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SLCR #245: Hawksley Workman & the Art of Time Ensemble (May 13, 2016)

This was a pleasant surprise. There was no big announcement for this show – at least not one that I saw. Instead, I heard about it on Twitter – really, just offhandedly retweeted – a unique one-off concert with a favourite singer joining forces with the Art of Time Ensemble to perform an evening of covers of one of their biggest inspirations. I didn’t seriously think I could go – I mean, I’d have to hop on a plane for it – but I checked the ticket availability just to satisfy my own curiosity and dang if there wasn’t one seat still available in the very front row. It was a sign from a god that I don’t believe in except for when I need justification for doing something extravagant.

So yeah, I got on a plane and spent a week in Toronto, which should not surprise you if you read the other reviews I’ve been posting this week. And if you didn’t, you’re probably not reading this one either, so I don’t know why I’m addressing you. At any rate, after a week of touristy stuff and hanging out and the Hydraulic Press Channel and record shopping and food, it was time for the show that set this whole week in motion.

Steve and I took the subway and then the other subway and then failed to take a streetcar to the show. We waited in line at the stop for about 20 minutes while the sign told us that the next streetcar was 7 minutes away, then 6, then 5, then 7 again, then 5, then 12 somehow? Steve checked the transit tracking app thing and it looked like there was something stopping up all the streetcars – presumably an accident. Hopefully nothing serious. By this point, there was a pretty significant number of people waiting for the streetcar, so we abandoned our transit plans and set out on foot.

The good news is that this took us past the beaver tail stand. The bad news is that I was still so full from supper that I just couldn’t do it. Steve seemed a little disappointed. I was disappointed in myself. It would be closed by the time the show was over, and we would not be able to return. Godspeed, fried dough.

The Harbourfront Centre is a lovely place and I arrived feeling underdressed for the occasion, despite wearing one of my very limited number of shirts with “buttons” and a “collar.” Could have at least tucked it in, I guess, but if I’m going to bother with that, it’s only out of fear of fire, and I figured that my scare from the night before would keep me alert. And I didn’t catch fire even once so this worked out swimmingly.

Steve got us tasty sodas and we hung out in the lobby until it was time to go our separate ways. I got my front row seat on the day tickets went on sale, but having procrastinated when it came to getting Steve’s ticket, he wound up with an “obstructed view” seat in the balcony. At least it was cheap. And also, they don’t know what “obstructed” means, as he was at a bit of a weird angle – basically viewing the stage from the side – but could see quite well. And while I was closer to the stage, I was far right and Hawksley was far left, so I spent most of the show looking off to the side. No matter. I persevered.

It was clearly a special night for Hawksley. I believe his wife was in attendance (more on that later) and he mentioned that his brother was there too. I’ve heard him say before that Cockburn was a major inspiration in his decision to become a musician. He talked about how that all started for him, talked about meeting him, reading his memoir, and recently interviewing him for the Globe and Mail. Hawksley always tends to go off on delightful tangents and this night was no exception. The tangents just had a theme.

I am familiar with Bruce Cockburn singles, and not so much the back catalogue. There wound up being four songs I knew: Call it Democracy, If a Tree Falls, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, and Waiting for a Miracle. There are a few obvious exclusions there (Wondering Where the Lions Are, Tokyo, Lovers in a Dangerous Time) but this was meant to be a night of protest songs and not so much a greatest hits collection. The rest of the songs – I know this because they listed them in the program – were Beautiful Creatures, Burn, Gavin’s Woodpile, Going Down Slow, Red Brother Red Sister, Rose Above the Sky, Stolen Land, and The Trouble with Normal.

Of all of them, the only one I’d heard Hawksley sing before was Call It Democracy, which he played on the Strombo Show last year. You can see the video here  – this is all you get, sorry. The Art of Time shows have a “no photography” rule and while I don’t know how seriously they take it, sitting front row left me too exposed to take chances. Though it would be hilarious to fly three hours to go to a show and get thrown out for an illicit 15-second smartphone video clip. I took a picture of what the stage looked like before everyone came out and that’s it.


