Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rounding Up The American Doll Posse

So an early anniversary present from my wife, in lieu of a Force FX Mace Windu Lightsaber collectible, was tickets to see Tori Amos when she appeared here in Montreal, at Place Des Arts. While Tori wasn’t doing press interviews this tour, (meaning that I didn’t get to talk with her as I’d hoped to), getting to see her live was nevertheless an unforgettable experience.

Let’s get the bad out of the way, first: While the Wilfrid-Pelletier hall at Place Des Arts is acoustically perfect, the seating is terrible: cramped, uncomfortable, about as ergonomic as a 14th century Middle European church pew. By the end of the show I had a backache, and my right shoulder felt like it was on fire. I’d suggest to Place Des Arts that it’s time to replace seating that I can only presume is original to the 1963 Wilfrid Pelletier arena.

Having said that, on to the concert, itself: Tori has developed quite an elaborate mythology for this album and tour, including five distinct characters (including herself) who each play parts in the musical storytelling on ‘American Doll Posse’. For the Montreal show we were greeted by two of these characters: “Isabel”, who played for the first half of the two-hour set, and Tori, herself for the last hour.

Now, I have to admit I find the whole stage-persona-role-playing thing a tad pretentious and a little distracting at first, once I did get past it I was able to thoroughly enjoy the show. Tori delivers a fantastic live set and it was obvious that she was enjoying herself. The crowd was engaged and enthralled and Tori was devoted to the performance, which is more than I can say for a lot of acts I’ve seen live.

All in all it was a great show, and I would definitely pay to see her live, again, though hopefully at a venue with more comfortable seating.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Musical Letdowns

I’m pretty confident it’s happened to all of us.

We’ve all been a fan, probably even more than once, of a band or an artist that had a really stellar debut or a series of spectacular albums (even if we were the only people to ever think so), that was then followed up by one or several mediocre-to-disappointing albums.

I can still remember the first time it happened to me.

A little over 13 years ago, Pearl Jam released their third album, ‘Vitaology’. After the fantastic ‘Ten’ and ‘VS’, I can remember sitting down with their third album, putting it on the CD player and then, as I listened to it, thinking to myself “What the fuck is this shit?” In fact, that album (deliberately designed by Eddie Vedder to test the faith of his fans, according to legend) completely alienated me from Pearl Jam’s music; I never even bothered to pick up another of their CDs. After all, if Darth Vedder couldn’t keep the faith with his fans, why on earth should I keep it with him?

It’s happened again over the years, most notably with Tori Amos’ sixth, seventh and eighth albums (‘To Venus and Back’, ‘Strange Little Girls’ and ‘Scarlet’s Walk’) which were lackluster and pretentious, at least in my opinion. Happily, her next two original albums (not counting the various compilations and collections), ‘The Beekeeper’ and ‘American Doll Posse’ renewed my faith in everyone’s favourite Cornflake Girl. I still think ‘Boys for Pele’ was her best CD, but her latest two are new vintage. I kept my faith with Tori, kept hoping that the next album would be better; I was rewarded…eventually.

Another disappointment for me was the last original album released by The Sisters of Mercy, namely 1990’s ‘Vision Thing’. Though it was followed up in ’92 with the fantastic compilation of their early singles, ‘Some Girls Wander By Mistake’, the mess that was ‘Vision Thing’ soured the milk for me. Worse still, ‘Vision Thing’ was their swan song, no further new material coming out after that.

Some letdowns are ongoing: Since ‘Kid A’ was released, anyone who is or was a fan of Radiohead’s music knows about the schism that frontman Thom Yorke created, when he steered the band away from alt-rock into the techo-rock landscape in 2000, with the release of their fourth studio album.

The album marked a new direction for Radiohead; one that took them away from their Grunge Rock roots and into the world of electronica and noise.

This divide between the old and the new polarized fans and only deepened with the release in 2001 of the electronic/art rock album, ‘Amnesiac’. The fanbase was largely divided into two camps: those who loved and pined for Radiohead’s old sound and those who followed the band forward into the musical avant-garde.

I’ve bounced between both camps, myself; I thought ‘Kid A’ was fantastic, though ‘The Bends’, Radiohead’s second CD remains my personal favourite (And ‘OK Computer’ has been described as the best album of all time on the BBC). When I first heard ‘Amnesiac’, the follow-up to ‘Kid A’, I desperately hoped that the bleak, minimalist album was a concept piece. I sincerely enjoyed 2003’s ‘Hail to the Thief’; however, it just provided more general dystopic electronica, and despite a couple of really great tracks I found it to be an overall letdown.

Yesterday, through their official website, Radiohead released their seventh album, ‘In Rainbows’. The album is fairly good, but it still leaves me missing that old Radiohead sound. A more in-depth review of the CD is available from CONFRONT Magazine’s “Views and Reviews” section, this week. But to get beyond the review, ever since ‘Kid A’, whenever I press “Play” on a new Radiohead album, I do so with the utmost of hope, that this time I will be as blown away as I was the first time I listened to ‘The Bends’ or ‘OK Computer’ or ‘Kid A’, for that matter. And each time, after the last note of the last track has sounded through my ears, I’m left feeling more let down than anything else. But I keep hoping; I keep on saying “maybe next time…” just as I did for Tori Amos’ music, so do I continue to hope for Radiohead.