Friday, September 14, 2007

The Tragically Hip

I saw the Tragically Hip playing in Halifax last night at the Metro Centre. It was packed, not surprisingly. And since my blog is read by a lot of music fans who live outside of Canada, I need to do a bit of promotion here. If you’re Canadian, you can pretty much stop reading now, because you’ll already know a lot about this band. But if you want to learn more, carry on.

First, you need to know that “The Hip” are Canada’s greatest rock band. The drummer, Johnny Fay, was once interviewed by Billboard, and when the subject of being in Canada’s best band came up, he said it was, “kind of like being the world’s tallest midget.” In 1989, the band apparently did a show where they opened for Nirvana, and less than a hundred people showed up.

The group has ten studio albums to their credit at the moment (disregarding their first self-titled album, which was only an EP). If I had to pick my favorites, I would recommend their first five albums, starting with “Up To Here,” and with “Fully Completely” probably being my top choice. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent a lot of time listening to any of the albums that came after “Trouble At The Henhouse.” I need to go out and buy the others though, because I know a few of the songs on them, and I know that I'm missing out on other gems.

I’ve seen the Hip perform dozens of times. The first times were in Banff in 1990. I had a few weeks off from my summer job planting trees, so I decided to hitchhike to Banff to wash dishes in a restaurant (The Magie & Stump) to pass the time for a week. During that week, I went with a couple friends to the Silver City nightclub every single evening. There was a band playing, and I thought that they were pretty good. Nobody else seemed to agree, because except for Friday and Saturday night, there were only about ten people in the bar each night. Anyway, after seeing them the first night, I was hooked. I kept coming back, and I watched them from about ten feet away, five or six nights that week. It wasn’t until about four or five years later, when they were starting to get famous and I saw them play at Mount Allison University, that I recognized them and realized that it was the same band. Since then, I’ve seen them in quite a few full concerts, and I also saw them in a small venue in Edmonton when they did their album release for “In Between Evolution,” with just a couple hundred people invited. I have photos from that night online here:

An interesting thing about the Hip is that if I had to pick my favorite five songs, I couldn’t. Not a chance. I might be able to get away with my favorite thirty, but even that would be hard to narrow down. Their music and sound are solid, and even though I’m not usually one to pay a lot of attention to lyrics, Gord Downie is brilliant. The funny thing is that I don’t even know if he writes all the lyrics. I’ve always assumed so, because he is their lead singer, but that’s not necessarily true. His improvisational abilities in live shows though, are legendary.

“New Orleans Is Sinking” was one of their earliest songs, written a decade and a half ago, and it’s one of their best-known songs. However, after Katrina, many radio stations stopped playing it in deference to the residents of New Orleans. The Hip are actually playing a show in New Orleans on October 20th of this year.

Anyway, so if you like rock music, and haven’t listened to this band before, take a Canadian’s advice and check them out. If this is the first you’ve heard about them, you’re missing out on one of Canada’s best-kept secrets.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tokyo, Japan

After visiting Osaka, I spent a few days in Tokyo. While I was there, I stayed with Kevin Snedker, a good friend of mine who used to be the Assistant Manager at the MTA Pub while he was at university. Kevin has been teaching English into Tokyo for the past couple of years.

We took the Shinkansen (the bullet train) from Osaka on Monday morning, and ended up having drinks on the train to get the trip started. When we got to Tokyo, we didn’t have anything planned until supper, so we mostly relaxed for the afternoon. After supper, we walked around the city for a while, then we spent several hours having dinner and drinks at The Lockup, and I met several of Kevin and Danielle’s friends. Several of them were Canadians or Australians who are working for a company called Nova, teaching English in Japan, and I also met Danielle’s friend Yuka.

Naturally, I didn’t get to sleep until about 7am, so I got nothing accomplished on Tuesday morning. However, in the afternoon, I walked around Tokyo, and Kevin took me to the Meiji Shrine. This was a large park area in the middle of Tokyo, with a large Shinto shrine in the middle. After Meiji, we spent several hours walking around the Electronics District, then went for dinner on the 49th floor of the fourth tallest building in the city. The view was incredible, and I was lucky enough to get some really good time-exposure photos of Tokyo at night. After dinner, we went to a couple bars, and again, stayed up pretty much all night.

