabbed a Red Stripe and high-tailed it into the crowd. It was an anniversary tour so all the singles were being played. I was, truly, over the moon. I had a moment of sadness, thinking, ‘I wish so-and-so was here to share this with me!’ But then I had an epiphany. I’m surrounded by strangers, all close to my age. Definitely no one younger. In between songs I could hear groups of people talking:

“I remember making out with my first girlfriend to this song!”
“Oh man, my dad used to FLIP when I would blast this one!”
“I totally forgot about this song!”

      It became evident that we were all reliving our own teenage experiences together. A thick wave of nostalgia hitting us over and over with every song. As we sang along to the songs we thought were long forgotten, suddenly I felt transported back to a time when I wrote bad poetry, wore an obscene amount of black eyeliner and felt like no one could understand my angst. In fact, it seemed everyone’s own coming-of-age memories were flooding back faster than they could catch them.

      The encore played and the last “thank you, goodnight” was said. We poured out of the building into the rainy week night. Back to work, to university, to our adult lives. Everyone’s dorky smile said the same thing:

      It was nice to be young again, if only for a couple hours.

Set list:
1. Holiday
2. I’m a Loner, Dottie, a Rebel
3. Stay Gold, Ponyboy
4. Lowercase West Thomas
5. Mass Pike
6. Woodson
7. Overdue
8. Action & Action
9. No Love
10. Off the Wagon
11. Valentine
12. Coming Clean
13. Shorty
14. Campfire Kansas
15. Red Letter Day
16. Don’t Hate Me
17. Walking on a Wire
Encore
18. Close to Me (The Cure cover)
19. Beer for Breakfast (The Replacements cover)
20. I’ll Catch You
21. Ten Minutes

Sleep with my memories, pictures, apologies.

~The Get Up Kids