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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #25 Primus “My name is mud”

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In Oshawa, Ontario, Canada*, there used to be an infamous record shop called Star Records. It was started by Mike Shulga, the child of Ukrainian immigrants, who rebranded himself as Mike Star and became a big player in punk and underground music. His record store sprouted a record label (the first home of The Forgotten Rebels) and a renowned music venue, but it was the shop that would see the longevity. It opened its doors in 1974 and didn’t close until the year after its founder’s untimely death in 2015. It was temporarily replaced by a Kops Records chain location but I don’t know what’s there now.

I mention Star Records today as a nod because it will forever be connected with today’s song of focus, given that the one time I ever purposely went to the store was in the summer of 1993 and it was that very day that I first heard “My name is mud”.

I didn’t actually collect a lot vinyl when I was younger. I had a bunch of Disneyland 45s, as well as the “Pete’s Dragon soundtrack” and “Mickey Mouse Disco” LPs. On the cooler side of things, I had an early 7″ of Human League’s “Don’t you want me”. I also had a copy Bangles’ “Different light” that I won in a contest and a really warped copy of The Cure’s “Mixed up” that I bought because I couldn’t find it on CD. But that was it. In 1993, I was moving from cassette tapes into compact discs and vinyl for me was already in the past. So I didn’t find much cause to wander into the famous shop that often drew members of The Ramones whenever they passed through the ’shwa, especially given that I lived in a town 15km away and didn’t often have access to my own wheels.

But on that day, I jumped on the GO bus into Oshawa on the hunt for a specific CD that I couldn’t find anywhere, a CD which I will not name today because one of its songs will surely appear a little later in this list. Of course, I found what I was looking for immediately, picked it up, and then, went back to the A section and perused the rest of the store’s compact disc wares. I found plenty else that I wanted to buy in the hour and a half that I tarried but the other CD I left the store with was Primus’s “Pork soda”.

It was a purchase that I made without having heard any of the songs from it beforehand. I had fallen hard for “Jerry was a race car driver” and “Tommy the cat” off their previous album, “Sailing the seas of cheese”** and I loved the claymation pig head on the album’s cover***. I actually chose to slip this CD into my discman rather than my other purchase for the GO bus ride home later that afternoon and after a brief ditty of an introduction, was met soundly by “My name is mud.”

“My name is Mud
Not to be confused with Bill or Jack or Pete or Dennis
My name is Mud and it’s always been”

A loud twang on a bass string serves as the wake up call. This is Les Claypool’s show after all. Then, he jumps right in with a punishing bass line that’ll have you jumping up and banging your head right along, no matter how much hair you have on your head. The first couple of riffs almost feel like a drum beat themselves but then, Herb Alexander jumps in to destroy his kit with a rhythm that merely shadows Claypool’s bass. Finally, Ler Lalonde adds some dirty guitar flourishes that augment the noise and serves as a dichotomy to claustrophobic white space. Dark and light, noisy and quiet, sharp and soft, it’s all waves, hypnotic and nauseating, a sea of flying bodies – hands, arms, heads, legs – all a sweaty mass of moshing.

I don’t know if Mike Shulga ever heard of Les Claypool and his band, but I can’t help but think he would’ve approved of their originality.

*Oshawa is the city where I was born and grew up for the first ten years of my life.

**I’ve already told the story on these pages about how I purchased a copy of “Sailing the seas of cheese” used in a store in Toronto before going to see New Model Army at Lee’s Palace and then, promptly misplacing the album, along with Buffalo Tom’s “Let me come over”, at Bathurst subway station after the show.

***Who else remembers the days of buying albums based the awesomeness of the album covers?

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

Categories
Live music galleries

Live music galleries: Blonde Redhead [2015]

(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.)

Blonde Redhead live at Glowfair 2015

Artist: Blonde Redhead
When: June 19th, 2015
Where: Glowfair Festival, Bank Street, Ottawa
Context: The Glowfair festival in Ottawa was launched by the Bank Street BIA in 2013, as means to bring some post-business hour life to the one of the city’s downtown strips. Admission to the festival was free and boasted ten city blocks of entertainment, including DJs, yoga, buskers, games and of course, live music. I didn’t attend any of the festivities until its third year and I finally did so mostly because I saw an unexpected name listed among the performers. New York City’s art rock trio, Blonde Redhead performing a live set for free in my hometown? How could I refuse? The deal was sweetened further when I was able to combine taking in the show with my annual visit to the city’s beloved Sparks Street Rib festival. So with a tummy full of pork and a good measure of craft beer imbibed, I wandered to the main stage to be blown away frontwoman Kazu Makino and the wizardry of Pace twins, Simone and Amedeo. I had gotten into the group eight years earlier with their shoegaze influenced masterpiece “23” and was neck deep into the two albums that had been released since. It was monster show, all droning noise and feedback on a Friday night under the stars. It was lovely.
Point of reference song: Dripping