On Wednesday, I slept for most of the morning and afternoon. I played at Velours that night, which was a fashion bar with a very high-class clientele. The venue was gorgeous, with chandeliers and comfortable couches everywhere, and the place was full of fashion models and other notable people. I played from 1:30am to 4:00am, and it was probably the most fun I've ever had playing a show, just because the venue was so different than most of the several dozen other places that I've played in.

Here are some photos from the trip:

Unfortunately, on Thursday, I had to get ready to move on. The four-hour trip to the airport in the afternoon was a bit of an adventure, but I made the plane with a little bit of time to spare. The neat thing about the flight was that I left Tokyo on Thursday at supper, and I was booked to DJ in Seattle on Thursday evening. However, flying across the International Date Line moved me backwards by a day, so I arrived in Seattle at lunch on Thursday.

More notes to come shortly about Seattle and Vancouver …

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Osaka, Japan

I flew to Osaka (Japan) this past weekend for a show. Although I’ve travelled pretty extensively before, this is my first time in Asia, so it’s been a great adventure so far.

I started by trying to fly to San Francisco for a visit on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, I flew through Montreal and then Chicago. I got to Chicago with no problems, but when I arrived there, I found out that there had been a huge snowstorm there the previous day, which had cancelled over a thousand flights. It was really nice outside at the time, with very little snow on the ground, so I didn’t really think that there were going to be any problems. However, when I got onto the plane, the airline eventually said that they couldn’t fly us to San Francisco because there were no pilots left in the airport – the pilots for our flight had been diverted to fly another plane earlier, to help catch up on the backlog of stranded passengers.

This didn’t seem like it would be a problem – they said that they were going to fly in a different crew from New York to take our plane to San Francisco, so the delay would only be a few hours. However, by this time, the storm had moved so it was over New York, which meant that it took a couple hours longer than expected for that crew to get out of LaGuardia. By the time they arrived in Chicago, the airline decided that those pilots couldn’t take our plane to San Francisco, because it would put them over their daily flight time limit. Our entire flight ended up getting cancelled, which was a disaster because that put all of us into the huge pool of people waiting to fly stand-by. I then ended up getting bumped off or passed over for the next four flights to San Francisco, as the airline tried to slowly catch up on the backlog.

In the end, I did get to San Francisco, but not until after midnight (about twelve hours later than expected). I was a little disappointed by that, because that was the stop on the trip that I was looking forward to the most. However, on a positive note, it was the one night on the trip where I could mostly easily deal with not showing up. Hopefully I’ll be able to reschedule for a visit later this spring, or maybe right after the summer ends.

The rest of the trip went smoothly, and the flights to Vancouver and then Japan were uneventful. We crossed the International Date Line, so it suddenly became Friday afternoon instead of Thursday afternoon. I was a bit nervous getting into the airport because my passport was only valid for two more months and Japan requires a foreigner’s passport to be valid for six months from the time of arrival. However, I had the itinerary to prove that I had a flight already booked to leave the country a week later, so that didn’t turn out to be a problem. Dan Elliot from the Oasis Lounge picked me up at the airport, and took me directly to his club, where I started to orient myself to the Japanese culture. A few hours later, a friend of mine (Ian Warney) showed up. Ian is a DJ and is living in Osaka teaching English. We went out for a night on the town, and I met a bunch of people that evening.

On Saturday, I spent the day touring around Osaka, and taking photos. That evening, I played at Oasis, which turned out to be a very fun night. Ian found me again on Sunday night and we went out for more sightseeing, and then we ate at a nice restaurant in a skyscraper overlooking Osaka.

So far, Japan has been great. There are far fewer foreigners here than I had imagined, but that’s about the only real surprise. The only big challenge so far has been trying to figure out the subway system. I’ve been on subways all around the world (London, New York, Paris, Moscow, and a ton of other smaller cities) but the Osaka subway has been the most confusing that I’ve seen, by far. The fare varies depending on how far you are going, and you have to buy a ticket getting on, then electronic gates scan it as you leave your destination station and don’t let you out if you didn’t pay the right fare. If you didn’t pay enough, you have to go back to another machine and do a “fare adjust” on the ticket. The Osaka (and Toyko) subway systems are not one large system, but instead are a whole bunch of separate lines run by different companies, so transfers can get complicated with ticket changes. Finally, there are very few signs in English, to make things even more confusing. However, after a few days, it was starting to make sense to me. Some of the stations are incredibly busy though – there is one station which has an average of three MILLION people per day passing through it. That’s pretty impressive, considering that the subways shut down at 12:30am and don’t start again until 5:30am.

