Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Believe the hype. Anvil! The Story of Anvil is indeed an amazing documentary — Spinal Tap come to life. Some of the lines are just so perfect, it’s hard to believe it’s not scripted. But once you meet these guys you know that it is not scripted just very very true. Actually this film would probably be too painful to watch if you don’t know that  this  documentary finally brought their career to life and they’re doing some major touring again. Oh Canada!   So just download it, rent it or go this week to the Melkweg Cinema  for the full volume impact.

Posted: February 6, 2010 at 10:19 am.

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Best of PiPS:lab in Paradiso

Head down to Paradiso this Friday 29 January for the best of Pips:Lab. You can look upon PIPS:lab as a kind of A-Team — where the ‘A’ stands for ‘Art School Dropout’. Actually, they are more like MacGyver — but then with a sense of humour and a taste for Human Growth Hormone. But seriously, PIPS:lab tells a heart warming, and often brain melting, story of what happens when a collective of artists from a variety of disciplines seek to create everything, from software to vocal harmonies, themselves. Combining new media, theatre, music, film and photography — along with tech, chuckles and raw public interaction — PIPS:lab produce everything from theatrical performances to installations. And it’s all done live in your face, right down to the video editing.

For example,  their Washing Powder Conspiracy show is  a groovy, funny and catchy  laundry-themed multimedia theatre concert. And while loose and wacky, the show is still tighter than two people in a washing machine. Everything — from the sing-along tunes and primal screaming right through to the light graffiti artistry and outfits — refers to washing powder. Things that did not quite make sense from earlier in the show are later power edited live to form new backdrops for yet more nonsensical acts of madness. Where else can absurdist speeches about detergents be magically transformed into radical political statements? Meanwhile all the happy chaos is rhythmically backed by a washing machine, three dryers and a sextet of irons. And remember folks, your whites can always get whiter…

Meanwhile, staying in touch with friends and loved ones just gets easier and easier these day. And now it’s even possible to stay in touch with the dead thanks to the internet community DieSpace. Step right up folks! Yes indeed, with laptops, cameras and light sensors, PIPS:lab has created a interactive musical show about post-mortem social networking. And with today’s ongoing ‘grayification’ of society, it’s not such a crazy idea — especially if you believe the onstage marketing manager/show master. Meanwhile… Your mug shot is being projected on the screen since he chosen you, above all others, for a DieSpace Premium Account!

OK, maybe you just got to be there…

Posted: January 27, 2010 at 11:15 am.

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Jacques Brel – ‘Amsterdam’

He sure sings it like he believes it. But I heard the story that he actually wrote this as tribute to the ports of Antwerp but then ‘Amsterdam’ just fit better.

Brel Under A Bridge

Posted: January 21, 2010 at 12:49 pm.

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Les Danza des los Meurtos

My pals, the Anacondas, just released this great new video that comes backed with a heart-warming story from the world of subsidies. After trying to get a relatively straight arts subsidy to make this video, they gave up and instead got one that ties in art with education — apparently that’s where the funding money is these days. For a week, the band worked with teen students building props and filming stock. The results speak for themselves as another solid bit of evidence that — yes indeed — the kids are alright…

Posted: December 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm.

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Geoff Berner Interview (part 1?)


This week my token whisky rabbi drinking buddy Geoff Berner is touring the Netherlands with his kickass klezmer trio. Don’t miss his show in Amsterdam on Tuesday  1 December  2009 at the Nieuwe Anita.

Ah yes, the lone troubadour… One human. One instrument. And a stack of tunes. Once they were a dying breed but now a renaissance seems to be in full effect where one inspired freak falls in love with a mutant instrument and proceeds to learn how to use it as both a lover and a weapon. Personality helps too — and singer/songwriter/accordion-player Geoff ‘The Whiskey Rabbi’ Berner has that in spades. Already a respected cult figure in Scandinavia (thanks in part to his colleagues Kaizers Orchestra) and his native Canada, his songs have been covered by everyone from ukulele legend Carmaig de Forest to Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Certainly he has the ability to transfix any crowd he’s confronted with since it turns out that everyone’s a sucker for klezmer-based tunes that drip with politics, sex and drink — no Jewish wedding to be found here, just one ‘Lucky Goddam Jew’ (as another song is called) who knows how to play and sing from his heart. Berner’s motivation is simple: ‘I want to drag klezmer music kicking and screaming back into the bars.’


