Sonic Youth, Wilco, and Mogwai – Brief Reviews

I had the good fortune this week to see some great live music from these 3 bands on Wedesday, Thursday, and Sunday night respectively.

Sonic Youth at Metropolis August 4, 2004

This was only the second time I’ve seen Sonic Youth, the first time being way back in 1990. Actually, I should say Wednesday’s show was the second time I’ve attendeda Sonic Youth gig, since in no way can it be said that I saw them in that 1990 show. That October night in 1990 was probably the most oversold show in the history of Foufounes Electriques, and the best I could then was listen to them.

Metropolis was a far more comfortable venue than Foufounes was, though it was close to sold out. The times have changed.

I haven’t listened to Sonic Youth that much since “Goo”, so I didn’t know any of the songs. Yet with Sonic Youth, a lack of familiarity with the songs is not a barrier to enjoying them live. It helps just to know an album or two well because the songs are a variation on the trinity of rhythm, noise, and melody.

Le Metroplis is one of Montreal’s best mid-sized venues and was a great place for this gig. The sound is superb no matter who plays and this night was no exception. The crowd was in rapture, and one idiot was so far gone he just had to jump on stage and make a move on Kim Gordon. For the most part, the crowd had good clean fun and so did I.

A good start to my big week of rock shows…..

Wilco at Theatre St.Denis, Thursday August 5

Wilco have been my favourite band for a few years now and this was my third time seeing them in as many years. While Theatre St.Denis is a good venue, at times it felt like being in a straight-jacket.It’s strictly a sit-down, no smoking venue. This can be a good thing, but I don’t like it for Wilco.

The sheer amount of good material Wilco have to draw from is astounding. If you’re a fan, it means you will often walk away from their shows talking as much about what they didn’t play as what they did. This show was no exception. The set predictably drew mainly from YHF and the latest A Ghost is Born, with not a single song from AM or Being There. I would have really liked to have heard at least a couple of songs from these albums, but on this night it was not to be.

They did play some stuff from Summerteeth, but even then the choices of songs are surprising. Rather than playing clear favourites like “I’m always in Love”, “ELT”. or “Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again)”, they played the more melancholic “How to Fight Loneliness” or “When you Wake Up Feeling Old”. Despite an unwillingness to play crowd-pleasers, Wilco still manages to pull it off and keep the crowd happy.

The current lineup is probably the best I’ve seen Wilco use on tour. The songs were played perfectly and the sound at Theatre St. Denis was ideal. Jeff Tweedy, despite his reputation for being shy, had a great rapport with the crowd. He seemed to be in good mood and light of step, enjoying himself and the crowd. At one point, during a silence before a song, various members of the audience could be heard screaming for their favourite songs. One person yelled “California Stars”, to which Tweedy replied “We could play that, but then we’d have to skip about, oh, i dunno, 10 songs. But if you really want it now, we could skip those songs. We get paid either way.” Then another, just a few rows behind me, yelled “WAR!”, which got “Well, you’re going to like this selection then.”, and then they played “War on War”.

It was a a great show. There were loads of songs I wanted to hear but didn’t, but I have a whole new appreciation for A Ghost is Born, and they played the material from YHF better than I’d ever heard it done before. True to his promise, they played “California Stars” in the encore part of the set and the crowd was by this time on its feet.

As a sidenote, the Montreal Gazette’s rock critic Jordan Zivitz delivered one of the most gushing reviews of a live show I’ve ever read. Speaking directly to Jeff Tweedy, he says something along the lines of “Jeff, if you can keep this lineup long enough to record another album, I promise to be your manservant for life.” I couldn’t believe it, but it was a review fitting the occasion. I would link to it if I could, but the Gazette is only available online to paid subscribers.

Long live Wilco.

Mogwai at the Spectrum, August 9 2004

This is a band I’ve only ever seen live and have never heard on CD. I saw them last year at the same venue based on their reputation. All I can say is most people should see this band at least once, and be sure to bring earplugs. After last year, there was no way I was going to be without some blockage in my ears because the wall of sound this band produces is, in all my time going to shows, second to none. They produce the most artfully crafted noise I’ve ever heard, though I hesitate to call it noise. Noise just isn’t as artful as Mogwai make it.

At times, their soundscapes are downright terrifying. The last song of the night, one I remember from last year’s show as nearly blowing me off my chair, has parts that get very quiet, and just when you think it can’t get quieter, they explode and more than a few people get rattled by this experience. I did last year but was fully prepared for it this time around.

Honestly, there’s nothing I’ve seen like Mogwai. Nothing. It might be time for me to pick up an album.

Toronto – The Road Trip

I’ve been getting a lot of flak lately for not updating my blog in these past few months, flak I’m actually grateful for. My goal when I started writing this a year ago was to try to get at least 2-3 entries in week, and I haven’t been even close to this in this calendar year. Jeez, I think I’ve only managed 7 entries since the start of the year and this has to change.

