Sunday, May 25, 2008

Concert Review: The Hives - Winnipeg, May 20, 2008

After lining up for over an hour outside, I ended up at the front of the stage for this general admission show, and it turned out to be a blast despite not being sold out.

The Hives' lead singer Pelle Almqvist channels Mick Jagger, right down to the cocksure rooster strutting. Guitarist Nicholaus Arson (Niklas Almqvist, his brother) was Almqvist's partner in showmanship, running all over the stage and appearing inches away from falling into the audience, while sometimes allowing fans to pluck the strings on his guitar. At one point, Arson's guitar appeared suddenly out of nowhere, inches from my face as he stopped a controlled skid just before outfitting me with a new set of braces, courtesy of his Fender Telecaster. Almqvist's main schtick was to play to the audience at the edge of the stage, slapping outreached hands repeatedly half the time. You'd think the audience would have had their fill, but there were many repeat customers reaching from all directions.

As people were jockeying for a spot as close to the stage as possible, one of the security warned us that the lead singer would be spending a lot of time out in the crowd and that's exactly what happened. He perched himself on the wood railings and walked out to thrill the fans in the first five rows or so. At one point he climbed almost to the top of one of the lodges and managed to descend without incident. I somehow escaped getting a boot in the face from one of Almqvist's many wild kicks. It would have been accurate to describe the near-miss as almost getting a white patent leather shoe in the face.

Yes, as is the routine, they took to the stage in the exact same black suits with ties. Drummer Chris Dangerous (Christian Grahn) flicked out several drum sticks, some gently tossed to fans at the front of the stage while others were flung with Olympian gusto to reach as high and as far as they would carry. Bassist Dr. Matt Destruction (Mattias Bernvall) more or less played the straight man before grinning like a crazed Jack Nicholson in The Shining towards the end of the show, where he roamed the stage, offering multitudes of hands chances to pluck some of the Precision Bass's strings. I took advantage of one such chance. Guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem (Mikael Karlsson Åström) appeared to not smile at all, but was a riff master on his axe, nonetheless.

Pretty much everything they played was at two speeds - fast and faster. No power ballads for these guys. Their music can best be described as manic power pop with colossal rock 'n' roll riffs and chords that wouldn't be out of place in the Rolling Stone or AC/DC cannon.

Sure, you could say that a lot of their music sounds alike or that they lack variety. Musically, are they a one-trick pony with a Stripes-like costume gag? Perhaps. But for pure, high energy fun, they are hard to beat. Pelle Almqvist makes the Strokes front man Julian Casablancas seems rather sedate in comparison.

Opening quartet Locksley, originally from Madison, Wisconsin, were surprisingly good. Their brand of infectious power pop was an excellent match for the Hives and the openers even included the White Stripes "Hotel Yorba" and the Rolling Stones classic "Get Off My Cloud". I could hear people beside me being wowed by Locksley, and I made a point of shaking hands with the lead singer as he was doing the roadie thing for his gear, and telling him that I would buy their CD. As it turns out, they had two discs for sale and I bought both from the drummer (Sam Bair) as the fans were exiting. Locksley reminded me of the UK band Franz Ferdinand, who also have a bit of a classic British sound, along the lines of the Kinks. Their guitarist, Kai Kennedy, was also surprisingly adept. They are named after the fabled land where Robin Hood is from.

The sound from my vantage point wasn't great and it sure appeared as if Almqvist's microphone quit a number of times. But, when you're that close to the band, bouncing up and down along with a bunch of happy people, you just can't help but have a great time. If you were further back, you experience may have varied.

I noticed that few seats were sold in the top level were sold and it was later announced that about 1100 people showed up. The venue holds about 1642.

Concert Review: Nightwish - Winnipeg, May 14, 2008

The Finnish-Swedish group Nightwish performed to an enthusiastic and near sold-out at the Garrick Theatre in Winnipeg, Canada on May 14, 2008.

