Tag Archives: music

Concert review: Dylan with Knopfler.

So I went to a Bob Dylan concert and I could barely understand a word he said.

No surprises there, of course. Dylan came through Edmonton with his band and Mark Knopfler last Tuesday, and I went with a friend. Dylan played an outdoor show in Lloydminster in August which I had wanted to attend, but that didn’t work out. I think an outdoor show would have been better, but I wouldn’t have seen Knopfler.

It wasn’t clear to me whether Knopfler was opening for Dylan or playing with Dylan and his band. As it turned out, it was more of a double-billing. Knopfler essentially played his own full-length concert before Dylan. And that’s perhaps how it should be. Dylan may be a legend, but Knopfler’s no slouch either.

The Knopfler set was excellent. I didn’t come to see Knopfler; he was a bonus and I had no idea what to expect. He played what was as far as I could tell mostly new material. Only his encore went back to his Dire Straits days. That song (“So Far Away”) sounded vaguely familiar, but it was the cheering from the audience that clued me in. Knopfler’s sound (new album released just a couple of weeks ago, I think) these days hovers around the Celtic–mandolins, flutes, fiddles, etc–with a touch of country blues, but always with his signature finger-picking stratocaster sound. The Edmonton Journal Review said that “Their flute and fiddle tunes sometimes bordered on Zamfir and Titanic cheese.” False. This is only cheese if you have something against the flute and fiddle in the first place. Don’t bring Zamfir or Titanic (i.e. the James Cameron film) into this. There was no cheese in Knopflers music. But there was bittersweetness, melancholy, and much beauty, and at times it bordered on the spiritually moving (I may or may not have closed my eyes prayerfully at one point).

Knopfler was appreciative of and engaging with the audience–thanking us, telling us he was having a great time. Whether he was or not doesn’t matter. He engaged us (you can probably anticipate where this is going). His sound was tight, crisp, and well-mixed, and their technicians made good, mood-appropriate use of the stage lights. After Knopfler’s show I was that much more of a Knopfler fan.

Dylan… I went in with high expectations, low expectations, and not knowing what to expect. I had various stories about how Dylan does not interact with the audience at all, that I wouldn’t recognize any of the songs, that he is either on or off and if he’s off he’s really off. So here’s the lowdown: it was underneath a number of issues, a great concert. Actually, it was really only one issue: sound. It was way too loud. This is a common problem at concerts, but Knopfler managed to be loud without having all his music become a wash of lows. I wish I had remembered to bring earplugs–I don’t know how many concerts I’ve been too where it was clear that plugging my ears provided the perfect filter, presenting me with crisp, balanced sound and distinct instruments. But I didn’t want to sit with my fingers in my ears all night. Well there was also the lighting–which mostly had kind of a streetlights-in-Paris kind of feel, which is nice, but does not work well in such a large setting–and the fact that when Dylan was sitting at the keyboard he was nearly indistinguishable from the stage set.

He didn’t really interact with the audience. I was suprised to see him get up from his keyboard and walk around stage singing. He may have even gestured at the audience, though with my eyesight at my seats I couldn’t really tell. He even spoke outside of introducing the band: he bleated something about not playing his best or something (which I later learned was an apology for a poor cover of a Gordon Lightfoot song).

It was true what they said about not recognizing the songs: pretty much every song had a new arrangements. The only songs remotely close to the original were “Watching the River Flow” (the opening number) and “Summer Days” (from Love and Theft). With the rest of the songs it took some careful listening to Dylan’s semi-intelligible, and in the words of the Edmonton Journal writer, “raspy, cram-all-his-lyrics-into-one-sentence delivery” to discover what song he was doing. The set included “Things Have Changed,” his Oscar-winning 2000 song, but with a polka beat; “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”; “Tangled Up in Blue”; “Thunder on the Mountain.” The set included 15 songs total. I recognized most of them, but here’s perhaps the biggest oddity of the evening: he did not play a single song from his recently released album Tempest. Sort of bizarre, but then maybe by the time an album is recorded an artist is sick of those songs. Only slightly less disappointing than the mix was his one-song encore. It was “Blowing in the Wind,” mind you, but one song? Not a good encore.

