Playlist: Be my valentine

Okay. So here’s something that’s never been done before, at least not on this blog, or really, during any of my years of blogging. It’s true. I have never done a post observing this somewhat suspect ‘holiday’, a day that has been over-commercialized and become more about selling chocolates and flowers and overpriced dinners than spending time with the one you love. Still, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I do have a sappy side, a side that gets totally wrapped up in rom-coms and even the odd Hallmark Christmas film. And yeah, my wife and I typically do observe February 14th, usually in our own quiet way, but the odd time we have gone out for a nice dinner and paid exorbitant prices for roses.

It just so happened a few weeks ago that I realized I was due for a new playlist and the idea occurred to me to create one of ‘love songs’. Then, I quelled the idea, remembering the struggle Victoria and I had looking for appropriate songs in my collection that we could dance to on our wedding day. “Do none of your bands write songs about love?” she asked, frustrated and tired at one point during our search. Apparently not, was the answer, at least not in the conventional sense, the sense in which hair bands managed it in the 80s and out of which some R&B singers have made a career. Often the alternative and indie bands to whom I listen wrote beautiful lyrics that touched on love but did so looking at it not as a pure thing but one to be feared and revered, a bringer of both pain and joy. In short, not your typical love songs.

In the end, we found a handful to use, of which a few of them can be found in the playlist below. Of course, I had Victoria in mind while putting this one together, though I know she wouldn’t appreciate many of the tracks, still, there’s a little something for everyone. I’ve got some iconic tunes by influential alt-rock bands like The Cure and The Smiths, lesser known acts from the 90s like The Lowest of the Low and My Drug Hell, and of course, highlights from the indie kids of this new century, like Bloc Party and The Decemberists. I’ve got the whole list below, in case the Spotify doesn’t work for you, and included a lyrical gem from each song, just to give a glimpse of what you can be listening for as you peruse the list.

1. The Cure “Lovesong”
“Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am home again. Whenever I’m alone with you, you make me feel like I am whole again.”

2. Elbow “An audience with the pope”
“I have an audience with the Pope, and I’m saving the world at eight, but if she says she needs me, she says she needs me, everybody’s gonna have to wait.”

3. Blur “To the end”
“You and I collapsed in love. And it looks like we might have made it.”

4. The Rural Alberta Advantage “In the summertime”
“Once in a while, I know our hearts beat out of time. And once in a while, I know they’ll fall back in line.”

5. Teenage Fanclub “What you do to me”
“There’s something about you, got me down on my knees.”

6. The Cranberries “Dreams”
“Now I tell you openly, you have my heart so don’t hurt me. You’re what I couldn’t find, totally amazing mind, so understanding and so kind, you’re everything to me.”

7. The Postal Service “Such great heights”
“I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images, and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.”

8. Coldplay “Yellow”
“Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.”

9. Depeche Mode “One caress”
“Just one caress from you and I’m blessed.”

10. James “Just like Fred Astaire”
“Meteors may strike the earth. Nations live and die. I’m the boy who got the girl who showed me how to fly.”

11. The Beautiful South “Song for whoever”
“I love you from the bottom of my pencil case. I love you in the songs I write and sing.”

12. Death Cab For Cutie “I will follow you into the dark”
“Love of mine, someday you will die, but I’ll be close behind, and I’ll follow you into the dark. No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white, just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark.”

13. Oasis “Wonderwall”
“I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.”

14. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Do you love me?”
“I knew from that moment on that I’d love her till the day that I died.”

15. The Lowest of the Low “Subversives”
“There’s something subversive about you and me, ’cause there’s a market-value on love and we’re getting something for free.”

16. The Smiths “There is a light that never goes out”
“And if a double-decker bus crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.”

17. The Lemonheads “Alison’s starting to happen”
“I never looked at her this way before, but now she’s all I see.”

18. Bloc Party “This modern love”
“Do you want to come over and kill some time? Throw your arms around me.”

19. The Verve “Sonnet”
“Yes, there’s love if you want it, don’t sound like no sonnet, my lord.”

20. Chairlift “Bruises”
“I tried to do handstands for you, but every time I fell for you. I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you.”

21. The Decemberists “We both go down together”
“And my parents will never consent to this love. But I hold your hand.”

22. Black Box Recorder “Andrew Ridgley”
“I came alive to the smouldering fire in your eyes. I love you now and I will ’til the day that I die.”

23. The Stone Roses “Ten storey love song”
“When your heart is black and broken and you need a helping hand. When you’re so much in love, you don’t know just how much you can stand.”

