Monday, May 24, 2010

Cole's Most Intense Live Song Experiences

While the past couple of years have been fairly uneventful for me on this front, I have actually been fortunate enough to be present at some very awesome rock shows. It's something I really miss and hopefully I'll be getting to a new one soon.

But for today I'm going to fondly look back and celebrate moments from some of my concert experiences that stand out for their intensity. I've decided to make the list about individual songs rather than entire performances. Having seen the likes of A Perfect Circle, Finger Eleven, Silverstein, Alexisonfire and others who are known for having a heavy or aggressive edge within nearly all their songs, it seemed best to do it this way.

5." Stereo" - Watchmen, September 2001, Dalhousie University SUB, Halifax
This was one of the many Frosh Week events going on when I first arrived at Dal, and as I didn't really have any real friends at this point, I went alone. Just a year beforehand, I'd been at the same venue to see Moist - the only time I would ever get to see my favourite band live.

I was no huge fan of Watchmen but it definitely seemed worth fourteen bucks. And it was. I was in the very front (to save time I'll tell you right now that was I was up front for ALL of these shows [note: as it turns out, this saves absolutey no time afterall]) and, as this was actually a wet/dry event, nicely removed from the annoying drunks who only take up valuable space during these shows and yell out stupid things.

The highlight was of course the rocker "Stereo", coming about six songs from the end of the fifteen song set (including one encore). It's by far their most aggressive and catchy song and they're well aware of it. I can't recall which song directly preceded it but its final notes were drawn out into a long rumble of feedback on the guitar that ever-so-gradually morphed into the opening notes of "Stereo". The crowd and I sensed the shift even before it officially switched over and the electricity in the air ramped up.

Daniel has one of the most powerful voices I've ever heard in person and he was flawless all night - he didn't make much of a departure from how he sings the song on the album but certain songs just don't leave a lot of room to mess around with vocally. If you're familiar with Watchmen, then you know that most of their songs feature a much more understated guitar sound and "Stereo" requires a little pedal work to achieve its raw, almost scratchy tones.

I was jumping and so was most of the room. (the wet side was kinda lackluster)

4." Walk With You" - '77 Impala Special, May 1999, Centre 200 lobby, Sydney
No, they never had a record deal and you most likely have never heard of them, but that couldn't keep '77 Impala Special from rocking my socks off for this "reunion" performance anyway. The show was something called "The Long Wall" featuring about a dozen popular local bands and an album with a compilation of songs contributed by said bands was sold there. My sister, who accompanied me, bought one. I would sort of regret not picking one up myself but oh well.

The talk of the show was the final set - '77's first performance together in almost three years. Two thirds of the band, including frontman/guitarist Harry Doyle - Cape Breton's very very very very poor man's Kurt Cobain - were part of another band called Tilted (a different drummer) and their similarly titled song "Burn For You" was on "The Long Wall" cd but I think it was really '77 people were excited about seeing.

While there weren't even a hundred people in the room, everyone that was there knew the song by heart. I recall that just before they got to it, they called some friends onto the stage to perform a cover of Sarah MacLachlan's "Sweet Surrender" (incidentally, my favourite song of hers) that had everyone whipped into a frenzy by the time the first distinctive chords of "Walk With You" came screeching off Doyle's guitar. The bridge is simply an earlier verse repeated louder and with more emphasis (kind of like that part in "Monkey Wrench" by Foo Fighters) and we all screamed ourselves hoarse singing along. Good times

3. "Weapon" - Matthew Good, September 2002, Citadel Hill, Halifax

One of the factors that worked against some of the bands I mentioned in the intro from making this list is that I saw all of them at large venues, usually outdoors with a crowd of upwards of twenty-five thousand people. I've always found that intensity is lessened in these situations while it can be maximized in more confined locations with smaller audiences. But here is this list's one exception.

This was part of Edgefest 2 and I caught a few of the other bands performing the day before. But the big story was Matt Good, who had just gone solo after the breakup of Matthew Good Band. With my girlfriend of the time in Halifax to visit me, I didn't quite get to see as much live music as I would have under normal circumstances. But she was MY (what I mean by this was that she knew me well and was cool with my fervent passion for live music - not that I, um, owned her and she did as she was told. haha) girlfriend after all and knew that I wasn't going to miss Matthew Good. I paid through the nose to get her a ticket and took her along.

To her credit, she was great. I held her hand and dragged her through the massive crowd until we were in the front (even when I arrive late I get where I want) and while we watched lesser bands (I think Big Sugar was there) I agreed to stand behind her with my arms around her. It is a nice thing to do after all.

But when the main event finally began and I heard the drum intro to "Generation X-Wing", I excitedly extricated myself to freak out.

