Customized Instruments

CUSTOM DESIGNED

 Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.COM

January 2005

Wish you could play the electric guitar like Angus Young or pound the drums like Mike Bordin?

While they may not be able to guarantee you a spot in the AC/DC or Ozzy Osbourne camps, major music instrument manufacturers like Gibson and Yamaha are striving to bring you one step closer to realizing your dreams with their exclusive lines of signature, custom-made instruments.

“It is our finest stuff,” proclaims Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of the Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp., whose product line also includes the familiar Epiphone, Kramer, Baldwin and Slingerland brands of musical instruments.

“Virtually every model that comes out of that business is hand-built because they’re constructed in very tiny quantities. They are the vanguard of our production line.”

And they appeal to the diehard fan, whether you’re an aspiring musician or an avid collector. With the right amount of cash, you can wail along to “You Shook Me All Night Long” on your Gibson Angus Young Signature SG electric guitar ($1900) or use your Yamaha Mike Bordin SD-6455 MB snare drum  ($1079) to ride the rhythm of “Crazy Train.”

According to Joe Testa, artist relations of Yamaha Drums, the sound of a signature instrument is just as important as its appearance.

“When you’re talking about a signature snare drum, it’s supposed to capture the sound of that particular artist,” explains Testa, whose division imprints include customized products by renown drummers Manu Katché, Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd. “If you’re a fan of that artist, one would think that would help sell that drum. That’s the thinking behind it.”

Jimmy Chamberlin, the Smashing Pumpkins alumnus who recently launched a Yamaha signature snare drum of his own – the SD-2455JC ($699) – says reputation carries influence.

“One of my favorite drums to this day is an old Gene Krupa Radio King,” states Chamberlin.

“As soon as you hit it, you know it’s his drum.  That’s what you do as a young drummer — you emulate your heroes. And anytime you can get your hands on some of their gear, it just gets you that much closer to the mark.”

Gibson’s Juszkiewicz estimates that custom and signature lines represent only a tiny fraction of his company’s annual sales of $300 million – “less than 5%” – but the product associations with such icons as Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris and Earl Scruggs offer instant credibility.

“To have an artist like Paul McCartney or Jimmy Page associated with Gibson just reminds people of the quality,” says Juszkiewicz, “We acquire the professionalism and the musicianship of people like Les Paul — who at the age of 90 is still out playing every week — and B.B. King and Joe Pass, guys who are exquisite instrumentalists.

“Equally, the brand stands for excellence, and artists acquire some of that prestige through our relationship.”

But are they paid for that relationship?

“We don’t pay anybody to play Yamaha drums,” admits Joe Testa. “Never have. Once you do that, you dilute the whole meaning of an endorsement. It’s embarrassing to say, ‘We had to pay this guy to play our drums.’ Al Foster and Steve Gadd have been with Yamaha for 30 years because they really believe in the product.”

That’s not to say some financial consideration isn’t a factor. When Paul McCartney agreed to partner with Gibson to issue his Epiphone Signature Texan, the former Beatle only warmed to the idea as a charity fundraiser.

“When we presented it to Paul in the right way, which incorporated benefiting Adopt-A-Minefield, it really made sense to him,” says Pat Foley of Gibson Custom, Art And Historic, who liaised with the living legend on behalf of Epiphone.

“A signature guitar to him is an honor, but it’s not something he needs to add to his legend.”

When Serial No. 001 rolled off the production line 18 months and three prototypes later, Sir Paul auctioned the guitar and raised $50,000 for Adopt-A-Minefield.

An additional consumer incentive is the hands-on involvement of artists throughout the process. Jimmy Page personally selected and tested the first run of 25 Les Paul Honey Burst guitars – but not before spending years helping Gibson perfect the instrument.

“We did a Jimmy Page reissue that had a very unusual electrical set up involving a lot of switching,” Henry Juszkiewicz recalls. “Getting it right took the better part of four years to satisfy him.

“But we’re highly committed to ensuring that the instrument you buy is exactly the instrument the artist is playing. It takes a lot of work to do that.”

Juszkiewicz says a Gibson custom-made signature guitar is also a good value for investor: just recently, Christie’s auctioned a Gibson SG electric played by George Harrison for $567,500.

“On average our Gibson guitars have appreciated 12-17% annually,” says Juszkiewicz.

As far as signature artists are concerned, Jimmy Chamberlin says the advantages of his Yamaha association range from access to a community of musicians to a natural outgrowth of his current career.

“As time goes on and I’m touring less, I’d like to wrap my head around more developmental drums and get more into the Yamaha R&D department,” says Chamberlin, who premieres his signature snare on the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex’s upcoming album Life Begins Again.

“But the snare drum is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll do more snare drums. Then ideally, I’d like to see a Jimmy Chamberlin kit down the road.”

Liner notes: FM, Black Noise

FM – Black Noise

 

Oh, the endless possibilities that can be stoked by science fiction.