Amedeo Pace of Blonde Redhead
Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead
Simone Pace of Blonde Redhead
The Pace twins
Kazu Makino rocking out
Categories
Tunes

Top five tunes: Blur

Who? Blur

Years active: 1989-2003 and 2008-present

Band members:
Damon Albarn (vocals, keyboards)
Graham Coxon (guitars, vocals)
Alex James (bass)
Dave Rowntree (drums)

Discography:
Leisure (1991)
Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993)
Parklife (1994)
The Great Escape (1995)
Blur (1997)
13 (1999)
Think Tank (2003)
The Magic Whip (2015)

Context:
Today marks 25 years to the date exactly that I got to see one of my favourite bands (back then and to this day) live. Yes, on September 28th, 1994, I saw Blur perform at a relatively small club called The Phoenix in Toronto (with Pulp supporting them) for their Parklife tour. The following summer they headlined a show at the newly completed Molson Amphitheatre (in the same city), a stacked lineup that included Elastica and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (also Our Lady Mother Earth, or whatever their name is). I remember wondering in the days leading up to that second show how Blur would follow such a high energy act like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, but they truly did blow all the other bands away. Indeed, those who have never seen Blur live or haven’t seen them in so long (like myself) that they may have forgotten how good they are in the flesh would do well to watch the documentary, “No distance left to run”, especially the bonus footage.

Blur had its beginnings in a band called Circus in the late eighties. There was a little bit of roster shuffling in their early days but they quickly settled into their final lineup of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree, and once they did, they re-branded themselves as Seymour. The name Blur came about a year later, in 1989, because the label (Food) that was signing them really hated Seymour as a band name.

Blur’s debut album, “Leisure” came out in 1991 and was a mish-mash of the shoegaze and madchester sounds, as if they couldn’t quite decide on what kind of band they wanted to be. Frontman Damon Albarn has since gone on record as hating the album, calling it a mess, but it did generate a number of hit singles and some really quality tracks. Their sophomore release, 1993’s “Modern life is rubbish”, was borne out of their frustrations with touring North America and their inability to crack that market. It was an album that both chided and celebrated British culture and became part of the blueprint of the musical movement known as Britpop. Consequently, their third and fourth albums, released in 1994 and 1995 respectively, enjoyed immense success in England by riding the tidal wave of this movement that they helped create.

In 1997, they released their self-titled record and it was a dramatic shift in aesthetic. They embraced an American lo-fi indie rock sound, something they had previously derided, but more than that, they were starting to experiment more, speaking the rock lingo rather than that of pop, an ethos that would continue on through albums six and seven. When Blur toured in support of that fifth album, a single from it called “Song 2” had garnered them a whole new legion of fans so they were playing much bigger venues. (I believe it was Smash Mouth that supported them on the North American leg of that tour.) I passed on that particular show due to the lack of funding that is usual with starving students but was primed when their next tour was announced in support of “13”.

Unfortunately for me, but keeping in line with their new musical aesthetic, the band decided to scale things back and play smaller venues on this tour so they switched off Varsity stadium for the very tiny Palais Royal. On the morning the tickets went on sale, I was on the phone to Ticketmaster playing the dialling game (they didn’t have online ticket sales quite yet) but by the time I got through, five minutes after ten, it was all sold out. In fact, the agent told me that tickets were sold out within moments of going on sale due to all those pesky pre-sales. I later heard mixed reviews of the show. Mixed because the band chose to play their new album in full and those who loved “13”, loved the show but those hoping to hear “Song 2” were greatly disappointed. I definitely would have fallen into the former category, had I managed a ticket.

When they split up in 2003, no one was all that surprised. Guitarist Graham Coxon had already left the band during the recording of “Think tank” and Damon Albarn was appearing increasingly more interested in his extracurricular projects apart from Blur. Indeed, it was a far greater surprise when the band reunited five years later, even welcoming Coxon back into the fold. They have never officially split since then, performing live infrequently, including high profile gigs at the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics and a headline spot at Coachella in 2013.

