Tuesday, March 10, 2020

21st Century Schizoid Men: King Crimson at the Budweiser Stage

Sometimes the stars align and permit two lucky bastards the opportunity to see a band from a bygone generation before their final bow and ultimate encore. This very same fortune smiles upon me today, those selfsame stars sending me to Toronto with Davindra to see the immortal King Crimson celebrate 50 years of sonic geneses.

The drive from the capital is blessedly uneventful; as any other owner will tell you, a nigh-twenty year old BMW has a penchant for sometimes spontaneously blowing the top off its cooling system, but after playing whack a mole with its parts—not to mention my bank account—Betsy is compliant and calm the entire ride, a recently-pulled electric radiator fan from a local junkyard replacing the stock mechanical one (well-known to grenade when its water pump bearing decides it’s had enough and quits at three to four thousand RPM.) As we make our way down the DVP, we pass a BMW, only a few years younger than my own, that’s had its entire front end crumpled in, coolant forming a small lake between it and the other car it pursued too doggedly. “Jesus,” Davindra says. “Idiot,” I grunt.

Welcome to the jungle, friends: Toronto in the summer.

We arrive at our hotel with plenty of time until the show, and promptly dumping our accoutrements and scoping out the area, decide to prowl around Kensington Market, Davindra desiring new additions for his wardrobe. Producing a bottle of Czech absinthe from his bag, coupled with a bag of combustible tricks, we dose up and head to the market, swimming amongst the throngs of people busily basking in the sunny Saturday afternoon. The military surplus store yields no shortage of sights, but ultimately nothing tempts Davindra sufficiently to pull the trigger. After downing an unctuous bowl of ramen on Spadina, we meander to the nearest LCBO and grab an assortment of tallboys to continue bolstering ourselves for the sheer mindfuckery soon approaching. Returning to the hotel, we chug away and get our affairs in order: my eternal concert jacket (black leather, a decade old, violent pink polyester lining starting to descend into tattersall shreds) conceals a flask filled with Broker’s gin, coupled with a tallboy for the road; Davindra pockets a box of government pre-rolls complemented with a few of our own handiwork. A princely Uber is summoned (black Mercedes C300), and no small euphoria beginning, we’re whisked to the venue in a grand total of ten minutes.

Arriving at the venue, lines of people are already gravitating to the entrance. Davindra rocks a covert piss while I pound back a brew to the sound of scalpers discreetly flipping out their signs and singing their chorus, advertising their wants and wares. After he relieves himself of his short-borne burden, we queue for security, which is where we notice the staff wielding handheld metal detectors—my flask is, of course, metal. “Shit,” I mutter to Davindra, who echoes a curse. However, the couple in front of us shed their jackets and, holding them outstretched from their body, only have their torsos scanned by the less than studious security guards. In this moment I realize the gin is saved; I mimic the couple as I go through, my jacket unmolested by the metal detectors. The next staffer asks for our tickets, and studying my cellphone screen for a moment, says, “Go see my colleague over there—400s are getting comped up.”

Waggling his eyebrows at me conspiratorially, Davindra and I do just this, and are promptly handed a ticket—paper tickets, that most wonderful of memorabilia, now only available at an extra cost—for a seat in the 300s. Giddy from the good luck, we’re smiling ear to ear, the chemical ablutions and kismet undeniable. We grab another tallboy apiece, light a lance, and only then make our way to the new seats. “I guess they want to fill up the seats closer to the stage?” Davindra suggests. “Maybe they’re filming? They recorded a whole live album in Toronto in the past,” I muse.

Finding out seats, I point out where our seats would have been to Davindra, and we grin again and give each other a cheers. Scant seconds after being seated, the lights dim—the royalty approaches; we’ve arrived not a moment too soon. Three separate drum kits line the front of the stage, with amplifiers, keys, and all the other assorted tools of the trade spanning the width of the stage a short distance back.

Taking their spots, the band begins with “The Hell Hounds of Krim” from their live 2016 album, Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind. Already Davindra and I are beginning to giggle from the sheer prowess of the three percussionists battering away in tribal tandem, but are doing our best to keep it together. Davindra—the poor bastard—has missed the signs advertising strictly no photography, and it’s around here that he whips out his phone to snap a picture for posterity and pleasure. A security dick quickly descends on him and demands he delete the photo and refrain from further pictures. Apologizing gentlemanly, Davindra makes an oopsie face to me, and I grin in return. Some Boomer-Hippie behind us leans forward and asks Davindra “What did you tell them?”, to which Davindra says he just wanted a photo to remember the show with, and B-H, utterly bemused, stares at him, eyes wide and wild as he intones, “Remember with your mind, man!”, and I am buzzed enough at this point in time to find this both painful and hilarious. Davindra maturely de-escalates, and I gesture to empty seats two rows ahead, which we crawl over to, despite the possibility for further security discipline, and escape the mouthbreather behind us. (A few minutes later, an elderly gentleman to our right will repeat this mistake with his iPhone—to no protest from B-H before he ultimately shuffles off to another seat.)

“Neurotica” is next, off of Beat, their ’82 studio album, wild licks warbling from Robert Fripp’s fingertips, the trilogy of jazzy drums carrying the semitonic shifts in the guitar. Unsure of the possibility for a break, I conspiratorially wink at Davindra and gesture for the box of pre-rolls; he hands me one and masterfully discreet, I light it in the penumbra of perspective furthest from security, passing it to Davindra on the DL between puffs.

“Suitable Grounds for the Blues”, also from Radical Action… follows, and although these rarities are heretofore unknown to us soi-disant millennials, every accent and trill is a novel delicacy. “Red” from the eponymous ’74 album follows, Fripp leading the intro up into its pinnacle before the band belts out in full tripartite percussive fury, his tone godlike and his command masterful.

Somewhere in the middle of Red, the lance reaches its end, and so extinguishing it by my feet on the concrete of the amphitheatre floor, I grin at Davindra anew. It’s precisely at this moment that from out of nowhere security descends again, the polite but wholly assertive young lady telling me point-blank, “You can smoke weed here, but you have to go to the smoking section by the food stands.” I cough a small cloud of cannabis out as I apologize with true Canadian abandon. Security departs, and Davindra, smirking, nudges me and says, “Quick, pass me the flask!”, laughing. In this, we are most perfectly and utterly textbook ooluu, stoned and rolling (to steal a phrase from Omega and its Mechanical Animals).

The unorthodox hammerings of “Indiscipline” from ’81’s Discipline is next, guitar leads flowing fluid over the alternated upbeats and complementary crashes of each kit, followed by “Moonchild Including The Dream and The Illusion”—the first song of the night from their immortal debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, Fripp’s vibrato scorchingly beautiful and hauntingly plangent (frissons creep up my neck as I remember this performance so many months later, writing this account).

“Islands” from the eponymous ‘71 album emerges in the quiet that follows, gentle and intimate after the electrified aether of “Moonchild”, and I am truly thrilled one of the songs off this unconventional—even by King Crimson’s standards—album has made an appearance in the setlist. “Cat Food” is next, from the 70’s In the Wake of Poseidon (also more or less unknown to me and Davindra, but the sheer insanity of all the instrumentation onstage makes knowing all the songs frankly irrelevant; the live recreation of these songs is inherently and simply jaw-dropping to witness); with no small amount of funky sax swagger and frenetic time signature shifts, this is another absolute rarity of a song to witness live.

“EleKtriK” from 2003’s The Power to Believe follows, mournful organ tones weeping in its interlude before dropping down into fat, fuzzy guitar and bass bleats (the handiwork of Adrian Belew in the studio version; Belew was set to perform on NIN’s Hesitation Marks tour, of which Davindra & I attended the Montréal show thereof, but ultimately departed before the tour started due to creative differences with the ever-egoless Trent), Fripp’s own legato and mellifluous shredding running over top of Tony Levin’s mechanical bass buzzing. After that, “Epitaph Including March For No Reason And Tomorrow And Tomorrow” from In The Court of The Crimson King begins, slow, downbeat drums met with a gentle bass line and slowly swelling synth organs underscoring Jakko Jakszyk’s pitch-perfect vocals, reverberating into the summer night air.

The lights come up; Davindra wonders if that’s it for the night, but knowing the calibre of musicians in question, I tell him it’s definitely just the intermission. Adjourning to the refreshment stands, we light another lance, take another slug of gin, and despite ample evidence we’re well on our way to overindulging, another tallboy apiece before returning to our seats. When the lights drop once more, we let out a raucous cheer, the band beginning with “Drumzilla”, which is exactly what it sounds like, proto-Slipknot-esque in its sheer, over the top percussive orchestration and demolition. “Discipline” from the eponymous album is next, Davindra particularly thrilled and whooping with enthusiasm at the appearance of one of his favourites (also cited by Adam Jones of Tool for its influence on his own handiwork).

