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Live music galleries

Live music galleries: Peter Bjorn and John [2016]

(I got the idea for this series while sifting through the ‘piles’ of digital photos on my laptop. It occurred to me to share some of these great pics from some of my favourite concert sets from time to time. Until I get around to the next one, I invite you to peruse my ever-growing list of concerts page.)

Peter Bjorn and John live at Ottawa Bluesfest 2016

Artist: Peter Bjorn and John
When: July 7, 2016
Where: Black Sheep stage, Ottawa Bluesfest, Lebreton Flats Park, Ottawa
Context: (One of the things I’ve been missing the most over the last two years from my life pre-pandemic has been live music and this is a theme that I’ve harped upon pretty regularly on these pages. However, now that health and safety restrictions have started to loosen and the world in general seems to be dipping its toes back into the murky sea of normalcy (whatever that means), I haven’t been super eager to buy tickets for any of the many great shows for which I’ve had the opportunity. Well, my anxiety thresholds are soon to be tested because the festival pass that I purchased for the 2020 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been rolled over twice and I now appear to have a pass for this coming July, the lineup for which is generally the same as it was two years ago. So in an effort to remind myself of the joy this festival always has brought, I’ve been flipping through the hordes of photos I’ve taken there and came across these seven that I thought I’d share.)

I remember being surprised at the lack of congestion at the smallest stage of the festival that night. They had been the darlings of the indie scene ten years before with their breakout album, “Writer’s block”, and hit single, “Young folks”. And though their subsequent albums hadn’t all had the same punch, they’d all been pretty great in their own regard. The Swedish trio, whose first names give the group its name, Peter Bjorn and John, were joined onstage by touring members, one of whom would provide the female vocal parts for “Young folks” later in the set. They started things off lightning quick with “Up against the wall” and a couple of tracks off their brand new album* before taking the opportunity to introduce themselves. Funnily enough, all three could have just pointed at the name patches that were sewn on the overalls they were wearing, betraying a sense of humour that was also reflected in their lyrics and the way they performed. Given this, I couldn’t actually tell how serious they were being in all their rock and roll posturing but it really ignited the crowd, which definitely grew as time wore on. Indeed, I was quite surprised at the band’s energy and Peter Morén’s ability and magnetism as frontman but by the time he jumped into the crowd and took a stroll among us while singing, it felt just right. The set was an almost perfect mix of old and new, performing all the favourites, including the aforementioned “Young folks”, without a hint of boredom.
Point of reference song: Love is what you want

Peter Morén of Peter Bjorn and John
Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John
John Eriksson of Peter Bjorn and John
Bjorn and touring member Klaus
Peter and touring member Freya
PB&J rocking out

*At that time, said new albums was 2016’s “Breakin’ point”.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #18 Saint Etienne “You’re in a bad way”

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I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Saint Etienne’s sophomore album, “So tough”, but I can definitely tell you that I fell in love with it in 1994, a whole year after its release.

I’ll try to elaborate.

My friend Tim recorded a copy of it to cassette tape for me. That much is true. I probably listened to it a few times after he first gave it to me but it really only fell into rotation on my walkman that second year of university. Don’t ask me why I switched back from discman to cassette tape player that year, though if I had to guess, it was probably because I was so impoverished that my only real entertainment came from making mixed tapes. I’m pretty sure I had the album on the other side of a C100 with Lush’s “Gala”, though I no longer have said tape so I can’t confirm or deny. What I can be certain of is the regularity with which visited my ears that year.

“So tough” is technically Saint Etienne’s sophomore LP, it could also be considered the debut by the band as a trio. They began as the duo of Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs and had originally planned to employ a series of guest vocalists as needed. They settled on Sarah Cracknell as a permanent vocalist after working with her for one of the singles from the debut, 1991’s “Foxbase Alpha”. “So tough” was her coming out as third official band member and that’s her (a much younger version, of course) gracing the album’s cover.

All in all, “So tough” is as much an album about mood and ambience as it is about getting you out on the dance floor, and with all the sampled soundbites from older, esoteric films that provide segue ways between tunes, it almost feels like a soundtrack, a narrative to a trip of sorts. It certainly soundtracked a number of trips for me, long walks and bus rides. I remember the album keeping me warm on more than one occasion waiting, shivering for the bus that would rocket me down Steeles, away from my institution of higher learning, towards the basement apartment I was lodged in, just north of the ‘416’, near Dufferin Street. It was in that same basement apartment that I, quite by accident, caught an episode of Life on Venus Ave. and that whimsical, extraterrestrial VJ, Ziggy Lorenc, played the video for “You’re in a bad way”.

The album’s second single and sixth track certainly fit* with Ziggy’s love and sexuality funhouse vibe. It’s an obvious kick at 60s throwback bop and pop. It kicks off with a sample from the 1963 film “Billy Liar”: “A man could lose himself in London.” And despite the song’s bright and spritely joy, the lyrics address a man who’s been beset by the humdrum of life and has let it get him down. But have no fear, our good friend Sarah will save him (and us) with that golden voice of hers.

“You’re in a bad way
Every day seems just the same (every day)
Just dial my number
Or call my name”

*And yeah, so did the throwback video.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2020: #26 Andy Shauf “Try again”

<< #27    |    #25 >>

Andy Shauf is a Canadian indie singer/songwriter that was born and raised in the prairie province of Saskatchewan but later relocated to Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Depending on how you count them, he’s released between four and seven full-length albums and a handful of EPs between 2006 and 2021. I personally only really became aware of him after the release of his breakthrough album, 2016’s “The party”, when I saw him perform on the side stage at Ottawa’s City Folk festival in 2017 and was really impressed by the low key but sweet vibe of his set.

Much has been made of “The party” and the fact that it was a concept album, telling multiple stories surrounding the attendees of a house party. By Shauf’s own admission, the end result was a happy accident but for its follow up, he purposefully set out to create a fully realized narrative when he began work on it. “The neon skyline” is like a thematic sequel, its characters a little older (but perhaps not wiser), graduating from house party to dive bar, and the tone is purposefully lighter, with Shauf realizing that months of touring somber material can actually get you down.

The events of the album take place over the course of an evening at one of Shauf’s favourite local haunts in the Parkdale neighborhood of the ‘Big Smoke’* and the eleven tracks are culled from a purported fifty or so that he wrote during the sessions. Over the course of the album’s thirty-five minute duration, we meet the narrator and his friends and some bar regular passing acquaintances. Through conversational lyrics, we learn about a recent ex named Judy, our narrator’s thoughts on the relationship, and eventually, said ex turns up at “The neon skyline”.

“Try again” is track nine of eleven on the album and describes the awkwardness of meeting and conversing with this recent ex, the Judy that we hear tell of a few times during “The neon skyline”. Interestingly, this is the most upbeat track on the album, yet still lilting and light, a boppy and whimsical thing. Woodwinds and handclaps and plenty of fun, keeping at bay, for as long as possible, the unfortunate ending that we are certain has to come to pass.

“Somewhere between drunkenness and jealousy
I watch her talking to some old friend
What a reunion, he recognized her across the room
How many years could there be to catch up on?
And somewhere between drunkenness and honesty
I make a silent toast to the things that I do and don’t miss”

*Toronto really isn’t smoky. This is really just my tongue-in-cheek nickname for the city, playing upon many people’s vision of it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.