Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tiger's highly emotional 3rd British Open victory

The last time someone won back-to-back British Open wins, it was Tom Watson in 1982-83. Tiger Woods became the most recent consecutive winner with this, his 11th major golf victory.

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Woods is comforted by caddy Steve Williams after breaking down in tears after sealing a two-shot victory at Hoylake.

For the eleventh time, Woods went into the final day of a tournament with the lead and held on for the win.

He is now tied with Walter Hagen in second place in the major-winners stakes, seven behind Jack Nicklaus' haul of 18.

The Golden Bear's record was once considered insurmountable but Woods has won 11 majors at two years younger than Nicklaus was when he claimed his 11th, the 1972 US Open.

Woods' score of was two ahead of fellow American Chris DiMarco and five ahead of South African Ernie Els.

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David Duval chips out of a bunker on the 18th hole as he finishes on one over for the championship.

Without a doubt, security should have been better. Protesters threw exploding balls on the 18th green, that left purple paint. Time andtime again, we saw Woods stop his backswing to scrowl about the fans with the camera phones who were clicking away by the hundreds.

You know you are watching a British Open when you see more dead grass than greenery on the course. This is in very stark contrast to the carpet green lushness of most PGA tournament courses we see in the US.

Several players were disappointed with their putting, most notably Sergio Garcia, who probably wears the tag of the best current golfer to not win a major tournament at the age of 26. Tiger Woods is 30 and won his first majorm the 1997 Masters, at the age of 21.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Concert: Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, July 14, 2006

This was a pretty good show, better than I expected. Half the show wasn't sweet harmonies, etc. that the group is known for. Neil Young was quite animated and even treated the crowd to Rockin' In The Free World, which was superb in all it's metallic glory. Some of the songs by the other guys were not terribly exciting to me, but a few songs were saved by jams and Young's trademark guitar distortion. There were several instances of duelling guitars between Young and Stephen Stills, himself an awesome electric guitarist, one of the best that I have seen.

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The experience was hampered a bit by the two yahoos in the row behind us opining incoherently constantly, out loud. I honestly thought one or both of them were special needs people with cerebal palsy but one of my friends said that they were just drunk. I had assumed that the most expensive seats would have kept out of riff raff but that wasn't to be.

The theme of the show was anti-war and they hammered it home with videos that showed footage of the Iraq war, head shots of dead US soldiers and a counter counting all the dead US soldiers since the start of the war in 2003. On the giant video screens they displayed the lyrics to Let's Impeach The President.

There was an incredible moment of irony when David Crosby announced a song about corporate greed. The irony was lost on him about the greed associated with some of the ticket prices.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


July 15, 2006
By Larry Leblanc, Billboard Magazine

TORONTO - In 2003, when local band the Weakerthans signed to U.S label Epitaph, frontman John K. Samson penned a tongue-in-cheek homage to the hometown he shares with Neil Young. It was called "One Great City" and featured the chorus of "I hate Winnipeg."

That might seem understandable when you come from a western Canadian city where temperatures average below freezing from mid-November through March, dropping most nights below minus 24 degrees Celsius. (Approximately 11 below zero Fahrenheit.) Despite this frosty backdrop, the prairie city's music scene is heating up.

"There's a lot of good things coming out of Winnipeg," says Steve Blair, Toronto-based director of A&R for Warner Music Canada. "Musicians there are unbelievably creative. Isolation has lots to do with it."

The capital of the province of Manitoba, Winnipeg has a population of slightly more than 700,000—and a diverse label scene. Notable local operations include hardcore labels Smallman Records and G7 Welcoming Committee, roots imprint Dollartone Records and ska/reggae label Bacteria Buffet Records.

"People deride Winnipeg for the climate," says singer Nicky Mehta of roots-styled act the Wailin' Jennys, "but it makes you aware of your place in a larger picture; there's a sense of 'hunkering down.' "

Mehta's band is signed to Vancouver label Jericho Beach, but last year inked a U.S. deal with Minnesota-based folk specialist Red House Records, which on June 6 released its sophomore set "Firecracker."

Several other local acts have signed direct U.S. label deals during the past 18 months, joining longer-established names such as the Weakerthans, folk-roots fusion band the Duhks (Sugar Hill) and thrash-punk act Propaghandi (Fat Wreck Chords).

Other acts fished from the local talent pool by U.S. labels include rock act Inward Eye (J Records), singer/songwriter Alana Levandoski (Rounder) and hardcore bands Comeback Kid (Victory) and Burnthe8track (Abacus/Century Media).