A few other interesting notes so far:
- The cities are very clean compared to North American cities.
- There is apparently very, very little crime in Japan, and people feel completely safe and comfortable walking around anywhere in the cities.
- I have only seen a few children in the entire time I’ve been here – the Japanese must hide them away somewhere.
- I thought that I might get away with not running into anyone I knew during my visit, but on Sunday night a friend who had gone to university (Kyohei) saw me downtown and luckily had the time to spend an hour or so touring with us. That was an interesting coincidence, considering that Osaka is pretty big (nine million people, I think).
- There are far fewer Western chains than I had expected (lots of Starbucks & MacDonald’s and KFC, but that’s about it).
- A small but noticeable percentage of the population wear face masks in public and while working, either to limit the spread of diseases, or to protect them from smog & allergies.
- The amount of seafood is astounding – it is available everywhere, even as snack food in convenience stores.

Needless to say, I’ve been able to take a ton of interesting photos so far. I’ve got two photo pages up on my website now from the Osaka portion of my trip, and I’ve tried to add many more observations about Japan in the captions to the photos. Here is a link to the Osaka photo pages:

After I left Osaka on Monday morning, I had three days scheduled in Tokyo, so I’ll write more about that part of the trip in a few days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Benny Benassi

I went to a Benny Benassi show in Halifax last night, at Club Rain. This wasn't really a DJ-oriented trip; I took a bunch of the Pub staff with me and we went down to enjoy the show. Here are the photos:

I've been pretty slack with blog posts lately, since I've been so busy in the past four weeks. I'm leaving on Wednesday morning for a short tour, and I'll be visiting San Francisco, Osaka, Tokyo, Seattle, and Vancouver. I'll try to get as many photos as I can at each show, and hopefully I'll be able to take the mini-disc and record all of the sets for my website.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New York City

I just got back from a weekend in New York City. I went down to visit a friend of mine, Polly, who works in Research at Mount Sinai. I had been asking her questions a few weeks ago about a club called Pacha, and she suggested that I come down and see it myself. We figured that the 27th/28th would be the best weekend for me to visit, and ironically, it turned out that Gabriel & Dresden were playing at Pacha on Friday night. Small world.

I got to the airport on Friday afternoon, and since Polly was at work until 5pm, I just hung out in the airport for a few hours, listening to music and doing some work. That's when the next coincidence happened - I ran into Gabriel & Dresden at Laguardia. I talked to them for a few minutes, then headed downtown shortly afterwards.

I met up with Polly and the first thing we did was to get some alcohol for the weekend. After that, we ordered sushi for dinner, then went out to a pizza place to meet up with one of her friends. Later that evening, we eventually we made our way to Pacha. Pacha was a decent sized club - it had four levels, and I would say that it probably held about 800 people, as a guess. I'm not sure, but I think that the cover charge for regular guests off the street was $30. Drinks were $9 for bar shots like rum, and $7 for beer, so it was quite a bit more expensive than most Canadian bars, but not out of line for a big club like that. The lineup at the coat check was huge, which I laughed at because I didn't bring a coat. Of course, being a bar manager myself, I spent quite a bit of time looking at the logistics and operations of the club. I was pretty surprised to see that they had (I think) six bartenders working at each of the two main bars. My place would have two bartenders, or sometimes three, for the same volume of alcohol that was being served at each bar. But at least those bartenders looked a lot more relaxed that we are when we're serving.

Needless to say, the lighting systems were incredible, and the sound was decent throughout the entire club, not just on the dance floor. Gabriel & Dresden played from about midnight to 5am (I think the bars stop serving alcohol at 4am, but then they can start again at 8am). I was talking to Josh for a bit up in the DJ booth during his set, and they looked like they were really having fun playing that night. Their set was quite a bit different than when they had played in Boston - to me, both nights sounded great, but this set sounded more tailored to a dance club crowd, with more vocal tracks and mainstream tracks, whereas at Rise it had seemed more like a set for an afterhours club crowd (not surprisingly).

