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HoM review.



40,000 fans cheer on the Garth Brooks dog and pony show while he brandishes
the key to the city.  Hurricane Hortense knocks out power for blocks and
rips the roof off a bank.  The Barenaked Ladies play the local symphony
hall and then go slumming at a local indie-rock festival.  It's business as
usual for a September weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Not.

Things couldn't have worked out better for the organizers of the Halifax On
Music festival.  Colin MacKenzie, Angie Fenwick, Waye Mason, Marc Brown,
and a team of dedicated volunteers should all take a bow for the amazing
job they did giving us the most memorable weekend in Halifax in a long
time.  As you can tell, though, some things that happened this weekend they
just won't be able to take credit for!

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 13
\!/ reflections cabaret: State Champs, Broken Girl, Duotang, Jale

I'm afraid I didn't make it to the all-ages show on Friday.  My radio show
was extended by an hour and it was all I could do to make it to Reflections
by 9pm.  It's an odd venue for an indie rock show.  Flashing strobe lights
and excruciatingly loud techno music made for strange bookends to sets by
the likes of Broken Girl and Jale, not to mention...

STATE CHAMPS

The techno was pumping until the moment when the DJ yelled "all right party
people!" and introduced the Champs.  I'll bet they've never had an intro
quite like that before.  At any rate, they rocked from the first note and
there wasn't a weak song in the bunch -- it was all new, unreleased
material but unfamiliarity didn't seem to keep many of the people there
from getting into it.  Their new song "Lazy Instruments" is just killer,
somewhere between the Archers and Polvo but still quintessential
phase-three Champs.  Probably the best song by a Halifax band in the past
year.  The closing number, "Drown the Harmony," an even newer one, sounds
like a hit too.  Andy Sawler's still recovering from his skateboard injury
so J of the Motes (just recovered from, yes, a skateboard injury) filled in
on guitar.

BROKEN GIRL

The longest and maybe best set that I've seen Julie do.  If I remember
correctly she didn't do any Eric's Trip songs other than "Beautiful Voice"
if that's what it's called).  The highlights of the set for me were the
same songs that have consistently been my favorites on her CD: "Waiting for
Baby", "Elevator Show", "Dance Music".  The remarkable thing considering
that we were in a dance bar was that people actually shut up and listened
for the most part.  I guess it's hard not to have some respect for a person
having the guts to go up on a stage alone with just a guitar to sing really
personal songs.  The signature nervousness is still palpably there but the
confidence level is obviously increasing too.  Julie did some new songs
that sounded promising and will be recorded for a new CD which we will see
no sooner than next April on Sub Pop.

DUOTANG

Bass-and-drums duo from Winnipeg, with a just-released full-length on Mint
Records of Vancouver.  I can only think of two other bass-and-drums duos
that I've seen, and these guys can't compare with the Inbreds for
songwriting or with godheadSilo for sheer rock supremacy.  But despite
lacklustre covers of the Pixies and Beatles (do we really need to hear "she
loves you yeah yeah yeah" one more time?) I think they've definitely
defined their own new-wave-inflected niche and I did enjoy the set.

JALE

You might recall that jale were on tour recently and had to cancel for
family reasons after only a few shows.  This was sort of a regrouping show
for them, and as you might expect there was no new material and, for the
most part, no new arrangements.  They performed well but seemed a little
fazed by the shitty sound.  It seemed like someone was asleep at the switch
when it came to turning up vocals at the right times, and the guitar sounds
were bloody awful.  Later I found out there were some equipment problems.
By the time they hit the stage there was a large, enthusiastic crowd, many
of whom were putting that flashy dance floor to good use.

\!/ birdland: OLYMPIC DEATH SQUAD (mark robinson with evelyn hurley)

ODS was the only act on the bill at Birdland that night that I got to see.
It was Mark Robinson's first trip to the Atlantic Canadian provinces,
although you would not have guessed that if you are familiar with some of
his song titles ("Nova Scotia", "Hey Hey Halifax", "Maple Leaf",
"Newfoundland").  This being his first time he did what amounted to a Mark
Robinson solo show, dividing the set roughly equally between Unrest songs,
Air Miami songs, and ODS songs from _Blue_.  Evelyn from Blast Off Country
Style did beats and harmonies.  They didn't seem particularly well prepared
and although a sizable number of people were down by the stage eating it
up, a lot of people in the bar just yammered through the whole set, since
there wasn't really anything happening on stage to interest the unintiated.
That kind of put a damper on the atmosphere but I still enjoyed finally
getting to hear Mark sing "Imperial", "Isobel", and "Yes She Is My Skinhead
Girl".