It’s a realm where imaginations are stimulated, emancipated, and allowed to run wild; where boundaries are stretched and eliminated, and where the inconceivable can become an accomplished reality. It’s a topic that is so entrenched and valued in our society that sci-fi has gifted us with some of our most beloved cultural milestones, be they literary, cinematic, sculpted, painted, televised, or – in the case of Black Noise – musical.

In 1977, the year that the ambitious, timeless and innovative masterpiece Black Noise was conceived and delivered by Toronto-based violinist and mandolin player Nash The Slash; synth player, keyboardist, bass player and singer Cameron Hawkins, and fusion-influenced drummer and percussionist Martin Deller, collectively known as FM – the Star Wars movie franchise had just been launched and Star Trek had eclipsed its TV popularity several times over and was enjoying an unprecedented global run in syndication. Synth-driven, monophonic electronic music, especially in the context of pop and rock music, was still regarded to be in its infancy, although keyboard instruments themselves were on the cusp of polyphony (the ability to play more than one note at a time).  Progressive rock, long presented in elastic, exploratory and sometimes rambling movements that emphasized sonic sculpture and lengthy solos, was turning a corner towards shorter, more economic compositions.

Black Noise championed both worlds with a startling new sound that was both innovative and accessible; a lyrical voyage to the stars that sometimes wordlessly examined its surroundings, and expressed hope for the survival of a species at others.

From the plucked, reverberating ostinato of Nash’s space age mandolin on the classic and radio-friendly “Phasors On Stun,” through the glockenspiel-driven “One O’ Clock Tomorrow,” the warp-speed “Journey” and the epic three-movement opus of the title track, the eight-song album has been a touchstone of inspiration and resonance to the public and fellow Canadian groundbreakers, ranging from Saga and Strange Advance to rock superstars Rush, making for an impressive legacy.

There’s also a deserved sense of pride among its makers.

“We’re here 37 years later, still talking about this music? It’s astounding,” says FM co-founder Cam Hawkins.

“I’m impressed by the longevity. The fact that it still around, still sounds fresh, still makes sense. It doesn’t sound like it’s old pop or anything like that.  In some ways, it had two essential ingredients: one was courage, and one was love. We loved the music that we listened to. We wanted to make that kind of music. We did it because that’s the music we felt inside us.”

Martin Deller, who contributed the stellar instrumentals “Hours,” “Slaughter In Robot Village” and co-wrote “Aldebaran,” says Black Noise was ambitious and encapsulated “a particular time full of heart and energy and commitment and youth.”

“It was done with a wonderful innocence, too,” Deller continues. “It wasn’t that we were jaded. This was the first big thing for all of us, and looking back, we’re proud of having done this record and what we were able to accomplish. Through the maturity of time, you can look back and say this was an important album. We’re happy that people are still really enjoying it.”

It was the beginning of something that would propel Nash, Hawkins and Deller into musical careers both individually and collectively that would touch people around the world.

While the tangible FM story begins in late ’76 with the introduction of Cameron Hawkins to Nash The Slash, the band’s history actually pre-dates its existence, thanks to a trailblazing CHUM-FM DJ named David Pritchard and an album called Nocturnal Earthworm Stew.

            Pritchard was an eclectic musician in his own right, using his bedroom as the studio laboratory to concoct his sonically adventurous soup. Aside from achieving the historic milestone of being the first Canadian album issued by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, Nocturnal Earthworm Stew also features guest appearances by Nash The Slash, Deller and an uncredited Hawkins, although each of the participants made their contributions independently.

“It was a very classic example of an early independent,” says notes Deller. “David did it in his bedroom. I came in, played tracks, then he took them, flipped them upside down and had Nash play on them. Cam came in and played. None of us played in the session together.”

Cameron Hawkins’ first real awareness of Jeff Plewman, a.k.a. Nash The Slash, was witnessing him perform in the band Breathless, the opener for Scrubbaloe Caine at the Ontario Place Forum, a much-missed venue noted for its circular, rotating stage and unobstructed sightlines.

“There was this maniac out there on the violin, who, for a finale, blew a flame out of his mouth and set his violin on fire,” Hawkins recalls.

“Some of those flames fell off into the audience, several of whom jumped up and patted themselves out.”

Hawkins was neither impressed nor amused.

“I thought it was disgusting,” he recalls. “That’s not music – it’s theatre.  I’d never play in a band like that.”

But Nash was all about the performance art: aside from his Breathless commitment, Nash had taken up residency at the Roxy Theatre located on Danforth Avenue, where he also lived in an apartment behind the projection room. His legendary one-man shows found him dressed in a top hat and a tux, composing his own soundtracks to silent films.

Obviously, Hawkins’ curiosity was piqued. He invited Nash, whom he remembered was sporting “long, curly blond hair,” to sit in on a video shoot with Hawkins’ current band Clear. Later, the duo hightailed it back to Nash’s Roxy apartment – heavily decorated with Mike Hammer horror film posters – and over the course of the next six months, wrote some of the seminal songs that would appear on Black Noise: “Phasors On Stun,” “One O’Clock Tomorrow” and “Black Noise.”