On Saturday afternoon, Polly took me for a partial tour, including Ground Zero, the ferry to Staten Island, Wall Street, and around other parts of Manhatten. Later in the evening, we went to a place called Crocodile NYC. This bar was insane. It had a crowd about the same size as my bar on a Saturday night (250 people), but it was less than a third the size. It was absolutely impossible to move around, or to get drinks quickly. To make things even more interesting, they gave out a free pizza with every beer, so for $20, we eventually got four large glasses of beer (two Stella & two Guiness, I think) plus three 12-inch cheese pizzas. It was a minor fight for me to finish the two beer and two pizzas, but I managed eventually, and was hungry for more. The bar was ridiculously warm, probably partly due to the crowds and partly due to the 700-degree pizza ovens in the back of the bar. Anyway, it was a pretty neat place, and obviously a lot of other people thought the same thing, considering the crowds.

After Crocodile, we went to a venue called Shelter, which was more of an after-hours type of club than Pacha had been, although they did serve alcohol. Cover was $25, bar shots were $8, and beer was $6. There were a whole bunch of good DJ's and producers performing that night, including D:Fuse, D-Formation (I used a couple of his tracks on my last mix), and Tone Depth (from Montreal). There was also another DJ who I had never heard of before, Chloe Harris. I was quite impressed by her set, so it was good to learn about her. The lighting system upstairs at Shelter was pretty impressive too. I wish that I'd been able to get some decent photos, but it wasn't possible with my camera.

On Sunday, we went for Chinese food in the afternoon, then did some more touring after dinner. We met a couple of my old friends from university in front of Virgin Records in Times Square, and we went up to the Marriot Marquis for drinks with them. After that, Polly took me to a fantastic Mexican restaurant for dinner. I've eaten Mexican food in a lot of places (including Mexico), but this was definitely some of the best that I've had. Of course, I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but I'm not going to forget the food.

I have photos from the trip on this page:

The only sad part about the weekend was that there was so much more to see that I didn't have time for, so I'll have to go back as soon as I get a chance ...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tour-Tech Trade Show 2007

I was at the Tour-Tech show this weekend in Halifax. The show itself was ok. I didn't see as many revolutionary computer products as I did last year, but then again, I concentrated on the conventional audio seminars all day, rather than going to any of the video seminars, which is a field that is arguably advancing much more quickly right now. For instance, I went to seminars on topics such as microphone placement, PSM's (personal in-ear studio monitors), designing sound systems for churches, etc. Nothing really that exciting, but useful sessions.

Here are a few photos from the show:

Anyway, even though the trade show itself was fairly uneventful, we had an interesting time the night before. We went out to visit a few bars and have a few drinks. The bar that I work at is being rebuilt in 18 months, so I was asked to take some photos of other venues, to help come up with some design ideas. One of the guys I was with (Darren Wheaton) runs a couple of the other bars in my hometown, so he was equally curious to go on tour.

We walked past a bar downtown called the Seahorse Tavern. Several people had mentioned this place to me before, but I could never think of where it was. When I saw it, I figured it would be a good place to visit, so we went inside. I was pretty surprised to realize that I had actually been in it before, many times: it was the first bar that I was ever in, many years ago, although it was operating under a different name at the time. In fact, I have many funny stories from that very bar. For instance, one night, a few of us got more intoxicated than usual, and I woke up the next morning sleeping on the Bluenose II, in the Halifax Harbour. I have no idea why I was there - maybe an RCN press gang? Luckily, it was still tied to the dock.

Anyway, the bar wasn't exactly hopping that night, but there was a blues band playing, so we stayed for a while. The band itself wasn't bad, although I have no idea who they were. The lead guitarist looked like Wolfman Jack, and played pretty tightly. The drummer was consistent, and made funny faces throughout the show. The bass player looked sort of like Mr. Clean, and he was pretty quiet and unobtrusive in the background, but he was very, very tight in his timing, so I was pretty impressed. He also played on a fretless bass. The rhythm guitarist, however, was the really interesting character. During his first few songs, he didn't seem that notable. His timing was so-so, but he looked a bit nervous, and played some fairly uninspired solos when given the chance. However, after four or five songs, he suddenly warmed up and honestly ended up stealing the show.

What really got me laughing was the fact that he had a wireless pickup, so he was able to walk around the crowd while he was playing. He also had so many effects on his guitar that he didn't really have to strum the strings while he was soloing - he could just push the strings up against anything, such as a nearby table, and get decent sound. As he wandered around, he came up to this "crusty old seadog" - an aging weather-beaten sailor with a greyish-blond beard and a cap slung down low - who was pretty much passed out with his head on the bar. Anyway, the guitarist started playing by wildly rubbing his guitar against the crusty old seadog's head, while the guy was still passed out! The crowd went wild. It was definitely the funniest thing I've seen in quite a while ...