Although none of those acts has racked up eye-popping sales yet, some of their figures are still respectable. The Duhks' self-titled sophomore album has sold 38,000 in the United States since its February 2005 release, while Comeback Kid's "Wake the Dead" has sold 53,000 in the same time frame, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Other Winnipeg acts with domestic followings in Canada include roots-styled artists Nathan (Nettwerk) and James Keelaghan (Jericho Beach Music), rockers Waking Eyes (Coalition) and Novillero (Mint) and country act Doc Walker (Open Roads). These acts have emerged from an abundance of local venues, the best-known being the Zoo, Winnipeg's premier rock club for three decades.

Local booking agent Todd Jordan of Paquin Entertainment Agency suggests the scene's strength partly comes down to Winnipeg being so isolated. "The nearest interesting Canadian city is Calgary," he notes, "and it's a 14-hour drive. Toronto is 24 hours away."

However, Winnipeg acts are becoming increasingly visible on national and international stages. Comeback Kid recently concluded a 27-date North American tour; Levandoski performed at a Canada Day event June 30 in London's Trafalgar Square; the Wailin' Jennys are currently touring the States; and Novillero has just taped an episode of the USA Network TV series "Monk," in which the members appear as themselves.

Local insiders credit complementary development services offered by Manitoba Film & Sound and the Manitoba Audio Recording Industry Assn. with aiding the emergence of the new Winnipeg scene. Both bodies were launched in 1987.

MARIA executive director Sam Baardman has one further positive piece of news for A&R execs admiring the Winnipeg scene from afar. The city is not yet crawling with reps from rival labels. "Our bands are going out to where the A&R people are—all across the States and in Canada," Baardman says. ••••

Monday, July 10, 2006

2006 Winnipeg Folk Festival

In 1974, the very first Winnipeg Folk Festival was launched as a one-time celebration for Winnipeg's 100th birthday. Since then, it's grown to become one of North America's top music festivals, famous for the awesome sense of discovery attendees experience from seeing lesser-known artists, among the bigger names. Most of the big names at this year's event were Steve Earle, Ricki Lee Jones, Richard Thompson, Bruce Cockburn, Son Volt, Solomon Burke, Neko Case and Ferron. Some of the most talked about performers, though, were Hawksley Workman, Grammy winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Salil Bhatt, bluegrass sensations Crooked Still, Texan rocker Alejandro Escovedo, Celtic Flook from Ireland, The Grande Mothers (former members of the Mothers of Invention), South Austin Jug Band and current Garrison Keilor faves the Wailin' Jennys.

Day 1, Thursday, July 9

It normally takes me 30 minutes to get to Birds Hill Park, but with rush hour traffic, it took twice as long. Then, there were about 50 cars lined up to buy a weekend pass.

I arrived a few minutes before they had the mad dash to the front of the main stage for people to put down their tarps. I opted to just sit in a chair instead, near the left side of the stage, about 50 feet back.

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The Wailin' Jennys opened the show in support of their new album, Firecracker. During the second song, new Jenny Annabelle Chvostek's mike failed. She ended up sharing Nicky Mehta's mike. Ruth Moody's vocals were stunning over the speaker system. The Jennys like to give some insight on what their songs are about, which is something I wish more artists would do. I can't recall all the stories, but the songs were sensational and distinctive, including Nicky Mehta's Begin, Annabelle's Swallow and Devil's Paintbrush Road, Ruth Moody' poignant Prairie Town, Jane Siberry's Calling All Angels. What's interesting about the Jennys at the moment is that they caught the attention of Garrison Keilor and have appeared on his legendary radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, several times. After they appear, the two Jenny albums end up in the top 5 on That's quite an accomplishment considering how unknown they are, relative to the big arena acts like the Dixie Chicks, etc. In June, they played with touring Prairie Home Companion show three times in Massachusetts. In July, for Independence Day, the Keilor's show was recorded in front of a live television audience at Tangle wood, 2 hours west of Boston, in Lenox, MA. Broadcast as part of PBS' Great Performance series, the show was called Garrison Keilor's Independence Day Special: A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood, and featured Meryl Streep, who is also in the recent Roger Altman film of the radio show. I've been an instant fan since their very first gig back in January 2002, in front of jam-packed audience of 30 people or so in an acoustic instrument store. I'm also sitting in the front row for their next Winnipeg performance, in September at the Pantages Theatre.

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Ruth Moody of the Wailin' Jennys

Reggae trio Bedouin Soundclash were fun and had loads of people up and dancing. The Alejandro Escovedo group were excellent. They had an interesting atmosphere to their melting pot rock'n'roll sound. The Jerry Douglas group was a disappointment. Sure, he's a great instrumentalist who has won 12 Grammy awards, but his group's stab at improvising music and jazz, was really dull. So many lesser known, but authentic jazz musicians, have done it so much better. I opted not to stick around for the closing act, Steve Earle. I like some of his music, but not enough to brave the mosquitoes and the chilly air.