I think the Edmonton Journal headline was right–”Knopfler outshines Dylan at Rexall Place concert”–but not because Dylan and his band played a poor set. Underneath the poor mix was a great band playing some excellent arrangement of classic Dylan songs. I’m glad I got to see Dylan. I even bought a t-shirt. And you know what? I’d go to another one of his concerts in a heartbeat (but maybe I’d opt for an outdoor show), though I have the feeling there won’t be many more of those.

But Knopfler earned an album sale or two from me.

Early 90s Canadiana.

I was doing dishes and listening to Arcade Fire’s last album, The Suburbs, and the wailing background guitar part on the song “Empty Room” sounded a lot like old-school Sloan. (It’s not impossible that Arcade Fire was influenced by the sound of Sloan, as they’re both Canadian bands–Sloan from Halifax, Arcade Fire from Montreal.) So I switched to Sloan’s debut album Smeared, which in my recollection was the first popular foray into grunge by a Canadian band. Smeared was released in 1992 on Geffen Records, almost 2 years after Nirvana’s Nevermind (also on Geffen) and a year after Pearl Jam’s Ten.

Remember the glory days of The Eagle & Child, when we would play “Name that Film” or “Name that Song” based on a couple of lines or lyrics, and I would give the winner a star or, later, a pilcrow? That was awesome. Anyway, my listen to Sloan prompted a Facebook edition of “Name that Song,” with these lyrics:

She wrote out a story about her life
I think it included something about me
I’m not sure of that but I’m sure of one thing
Her spelling’s atrocious
She told me to read between the lines
And tell her exactly what I got out of it
I told her affection had two F’s
Especially when you’re dealing with me

The lyrics are from “Underwhelmed,” the first single off of Smeared. Clever lyrics, catchy hooks, and grunge: the right mix for me at the time. I loved it immediately and purchased the album (on cassette!) which quickly became my favourite.

Here comes some early-90s Canadiana: I first heard the song “Underwhelmed” when CBC’s Street Cents played the official music video during an episode. Here it is:

This was back in Street Cents’ glory days, with Jonathan Torrens, Jamie Bradley, and Lisa Ha hosting, as well as Ken Pompadour, Buyco, and products that were “fit for the pit.” (I’m a Jonathan Torrens fan to this day.)

On their second album, 1994′s Twice Removed, Sloan left the grunge sound behind, switching to a more Beatles-esque alt-pop sound. It was a great album, though I thought the Chart 1996 reader’s poll declaring it the greatest Canadian album of all time to be more than a bit audacious.

And that, folks, is a bit of a stroll down memory lane, all thanks to Arcade Fire.

The Pink Panther

IT’S A FACT: “The Pink Panther Theme,” by Henri Mancini, is probably my favourite song of all time. I don’t know why this is, exactly, but it has been my favourite since childhood. It evokes feeling of nostalgia, a mysterious sense of Europe and my childhood, a sense of intrigue and adventure and fun. None of these things do justice to what I feel whenever I hear the song. I can’t quite find the words.

This goes back to early childhood–perhaps even back to when we still lived in the Netherlands. Every so often one of the original Pink Panther films would be played on TV and a number of times I caught it at just the right time to catch the opening sequence, which included the theme song and a short animated feature with the pink panther and the inspector chasing him down.

These short cartoons delighted me. It was always a let-down when the actual, live-action film began. At the time, I didn’t find Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau very funny at all, and there was no pink panther, other than a mysterious jewel!

Since that time “The Pink Panther Theme” has filled me with warm, happy feelings.

I’m having some issues finding one I can embed, so here’s a link to a live version (with Mancini on piano) on YouTube.