However, it’s the next song that has me whooping with glee: “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic (Part IV)” from The ConstruKction of Light (also featured on Happy With What You Have To Be), the hocket-heavy song beginning with a briefly ascending shimmer from Fripp and Jakko before descending into the calamitous cacophony of the three kits blasting away, Fripp and Jakko echoing each other impeccably before reaching the song’s zenith, Fripp then going full-on god mode, shaming the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, John 5, Buckethead, and more, despite the seventy three years of age—and undeniable mastery—beneath his fingers. As he begins the breakdown, I am all ears, raptured, giggling, stoned, utterly delighted and outside of myself (I’ve lain awake at night, sleepless, hearing this absolute insanity looping endlessly in my mind—no word of a lie), Fripp’s hands and arms barely even moving, his signature fifths-based tuning system permitting him to gently fly across the fretboard without the slightest hint of exertion or effort required. By the end of the song Davindra and I are dewy-eyed from the mad beauty and sheer giddiness imparted by this deific rendition.

“Cirkus” from Lizard (1970) is the poor song that follows the debauchery of “Larks’ Tongues”, quiet and more folksy than the rest of the night’s offerings, but still undeniably King Crimson. “Easy Money” from the original Larks’ Tongues in Aspic album (1973), bumpy and raucous qua Pink Floyd’s “Money” in some base fashion, dissonant, jazzy chords over a plodding bass line and marching band-style drums, Jakko singing true to the original, this number a brief breath after so much musical madness, ringing out into the now well-darkened night sky.

“Radical Action II”, also from—predictably enough—Radical Action… is next, another oddity with low, braying guitars melting into the horns before soaring upwards with Fripp’s signature searing arpeggios blending with Jakko’s countermelodies effortlessly, alternating between major and minor movements. “Level Five” from 2003’s The Power to Believe follows, the initial guitar incantation invoking the beginning of the assault, Levin’s bass steely and thick like a piano key lower than any grand can afford, Fripp and Jakko ping-ponging sonically off of one another like some kind of supercolliding pinball machine barfing out balls like it’s free play night at the local arcade.

The band then launches into the brooding “Starless” from ’74’s Red, and it is in this moment that I’m struck by just how absolutely, hauntingly beautiful the band’s compositions are, writ large: the masterful command of every shade of all the minor scales and modes, their tempo, counterpoint, and tone are proficient as only a lifetime of consummate and consistent pursuit of perfection can afford. Jakko croons through the thirteen minute long charming dirge, horns gently fluttering like moths at cathectic lights, a void opening up on the shores of the lake as they dive down into the k-hole bridge, Levin’s bass gong-like and tolling, Fripp’s slowly dying, diminished leads creeping upwards (again invoking to me a proto-Slipknot claustrophobia that precedes and predicts the emergence of heavy rock and then industrial/nu metal, three decades after Red’s release).

After “Starless” winds down, the final bleats from the sax blasting against Levin’s bass and Rieflin’s Mellotron, Davindra and myself are now well, fully, hopelessly hypnotized. It’s only then that the iconic kick drum pattern and first bar erupts from “The Court of the Crimson King Including the Return of the Fire Witch and Dance of the Puppets”, and we, the whole crowd are transformed, resurrected once more, instantly somewhere back in 1969, at the beginning of this great watershed moment in prog, rock—the fucking history of music itself—when five men came together and maieutically brought something forth out of the vacuum of the Void to forever mark a moment in the eternal evolution of the musical craft.

After what feels an eternity of rightfully won applause and a brief disappearance from the stage, “21st Century Schizoid Man Including Mirrors”, the opener of their debut album is the thunderous encore, another crescendo of a cheer erupting from the crowd, the swelling guitar and horns cresting on the triple kits front and centre. Fripp’s iconic chords bleating on the beat (doubtless inspirational to a young Tom Morello decades down the line in “Killing In The Name Of”), the horns singing leads above below and beneath Jakko and Fripp’s rapidly convoluting leads, only to jump back upwards after surgical rests and accents between all instruments, the final iconic jarring riff of the chorus never more apropos than here at the end of a decade: a torch thrown to failing hands in the new, stark clime of music and creative and human endeavours, one utter, contemptuous middle finger to the entropy and flow of time, a primal cry, an immemorial yawp unstifleable by any conceit, doctrine, or form of control extant, or to come. (My indulgences here truly begin to catch up with me, both in the moment of perception and recollection simultaneously.)
Davindra's hard-won photo at the end of the set
As the band departs from the stage, I squint one final time at Fripp as best I can; to me, he is the absolute paragon of what a musician can—or should—be: achieved beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, prolific as the day is long, destructive and creative as any heavenly alpha or omega yet known. A silent orison leaves my lips, the sequel to one that left my lips at the peak of Misen-yama on Miyajima, an invocation, a rite for greatness and success, for divine favour from any plane yet unknown, and Fripp—he is an emissary of this universal drive that manifests it in the chosen few, the Davidic artists, the kings among men and women and androgynes alike.

I look over to Davindra, and looking at his face, realize he’s utterly fucked, followed shortly by the cogito ergo sum realization: so I am. Vacating the amphitheatre, we summon an Uber and return to Spadina, opting for a dinner encore, a bopping Beijing-style restaurant, we the only non-Han inhabitants. We quickly order and then devour three or four entrees, breathless. Paying at the end of the wordless inhalations of stir-fried delight, walking back to the hotel, we light one final lance on the way, shortly succumbing to the fatigue of the night.

The next morning I reconstitute myself after a shower and some moss; we down a hearty breakfast in the Market before returning to the hotel and checking out, luggage secured in Betsy’s trunk. Making short work of the DVP, the prophesied rain descends, and by the time we hit Port Hope, the deluge has begun. Davindra and I relax in the leather seats and let the tunes shuffle across the cones of the Harmon-Kardon. After a pit stop off the highway for fuel, some four hours later find ourselves back in the capital. Delivering Davindra to his apartment, we high five our lucky stars one final time.

When I return to my own apartment, something in between apprehension and awe settles on me anew, the same feeling from the concert returning with a vigour. This must be what Moses felt like, coming down from Sinai (it’s a hell of a drug, I imagine him saying): enlightened as Buddha beneath his tree, articulate as the Oracle of Delphi. (This is a gauntlet thrown down from one generation to another: this is where we brought the floodwater to; can you summon such a calamity as we? YES, I whisper to myself. THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING—WE WILL DROWN THE WORLD ANEW.)

The summit of Misen-yama—seeing the curvature of the Earth itself, the endless ocean, continents kissing as tectonic plates collide, subsume one another; the genesis of a new dawn, the sun setting on another.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Neither/Nor

Sitting on the sun-soaked shore of Southampton’s Chantryview Beach, I begin spilling ink across the blue-ruled sheet of goldenrod paper before me. The beach has been freshly combed by some monstrous mechanical contraption roaring up and down its length all day, ostensibly so all the summer tourists don’t mistake this for any two-bit natural beauty (heaven forbid).

With me is the love of my life for the last three years, my beloved once-brunette currently sporting pink hair, bright white jean shorts, and a navy blue button-up quietly polka-dotted with small white hearts. While I write to the waves, she reads a Madeleine Thien novel, even though her pseudo-communist friend warned her that their other pseudo-communist friend told her it was “bad politics”. Her lovely legs are shapely and smoothly spread across the pale, fine silica of the beach. A smile on my lips, I look across the water, the distant horizon disappearing into deep and fathomless azure.

The day prior, she joins me to pay my respects at the clan’s grave—to those who came here before us. She’s the only person I’ve ever brought here (soon to be the only person I ever will bring here: the clan cottage will be sold at the summer’s end). She holds me as I stand outside my body, still and unblinking. The breeze blows. The limbs on the trees enfolding us shake…my limbs shake. I think to myself, I never want her to let go. Not now or ever. And yet, despite this, somewhere in the depths of my viscera, I fear—know—one day I’ll have to, just as I have at this gentle grave (whether I wanted to or not).

Across the waves, the lighthouse on Chantry Island stands like a sign of divine intervention—and this is really all any of us hope for, can ever hope for, and hey, maybe this is it, maybe this is as close as anyone gets to real signs or omens, a littoral lighthouse showing you the way: where you are, where you’re going, and most importantly, where you’ve been. It’s only sitting here scribbling that I can see this all at once, telescopic and clairvoyant as an oracle, the Hubble, the Keppler. I here see anew the beauty my companion possesses, both quiet and loud. (Her lips. Her smile.) The waves are gently cresting, breaking, and crashing on the shore, Huron’s waters aping an ocean despite its diminished status as a lowly lake. I wonder if this is apropos of something; maybe it symbolizes the false sense of the oceanic, the sense that something’s lacking in this connection when it has all the oceanic qualities I’ve sighted in all the other incarnations of my manifold infatuations, delusively or not.

My love remarks to me that we’re now alone on the beach, and leaning back to look, I find she speaks the truth. She rises and goes to test the darkening waters, but runs back chanting “It’s cold it’s cold it’s cold” before relenting and admitting with a luminous smile, “it’s not that cold.”

Looking over at me, she asks why I’m not writing a love poem about her. I ask her how she knows I’m not writing a love poem about her, and she says she can tell because there’s too much written. “Maybe I’m not using line breaks?” I suggest with a smile. Seemingly satisfied, she sits and returns to carving hearts in the still-freshly raked sand with an extended index finger, heart after heart after heart after heart.

Gulls are now calling, mourning doves and chickadees joining in the temerate distance. Sitting here in the cool silica, the sun now sinking beyond the horizon—exploding really—my heart pounding and breaking and bleeding all over again, an epiphany ensues with piercing, terror-stricken acuity: the darkness is already here. (In reality, it never really left.) This journey is a eulogy, and this leaf of paper, an epitaph.