There was some guy in a powered glider, buzzing over the mainstage grounds. I saw a couple of co-workers there but they were behind the fence that separated the volunteers from the paid attendees, so I didn't get a chance to speak with them. Big line-ups for the Thai restaurant kiosk.

As I left during the second last band of the evening, I could not believe the ocean of people still out there. This must have been one of the best Thursdays for the event.

Day 2 - Friday, July 7

I woke up Friday morning with a bad headache and decided to take some pills and sleep it off. I missed all the day shows but ended up being there for evening shows.

By the time I arrived after 5, there were slim pickens for places to sit on the left side of the stage, but I found a spot. I left my chair and bag full of water and snacks to buy some music. I walked back to the car to put the discs in the trunk and by the time I arrived at my chair, there were people tucked in tightly around me. They were uncomfortably close. I sat there for a few minutes and decided to leave for the back, far away from the stage. I found a spot with some shade and decided to hang out there while keeping an eye on the Firefly Palace tent that housed the "alternative" folk festival. At 10:45 that night, the celebrated slo-core group Low were scheduled to play and I wanted to get a good spot to see them. Although that was more than two hours away, I kept on seeing people walking towards the Firefly Palace tent and sitting out, waiting. I decided to head to the tent to see what was up.

They had a dj playing with some people up and dancing. After he left, This 1 Guy took the stage. He's a performer from San Francisco who created his own instrument called the Magic Pipe, which looks like this:

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That I Guy (Mike Silverman) at Firefly Palace

"All down the length of the pipe are sensors that release drum-and-bass samples when Silverman plucks out everything from rock solos to jazz basslines. While beat-boxing. By strumming, plucking, slapping and looping his pipe, Silverman creates a multilayered soundscape, complemented by his electrified cowboy boots and drum machines."

He was mesmerizing. He created interesting beats and soundscapes and received the most applause when the music suddenly turned on a dime and became techno. There was also a ton of applause when he managed to play Black Sabbath's Iron Man. At one point he plugged a cable into one of his cowboy boots and began to play it like a mini-washboard. I have never seen anything quite like this performer. I decided not to buy the CD, though, because the real magic is in watching him make the music, rather than the music itself. People were definitely bopping away to his tunes. The video playing on the screen was a highly creative and funny assembly of clips from films and television shows, especially the Hilarious House of Frightenstein. The crowd loved it, especially when the music synched up accidentally but appropriately with the video.

Two Hours of Traffic followed, playing with a screen showing video footage shot by local artist Danishka Esterhazy. They were a fun power-pop band from PEI. Their new material, which comes out in the fall, was especially good. These guys could be as big as...The Barenaked Ladies, or any number of Canadian bands, if only they had enough exposure through the radio and TV. Just like for That 1 Guy, it was interesting to watch crowds of people wade their way in as the music drew louder and louder applause.

The band's lead singer thanked the audience for seeing them rather than taking in the mainstage act at the time, the alt-country crooner Neko Case, she with the astonishing voice...yes, she also sings for The New Pornographers but wasn't singing with them when they were here earlier this year. Neko is a cut above most of the multitude of singer-songwriters that I have seen.

I initially thought there were about 600 people under and around the tent for Minnesota's Low, but that was just a wild guess. This trio clearly walks to their own beat and they are very much an acquired taste. Several of their songs were slow burning with deceptively unsophisticated songwriting. A few were difficult
tell apart. The ones that gained the most applause, though, were the ones with Alan Sparhawk coaxing out psychedelic spacey ambient distortion from his guitar. Probably the most upbeat song they played was California from their recent cd, The Great Destroyer. The first time I heard it, I had no idea it was Low. Sparhawk has had to cancel shows in the past due to some undiagnosed debilitating mental health issues, but he seemed just fine that evening. I can imagine that many in the audience were curiosity seekers, some of whom weren't into the show, but the band received a lot of applause as some serious fans were there. I bought three of their cds this past weekend and hope to tap into the magic that longtime fans experience when listening to their music. Some people have said to listen to Low's music as you are falling asleep, in a state of lucidity, and you will be taken on a cosmic journey... Again, they played with an artsy video montage playing behind them. For me, Low were slow, but intense and subtle and at times, brilliant. There's is the ultimate in late night chill out music, and refreshingly non-electronic. At times, though, I also craved more variety and life from their music.

There were some funny moments when Alan Sparhawk would comment on whether or not mainstage act Solomon Burke and Low were playing in the same key. Although the tent was hundreds of yards away from the mainstage, you could quite clearly hear the mainstage bands during the many quiet moments during Low's set. Sparhawk also joked about what were people doing watching Low when they should really be seeing the rock'n' R&B legend Burke.

