26 September 2006

Electronica that doesn't disappoint live or Daniel attends Massive Attack

The art of going to a techno show is an interesting one. Now to your average fan of electronica you normally know what to expect. However, since the days of Moby, car commercials and movie soundtrack techno is now ubiquitous so there is a chance for the odd person to walk into a show and not know what to expect. This problem plagues the so called ‘titans of techno’ the most. How can Moby, The Chemical Brothers or Crystal Method recreate the pristine sounds of their records in a live space, especially when they are so heavily dependant on samples and guest vocalists?

Let’s face it our baseline for concerts is set by rock shows, where we pack around the stage and bask in the presence of our rock idols as much as we do enjoy the music. This is where techno throws a wrench into the works because by its very nature it is electronic and faceless; a DIY art form that is about the music and not the performers. This is how it started for most people with Kraftwerk blazing the trail of machines making music for people. I have seen Kraftwerk and to this day the approach stays the same, four impeccably dressed, older gentlemen standing in front of laptops programming their music in front of a live crowd to a backdrop of beautiful visuals. You can understand how this presents something of a problem for the rock fan that has no means to mosh or rock along with the tunes in the same usual fashion and the closer you get to the stage the less you gain from the performance.

By its very nature it is difficult to recreate your average electronic ‘song’ live because they are as multifaceted and complex as your average symphony. In order to create this live you basically need a few people twirling switches behind laptops which makes for a very boring show indeed. The groups I have seen that pull off the best live performances seem to make you feel like you are experiencing something live and make a connection to the audience. It is very easy to feel like you are simply listening to a tape while people mime behind computer screens.

For example Underworld have Karl Hyde out front singing and playing guitar from time to time, Prodigy have the vicious physical and lyrical assault of Maxim and Keith Flint running over the stage as well as Liams glowering from behind the belly of the beast, even Delirium when they toured employed two female vocalists to cover the body of their material. This merges the best aspects together and engages crowds that normally aren’t used to the icy cold approach.

Why bring all of this up you ask? Well the answer is very simple, this past week I finally got the privilege of seeing Massive Attack live. This was a group I was convinced I was never going to see. In fact they hadn’t been to Toronto since the “Mezzanine’ tour which I wasn’t able to attend being in high school. Although Mezzanine was one of the big albums that filled a spot in my past, I can even recall watching the now defunct Symphony of Fire from my Uncles old apartment in Mississauga while listening to Blue Lines (if you ever get a chance to hear Massive Attack soundtrack a fireworks display I suggest you give it a try its pretty fantastic if not a bit trippy). So when I heard they would be playing the musical wasteland of uncultured idiots that is San Diego I was excited.

The venue left a lot to be desired, it was essentially a concrete bomb shelter at SDSU, the only thing it had going for it was that it was open air. What you really want for a show like this is something with a lot of grass so the dancers can dance and sway about and you can just enjoy the show in your own fashion. The crowd was the sort of social outsiders you expect out here. A few Goths, some lost punks, American eagle trendies who read that ‘Mezzanine’ was an excellent album in Rolling Stone, techno hipsters and Eurotrash wearing clothes 5 years out of date. I won’t lie the Eurotrash attendants were hysterical, given that most of them hadn’t the bloody foggiest what the style even looks like.

If there is one thing you can always count on from a techno show its great visuals and Massive Attack did not disappoint. Although it took them awhile, they overcame the venue and a crowd with little to know exposure beyond ‘Angel’ and ‘Teardrop’ and won the day.

The equipped themselves with a group of the original performers of most of their songs and managed to exceed expectations. The best part for me was that they used Liz from the Cocteau Twins to perform all the vocals she has done on the album for the band. At one point after Angel a friend who had gone to the show with me turned to me and said ‘I’m really amazed at how well they did that’. He is also a techno fan and is aware of the many bitten and disappointed moments one has at these types of shows. But he hit the nail on the head. Massive Attack pulled off a flawless show and did not disappoint.

18 September 2006

San Diego the mediocre

If anything the last month in San Diego has been much harder than any since I moved here. This is my favourite time of year in Toronto and I can feel the pull of longing play on me. I have not only missed my friends cottage, a yearly retreat that is an excellent way to relax and reconnect with friends, I also missed the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time is six years, as well as the Canadian Opera Companies staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

I was out on the beach getting ready to do some surfing with Michael the other day when he mentioned that because we hadn’t been to the beach in awhile he started to get bored of San Diego. This raises the point of San Diego and southern California in general. If it wasn’t for the weather and the beaches it wouldn’t be worth staying here at all. Remove the beaches from California and you’re living in Arizona. I think I have found that this is just not enough for me.

I know it seems like I heap a lot of scorn on San Diego for it’s lack of cultural interest but it’s true, and the saddest part of it all is that this city doesn’t seem to care. It feels as though this city is happy to have a beach and with that out of the way it has nothing to do with itself. San Diego is a town lacking a purpose and it seems very happy with this distinction. The citizenry of San Diego are more than happy to accept what little they have in the way of cultural relevance and just push forward.

In Toronto I was always hearing about architectural or cultural projects to make Toronto a world class city, San Diego seems to have no interest in this. Maybe this is better; the city has no delusions of grandeur it is content to play a clean if not boring vacation destination that feels no need to enter the pissing match that is the quest for international relevance. This is also a tragedy because it is things like this that make cities great and define them and their people.

