Best tunes of 2012: #27 The Dandy Warhols “I am free”

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When The Dandy Warhols last graced these pages, it was September in 2017 and they were hitting up the number two spot on my Best tunes of 2000 list with the very, very excellent, “Bohemian like you”. I wrote in that post how I saw them live before I had properly become familiar with their music but was so enthused by their set that I purchased “Thirteen tales from urban bohemia” on CD a few years later, without first hearing a note. The rest was history, I suppose. I bought “Welcome to the monkey house” when it came out in 2003, watched the 2004 documentary “Dig!”, and went back to explore their 1990s output. It seemed to me that I had found a new favourite band – I’ve had many over the years – but then, the Dandies went through a period where their excesses were allowed to overflow their bubbling cauldron. I couldn’t get into their 2005 album, “Odditorium or warlords of mars”, at all, and ditto for its successor, 2008’s “…Earth to the Dandy Warhols…”. I moved on.

The Portland, Oregon based alternative rock quartet were relatively quiet for the next bunch of years, their only musical releases being an alternate version of “Monkey house” (called “The Dandy Warhols are sound”) that came out in 2009 and ‘best of’ compilation released by their old label just before they parted ways with them in 2010. There were murmurs of a new album in 2011 when frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor joked about potential album titles while on tour. However, when “This machine” was finally launched in the spring of 2012, it came upon me as a surprise. Being the forgiving sort that I am, I gave it a spin and it ended up being featured on my old blog, Music Insanity, as one of my favourite releases of the month.

For this album, The Dandy Warhols opted for a simpler, ‘stripped down’ approach and for me, it felt a lot less excessive and a lot more palatable. “I am free”, for example, contrives to sneak up to some of their early singles and rival them in the ear worm category. The jumping and reverberating guitar line by Peter Holmström deserves a true guitar rock god stance, legs spread wide and axe held aloft. Brent De Boer pounds the drums and Zia McCabe holds the bass line steady and true. Taylor-Taylor, of course, fronts it all with his usual tongue in cheek attitude, his laidback, slacking delivery giving it just the right vibe. And when the horns kick in at the end, it doesn’t even feel like they’re crowding themselves into an already packed room. It feels effortless and easy.

Yeah. “I am free” is easily my favourite song on the album but it is by no means the only good track. To me, it was like a comeback of sorts, a righting of the ship, a beginning of a new course that followed the band through the string of their next bunch of albums.

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

Playlist: Ode to the opening act

The lot of the opening act is a tough gig.

On the one hand, travelling with an established band, especially one of similar aesthetic, can bring a new or lesser known musician or band some much needed exposure. On the other, if it’s not thought through, the results can be disastrous and ego-battering. I’ve heard stories of great and talented artists booed, heckled, and worse, made the targets of beer bottle tossing. There have also been cases where bands of mutual respect have decided to team up for a tour, leaving their collective fan bases somewhat confused and terribly mixed, and yes, I’m thinking here of a certain Public Enemy/Sisters of Mercy tour back at the beginning of the 1990s.

Far too often, though, these hardworking and earnest opening acts are simply ignored. Audience members will show up late, often in the middle of the set, choosing instead to pre-drink at a nearby waterhole rather than pay the often exorbitant fees at the concert venue. Or these same folks will show up early with their general admission tickets to carve out a sweet spot right at the front of the stage for the headlining act and rudely spend the whole opening set talking loudly with their friends. I’m not sure which would be worse, though, an empty room or a simply disinterested one.

I always try to make it a point to head out to the show early to catch and show support for these opening acts. There have been times, of course, where the openers have not been my cup of tea and I just focused on drinking (and spending) more. However, I’ve more often than not enjoyed these sets. In fact, I’ve discovered many a new favourite amongst these support acts.

So yes, this month’s playlist goes out to all those opening acts out there. It is twenty songs by bands I’ve seen in the early slot in my many years of concert going. To be fair and to limit things some, I’ve not included any bands that I’ve seen in lower card time slots or on side stages at festivals, though there have been many of these as well. For each act in this list, I’ve provided the date of the show and the headliner, some sentences of context, and where possible, chose a song from that time period. As you’ll see, there are bands that made of me a bigger fan with their set, some that were brand new to me and won me over, and others that actually drew me to the show more than the headlining set. Some of these bands are huge now and some even became bigger names than the ones they were supporting. Check it out.