The lineup began before 6 pm and the doors opened around 6:55 pm. After a brief queue for a t-shirt, it was about a 20 minute wait to get seated. Most of the crowd headed straight for the floor, but many of the older folks headed upstairs for an unobstructed view.

Openers Sonic Syndicate seemed like an odd match for the polished Nightwish. They have two singers and played overly simple hard-core metal with cookie monster vocals. As I said to the lady sitting beside me, with that type of singing, you can't tell if they are asking for cookies or trying to conjure up Satan.

Nightwish were greeted with a deafening roar of approval from the fans, which was even louder when the lead singer, Sweden's Anette Olzon, the replacement for the operatic Tarja Turunen, took to the stage. Olzon was all smiles and sang beautifully. Bassist Marko ”Marco” Hietala, he of the two-pronged long goatee, sang along side Olzon and even took over lead vocal duties occasionally. Guitarist Erno “Emppu” Vuorinen ran around the stage and together with Hietala, injected brilliant bursts of galloping thrash, equally good to what Metallica pioneered over 25 years ago.

They opened the show with the fourth single from the Dark Passion Play, "Bye Bye Beautiful," an intense number based on Tarja Turunen, with lyrics questioning her commitment to the band from an open letter that was used to fire her in 2005. The band isn't able to ignore the material that Tarja sung on and included several in the set, including the rousing closer, "Wish I Had An Angel," from the 2004 album Once.

Nightwish appeal to me for a few reasons. Their music has a positive feel which resonates more than the whole evil, aggressive shtick that so many bands rely on. Musically, within the same song, they can shift from melodic metal, founded on uplifting, majestic, and atmospheric keyboards, to rapid fire technically proficient thrash metal. Their sound has become a formula that many other bands have emulated to varying degrees of success. Songs that weren't all that familiar to me didn't leave a strong impression but when they found the groove, they could not be denied as a powerful metal band. Many metal fans are divided over the sound of bands like Nightwish, Sonata Artica, Stratovarius, etc., seeing them as being trendy and shallow but having heard the entire gamut of every style of metal, I can see the appeal of bands where you can actually understand the lead vocals and you have grown beyond the tired attitudes. Sometimes you just want to hear some good music and Nightwish certainly fit the bill for me.

At the end of the show, the band moved to the front of the stage to give fans a chance for photographs. It seemed like everyone who stood up to leave suddenly whipped out their cameras and were snapping away while the band smiled and posed. Anette Olzon spoke to the audience a fair bit, and stopped to cruise along the front of the stage to shake hands and greet the audience with her warm, personal style. Keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen, the one who looks a little bit like a tall Kirk Hammet, isn't a virtuoso like Jens Johansson, but he's more than adequate and is most valuable to the band as their main composer. Drummer Jukka “Julius” Nevalainen didn't give a pointless solo, although some of the fans were calling for one, but he did a fine job nonetheless. Unlike the drummers for Sonata Artica and Stratovarius, Nevalainen doesn't utilize a blazing power metal style but I don't think anyone would hold that against him.

Nightwish keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen
Nightwish keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen

Nightwish have carved out a niche for themselves and have managed to transition fine with their new charismatic lead singer. They mentioned another North American tour for the fall, and of course, the crowd went nuts. They are touring in support of their current album, Dark Passion Play.

Set list:
Bye Bye Beautiful
Dark Chest of Wonders
Whoever Brings the Night
The Siren
The Islander
The Poet and the Pendulum
Come Cover Me
While Your Lips are Still Red
Seven Days to the Wolves
Dead to the World
Wish I Had An Angel

What a Rush! Rockers finally return to Winnipeg

Updated: May 24 at 11:54 PM CDT
By Rob Williams, The Winnipeg Free Press.

Rush made up for some lost time Saturday. It's been 26 years since the veteran Toronto prog-rock trio last visited Winnipeg, but they made sure no one could stay angry at them for their lengthy absence with a three-plus hour show filled with hits, new songs and classic album cuts that offered a little something for the 10,500 (mostly male) hardcore fans who filled the MTS Centre.