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Low at the Firefly Palace

Low's set list, thanks to DD from Low's web forum.
Silver Rider
In The Drugs
Like A Forest
Violent Past
Down By The River
(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace
When I Go Deaf
Encore - Sunflower

To see a Low concert online, go here for a show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam from February, 2005.

So, I missed seeing on the mainstage V.M. Bhatt (Grammy winner), Hawksley Workman, Neko Case, Terrence Simien (zydeco) and Solomon Burke (who finished around 2 am, I'm told.) But what I did see at the "alternative" stage was so worth it.

Day 3 - Saturday, July 8

I drove up Saturday with a co-worker who is heading back to the US in a couple of weeks, but since this was his first time, I knew we wouldn't end up staying late. We were supposed to meet another co-worker at 12 noon at Shady Grove, so we headed there for our first show, Rubinchik's Yiddish Ensemble. There were only two of them in the group, since one of them didn't make it. Imagine a real authentic Texan, accent and all, who happens to be a Jewish klezmer musician. Mark Rubin was really funny with his stories. He played an acoustic bass while his partner played on clarinet. Later they were joined by a pianist from another band who volunteered to stay up the night before, learning their tunes, just to help them out. Some of the music they played was actually from a book that was smuggled out of the former Soviet Union. Back in the days of Stalin, there were guys who would round up the folk musicians, get them to play into a wax recording, get someone else at HQ to transcribe the music into notes and write it all down in books. The books were then burned on purpose, to help destroy the state's unregulated, freedom loving, musical culture.

We made our way over to the Tear in My Beer workshop featuring Neko Case, some members of the Sadies, Vic Chestnutt, Jay Farrar (of Son Volt) and Winnipegger Righteous Ike. Unless you sat close enough to see the stage, you couldn't really tell who was singing at any given moment, save for when Neko sang. We mostly chatted ("talk amongst yourselves. I'm getting a little verklempt") until two of us decided now was an opportune time to get some lunch. I went for Tai food, which, despite the large lineups, was just all right and certainly nothing to write home about.

We caught the Mothers and Sisters workshop, which featured former members of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention band, the Grande Mothers, and the Sisters Euclid, an all-guy band featuring the brilliant blues rock guitar virtuoso Kevin Breit. I loved this show, but my co-worker was quite not prepared for it. He figured that since this was a folk festival, the music would be all, well, folky and acoustic. This show was about jamming with jazzy and funky moments. The Grande Mothers had a cd for sale at the big music store tent but I passed on it due to its $35 price tag. I did buy a couple of Sisters Euclid cds, including the latest one which is a tribute to Neil Young.

We caught a bit of the African Global Summit workshop by mistake, actually, thinking it was the stage for the upcoming Oh Susana show. I bought an Afrodizz cd since I happen to like world music. We moved over to see one of the buzz bands of the festival, Crooked Still, a young bluegrass band from the US. They quickly sold out of their cds. Finally, we caught some amazing Celtic music at the It Is Easy Being Green workshop. When we arrived, there was truly sublime flute playing going on, and this turned out to be the Irish band Flook. They took turns playing songs with this duo from Denmark, Haugaard & Hoirup (one of three Danish groups at the festival) and the teenagers from Nova Scotia, The Cottars. I was quite taken by Flook and it was no fluke that I bought one of their cds. I totally missed the Son Volt show that was taking place at the same time, but I ended up buying one of the concert DVDs with footage from '05 and '06.

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Solomon Burke

We bought some chicken roti and chowed down before sitting down for the mainstage shows. We were mostly talking then, so Zar from Denmark came and went without me noticing them much. Canadian rapper K'Naan was up next and was quite loud. So much so that we moved way to the back. The Holmes Brothers with their gospel blues music were all right but nothing that made me want to buy their cds. Around 9 pm, we decided to head to the campgroup to meet up with one of our co-workers and to call it a night.

I totally skipped Sunday, due to needing a break from early mornings and late nights. I had my heart set on seeing the workshops with Richard Thompson and Bruce Cockburn, to legends, but that wasn't to be. I blew my annual cd budget on about 30 cds and dvds, so I have a lot of music to listen to between now and next year.

The 33rd annual Winnipeg Folk Festival was the biggest ever, with attendence at 45,190, up 325 from 2005. Sunny weather with no rain made a difference. If this year''s event was characterized by the sun, heat and dust, last year's was known for the huge patches of mud and dirty barefeet.

Attendance 2000-2006

2000 33, 604
2001 39, 169
2002 37,832
2003 40,899
2004 42,111
2005 44,865
2006 45,190

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Studio offers video training

July 5, 2006
Winnipeg Sun


Video game creators will have more resources to hone their skills through a new training and work experience program at Fortune Cat Games Studio.

The studio received $350,000 for a three-year project that establishes an incubator studio to house up to three video game project teams during each year of operation. The teams will produce a video game prototype to be marketed to video game publishers.