The duo worked their magic on a Mini-Moog, an Elka Rhapsody string machine with a set of bass pedals, a sequencer and an analog synthesizer “that could repeat up to 16 notes endlessly,” Hawkins recalls. Nash provided his stringed menagerie consisting of the violin, the mandolin, an Echoplex and a drum machine that Hawkins remembers had settings like “Bossa Nova” and “samba.”

“Nash could turn it into a “thunder machine,’” marveled Hawkins.

“The string machine kind of sounded like a wheezy organ, but if you triggered and filtered it and plugged it into the Mini-Moog, and played the notes on Mini-Moog of what I did on the bass, you anticipated what polyphonic could do.

“So for a very brief period of time, we took a bit of an ingenious approach and it was what made us stand out. We also let the capabilities of the technology write the music. So we’d have songs that were at least five minutes long – sometimes, twice as long – and whatever Nash was playing on the Echoplex would loop around so we’d actually get two Nashes playing live on stage.

“We weren’t really following any rules, except for one: what sounds was the technology telling us to make?”

When it came to performance, Nash — still four years away from adopting the mummified bandage look that would become his trademark – schooled Hawkins about showmanship.

“I learned a lot from Nash about the performance side,” Hawkins acknowledges. “It’s not just what people hear, it’s what they see: It’s about the show. For the first six months that Nash and I wrote those songs, it was just hard work making music. But when we did shows, there was a rear screen that projected movies and slides…it was important to entertain people as well as play them good music.”

FM, named after radio frequency modulation at a time when it was most experimental, continued on as a duo, appearing on TV Ontario’s NightMusic with host Reiner Schwarz and booking a three-night run at the A Space Gallery on Richmond St., where a multitude of Canadian record company A&R reps, those emboldened with the power to sign new acts, witnessed their show, heaped praised upon them and promptly told them that they wouldn’t be contracted to any deal unless they incorporated a drummer.

“Nash and I thought that was a fair assessment,” Hawkins recalls.

Enter Martin Deller, an accomplished stickman with a jazz pedigree who had a weekly gig with a blues band called Cueball and occasionally sat in with Hawkins and Nash. He passed the FM litmus test by proving he could complement the metronomic and rudimentary drum machine rhythms, as well as injecting his own persona into the mix.

“I remember when we were doing ‘Dialing for Dharma’ and that song features a sequencer. And I remember them thinking, ‘oh, how is he going to react to this?’ I walked out of the booth and both Cam and Nash had an ear-to-ear grin, going, ‘well, he fucking nailed that one.’”

After Deller joined in early ’77, the next six months were spent playing clubs around Toronto and quickly establishing themselves as a must-see act. It should be noted that the 1970s was a sensational decade for working musicians: the club scene was healthy, and bands would enjoy six-day residencies in most taverns that would enable them to practice in front of an audience, hone their chops to impeccable standards.

Returning to the A-Space run for a moment, there was one other audience member who would prove to be an important catalyst in getting FM into the studio.

Keith Whiting had recently arrived from England and his producer position at Decca Records, bringing with him future Juno Award-winning engineer Mike Jones in tow. Whiting was about to preside over national broadcaster CBC Radio’s recording division.

CBC Records, however, was unlike any other record company, in that its federally-mandated purpose was not to compete with other labels, but chiefly providing programming for CBC stations across Canada.

How it worked: usually a jazz or classical act would be booked at a CBC recording studio, cut three or four songs that would be compiled onto an anthology, and then that anthology would be issued on a minimum pressing run (averaging 500-1000 copies) and distributed for airplay, with a few copies left over for potential mail order sales.

Whiting, who had served as an assistant engineer on No Answer, the debut Electric Light Orchestra album, and a producer for Dusty Springfield and many others, was hooked from the moment he witnessed the FM experience.

“I was knocked out with it right from the start,” Whiting recalls.  “As soon as I got an opportunity to do something with them, we did. They were good musicians and they had that material for a while.”

Whiting remembers an FM audition tape floating around the CBC, which helped expedite the sessions. He also went a few steps further than his predecessor Hedley Jones, who was also very aware of FM: not only did Whiting feel that the trio deserved an entire album of their own, but he also successfully argued with his superiors that FM deserved more than what the antiquated CBC recording studio equipment could provide.

“FM brought Marty Deller on; we got a small budget from CBC, booked Sounds Interchange (on Adelaide Street) for a week and did the album,” Whiting remembers.

Actually, it was a tad more than a week, but even at 10 to 12 days – eight for recording, two for mixing – there was no room for error. As Whiting recalls, however, FM was up to the task.

“The sessions were quite frantic,” Whiting recalls with a laugh, noting that the “record” button was pressed at around 2 p.m. each day and that the sessions would conclude sometime around 6 a.m.

“We put in really long hours, and it got pretty crazy. To let off steam in the middle of the night, we’d have ‘bog roll’ fights: we’d go around the studios throwing toilet paper rolls at each other at 3 a.m. You couldn’t do too much damage,” he chuckles.

The vestiges of time have impacted the associated memories of those involved to recall exactly which song was the first to be worked on, but Keith Whiting does remember the sessions pretty much sailing along without too many glitches, mainly due to FM’s solid prep work.

