Sunday, October 19, 2014

I'd Be Sure Not To Change At All

Last night I went to go see Less Than Jake on their current Canadian tour. Given their recent full-length See the Light, which I wasn't impressed with, I went into the show with a few reservations. It had been a long time since I had been to a ska show, let alone one in Toronto (the last ones I can remember going to were some lackluster Big D and the Kids Table and Streetlight Manifesto ones), so I was really unsure about how the show would be.

The Interrupters were the first opening band and the extent of my knowledge of them was that they recently signed to Hellcat. As soon as they started the entire crowd rushed down and immediately started skanking then didn't stop for the entire set, which really warmed my heart. The band was super tight and all great at their instruments, but they did leave a little to be desired. And their lyrics were super bad. But seeing all of the kids go nuts for them immediately brought me back to when I was that kid and dancing for the entire set.

The rest of the bands were amazing and the energy in the building was fucking stupid (Big D played "Myself", "Checklist" and "LAX" all in a row!) (I crossed three more songs off of my "Songs I Need To See Less Than Jake Play Live" checklist! Including "Anchor"!), but what really got to me was being back in the Toronto ska scene and thinking about the effect that it's had on my life.

In  Kitchener the music scene is directed much more towards hardcore, in all of its forms, than anything else and the only ska band in the area is The Bosswich. As a result, there isn't much of a ska scene there at all and no bigger bands ever tour through the town (Not that bigger bands of any genre ever really tour through the area to begin with). Because of this, I've felt like an anomaly and a bit of an outsider in the town, being the only ska fan there. It's not like I'm the only person there who listens to ska bands, lots of people listen to a select few (You really gonna front that Operation Ivy isn't one of the best bands of all-time? What do you think about The Clash's ska songs?), but I'm certainly the only person whose main identifier is "ska fan".

Because of this, I've noticed certain differences between hardcore and ska scenes and also those who grew up participating in each. Something I've certainly noticed is that there is an innate sense of elitism in hardcore. Everybody listens to something better than you, more obscure than you and everybody looks down on you for something, whatever it may be. Case in point is everyone in Kitchener looking down their nose at me for listening to ska . Sure, I know that they are mostly doing it in jest and I know that it's not at all a sign of them not liking me, but it certainly is based in a very real feeling of how much the music I like sucks.

This is something that I never encountered in ska. Sure, last night I saw a guy in a fedora and a bow tie, but for the most part it's just people like me and they have always proved to be much more accepting than other music scene I've been a part of.

For example, last night I wore my mu330 shirt that I purchased during their run of shows in Canada for the first time in while in 2013.  My thinking was having a rarer shirt from a more obscure band at the show would prompt people to compliment me on it, or at least notice it. You know how many people did? 0. Nobody gave a fuck what I was wearing.

Because of this, I think that the ska scene was really instrumental in me becoming the person I am and also my outlook on life. Earlier yesterday, my dad was talking about how he and his friends used to go downtown on weekends to roam around Yonge St, similar to what my friends and I did, with his mom worrying loads about him. I'm sure the same thing happened with my mom, actually definitely happened with my mom. But while she probably thought I was getting drunk at shows and staying out late, in reality I was in a very safe environment and had something really productive to go and do. Also, it directly led to me playing bass more and playing in bands, which has been a huge creative outlet in my life.

Mostly, I find that everyone who gives ska a bad rap are people who have never been exposed or involved in a scene in any way.

And fuck that. It's been real important to me.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Things That I Really Like, But It Seems Like Most Other People Don't Like And I Think If People Just Gave It A Shot They Would Also Really Like Or At Least Appreciate: Harvey Danger

A lot of the time, I look back through my writing on this blog and very pleased with how I've written things, or at least think I did a good job and can appreciate where I was in my life at that point. But sometimes I look back and think "Tim, you were trying a little hard there dude." One such instance of that was my "Under The Radar" series I started writing last year*, which I now realize is a dumb name. Maybe I'm being too critical? It seems dumb to me right now, so that's why I gave the above title instead. I'M TRYING TO BE FUNNY AND PURPOSEFULLY LONG-WINDED! We can call it TTIRLBISLMOPDLAITIPJGIASTWARLI for short!

Anyways, yesterday I posted a live video of Harvey Danger performing "Pike St/Park Slope" (the camera actually just stays on frontman Sean Nelson the entire time) because I just randomly came across it. As soon as I saw I was (plaindrome!) immediately compelled to share it on, which doesn't happen often, because it is just that good. That song has really become one of my all-time favourites since I heard King James Version for the first time last year.

That video sent me into a pretty big Harvey Danger youtube hole and the first thing I thought was "Man, it's been awhile since I've listen to Where have all the merrymakers gone? I should re-visit it soon." So I did just that today on my bus trip back to Guelph from Toronto.

This fucking album.

Like pretty most people who are familiar with Harvey Danger, my introduction to the band was their breakthrough hit single "Flagpole Sitta", which I heard through various 90's and "One-Hit Wonder" TV specials^. I was familiar with the song in my youth and I found that when I re-visited the material later on, I found that it was WAY better than I remember it being. This is starting to happen to me more and more. See: Mac, Fleetwood. Blind, Third Eye. Browne, Jackson.