With my wretched heart now in total tatters, the light extinguishes beneath the water, the unknowable horizon—the limit of my love.

The darkness enfolds me.
This love poem betrays me.
I betray my love.
I let her go.


Friday, May 10, 2019

Beautiful as the Night is Black: The Black Queen at Le Ministère

Having purchased a ticket some weeks ago, regardless of whether I’ll have company or not, the day is upon me: The Black Queen are performing in Montréal, yet I’m without companions for the weekday four hundred kilometre round trip. Adding to the anxiety of the excursion is the use of my beloved and ever-aging Betsy, boasting nearly three hundred and thirty thousand kilometres of love on her odometer, but after fixing a persistent vacuum leak before the onset of winter and installing six brand new Bosch coils, the gauntlet is mine and hers alone to run.

With an unforgotten fracture still sitting a decade fresh in my mind, I reach out to my kindred spirit, Pascale, for a hail Mary shot at some companionship in the March chill of Montréal, and because she is my kindred spirit, she says of course, and so arriving home from work at the onset of the night, I hurriedly change into more concert-friendly black jeans and leather jacket and stuff some food down. Looking at the map on my phone, I notice the venue, La Ministère, is remarkably close to the north end of the McGill campus—the precursor to the fatal fracture. A thought occurs; a detour is added to the itinerary.

Throwing my Nikon in the trunk, I clamber into Betsy and start her up. Although snow still litters the sides of the road, the asphalt is dry and the sun is still shining. It’s not long before I hit the TransCanada Highway, six cylinders gurgling away, a new fuel filter freshly feeding their thirst. With only my music and the occasional other car keeping me company, the rolling hills of Québec on the horizon, my thoughts begin to wander—regress. The sun shines a violent and glorious ochre, and it pours down brilliantly behind me, the car’s silhouette casting a long and shifting shadow up the highway.

By the time I reach the island boundaries, it’s gotten dark and already I can feel an apprehensive frisson crawling down my spine. The streets start to look familiar as I approach my idiotic idea of a detour. “True Love Waits” by Radiohead shuffles on the Harmon-Kardon, the version from their live ‘I Might Be Wrong’ album. Despite the absent chance of being overheard, I mutter under my breath “You’ve got to be kidding me” and take the turn onto Dr. Penfield Avenue, followed by a fatal left onto Rue University and up a long-remembered road—into a dead-end so very dear to me. Despite the no parking signs, I put on my excoriating and echoing white hazard lights, and crawl out of the car.

Popping the trunk, I pull out the Nikon and take in the night air, both familiar and forgotten, the echoed luminance of the LED side markers radiating across the stone and concrete walls, the obscuring glass squares lining the staircase of the Hall. A young lady comes up the dead end entry, and pressing her fob against the door leading into the residence, I see a window, a chance to touch my fingers to that ivory to recreate that moment of learning melody—“Count To Six and Die (The Vacuum of Infinite Space Encompassing)”—but a fear of being confronted, rejected, or worse still—being forced to realize this totem means nothing, preserves nothing, never really existed in the first place (never stopped existing in the first place) sees me with feet frozen to the ground, the door to my dreams and memories quietly and digitally locking shut. I exhale—try to find some solace in this quantum certitude. Find none. The lens of the Nikon aims upwards to where the piano sits, waiting, immortal, inert. The shutter clicks—frames the delusion.


I walk around to the main face of the building, the cross of Mount Royal shining neon and ultraviolet down on my doomed desire, the sliver of a moon echoing this radiance across the city’s night. Another few shutter-snaps crystallize this idiotic instance of backsliding into oblivion—flashing the time, date, and location of my dumbfounded desire into binary digits on a scriptural SD card. Looking at my watch, it’s time to go—Pascale and the show await.


Back in Betsy, I kill the hazards, twist the keys, and shift into reverse. Bidding this phantom farewell for another decade, I curl back down Rue University (remember an Idea telling me I didn’t have to worry about the winter wind tousling and disordering my hair, that long hair does exactly this in the wind—feeling what I imagine to be feeling close and loved, despite the doom unfolding beneath my feet). “Caramel Prisoner” by Air comes on in the shuffle, and a pit that tastes like Tartarus forms in the hollow of my chest, this the one song that can wordlessly and wholly encompass what this farewell felt—feels like.

All the fatalism aside, memories flaking away like the snow slowly suffocating on the street, I shortly arrive on Boulevard St. Laurent and manage to find a spot a block or two from the venue. I text Pascale to let her know I’m here, and pay for the obligatory final hour before the parking becomes free for the night. Walking up to the nearest street corner, I spy a familiar face across the way, a customary lit cigarette clutched between elegant and immaculate nails. Waving her down, I cross the street and give her a hug, remarking that it’s been too long. “Far too long,” she smiles, fragrant perfume and tobacco enrobing her person.

We continue up the street in search of a watering hole to catch up in. An amber-lit bar draws my attention—‘Darling’—and despite the usual dearth of drinking establishments near some of these venues, this one is packed for a Tuesday night, countless cute young things circulating and sipping their drinks. Pascale asks how things have been, and despite being uncommonly and uncharacteristically sober, my previous stop, combined with the weight of everything that’s been crushing down on me these past days (weeks, months, years) has me quickly spilling so many of my fears, foibles, and fatalisms—how my art seems to be at something of a standstill, not a single true publication to my name, no cavalry ostensibly incoming to bulwark my music, and how I’ve just come to despise and abhor most everything in existence. I consider relating the reality of the detour to her, but this wound is so personal and particular that even Pascale, whom I would trust with my life, I do not disburden myself to. We speak of our foiled frustrations with life, with the world as it is, falling apart and falling to pieces—and I smile and tell Pascale I’d forgotten how much I’d missed her. “You too!” she exclaims, sipping her whisky sour. “We can’t let this long go by again.”


We finish our drinks, and I pay the bill. “Thanks for the drink,” Pascale smiles. I tell her it’s my pleasure; I’m eternally grateful for the company in this drab and daunting sepulchre of a city. Heading back out onto the street, we walk the two blocks to the venue and get in without incident. I go to get Pascale a ticket, but she looks uncertain and asks, “What time do you think they’re going on?”, to which I reply, “Probably nine thirty, ten…I don’t imagine they’ll be playing much past eleven.” Pascale asks if it’s ok if she doesn’t stick around for the show, and I tell her of course, it was great just to see her. We hug, and she disappears into the late winter night in a fragrant cloud of tobacco.

Exhaling, I descend the stairs to the basement for the dickpunch of a mandatory coat check, and head back upstairs to the auditorium. It’ s smaller than I’d expected, and there are fewer people than I expected—maybe fifty all together—although it is a Tuesday night, I remind myself. Having missed the openers, I don’t have to wait too long before the band starts setting up, Steve Ryan (a.k.a. Asian Steve to Dillinger Escape Plan fans) bringing guitars out and checking tunings. Greg Puciato is nowhere to be seen, presumably waiting backstage before the start of the show. A copy of ANTEDILUVIAN sits wedged in my back pocket, and I wonder if I should try to hand it to Steve now, before they get going, but the musician in me says no, he’s busy right now, so maybe after the show is better, and I’ll find a chance to go slip it to him or maybe even Puciato himself.

The lights finally dim, a video starting on the screen behind the stage, hydrologic imagery flickering with the band’s logo interspersed between shots. Puciato hops on stage, grabbing the mic as the band launches into “Thrown Into The Dark”, from their new album, Infinite Games, electronic percussion reverberating across the room from Josh Eustice’s electronic contraptions across the stage. Greg’s voice is raw and lush; despite the PA, the size of the room, and the proximity of the stage, his voice’s acoustics are audible on top of what’s amplified, and his pitch is enchanting and on-point—something different than one might expect of someone who sang “Prancer” and “Hero of the Soviet Union”.



The band segues into “No Accusations”, also off Infinite Games, the crowd applauding readily after this melodious opener. The slow, irregular rhythm of the percussion drones as Puciato whispers the opening lines, and although the execution is immaculate, the newer material differs from the chilled-out sangfroid of their first album, instead more downtempo and introspective. “Ice to Never” from Fever Daydream is next, the choir pads and crescendos of the opening descending into the arctic trills from Eustice, Puciato’s voice mellifluous as on the record, despite the absence of vocal backing tracks doubling his voice. The crowd joins in for the chorus, the mood beautiful and buoyant, myself lost somewhere in the mix.


“Maybe We Should/Non-Consent” is next, the slow chatter of some unknown percussive instrument followed by low sub-bass synth notes, climaxing in the glorious chorus. “Distanced” is next, the sub-bass continuing with a low Christopher Nolan ooomm, the jazzy but downtempo drums keeping the rhythm as Puciato whispers and breathes into his mic like a lover’s ear. The crowd continues to applaud as the lights flicker and pulse with the beat, bleaching the stage with a low red and violet glow. “Your Move” from Infinite Games is next, more tranquil than the previous numbers, but ethereal and haunting like a pop k-hole nonetheless.

