Time is definitely on Ian McCulloch’s side. Even at 50 years of age, the front man of 80’s post-punk sensation Echo & The Bunnymen didn’t look a bit out of place on stage with a microphone in hand. In front of a respectable turnout at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, McCulloch addressed the crowd wearing his trademark shades, announcing it was good to be back in Canada. “I like it colder” he stated. “Can you make it colder?”
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Three time Grammy Award singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams dazzled Chicago fans over the course of three nights at the Park West in Lincoln Park. Each concert celebrated Williams’ 30-year musical career, highlighting a specific period of work each night. The first night covered 1979 to 1989, the second 1992 to 2001, and the third installment relayed 2003 to the present.
The Vancouver two-piece, Japandroids, did not put on much of a show in Philadelphia. The whole experience felt like being stuck in some sad version of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” video. But these guys were singing about French-kissing French girls and getting drunk in the basement, rather than breaking a human face. I’ll gladly take the former over the latter, but that’s not much of a compliment. It was also pretty upsetting to see these guys almost break down on a tour that does not seem to be going their way. I was one of the eight lonely guys in the so-called mosh pit trying my best to love it. In fact the show itself was an exercise in save-the-show CPR for one man in attendance. It only took one swell young George-Michael look-alike Starbucks barista dude up front to save the night. He single-handedly kept the band going with his ebullience. Whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man…
I’ve long been an admirer of John Crossingham, who is best known for being part of the Broken Social Scene collective, but has put out some of the most underrated Canadian music of this decade with his band Raising the Fawn. After a strong run of albums including 2004’s The North Sea and 2006’s The Maginot Line, I’d been wondering what became of Crossingham and his band, and while Raising the Fawn has been silent on all fronts for a couple years now, Crossingham has been hard at work on another project… yes, it’s music-related, but it’s a completely different medium. It turns out the guy’s written a book. A kids’ book.
Published by the folks at Canada’s Owl Kids (publishers of the long-running Canadian children’s nature magazine Owl) Learn to Speak Music: A Guide to Creating, Performing, and Promoting Your Songs is aimed at the nine-to-12-year-old set, as Crossingham offers a beginners’ guide to creating music. And the scope of this 96-page book is remarkably wide, as he takes the reader through the processes of choosing and learning an instrument, forming a band, writing your own songs, setting up live performances, recording your music, promotion and merchandising, and myriad other little tips. Most importantly, he promotes a strong DIY indie aesthetic that serves as an extremely refreshing counterpoint to the mainstream’s preoccupation with instant, pre-fab, American/Canadian Idol fame. It’s all about the joy of creating, and I can’t think of a better message for little kids these days. In fact, reading Crossingham’s friendly, lucidly-written advice—for example, learning to be fair to your bandmates and treat them with respect, or how to organize a well-run, financially responsible concert—there are plenty of grown-up musicians who could even learn a thing or two from this book.
One of the coolest things about the book is all the little sidebar tips from various well-known Canadian indie artists, as people like Feist, Emily Haines, Dallas Green, Buck 65, Melissa Auf der Maur, Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, and many others offer their own advice for young readers. Also, scattered throughout are excelleently chosen playlists that offer terrific examples of such things as dynamics, cover tunes, unusual arrangements, lyrics, classic live performances, and lo-fi versus hi-fi. Jeff Kulak provides plenty of eye-catching illustrations that help explain what Crossingham is getting at, but in the end it’s Crossingham’s personable writing style, not to mention his years of experience writing and performing music, that makes Learn to Speak Music so enjoyable. It’s not so much a “how to write an incredible song” book as it is a “how to be yourself through music” book, and no matter what style of music a kid wants to play, Crossingham shows that the entire process can be extremely rewarding if you’re willing to put in the effort. It’s an absolute pleasure to read for kids and grown-ups alike.
From its dead melody to the song-closing chorus repetitions that exist only to kill time, “Hell” (from Sainthood) is completely inoffensive and forgettable. We have the Internet now, we don’t need filler anymore.