Saturday, September 18, 2010

Slow: a Family Tree

For the uninitiated, Slow was one of the greatest, most chaotic bands to ever stalk the Earth. They're also quite possibly ground zero for what would later be known as grunge, but I'm sure the band themselves would sneer in disgust at such an accusation. But the fact is back in '85 there really was nothing else that sounded like them. This was punk rock, played with the genre's typical fuck you attitude, but Slow extended that fuck you to include punk itself by simultaneously embracing rock 'n' roll past while pushing the envelope into the future and the needle deep into the red. They only released a single and an EP in their short existence (oh, and a perverse Christmas tune on a Zulu flexi disc - check out my Xmas '09 mix if you're interested), but they tore shit up every step of the way.

As befitting a legend, 25 years later stories of the band are still told (usually complete with factual errors or exaggerations). The Vancouver Expo '86 debacle is the best known, but anyone who saw them probably has their own story to tell. The above picture, for example, comes from their show with the Cramps in the summer of '86. My girlfriend at the time brought a friend of hers along to the gig. The friend had never experienced anything like this. She turned up wearing an evening gown, and the most recent concert she'd attended was Kool & The Gang. We arrived at the show just as Slow hit the opening chord to "Looking for Something Clean", so loud I felt my hair blow back. The band was dressed in bloody nurses uniforms complete with surgical tubing (I'm not sure why, other than they encored with a cover of "Pills", aided by Buck Cherry of the Modernettes on guitar). Anyway, the friend never spoke another word after that first chord. Didn't speak after the show. Didn't speak in the car home. And when we dropped her at her place, she wordlessly opened the car door and sprinted to her apartment. We never saw or heard from her again. Such was the power of Slow.

When Slow inevitably exploded they splintered into a small handful of equally interesting bands. Singer Tom Anselmi and guitarist Christian Thorvaldson formed a unit they insisted only be known as ©, and they were signed to Geffen on the basis of a truly awesome demo tape that made the rounds locally (I've never owned a copy, so if anyone out there can hook me up I'd appreciate it - it's become my personal holy grail). © did everything they could to piss off Geffen, until Geffen responded with complete vitriol: they only pressed 7,000 copies of the album (produced by John Porter, who'd helmed albums by the Smiths and the La's) and buried © with the full muscle of a major corporation. That was 1991; it took six years before the band crawled out from under the legal battle, and by that time everything had changed. It's a tragic story, and not merely because the © album was easily one of the best of the decade, but also because I remember seeing them at the Penthouse Gentlemen's Club just before the album was released and they were BETTER than Slow had ever been. They really seemed ready to take over the planet. And for years after that, they'd play gigs with outstanding, immediately striking new material that ultimately never saw the light of day.

When they finally reappeared it was as Copyright, and the album Love Story was a huge disappointment. It felt over-baked, polished to the point of lifelessness, and lacked the invention and originality of the years of gigs that preceded it. There's no mystery about it either: the time Copyright needed to put out two albums was equal to the time the Beatles needed to go from Meet The Beatles to their break-up. An entire band's lifetime and development, in other words, was never recorded. Copyright took another kick at the can in 2001, but the less said about that album the better. Let me put it this way: © is undoubtedly one of the best albums in my collection, The Hidden World ranks among the worst.

Slow's other guitarist, Ziggy Sigmund, formed the Scramblers. They were almost as good as ©. I remember dragging friends to gigs in the early 90s with the promise that "it's like seeing the Stones in '63" (not that I saw the Stones in '63, but hey, sometimes you need a little bit of hyperbole on your side). Fronted by the ultra cool Howard Rix, the Scramblers seemed like they were about to blow up on an international scale - the timing seemed perfect for their style of raw punk mated with Guns 'n' Roses old skool rawk moves - but they made the mistake of signing with Bruce Allen's Penta label, who probably never quite understood why they didn't want to sound like Bryan Adams. Penta screwed the band royally, and they never released anything other than demo tapes while they were a going concern. It took until 2005 before they managed to put out a cobbled-together collection of tweaked demos and live cuts - the rest apparently lost forever or simply non-existent.