GBthumg_2So once a guy has a taste for it where can he find some more whisky rabbi drinking buddy types? In Odessa a hundred years ago perhaps?

Geoff: Well, contrary to some beliefs, Jews are actually a pretty hard-drinking racial group. Many of My People can give the Irish a run for their money. There are a large number of traditional drinking songs, including ‘Di Mashke’ (‘the whisky’). Most of them put forward the idea that drinking hard liquor is a privilege of adulthood and we should thank G-d for it, and a man who doesn’t drink is basically good for nothing.

My song ‘King of the Gangsters’ is about Benya Krik, a character in a series of short stories by Isaac Babel, set in the Odessa underworld in the teens. Babel makes Odessa sound like a wild and fascinating place. I think that his stories make the point that when a people is oppressed and denied power in society, its men and women of great talent often emerge from the criminal element, for better or worse.


But time travel is a bit tricky (and I can imagine green zero emissions time travel to be REAL REAL tricky). So what would be a more realistic option?

Geoff: I recommend hanging out with Bob Cohen, leader of my favourite klezmer band, Di Naye Kapelye. He lives in Budapest, speaks Yiddish, Hungarian, Romanian, three dialects of Roma, Zulu, and Brooklynese. He can tell dirty jokes in all these languages. He can tell you where the best food is in places that you’ve never heard of. He was once a Rastafarian for 10 years, and was the first American tourist in Grenada after the invasion.

You should read his crazy blog here.


GB_GML765003939_largeSo I’ve basically lived outside Canada for almost 20 years. But I spent a lot of that time writing about the world from the perspective of a Canadian peckerhead. Now I am planning to return to Canada for a longer stretch to write about Canada from the perspective of eurotrash. That’s my plan… And my question is: what went down in Canada in the last 20 years that may have passed me by that I should really know about if I want to write about the state of Canada…   socially, culturally, politically… new flavours of beer… that sort of thing…

Geoff: Canada. What the fuck is it? What’s changed in 20 years?


The gap between rich and poor has widened. So your middleclass friends whose careers are progressing will have more STUFF than you ever thought possible. And also they will be stepping around a lot more homeless people on the streets of the cities.

There are far fewer CanCon Rock heroes for the young. The internet has cancelled out the effect of the CanCon radio regulations. The Tragically Hip are still going strong, but they don’t fill arenas, and there’s no one who’s come up to take their place. Sure, the Arcade Fire are huge, but most Canadian teenagers don’t know they’re from Canada, and don’t care anyway.

People work harder than they did 20 years ago. That is, they work ALL THE TIME, constantly using their iphone/blackberry to check on what’s happening with work. At the bar.   In the car. At the kid’s soccer practice.

It’s fucking WARMER here, man. You’ll notice it. Even in Ottawa. The river freezes later, and thaws way earlier. In BC, we’re used to seeing crocus flowers shoot up in January now.

We’re at war. When I was growing up, everything was about how Canada hadn’t fired a shot in anger since Korea.   How Lester B. Pearson invented peace-keeping and that’s what our army was all about. Now, we get an average of one body bag a week, like clockwork. And have done for several years now. It’s a slow drip, drip, drip in the national consciousness that’s slowly changing our national character, making us more militaristic as a country.

Beer: People with university degrees now exclusively drink decent tasting beer from the micro-breweries. Some of the small Canadian beers are better than even some English ales. Working class people still drink Canadian and Blue. And they think people who drink ‘that fancy shit’ are faggots who think they’re better than everybody else.

Wine: People drink a helluvalot more wine than they used to here. Lots of Australian wine.

Drinking and driving is still practiced far and wide in Canada, to an astonishing degree compared with Europe.

