Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas Rocks! Extravaganza

The pomps and the pumps were out in full force to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra bring their Christmas Rocks! Extravaganza to Caesars Windsor casino on Saturday night. From a quick glance at the audience, the proto-rockabilly-ites were outnumbered by the typical casino concert crowd (i.e. old people) as well as people who thought that this was going to be a simply lovely Christmas concert (i.e. even older people).

Few people are as big a fan of Setzer as my wife, who has seen him as either a member of the Stray Cats or as leader of the BSO nearly a dozen times. The hike down to Windsor was well worth it as the group indeed played a selection of Christmas standards (Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bells, Blue Christmas), some made-for-rockabilly versions (Boogie Woogie Santa Claus) and even a hymn (Angels We Have Heard On High). The fans, however, were there to see the hits, and we got them, with Jump, Jive an' Wail, (She's) Sexy + 17, Stray Cat Strut and a hybrid trio/orchestra version of Rock This Town, which FINALLY got the crowd jitterbugging in their seats, my wife included. 

Photos taken at Caesars Windsor casino, Windsor, Ontario on November 24, 2012.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Who Plays Quadrophenia

 The spirit of the late John Entwistle loomed large, particularly during the middle of an extended 5:15, which included video footage from their 2000 gig at the Royal Albert Hall
 Keith Moon's vocals for Bell Boy were inserted into the live version, as was video footage from Charlton Football Grounds in 1975. Keith's heir, Zak Starkey kept perfect time, while still being able to fill the spaces like his late godfather.


The Who, in the form of survivors Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, brought their Quadrophenia tour to Toronto last night, to what appeared to be the be the biggest crowd on the Canadian leg of their North American tour. The dearly-departed John Entwistle and Keith Moon made special appearances in seamlessly-inserted video clips during 5:15 and Bell Boy, respectively.

The band, which combined Roger's touring band along with long-time sidemen Pino Palladino on bass and Zak Starkey on drums, tore through the 85-minute opus, then returned for an encore which featured their biggest rock-radio hits Who Are You, Behind Blue Eyes, Baba O'Riley (please people, learn to spell this properly) and Won't Get Fooled Again. The evening ended with Pete and Rog, doing their best Everly Brothers imitation on 2006's Tea and Theatre. The crowd got what they wanted, the band expressed their long-held love for Toronto ("...especially when I was drinking", confessed Pete), and everybody went home hoarse. In a good way.

Photos taken at Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario on November 23, 2012.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sloan Plays Twice Removed

Twice Removed, the contract-killing, anti-Smeared album which regularly floats near the top of any self-respecting CanRock record list received a mega-sized re-release from our favourite group of local Haligonians this year and to celebrate, Sloan put it all out there for everybody to enjoy.

Well, except for D Is For Driver, but that might be saved for the Japanese tour, who knows.

Last night's sold-out concert at the Phoenix Concert Theatre started about 45 minutes later, but thankfully that's right about the time my camera and I were able to arrive. The first set was a complete run-through of the 1994 album, conveniently divided into Side 1 and 2 by guitarist Patrick Pentland. At the very end of Side 2 appeared a wonderful surprise in the form of Jennifer Pierce who got to play the "girl part" on I Can Feel It, allowing Chris Murphy to concentrate on bass playing.

After a  45-minute break (!), the band was back to run through the "Greatest Hits" portion of the evening, starting with the brilliantly-segued Everything You've Done Wrong and Who Taught You To Live Like That? This part of the show seemed to concentrate more on the band's output from the last 10 years, featuring non-hits from Parallel Play (Emergency 911, Witches Wand), Never Hear The End Of It (Fading Into Obscurity) and last year's The Double Cross, which allowed for the well-tied Beverly Terrace and Shadow of Love, both of which include the chorus from the latter.

The obligatory crowd pleaser Money City Maniacs brought out the chorus of "Hey You"s and then it was time for the pre-encore break. Ms. Pierce re-joined the band for I Am The Cancer, as she did when the song was recorded for 1993's Smeared album. Losing California, Jay Ferguson's The Lines You Amend (the "George" single from the hopefully soon-to-also-receive-the-superdeluxe-treatment One Chord To Another) and the song which started it all, Underwhelmed, brought the evening to a triumphant close.

Photos taken on November 22, 2012 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, Ontario.

Meeting Pete Townshend

On a day off from The Who's tour of their (well his actually) opus Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend sat down for a Q&A session with local music brain Alan Cross at the Indigo book shop at the Manulife Centre in Toronto.

I couldn't possibly try to properly precis Pete's pontifications about war, the internet (as seen through a group of elite British artists in 1961, and himself via the aborted Lifehouse project in 1971), German blondes and competitive sailing here, but one phrase will always stick out:

Keith Moon was a c*nt. (which was said with utmost admiration)

There's a reason why Townshend was/is chief wordsmith for one of the loudest, most powerful groups in the history of rock music. His voice is softer, his body is slower, but his legacy is assured. The only words I'll likely ever say to the man were "I've been a fan since 1982; Whenever I hear "Somebody Saved Me" it makes me so happy". I got an "Awwwww" in return.

Oh, and an autograph.

Photos Taken at Indigo Books, Manulife Centre, 55 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario on November 22, 2012.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fort Erie Race Track 1897-2012?


On a wet, windy, Fort Dreary day, my mother and I paid one final visit to Fort Erie Race Track, a place we'd been to hundreds of times in the 1970s and 80s. My parents enjoyed the odd wager back then, and they would tow me along to whichever track happened to be open that day. From Orangeville to Greenwood, Flamboro to Fort Erie, I got to see a lot of mud, sweat and horse plops and got to see a slice of life that most people don't.

From sweat boxes in jockey's dressing rooms, to getting my picture taken with Sandy Hawley, to becoming friends with other kids who got dragged to the track by their parents. The last day of the school year wasn't sad, but the last day of the fall meet at Greenwood was. It'd be another four months before I'd get to see that bunch again.

Last days are indeed sad when you know that it just might be a real last day. Today, Tuesday, October 30 was supposed to be the last day of live racing for Fort Erie's 115th year. The track had been on rocky ground as various other forms of gambling had diverted punters' dollars to lotteries, bingo halls and casinos. The track's fate might have been sealed long ago were a slot facility not installed in the moribund Grandstand section of the track in 1999. Revenues were strong for the first few years, then gradually declined as casinos were opened on the U.S. side of the Niagara River, and tougher passport restrictions made cross-border travel more of a hassle for Americans who previously had no need for such a document.

What was deemed the final nail in the track's coffin was hammered in by soon-to-be-former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty who announced that the Slots at Racetracks program was going to be phased out and the Province's gambling industry was going to be "modernized". In other words, they're going to try to locate casinos and slot facilities where the money is (i.e. Toronto and other larger cities). The loss of 210 jobs at the slot facility at the end of April will now be augmented by hundreds more in the Track part of the facility, which is scheduled to close its Off Track Betting facility on December 31, 2012. Hope remains for a return to the border oval next year with new owners and perhaps new management, but for now, Fort Erie is dark.

Today's card of racing was supposed to be its last. Hurricane Sandy caused a change in plans, with track officials not willing to risk injuries to riders or "equine athletes" as their press release put it. Yesterday's card finished with Krz Executive winning by four lengths over Silver Hoofbeats. In case you missed it, here it is:

Photos taken on Sunday, October 28, 2012 at Fort Erie Race Track, Fort Erie, Ontario.