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 14

\!/ wormwood's cinema:  "Rock and Roll Carnival" record fair

I'm afraid that I didn't get to see any of the "Halifax on Media" speakers
or musical performers because I was too busy schmoozing and selling records
with the other daydreamers.  Record labels represented:  Murder, Cinnamon
Toast, No, Snob Shop, Sonic Unyon, PF, Sappy, Daydream,
Derivative/Cartunes/Magwheel.  I hope the success of this year's festival
means that next year we can attract some American labels.  There seemed to
be general agreement with various people that I talked to that an
all-in-one two-day record/zine/comic thing would be preferable to this
year's one-day records/one-day comics&zines setup (more on the Sunday
afternoon comic jam later).  Hot sellers at our table:  Left Hip
zine/cassette-compilation, Rome Plows self-titled CD.  I've decided that
the Inbreds have the spiffiest t-shirts of any Halifax band.

\!/ the bike shop cafe:  "Halifax Off the Wagon cocktail party"

It probably would have been more to the point to call this one "Free Beer
at the Bike Shop" but I guess that wouldn't have sounded quite as
sophisticated.  Thanks to somewhat grubby decor and a half-gentrified but
still rundown locale on Gottingen Street, the Bike Shop is the only
remaining "hip" cafe in town that has yet to be overrun by
surplus-disposable-income-enabled trendoids.  Not that it doesn't host its
own kind of trendoid.  But that's another story.  My favorite local coffee
shop found itself crowded with music and media schmoozes of all kinds while
Hurricane Hortense was threatening to drown pedestrians just outside.  The
AVENGERS 7 played a set of their unique surf-lounge-garage hybrid pop to an
appreciative minority, but lead guitarist Graham MacDougall was obviously
suffering from the flu and they lacked some of their usual zing.  The
highlight of the party for me was the ass-whupping i put on "Montreal Pete
Elkas" of the Local Rabbits at the pool table.  Ok, so I'm exaggerating, it
was a pretty close game, but a most satisfying win, especially when Peter
Rabbit, in mock (?) anger slammed his cue down on the table (!) and on his
way out gave the finger to those of us laughing at his expense.  :-)

\!/ birdland:
Sianspheric^4, Scud Mountain Boys, Push Kings, Change of Heart, Sloan

SIANSPHERIC^4

Sianspheric^4 are simply not my bag.  Lots of people love them and maybe
Catano or somebody else can favour us with an articulate apology for this
band's set. But they just don't do it for me.  They have that goth tendency
towards passive eroticizing of technology that just drives me crazy.  From
where I sit there's nothing happening with the actual instruments that gets
my interest either.  I was never a huge fan of this kind of stuff and SS^4
are not going to change my mind about that, I'm afraid.  But I'm not the
right person to review them.

SCUD MOUNTAIN BOYS

It was my first time seeing these guys, whose brand of country music was
accurately billed as genuine but neither "new" nor "neo".  It was an
interesting counterpoint to the Garth Brooks show going on just a block
down the street.  This band could simply never be called pretentious or
false.  The pedal-steel-augmented sound was a strange counterpoint to the
previous band, and the Boys seemed genuinely surprised/pleased at the
appreciative crowd.  Unfortunately we didn't get to hear the song
"Massachusetts" because they ran out of time for their set, but they were
still a highlight of the festival.

PUSH KINGS

The clothes.  The hair.  The shiny teeth.  Gritty they're not.  Cuddly they
are.  It was so overwhelming at first that I found them rather obnoxious.
But once I got over the initial reaction I found myself listening to fluffy
but addictive, catchy, well-played pop.  That "Macy Macy" single is to die
for.  These guys sound *nothing* like their early Pavementesque period, but
that's probably for the best.  Their vocal harmony skills are considerable,
no, downright impressive.  Their "mod" schtick comes across as somehow
simulataneously mannered but endearing.  Jim and Tara thought they were so
cute that they took them home.  :-)

CHANGE OF HEART

By the time CofH hit the stage, Birdland was jam-packed.  I've never seen
Ian so psyched -- instead of the usual cynical
i'm-such-a-jaded-hardass-bar-scene-vet (and you people all suck) commentary
he was all "All right HALIFAX!!  Are you ready to ROCK?!?!?  Let's send
that hurricane back to PUERTO RICO!!!!"  And believe me, he wasn't just
being facetious.  He was totally pumped and so was his new bass player --
Geddy Lee's nephew, rumour has it.  The new guy has the chops and the
moves, and was having a good time showing off his cowboy hat (once again
the shadow of Garth) and exchanging devil-doohickey-handsigns with audience
members. In a well-balanced bill it was just the blast of rock that the
evening needed.