Things were just starting to quiet down again with the band when out of nowhere they announced the release of their eighth album, their first in twelve years. “The magic whip” was released on April 28th, 2015, and blew us all away, providing us with a collection of songs that teased a band with plenty more to share, rather than one just riding the coattails of past successes. Nowadays, though Albarn is still a very busy boy with his multiple bands (Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad, & The Queen) and of course, his solo career, he no longer wishes to entirely close the book on Blur. And the rest of group, Coxon with his own solo career, Rowntree as Labour party councillor, and James as famed cheese maker, all seem content in their own lives and happy to revisit the band whenever the mood takes them. I for one would love to see Blur live one more time. My hopes were raised on this score when they first reunited back in 2013 but I think the closest they’ve gotten to my neighbourhood since has been that Coachella festival a bunch of years ago.

All that verbiage to say Blur is a super important band to me, which made the task of narrowing their top tunes down to just five damned near impossible. Here are the results of my efforts.

The top five:

#5: There’s no other way (from “Leisure”, 1991)

Blur’s second ever released single is also, to my mind anyway, still one of their best but then, I was always such a fan of the “baggy” sound. This style’s prevalence in 1991 was probably what boosted the song so deeply into the UK singles charts, peaking at the number eight spot. It has that wicked breaking beat and tambourine shuffle that gets the toes off tapping and an organ backbone that sounds like it was ripped out of The Charlatans’ playbook. Derivative? Perhaps. But executed to near perfection so that though they didn’t hail from Manchester, they could’ve easily been mistaken as such. And then there’s that awesome family dining room music video that just has to be watched to be believed.


#4: Under the westway (from “Under the westway EP”, 2012)

Do you remember where you were when you first heard this song? I do. I was sitting in my kitchen on July 2, 2012, streaming the live performance on my laptop. It was so sad and emotional and utterly brilliant, that I immediately wanted to watch it again. It’s another great ballad by the band, smacking heavily of David Bowie and The Beatles, a plodding and soft intro turns bombastic and quite epic by the climax. Shortly after the performance mentioned above, it was co-released with “The puritan”, another excellent but very different sounding tune. It was these that stoked my excitement for a new album, only to be quashed later that year by members of the band, claiming that no new material was forthcoming… But we now know better.


#3: Chemical world (from “Modern life is rubbish”, 1993)

I remember once calling into CFNY, Toronto’s alternative radio station (now named The Edge), to request this very song for the daily lunchtime show: The all-request nooner. Looking back, I’m not sure why I did such a thing, perhaps it was to hear my own voice on the radio, but these days, I don’t even bother with radio so the idea sounds ludicrous. Nonetheless, “Chemical world” was the only song I ever requested that was actually played on the air during that timeslot. Twenty or so years later, it’s still among my very favourite Blur tracks (though Edge 102 likely wouldn’t play it these days) and a really brilliant pop song. Written specifically to appeal to American audiences, it deals with one of Albarn’s favourite universal themes, that of industrialization, rather than the uniquely British identity tropes prevalent on the rest of the album. Oh yeah, and I love that rippin’ guitar lick.


#2: No distance left to run (from “13”, 1999)

And here at number two we have another ballad. There’s just something about Damon’s voice that lends itself to sad or otherwise emotional numbers and nowhere is it more heart-wrenching than on “No distance left to run”. He has said of the lyrics: “It upsets me, that song. It upset me singing it. Doing that vocal upset me greatly. To sing that lyric I really had to accept that that was the end of something in my life.” Although I don’t think he has ever outright admitted this, many people believe the song is about his split with Elastica vocalist, Justine Frischmann. Whether true or no, it makes for a compelling listen, brutal and brilliant at the same time.


#1: This is a low (from “Parklife”, 1994)

“This is a low” was never released as a single but it is a favourite with both the band and their fans, was picked as a track for their “best of” album, and was frequently part of their set list when they performed live, often using it to close their show with a bang (it was their final song both of the times I saw them live). It is a sad and lonely ode to Britain, with Damon and crew longing for home after weeks and months on the road. Coxon’s guitars come crashing like waves against rocks, Rowntree’s drums tapping and sometimes pounding like hail on the pavement, and you can almost picture James with his bass, hair in his eyes, cigarette dangling from his tightening lips. And Damon, he sounds so forlorn and anguished, magnum of cheap red wine in hand, both his collar and the day undone. Cheers to that!


For other top five lists in this series, click here.