“Taman Shud” from Fever Daydream is next, lush drums crashing across the crowd, Puciato still pitch-perfect, Ryan adding his guitar flourishes, but his tone is all but drowned out in the mix—if I wasn’t watching him, I don’t know that I could say there was a guitar. “That Death Cannot Touch” is next, another infectious number from Fever Daydream, the percussion classic 80s 808 snares barking out the beat from Eustice’s rig, the crowd once again joining in the chorus. “Secret Scream” from the eponymous EP is next, clubby and catchy—a true joy to hear live. “The End Where We Start” from Fever Daydream follows, round bass notes bouncing from Eustice, organ-like synths singing. The chorus is, as are so many others, infectiously beautiful, and I find myself thinking of my earlier detour, Puciato’s lyrics romantic and personal as any great pop artist, but without all the commercial contamination that comes with big labels and big money.

“Now When I’m This” is next, the opening number from Fever Daydream, culminating into “One Edge of Two” from Infinite Games, the album closer, the modular synth percussion riding a steady kick and snare one-two combo, Ryan’s clean, heavily modulated guitar ringing out in the chorus, a delectable drop from Eustice’s bass synth a calling card as clear as any other. At the song’s end, Puciato starts to sing a line from Dillinger Escape Plan—“She moves abstract just/like a shadow dancing on the edge/like a storm cloud passing overhead/effortless and free…”, and although my hopes are high for an electronic Dillinger Escape Plan cover, the band progresses to “Strange Quark” from Fever Daydream, delay-saturated strings ringing out—whether from Eustice or Ryan, I can’t tell—the low rumble of the bass dimly roaring amongst the sudden snare hits, beautiful and poignant as any kind of apocalypse, segueing appropriately into “Apocalypse Morning” from Fever Daydream. The downtempo beats drum across the crowd, Puciato incanting what appears to be the finale.

However, without warning, the track stops and restarts, and Puciato looks over at Eustice and asks point-blank into the mic, “What just happened?” Eustice looks sheepish behind his glasses, and so Puciato says, “All right, I guess we’re playing it again!”, and with that, begin again, courtesy of the joys and pitfalls of electronic backing tracks. As the song progresses, Puciato picks up a guitar to join Ryan as the growing guitar crescendo that characterizes the album’s ending begins, a growing, glowing series of searing guitar licks executed with artistic impulse and abandon. With Aaron North-like intensity, both Ryan and Puciato hold their axes up to the cabinets to initiate solo-worthy feedback, building and building until abandoning the guitar, leaned up against the amplifier and ringing out, Ryan handing picks to those close enough to grab them (of which, I am one). The musicians all leave the stage, and at the end of it all, I’m regrettably unable to find an opportune moment to hand Ryan or Puciato the ANTEDILUVIAN promo quietly burning a hole in my back pocket.


A girl next to me purloins the setlist Ryan had been using—I curse her Britomartish boldness, but only because I’ve acted with so much indecision this evening. Looking at my watch, I realize I have two hours of driving still ahead of me, and so instead of holding out near the stage or the tour bus out front, I opt to place the promo on top of Ryan’s FX board, hoping he’ll take a chance on it when he comes back to load out. I return to the basement coat check, grab my jacket, and walk back to Betsy, who’s patiently waiting where I left her.

Igniting the engine one final time for the day, I turn on the seat heater, my GPS, and head to the highway. When I’m finally on the wide-open stretch of asphalt, the city shrinking behind me, I begin to relax, barely feeling the tires on the road beneath me as I accelerate to a hundred, one-ten, one-twenty, one-thirty, one-forty, the tachymeter slowly creeping upwards, the cars falling behind me as I try to outrun the memories, the night, “The Speed of Pain” by Marilyn Manson appearing on the shuffle as I continue to rock down the highway, into the darkness, into a dilation of spacetime itself, but no matter how hard I push the throttle, I fail to escape these memories—fail to escape myself.

The darkness is all-encompassing, and I remind myself that the memories in all likelihood live in my mind alone, a tree falling in the woods, a black hole devouring a star. It’s a nice story, I tell myself, but who would believe you—and more importantly, who cares? In this, as in so many other respects, I am alone. I give the gas everything I’ve got—push it to the limit.

When I finally arrive home, I’ve shaved fifteen minutes off my original ETA. I collapse in my bed, and wonder where it all went wrong—as if any such singular instant could ever be traced—could ever exist. Puciato’s voice and melancholy echoing from ear to ear, I remember with sharp, bitter stinging what it was like to feel that thunderbolt of obsession, all those long-lost years ago, and worse—better still—to still feel its echoes, these ten-odd years later, so much unchanged, so better deluded and dumbfounded by dim recollections, prismatic idealisms, and a raging, desperate desire to remember only the best and most blasphemous beauty as best I can.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

We Twins of Evil: Manson and Zombie at the Budweiser Stage

Nothing says summer like a mid-week flight to a heavy metal show, and despite the nine-to-five grind, a judicious vacation day has me at Ottawa International for a mid-day flight to see Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie’s Twins of Evil tour. 

Landing at Pearson, the city is a sultry twenty-eight degrees. I hop on the Rocket to Kipling station, overnight bag in hand, sweat starting to speckle my hairline. I text Dave to let him know I’ve landed safely and am en route to the hotel. I transfer to the subway, eventually emerging at College Station to a message from Dave saying he’s on his way. I check in at the hotel, and heading upstairs, I pass a crowd of young hockey players in the process of checking out; arriving at the room, I open the door to be greeted by a pungent whiff of eau de garçon and gym bags—the hockey players. Returning downstairs, I inform the concierge of the tangible funk, and am shortly given a set of keys for a new room and breakfast on the house in the morning.

Dave ends up arriving later than expected, but when he arrives we sit, dispense libations, and start to catch up on life. I delve into the darkness of late, something squirming in my gut apprehensively. Looking up at Dave, I see him regarding me with compassion and concentration. He apologizes for the darkness, and though it’s nothing for him to apologize for, I smile my thanks for his sympathy. He tells me of his own trials and tribulations, and whipping out some whisky, we give each other a consolatory embrace, followed by a quick kiss between whisky glasses before draining them to their depths. With that, we move to depart, the hour upon us. With a final snort of whisky, we head downstairs and into the Uber awaiting.

The Budweiser Stage is only ten minutes away, but on the ride, some forgotten cue causes me to recall and read a piece I stitched together after my ultimate return to the Suburban sore, the story starting with me meeting him. A kind of nervous nostalgia takes hold as I relapse into that place and time, and knowing full well how close the first Idea is (conceivably, delusively one short subway ride north), I wonder with febrile intensity where I am, what I’m doing, and why this sacrosanct notion feels so close and yet so far away. Arriving at the entryway to the Stage, I terminate the browser on my phone and banish the memory from my mind as best I can.


We queue at will call to get our tickets, and amidst the excited chatter, we overhear two women bedecked in black behind us saying something about Manson cancelling. “Excuse me?” I ask, and one of them repeats herself: Manson’s just cancelled his set at the very last minute due to a quote-unquote ‘unforeseen illness’. “Shit—no kidding?” Dave says, and the girls nod grimly. “They’re only giving a refund if you leave now,” the other adds. “Which is such bullshit,” the first sighs. Dave and I sidebar, and agree that for our cut-rate price of $20 a head, thanks to some one-off summer sale on select shows (thank you very much Ticketbastard), Zombie is still well-worth staying for.

Passing the gates and flashing our tickets, we stop at a Bacardi booze-shack and order something to put a little more hair on our chests. As we chat with the women working the booth, we notice we’re being given a discernibly heavy-handed pour, to our delight. Downing the vile yet voluminous spirit, we head to the centre of the lawn and stake out some territory to take in the show, an accompanying tallboy to go for us both. Lighting a deftly-spun lance, we ready ourselves for the curtain to drop.

As the ember dies, ‘Sawdust in the Blood’ starts to thunder across the speakers, the lights dimming and the crowd roaring; despite Manson’s omission, the outdoor venue is still thickly packed. As the intro fades into ‘Sinners Inc.’ and ‘Call of the Zombie’, the band appears, myriad screens scattered across the stage, each splattered with B-horror and pentagrams glowing red, black, and white. With a crashing count-in from Ginger Fish on the kit, they launch into ‘Meet the Creeper’ from Hellbilly Deluxe. The crowd chants along with Zombie as he belts through the chorus, his vocals modulated and distorted into a growl above and beyond his natural gruffness. ‘Superbeast’ from the same album is next, John 5 eagerly chugging away at the iconic riff, further spectacles splayed across all the screens littering the stage. Following that is ‘Scum of the Earth’ from The Sinister Urge (a tour debut of the song), its refrain and manic guitar notably memorable. ‘Well Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO’ from The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser is next (one of Zombie’s recent nominal proclivities being as prolix as possible), and although the musicianship is on point, the subject matter is a little more conspicuously campy.


The catchy, albeit overplayed ‘Living Dead Girl’ from Hellbilly Deluxe is next, Ginger and John 5 and Piggy D all well in the pocket, the crowd singing along uproariously to the huge radio hit. The song is an icon from Zombie’s heyday, and with so many songs from his debut album making the setlist, one wonders how much this implicates something like his greatest works being behind him, or if maybe this is just the reality of summer stadium tours—especially when headlining with another big act. ‘In The Age of the Consecrated Vampire We All Get High’, also from The Electric Warlock, is doubtless a reference to the cult of Christ, but again, it’s hard to tell quite how much thought is put into some of these newer hits. ‘Dead City Radio’ from the Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor is next, which is notably poppy and catchy—and admittedly, this is a big part of Zombie’s caché these days—commercial curb appeal.