1. Chapterhouse “She’s a vision”
Opened for The Wonder Stuff, February 20, 1994: When I arrived at the tiny Toronto venue to see my favourite band at the time for a measly $10, I was surprised to learn that many of the people I was meeting at the show were more excited for the opening band that I was considering a bonus. Let’s just say that when Chapterhouse, with whose albums I was already familiar, hit the stage, I was mesmerized.

2. Primal Scream “Rocks”
Opened for Depeche Mode, June 20, 1994: This one’s a bit of a cheat because both the Primals and Mode were preceded by Stabbing Westward, who was to be honest, a yawn. However, Primal Scream and their 1991 album, “Screamadelica”, were what finally drew me to see Depeche Mode live and incidentally, it was the first concert I went to with my future wife, Victoria. Were the Primals great live? You betcha!

3. Weezer “Undone (The sweater song)”
Opened for Lush, August 21, 1994: The song chosen is the one song I had only barely heard before seeing Weezer, who would later become a household name, open for Lush, an iconic shoegaze band remembered now in just a few circles. They were really fun, yet I think I was the only one amongst my friends who was really paying them any attention.

4. Pulp “Do you remember the first time?”
Opened for Blur, September 28, 1994: None of us had really heard much from Pulp before that show but the very next day, it seemed, my friends and I all went out and bought “His ‘n’ hers”. Frontman Jarvis Cocker was engaging, charismatic, and exciting, while the rest of the band, well, they collectively blew our minds.

5. The Dandy Warhols “Not if you were the last junkie on earth”
Opened for The Charlatans, September 26, 1997: The Dandys were another band by whom I was only barely familiar with the one song (again, the one chosen) before seeing them live. Victoria was unimpressed but I loved them and purchased their next release, “Thirteen tales from urban bohemia“ a couple of years later. The rest is history.

6. Spiritualized “I think I’m in love”
Opened for Radiohead, April 12, 1998: These guys are the only reason I’ve ever seen Radiohead live. After seeing Spiritualized blow the doors off a much smaller venue, I just had to see them again when they swung back through town on the same tour, this time warming up a much larger venue for Thom Yorke and the boys. Jason Pierce’s set was great and I was super glad that I stuck around for Radiohead.

7. Billy Bragg “Accident waiting to happen”
Opened for The Lowest of the Low, August 2, 2001: Another cheat because this card was actually led off by Winnipeg’s own, The Weakerthans, but I’m giving Bragg the nod here for returning after his set to perform the song included on this playlist with headliners, The Lowest of the Low. It was fun watching the local heroes falling over themselves and going fanboy over the Bard of Barking.

8. The Sid Hillman Quartet “No perfect world”
Opened for Neil Halstead, April 20, 2002: It was weird seeing Slowdive and Mojave 3 frontman, Neil Halstead, do a show at a tiny, tiny club in Ottawa’s Byward Market but the bigger surprise came when I was even more impressed by the previously unknown to me, alt-country singer/songwriter, Sid Hillman.

9. The Polyphonic Spree “Light & day / Reach for the sun”
Opened for David Bowie, April 2, 2004: We walked into the Corel Centre a little late and found our seats a few songs into the opening set, but the twenty-odd-piece band dressed in flowing robes (that included a harpist, a theremin player, and a choir) certainly made an impression. The very next day at home, I went digging on the internet to track down their debut album.

10. Ambulance LTD “Heavy lifting”
Opened for The Killers, October 9, 2004: There were two bands opening for The Killers at that tiny club in downtown Ottawa but the dream pop/psych rock band from New York definitely made the bigger impression. Ambulance LTD’s self-titled debut has become a favourite of mine from that era. Sadly, they never made another record.