SLOAN

The mob scene that ensued for Sloan's set was like nothing I've ever seen
at Birdland.  It must have been that bar's biggest crowd ever and there
must have been on the order of 1000 people in the building.  Sloan did
mostly stuff from _One Chord To Another_ to a sometimes-too-enthusiastic
audience -- a fight broke out on the dance floor and a couple of losers had
to be dragged out after an over-the-top version of "Anyone Who's Anyone"
had whipped the dance floor crowd into a frenzy.  "Looks like school's back
in," Chris observed.  The whole set was a total love-in, and there was
never a chance that they wouldn't be encored -- the "Sloan! Sloan! Sloan!"
chant went on forever until the band came out for an encore that included a
killer version of "Marcus Said" and a lame-ass but fun version of "What
Difference Does It Make" with Chris doing his best swaggering Morrissey
impression and then begging the CBC Radio mobile crew "Merciful Jesus,
don't broadcast that!"  (Actually, my favorite for-the-benefit-of-radio
Chris Murphy moment was the somewhat juvenile aside "this is going on the
radio fuck fuck fuck fuck".)  Apparently Andrew almost passed out from the
heat -- he had removed his shirt and requested that the white lights above
the kit not be used, but that wasn't quite enough and at one point he
needed a break to recover.  And then he kept going.  What a trooper.

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 15

\!/ the downtowner restaurant:  4th annual Cinnamon Toast brunch featuring
Andy McDaniel, Piggy

This year's affair once again saw a change of venue, this time to a
restaurant that (conveniently, as it turned out) features two levels of
seating.  On the menu (all you could eat for $6, collected at the door by
the always-friendly Laura Stein) there was cinnamon toast (of course),
scrambled eggs, "vegetarian beans" (no animals harmed, except for maybe a
few that were downwind), blueberry pancakes (ditto), orange juice, and
coffee.  The food was all scrumptious but the coffee was absolute *shit*.
The bad coffee was the talk of the event.

At any rate, Andy McDaniel of Leonard Conan fame did an excellent set,
supported on lap steel by Tracy Stevens and on banjo & acoustic guitar by
none other than Mike Begin of the Rome Plows (without a doubt Halifax's
hardest-rocking indie band).  Mike's heretofore-unrecognized banjo skills
added just the right element to the little ensemble -- I'd like to see them
play again.

Next up was Piggy, the self-proclaimed "calypso orchestra of the
Maritimes".  The latest edition of the group has lost Jordan on clarinet
but gained Miriam on trumpet.  My favorite moment of the set was when the
various musicians were doing their solos from right to left (Miriam, David
on sax, Rodrigo on violin, Melissa on standup bass, Graham on drums) on one
song and when it got to Graham's end he didn't realized he was supposed to
solo -- he hit the drums a couple of times, looked over at Paul and said,
"Uh, me?"

Ok, this story has to be told... Piggy had this ridiculous running schtick
during their set where Rodrigo was going on about UFOs and aliens and Paul
was being faux-skeptical about it all, even when a couple of aliens (or,
two guys wearing silly alien costumes) came down the stairs and temporarily
"abducted" Rodrigo.  Before this took place the two guys were waiting in
costume in the bathroom at the top of the stairs, and Chris Murphy was
waiting to get in.  Unaware of the reason they were taking so long, he got
impatient and banged on the door:  "Come on out!"  You should have seen the
stunned expression on his face when a big green bulbous space alien opened
the door and said "yeessss....  come on in...." and after an appropriate
pause closed the door again.  Jim and I nearly busted a gut laughing!

\!/ wormwood's cinema:  the Comic Jam featuring Stinkin' Rich and Al Tuck
(I missed the set by J & Dan from the Motes)

Because of the brunch I missed J & Dan, but I understand that they did a
noise experiment for twenty minutes.  I'm sorry I missed that!  I also
missed most of Stinkin' Rich, but I caught enough of his act to be
impressed once again.  At Wormwood's the acoustics are way better than the
local bars, and so you really get to enjoy artists that depend on wordplay.
Cases in point -- Rich and Al.  Al Tuck played an acoustic set featuring
amazing versions of "Buddha" and "Can I Count On You", as well as Johnny
Cash and Cole Porter covers, and had the crowd eating out of his hand.  One
of my favorite performances of the weekend.

I took a quick tour of the zine tables, said hi to Amy Baker of _Dollface_
fame (unfortunately #5 wasn't ready in time for the festival, but she was
selling the first four issues) and bought the latest edition (#5) of the
fanzine _Shuffle_.  Haven't read the Moonsocket interview yet but it looks
interesting.  Tara stuck a microphone in Chris Yorke's face and caught him
at his manic best/worst.

ok, i guess i'm running out of time.  i'll have to review the all-ages finale
and the wrap-up party later.

james



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     _James Covey  <jrcovey\!/cochran.com>_    sloan net is a discussion of the
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