‘More Human Than Human’ from White Zombie’s Astrocreep 2000 is next, an instantaneous crowd—and author—pleaser, Piggy D’s bass concussive, John 5’s guitar soaring, and Ginger’s drumming on point and groovy. The band then segues into ‘Never Gonna Stop’ from The Sinister Urge, a nod to A Clockwork Orange and another setlist staple. ‘The Hideous Exhibitions of a Dedicated Gore Whore’ off The Electric Warlock is next, forgettable compared to the more classic offerings. ‘Ging Gang Gong’ from Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor follows, another of Zombie’s more catchy but unremarkable singles of late.


The buttery but unfortunately wet vocal distortion still prominently features on ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ from The Sinister Urge, the song eerie and bluesy with John 5 hammering on and pulling off the signature riff as Zombie purrs and growls. At the end of the song, John 5 launches into a massive guitar solo, shredding so fast you can practically see the sparks from his fingertips; Zombie takes the time to do some fan service to those in the front of the pit, high-fiving and greeting the fans up close. As John 5 wraps up, the band launches into ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ from White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto Vol. 1, another crowd and author-pleaser, Dave and I only slightly buzzed by this point and probably belting out the lyrics in time with Zombie and crowd.

After the song winds down, Zombie addresses the crowd and thanks us for coming out tonight, offering an apology for the last minute lineup change, but says they’re happy to keep going and give us our money’s worth. Zombie gestures to John 5, who starts to warble a familiar riff on his guitar, a light-up Telecaster that blinds to the back seats and beyond—‘Sweet Dreams’ by the Eurthymics, Manson’s iconic cover of which we will no longer miss out on. To see John 5 and Ginger belting this out is any Manson fan’s dream; both musicians were staples in Manson’s heyday, and so this is about as close as one can get to going back to some time in ‘98–‘01 to witness them playing this together. John 5 pummels every note of the song perfectly, his solo transcendental and affecting the delusion that he never left the band. Reaching the end of the song, I think Dave and I are both howling along, and Ginger batters his kit in a cataclysmic outro reminiscent of his time on the Last Tour on Earth for Manson’s Mechanical Animals.


Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ (from the eponymous album) is next, a common cover of Zombie’s, followed by the Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’, for which Manson and Zombie recorded a cover together just prior to the start of the tour. ‘The Lords of Salem’ is next, unfortunately the only song from Educated Horses, John 5’s guitar slow, methodical, and destructive as Ginger pummels away at his kit. With what seems like an ultimate scream from Zombie, the set threatens to be over, but as the lights dim, the screens start to blare a trailer for Zombie’s new film, 3 From Hell, before the band returns to the stage for an encore, launching into the ‘Dragula’ from Hellbilly Deluxe, inarguably Zombie’s most famous hit. At its end, Ginger mashes the kit calamitously, Zombie, John 5, and Piggy D bowing to the crowd before exiting the stage, music slowly and quietly piping onstage from the front of house.

Turning to Dave, we both grin—despite the delay and cancellation Zombie’s played a jumbo set that’s run almost ninety minutes long. Well-filled with good spirits and rock n’ roll, we head back to the gates and into an Uber that arrives with unexpected swiftness, carrying us back to the hotel. In need of nourishment, the alcohol starting to catch up with us, I order a pizza at a nearby joint to soak some of the liquor up. Dave uncorks a Toscana, and as the wine mellows and we delve further into our discussion, so do we.

When the time comes, we descend to the streets to retrieve the pie, and arriving at the place, pony up for the pizza. It’s in the seconds following this that Dave grins and snorts, noting the presence of some chitinous chums crawling on the front of the glass display case. He points them out to me, then to two patrons waiting for their food, and then the employees behind the counter, none of whom seem terribly surprised or apologetic about them—or even aware. Amazed and bemused by how disinterested the staff are to this blatant health code violation, we head back to the hotel, arguing about whether or not our food is fit to consume. I tell Dave that it was cooked to temperature in an oven, and as long as we keep drinking, it should kill any lingering bacteria that may or may not be present—and besides, we’re starving at this hour and can’t be bothered to chase down alternative grub. The Toscana is shortly polished off, along with the majority of the potentially arthropodic pizza, and before long, we retire, succumbing to the depressants.

Feeling only a little worse for wear the next morning, I down a gallon of water and recline in the bed for a while longer. Eventually Dave wakes, and we make our way downstairs for breakfast with some thirty odd minutes to spare til its close. Shovelling down some eggs and fruit with a hearty cup of coffee, we recall the night fondly and discuss our plans for the future yet yawning before us. When we finish eating, we return upstairs, Dave grabbing his bag and bidding me farewell and godspeed.

I dial down to the desk to extend my check out, and use the extra time to rest further. When one o’clock rolls around, I head to a belated birthday lunch with my aunt. Meeting her just outside of Bloor station, we stroll to the Four Seasons, which quickly makes last night’s hotel seem something of a crackhouse: Arabic-inspired geometric lattices shroud the lobby, dark walls warmly lit by subdued lighting, elegant print-bearing settees scattered around the lobby and lounge. Heading upstairs to Café Boulud, Moira orders a bottle of chablis, and although flinty and light, the volume of ethanol consumed only some few short hours ago slows my pace considerably. She orders the tartine de saumon fumé, myself the cabillaud, and we talk about the state of one another’s writing, the family, life. In too short a span, I find myself bidding her goodbye and heading back onto the subway, bloated from the fine fare and dessert, the grapefruit givre an eerie, Dahmerish dessert with grapefruit sorbet, rose loukoum, and fine-spun sesame halva-hair braided atop the grapefruit husk bowl—admittedly freakishly delicious.

En route to Pearson, a familiar lassitude takes hold—alone, in transit, and heading off into the infinite abyss stretching above us into space. A final leftover tallboy gurgles down my throat, and while waiting for the Rocket from Kipling, I bitterly acknowledge I’m abandoning a foolish, fleeting opportunity to trace the Idea concealed in this city. But what are the odds, I try to tell myself—is there really any chance of those stars aligning, that supernova unfolding?

It’s not like you wound up in Halifax a few years ago, I remind myself, the day before a decisive birthday, hoping, praying, craving you might be that lucky.

As I leave the earth beneath me, soaring into the domain of the gods and zephyrs, I know this lie is a necessary self-deception, the desperation I desire—require—demand.

Saluting Apollo, I return to the superposition, the toxin of false hope still somewhere in my system.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

‘All My Past and Futures’ - Radiohead at the Bell Centre

British legends Radiohead have arrived in Montreal for two nights of sonic prowess on their Moon-Shaped Pool Tour, and my brother and I are equipped with two floor tickets for the second of the two sets, the hope being that the final night will prove longer and more fabulous than the first.

En route, the straight six patiently purrs down the Trans-Canada Highway into Quebec, and it’s not long before rays of July sunshine welcome us in Montreal. Will and I find a parking garage a few blocks from the Bell Centre, lock the car, and head toward the venue, foot traffic already pooling in the surrounding streets, people of all shapes, ages, and sizes swaddled in their best and most devoted Radiohead merch. A quick pitstop at the McDonald’s on Rue de la Montagne yields more concert-goers, and as we sit and my brother inhales a quick burger, I overhear a group of university students at the table beside us discussing the set from the previous night, along with their hopes for the night before us.

“You know that one song…it’s like…wah wa-wah wa-wah…wahh…wahh,” one of the girls tries to explain. “From Amnesiac, I think?” She whips out her phone, and after a few minutes of thumbing, says excitedly, “This one!” holding the phone up to her ear, then aloft for her friends—‘Hunting Bears’, indeed from Amnesiac.

Will finishes his food, and we head across the street to look for the entrance. I light a lance and puff away, passing it to my brother briefly before continuing to search for where we floor ticket-holders are meant to enter. Several inquiries to assorted staff later, we find our entrance and are shortly thereafter ushered into the security queue. Demonstrating our lack of blades and bombs, a comely blonde security guard asks for my credit card and jams it into some tell-tale credit card reader that confirms our tickets. She equips us with two really tight red wristbands, and with that, we head for the entrance to the floor. We arrive to find it already well-packed, though not so tightly we can’t find a half-decent spot to plant in front of stage right.

The opening act, Junun, comes on; they’re a collection of Indian musicians (a.k.a the Rajasthan Express) playing traditional instruments and percussion, with Radiohead member Johnny Greenwood adding his own stringed instruments into the mix. The Rajasthan Express’s voices are resonant and operatic, and carry their many melodies with passionate plangency. When their set ends, the crowd cheers raucously—certainly they put on an impressive performance—one that’s a welcome change of pace from the usual lacklustre openers that dog tours large as these. Looking to my brother, he informs me we’ll likely be waiting some time before Radiohead starts, and not wanting to abandon our spot to the burgeoning crowd yet pressing in, we do our best to hasten the passage of time with phones and people-watching. Fortunately, the set starts earlier than guessed, much to the relief of my increasingly aching legs.