That video doesn’t give you the full experience, though. The Art of Time Ensemble consisted of six musicians, including Artistic Director Andrew Burashko on piano – he was there in Calgary for the Sgt. Pepper show a few months back. I can’t speak to the songs I was hearing for the first time, but the singles, at least, had been creatively arranged. Of the four, I only picked up on If A Tree Falls from the very first notes; for the rest, I needed to get to the lyrics. The musicians were incredibly talented and it was a really interesting way to hear (or discover) these songs. Great stuff and I really hope they recorded the show. I have some other Art of Time CDs with folks like Steven Page and Sarah Slean and would love to add this one to the collection.

There were a few extra tunes as well. There were two sets with an intermission, and at the start of each, the Art of Time performed an instrumental piece based off an old chain gang song. And Hawksley is not known for protest songs, but for the encore, they played his take on the genre with We’re Not Broken Yet, his own song from last year’s Old Cheetah album.

We stuck around after the show so that I could chat with Hawksley for a bit. Waiting, I picked up a vinyl copy of For Him And The Girls, Hawksley’s first album and my leading contender for all-time favourite album. I already have it on vinyl; this was for Steve and Audrey. I gave them strict instructions that they had to listen to it twice because once doesn’t work. It won’t click for you the first time. It takes two times. This was true for me and that, of course, means it is true for everyone.

Of course, if they like it straight away, they can stop listening to it after the first time.

Hawksley came out after a little while and wound up entering near where we were standing. I’ve talked to him after shows a few times, though I usually don’t bother because what could I say that anyone would care about? But the guy and his music means a lot to me after so long, and it’s good to say that sometimes, you know? I mean, and I said this much to him, what Cockburn was to him, he is to me. I don’t fly across the country for shows by just anyone. I mentioned coming in from Regina for this and Hawksley gave me a big hug.

Then I brought up titty-fucking cakes.

Did I explain this after the last Hawksley show? I can’t remember and I can’t be bothered to go look right now. Here’s the thing. On his newest album, Hawksley has a song (I Just So Happen to Believe) with the line “you’ll gorge upon the starters, you’ll titty-fuck the cake” and I was not expecting that on first listen! Then I started wondering how this would work. I mean, you need two cakes for this, right? Can’t do it with one cake. Then I pestered Hawksley (and Deserée) about this on Twitter for the better part of a day. Strangers got involved. Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat and Mounties was liking tweets. I discovered that I was devoutly committed to opinions that I had never considered. I don’t want to hear about novelty cake pans. We’re talking about normal cakes here. Several people suggested you could titty-fuck the layers of a layer cake. No. You cannot. Then you’re just fucking a cake. There are STANDARDS.

note to self: bookmark this review for the next time I apply for a job that requires a writing sample

Anyway, I mentioned how much I enjoyed our time discussing titty-fucking cake logistics and he doubled over laughing. That day made an impression on both of us, it seems. I was greatly amused. He called a lady over.

Hawksley: “This guy came in from Regina for this, and one time, he had a tweet about titty-f-”

the aforementioned lady: “Titty-fucking cakes!”

SO greatly amused.

I am assuming this was Hawksley’s wife, because really, who else do you talk about titty-fucking cake tweets with? At any rate, we chatted for a bit and she was a delight.

Steve and I left shortly thereafter – I didn’t want to take up a ton of their time and I said all I wanted to (and probably more than I should have – the next time I go to a Hawksley show, I expect to see my picture at the door on a sign reading “DO NOT LET THIS MAN IN (RE: CAKE)”). I think I told that joke in the last Hawksley review too, and also, that punctuation got real wonky. I think it is time I hit “save” and go to bed.

SLCR #233: The Art of Time Ensemble (March 3, 2016)

This was a pleasant surprise. There was no big announcement for this show – at least not one that I saw. Instead, I heard about it on Twitter – really, just offhandedly retweeted – a unique one-off concert with a favourite singer joining forces with the Art of Time Ensemble to perform an evening of covers of one of their biggest inspirations. I didn’t seriously think I could go – I mean, I’d have to hop on a plane for it – but I checked the ticket availability just to satisfy my own curiosity and dang if there wasn’t one seat still available in the very front row. It was a sign from a god that I don’t believe in except for when I need justification for doing something extravagant.

I look forward to copying and pasting that paragraph in a few months’ time when I have to write about Hawksley Workman and the Art of Time playing Bruce Cockburn songs in Toronto. But I am in Calgary, where Steven Page (once of Barenaked Ladies), Craig Northey of Odds, Andy Maize of Skydiggers, and Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket played all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And a few other Beatles songs. 