11. Arcade Fire “Rebellion (Lies)”
Opened for U2, November 25, 2005: I finally acquiesced to seeing U2 with my wife when they played a show at the Corel Centre at the behest of friend and then Canadian prime minister, Paul Martin. At that time, it was the most I’d ever paid for a concert ticket but when Montreal’s Arcade Fire were announced as headliner, I stopped complaining. Arcade Fire made a lot of new fans that night in the capital and shortly afterwards, got so big, they were assuming headliner spots at venues of that size.

12. Richard Ashcroft “A song for the lovers”
Opened for Coldplay, March 17, 2006: Much like my Radiohead and Spiritualized story above, I might have never seen Coldplay live if they hadn’t brought Richard Ashcroft along on their X & Y tour. Victoria and I were two of only a few pockets of those standing and singing and dancing along to his whole set amidst a sea ambivalent talkers. He peppered in a bunch of Verve tunes with his solo work but when he played “Bittersweet symphony” as his final song, the rest of the crowd joined us on their feet.

13. The Essex Green “Don’t know why (you stay)”
Opened for Camera Obscura, January 30, 2007: I had never heard this Brooklyn-based indie rock band before the show but based on their performance, bought the CD at the merch table and went back to find their earlier album later on. Unfortunately, they went on hiatus not long after this tour and finally returned last year with a new album that made an appearance on my best of the year list.

14. Young Galaxy “Outside the city”
Opened for The Besnard Lakes, October 13, 2007: This is actually the first of two times I saw Young Galaxy as an opening band (the second time was when they supported Austra in 2011) and I’ve actually seen them two other times live. Indeed, they are one of my favourite ever bands. However, their set supporting The Besnard Lakes seemed perfect, a dream pop/psych rock band doing support for another. Although Young Galaxy moved on to a more electronic sound, this era was my favourite of theirs.

15. Small Sins “We won’t last the winter”
Opened for Secret Machines, November 15, 2008: Small Sins were the short-lived synth pop project of Thomas D’Arcy that released three albums in the late 2000s. D’Arcy later released work under his real name and has found success in production work on some very successful Canadian rock albums. His opening set that night was incredible.

16. I Break Horses “Winter beats”
Opened for M83, May 6, 2012: I’ve already written on these pages about how I Break Horses (pictured above) was the bigger draw for me than M83, for whom they were opening. Well, M83 were eye-opening but the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck didn’t disappoint in the least either.

17. John Grant “Pale green ghosts”
Opened for Elbow, May 17, 2014: I had never heard John Grant before seeing him open for Elbow at the famed Danforth Music Hall but his deep baritone vocals and dramatic presence was certainly a welcome warm up and both my wife and I took notice.

18. Gateway Drugs “Friday’s are for suckers”
Opened for Swervedriver, May 5, 2015: This band of newcomers impressed me enough to pick up their debut album at the merch table, their performance being my first exposure to their dirty and noisy glam rock. Their silence in the years since has been a surprise to me because I was sure they would make a name for themselves but it’s not too late: a sophomore album is forthcoming in October.

19. Tess Parks “Somedays”
Opened for Ride, June 2, 2015: I had to rush the whole lot of friends and friends of friends who had amassed to pre-drink before the first Ride show in Toronto in decades to finish their beers just so I could see her set. Tess Parks was tentative but the strength of her songs carried her. She has since collaborated with Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe and I expect there’s more good tunes coming from her soon.

20. Japanese Breakfast “Everybody wants to love you”
Opened for Slowdive, May 6, 2017: I was at first quite surprised to see all the young people that were at the Montreal stop on shoegaze legends Slowdive’s tour. But then, it occurred to me that they were probably there to catch buzz act and next gen dreampopper, Japanese Breakfast. I had only given Michelle Zauner’s debut a cursory pre-listen but really enjoyed her set.

Now that you’ve perused and perhaps listened to the embedded playlist below, I’d just like to sum up by saying: Next time you go to a show, remember this playlist and the fact that you might be missing out on your next favourite band. Come out early and join me near the front of the stage. I’ll be there with a beer in hand, trying not to be annoyed by the loud talkers standing in front of me. Cheers.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.