The lights die, the stage blooms. The dulcet piano melody of ‘Daydreaming’ from A Moon-Shaped Pool is the opener, Thom Yorke’s face slowly coming into view on the massive oval screen perched above and behind the band, gently leading the show from a lonesome piano placed centre stage. Arachnid frissons crawl down my spine from the sensation of the mallets striking strings—an incantation from its first instant. The band transitions into ‘Ful Stop’, also from Moon-Shaped Pool, the energy slowly building as Johnny Greenwood wails on a guitar growing progressively more saturated with delay, until the stage explodes in light at the onset of the chorus. ‘15 Step’ from In Rainbows follows, shifting upbeat, Clive Deamer switching off his doubling drumkit to wield handheld percussive instruments, Philip Selway left to man the kit—a change in instrumentation to be repeated throughout the show.

Delving back into their heyday, ‘Lucky’ from OK Computer follows, Greenwood showcasing more classic rock guitar chops than the ethereal ambiances which have come to characterize their newer material. ‘Kid A’ from the eponymous album is next, and through the gargantuan sound system, the metallic pads and trills are piercingly and crushingly soft; my spiderous shivers returns. They then launch into ‘Burn the Witch’ from Moon-Shaped Pool, Greenwood equipping himself with a thinline Telecaster and a violin bow to recreate the signature, orchestral opener of the album.


‘The Gloaming’ from Hail to the Thief is next—another personal favourite—followed by the song I have been praying and living and dying to hear: ’Pyramid Song’, from Amnesiac. The entire arena is bathed in a low red glow, and finally seeing these musicians live, hearing this song live, is an epiphanic moment; when I envisioned experiencing this energy in the flesh, I expected, needed to slip into the sharp and terrible tears I’ve evaded for so long (since I gored and gutted my own ultraviolet darling), but standing here, absolutely and utterly rooted to the ground, not moving an inch, barely daring to breathe, I find no silent secrets waiting to disburden myself of these fossilized tears. When ‘Climbing Up the Walls’ from OK Computer follows, my hope for catharsis is refreshed, but despite the absolutely haunting tone of Yorke’s vocals and lyrics, the resounding bassline Colin Greenwood’s playing on a Moog synthesizer to the side, and the utter shivers crawling down the back of my arms and neck, I am still dumb and paralyzed.

The band launches into ‘Idioteque’ from Kid A next, always interesting to see live because of its absence of bass and the percussive, sometimes a capella instances of Yorke leading the band. ‘Bloom’ from The King of Limbs follows, easing into some of their more modern, electronic and percussion-driven pieces, before easing into another canthus-stinging song, ‘Reckoner’, from In Rainbows, the famously pay-what-you-can digital release (precluding the rise of Bandcamp and D2C releases). As Yorke plucks the song’s signature riff, I feel the stirrings of defunct ducts, and yet, nothing wrests open. Glancing to my side, I look to my brother to see how the song, the show is affecting him. He’s seemingly still and stoic as I am, but I know what finally being able to see this live means to him.




As ‘Reckoner’ ends, the band transitions into ‘The National Anthem’ from Kid A, Colin Greenwood’s iconic, fuzzed-out bassline leading the band, the arena in the charge before its deep denouement into ‘How to Disappear Completely’, the searing, chilling song infamously quoted by Montreal’s own rent-boytoy slasher and Patrick Bateman-would be, Luka Magnotta, found by the police scrawled across the walls of his apartment. (Being in Montreal, one wonders if the band realized or considered this at all, but I may well be one of the few people to catch this connection.) The stage bleeds scarlet as the piano is rolled out for Yorke to man, launching into ‘You and Whose Army?’, the camera on the piano’s sheet music holder feeding one of Yorke’s distinctive eyes onto the screen still dwarfing the back of the stage. To have so many songs from Amnesiac is an auspice; I feel confident we chose the better of the two nights to attend.

The band segues into ‘There There’ from Hail to the Thief, another sombre but beautiful number, Selway’s percussion grooving amidst Greenwood’s characteristic guitars. Wrapping up the set with ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ from The Bends would admittedly not be my selection—but with such a heavyweight band, this is, of course, only the beginning of the first encore.

After a brief respite, they return to perform ‘Optimistic’ from Kid A (further cementing the superiority of night two), the chorus pure rapture as Yorke soars as the utter vocalist-eagle he is. ‘Nude’ from In Rainbows is next in the encore, another number led by Yorke on the piano, followed by ‘Identikit’ from Moon-Shaped Pool, ‘Lotus Flower’ from The King of Limbs, and finally, ‘The Bends’ (off the eponymous album), much to the crowd’s delight, Johnny and Colin Greenwood reprising their classic rock-oriented riffs with aplomb.

Departing from the stage, the show appears to be over, but after a brief pause, a piano is wheeled out and Yorke returns, announcing they’re playing a little song that never quite was—“Not to be confused with the Bond film,” Yorke says with a wry smile. (‘Spectre’, the would-be title track for the Bond film, was ultimately usurped by Sam Smith.) The crowd is very much happy with this choice offering. The ever-raucous ‘Paranoid Android’ from OK Computer follows, at which point everyone unfortunately whips out their phones to capture the chaotic light show characteristic of the breakdown at the end of the song. Finally, to end the second encore and bring the night to a close is ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ from The Bends, gently strummed and gloriously sung, ringing out into the evening as the band members bow and depart the stage.

Looking to my brother, some weight lifting off my chest despite the failed catharsis, I smile and gesture to the vomatoria flooded by concertgoers exiting the floor. We’re able to exit quickly enough, but the minute we get out of the venue, we realize we’re going against the crowd on the way back to the car. Blading our bodies and doing our best to cut through the crowd, we reach the McDonald’s, and finally the garage.

Climbing into the E46 we exit the garage and head to the highway, GPS gracefully guiding us—right until we hit a detour that stops us getting on the 720 Ouest. I attempt to follow the detour signs, but after some convoluted corners, we come to an unfortunately familiar intersection. The GPS insistently tries to reroute us onto another closed on-ramp, but after a panicky twenty-odd minutes of driving in what I hope to be the general direction towards Ottawa, we find an open on-ramp, and I floor it. The car takes to the highway with a giddying onset of Gs, and we settle back to relax, safely on our way home. Having finally seen a mutually beloved band, one day following my birthday (in addition to having delivered on my fraternal duty to better the life of my little brother, and more importantly, return him safely home), a calm washes over me.

William checks the setlist from the night prior and laments the songs we missed, but I tell him we got very lucky with all the Amnesiac songs. “Yeah, I guess,” he says.

“Next time we know to get tickets for both nights,” I grin.

Despite my defunct ducts, the journey still etches itself into my memory, even as I record these events all these months later, still feeling the stillness of my body, my hands on the wheel, the warmth of my brother beside me, the darkness of the night unfolding as a ribbon of road before us.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sic Transit

When I look at the map, I can hardly breathe. All the air just leaks out my lungs. These particular squares of spacetime flicker across the bleached screen busily backscattering HEV light into the back of my psyche. Yet unlike a more respectable dose of bleach, there is no end punctuating the agony, only an expanding sense of agoraphobic vertigo—an abyssal chasm yawning in front of me, a camera filming a camera filming a screen—like the slightest fractal movement forwards might thrust me over the edge. I hate these names. I hate these hamlets. Each and every single one of them is a graveyard, psychic and osteotic skeletons lining their streets until they’re nothing but stale, cold, calcified ossuaries. I can already hear the bones starting to rattle—their bones, my bones, the collected bones of the Earth.

I terminate the map in front of me—try to catch my breath. Each of these shattered cities is so shattered because of all the death and gravity polluting its streets. A goodbye is a goodbye—no matter how fate might frame it.

Skirt tears at this thought—clench my diaphragm closed until the point of nearly choking, nearly fading, nearly falling. There is no one left for me here, or there (or here, or there…or here, or there). They’re all gone, and have been for some time. So why do I still look for them? Is there ever any forgetting, any closure, anything so sweet as oblivion when the only single fucking thing in the world you wish you could do is simply forget?

The only thing worse than staring at that sterile map? The terminals in between these maps, these empty fucking corridors, these haunted fucking halls, and there is no one here but the faded phantoms lurking in the umbras of my existence. I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m alone. This is all I can hear as I glide down these deserts of walkways, benches, and bathrooms; all I can think of are the dead and the departed, the absent and unseen. The presence is lost to the absence, always, and ultimately. I too will become a sad spectre glooming in the gloam, forgotten, dissociated, devoid and destroyed. This is the paradox of entropy and self-organization—the chaos confounding all my theories.

What is given that will not be taken? Nothing. Everything will be taken—every last love, every memory, friend, foe, love, and loss. Because even loss itself will be taken from us—the very thing we are all trying to avoid so dearly, so desperately. But not until every other earthly thing is taken.

Who remains in these haunted harbours of humanity? Only strangers, indifference, alienation. No ferrier of the skies dispels the clouds so louring, no lost loves welcome me with open arms. Only. Nothing. The abyss—calling.

My answer?

I am coming.