“The band had played around the Toronto scene as a three-piece for about six months and the songs were for the most part, worked out,” Hawkins remembers. “Marty and I would rehearse, just the two of us without Nash, to make sure that we got the bed tracks right.

“Plus, we were in our mid-20s, so the sessions were spirited:  we knew that we were getting the opportunity that we were looking for. We had a lot of fun recording the record.”

However, there ended up being one major hitch that ended up shocking both Hawkins and Deller. Cameron Hawkins picks up the story…

“I was playing pinball at the studio to let steam off, and someone came in and said,   ‘Cam, it’s time for the synth solo in “Slaughter In Robot Village”’, which is one of Marty’s songs.

“And I said, ‘I don’t have a solo in “Slaughter In Robot Village” – Nash does.’ And he said, “You do now, because Nash has left the band.’”

According to Hawkins, Nash’s departure was triggered by a combination of factors: the frustration of repeatedly tuning a mandolin paired with a testy engineer who kept fooling around with the Varispeed control on the analog tape recorder.

“Tuning a mandolin is really hard, because you don’t just have four strings, you have eight strings in pairs, all tuned in unison,” Hawkins explains. “And mandolins are notorious for losing their tuning, so it was very frustrating for Nash. Mike (Jones) had apparently had it with what he perceived to be this prima donna musician thing, flipped the Varispeed up to its proper pitch, let the tape roll, and Nash came in, way out of tune. Nash got frustrated, put the mandolin down, and walked out.”

When Nash left, both Deller and Hawkins thought he was just blowing off steam.

“We’re thinking, ‘oh, he left the building. He’ll come back,” said Deller.

“He didn’t play with us again for six years,” adds Hawkins.

This cone of silence was apparently a Nash quality trait that would be repeated in later years.

“Nash was about moving on,” says Hawkins. “There were times when Nash needed the lift of having collaborators, and when he didn’t, would say, ‘I don’t need it now – I can go back to being Nash The Slash.’”

Deller suggested that the addition of a drummer to what had been a two-man set-up also troubled Nash.

“Nash had a vision when he was doing his solo stuff, and when he meets Cam, he says, ‘Ok, here’s a cool guy,’ and Nash can really easily still incorporate all of his vision. And then I come along, and it just changes it up again: I got the sense that, suddenly, three was a crowd for him, and along with all of that other frustration and pressure, he thought, ‘I‘ll just go and do it my way.’

“He was a very complex guy. He couldn’t maintain that sense of commitment to that larger thing. It seemed to be very characteristic through his career.”

Nash’s lack of involvement with FM post-Black Noise was a conundrum that would later be solved by the addition of future k.d. lang producer and collaborator Ben Mink, but for now, everyone was enjoying the fact that the album sessions were complete and that everything sounded stellar.

“Keith got us in and out in 12 days within budget, made sure we were ready, navigated the politics within the CBC and made it fun to record,” Hawkins remembers. “In fact, we did the next record (Surveillance) with almost the same set up.

“I think that spoke to his success as a producer. He never got in the way. There’s a deft touch to that.”

After completing a stereo mix and a quadrophonic mix (the latter mix is still M.I.A. 37 years later, as are the album master tapes), Whiting and the CBC pressed up 500 copies of the album sporting a different cover than the publicly familiar Paul Till artwork.

Whiting, FM manager Malcolm Glassford and the band then shopped the disc to every Canadian and U.S. record company and heard…nothing.

Finally, Passport Records, a New Jersey based indie label specializing in imported British art and progressive rock, picked up the album for the U.S., and eventually distributed it in Canada through GRT.

But here’s the irony: the Canadian arrival of Black Noise in 1978 meant that it wasn’t the first FM album to be released domestically. In the time it took to secure a record deal, Hawkins, Deller and Mink had been afforded the opportunity to record and release Direct To Disc, an album that bypassed the usual analogue tape recording method and was cut directly to vinyl.

However, Direct To Disc, with its two 15-minute compositions, fell short of having the immediate impact of Black Noise, which received instant radio airplay due to the classic single “Phasors On Stun,” and eventually drove album sales to Canadian gold (50,000 copies sold) and probably platinum (100,000 copies) levels.  (FM would be continually plagued by their numerous future record companies declaring insolvency, thus making the maintenance of accurate accounting suspect at the best of times).

This current reissue of Black Noise, lovingly re-mastered by Peter Moore (Cowboy Junkies) and distributed by Conveyor Canada on compact disc and digitally, is additionally significant for its bonus material: two live recordings and longer versions of “Phasors On Stun” and “Black Noise,” recorded at the defunct Larry’s Hideaway on Toronto’s Carlton Street a mere two weeks before the CBC sessions, are included here to offer a glimpse of the true depth of FM’s experimental nature.  (The 180 gram vinyl version will be true to the original album release and not include the extra tracks).

