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Tunes

Best tunes of 2003: #29 Sam Roberts “Where have all the good people gone?”

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The sun is at its brightest just as it’s getting ready to dip behind the horizon line. There is a yellow film over everything and it is still damn hot and humid. Clothes are sticking to bodies and bodies are writhing and jumping and dancing chaotically, all tribal and ecstatic. This is how it is on the final day of a ten day music festival. You’d think the crowd tired but great performers know how to breathe life into the weary and of course, adrenaline does the rest.

It is Sunday, July 13, 2014, and there is a large crowd at the second largest stage at the Ottawa Blues festival. All age groups are well-represented. Men and women and all, and all from a myriad of different backgrounds. And everyone is into it. Of course, they are. The singer/songwriter on stage with his recently minted, full-fledged band are a good, hard-working group, truly representative of his Canadian identity and he has a cross-genre appeal.

Sam Roberts is six songs deep into his set, decked out in black denim jeans and a black denim jacket, under which you can just catch a glimpse of the black Clash t-shirt. He is sinewy and muscular, a short man with a powerful exuberance, his short brown hair and rough and tumble beard are soaked in sweat. His face is red and he is giving it his all.

“Oh the Milky Way has gone a little sour
The leaves dried and the flower fell away
I’ve been sitting, I’ve been waiting for a sign
Inhuman beings taking up all of my time”

The song is “Where have all the good people gone”. It was originally recorded for his now legendary debut EP, “The inhuman condition”, and then, re-recorded for his debut album, 2003’s “We were born in a flame”. It was a huge hit for the Montreal-born musician, the 12th most played song on Canadian rock radio between the mid-90s and the mid-10s. So everyone here knows the song and yes, they are singing along, nay, yelling and screaming along with Sam, especially every time he gets to the lines: “Montreal to Hong Kong – Where have all the good people gone?”

The crowd is one, no matter the differences between us, we are united with Sam against the “not” good people. And I’m right there with them, jumping up and down, screaming together with a bunch of quebecois that I had never met before and will likely never see again. The funky bass and drums, the dirty and groovy guitars, and Sam encouraging us all to join in the chants. And the crowd responds, deafening in its approval and belonging.

And for just a brief moment, I stop, look around in amazement, and think that good old Sam might have just joined The Tragically Hip as one of Canada’s favourite live acts. Then, I take another gulp of draft beer from my plastic cup and dive back into moment.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2012: #9 Spiritualized “Hey Jane”

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The first time I saw Spiritualized perform live was on the Toronto stop for their tour in support of “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space”, way back at the end of November 1997. My friend Terry had picked me up a ticket to the show and he still (amazingly) had an extra ticket on the day of the concert. On the way to the bus stop to head down to the show, we ran into another friend of ours, named Mark, and convinced him to come with.

That night will live on in infamy for the three of us. We made more than a few stops for drinks on the way down to the now shut-down Guvernment Night Club, where Jason Pierce and his band were slated to play. Indeed, by the time the headlining act hit the stage, we were all very deep in the bag. For me, it was incredible, akin to a religious experience, but I can still very clearly remember Mark touching my shoulder at the end of the first song, his eyeballs as huge as cannonballs, telling me he had to leave. For him, it was all just too intense.

Fast forward fifteen years or so. I hadn’t seen Terry for a long time. However, I was still quite close to Mark, though we hadn’t lived in the same city – for some periods, the same country – for more than a decade. I was now living in Ottawa with my wife and Mark was living back in his hometown of Sault Ste Marie. I believe it was April 2012 that my wife and I put Mark up for a week so that he could take a course and write a test to qualify for a job fighting wildfires in Northern Ontario. We were working during the days while he was on his course and he was super exhausted in the evenings so we didn’t see him a lot.

When the week finished out, we had one proper night to catch up and share some laughs before he was due to catch the long bus back home. That night, the two of us killed five bottles of wine, a half bottle of scotch, and a handful of beers and we were up real late. At some point, we started watching YouTube videos on my laptop, each sharing new tunes with the other and on one of my turns, I slipped on the video for Spiritualized’s latest tune, “Hey Jane”, having heard the song but not having seen the video. We got just over half way through it when my friend asked gently if we could switch to something lighter. So still too intense for my friend, but this time, for a different reason (if you’ve seen the video you know what I mean).

Spiritualized’s seventh record, “Sweet heart, sweet light”, came four years after “Songs in A & E”, the album widely seen as Jason Pierce’s comeback, for many reasons, but most significantly because of his near death experience, and it also came after he spent the previous year performing the aforementioned landmark album, “Ladies and gentlemen”, in full, at various shows. At the time, Pierce talked about how his new album embraced a poppier bent but I just thought it rocked like hell. And only in the way that Spiritualized can, blending gospel and droning psychedelia, love, drugs, and religion.

“You broke my heart then you ran away
Some say you got a rotten soul
But I say Janey loves rock and roll”

“Hey Jane” is a prime example of what makes Spiritualized and their work on this album so great. Intense music video aside, this is a track that does not let up for its entirety, nearly nine minutes in all. It’s a rousing, incessant beating heart, pounding and pounding the pavement, both a sprint and a marathon. The guitars keep pace and swirl and roar around the drums, a choir of demons taunt and laugh, and the bass just hums. It threatens disintegration throughout and right in the middle, it does indeed devolve into madness and implodes into an echoing silence. And just when you think it’s over, that maddening rhythm starts back up again. But as opposed to in its first movement, where Pierce seems angry and threatening and mean, the finale sees him uplifting and glorious, even as he’s asking the Jane of the title where she’s gonna go, knowing full well the answer is nowhere. And it all builds to the choir of angels joining him singing the album’s title over and over as an outro.

“Sweet heart, sweet light. Sweet heart, sweet light. Sweet heart, sweet light.”

Yessssss.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: Coldplay “Parachutes”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Coldplay
Album Title: Parachutes
Year released: 2000
Year reissued: 2020
Details: 20th anniversary, reissue, 180 gram, yellow translucent

The skinny: I’ve already written on these pages about how excited I became when I first heard the single “Yellow”. Given how big that song became and how much commercial radio overplayed it, you’d think (and normally I would’ve thought the same) that I might have gotten sick of the tune by now but somehow this never happened. Indeed, “Yellow” is still my favourite single tune from the year 2000. And the rest of “Parachutes” is hardly a slouch. I bought the album on CD on the back of the aforementioned single and quickly fell for the other nine tracks. And none of this admiration has faded at all despite repeat listens for over two decades*. So when a 20th anniversary reissue of the album on (of course, yellow) 180 gram vinyl was announced last year, I did not hesitate to pull the pre-order trigger. It arrived months later, looking and sounding just as sweet.

Standout track: “Yellow”

*I’ve got the album ranked as number four on my favourites for the year in a series that I am still in the process of working out.