Photo © 2018 Colin Andrew MacDougall

Friday, July 13, 2018

Phaeton

I scream back on hundreds of hooves freshly added to the family stable, the patient gurgle of a flat six flying across the asphalt, guiding me home to my abandoned haunt. It’s not long before I find myself clapping the back of one of my fondest friends. We unearth old idioms, exhume skeletons; we discuss wormholes of thought and shame, collapsing into years still continually recurring in the prison of the mind’s eye. I fall into a few, but avoid discussing the particulars, the shame still thick and cloying in these everlasting past-present moments. Quaffing an unknown Toscano, hauling on pellets of hash gently crumbled into a mottled pipe, we regress further. I find myself contemplative and even somewhat nostalgic, not just filled with simple and pure disgust; so much growth and destruction burst forth from this parched and prickled desolation. I found love here—I found bloodlust here. These halls and hollows all bear memories already slipping into oblivion. I want to freeze these forgotten flashes into snowflakes between glass slides so I can carry them with me for the rest of my days.

*

The sun rises. My neck is bent in on itself, and my temples are experiencing their third destruction. My gut groans and chastises me for what I’ve done to it, and I don’t blame it: a week of whisky, punctuated by psilocybin tea, and a pitcher or two of iced coffee begets a subpar stomach lining. I down water and ibuprofen for my stomach and neck respectively, then smoking softly smouldering moss out of my glass whistle for the general dysphoria and discomfort latching onto me with karmic tendrils.

Crawling into the straight six-straddling 325 and rolling out of the driveway, I find my hands spinning its comfortable wheel comfortably. I already know where these wheels will lead me; the first scarlender’s house lies around the bay—hah, the bay . . .

I remember being on a ferry charmingly christened the “Felicity Duchess”, a hallmark landmark in this sore of a city. Grade eight graduation. I think I was suitably dressed in a double-breasted black jacket, though it fit poorly—not unlike myself in this mundane milieu. I remember leaning over the guard rail wrapping the top deck and surveying the increasingly distant city, wishing with every friable fibre of my being that she was beside me in this moment in time, my long-sought Seraph—my Seraph Anne. She would be here on this ferry one year to the day, following in my footsteps. I so dearly hoped that she might long for me in kind—that I would be the person whose absence would make her ache.

Flying around the corners of a familiar helix of a road, I encounter the same two mute ponies I always do. Nothing stirs. I go to drive away, but something about passing by it as quickly as I do finds me circling around and taking it in slower the second time through, really drinking it all in. If only I could stroll along those hallowed halls—that inviolate basement—those exalted couches—that prison-cell of paradise of a bedroom—and, lest I forget, that lotus-filled shower. Drive on. It’s over.

The next scene—that sickening tableau—is another patch of parched grass directly across the bay, an alien landscape, desolate and deserted; more muted ponies in the driveway. (Where have all these wonders, these women gone?) I associate this vista so singularly with suffering; make no mistake: there are no prison-cell paradises here. Looping around, I spy the sign for Cidua Park, and stop—relapse ten years back. Walking here in the muting snow. Peering through the downdrafts and praying for a simple glimpse of her face. Failing. Still returning throughout the days to follow nonetheless, ever nature’s faithful hound.

Exit the car. Traverse sun-bleached grass. Bask in thirty-five degrees of centigrade. Think of the boy who used to come here, just for the chance to catch a glimpse of his pagan goddess.

Driving to the site of the fall, the felix culpa, my mea culpa. My heart throbs greedily, afraid. I can’t remember which house it was. But that’s ok, Percy; tracing Medusa was never exactly an easy task. I always thought she was Eve, not the Serpent itself. The record has since been set straight.

On the drive home I thumb my nose at the abode of a Poor Facsimile—fall through another wormhole. Subsequently return to 2016. Find nowhere else to go.

*

But that’s not really true. In the dead of night, I climb into Apollo’s new chariot and return to the primary site of all my pilgrimages, heart greedily gorging, engorged, and pounding, pounding, POUNDING. What if. What if. What if. This could be the final pilgrimage I ever undertake; I may never return to this subdivided inferno. A crushing sadness weighs down on me, as I know this signals the beginning of the end: I will have to forfeit my pagan idolatry for the sake of a better future—or at least, that’s the hope. But the loss of these losses stings, and despite the irony, I really just can’t believe a part of me is going to actually miss all these instances of time collapsing, of re-entering all of the manifold traumas and tribulations of my much-abused youth. Everything must go, a wise man once wrote. I had never doubted the truth of this statement, of the sentiment, but the scope of it, I now concede, I am unprepared for. This last lingering tie is about to be cut. I will now only visit this haunted hovel in the deepest of dreams, in my most paralytic of nightmares. I wish I could tell what effect this will have on my past, my present, my future, but the damage is incoming and that final fracture has been made good on, years later, years in the making. “When the histories are over and the myths begin” . . . No matter. Wherever did my lost little angel get to?

The only question worth asking. The only question unanswered.


Photo © 2018 Colin Andrew MacDougall

Monday, June 11, 2018

Insomnia in Seattle: Wychdoktor at Mechanismus

With the Wychdoktor having been summoned to Seattle to perform, I have volunteered myself to document the experience with my pen and camera. Sitting with some small misgivings in Ottawa International, apocalyptic squalls bear down on Toronto. A series of flight delays and cancellations cause any attempts to get airborne to be ultimately abortive; Wychdoktor and the lady get on their plane, only to spend some two odd hours on the tarmac before turning around and deplaning.

One disoriented awakening at four-thirty a.m. the following morning later, I am back to the airport to attempt the odds once again. With only a slight amount of trepidation, my patience at the gate in McDonald-Cartier International is rewarded with the very last seat in cattle class on the three deep on each side Airbus to Vancouver.

Still sleep-drunk and crammed between a quiet businessman and a briefly wretching blonde, I resume Pale Fire by the incomparable Vladimir Nabokov before switching to Blade Runner 2049, then back to dozing as I feel my eyelids begin to grow heavy. Travelling against the natural flow of time, I am only the slightest bit wide-eyed when Pale Fire makes an appearance on-screen in the film (“Uncanny”, I whisper to myself with due apropos.) Relapsing back into some kind of Replicant stupor, my legs look forward to the end of their confinement.

Deplaning in Vancouver leaves me with a lingering sense of anxiety and existential dread; I find myself looking for spectres that will never pursue me here, that I will never chance across here, but my eyelids are hooded, and my heart is hungry. (Forget the Doppelgänger of a guy you once called your best friend passing by you in the bar in Ottawa only some small hours ago. You didn’t let your gaze linger, and neither did he.) I am unable to find, to trace these phantoms into reality here in Vancouver, but this city, like so many—like all others on Earth—only induce an awareness of loss, disconnection, and alienation. (Barrie, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Calgary, Banff, Vancouver, and before long, others too, I can imagine.) I think about the Klonopin in my bag—think about the fact that I could really and truly kill for a beer right now, despite the fact that it’s nine-thirty in the morning on the Pacific coast. My instinct towards these two molecules is fraught with the potential for inconceivable trouble, agony, death, and suffering, but as my defence so often goes these days, I am just doing what it takes to survive. Deprived of the chance for ethanolic exuberance, I plod to the gate with my companions, tonguing a tab, terrified and tremulous of what—who—might come around the next corner.

The flight to Seattle-Tacoma is wide open, and spends less than an hour in the air before plunging back to earth. Seattle’s airport is heretofore unknown to me, and a quick exit to the ground level results in only a minor wait for the festival’s organized ride to arrive, much to my delight. With ‘Move On’ by KMFDM blaring, they fly down the highway to downtown, drop us off at our hotel, and bid us farewell. However, upon reaching the front desk, we find our room isn’t ready until three, and it’s only just past noon now.



Entrusting our bags to the hotel’s bellhops, we sojourn down to Pike Place Market, which on a sunny Saturday is swarming with locals and tourists, and is nigh-intraversable. Waddling through squat crowds searching out fresh seafood—really fresh seafood—and more coffee than any sane person could shake a stick at, I find my irritability growing, thinking only of the first ethanol miracle of the day. After belated further searching, we finally settle on some hip and ethical restaurant (20% gratuity included—of course) and dine on fine fare (pulled pork and pickled greens on a brioche, coupled with a local IPA). We slap an ooluu and Wychdoktor sticker on a nearby signpost, and I take a quick photo for posterity’s sake.



With food in our bellies, it’s time to head to the venue for Wychdoktor’s soundcheck (a quick line-in and line check—fucking electronic musicians). Arriving, I am sporting my Wychdoktor t-shirt and trying to ensure my camera is working correctly. Wychdoktor is having some trouble getting his beats to the front of house, but after some quick debugging by the sound tech, a faulty USB cable is cut from the mix and solves the mystery. Ready to rock, we vacate the venue and hop in an Uber to Target, in hopes of wine and other such necessary accoutrements.

The Uber to the Target is helpfully redirected when the driver informs us there are dispensaries within reach, and offers to take us to one a few short minutes from our previous destination. Back at the hotel, Wychdoktor and the lady retire for a nap, both fighting off some malaise with Target cough syrup and a little R&R.