The Vandersluys Christmas Music Canon

This Vandersluys household has a semi-closed canon of Christmas music.  Here are our favourites, in order of play time:

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – The Vince Gauraldi Trio

This is the hands-down winner. Some days the first thing we do when we get up is shuffle over to the stereo and press “play” (A Charlie Brown Christmas already being in the cd-player). When I remember, I will set the stereo to “repeat all”, such that the soundtrack will play indefinitely.  The trio’s warm, smooth jazz really marks Christmas (in the sense of “the holiday season”) for us.

2. Christmas – Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn is one of a handful of artists whom Dixie and I wholeheartedly agree on, and this is a Cockburn classic. It combines sacred music with artistic skill. He takes sacred Christmas standards and puts his own stamp on them. It’s a quality album.

I think it’s fair to say that there is a wide gap, in terms of air-play, between the first two and what follows. But don’t let that fool you, as they are all quality albums

3. Feast of Seasons – Steve Bell

For similar reasons as the Cockburn album, though Steve Bell includes original material as well.

4. Do You Hear…: Christmas with Heather, Cookie and Raylene Rankin (of the Rankin Family)

The opening song–”Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”–is what does it for me, but the rest of the album is top-notch as well.  Lots of tight harmonies. It’s Christmas with an East Coast Gaelic twist.

5. A Prairie Home ChristmasGarrison Keillor (and the whole Prairie Home Companion gang)

This one was added to the canon last Christmas. Warm, funny, sometimes sacred. A mix of carols, humourous songs, and comedy sketches on 2 CDs. Our kids particularly enjoy the sound-effects version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.

Honourable mentions:

• Child – Jane Siberry.  Dixie is a huge Jane Siberry fan. I have mixed feelings. She has moments of brilliance musical beauty and moments of eye-raising oddness. At any rate, this is a 2-disc live Christmas album.

Confession: the live version of her song “Hockey”, which is on this album, once made me cry.

Christmas with James Last – James Last

For purely nostalgic reasons. It gets nothing but eye-rolls and mockery from Dixie, but I better make sure the record gets some airtime this year. Maybe I should download it from emusic.com.

In which James Last almost makes me cry.

When I first got a record player, I imagined myself being very selective in which records I buy. That was before I discovered the glut of 25 cent records available at thrifts stores.  In fact, I haven’t yet spent more than 50 cents on a record.  It’s difficult to keep a music collection “pure”–I’ve tried many times (an the difficulty increases with the absorption of the music that comes with a marriage).

Most of what you find in thrift stores is kitschy: cheesy old gospel records with awkward pictures of the quartets on the front; self-titled albums by where-are-they-now artists with single names (Eva or perhaps Bridgette), the artist’s slightly fuzzy head-shot gracing the entirety of the record sleeve; records with grinning men holding accordions on the cover; and so on.  The truth is, I wanted to buy several of these records just for fun, but I did restrain myself at least that much.

Several months ago–before I even had a record player–I checked the records at the thrift store in a neighbouring town.  I bought The Band’s second, self-titled album for 25 cents, as well as Benny Goodman and his Orchestra Live in Brussels (that one was a bit of a risk, but it turned out well) and a children’s record with Winnie-the-Pooh songs on one side and “Peter and the Wolf” on the other (alas, the kids don’t seem to care for that one as much as I did when I was their age).

Last week, Dixie had a look at the same thrift store and bought several more: The Sound of Music soundtrack; the Obernkirchen Children’s Choir (that one was a miss); some kind of Mexican music (tentatively a miss); and Trapezoid’s Now & Then (a hit! click on the link to go to Amazon.com for sound samples).

Today I went to the thrift store in Steinbach and came back with several more: the original cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof (for Dixie); ABBA Greatest Hits (unexpectedly, given the title, I don’t recognize half the songs on it); and another kids’ Winnie-the-Pooh album.

I also bought two records for purely nostalgic reasons.  First, I bought Zamfir The Lonely Shepherd.  I have loved the title song since I was a young lad (if you’ve seen Kill Bill, you’ve heard it). I have no idea what the rest of the record will be like.  Actually, yes–yes I do.  Nostalgia!