People aren’t living in Canada. They don’t know where they’re living. They’re living on Facebook.

All of Canada is noticeably less white than it was 20 years ago. Canada has done the best job of integrating minorities of any country I’ve ever been to. Sikhs, Chinese, Muslims, Jews, can all wear whatever the hell they like to school, work, whatever, and nobody says boo. We know from experience that in a generation they’ll all be wearing blue jeans, if they’re not already.   Even working class people eat sushi, curry, Ethiopian food, whatever. That didn’t happen in the 80s.

Even the conservative party isn’t immigrant-baiting anymore. They’ve figured out that there’s a huge electoral gold mine in the immigrant community, and that, wonder of wonders, most immigrants believe in traditional families, hard work, low taxes, and long jail sentences for criminals–just like the Tories! That’s why the Tories will win the next election.

Anything I’ve left out?   Oh yeah: Curling is making a comeback.

Posted: November 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm.


A Hot Summer in East Berlin

esshats_b2This Thursday head on down to the Filmmuseum for a screening of Heisser Sommer  — an East German musical from 1968.

“Once upon a time in the East, there was a Bloc-buster of a film genre — one that the unrestrained could call the ‘The Red Commie Musical’. These films came packed with tunes, drama, dance, romance, sheer wackiness and — most endearing for the modern Western viewer — a solidly alien conception. Who knew musicals could help sell the idea of a worker’s paradise?…”

Read more here.

Posted: November 4, 2009 at 9:46 am.

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Anacondas vs King Kong vs Godzilla

anakongaThis evening my pals The Anacondas  (stay tuned for their new album, Lost in the Space Age/Bad Buzz,  which I’m working on with them) are performing  in the epic City Archives. They are providing a live soundtrack to the classic Japanese B-movie King Kong vs Godzilla as part of the inspired Rocket Cinema  festival (where you  can also  catch  zZz accompanying Frankenstein in an ancient  church  and DJ Alec Smart doing  Jaws in a swimming pool).

Tonight’s happening is being jumpstarted by the  hilarious short, Godz***A Vs The Netherlands,  by another pal Sietske Tjallingii. Should be cultural. And if you haven’t yet been to the new-ish City Archive, just go: some parts are like entering an Egyptian mummy crypt.   Yes, scary.

Posted: October 29, 2009 at 11:58 am.

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Brel under a bridge

brelOver this last weekend, Jacques Brel was paid tribute under the bridge Torensluis. Brug 9 is an amazing location indeed — keep an eye on their agenda. Below I pasted an article I wrote for the 25th anniversary of his death.

Brussels Goes Brel/
The Face of Brelssels/
Oui, I’m Talkin’ to Jou: Brel is Belgian!


The Globe & Mail, 2003

 Brussels is out to remind the world that the king of French chanson, Jacques Brel, was in fact as Belgian as fries, waffles, comic books and bilingualism. This chain-smoking icon of heart-on-your-sleeve expressionism died from lung cancer 25 years ago and his hometown is now spending 2003 striving to commemorate him with an intensity that befits a man of such walloping charisma. By organizing hundreds of events such as concerts, cabarets, exhibitions, guided tours, sculpture competitions and outdoor screenings of concert films, it’s as if Brussels wants to overshadow its perceived facelessness brought on by being home to EU bureaucracy with Brel’s horse-toothed and handsome face convincingly twitching between tender romanticism and spitting vitriol within a single wheeze of a melancholic accordion. And indeed, Brel can be seen as worthy poster boy for the dream of what the EU should be. His songs and performances – both singular in their urgent need to shake the world free of hypocrisy – transcended language barriers and made for large rapt audiences whenever he toured across Europe, USA, USSR and the Middle East. As one of the most covered songwriters in history, Brel’s message was also echoed in such diverse English interpreters as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Nina Simone and Mark Almond. He also came up with a concept for Belgium that seems equally applicable for across Europe (not to mention, Canada…): “If I were king, I would send all the Flemings to Wallonia and all the Walloons to Flanders for six months like military service. They would live with a family and that would solve all our ethnic and linguistic problems very fast. Because everybody’s tooth aches in the same way, everybody loves their mother, everybody loves or hates spinach. And those are the things that really count”.  

