Vinyl love: Gateway Drugs “PSA”

(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: Gateway Drugs
Album Title: PSA
Year released: 2020
Details: standard black vinyl, booklet included

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The skinny: In a couple of weeks time, I plan to start counting down my favourite albums of 2020 and though I am still finalizing things up – crossing my Ts and dotting my Is – I know that there are a couple of albums that are definitely going to finish up just outside of my top ten that still bear special mention. And you guessed it, this might be one of them. In my opinion, it’s a travesty that Gateway Drugs’ sophomore album, “PSA”, aren’t likely to be on too many radars. I first met up with these indie rockers when I saw them open up for Swervedriver back in 2015 and was completely taken in by their sleek and sexy and pure rock and roll performance. The quartet is three siblings, Noa (guitar), Liv (bass), and Gabe (drums) Niles*, all of whom share and trade vocal duties between them, and a second guitarist in Blues Williams. This sophomore record picks up where the debut, “Magick spells”, left off, playing dirty poker for their very souls at the same table as Jesus and Mary Chain and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Here, they’ve upped the ante, though, handing over the production to The Ravonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner. This pressing is bare bones black with a pretty sweet mini-booklet included but the sound is built for your best noise cancelling earphones.

Standout track: “Wait (medication)”

*They may be tired of us mentioning it by now but the father of these three siblings is Prescott Niles, bassist of The Knack. Rock and roll might just be second nature here.

Playlist: New tunes from 2020, part two

Back at the end of April, I posted the first part of this series, sharing with you all a playlist containing twenty-five tracks that I enjoyed during the first quarter of 2020. At that time, we were just five weeks or so into COVID-19 lockdown and had no idea what was going to happen or how long things were going to go on the way they were going. And well, we’re now nearing the end of July and we still don’t really have the answer to any of these questions. Restrictions have been relaxed in different parts of the world and we’ve had second outbreaks happen in others. We’ve been very tentative here in Canada. Slowly, slowly, slowly, we’ve seen some return to normalcy, albeit with some changes. Drive-in movie theatres appear to be making a comeback and leapfrogging from that, drive-in concerts. Masks are now prevalent and being made mandatory in all indoor public places. And of course, many of us are still working from home and really, seeing very little of other people outside of our own little bubbles.

Luckily for us, new music is still being released. Something to keep us occupied while we all stuck at home. I’ve (more than once) found myself wondering, though, if it, at some point, the music would stop coming. But no, at least not yet. Indeed, I would imagine that many of the tracks on this playlist were finished up during this crazy time and maybe even some of it recorded while in isolation. And when I get to posting the third playlist in this series, sometime in October, I feel like most of those songs will be influenced in some way by this new reality, whatever that will look like by then.

But before I get to much ahead of myself, let’s have a look at some of the highlights of this season’s playlist:

      • It all opens up with “Breathe”, the frenetic second track off Canadian indie popsters Born Ruffian‘s latest album, “Juice”
      • “The adults are talking” is a tune that I just can’t resist, the first in many years by The Strokes that has grabbed me right from the beginning and has yet to let go
      • One of my favourite Netflix series of late has been this British comedy, “Sex education”, and the soundtrack by Ezra Furman is just phenomenal and it finally saw a release this year, on which “Every feeling” is a standout track
      • I purchased I Break Horses‘s new album, “Warnings“, for my vinyl collection in May and it is quickly becoming one of my favourites of the year – just have a taste of “I’ll be the death of you” to see why
      • I saw and fell for Gateway Drugs when they opened for Swervedriver in 2015 and have been waiting for new material ever since, soooo… yes, “Wait (medication)” off this year’s “PSA” is very welcome and its production by Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner definitely doesn’t hurt
      • It’s been 30 years since Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s last solo album but the founding member of Spaceman 3 creates quite the groove on “Just imagine” and the rest of “All things being equal” is quite lovely as well
      • A lot is being made of Phoebe Bridgers‘ sophomore record “Punisher” by the critics and I cannot fault them at all – “Kyoto” is a fine example of her mature and intelligent songwriting

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it:

    1. “Breathe” Born Ruffians (from the album Juice)
    2. “Pringle creek” Ellis (from the album Born again)
    3. “Petty drone” Mystery Jets (from the album A billion heartbeats)
    4. “Alexandra” Laura Marling (from the album Song for our daughter)
    5. “The adults are talking” The Strokes (from the album The new abnormal)
    6. “Every feeling” Ezra Furman (from the album Sex Education soundtrack)
    7. “Decade” Harkin (from the album Harkin)
    8. “Nites out” Other Lives (from the album For their love)
    9. “Wake UP!” Hazel English (from the album Wake UP!)
    10. “Anywayz” Austra (from the album HiRUDiN)
    11. “Vegetable” Happyness (from the album Floatr)
    12. “I’ll be the death of you” I Break Horses (from the album Warnings)
    13. “Wait (medication)” Gateway Drugs (from the album PSA)
    14. “Temple” Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (from the album Temple)
    15. “Instant nightmare!” The Dears (from the album Lovers rock)
    16. “Hollywood Park” The Airborne Toxic Event (from the album Hollywood Park)
    17. “Is this a dream” Badly Drawn Boy (from the album Banana Skin Shoes)
    18. “(Don’t break my) devotion” Jade Hairpins (from the album Harmony Avenue)
    19. “Just imagine” Sonic Boom (from the album All things being equal)
    20. “Cameo” Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from the album Sideways to New Italy)
    21. “Red western sky” Muzz (from the album Muzz)
    22. “Riding solo” Hinds (from the album The prettiest curse)
    23. “Kyoto” Phoebe Bridgers (from the album Punisher)
    24. “Real long gong” Rose City Band (from the album Summerlong)
    25. “Hot heater” Pottery (from the album Welcome to Bobby’s Motel)

And just as I said back in April: Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe and continue to be well. Until next time, enjoy the tunes.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them 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”.