I take this opportunity to start writing this account of the voyage. Cracking a beer, I down the fruity IPA in a stemless wine glass, slivers of daylight piercing through the drawn curtains. Realizing the time for the free wine tasting in the lobby is among us, I tell Wychdoktor I’m going to sample their wares. However, when the elevator doors open, I realize this is more a wine drinking hour than a wine tasting hour. The room is packed with young and old travellers alike taking advantage of the generous pours. Selecting a syrah from Washington’s Walla Walla region, I am given a healthy splash of wine—nearly to the brim—and so stand gormlessly by the wine and water, gurgling on the mellow red contemplatively. I manage to make the glass last some ten odd minutes before splitting, thanking the obliging wine wench with a “Thank you, miss”, heading back upstairs to finish my IPA, and realizing that the grille on the fireplace looks really, really phallic.


Wychdoktor and the lady are stirring when I return, and I’m feeling only slightly self-conscious from my stag attendance of the wine swallowing, as well as my lack of chic frames. I start to fiddle with the Canon and the Rode mic, testing some parameters and irritating the ever camera shy Wychdoktor in the process. We crack the complimentary pinot gris the hotel put on ice for us, and I pour Wychdoktor a hearty glass as he does his pre-show shave. Another IPA disappears, and the gears start to turn. I summon an Uber and we head to the venue, the night upon us.

A street vendor shooting wild espresso is the prefatory stop. Ordering a single espresso, the tiny little shot nestled in the diminutive porcelain cup explodes with raucous salty warmth, giving way to the dark, roasted mocha. Regretting only slightly the fact that I passed on the soda back, one of the pre-rolls meets a lighter, and I dutifully puff away before passing it along. Now approaching the twenty-four hour mark of no sleep, this espresso is single-handedly combatting the beer, wine, weed, and final few molecules of Klonopin still lingering in my system.


The venue is packed when we arrive, and we find a pair of bar stools to rest our weary legs in anticipation of the venerable Wychdoktor’s set. Feeling conspicuously stoned, and definitely dehydrated, the bartender shows me where the communal water canteen is at the end of the bar. Downing the contents of my cold cup greedily, I am conscious of the fact I can’t keep burning the candle at both ends if I want to shoot the set properly. The other openers are well-intentioned, but against the tribal might of the Wychdoktor, they ultimately fall far short.

When it’s finally time for him to take the stage, I swoop in, unapologetic with the bulky Canon and attached mic. With an anticlimactic intro from the MC, Wychdoktor launches into his set, shrouded in a sleeveless hooded robe and a black mask, slowly swaying to the ethereal ambiance spilling across the crowd. When he drops the beat, the lights begin to pulse and flicker, and the screen behind him becomes a panorama of occult and shamanic images. The crowd is thick and densely packed in the narrow length of the bar. With such a visceral element in the music, it is in watching the Wychdoktor sway, entranced, that I—that the crowd—can register the magic, the sonic spell being cast on all the witnesses convoked.

Unfortunately, the video is stuck on the play menu, and so dashing off to find the organizer, I find him near the entrance to the washrooms. “Is the sound guy there?” he asks me—I tell him I’m unsure, and that I don’t know definitively. Leaning over, the organizer points out a guy in a cap and says, “That’s him,” and gives me his name. A little irked by the fact that I’m the one who's fixing this organizational technical trouble, I hoof it to the sound booth and tap him on the shoulder. “Hey man, his DVD is stuck on the play menu!” I shout into his ear. “That’s just what it’s doing,” he shouts back uselessly, but not believing him, I add, “You can see the play button in the corner of the screen!” I’m more or less shrugged off, but when I reestablish myself in the crowd, it appears I was able to entice him into trying the play button once again, because the full video is now playing as it should.

Several new tunes span the set, all chaotic, dense, throbbing, and raw. It’s when Hexen starts that the crowd starts to really groove, as the heavy side-chaining on the synths drone in delirious cacophony. As the crowd feeds off the beat, a contented grin spreads across Wychdoktor’s features, having shed the black plastic mask, the lights and swaying having taken their toll on his temperature.


When the set ends, Wychdoktor gives a small wave and smile to the crowd, who cheer uproariously for the northern medicine man. Going up to the stage, I offer to grab gear, but Wychdoktor’s got a handle on it, so I tell him to meet me at the merch table. It only takes ten odd seconds to get to the tables at the back of the room, but when I do, there’s already a small group queueing in front of the Hexen and Inferno CDs spread across the table. Shuffling behind the table, I start taking orders, most people taking one of each, often giving a $20 and refusing their $5 in change, demanding, “Keep it!”

I’m asked more than once if I’m Wychdoktor, to which I grin and say, “No, but he’ll be over in a bit; he’s just grabbing his gear. Besides,” I add to one interlocutor, “wouldn’t I be a bit of a douchebag if I was wearing my own t-shirt?” The interlocutor asks, “What?”, and I just laugh and answer, “Never mind.”


After a few more minutes of grinning vapidly and letting retail-me out of my cage, Wychdoktor appears with his gear, still sweat-licked. Several people come to him in sequence to gush about the set, and deservedly so. Ever humble, he thanks them all with true enthusiasm. After the fans get their fill, the lady comes and tells us she’s going back to crash at the hotel, and so bidding her goodnight, us lads keep the party going. The roll en route to the venue has left me lightheaded, and so despite my earlier plans of really painting the town red, I’ve stuck to water since we arrived.


When the last of the Wychdoktor merch is sold, cold hard cash in pocket, I put some ANTEDILUVIAN promos out on the now empty section of the merch table. People cruising by are occasionally confused by this CD—the band’s not even on the bill, and so some feel compelled to ask either what it is, or how much it costs. Those who ask are truthfully told it’s a band Wychdoktor plays guitar and bass in, and that it’s a free promo. Every one of the discs is a seed being sent into the void—just some sharpie-labelled CDs with a two-sided insert with the cover and a track listing. Whenever someone inquires, I grin—I know they’ve effected a quantum certitude, and can now fear the flood the same as we hidden ooluu heathens.



I tell Wychdoktor we need to go outside and light another roll. With his set behind him, he agrees, and we head out into the cool warmth of the pacific night. Lighting the lance, I pass it to Wychdoktor, and he partakes of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The night is quiet, but alive; goths have gathered to smoke, some poor bum literally trying to sleep in an alcove near a shop door tucked away from the street. I tell Wychdoktor he fucking killed it tonight—probably two hundred or more people were present, and loved it—love it.

The night has imparted a sense of exhilaration; to now be exhaling and drinking in the night is a moment of nigh-post-coital clarity—world spinning, just as it ought to be. After we finish our heart to heart and the spinning, we head back inside to check out the headliners, but after a few more songs, we’re both at our limit. Wychdoktor goes to say goodbye, yet after fifteen or so minutes, he's still gone, and I am fading fast, the twenty-four plus hours spent awake now truly catching up with me. I look into the crowd, check out the washroom corridor—nothing. As I start to give up any hope of ever collapsing in bed, Wychdoktor surfaces, apologizing. We grab our affects, hop into an Uber, and in fifteen minutes are back in the hotel, out cold.

*

The next morning is comprised of a gentle awakening into muscular agony; I’ve been clenching my jaw and/or sleeping on my neck funny, and am wholly deprived of anything like ibuprofen, clever man that I am in my travelling. I sneak into the bathroom to take an only slightly hung over shower, tailbone on the tub, water blasting down on me and beading on my skin. I crawl back into bed—try to be very still, with my neck very straight. Another hour creeps by. I try to check in to my flight—fail. My eyes water. I try to sleep some more. Wychdoktor and the lady finally stir, and make plans for breakfast. Having grabbed a banana and a carbonated grapefruit juice at Target the day before, I opt out of breakfast and opt in to squeezing in a few more winks.

With the hotel room to myself, I end up going downstairs to the street to finish the final pre-roll, which upon completion, slowly lets the tension headache fade away. Returning to the room, I take a second shower, this time actually washing my hair, and get into my travelling clothes—navy Lacoste polo, mottled grey chinos, black suede desert boots. There’s still half a bottle of pinot gris left, as well as four IPAs, but thinking better of it, my stomach still aflutter, just leave them for the lucky cleaners.

I hit the bricks and head to the LRT a few blocks away, deciding a $30 Uber is less preferable to a $3 fare, and not having to rush, can see a bit more of the city before my final departure. The LRT’s carriages are relatively full, but as Mariners fans eke out at the stadium, I find seating and pull out my camera to get a few shots of the city rolling by.

I clear security in a few princely minutes, thanks to my NEXUS card, and pull up a seat at a random coffee shop to review the footage from the other night over a breakfast sandwich and iced coffee, simple syrup and cinnamon drizzled on top. Opening the first file, the video is in focus and the audio is clear and punchy—beautiful.

The flight to Vancouver is short, and I find myself once again disquieted by my return to this particular square of spacetime. I hide from myself until they call my name to board, and I am thankfully en route to Ottawa thirty minutes later, though the lingering sense of unease remains. We touch down at 1:30 in the morning, and I am fortunately in time to catch the final bus back to my abode, and am in bed by 2:00, asleep by 2:30.

The bed is familiar, but I have become a stranger to myself, some lasting trauma still clinging to the air and airports of the world. I never know who I’ll run into—who I might find again. That fear—that hope—is the enemy. And I cannot afford to forget that.