Of all the Slow splinter bands, the one that sounded closest to Slow was probably bassist Stephen Hamm's Tankhog. Oddly, that same fact rendered it the least interesting as well. Tankhog was a lumbering beast of a band that really made overt the connection between Slow and grunge - if Hamm's unit had been in Seattle instead of two hours north they may have found themselves with the same sort of reputation as Mudhoney. But instead they wailed in futility for a while, although their cover of the Partridge Family's "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" was a moment of perverse brilliance.

Hamm also put together Jungle, a band that blatantly went against the prevailing trends of the time by fully embracing '70s AM rock. Jungle looked like they might beat the odds, but on the eve of their record release party vocalist Mark Kleiner announced he was heading back home to Saskatchewan to dedicate himself to the church. Or something. He reappeared just over a year later heading the Mark Kleiner Power Trio. Regardless, Jungle was done.

Since then, Hamm has been around in a few bands, possibly most notably (if that's the right word) as one half of Canned Hamm. Christian Thorvaldson played with the Matthew Good Band. Ziggy Sigmund hung around with Econoline Crush for a while and more recently started his own band called Zigmund (can't wait to hear it!). Tom Anselmi has a project called Mirror that, as far as I know, further mines his interest in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

A Broken Ladder

1. Slow I Broke The Circle
2. Slow Have Not Been The Same
3. Slow Looking For Something Clean
4. Slow Against The Glass
5. Tankhog I Woke Up In Love This Morning
6. © The Climb
7. © Dust
8. The Scramblers Ain't That The Truth
9. The Scramblers Outta Sight, Outta Mind
10. The Scramblers Solitary Man
11. Copyright The Flesh Is Weak
12. Copyright A Frame
13. Jungle It's So Fuck'n Great To Be Alive
14. Jungle Long Time No See
15. Copyright Into The Light

Track 1 from I Broke The Circle single (1985)
Tracks 2 - 4 from Against The Glass ep (1986)
Track 5 from Tankhog House of Beauty (1994)
Tracks 6, 7 from © (1991)
Tracks 8, 9 from The Scramblers Good Gone Bad (2005)
Track 10 from Last Call: Vancouver Independent Music 1977-1988 (1991)
Track 11 from Copyright Love Story (1997)
Track 12 unreleased
Track 13 from Jungle It's So Fuck'n Great To Be Alive ep (1997)
Track 14 from Jungle Long Time No See (1999)
Track 15 from Copyright The Hidden World (2001)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

15 songs by Luke Doucet and Veal

One of Vancouver's best kept secrets, it's hard to do justice to Veal in any simple description. Terms like power-pop or post-punk are as inevitable as they are inaccurate, although a quirky, genial mix of the two is right on target. Starting with 1996's Hot Loser they managed to release three albums that obstinately followed their own slack muse through balladry, gloom, boogie, pop, and anything else that fell off the table the night before. At the heart of it all was leader Luke Doucet, who put a stake in the beast after 2003's Embattled Hearts and moved on to Toronto and a similarly quirky (though considerably less rockin') solo career.

Luke Doucet has never been for everybody, and thank god for that. His influences and ambitions range far too wide to be funneled into a previously existing mold. As a singer/songwriter he's among the best of the decade, but he's also a fairly spectacular guitarist (but not in that wanky deedly deedly geetar flash kind of way - Luke's more about melody and finding the emotional core of the song). For an example of exactly that, give "Cleveland" a listen at the end of this mix. The collection also offers a quick run-through of some old Veal highlights, something from each of his studio solo albums, as well as a taste of Doucet's new release Steel City Trawler, which is available right now on i-Tunes. Nab that thang, people.

Hot Loser

1. Monkeys
2. Skid
3. Centre of the Universe
4. Underground
5. Everybody Wants More Cocaine
6. Girlfriend
7. Judy Garland
8. Vanessa
9. Leroy
10. It's Not The Liquor I Miss
11. One Too Many
12. Vladivostok
13. The Commandante
14. Dirty, Dirty Blonde
15. Cleveland

Tracks 1, 14 from Steel City Trawler (2010)
Tracks 2, 3, 4 by Veal from Tilt O'Whirl (1999)
Tracks 5, 6, 7 by Veal from Embattled Hearts (2003)
Tracks 8, 9 from Aloha, Manitoba (2001)
Tracks 10, 11, 12 from Broken (And Other Rogue States) (2005)
Tracks 13, 15 from Blood's Too Rich (2008)