“We had this jam sense,” recalls Martin Deller. “There was this wonderful element of improvisation. In classical music, you have something called the coda, which is a section added to the end of a piece where the soloist who is featured gets to riff on the themes of the composer’s music.  FM would do this in the middle, so ‘Black Noise’ features this internal coda, if you will, where we go into the spacy section. That was a very appealing piece for all of us, and it was really apparent at this time.”

Because vinyl was limited to approximately 25 minutes a side back in the 1970s, Whiting was forced to condense some of FM’s arrangements.

“’Phasors’ used to have a five-minute spacy introduction with percussion and Nash making whispering sounds into a microphone,” Deller recalls.

“On ‘Black Noise,’ Nash is manipulating the drum machine, and we were still in the process of working out the arrangement.”

Adds Hawkins, “These two extra versions really offers people an insight into the real roots of the band: 10-to-15-minute explorations in real time with real inspiration. And these releases are dedicated to Nash, who passed away in May 2014, and whose spirit is definitely captured in these recordings.”

Still energetic, animated and passionate; still wonderfully cosmic and freshly imaginative for those who enjoy open frontiers and great music, the magical Black Noise remains a thoughtful gateway of – and to – the imagination, and the notion that the future has yet to be written.

I thought it was pretty cool music,” says Martin Deller. “It was experimental music people would like because it had a melody. It was refreshing, it was rock and it had a jazzy element as well, which I think you can really hear on Black Noise, between the classical and the synth.”

For Cameron Hawkins, Black Noise symbolizes a call to action.

“To me, what it represents is the truth of a theorem: if you want to do something, do it. To me, Black Noise is something that is bigger than all of us who participated in the record. There’s always a benefit to creating.”

 

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Nick Krewen

Foo Fighters keep fans and moms on their feet: review

Dave Grohl makes the most of a leg injury, even playing guitar with his cast.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Jul 09 2015

Foo Fighters
3.5 stars
July 8 at the Molson Amphitheatre.

Dave Grohl isn’t going to let little things like a severely broken leg and ankle stop him from rocking the night away.

Lesser musicians would have thrown in the towel and taken the requisite time to heal, but not the Foo Fighters’ founding front man: there he was on stage at the Molson Amphitheatre on Wednesday night for the first of two shows, sitting — with his right leg elevated in a full cast on a contraption that was inspired one part by Game Of Thrones and one part by Dr. Who and The Daleks — flailing away on guitar and singing at the top of his lungs as the first chords of “Everlong” filled the air.

“I haven’t given up yet!” he screamed to the crowd in between verses of the song, the first of 23 that would keep the 16,000 in attendance standing on their feet for the next three hours: “You’re getting a show, motherf—-s!”

And did he deliver on his promise, compensating for his immobility since the June 12 accident in Sweden with an adrenaline-fueled concert that featured extended workouts of Foo Fighters hits like “Learn To Fly” and “The Best Of You,” his five-piece support — guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, bassist Nate Mandel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee — as taut and disciplined as one would imagine.

They also rocked some classic covers — David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Rod Stewart and The Faces’ “Stay With Me,” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” (Geddy Lee’s mom was sitting side stage next to Dave’s mom, the singer happily pointed out.)

Although he was forced to spend most of the concert in the chair — there was a brief acoustic set of “My Hero” and “Times Like These” where Grohl hobbled up to the front of the stage on crutches, which he broke and threw into the crowd — one of the most frequent visions of the singer was the top of his head bouncing to the rhythm, his long hair obscuring his instrument, as he was strumming along to his band’s aggressive, melodic rock, his “good” leg swinging violently as the group picked up the pace, with “Monkey Wrench” and “All My Life” performed with particular gusto.

He also told some great stories, and brought along film and photos of the accident and subsequent hospital stay. In fact, let it be said that not only does Dave Grohl have a great sense of humour, but also a spirited entrepreneurial reflex. The North American leg of this Sonic Highways tour has been unofficially re-christened the “Break A Leg” tour; the backstage laminates feature a wheelchair illustration and at least two $30 t-shirts are emblazoned with an accident reference, with one sporting the X-ray of Grohl’s injured limb.

During “This is a Call,” Grohl turned his cast into an instrument, rubbing his guitar against it during an extended solo. He even adjusted the first verse of “These Days” accordingly, hilariously singing, “One of these days you’re going to jump off the stage and break your ankle.”

Despite the physical setback, Grohl and the rest of the Foos gave the audience a healthy reminder of what real rock ’n’ roll is: a relentless combination of fury and zeal performed with unbridled passion.

The only negative: a handful of songs — especially the few that drummer Hawkins sang — were so severely under-mixed to the point where they were rendered unintelligible, as the band’s music drowned out the vocals.

Otherwise, Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters did a superb job of raising the bar of professionalism for their peers: personal injury no longer has a leg to stand on as a viable excuse for canceling tours.

Foo Fighters keep fans and moms on their feet: review | Toronto Star

Homegrown acts Moist, Tea Party return after long absences

New touring circuits, more cash and ego spark musical reunion craze.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Nov 20 2014

With the imminent return to Toronto of acts like Moist and The Tea Party after lengthy hiatuses, reunion fever is running high.