I should be happy, I should enjoy this. I make very good money, I live in a clean and safe neighbourhood, the weather is fantastic all year round and there is hiking to be enjoyed everywhere. I suppose this is the great problem I expect more from life. I expect stimulation of some sort, or conflict, or a goal.

There is also one thing I have noticed about San Diego that really bothers me. The homogeneous nature of this town extends to the actions of the citizenry, no one wants to stand out or be proud of anything they are beyond Americans. The Mexicans who make up a large chunk of the population be they legal or otherwise seem to want top hide their heritage and culture. Even the ones I have met who are second and third generation keep that fact behind them like a personal shame. It’s terrible if not a little bit sad. One of the few times I have felt at home was when Michael and I went to eat at a South Indian restaurant and we were the only white people there. There was an unabashed showing of cultural pride, women were in saris and speaking Hindi, it was fantastic. This is what a city is to me and always will be. It is also why in my mind San Diego will never be anything more than a clean and safe if not boring tourist destination.

12 September 2006

Sad to be Canadian .... again

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One can only suppose this picture is less embarrassing for Peter McKay than his most memorable publicity stunt which included a one day flight out to PEI or Newfoundland or where ever the hell he’s from to dig potatoes on his family farm and cry to the media about being dumped. How can anyone take this man seriously when he is most famous for getting dumped by Belinda Stronach and not for his work in parliament? Personally, and I say this as a man, Peter McKay is a pussy and an embarrassment. God forbid he ever becomes prime minister then we would constantly have to worry about this sniveling dimwitted pussy running the office. Yes I said it and yes he is. If waging a war for sympathy in the media includes putting on a pair of Wellington boots and some old overalls and leaning over the fence to tell the CBC how broken up he is about getting dumped then I think pussy fits the tag line. God forbid we forget his first act of political genius which was folding the Conservative party into the Alliance after signing a document swearing he would not do this, so we know where his values are.

If it is of any consolation to me it is that I know when I return to Canada the Conservative Party will no longer be in power. I think the ‘winds of change’ that blew Harper and his motley crew of anti-intellectuals and bored prairie housewives into power have already switched on him. Watching his trip to Washington on CSPAN a few months ago I was forced to try and keep my lunch down as I watched him cow tow to Bush and basically see how far up Dubya’s ass he could get his tongue while keeping his pants on. I will give it one thing though, I didn’t know that Bush was such a skillful ventriloquist; I actually believe I saw him taking sips of water when Harper spoke. Hats off to him for that one.

04 September 2006

Yet another snobbish restaurant review

Ever since arriving in San Diego I have been on the search for new and interesting food and restaurants that do different versions of the favourites I have enjoyed back home. This has been a touch problematic as the food in California is considered by most gastronomes to be what you scrape off your shoe after walking through a dog park. Either way I thought it would be worth trying out. I am now in a much higher tax bracket, which affords me a few additional luxuries. So far the results have been mixed. While the Mexican food has been fantastic, with Fidel’s in Solana Beach clearly leading the way, there are only so many times in a day when I crave authentic Mexican food. I also don’t feel that in general it is a very broad cuisine.

Saturday night we went to the Wine Sellar and Brasserie. We have gone to the Wine Sellar very frequently but most for wine tasting on Sundays and picking up a few choice bottles of wine. The staff has always been phenomenally helpful and have rarely steered us wrong. As a result I am finding myself becoming something of a wine snob. They have yet to really steer me wrong and I have enjoyed quite a few tasty wines as a result.

Now Michael and Jennifer had told me that the Brasserie portion was something of a French restaurant. This had me very excited as I had yet to eat at a French restaurant since arriving here and I love French cuisine. This was not something I held out a lot of hope for finding in San Diego as no one here truly takes food seriously. But trusting to my friends and the reputation they had built by my experience I was excited to try it out.

The restaurant itself is actually above the wine shop and you walk directly through the shop to get to it. Michael picked up a bottle downstairs to bring upstairs. I don’t remember the name of it but it was of an upper range of white wine and quite enjoyable. The setting itself is posh if not slightly dated. Brass accents and frosted glass should give you an idea of what I meant.

We were quickly seated and our host managed to find a chilled bottle for us. The menu is limited which is always a welcome sign, it means they have determined what they do very well and limited the menu to fit only that. There were a few options on the menu the piqued my interest but I think it was always clear that the filet mignon was always on the list. With a cut like a filet mignon you always order it rare so that the superior cut of meet is allowed to stand alone on your pallet. I also ordered the summer squash ravioli. Michael and Jennifer are always limited when easting out as it is very hard to find a lot of kosher options but luckily they seem to manage.

My first course the ravioli arrived. The presentation was well done. The flavour of the ravioli seemed to be buried too much in butter and salt, which is unfortunate because it ruined the natural contrast of flavours. It was not entirely without merit but I think the most disappointing part of this was the fact that it could have been easily improved by simply limiting the amount of butter and salt put in the meal.

The second course made it to our table very shortly after we had finished. The pacing of the meal was kept brisk without feeling rushed, which I appreciated. My filet arrived sitting on a medallion of potatoes and caramelized onions, surrounded by gravy. The filet was perfectly prepared and the cut was perfect. The meet melted like butter in my mouth. The medallion was very nice and quite a compliment to the filet. The gravy was again a little bit more salty than I would have liked but on the whole not exactly terrible.

In the final analysis a meal is roughly $50 a person and up. The food itself is good but lacks the artistry of an excellent restaurant. However, there is something to be said for safe restaurants in San Diego where there are so few to be had in the first place.