The group -- vocalist-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart – were treated to a hero's welcome the moment they walked on stage and launched into Limelight, a 1981 single off Moving Pictures about the highs and lows of fame.

Canada's most famous prog-rock trio hasn't been to Winnipeg in decades, so to make it up to us, Geddy Lee (above) promised to deliver 1,000 songs to the 10,500 fans at MTS Centre. He didn't quite hit that mark, but a no-holds-barred show sent everybody home happy. (Kent Hart / True North Entertainment )

A third of their setlist was culled from their three albums released between 1980 to 1982 (they played five songs off Moving Pictures) when they were becoming worldwide stars; 1982 was also the last time the band was in Winnipeg so it's likely fans at that show heard some of the same material.

The roars for the group started even before they took the stage during an opening video segment featuring Lifeson waking up from a nightmare to find Peart sleeping beside him before a Scottish Lee barked at a different version of himself to get on stage and play.

"It's nice to back tonight after so long. Thank you for forgiving us. We'll repay you in kind with a thousand songs," Lee said to introduce 1987's Missions, which had him switching between bass and keyboard while playing effects with his feet in front of three chicken rotisserie ovens labelled The Henhouse (a man in a chef's outfit and a chicken mascot even came on stage to baste the roasting birds).

Both Lee and Lifeson did double duty playing effects, included background programmed synthesizers, while holding their own on their main instruments. Lee provided the rhythmic thrust, Lifeson stood workmanlike beside him while cranking out imaginative leads and heavy chords while Peart proved his status as one of rock's all-time great drummers with a dynamic performance that at times was a show in itself.

It's not often concert goers look forward to a drum solo, but when Peart's time came for his showcase on his rotating kit two-and-a-half hours into the show it was one of the most anticipated moments of the night and he didn't disappoint with some of his trademark gymnastics that made every other drum solo seem obsolete.

The new album was represented with nine songs. The instrumental The Main Monkey Business featured psychedelic imagery and some monkeys doing the "business" on three video screens behind the band. The video fun continued with Bob and Doug McKenzie introducing the Larger Bowl. The characters from South Park would appear later.

Fittingly for a band of their nature, the show was a spectacle of both sound and sight. The video screens were used for comedy gags and other various images while the spellbinding light show employed strobes, lasers and featured two multi-tiered rigs resembling UFOs that would descend from the rafters occasionally and add an otherworldly element to the visual eye candy.

Following a 20-minute intermission the band played five new songs in a row, which brought the energy level down a notch, but Subdivisions quickly turned things around and kick-started an end-heavy fan-favourites potion of the show with Natural Science, Witch Hunt, the Sprit of Radio, 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx, Tom Sawyer, A Passage to Bangkok and YYZ ending the evening in climatic fashion.

Hopefully we won't have to wait another two decades before they return.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Manitoba Golf Courses in and around Winnipeg

These are the public or semi-private golf courses in and around Winnipeg that I usually play. Almost all are 18 holes.

Happy golf season.

Bel Acres
Bridges - Starbuck - $37 spring special
Carman - $28
Cottonwood $22/ $20 seniors
Falcon Lake - $44
Grand Pines - Traverse Bay - $40
Granite Hills - Lee River/Lac du Bonnet - $36 Fri-Sun
Hecla Oasis - Riverton -$37/$48 weekends
Kildonan - $27
Kingswood - La Salle - $35.50/ $37 weekends
Lake of the Sandhills - Buffalo Point
The Links at Quarry Oaks - Steinbach (up to May 16 $32/ $42)
Links at the Lake - Gimli -$30
Larters - $38
Mars Sandhills - Brokenhead
The Meadows - $32/$35 weekends
Minnewasta - Morden
Netley Creek - Petersfield - $24.50/$27 weekends
Pinawa - $34
Bel Acres
Portage -$29
Rat River - St. Pierre-Jolys
River Oaks - $30
Sandy Hook
Scottswood Links - Elm Creek- $16
Selkirk - $34
The Shamrock Golf Course - Ile Des Chesne - 9 holes (formerly Oakgrove) - $26
Steinbach Fly-In Club - $32/ $37 weekends
South Interlake -Warren - $30
Teulon -$30
La Verendrye - La Broquerie -$25
Winkler -$25
Bel Acres


