Thursday, June 28, 2007

STONES THROW RECORDS 10th ANNIVERSARY SHOW, Monday, October 30th, 2006, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON, Canada

Stones Throw Records, an indie hip hop label based in Los Angeles, California recently made its Toronto stop on the "Chrome Children" tour on Monday night. Run by an eccentric musical genius named Chris Manak (also known by his DJ alter ego Peanut Butter Wolf), Stones Throw Records has been releasing some of the most cutting edge hip hop, soul, R & B and avant-garde music during its decade plus existence.

The label is home to numerous intriguing artists such as Madlib, Madvillian (with MF Doom), the late production wizard J Dilla and Peanut Butter Wolf himself. This recent tour to promote the release of their CD/DVD entitled "Chrome Children" (which was made with the help of the Adult Swim portion of programming on the Cartoon Network) was a tour that was highly anticipated by all of those in attendance. I checked out the Madlib/Quasimoto show back in June 2005 and based on that blunted performance I wasn't expecting a pyrotechnics-filled display with spot-on renditions of Quasimoto's "The Unseen" and Jaylib's (Dilla and Madlib's side project) "Champion Sound"; however I definitely was surprised at the quality of the show that myself and hundreds others forked out $30 + GST for!

First off, this tour was dubbed the "Chrome Children Tour" which lead one to believe the show would feature artists whom had dropped gems on that album. Everyone from Wolf, Madlib, Dudley Perkins, Roc C, Oh No (Madlib's younger brother) and Dilla protege Guilty Simpson were expected to perform. The gig started with a warm-up set by J Rocc, followed by a confusing and disjointed performance by world music/MC Aloe Blacc. After that we were treated to some solid throwback hip hop courtesy of underground New York legend Percee P (who I might add could not be found at the beginning of his set as J Rocc yelled at him from the stage to "Stop trying to sell your damn CDs and get your ass on stage!"). Local Toronto-area hip hop mainstay Maestro Fresh Wes also stopped by during the concert to drop a better-than-expected freestyle. Is it just me or can we now refer to Maestro as "The Original Hip Hop Vampire"? I have seen Maestro at almost every hip hop show I have been at since 2000 and he always seems to get himself up on stage to try to remind us all about who he once was. Maybe we could call him Maestro Fresh WAS....just some food for thought.

After Percee P, Wolf spun a brief set of typical Stones Throw mish-mash. Some old cuts with the deceased but not forgotten rapper Charizma, who Wolf originally started making music with ages ago; some Dilla and other oddities that he dug deep out of his crate. In between sets, J Rocc kept the flow going with snippets of unreleased Dilla tracks which I personally CANNOT WAIT to hear in their entirety, once (if ever) they are released.

Finally, Madlib took to the stage for the finale. He came on wearing a wacky baggy, blue checkered suit with matching kicks; to a chorus of yelps and shouts (myself included) yet he never really seemed to deliver. Madlib is often referred to as "eternally-blunted" and this description proved fitting as he laboured through Jaylib standouts like "The Red" and "The Official" with a lukewarm and sloppy mic presence. Madlib is one hell of a producer, but he definitely needs to ante up on the mic skills. After roughly 30 minutes of this, the show concluded with J Rocc shouting at us "That's it folks, they're kicking us out of here!"

As I shuffled out of the Phoenix, I wondered to myself what this show would have been like had Dilla been there. One can only dream. If the Stones Throw crew could duplicate live, the sounds they put on wax, then this show would have truly been something. Hopefully this show didn't disappoint J Dilla, like it did me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

TOOL - Sunday, June 24th, 2007, Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON, Canada

Hamilton, Ontario's nickname of "Steel Town", should officially be changed to "Metal Town" if the sights and sounds emanating from Tool's show at Copps Coliseum on Sunday night were any indication. Tool must have wanted to play in a venue that was the polar opposite of their last shows in Southern Ontario ( two sold-out performances at Toronto's Hummingbird Centre last summer); because the show on Sunday reminded me that while music may change over the years, the people that listen to it may not.

The first time I experienced the live Tool experience was almost 13 years ago at Toronto's Concert Hall (Masonic Temple) in support of their latest release "Undertow" and it left quite the impression both on me emotionally and physically. I experienced a real "metal" show for the first time. Surrounded by raging lunatics with long hair, I stood at the edge of the mosh pit and watched bodies smash willingly into one another as the sounds of blistering guitar and bitter screaming filled my ears. I was officially "rocked" I left that show knowing that there was no better rock band on Earth than Tool.

Well over a decade had passed since that show and here I was standing yet again amongst a mass of long-haired lunatics and other rock fans from all walks of life, ready to be impressed by one of rock music's most exciting live tickets. All of us gathered there at Hamilton's biggest and dingiest hockey arena were expecting to have our minds and eardrums blown. Plain and simple.

Tool, a progressive rock/metal outfit hailing from Los Angeles, California have been blistering ears since 1992 when they burst on the scene with their first EP "Opiate" which featured such memorable titles as "Jerkoff" and "Cold and Ugly". The raw, furious sound captured on their first release was more comparable to standard metal and punk; whereas through the years they have evolved into quite possibly the most interesting and unpredictable bands in rock today.

"10,000 Days" (2006), their most recent release, follows in the lyrical tradition of their previous albums; 1993's "Undertow", 1996's "Aenima" and 2001's "Lateralus". Lead singer Maynard James Keenan continues his obsession with pain, despair, anger and the inevitable demise of the state of California either by a natural disaster or self-destruction.

Sonically, Tool have steadily improved on the sound of each of their previous albums, thus culminating in a stellar live show. The set that Tool treated approximately 17,000 faithful too was one that proved to be not only an experience for the ears, but the eyes as well. After approximately 4 minutes of continuous and ominous feedback, Tool, (led by Keenan, guitarist Adam Jones, bassist Justin Chancellor and drummer Danny Carey) took to the stage to thunderous applause and screaming. They immediately rolled into cuts of their latest disc which warmed up the crowd for the third track "46 & 2" (off the Aenima CD and also one of their most popular tunes). The menacing guitar and bass coupled with Maynard screaming the chorus "Stepping through my shadow...crawling out the other side....46 & 2 just ahead of me..." had the place going berserk. Add to this the twisted images of carnival freak shows and strange Egyptian symbols flickering across the stage and on huge screens behind the stage; and you had a true Tool moment.

The band performed mostly material from their two most recent releases, then brought the show to a close with the title track off their current release, "10,000 Days". After battering the audience for over 2 hours, the group then all bowed and thanked the audience for coming to see them. They then all embraced at the centre of the stage (which is a Tool post-show ritual) and exited the stage. It was quite the sight to see 4 men who had just finished venting their frustrations musically, turn and show their audience and each other such respect and admiration.

It is evident that during the 13 years since I last saw Tool live, they have matured both as musicians and as humans. However, the show in Hamilton reminded me that Tool fans do not change. There will always be those rabid fans that can't wait to get to the show to hit the mosh pit or to punch someone in the nose. Yet, as long as Tool keep making the type of music that was played on Sunday night, there will also always be those of us who are simply looking for the perfect live rock experience.