The set was amazing. Since Avalanche was months away from release, all songs performed were MGB songs and I heard pretty much everything I wanted - from" Carmelina" to "Everything is Automatic" to "Symbolistic White Walls" (show closer) - but about three songs from the end, Good told us that the next song would be "something new". I wasn't really expecting much, to be honest.

But then the slow buildup began and after about a minute, I knew I was in for something special. It actually takes the song two full minutes to get past the intro and the main riff to kick in. And kick in it did and we all went nuts. I'm pretty sure at the point of that drum fill just before the beginning of the outro, my head exploded. I really have no idea how I'm alive right now.

2." Numb" - Holly MacNarland, September 2005, Marquee Club, Halifax
Probably the most surprising entry on this list. My lack of enthusiasm for female vocalists has been well--documented over the years. But MacNarland is the best I've ever seen. By far.

Still, I figure it probably does shock you that I've included a song by an artist who I don't even own any albums by. [Does that sentence make sense? I've tried to re-word it several times.] Stranger still, I didn't even have any plans to attend this show, but thanks to my ties to folk superstar, Craig Cardiff, who was also on the bill (as was Emm Gryner, whom if I made a list of sexiest performances, would take up four of the five spots, with the other going to David Usher), I got in for free.

I'd love to talk about the entire show, but since that doesn't fit this list, let's skip to the headliner. When MacNarland took the stage I was amazed at how powerful and commanding a presence she was - have you seen this woman? She is fairly pretty but not exactly a bombshell and she is SMALL (coincidentally, so is Gryner). But there is nothing small about her pipes. The opener was "Water", one of the about four songs of hers that I was actually familiar with and probably the best vehicle she has for her amazing voice. From that point on I realized that I was going to enjoy her performance every bit as much as I had Gryner's (I was a fan of hers and knew lots of her music). But on to "Numb".

I can't say exactly when it was played but it was towards the end as is most fitting, I suppose. I've already used this phrase but again the best way to describe the first few moments of the song was there was an absolute tingling, electric pulse in the air. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who'd been anticipating this number.

The opening acoustic chords elicited a huge cheer. MacNarland had spent most of the night not moving around all that much but here she let it all go, prancing from one end of the stage to the other, leaning forward to touch our hands (yes, I touched her) at the lines "you can't see when i'm not listening". The snare had been loosened to the point that it sounded like a gunshot and I felt every beat reverberate right through me. The slowed-down bridge really accentuated this, with everyone following her lead, jumping as she sang "wake up dead man, can't you see i'm starving?". The rest of the song from that point on came like a well-organized blur - if you don't know what I mean, I don't know if I can really explain. Every instrument stood out and played its part, with MacNarland's voice flowing above it all - "i feel better" - wavering and straining just as it should, but never breaking. I should have been exhausted when it was over but instead found myself charged for the rest of the night. I dearly wish I could see her again.

1. "Levitate" - I Mother Earth, February 2000, Savoy Theatre, Glace Bay
Several months earlier, back in the summer, my friends and I had already seen IME play at UCCB (that's what it was called then and that's what I'll call it now) and it was a truly amazing performance. It was the closest I'd ever been to what I considered to be a "big" band. I'd seen The Tragically Hip two years earlier but that was an arena-style show (even though Centre 200 ain't much of an arena) and besides, I liked IME waaaaay more.

I recall that my friend, Paul, had said something like "Why should we see them again? We just saw these guys." Now I can't even remember if he wound up going. But nothing was going to stop me even though I had reservations about the venue. The Savoy Theatre is, well, a theatre. A stage in front of seats. There's even a balcony. It's a wonderful place for plays and musicals and certain kinds of concerts. But I just didn't know if it was going to work with IME. I didn't want to sit down.

But when Halifax curiousity, Arlibido, who'd I'd always liked, took the stage, sit I did. Most of the crowd did except for a gaggle of teenage girls who rushed the stage, enamored by Arlibido's bassist. I watched curiously. What was security going to do? Turns out, they did nothing. Hell, I can't even remember seeing any security. How cool is that? (Trust me, it's not like that at the Savoy anymore). Unlike a place such as The Marquee, there is no barrier at the Savoy. There's nothing between the front row and the stage but space. I made up my mind quickly that I wouldn't join the teeny-boppers but that as soon as Arlibido finished their set, I would run up front.

I met no resistance and simply pushed past the annoying girls until I was touching the stage, slightly to the right side. My friends were at first reluctant to follow but soon they and lots of others relented and came up. Suddenly there wasn't space between the seats and stage anymore. I comfortably laid my arms on the stage and tried to keep calm while we waited.

I hate to just skip past the whole performance to the end but that's where "Levitate" came - last song of the night on the third encore (the first consisting of two songs with the other two each having one). But I feel that all that explanation about my positioning was necessary - afterall, not everyone who reads this list has been to the Savoy.