My friend AY, who I travelled with to Toronto this past weekend, let me know that if I can’t write an entry on my first time out of Montreal in nearly 8 years (for the occasion of Celtic’s game against Roma at the Skydome), then I probably can’t write at all. So write I must…..

The last time I left the safe confines of “La Belle Province” was in September of 1996 for a friend’s wedding in Virginia. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long, but Celtic playing as close as Toronto was as good a reason to leave as I could think of. I’m a lifelong and die-hard Celtic supporter, having helped found the Montreal CSC back in early ’94, and I haven’t seen Celtic play since 1988. Getting to Toronto to see them was a no-brainer.

Toronto the Good

I want to like Toronto, I really do, but as a Montrealer (and a smoker)I’m far too aware of what I can’t do than what I can. There aren’t many smoking hotel rooms, so I can’t smoke in the room. Fine, I wasn’t planning on spending much time in the room. Then the hotel is acting as a mini-camp for OPP SWAT teams in for the Carabana, so all of a sudden I’m starting to feel like an American during a Code Orange. At least I can have a smoke at the bar w/ terrace across the street from the hotel and Maple Leaf Gardens. But it’s midnight, and the bar has to close its terrace because it’s within eyeshot of some nearby condos. You can’t serve alcohol on a terrace in Toronto if people in residences can see patrons drinking. Very bizarre, and a pain in the butt if you like to have a smoke with a cool pint.

But it’s not all bad for this smoking Montrealer. I love the character of Cabbagetown, and the Skydome turned out to be a great place to see the match. There are loads of Celtic supporters and even a thriving downtown Toronto Celtic Supporter’s Club. I like the numerous British style pubs, if only I could smoke in them.

Friday

The highlight on this night was AY and I checking out the HQ of the Toronto CSC.We arrived shortly before the start of the FC Porto v Liverpool match and were already at home with the Celtic memorabilia behind the bar and half the patrons wearing some sort of Celtic trip or T-Shirt. This is something we never see here in Montreal so it was a treat. As the game progressed, more Celtic supporters arrived and by 10:00 we could here familiar “Hail, Hail…”.

We met The Celtic Badge Collector, who traded some badges for AY’s Montreal CSC badge, which are very rare. We sang the Celtic song and “The Fields of Athenry”, and I, at least, met people just from going out every half-hour for a smoke. It was a good night, and, it turns out, the only night we could have had at McVeigh’s New Windsor Tavern, since the next day was booked solid for pre and post match festivities. It’s a good pub, and a great pub for Celtic supporters.

Saturday

Saturday we started out with one of the all-you-can eat breakfast places, the only one where I could enjoy a smoke since it had a terrace. Breakfast was so-so, but we were able to meet up with some fellow Montreal CSC folk who had just arrived at the hotel and made arrangements to meet at 16:00 for food and beers, then try to get to the match for 19:00. They went shopping and we took a stroll down to Cabbagetown to meet up with some friends from Montreal at the House on Parliament pub (highly recommended, especially for brunch). We were going to check out the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibit, but decided to do this on Sunday.

I have to say that throughout the day the sheer numbers of Celtic supporters wearing colours blew me away. Wearing the hoops that day in Toronto were thousands of Celtic supporters from all over. The walk from Union station to Skydome was a sight to behold, with a thousands of green and white hoops singing or chanting Celtic!, or saluting fellow Celtic supporters. Celtic may have lost the match on the pitch, but in terms of support there’s no doubt who won the day and that would be Celtic.

I was sceptical of the state of the just rolled in natural grass, but was thoroughly impressed with it. The dome was open, which I liked, and the game was fun even as it was frustrating. Leaving Skydome was a scene, with thousands of Celtic supporters in various states of inebriation singing, chanting, and for the most part having clean fun. A couple of idiots, both Celtic supporters, decided to have a go at each other for reasons I was never able to fathom. A couple of anarchist friends of mine were trying to break it up (bad idea), but finally realized it was hopeless. As I watched this unfold, a guy came up to me and says in a thick Glasgow accent, “Funny thing is, I’m friends with both these guys”. That’s what I thought.

We finished off the night at the same bar in front of Maple Leaf Gardens, wishing we could have a smoke while having a pint, then deciding we’d be as well to get to sleep.

Sunday

Checked out by 11:00, then went for brunch at The House on Parliament, which we thoroughly enjoyed. This place has a terrace and a reasonably priced and very tasty menu. Then it was off to the AGO for the exhibit, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip. I rarely get to museums or art galleries, but the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibit turned out to be a score. All I can say is, if you get to Toronto by September 12, check this exhibit out and be sure to purchase the audio guide.

So that’s about it for our Toronto trip. Overall, a good time even with all the silly rules about smoking and drinking. I doubt I could last more than a weekend, though. We were glad to be home and before we even set foot in our homes, we stopped for a pint in the Barfly for bluegrass night and raised a glass to Montreal – then lit a smoke. It’s good to be home.