Best albums of 1997: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Thursday! And welcome to the second installment of my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums of the year series. For this one, we time travel back twenty years to 1997. Back to a time where I was one year removed from graduating with BA Honours from York University on a five year (yes, I took it slow) program. I was working part time at a tool rental store, spending plenty of quality time talking pretentious in the pubs, and I had just started into a relationship with Victoria, whom I’m still with and I’ve since married. So happy times indeed.

It also happens to be another great year for music and can easily be argued to be the best year ever for British Alternative Rock. Just think about it for a moment and you’ll realize I’m right, probably guess which are my top three albums, but perhaps not in the correct order. Britpop mania had reached its apex the year before and was already on the wane, more artists were trying to disassociate themselves with the term rather than buy in. So yeah, in 1997, it was more rock and less pop. However, North America’s (and likely the rest of the world’s) ears were still tuned in to Cool Britannia so British rock was all the rage on the radio and music video stations. I was in music heaven with all the great albums being released and as you’ll soon see, the majority of my faves were from – you guessed it – the British Isles.

So without further ado, below are the first five albums from my top ten and if you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the top five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. Enjoy the nostalgia ride with me.


#10 Cornershop “When I was born for the 7th time”

Third time was a charm for Tjinder Singh and his Cornershop. The band’s blend of Indian traditional, British rock, funk, and psychedelia hit home with the Britpop crowds at the time and has since influenced more than a few bands that I can think of (Hello, Elephant Stone). Then, Norman Cook remixed the song below and they exploded, the song in question waxing ubiquitous in the summer of 1997. As for the album, it’s quite eclectic and fun. You can certainly tell they were smoking quite a bit of something funny during its recording.

Gateway tune: Brimful of asha


#9 The Dandy Warhols “The Dandy Warhols come down”

I saw The Dandy Warhols open for The Charlatans in the fall of 1997 but I didn’t appreciate this, the album they were flogging at the time, until much, much later. Still, their live show was so good that I immediately picked up their next album, 2000’s “Thirteen tales of urban bohemia”, on release, which I loved and pushed me to continue to follow them and to re-examine their back catalogue. If you’ve seen the film “Dig”, you know that the band had its troubles at the time and despite the below song’s modicum of success, it would be their only flirtation with the mainstream. “Come down” is a noisy beast and a rollicking ride.

Gateway tune: Not if you were the last junkie on earth


#8 Teenage Fanclub “Songs from Northern Britain”

For years, I’ve called Teenage Fanclub the “Scottish Sloan” or likened Sloan to “the Canadian Teenage Fanclub”, depending on my audience. Both bands have multiple songwriters who sing their own songs but maintain a consistent sound, and that is a classic sounding guitar rock style with plenty of harmonies that somehow manages to sound completely original. The Fanclub’s sixth album was their most commercially successful, its name a joke around the idea that many people at the time considered them part of the Britpop scene. The album itself though was anything but a joke.

Gateway tune: Take the long way around


#7 The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Let’s face it”

Boston’s own flirted with the mainstream and certainly achieved commercial success with their fifth studio album, “Let’s face it”, the band’s only certified platinum selling album. The eight-piece ‘skacore’ band toned down the ‘core and sweetened the ska and punk sound and found themselves a whole a new swarm of fans. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t deny that this album cemented their place at the forefront of the 90s wave of ska punk. It’s brash and energetic and a hell of a lot of fun on the dance floor.

Gateway tune: The impression that I get


#6 Ocean Colour Scene “Marchin’ already”

Ocean Colour Scene followed up their breakthrough sophomore album with music cut very much from the same cloth. Often the tunes were those written well before recording but refreshed and brightened with slick studio production. They were rewarded by the buying public with their first number one, famously supplanting Oasis’s bloated third record, “Be here now”, an album that (*spoiler alert*) won’t be on this list. I really like the straightforward and honest trad rock of this and “Moseley shoals”, perhaps preferring “Marchin’ already” slightly over the former. Unfortunately, things steadily went south from here.

Gateway tune: Hundred mile high city


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.