"The economic activity generated from this project will result in new intellectual property controlled by Canadians, new technologies, exciting knowledge-economy jobs and new spinoff companies in Manitoba," said MP Rod Bruinooge (Winnipeg South).

The funding is provided through a Winnipeg Partnership Agreement, a collaboration of the federal, provincial and civic governments.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Winnipeg Sun's top discs of '05

I always enjoy reading "best of" music lists, since I'm able to learn about groups that I may have overlooked. Here's one from the Winnipeg Sun's Darryl Sterdan.

Music freak Darryl Sterdan picks the top 75 CDs of 2005

Every year, I am asked the same questions:

1) Do you really listen to all those CDs? 2) Do you ever listen to music for pleasure?

3) How do you pick your favourite albums?

Every year I give the same answers:

1) Of course.

2) Every time I play a CD, it's a pleasure -- if it weren't, I wouldn't do this job.

3) I find my favourite CDs just like you do -- they're the ones that grab me and keep me coming back for more. In 2005, I listened to more than 1,000 discs. Here are the ones I'll still be listening to in '06.

75 | Low The Great Destroyer

74 | Okkervil River Black Sheep Boy

73 | John Cale Black Acetate

72 | Holopaw Quit +/or Fight

71 | Kaiser Chiefs Employment

70 | Corb Lund Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer

69 | Bettye LaVette I've Got My Own Hell to Raise

68 | Moby Hotel

67 | Marianne Faithfull Before the Poison

66 | Sarah Harmer I'm a Mountain

65 | Stephen Malkmus Face the Truth

64 | The Frames Burn the Maps

63 | Neil Diamond 12 Songs

62 | The Go! Team Thunder, Lightning, Strike

61 | Davenda Banhart Cripple Crow

60 | Paul McCartney Chaos and Creation in the Backyard

59 | Danger Doom The Mouse & the Mask

58 | John Vanderslice Pixel Revolt

57 | Death Cab for Cutie Plans

56 | Juliana Hatfield Made in China

55 | Van Morrison Magic Time

54 | Louis XIV The Best Little Secrets are Kept

53 | (International) Noise Conspiracy Armed Love

52 | The Darkness One Way Ticket to Hell ... And Back

51 | Wolf Parade Apologies to the Queen Mary

50 | Kings of Leon Aha Shake Heartbreak

49 | Queens of the Stone Age Lullabies to Paralyze

48 | Franz Ferdinand You Could Have it So Much Better

47 | Bloc Party Silent Alarm

46 | Propagandhi Potemkin City Limits

45 | Broken Social Scene Broken Social Scene

44 | ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead Worlds Apart

43 | Coldplay X&Y

42 | Dungen Ta Det Lugnt

41 | Andrew Bird The Mysterious Production of Eggs

40 | Robbie Fulks Georgia Hard

39 | The Kills No Wow

38 | Kate Bush Aerial

37 | Greg MacPherson Band Night Flares

36 | Amy Rigby Little Fugitive

35 | Oasis Don't Believe the Truth

34 | The Magic Numbers The Magic Numbers

33 | Son Volt Okemah and the Melody of Riot

32 | Kathleen Edwards Back to Me

31 | Big Star In Space

30 | The Fiery Furnaces Rehearsing My Choir

29 | Shooter Jennings Put the O Back in Country

28 | Robert Plant & the Strange Sensation Mighty Rearranger

27 | M83 Before the Dawn Heals Us

26 | Foo Fighters In Your Honor

25. Christine Fellows
Paper Anniversary
(Six Shooter/Warner)

The Winnipeg singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist's third full-length is easily her finest, with 14 tracks of sublimely natural elegance and inspired craftsmanship that are as intimate as love letters, as literate as short stories, as poised as poetry, and as homespun and unique as birds' nests. A wonderful gift.

24. Petra Haden
Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out
(Bar None/Koch)

For real. Dulcet-voiced Haden replicates the classic Who album a cappella, right down to the brass band on the Heinz Baked Beans advert. Weird, wacky and wonderful. For real.

23. Antony & the Johnsons
I Am a Bird Now
(Secretly Canadian/Sonic Unyon)

"One day I'll grow up to be a beautiful woman," croons Antony. Maybe so. But for now, his quavering, languid vocals (think Tiger Lillies meets Tindersticks) and elegantly melancholy piano balladry have earned him the Mercury Prize.

22. Rodney Crowell
The Outsider
(Columbia/Sony BMG)

Lashing out at Bush's America over a backdrop of muscular roots-rock and honky-tonk, the hickory-voiced Nashville icon delivers some of the angriest and most stirring work in his vast catalog -- and continues one of the most remarkable mid-career comebacks in country since Johnny Cash was introduced to Rick Rubin.