24. First Aid Kit “Emmylou”
“I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June, if you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too. No, I’m not asking much of you, just sing little darling, sing with me.”

25. Björk “Violently happy”
“Since I met you, this small town hasn’t got room for my big feelings. Violently happy, ’cause I love you.”

26. Longpigs “On and on”
“All the songs that I’ve sung you, more often than you know. You’re the love that I’ve clung to more often than I’ve let it show.”

27. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros “Home”
“Ah, home, let me come home, home is wherever I’m with you.”

28. My Drug Hell “Girl at the bus stop”
“Girl at the bus stop, I wished for once that the bus would never come. She sat downstairs, I sat behind I couldn’t get her off my mind.”

29. Pulp “Babies”
“Oh I want to take you home. I want to give you children. You might be my girlfriend, yeah.”

30. Nine Inch Nails “Closer”
“I want to f*ck you. I want to taste you. I want to feel you.”

Enjoy. Happy (Saint) Valentine’s Day.

And of course, I’d be up for hearing what your own favourite ‘love’ songs are from the alternative and indie rock realms.

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”.

Best albums of 1998: #4 Pulp “This is hardcore”

What do you get when you have a band, especially a talented and misunderstood frontman, that toils for years in obscurity, always hoping and striving for fame, finally reaches its goal with a couple of hit records and massive headline spots at top festivals, only to find out that the fame is not what he/they wanted in the end? You get an album like “This is hardcore”.

Indeed, Pulp’s previous record, their fifth, “Different class” had them out on top, almost two decades after a 15-year old Jarvis Cocker formed the band with his friend Peter Dalton. Pulp had seen multiple personnel changes over 1980s and they struggled mightily, releasing two albums to almost no impact on the music buying public. They started to gain traction with their third album, 1992’s “Separations”, and then, “His ‘n’ hers” truly broke the band in 1994. It’s sort of a chicken and the egg thing with Pulp and BritPop. Nevertheless, the scene’s wave carried the band with it to the pinnacles of fame and still, it seemed, Jarvis and company weren’t happy. The sixth album took a year to record and was a struggle from the beginning, perhaps this was partly due to the departure of long time member Russell Senior but the band persevered and the results were completely worth it.

When I first heard it, I was a bit thrown off as I’m sure a lot of people were. Of course, I was still young and looking for more of that glam rock to dance to and sing along with Cocker’s wry observations on love and sex and life in general. I wasn’t ready for all this jaded maturity and found the music too heavy on inaccessible side of the scale. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and with my own jaded maturity, I can now see “This is hardcore” for the masterpiece that it is. An album that is timeless and stands up to Pulp’s best work.

Sample, if you will, my three picks for you below and let me know your thoughts.


“A little soul”: Songs with titles like this are usually a bit more uplifting, soul or R&B pop tracks that shake it, suggesting that ‘little’ is an understatement. However, Cocker turns this idea on its head with a literal take on its theme. The narrative is of a man speaking to his son, likely not a direct conversation though, just one in his head, as he’s watching him from afar or looking at a photo of him. “You look like me but you’re not like me, I hope. I have run away from the one thing that I ever made.” It’s a tired sounding number, an end of the night ballad, a mellow blues band in an empty, echoing club, Cocker sounding sorrowful and full of regret and though he feels he doesn’t have any soul to share, there’s plenty here.

“Help the aged”: Another song here that’s a bit depressing. If you’re sensing a theme, you’re spot on. Amongst the screaming and searing guitars is Cocker eulogizing youthfulness and imploring the young to truly see seniors and not hide from their own mortality. “You can dye your hair but it’s the one thing you can’t change, can’t run away from yourself.” No, it’s not a charitable song, as its title suggests, but an introspective one. A midlife crisis in song form, rage and sadness in a four minute song rather than a red convertible.

“This is hardcore”: The title track is the epic, six and a half minute centrepiece of the album. The sound is very different from the synth glam of their previous record and Jarvis Cocker uses his usual lurid thematics here as an extended metaphor for how he sees the music industry. It’s a slow burning number, dark and seedy, likely something you might hear in a lower end strip joint while a disinterested performer moves to its crawling beat on the grimy stage. Cocker runs the gamut of hopes and dreams and foreplay to being spent and used in every way possible. ”Oh, this is hardcore. There is no way back for you.” This is a great band at peak form.


Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Sloan “Navy blues”
9. Cake “Prolonging the magic”
8. Embrace “The good will out”
7. Mojave 3 “Out of tune”
6. Rufus Wainwright “Rufus Wainwright”
5. Manic Street Preachers “This is my truth now tell me yours”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.