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Wilco - May3, 2008 - Burton Cummings Theatre

Wilco May 2, 2008 Burton Cummings Theatre

This was my third time seeing the band, each time up close, confirming my view that they are one of the best live bands that I've ever seen.
Photo courtesy of Kathryn Yu.

They are not a pop band, and they are very entertaining when they play extended jams. In this sense, they are a bit like Los Lobos and other
bands that have longevity based on the fact that they can really play. Your typical pop artist will be popular so long as they have hits. Wilco have up to three guitar players. Lead singer Jeff Tweedy plays rhythm and occaisionally lead guitar, ditto for keyboardist Pat Sansome. Virtuoso lead guitar player Nels Cline is the newest and oldest Wilco member and is a bonafide star in his own right. He's like an erupting volcano with the music twisting his body as it finally emerges out of his fingers and onto the strings. He was spellbinding. After receiving an avalanche of applause for playing an incredible extended solo, he just kept right on soloing, causing some folks at the front of the stage to become absolutely transfixed with awe.

Wilco's live shows have everything from quiet, slow material to thrashing, intense rock, all played with attention paid to craft and intensity. Tweedy spoke and joked around with the audience, calling some of them douche bags as they were rocking out to quiet songs. He threatened to call his lawyers to check out three teens who were apparently wearing home-made unofficial Wilco t-shirts.

A photographer from the Free Press suddenly appeared beside me at the front of stage, early in Wilco's set. He apologized and I promptly gave him some elbow room, knowing that he would only be there for a short period of time. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this short woman and her equally short male companion muscle their way towards the front. She actually confronted the photographer about what is doing blocking her view when she paid money to attend the show, etc. He replied that he would be leaving in five minutes. As soon as he was finished, he turned around and gave her a nod and she zipped into the place where he was, elbowing this teen who was leaning on the front of the stage and who expected to reclaim the room she vacated for the photographer. The short woman got into a brief argument with this poor teen, causing the teen to politely mention twice that she was there first. I have two thoughts about this. It's a concert and if you choose to leave your seat to stand at the front, you may or may not get a good view. On the other hand, I totally expect people to move around to get a better view. I've had my view obscured by taller people before so I know the feeling that she must have had. But I wouldn't elbow my way around and not apologize for upsetting anyone I bumped into who became visibly upset. If you sitting in the first few rows at the Burt and people stand up at the front of the stage, your view may be blocked. I have been to some shows there where everyone sat down, allowing good views for all, but such behavior isn't likely at a rock show, and a crowd at the front makes the show look a bit more exciting.

I have to commend these guys for playing for 2 hours and almost 15 minutes, including a 2-3 minute break between sets.

Openers Retribution Gospel Choir are not a choir but a indie rock power trio, if I can describe them that way. The lead singer plays a mean guitar and he drew a small crowd of teens and twenty-somethings to the front of the stage, about 30 minutes into the show. I think I will check them out.

Wilco's last two studio albums have been somewhat mellow, but live, these guys are exciting.

You Are My Face
Company In My Back
Impossible Germany
Handshake Drugs
Jesus Etc.
Pot Kettle Black
Shot In The Arm
She's A Jar
Side With The Seeds
Shake It Off
One By One
That's Not The Issue
Via Chicago
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Poor Places

Christ For President
Hate It Here
Heavy Metal Drummer
Red-Eyed And Blue
I Got You
Casino Queen
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

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