21. Bright Eyes
I'm Wide Awake It's Morning/Digital Ash In a Digital Urn
(Saddle Creek/Outside)

The first is a raucous collection of country-rock and folk. The second is a darker, experimental affair full of glitchy electronics. Both are chock full of eloquent musings on life, death, faith, time and love, courtesy of the Omaha indie-roots phenom with the shivery voice.

20. The New Pornographers
Twin Cinema

Singer-guitarist Carl Newman and his Vancouver indie-pop supergroup continue their quest to save pop music with another set of magnificently inspired, immaculately crafted and endearingly produced jewels.

19. Rolling Stones
A Bigger Bang

Every Stones album since the '70s has been hyped as Their Best Album Since the '70s. This time, it turned out to be true. Mick, Keef and The World's Greatest Rock 'N' Roll Band finally live up to their name again with a retro-rocking CD that packs the punch of its title.

18. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Cold Roses/Jacksonville City Nights/29
(Lost Highway/Universal)

Whether you love mercurial alt-country bad boy Adams or loathe him -- and near as we can tell, those are your only options -- you've gotta respect a guy who puts out three albums in a year. Especially when two of them -- the nostalgic, country-rocking Cold Roses and Jacksonville -- are as good as anything he's done.

17. My Morning Jacket
(ATO/Sony BMG)

"All of this can change," whines Jim James. It already has. On this fourth CD, Kentucky's MMJ move beyond southern guitar-rock majesty into psychedelia, reggae-rock, pumping glam and swooning country. We call it a change for the better.

16. Sufjan Stevens
(Asthmatic Kitty/Sonic Unyon)

Continuing his quixotic quest to pen an album for every U.S. state, soft-voiced singer-songwriter and one-man band Stevens serves up an eccentric but earnest album that takes us on a time-travelling, orch-pop road trip through Illinois, with a carful of characters including Carl Sandberg, Frank Lloyd Wright, Superman and John Wayne Gacy.

15. Thelonious Monk Quartet w/ John Coltrane
At Carnegie Hall
(Blue Note/EMI)

Saxophone god Coltrane's brief tenure with piano genius Monk in 1957 is the stuff of legend. So was this recording of the pair -- until a Library of Congress worker stumbled upon the long-lost tapes earlier this year. The result: The most historically significant jazz release of the year, if not the decade.

14. Neil Young
Prairie Wind

"The Red River still flows through my hometown, rollin' and tumblin' on its way," croons Neil Young in his fractured warble on this nostalgic, intimate salute to his Manitoba youth. Local fans can't ask for much more from Neil -- except a makeup show for his Juno cancellation.

13. Beck

Funkmaster Beck reteams with Odelay producers The Dust Brothers and gets the retro-disco roller-boogie party started once again with a 13-track set of relentlessly groovy, sonically creative, inescapably hooky tracks. Bonus points for the Winnipeg connection: Cover art by hometown boy Marcel Dzama.

12. Kanye West
Late Registration

A year after The College Dropout made him a Grammy magnet and bulletproof hip-hop savior, Mr. West justifies the hype -- and ups the ante -- with another artful and ambitious set of smart, sly, soulful and sharp hip-hop brilliance.

11. White Stripes
Get Behind Me Satan
(V2/Sony BMG)

There's only so much you can do with a guitar, some drums and a few blues licks. And since The White Stripes have done it all, they spread their creative wings on this fifth CD, unplugging the guitars or ditching them altogether for piano and marimba.

10. M.I.A.
(XL/Beggars Group)

"I've got the bombs to make you blow," says Maya Arulpragasam. "I've got the beats to make you bang." The London-born, Sri Lankan rapper also has one of the most intriguing debuts of the year. Underpinning her political lyrics with a stylish fusion of hip-hop, dancehall, world beat, electro, grime, crunk and more, M.I.A. uploads a well-built, hard-grooving affair that seeks to open your eyes and rock your world.

9. Bruce Springsteen
Devils & Dust
(Sony BMG)

The Rising Pt. II, this ain't. It could be The Return of the Ghost of Tom Joad, though. Leaving the E Street Band at home and getting comfortable with his acoustic guitar, Bruce heads into fullblown singer-songwriter mode, spinning rustic, plainspoken tales of cowboys, palookas, illegal immigrants, hookers and other folks living hardscrabble lives, battling demons and searching for a foothold in The Boss's eternally just-out-of-reach promised land.

8. Sleater-Kinney
The Woods
(Sub Pop/Warner)

This prickly Portland punk trio have never sweetened their sound or dumbed down their lyrics for mass consumption. But their epic and ferocious seventh disc -- 48 minutes of thundering drums, blistering guitars and ear-shredding vocals -- is their darkest and most uncompromising disc yet. Not to mention their flat-out loudest, noisiest and heaviest.