The show was probably twice as good as the UCCB performance if not even better than that. The set was much longer, I was even closer to the band and it just seemed that they were even more into it. They wanted Glace Bay to REMEMBER that they'd been there, damnit. And we did.

By the time the final encore began I'd already lost my voice (during the ending of "Shortcut to Moncton" - "this is a song about the east coast", said Bryan Byrne). But when he screamed "Feel heaven!" I somehow found it again. There's not much I can say about the actual song. It's heavy, fast and aggressive. It has breakdowns where everything stops then quickly snaps back to full speed and volume, it has SPITTING. Byrne, who I had a HUGE boy-crush on at the time, exuded boundless energy, as did the rest of the band and the accompanying percussionist. It also didn't hurt that they had one of the best light shows ever. By the end, Byrne had climbed the tower of amps in the stage's left side (my side - I touched his leg!), sung from there, before jumping off for the finish.

I was sixteen. I Mother Earth were probably my second or third-favourite band in the world at the time, I had lots of friends, some of whom were with me at that moment, I had some money to buy a band t-shirt, I had to go to school on Monday but that was ok - I went out into the cold Glace Bay night smiling and practically skipping. All was right with the world.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

MINI-LIST: iPhone Games That Are Actually Fun

As I return from a four month hiatus where I inexplicably dropped off the radar, I come to you with a format that I hope my listing brethren will approve of - the Mini-List!

For each entry in the Mini-List five quick questions will be answered to get across the essential information for a topic that doesn't really require excessive coverage. It's for the list enthusiast on the go! So I guess it'll be like Go-gurt but cooler.

Since getting my iPhone late last year, I've tried out a ridiculous amount of games for it. As one would assume, a cellphone isn't really the best platform for gaming, but there were a handful that kept my attention and brought me back again and again. Only games unique to the iPhone allowed for this list, so nothing like Pac-Man or Plants vs. Zombies, for example. Here are the games that I didn't delete immediately, and can actually recommend.

5. Boost
How do I play? The objective is simple, race down an ever-changing course as far as possible avoiding obstacles. Does it look good? It's surprisingly crisp and appealing for having such simple graphics. I just drank eight beer, can I still play? No complicated controls here, just tilt the phone side to side to steer. Why is it so addictive? Because you're constantly trying to beat your own high score. It's easy enough for anyone to pick up and play, but difficult enough to offer a challenge. Any extra features? Yeah, hand it to someone on shrooms.

4. Medieval
How do I play? Protect your castle against the invading hordes, and take out the opposing castle post haste. God help us, another tower defense game? Not quite. It's all about deciding how to take out the enemy. Knock down the castle with trebuchets, or arrows, or simply steal their flag. Can I upgrade stuff? You bet your ass you can. How many levels? Unlimited, and they keep getting harder. Why is it so addictive? Hurling boulders at soldiers just never gets old.

3. Skee-Ball
How do I play? It's skee-ball. Is there any strategy involved? Tilting the phone while the ball is in the air gives it some spin. And aiming for the glowing holes can earn you precious multipliers. Did you just say 'glowing holes'? Yes. Let's move on. Why is it so addictive? Not only is it skee-ball in your pocket, but as you play you earn tickets to spend on shitty prizes, just like in real life! Can I try? Sure. But if you beat my high score, I'll stab you in the lung.

2. Space Miner: Space Ore Bust
How do I play? Explore zones of space in pursuit of riches by blasting everything in your path. What's it like? It's like Asteroids with a story and RPG elements. How are the controls? Like I said ... it's like asteroids, but that's all part of the fun. Why is it so addictive? Upgrading your ship, hidden items, in-game achievements. The list goes on. Aren't you ashamed you spent 10 hours on a cellphone game? Not nearly as ashamed as the 8 of those hours probably spent playing on the toilet.

1. Angry Birds
How do I play? Use a giant slingshot to hurl kamikaze birds into frail structures to kill all the pigs that have wronged bird-kind. Is this a puzzle game? Sort of. It's more like a physics simulation combined with crack. Are there different angry birds? Yes, and they all have special abilities to help bash your way to the swine. Angle your shots well and make sure not a bird-soul is wasted. Why is it so addictive? Probably because even when you fail a level you're having fun, and trying again takes half a second. What's the best part? The hilarious sounds each bird makes as it's launched to its glorious death.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Elm Street's Deadliest Nightmares

With A Nightmare on Elm Street’s remake just released in theatres, and all the hoopla that it’s generated between long time fans of the Elm Street film series and newcomers to the franchise, I figured this was the appropriate time to put together an Elm Street-related list for the site.

This is a list of some of my favourite nightmare/kill sequences from the ANOES series, thus far.

5. Will – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)

Okay, this one is kind of goofy, so I placed it low on the list - although you shouldn’t think of my lists as ranked, usually. I get a kick of out this scene, personally, so I had to add it.