While it isn’t necessarily a new trend, many domestic and international acts are mending fences in 2014 and flaunting new leases on life.

Whether it’s the recent return of Christine McVie to the Fleetwood Mac fold, Queen resurfacing with Adam Lambert or the Spandau Ballet reunion that hits Toronto in February, there are common denominators explaining a band’s decision to get back together, including new touring circuits and better cash for bookings, says veteran music industry observer Larry LeBlanc.

“Nowadays the casino business is a huge business and it loves the heritage acts,” says LeBlanc, a senior CelebrityAccess writer. “In some cases, those groups end up making more money today than they made back then. At the same time, the money being paid today is astronomical from what it was.”

But LeBlanc says the motivating factor to reunite may be a simpler one: ego.

“It all goes back to nobody wants to go work in a hardware store,” he laughs. “I’m serious. Once you’ve been in the spotlight, and the spotlight may get smaller and smaller, but to be removed from it is very unnerving.”

Homegrown acts Moist and The Tea Party are returning after absences of 13 and seven years, respectively, and with new albums.

MOIST

For Moist, which performs at the Danforth Music Hall Saturday night on the heels of its new Glory Under Dangerous Skies, the reconsolidation came following a get-together for drinks in 2013.

“I started do to solo projects and I got drawn away by all sorts of different things,” singer David Usher, who has released seven solo albums, said Tuesday. “Everyone else did too, which in my mind is a very natural thing. You want to try new things as an artist at a certain point.

“But we’ve remained friends. Kevin (Young, Moist’s original keyboardist) plays in my band, and then every year we’re having a drink and it always comes up that we should play a show. Last summer was the first time when everyone said, ‘Yeah, let’s play a show.’ Then that turned into six shows over Christmas.”

Those six shows featured original members Usher, Young, guitarist Mark Makoway and bassist Jeff Pearce, along with newer members Francis Fillion on drums and second guitarist Jonathan Gallivan. Pearce has since dropped out and been replaced by bassist Louis Lalancette.

According to Usher, whose band burst onto the Canadian scene with the driving hit “Push” and the bestselling album Silver, the concerts and favourable fan reaction sparked the desire to reconvene for recording and touring, which demanded more of a commitment than Pearce was willing to give.

“It was kind of an unspoken thing that we just naturally wanted to get back into the studio and write together again,” says Usher. “After the Christmas show, we did four days of writing in Montreal and the songs were coming so quickly that we really felt that we were coming into a record cycle. When we started talking about going back on the road, that was more than Jeff was really up for. He’s got a young family. He still remembers that this band tends to take over your life.”

TEA PARTY

Windsor’s Tea Party, performing at the Kool Haus on Nov. 27, reunited in 2012 with original members Jeff Martin, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatman, and has already issued a live album of its Australian tour

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They spent the better part of 2014 in Australia — nowadays singer, guitarist and songwriter Martin calls Perth home — and Toronto’s Revolution Studios recording The Ocean at the End, their first studio album since 2004’s Seven Circles.

Speaking on the phone en route to a Halifax gig, Martin said the band members entered their hiatus acrimoniously, but missing friendships and the urge to create paved the way for their reunion.

Their motivation to reconnect was “the fact that we couldn’t stand to be away from each other anymore or the music that we’ve made or the music that we could make once again,” says Martin.

“I think that the three of us as individuals did a lot of maturing and soul-searching during our seven-year hiatus. At the end, we really couldn’t have been further apart. It just didn’t feel like the band anymore. It was too many cooks in the kitchen and I wanted that Tea Party back that was of the era of Edges of Twilight/Transmission where we were just firing on all cylinders, when I was the captain of the ship and that was it.

“It took awhile for us to come back to something like that, but we certainly have it now. It’s great.”

Martin says that unlike many bands, economics weren’t a factor in the Tea Party reunion.

“It’s the work ethic, the love of making the type of music we can make,” Martin explains. “The Tea Party is a pretty successful band; we don’t need the money. We’re not doing this for anything else except for art. We did the record on our own terms, made the record we wanted to make and now the three of us are just having a blast.”

Homegrown acts Moist, Tea Party return after long absences | Toronto Star

Bryan Ferry’s band elevates live show to something truly magical

Music the youthful elixir that keeps Bryan Ferry rocking, with help from a stellar eight-piece backing band.

Nick Krewen

Music, Special to the Star, Published on Fri Sep 26 2014

There’s strength in numbers.

You’ll get no argument from anyone that, on the very eve of his 69th birthday, Bryan Ferry was the star attraction of Thursday night’s sold-out Massey Hall show.

But the truth of the matter is that Ferry’s stellar eight-piece band played such an integral role in elevating the occasion from a great performance into something so truly magical that they almost earned equal billing in their own right.

Not only did they keep up with and sometimes surpass the Roxy Music frontman in terms of energy over the 85 minutes of material that leaned heavily on Ferry’s art rock group past — with the occasional nod to his soon-to-be-15-album solo career — but their joyful enthusiasm alone threw enough gasoline on the fire that the singer looked like a genius for hiring them.