But what really counted for Brel was to follow his heart and that meant that he was quick to forsake his family’s suburban Brussels cardboard factory – as well as a wife and two daughters – for the chanson clubs of 1950s Paris. Here he paid his dues with years of heckling from the black turtleneck set who could not quite get their beret clad head around this rather odd and emoting foreign entity. But with the help of the business brain of Jacques Canetti (brother of the Nobel Prize winning writer, Elias) and an immortal song, “Ne me quitte pas”, Brel entered the 1960s as France’s most shining star. With the mastery of his art, he could now nail audiences to their seats with his sweaty and intense sincerity. But just as American journalists were hailing him as the “magnetic hurricane”, his heart told him to quit the “idiotic game” of touring and with typical dramatic flair he emphasized his resolve by coming out during his 1967 farewell concert dressed in pyjamas and slippers. But he did not rest… Perhaps spurred by the feeling of mortality brought on by a cancer diagnosis, he went on to focus his considerable energies on film acting and directing while still finding plenty of time to indulge in his passions for flying, yachting and exotic affairs. This latter obsession subsided when during his last film, L’aventure c’est l’aventure, he fell in love with the young dancer/actress Madly Bamy and together they spent the last four years of his life on Hiva-Oa island, the same Polynesian pearl made famous by Gaugain. Here Brel created a huge fan base among the natives by air taxiing much needed supplies between the islands. He only returned to Europe on occasion: once in 1977 to record his final album – managing to attain new heights with but a single lung – and the last time to die at age 49. His body was later returned to Hiva-Oa and buried a few meters from Gaugain.

Paying worthy tribute to such a dynamic legend – especially one who did not shy away from depicting his countrymen as “Nazis during the wars and Catholics in between” – has proven a challenge. For example, the contrast between an inspired exhibition of comic strip tributes and the decidedly kitsch fireworks program at the Mini-Europe theme park seems to suggest that Belgium remains a divided country. But perhaps a year’s worth of reminders to Brel’s legacy will prove unifying. As his daughter France observed: “While the French relate to my father intellectually… the Belgians feel him. Brel is somebody who ate mussels and fries and drank beer. He belongs to them, he’s one of them.” And visitors to Brussels can perhaps best express their oneness to the idea of both a united Belgium and a united Europe by settling themselves down in one of Brel’s charming old haunts to listen to his worldly tunes and to indulge in some fine mussels, fries and beer…

Posted: October 13, 2009 at 10:59 am.

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Andre Hazes RIP — 5 years later

Postzegelboekje Hazes concept 4 met perforatie.inddYes folks, tomorrow it will be five years since volkszanger Andre Hazes went to the big sausage factory in the sky.  In tribute,  TNT-Post is coming out with a series of stamps dedicated to him. I was at the ArenA stadium for his funeral and witnessed 50,000 people cry at the same time. Who knew  the Dutch  could go for non-football related mass hysteria? (Actually now we definitely know; it was just then we didn’t.) Here’s the obituary I wrote at the time.

Posted: September 22, 2009 at 11:36 am.

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Parade down to Utrecht

Parade-FestivalThe wacky theater festival De Parade is coming to Amsterdam on 31 July. But since this edition has been taken over by armies of rosé-drinkers over the last decade, why not head to Utrecht? It retains more of the old-fashioned vibe and is conveniently located under a crashed UFO in a huge tree-filled park beside Utrecht CS.

Pips:lab  has an entertaining show: Archie & the Bees combines Goethe colour theory, cod pieces and light graffiti – along with whining about how they have to stay together as a collective for another four years since getting a structural subsidy. Does this make sense? No? Then just check out their website.

But I missed Wereldband, which everyone is highly recommending. So I guess I’ll be hitting the Amsterdam edition after all. Luckily, I have already worked through most of my rosé issues.

Posted: July 20, 2009 at 8:54 am.