On their 1994 Demo and merrymakers the band delivers the poppy alt-rock that was so huge in the 1990's, but their punk take on it, combined with little intricacies and a hell of a lot of intelligence completely separate the band from their peers. One description I've always found interesting was someone describing The Hold Steady as "the perfect bar band" and that was meant in the most complimentary sense possible. They're tight, the songs have riffs but never get too mathy and they have a charismatic storytelling frontman. I think that description works well here. But, in this case (and with the Hold Steady), it doesn't capture how totally the band was at the top of their game. The songs on merrymakers are pretty simple, never going much beyond 4 chords and a general verse/chorus plan, but it's really the little things.

A big thing for me is the bass, which I swear is really a big deal and not just me making a fuss because that's the instrument I play. The guitar on the record is pretty low in the mix compared to most rock releases and there isn't much in the way of leads (exception being the pre-verse solo on "Carlotta Valdez") sticking instead to overdriven open chords that, in my opinion, are absolutely essential to the sound. With the guitar taking a big of a backseat, the bass is HUGE. His tone is amazingly fuzzy and is constantly buzzing and filling out the sound. Since the band was always just a four piece and Nelson mostly stuck to just vocals, the bass fills up a whole bunch of room and plays SO MANY LEADS  and SO MANY CHORDS. The verse riff on "Private Helicopter"? The chords in "Problems and Bigger Ones"? Hell, even the minor little lick be plays at the end of every verse and chorus in "Flagpole Sitta" fucking makes the song. Lead bass can be a really tricky thing to handle correctly and it works absolutely perfectly here.

I've never been able to play the drums, so I often feel like I'm not an authority when discussing the instrument, but I will say that the focus on the snare on merrymakers really drives the album.

It's pretty much impossible to talk about Harvey Danger and not mention Sean Nelson's impact on the band. His voice, how he looks and his lyrics are certainly what everyone ties most to the band. For me, he represents a dying breed of frontman, whose own ideas and identity are pretty indistinguishable from those of the band. Nelson is Harvey Danger and Harvey Danger is Nelson. I know I went a pretty big rant about the bass playing up there, but the lyrics are absolutely the best part of this band and it's defining factor. On all of their releases you get the sense that Nelson is way too smart to be singing in a rock band and he is also aware of that fact. A lot of the songs on merrymakers communicate how much smarter Nelson is than every moron he has to deal with, but it manages to come off in a way that makes it relatable rather than detestable and he always equally critical of himself. Think of it as High Fidelity with Sean Nelson being a sharper Rob Gordon. Kind of dick, but a very relatable dick how you can't help but like and be drawn to.

Example from the one everybody knows, "Flagpole Sitta":

"I was looking into the mirror, to see a little bit clearer, the rottenness and evil in me."

"Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding. The cretins cloning and feeding and I don't even own a TV."

"Hear the voices in my head, I swear to God it sounds like they're snoring. But if you're bored then you're boring. The agony and the irony: They're killing me."

I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't notice how self-loathing the song was the first time I heard it. I heard it described as a "ultimate hockey anthem" on muchmoremusic when I was younger and that seems comical now.

After "Flagpole Sitta", "Private Helicopter" was released as the second single and completely flopped, which is funny because I was thinking how huge that song should have been while listening to the album today. When I saw Mikey Erg last year, he covered the song and I was the only person who knew it. Everybody looked at me like I was weird when I screamed the "But all told, I hold on to my anger far too long, until it's a joke, the night is cold, the joke is old and poorly told" bit.

So even though "Flagpole Sitta" propelled Where have all the merrymakers gone? to success, the follow-up King James Version suffered from getting lost in the shuffle at their record label and a few delays. Which sucks because the album is basically a bigger and more realized version of their debut. The band does what every band hopes to do, but so few actually succeed at: Make a second album that is different from the first but still keeps all of it's defining characteristics. The deceivingly simple riffs are still there, but they amp up the sound with a ton of piano (holy fuck does it work so well on "Meetings With Remarkable Men (Show Me the Hero)") and Nelson ups his game on the lyrics tenfold. It's chocked-full of allusions to everything and whereas merrymakers thrived on its angst-ridden tirades, this one sounds like you're being told to know better.

Example from the song I posted yesterday, "Pike St./Park Slope"

"Well, when you like something, it's an opinion. But when I like something, it's a manifesto. Pomposity is when you always think you're right. Arrogance is when you know."

Hot damn!

I think my favourite part of this band is that on the surface they seem like a rock band, but underneath they secretly presented counterculture ideas that are much more radical than what your typical punk band presents you with today. If most bands are the kid in a university class who puts up their hand to show off their knowledge, Harvey Danger are the kid at the back who silently picks apart everything they say in his head because they know better.

*In that I wrote one entry about The Stereo.

^It's happened to a whole lot of musicians, but if there was ever band who didn't deserved to be given this label, it is Harvey Danger.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


An all-time jam.