7. System of a Down
(American/Sony BMG)

The Armenian-American avant-metal outfit (aided and abetted by uber-producer Rick Rubin) channel the iconoclastic sophomorism and technical brilliance of vintage Zappa with a slew of ADD masterpieces that gene-splice everything from metal and punk to surf and Armenian folk -- and add up to a two-disc conniption fit of ferocity and freakiness. Bonus points for packaging that allows you to merge the individually released discs into a unified set.

6. Fiona Apple
Extraordinary Machine
(Epic/Sony BMG)

"I certainly haven't been shopping for any new shoes," explains Fiona. She ain't kidding. But at least she's landed on her feet. After finally freeing herself from a Wilco-like standoff with her label -- who either shelved this disc in its original form or refused to let her remake it, depending on which tale you believe -- the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter emerges with her most mature and fascinating disc: A set of lyrically deep, musically rich ballads stylishly shaded with blues, jazz and even hip-hop. Extraordinary doesn't begin to describe it.

5. The Mars Volta
Frances the Mute

Emo meets prog meets psychedelia meets free jazz meets rock en Espanol meets electronica meets post-rock in this magnificent, majestic, epic song cycle of a sophomore album from the former leaders of At the Drive-In. Defiantly, spellbindingly, intimidatingly original -- and one of the most daring, uncompromising and just plain weird albums you'll ever have the pleasure of trying (and likely failing) to decipher. Also pick up their recent live disc ScabDates for the full effect.

4. Gogol Bordello
Gypsy Punks
(Side One Dummy)

As a young man in the Ukraine, Eugene Hutz was a refugee from Chernobyl. Now the actor and musician is an immigrant punk in New York. And in the musical melting pot that is his band Gogol Bordello, Hutz intermarries his influences -- East and West, Old World and New, ethnic and pop -- into a jubilant, freewheeling culture-clash somewhere between a Ukrainian wedding, a Bulgarian wake and the back half of Sandinista. Hoist some vodka and crank it.

3. Living Things
Ahead of the Lions
(Zomba/Sony BMG)

A great album deserves a great back story. And this disc from these St. Louis rockers has a doozy. Most of these tunes were cut in 2003 for a CD titled Black Skies in Broad Daylight -- a disc hailed as one of the most explosive debuts since Nevermind. How come you never heard it? Because it was pulled after the band antagonized their label with loose-cannon antics (including onstage fires and urination) and politically charged lyrics. All seemed lost -- until Sony BMG stepped in and finally unleashed this monster. Ahead of the Lions fuses the raw power and nihilistic swagger of The Stooges with the dynamics of Nirvana, the menace of Marilyn Manson and the rabble-rousing polemics of The Clash. But it doesn't get any better than the fist-pumping fury of Bombs Below, a three-minute salvo of rock perfection on par with Welcome to the Jungle. Hear them roar.

2. Marah
If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry
(Yep Roc/Outside)

These rootsy rockers anchored by sibling singer-guitarists Dave and Serge Bielanko have renewed our faith in rock with their sweaty, spontaneous shows (imagine Springsteen invading the corner bar and playing Replacements covers). If you haven't been lucky enough to see them, score this fifth CD, which duplicates the loose, freewheeling joy of their gigs with 12 folk-rock gems cut on the fly and off the cuff. But don't let the laid-back immediacy fool you -- these tunes possess all the craftsmanship, heart and soul of previous street-poet masterpieces like Kids in Philly and 20,000 Streets Under the Sky. They're just delivered with the easygoing vibe of pals sharing a bottle and jamming in your basement, making this another essential gem from one of the most criminally overlooked bands in rock. It's the next best thing to being there.

1. The Hold Steady
Separation Sunday
(French Kiss)

Imagine that Bruce Springsteen grew up in Minneapolis instead of New Jersey. Imagine he listened to '70s rockers like Thin Lizzy and '80s punks like Huesker Due. Imagine he read the drug-fuelled ravings of William S. Burroughs. Instead of The Boss, he would have grown up to be Craig Finn. Instead of The E Street Band, he would have formed The Hold Steady. And instead of Darkness on the Edge of Town, he would have recorded Separation Sunday. This ambitious and articulate tale of sin and salvation has made the Brooklyn-based Finn and co. the buzz band of the year. Deservedly so. Yes, the band's grandly arranged rock owes a debt to the E Streeters -- but with buzzsaw guitars. Yes, Finn's literate verbosity and slurred, spoken delivery are uncannily like Springsteen at times -- but his barking rant also evokes a drunken Jim Carroll. And yes, Finn's lyrics have Bruce's romantic mythology -- but mixed with Burroughsian darkness. Separation Sunday's shadowy narrative traces the downward spiral and rebirth of a "hoodrat" named Holly (short for Hallelujah) who drifts across the U.S. running drugs with a dealer named Charlemagne, until she comes down one day in a confessional and is born again. Or something like that; the story is jumbled and fuzzy, making the whole sad, sordid saga as ethereal as a memory or a hallucination. But the Born to Run Drugs plot is only part of the point. What matters more is the way Finn spins it -- with grandeur and grace, power and passion, and pretty much every other quality that separates great bands from also-rans. And puts CDs like this on top of critics' lists.