This is not as much of a one-off as the Hawksley show (which itself is actually on for two nights) – these guys are on a short Canadian tour. Four cities, I think, with a studio album version released a few years ago. Plus, finding out about the Hawksley show led to me planning that trip, whereas for this one, I had already booked my Calgary visit and just happened to be arriving a few hours before showtime. 

After visiting with my grandma, watching the news and promising to bake bread and sharpen knives during my stay, I caught a C-Train to go two whole stops to the Jack Singer Concert Hall, the same place where I saw Bahamas last fall. It’s still nice and conveniently located and still a good idea for a city to have and I still like the light rail too. I need a default Calgary paragraph that I can just paste into these things. 

Today is still Thursday, if we assume it’s not after midnight (depends which time zone I feel like recognizing), and I only found out about this show on Monday or Tuesday when Steven Page retweeted something about the gig. I’m not sure how I managed to luck into a front-row seat. And when I say front row, I mean I was right up there. I could – and did – rest my feet against the base of the stage. It was almost too close, like watching a movie from the front row. I couldn’t really see too much of the orchestra. If I looked straight ahead, I had a great view of the singers’ footwear. Looking up, their faces were obscured by the music stands they were using for their sheet music and bottled water and iPads. This situation thankfully didn’t last – Phillips lowered his stand and it honestly seemed like he was doing it just so I could see better. Page then followed suit and actually leaned down and said, off-mic, “there, is that better?” to the people sitting to my right. 

From left to right were Phillips, Page, Northey, and Maize, with me being positioned slightly closer to Phillips than Page. Behind them was the Calgary Philharmonic. Now, as I understand it, the Art of Time Ensemble is eight or so musicians, and that’s who I expect to see performing with Hawksley in Toronto. If those folks were here tonight, I couldn’t tell you. They either weren’t there or were dressed to blend in with the Calgarians – and not with the usual cowboy hats and belt buckles, so if they were there, they clearly did their research. But I got the impression that for tonight, the four singers and artistic director (and tonight’s pianist) Andrew Burashko WERE the Art of Time Ensemble. I suspect that kind of appellation is flexible. Fine by me. You get the point – four singers, orchestral versions of Beatles songs.

The show opened with Northey singing Strawberry Fields Forever, which Page pointed out is not, technically, ON Sgt. Pepper. He attributed this to confusion between the Sgt. Pepper album and a mixtape which happened to have the title track on it (and also Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night). Northey does a fine imitation of the booooooooooweeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEP noise that tells you that your tape is starting. 

I used to have an Odds mixtape I’d made myself that was just the right length to listen to when mowing the lawn. I think it cut off the tail end of “Yes (Means It’s Hard to Say No).” The other side of the tape had all of Wide Mouth Mason’s major label debut.

I digress. After Strawberry Fields, they played all of Sgt. Pepper (with an intermission around the halfway point), with the different singers taking turns singing lead. Do you need me to tell you about Sgt. Pepper? I feel like it is somewhat of a known commodity at this point, and while I like the Beatles, I am far from a scholar. Suffice it to say that it is commonly regarded as the Beatles’ masterpiece. Recorded in response to the Altimont riots and the Kent State shootings, Sgt. Pepper is widely credited with kicking off the grunge revolution and introducing hip-hop to mainstream America. John Lennon, or as he was often called, Mr. Mojo Risin’, rode the success of Sgt. Pepper to great fame in Pepsi commercials until he tragically died in a plane crash with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, a day that will forever be remembered by music fans as The Day The Airplane Crashed. But you know all that if you’ve ever heard Hotel California. 

Anyway. This was a really fun evening! The arrangements were interesting and the vocals were done well. It was all still recognizable as Sgt. Pepper but had some neat twists – the jazzy version of Lovely Rita being a particular standout for me. Being so close, I kept getting distracted because it was easy to discern the different parts in the vocal harmonies, which is not something I really ever think about or even entirely understand – I can’t sing, I can only imitate. Anyway, it was interesting to really see who was singing what harmonies and think about how the vocal parts were related. This probably sounds dumb as hell to anyone who actually understands music on any level. Don’t care. Write your own reviews. 