As a joke, I also bought Christmas with James Last (sound bites at Amazon on the renamed album).  I thought I’d give it a quick listen to bother Dixie and then redesign the cover and use it to protect my sleeveless The Band album.  When I played it, however, it turned out to be a nostalgic treasure!  THIS ALBUM IS THE DEFINING SOUND OF THE CHRISTMASES OF MY CHILDHOOD!

Dixie is out with a friend tonight. I played a bit of Christmas with James Last for her before she left. She saw my giddy delight upon realizing just what it was I had purchased for a mere 25 cents.

“Great,” she said. “Now I’m going to spend the evening imagining you at home crying quietly to yourself.”

And the truth is, a bit of water did rise to my eyes at the jingly sound of James Last’s Christmas.

Mountain Soundtrack

Back in 2005 we had a bit of a Dark Side of the Rainbow moment when the various songs we played from the The Return of the King score matched the various settings of our Rocky Mountain drive perfectly.  I can’t recreate that moment, but I am going to attempt to add some drama to this summer’s drive through the Rockies with some appropriate classical music.

As we leave Calgary and enter the foothills, I will play “The Ride of the Valkyries” at high volume, possibly on repeat.  Then, as we near the mountains and the peaks start to rise and loom over us, I will switch to “Also Sprach Zarathustra“. On high volume. Possibly on repeat.  And finally, after we have entered the imposing peaks and forests of the Rockies, “Carmina Burana” will play.  Possibly on repeat.  At high volume.

No doubt both Dixie and Luke will complain about the volume, but I must be strong.  The effect won’t be the same at hushed volumes.

Feel free to suggest further song options (although I’ve used up my emusic selections for the month, so I won’t be able to download them before we leave.)

World of Wonders

Another classic by Bruce Cockburn: “World of Wonders”, and somewhat relevant to my last post, I think.

Lyrics:

Stand on a bridge before the cavern of night
Darkness alive with possibility
Nose to this wind full of twinkling lights
Trying to catch the scent of what’s coming to be (in this…)

World of wonders…

Somewhere a saxophone slides through changes
Like a wet pipe dripping down my neck
Gives me a chill — sounds like danger
But I can’t stop moving till I cross this sector (of this…)

World of wonders…

There’s a rainbow shining in a bead of spittle
Falling diamonds in rattling rain
Light flexed on moving muscle
I stand here dazzled with my heart in flames (at this…)

World of wonders…

Moment of peace like brief arctic bloom
Red/gold ripple of the sun going down
Line of black hills makes my bed
Sky full of love pulled over my head

World of wonders…

Saddest Song Poll

Over the years I’ve mentioned one or two contenders for the saddest song ever.  The song “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics was mentioned in a book I was reading today.  It’s a pretty good contender.  So here’s are my nominations for saddest song ever:

1. “Tomorrow is a Long Time” – Bob Dylan (lyrics)

Here’s a YouTube version, but only the first minute or so is Bob’s version:

2. “The Living Years” – Mike and the Mechanics (lyrics)

This one is actually about the writer and his father.

3. “Closer to the Light” – Bruce Cockburn (lyrics)

A song written by Cockburn in response to the death of Mark Heard.

A cover version (unfortunately I couldn’t find Bruce’s version, which is much cleaner and personal, on YouTube):

4. “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks (Lyrics

5.  ”John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” – Sufjan Stevens (lyrics)

This is about the Chicago serial killer.

“Season in the Sun” was overdone on the oldies radio stations, but it’s still pretty sad in terms of lyrics. I was also going to include David Meece’s version of “We Are the Reason”, but I think I’ll save that one for the “Most Guilt-Inducing Song Ever“. In fact, let’s forgo that ballot and just give the man the award right here and now. Back in the day when I was a big David Meece fan, I used fast forward through that song, I just couldn’t listen to it. In fact, I’m not even sure how the rest of the lyrics go anymore–it might well be an uplifting song, for all I know.

Anyway, I’m giving a strong vote to “The Living Years” for Saddest Song Ever, with “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” in a fairly close second.

What do you think? Do you have any other contenders you’d like to add to the list (perhaps with some linkage)?