Category Archives: Music

Wesley/Worrell and a Few Lessons from a Friday Night

Bernie Worrell with SociaLibrium at the Porgy & Bess in Vienna

A week ago I was on my way to Cabaret du Mile End to see two geriatric funk legends perform as part of Pop Montreal. I was supposed to write a review of the show. Seemed straightforward enough at the time; go to show, go back home and then, naturally enough, sleep and awake fresh as flowers ready to write up one blistering concert review.


What I wasn’t aware of at the time was a variety of microscopic germs and bacteria and god-knows-what-else swimming around deep inside my lungs that would soon lay me out horizontal-like for the better part of last week, a problem exacerbated by my less-than-enlightened decision to walk all the way back to Saint Henri from Parc Avenue when the show let out at around one in the morning. I felt it would be tonic, invigorating, an opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise. This is standard operating procedure for yours truly, for better for or for worse. I’ll think better of it the next time around as seasonal night-time lows dip closer to the freezing point.

The Cabaret du Mile End was warm and welcoming. I got in a bit late because, like a tool, when I saw people running for a bus at Parc Station I decided to follow the crowd instead of taking a minute to remember I had been there before. Also of note, it would’ve been better simply to get off at Outremont Station but I digress, the Blue Line will be the end of me.

First group I saw was a local ensemble billing itself as Pyongyang. The term ‘dystopian funk’ ought to be coined to describe them – dissonant yet rhythmic enough you could dance to them, the lead vocalist generally incomprehensible yet nailing the James Brown scream. Interesting side note: I asked him how the band came together and he asked me if I had ever heard of a survey firm named Consumer Contact. Apparently this one survey firm has served as a meeting place for members from The Stills, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a host of other local bands.

Anyways, on to the main event: Bernie Worrell, keyboard master extraordinaire, childhood piano prodigy and iconic member of Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads. The Bernie Worrell Orchestra features the seventy-year-old Worrell fronting a quartet of New Jersey suburbanites, children likely conceived during the Talking Heads’ high-water mark in the mid-1980s. What can I say – it worked. Though I’m no fan of Worrell’s raspy voice and hippie-simplistic lyrics, it was a well-conceived and expertly delivered performance. The funk was masterful, as one might expect from such a talented and practiced performer. People were up on their feet, dancing, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Fred Wesley came out after a few songs to join Worrell, his former Parliament-Funkadelic band mate. The differences between these two men couldn’t be any starker. Credit where credit is due, Wesley tried his damndest, but seemed out of breath the minute he hit the stage, hardly inspiring to say the least. Whereas Worrell is clearly a space cadet, skinny, wry, a convert to the ways of the Mothership Connection, I doubt Wesley ever bought in 100%. He looks and acts like a somewhat haggard veteran performer, aware of the gimmick people pay money to see. Ergo, while Worrell’s trains of thought were occasionally difficult to follow, Wesley stuck to the showmanship traditions whipped into him after so many years leading James Brown’s backing brass. They did an abridged version of Pass the Peas and he warbled through much of House Party, but at one point basically gave up, sat down and mimicked playing the trombone. A bit of a disappointment, honestly. Made me wonder if he figured we couldn’t tell the difference.

Roomful of young white hipster scum, what do we know about the funk, right?

Worrell had the presence of mind to suggest Wesley take an early and longer-than-expected five, and resumed working his way through new material, which at some points was so political and driving it reminded me of Rage Against the Machine, albeit in a more musically enjoyable way. Closing it out Wesley came back and though he still wasn’t quite hitting the notes (and spent far too much time nodding his agreement to what was being performed), he nonetheless contributed something and rounded out the sound. The world can always use more brass.

I left as soon as the encore was over, making a fateful decision to hoof it back to Saint Hank. The next five days were spent getting acquainted with my bedroom ceiling and an unending cavalcade of fever-induced hallucinations.

Would definitely see Worrell again, no question. I think Fred Wesley needs to be paid more to really strut his stuff.

Tom Green/ Organized Rhyme – Check the OR { Montreal Remix }

One of my all-time favourite early-90s hip-hop tracks, from one of the brilliant minds in comedy, Mr. Barrel Roll himself Tom Green. This 2011 remix music video was shot right in my backyard, Downtown Montreal.

I’ll add this to a list of great Montreal music videos later. Enjoy!