During the intermission, I just stayed in my seat and played iPhone games, and I’m so glad I did because the folks behind me had the most fascinating conversation. Between not knowing what building they were in or who they were watching and then the guy professing his love for “Raspberry Fields Forever,” it was hard to stifle the giggles. In his defence, he came back with a solid “Dr. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” joke once he realized his mistake. Unfortunately, he didn’t let it go and subsequent attempts (“Banana Submarine!”) fell flat, but it was still a decent recovery.

Once the ensemble had played through all of Sgt. Pepper, they had one of those encores where you don’t bother leaving the stage. There were three closing numbers – Page sang Penny Lane, Maize did Here Comes The Sun, and all four led a singalong of All You Need Is Love, during which I’m pretty sure I heard Northey or maybe Page singing a bit of Sunglasses at Night. I don’t think there’s a “so I can so I can” in the original, but I’m far from a scholar. 

Ten More Brain Farts

Regina Spektor – Far

I like Regina Spektor, and this is a very strong album, indeed. This one feels like it has more energy, as though the band was in a great place when it was made. Nice. It’s fun, thought-provoking, powerful and alive. By that report, then, it’s more of the same from this talented musician. Highly recommended.

Wilco – (The Album)

Over time, I have found myself going back and forth in how I felt about Wilco. Given the day I’m listening to them, they are either the coolest or the most boring thing I’ve heard. I’m not a slobbering must-have-everything fan, but when they are hitting their high points, there are few bands that can reach their level. To this day, I still believe their record Being There was a masterpiece. Now, this latest record is a smattering of the band’s best and weakest attributes. Take that to mean what you will. Their fans will scour its every note and word for meaning, of course. There’s enough here for me to like, but I probably won’t be playing it daily.

Art Of Time Ensemble – Black Flowers

OK, so opening (and closing) with Leonard Cohen covers is a great way to get my attention. Too bad there’s only one person who can credibly do Leonard songs (and that’s Leonard, folks, so get over it already). The rest of this record wants to be played late in a candle-lit night, over a nice glass of wine, maybe in the background of a good conversation where it won’t be too intrusive.

Moby – Wait For Me

Man, I don’t know why I bothered. I have never liked Moby. He had his hits, and even claims to have been a punk back in the day, but every song I ever heard of his was either a sacrilegious sample of some old blues song or a comparable waste of time, repetitive and trite, which didn’t make me want to listen to any more. Trouble was, he was everywhere for a while, there. Sigh. This record failed to move me at all because it’s just more of the same only quieter. It’s like he was scared to make a sound at all, each song sort of tip-toes past and tries not to bother you. I wish it had succeeded.

Hank Williams, Jr. – 127 Rose Avenue

This has some verve. With just enough of a twang, here we have that New Country fascination with rawk that blurs the line and makes everything sound the same. That said, the highlights are the acoustic-driven slower tracks, when his clear, strong voice is in the center of things. The track ‘Red, White & Pink-Slip Blues’ is a damning look at American recession these days, and he even covers his daddy, too. For the offspring of a legend, this ain’t bad.

Gin Blossoms – Outside Looking In: The Best Of The Gin Blossoms

I find myself listening to a lot of this band, and often, too. These are smart, tight songs, and on this one all the hits (of course), are here. The band is smokin’, the lyrics and arrangements are perfect, and if you aren’t tapping your feet and singing along by two songs in you probably don’t have a pulse at all. This band should have been a lot bigger for a lot longer than they were/are. They totally deserve it. I wish I ran a record label. I’d sign ’em in a heartbeat and promote the hell out of ’em.

Covered – A Revolution In Sound

This is a 50th anniversary release for Warner Brothers, all incestuous cover songs. I’ve just gotta go through this one track by track…

Mastodon (f. Billy Gibbons) rip up ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ with the right amount of balls, the Black Keys fuzz-out on Captain Beefheart’s ‘Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles’ although it kind of drags by the end, and then Michelle Branch does her Lite Fm wanker-thing to Joni Mitchell’s classic ‘A Case Of You.’

Against Me! break out the acoustic guitars and unfortunately take on the Replacements’ ‘Here Comes A Regular,’ Missy Higgins does the same thing to Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’ (which was really, really disappointing and boring), and James Otto (who the hell IS James Otto, anyway?) give Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’ the same treatment. Man, what a three-song energy-sucker.