It all added up to an infectious, celebratory evening of great music that pleased nostalgic Roxy enthusiasts to no end, as indicated from the opening blast of “Re-make/Re-model” from the band’s self-titled debut; Ferry would delve deep and often into the catalogue.

True, guitarist Jake Quistgaard is no Phil Manzanera and saxophonist/keyboardist Jorja Chalmers is no Andy Mackay, but they certainly provided enough fresh vigour with their own interpretations that — dare I say it — the mainstays weren’t missed.

Dressed in a floral tuxedo jacket and grey slacks, the lanky and dashing Ferry relished his time feeding off the vibe as well, swaying and rocking to the groove of the music as he slid into “Kiss And Tell” and “Slave to Love” while his two backing vocalists — Bobbie Gordon and Jodie Scantlebury — put on a show of their own with their well-timed, yet seemingly free-flowing choreography.

Fuelled by the propellant of firecracker drummer Cherisse Osei’s hammering beats, and the anchored support of veteran Ferry bassist Guy Pratt, the singer, who alternated between entertaining at the microphone and taking up residence at an electric piano for songs like “More Than This,” was buoyed by the interplay. His tremolo tenor, smoother these days, sounded as strong as ever, although truthfully, the overall sound mix could have been crisper.

But there were a number of times — whether it was a slower take on the Robert Palmer hit “Johnny and Mary” that’s due to appear on his upcoming November album Avonmore, or a slightly accelerated version of Avalon’s “Take A Chance With Me” — that Ferry seemed as lost in the music as his fervent, older audience, and ageless as he rocked the house with a spirited “Love Is the Drug” or a rugged “Virginia Plain.”

He may have been romantically linked to any number of beautiful models throughout his life, but clearly music is the mistress about whom Bryan Ferry remains most passionate.

If there was any complaint, it’s that the show could have gone on a little longer.

After an all-too-brief encore of covers that paired Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together” with a somewhat sombre rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” brought the house to its feet again, Ferry and his merry band left the audience wanting more.

But one gets the feeling he’ll be back as long as his health holds and, for this concert, Ferry gave the impression that music is his youthful elixir.

Bryan Ferry’s band elevates live show to something truly magical | Toronto Star

KISS and Def Leppard a blazing double bill: review

Both bands repeatedly thrilled the sold-out Amphitheatre crowd of 16,000.

 Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Aug 13 2014

KISS and Def Leppard
3.5 stars
At the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Aug. 12.

Does Gene Simmons’ fire-breathing swordplay, bloodied mouth shtick and ever-undulating serpentine tongue ever get old?

Not if you’re a member of the KISS Army. The larger-than-life, cartoon-costumed, makeup-sporting hard rockers have entrenched the routines so heavily into their modus operandi for the past 40 years that replacing them as this point and time would be akin to the surgical removal of a vital organ.

So Tuesday night’s double bill of KISS with Def Leppard at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre wasn’t so noticeable in terms of the new stuff as much as flaunting the familiar, something that both bands are very good at doing since they’re approaching their greying years, though sporting the energy and vitality of artists who are 20 years younger.

In a continuation of the happenstance “Headbangers Week” theme that began Sunday at the venue with the Mötley Crüe/Alice Cooper concert, nostalgia played a key role in the KISS/Def Leppard pairing, with both bands repeatedly thrilling the sold-out crowd of 16,000 that had gathered to witness their heroes.

With Def Leppard, it was less about flash and more about substance, performing an incredible string of wall-to-wall hits over the course of 70 minutes culled from their heyday era in the ’80s and early ’90s.

In what amounted to a firsthand demonstration of the Mutt Lange classic song parade — the famous South African producer who co-wrote and meticulously arranged the most popular albums of the Def Lep catalogue and propelled them past 100 million in sales — such rock anthems as “Let’s Get Rocked,” “Love Bites” and “Armageddon It” revealed Lange’s Midas Touch: Throw in a fairly powerful, steady, simple beat (ably handled by Rick Allen, the band’s one-armed drummer), add in a strong melody with an irresistible chorus, and pile on the scrumptious harmonies.

And Def Leppard delivered, as if the passage of time had been indefinitely suspended: Lead singer Joe Elliott, 55, has lost none of his range or prowess; the dual guitar attack of Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen is as potent as ever, and the stacked backing vocals that added in bassist Rick Savage remain undiminished, causing the Leppards to receive thunderous ovation after thunderous ovation.

“We’re two-thirds through our tour, and we’ve had some good crowds, but nobody has been as awesome as you,” Elliott told the crowd, and he seemed heartfelt with his comments.

Then again, with a song list that included “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Rock Of Ages,” “Animal” and a morphing acoustic/electric rendition or “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak,” how could Def Lep fans react otherwise?

Which brings us to KISS, who pretty much offered a retread of last year’s Monster tour that included the combo lighting rig and an impressive hydraulic stage setup known as “The Spider.”

But what may have been a retread to some wasn’t to others: when singer and guitarist Paul Stanley asked for a show of hands of those attending their very first KISS concert, almost half the crowd raised theirs.