New on Vinyl: Talking Heads – Speaking in Tongues

The phrases that most easily come to mind when I think about this album are ‘burning down the house’ for obvious reasons and the refrain of ‘stop making sense’ from the track “Girlfriend is Better” off of side A. This makes a fair bit of sense, given the former was the band’s only American top-ten hit and the fact that by David Byrne’s own admission, he made an album and created lyrics subsequently to fit the nonsense originally sung over the music composed by Talking Heads.

It is not a typical Talking Heads album given the previous prevalence of Brian Eno’s production. It is still a seminal work for the band andy Byrne in particular, in that it is as though the student has finally demonstrated a mastery of the teacher’s technique. It is more musically minimalistic than previous albums, especially if compared to Remain in Light, though lyrically it seems far more complex. Perhaps it is a commentary on the public discourse of the era, in which mass corporate communications were first beginning to make headway into the American popular discourse and create their own authority via the immediacy of their preferred medium. In another sense, perhaps it is the Talking Heads recognizing the danger of the new meta-talking head, made dangerous by combining sub-par intellect with state-of-the-art tools of communication. If the lyrics on side-A leave you confused about what exactly you’re listening to, then maybe Byrne has succeeded more than he expected.

I find the album perfectly listenable, enjoying the highs and lows, the elements of new wave, funk and reggae blending into one another, the stripped down instrumentation covering the sonic range while re-enforcing the cooperative ‘drum-circle’ spirit Byrne had explored with Eno on previous collaborations. That said, I remember the first time I listened to this album, perhaps about eight years ago, and finding it almost unbearable. It grew on me, and still does. And aside from the admissions of gibberish and nonsensical lyrics, and i can only say I agree completely with Robert Christgau in his opinion ‘Swamp’ is one of the greatest anti-Capitalist songs ever written (indeed, the album is exceptionally political and highly critical of early-1980s American society) and This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) is perhaps one of the greatest pro-Love songs of all time. I couldn’t agree more with that last bit too – it is an exceptional love song; sincere, timeless and real.

Key Tracks:
– Girlfriend is Better
– Slippery People
– Swamp
– Moon Rocks
– Pull Up the Roots

* Like this: more album reviews can be found at Vinyl.

New on Vinyl: Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

A fascinating album to say the very least.

I’ve been a big fan of Talking Heads and David Byrne for years – actually, since I was a child, aged ten listening to Stop Making Sense over and over again while playing G.I. Joe with my brother. What can I say, Joe had some funky adventures.

This album opens with a track I found almost unlistenable at first, America is Waiting, which features a sample of an irate talk-radio host. The prodigious and precautions use of sampling on this album in fact held back its release, and it still stands as a shining example of a very early use of the technique. Moreover it is an analog recording, and therefore the samples would have had to have been synched manually, a difficult and frustrating task which often led to chance discoveries and happy accidents. The sampling itself, which also includes Lebanese mountain singers, an exorcism and radio evangelists sits in interesting juxtaposition to the African rhythms, which are complexly overlaid resulting in an intricately interwoven tapestry of funky punctuation. Eno would later say he thinks the principally innovative factor isn’t the sampling itself inasmuch as how the sampling is used as the principle vocals.

Like this? See the rest here.

About that Amazing Arcade Fire Show

Arcade Fire's view of the crowd at last thursday's show - not the work of the author

26 September 2011/ Listening to David Byrne & Brian Eno/ Apartment is hot-as-hell, Indian Summer’s a happening, but for how much longer?

About that show…

I had to be there. Work got in the way of the last two opportunities I had to see the Arcade Fire perform, so I couldn’t afford to miss it.

I got there unfashionably early and planted myself in what would later be described by various people I encountered at the concert as ‘the happy zone’ to contrast it with the many ‘angry zones’ around the Place des Festivals where people had got boxed in and forced to listen to the show while facing the opposite direction. Not the band’s fault of course, I think they prefer smaller venues.

But in part I think that may have changed last Thursday.

I was enchanted with them, their presence, their palpable joy. Despite the fact hat an poorly-placed tent and cherry picker obscured my view partially, it didn’t seem to matter. In a strange twist it seemed as if it was fundamentally more important for the band, this quintessentially Montreal concoction, to see the crowd that came to see them. I cannot imagine what it felt like to stand on that stage and see the sea of people, citizens united under a common joy, a shared sentiment expressed by Time Magazine’s ‘most intriguing of Canadian bands’ (fuck it, they’re all intriguing – Nickleback’s fan-base perhaps most of all ;-).

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