Concert: Wilco, Winnipeg (July 1, 2006)


Chicago indie-rockers blasted through the Burton Cummings Theatre last night on their Kicking Television Tour 2006. About 1100 fans showed up.

When he was finished singing and playing acoustic guitar, leader/frontman Jeff Tweedy would swap it for an electric guitar and coax out some interesting harmonics from the feedback for a couple of minutes to add an extra dimension of atmosphere to the songs. The ban was rounded out by Nels Cline on lead guitar, bassist John Stiratt, drummer Glen Kotche, programmer/keyboardist Mikael Jorgenson and Pat Sansone who switched between electric guitar and keyboards. If you watch the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which follows the band as they record their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, while going through line-up changes that almost killed off the band, you get see that only Tweedy, Kotche and Stiratt remain from those days.

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Wilco's songs run the gamut from quiet, bitter-sweet songs to all out balls-to-the wall rock with the ferocity of raging punk music. Drummer Glen Kotche lashed away at his cybals while bouncing up and down on the stool, gritting teeth to show the intensity of his playing. Keyboardist / guitarist Pat Sansone was quite energetic, striking some good rock star poses and whipping his hands around for some Pete Townsend trademark windmills. Guitarist Nels Cline didn't move around as much but he twisted and contorted his body as the notes flew off his axe. Bearded and scruffy looking Jeff Tweedy made several references to Canada Day and talked about how they wish they were Canadian, etc. I have no idea how he managed to play the entire show in a sports jacket, given how hot it was inside. He also sported some injury with one of his legs, as he was wearing a brace, but despite requests from the audience, he never explained what happened to him.

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I met a few fans who I totally enjoyed chatting with. Some of these people were way more fanatical about the band that I was, having travelled to different cities to see them. As I leaned on the stage, a couple of fans tapped the back of my shirt to point of the Winnipeg tour date and we ended up with a fun conversation about how it's been a great year for shows in Winnipeg. They also sang outloud to many of the songs, several of which I knew but not well enough to sing along to. Every time the band played the opening notes to a song they liked, they would exclaim, "Here we go!" Other fans in the first and second row talked to me about how they ended up getting their tickets. These two ladies in the second row were oblivious to either the Wilco fanclub pre-sale or the Ticketmaster one and just bought theirs when tickets when on sale to the general public. I originally ended up in the balcony for the Ticketmaster pre-sale, but then I tried the fanclub pre-sale moments later and ended up in the front row. I called Ticketmaster and they actually cancelled my balcony seat, which was nice but odd since they say all sales final, I thought. One guy hiked from Banff to Edmonton to catch the tour and then made his way back to Winnipeg, his hometown, for yesterday's show, although he was supposed to work that day, so it cost him a job. He's supposed to hang around for the Folk Festival, at which Son Volt are playing. Wilco and Son Volt are both offshoots of the band Uncle Tupelo.

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I was unfamiliar with the opening act, Elliot Brood, a three-piece from Toronto, but they quickly had people dancing up a storm in front of the stage. They were really good and I plan to visit their website to buy some music. They describe their music as "Death Country – dark, gritty folk music built around whiskey-drenched vocals and lyrics evoking images of love, loss and murder. In their soul-thumping bluegrass songs, banjo keeps time to a strange and chunky angular stomp, with vicious Kentucky-hardcore acoustic guitar and somber, achingly confessional vocal harmonies," which pretty much sums them up. At one point, a fan shouted out the request for "Jackson," which had me thinking they were going to play the Johnny Cash/ June Carter Cash classic, which they totally could have, but instead it was a quiet original.

Fans were treated to seeing a magnificent, unmistakably unique band firing on all cylinders, plus a superb support act in Elliot Brood.

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Here's the setlist.
1. Airline To Heaven
2. Forget The Flowers
3. Handshake Drugs
4. A Shot In The Arm
5. At Least That's What You Said
6. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
7. Spiders (Kidsmoke)
8. Hell Is Chrome
9. War On War
10. Jesus, Etc.
11. Hummingbird
12. Walken
13. Theologians
14. I'm The Man Who Loves You
15. Monday

Encore 1:
16. Passenger Side
17. Via Chicago
18. Kingpin

Encore 2:
19. California Stars
20. The Late Greats
21. I'm A Wheel

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