In the meantime, dressed in oversized platform boots, black-and-silver leather get-ups and sporting the makeup that should have secured them all MAC sponsorships a long time ago, Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer offered a spectacle that almost seems rote in the annals of KISStory.

For the opening “Psycho Circus,” three of the four descended from the Amphitheatre’s rafters on the descending Spider, camouflaged by a colourful fog, while drummer Singer, whose drum kit was set on his own separate stage, rose 20 feet or so into the air.

An explosion of fireworks rocked the stage, and as “Psycho Circus” melted into “Deuce,” small fireballs were shot into the atmosphere. For the next 80 minutes, the visual Razzle Dazzle didn’t subside, as a gigantic back panel video screen covered every gesture and every one of Simmons’ comical facial contortions.

There was the expected fire-breathing segment from Simmons that concluded “Hotter Than Hell;” the “flying” Simmons — who bloodied his mouth and performed “God of Thunder” after being elevated to the hovering Spider — and a zip-lining Stanley, who hovered over to a B-stage in the middle of the venue to deliver “Love Gun” and the first few words of “Black Diamond.”

The setlist was a good mix of ancient and somewhat recent material spanning 40 years: robust performances of “Shout It Out Loud,” “Lick It Up” (which, for some reason, contained a snippet of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” echoed by Def Leppard in their earlier set) and “Calling Dr. Love” set the stage for the two encore/finales: “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock And Roll All Nite,” and the requisite explosions and fireworks that accompanied them.

And both Def Leppard and KISS vow that the party for both of them will continue far into the indefinite future.

KISS and Def Leppard a blazing double bill: review | Toronto Star

A Nick Cave concert so riveting, it gets five stars out of four

Nick Cave repeatedly ventured as far into the crowd as his microphone cord would let him, staring deeply into the faces he was serenading.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Aug 01 2014

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, July 31, 2014

How transcendent were Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on Thursday night?

Let’s put it this way: there are singers who are passive, who prefer to stand behind a microphone and let their voice do all the heavy lifting, and there are singers that work the stage with a touch of athleticism and a strong helping of charm and charisma.

And then there’s Cave, the restless renegade Australian with his roguish baritone who fearlessly thrusts himself out into his admirers, venturing eight to 10 human rows deep, grabbing hands and beckoning his audience to join him on this animated two-hour journey as if he’s trying to absorb them into his very skin.

This wasn’t a gimmick or a one-time ploy: as Cave and his six Seeds twisted the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts inside out with a riveting performance that veered wildly between soft sentiment and eardrum-decimating fury, the dark-haired singer repeatedly ventured as far as his microphone cord would let him, staring deeply into the faces he was serenading and ending songs like “Tupelo” and “Stagger Lee” perched on top of a seat hundreds of feet from the stage.

Although his songs reference religion as often as romance, his public pulpit finds him playing the role of master storyteller. And Cave knows his own music so well that he adds dramatic impact through his body language.

When the concert kicked off with the slow beating drone of “We Real Cool,” Cave would stalk the stage and suddenly leap and dance between phrases, waving his arms to accentuate his mood and to partially conduct the band.

Occasionally he would plop himself down at the piano and play a few bars before jumping up and returning to the job of entertaining the audience, his attention-deficit disorder with the instrument lasting until the midway set, when he finally played a trio of songs that kicked off with No More Shall We Part’s tender ballad “Love Letter” and concluded with the same album’s “God Is in the House,” where Cave altered a line to humorously localize the flavour and include a reference to “a crackhead mayor.”

Cave wasn’t the only engaging performer worth his weight in performance gold: the Rasputin-like fiddler and flautist Warren Ellis had a few tricks of his own, like tucking a bow into his shirt collar while plucking his instrument then withdrawing it from behind his neck to revert to bowing. Ellis also sent the occasional bow sailing into the Sony Centre rafters, replacing it with a new one whenever the arrangement called for it.

Cave also won brownie points by refreshing his arrangements so they weren’t carbon copies of the record: “From Her To Eternity” took a more aggressive stance, and “Jubilee Street” exploded into a fire of calamity and cacophony about halfway through the number, thanks to the adept accompaniment of Bad Seeds Ellis, drummer, keyboardist and xylophone player Barry Adamson, drummer Jim Sclavunos, keyboardist Conway Savage, guitarist George Vjestica and bass player Martyn Casey.

As newer tunes like Push The Sky Away’s “Higgs Boson Blues” and vintage numbers such as “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” reminded the crowd of Cave’s extraordinary knack for incorporating rich imagery and master storytelling within a song, they simply couldn’t get enough of him, remaining on their feet the entire show, applauding and cheering him on and eventually being rewarded with a pair of well-deserved encores.

Nick Cave is one of those exhilarating, show-stopping performers that should be mandatory study for anyone considering a career in music performance and added to everyone else’s “must-see” list.

That’s why this show warranted the extra star added to its rating: Cave and his Bad Seed brethren earned it.

A Nick Cave concert so riveting, it gets five stars out of four | Toronto Star