Things get weird when Adam Sandler takes on Neil Young’s ‘Like A Hurricane.’ It doesn’t even sound like him, and if it IS him, he’s trying WAY too hard to put that Neil twist on the vocals. Yawn. Taking Back Sunday steps up next with their peppy spin on Tom Petty’s ‘You Wreck Me,’ which works mostly, though it’s pretty close to the original, so why bother? And then The Used fuck up the Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down The House’ in the way only that new wave of emo-whatever-label-they-give-themselves weirdo fucks could imagine it needs to be done. Yeesh. That was a bad song to begin with, you know, but this? Hahaha. Yuck.

The Disturbed give us Faith No More’s ‘Midlife Crisis’ with a heavier edge and more of that 90’s nu-metal thing than did the original. Then Avenged Sevenfold gives a straight-on (if a little faster) cover of Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid.’ I mean, yet again – why bother? And lastly, improbably, the Flaming Lips break out their Casio keyboards and mess with Madonna’s ‘Borderline’ as only they could do it. Imagine some plushophiles dancing in the background as the falsetto vocals wail and you’ll be all good.

All in all, the originals are better, but the label must have felt they had to do something to mark the occasion and, truthfully, you totally could spend a worse hour of your life in many, many ways worse than this.

Black Snake Moan Soundtrack

This was a messed-up movie I wouldn’t recommend. I liked Christina Ricci as a nympho (of course), but I have never liked Samuel L. Jackass. He just seems to be reprising his Pulp Fiction role ad nauseum (yawn). The music from the soundtrack, though, is entirely pleasing to the part of me that loves the blues very very much. There’s all kinds of greatness here, even some talking from Son House and, of course, four Samuel L. tracks too, in case you yourself can’t get enough of the man. Skip those tracks and there’s some gems here.

Getting Ready For September 20

THIS makes me so entirely happy! I love this band. Oh man. James sent me this from somewhere on the ‘Net and I’ve just pasted it verbatim. Imagine my glee!! …

“Pearl Jam have revealed the track listing for Backspacer, their upcoming ninth studio album.

The 11-track follow-up to the band’s 2006 self-titled album will be released on Sept. 20 (a Sunday) in the United States and will come out two days later in Canada. Singer/guitarist Eddie Vedder premiered three of the disc’s tracks on his recent solo U.S. tour. A clip of first single “The Fixer” premiered during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, according to

You can pre-order Backspacer in CD and vinyl formats on Pearl Jam’s website, and you can also order a seven-inch single for “The Fixer.”

Pearl Jam will support Backspacer at these shows:

Aug. 8 Calgary, AB @ Canada Olympic Park (Virgin Festival Alberta)
Aug. 13 Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Sportspaleis Ahoy
Aug. 15 Berlin, Germany @ Wuhlheide
Aug. 17 Manchester, England @ Manchester Evening News Arena
Aug. 18 London, England @ O2 Arena
Aug. 21 Toronto, ON @ Molson Amphitheatre
Aug. 23-24 Chicago, IL @ United Center
Aug. 28 San Francisco, CA @ Golden Gate Park (Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival)
Sept. 21-22 Seattle, WA @ Key Arena at Seattle Center
Sept. 30-Oct. 1 Universal City, CA @ Gibson Amphitheater
Oct. 4 Austin, TX @ Zilker Park (Austin City Limits Music Festival)
Oct. 6-7 Universal City, CA @ Gibson Amphitheater
Oct. 9 San Diego, CA @ Viejas Arena
Oct. 28, 30 Philadelphia, CA @ First Union Spectrum Arena

Here are the tracks on Backspacer:

“Gonna See My Friend”
“Got Some”
“The Fixer”
“Johnny Guitar”
“Just Breathe”
“Amongst The Waves”
“Unthought Known”
“Speed Of Sound”
“Force Of Nature”
“The End”

Yeah baby!!! I can’t wait!!!

Street Sweeper Social Club – Street Sweeper Social Club

Tom Morello knows how to fling riffs into your brain in a pummeling way. Sure, it still totally sounds like a master class in that template of 90’s rap-rock of RatM, but that’s because he was the spine of that sound and it’s what he does best. Boots Riley keeps up with a voice way less nasal-sounding than Zach’s, which is cool. This is a strong effort, and the only way to play it properly is at top volume. Call this the Rage album that should have been.

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