In The Dream Warriors, which is probably my favourite sequel in the ANOES franchise, we meet several different kids that have these abilities they can use when in their dreams. As they start to learn about their different powers they attempt to fight back against Freddy, who is trying to kill them all off in their sleep. One kid in particular, Will, is confined to his wheelchair in the real world. In his dreams, however, Will takes on the persona of the Wizard Master, a character from a strategy game he plays in waking life. Not only is he able to walk, but he uses magic powers to fight off Freddy.

The whole thing looks pretty silly in the film, honestly, but I’ve always gotten a kick out of this sequence, and you can’t help but feel Freddy’s that much more evil for wanting to kill this poor kid. Things turn sour for Will, The Wizard Master, pretty quickly in his battle with Freddy, who turns his wheelchair into a death machine that chases Will down, before Freddy dispatches Will himself with his trusty razor glove.

It’s not a spectacular dream sequence by any means, but one I’ve always enjoyed.

4. Debbie – A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

This scene is often remembered by fans of the franchise for its really cool visual special effects.

Debbie, a tough chick, is attacked by Freddy in her sleep. As is his usual modus operandi, Freddy incorporates aspects of his victim’s lives - and fears - into their deaths. Poor Debbie gets a double-dose in this sequence, for good measure.

In an attempt to stay awake Debbie is doing what she usually does…pumping some iron. In a cringe-inducing moment the weights become too much for her to handle and her arms break at the elbows. The skin cracks open to reveal a yellow, gooey centre. As the scene progresses the wounds on her arms reveal a transformation. In a matter of moments Debbie turns into her greatest fear, a cockroach and is then dispatched in hilarious, MTV Freddy fashion: crushing her in a roach motel.

3. Glen – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Here’s a doozy: the death of Glen from the original ANOES. Everyone remembers Glen as this was the breakout role for arguably one of the most-liked actors for our time, Johnny Depp.

Glen was the lovable boyfriend to the heroine of the film, Nancy. The poor guy just couldn’t catch a break with Nancy and in the end he was dispatched in possibly one of the bloodiest scenes ever witnessed in a horror film.

Nancy is attempting to pull Freddy out of her nightmare and asks that Glen call and wake her up so she isn’t stuck in her dreams with our fedora-wearing mass murderer. Unfortunately, apparently the simple task of staying awake is a bit much for Glen and he manages to fall asleep while listening to records and watching his little TV – you’ve got to love the 80s, man.

Before he knows it he’s in Freddy’s murderous hands and is dragged into his bed. We don’t know exactly what happens to Glen, but we certainly do know the aftermath. A torrent of blood rushes from inside the bedsheets and sprays upward, covering the ceiling. It’s an amazing sequence and just one taste of the awesome imagery put forth in Wes Craven’s original classic.

2. Philip – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)

When you ask people about the kills they remember most from the Nightmare franchise - which is an odd question when you think about - I find this one comes up an awful lot. That’s because it is a great visual effect and even in a really cool film like The Dream Warriors it stands out.

I didn’t mention it before when I was talking about Will: The Wizard Master, but the story of this flick revolves around a group of kids in a sort of hospital. They all have different issues they’re sorting out. Philip, for instance, is having problems with sleepwalking, amongst other concerns. This is incorporated really well into his death sequence in the film.

Philip is the first to go in the movie. While sleeping, Philip is attacked by Freddy who pulls the veins out of his hands and feet. He uses those veins like a puppet master, and marionettes - did I just use that as a verb? - down the hallway of the hospital and out the nearest window. The scene is memorable because it makes everyone cringe as Phil’s arteries are ripped out and watch as he’s forced to march to Freddy’s tune.

1. Tina – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I saved the best for last. This kill is one of the most memorable of the whole franchise and has now appeared in three films: A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Nightmare and the Nightmare remake, although it was poorly redone in the remake. I would say it comes to mind second after Glen’s bloody death nearing the end of the film, but I always found this one had more of an impact.

The kill I speak of is, of course, Tina’s death in the original ANOES. After a night of raunchy sex with her boyfriend, Tina drifts to sleep. She awakens to sounds outside her bedroom window. She gets up to investigate and is stalked by our favourite villain in a striped sweater, Fred Krueger.

As Freddy kills Tina in the nightmare we also see it occur in the real world, while Tina’s boyfriend looks on in horror as she’s slashed by invisible blades and dragged up the wall and ceiling of her bedroom.

This is the first time we see Freddy do his thing on screen. He stalks Tina, playing with her, and then we watch in the real world as he kills her. You have to imagine some of what Freddy is doing to her in the nightmare, which makes it that much more effective.

It’s a great way to start this film, and the whole franchise, and I think deserves the top spot on this list.