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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
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Chicken-Fried Folk

James Brotheridge
Published Thursday October 30, 06:45 pm
The Strumbellas take it one deep-fried drumstick at a time

The Strumbellas

Saturday 8

Capitol Music Club

For The Strumbellas, the next hurdle is the United States. While the Toronto alt-country group certainly isn’t forgetting its roots, there’s a whole world of folk fans down south that they’re just now trying to reach.

I reached head Strumbella Simon Rich as they were in the van, heading to Portland. At the previous night’s show, Rich said the band had been treated to the complete rock experience, courtesy of their opening act.

“It was this wild band,” he says. “It was really cool. They were a full-on Iggy and the Stooges thing, shirts off, rocking out. Full-blown rock and roll. That was a highlight of my night, to be honest.”

I can’t really see The Strumbellas, winner of Roots and Traditional Album of the Year at the 2014 Juno Awards, following suit.

“We might have taken our shirts off before this tour, but now, after all the fried chicken, I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to take their shirts off,” he says.

Fried chicken? Oh, yeah. While we’re talking, I tell Rich his voice sounds different than on the record, and he says it’s a product of two things: singing a lot and fried chicken.

“It’s been so awesome. We went down to North Carolina and just went crazy on fried chicken. We have this book that shows all the mom-and-pop restaurants in America, so we’ll just drive down the highway and go to this really cool mom-and-pop shop that serves really great fried chicken. That’s what we’ve been eating for five straight days.”

It might be a sign that Rich is comfortable enough these days, both in the band and with music in general, that he can binge on the finer American culinary traditions. For a long time — well before the band’s latest album (2013’s We Still Move on Dance Floors), and even before the band really got together in 2008 — he was such a nervous guy that he put his first band together by putting an ad on Craigslist. It worked, and it continues to work.

“I definitely see it getting easier,” says Rich. “When we started this band, I was a nervous wreck before every show. I think I’m in that middle stage where it’s gotten a lot better since I’ve started, but it’s not to the point where I can just walk up on a stage and perform as good as I want to. I still have a long way to go as a performer and a musician.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was 10, and I didn’t start a band until I was 26, and I think that’s because of the nervousness and fear of putting my music out in the world. It took almost 20 years for me to put that Craigslist ad up. It’s kinda like a long time waiting,” he says.

But now that The Strumbellas are going strong, Rich sees no reason to limit himself.

“You know what I wanna write? In the movies –– like, City Slickers or Star Wars –– you know those really anthemic, epic instrumental songs that movies have? That’s a huge goal of mine, to write stuff like that. I try to dabble in everything.”

 

Gary Numan

Saturday 1

O’Brians Event Centre

Time has been kind to Gary Numan’s face.

From the bone-white pallor (assisted by layers of pancake makeup) and robotic stance of his early-’80s “Numanoid” era, creases around his mouth and eyes have set in. The dyed black hair, white makeup and heavy eyeliner give his face a louche and world-weary quality. It’s a face that’s hanging on, hanging in there, a face that wants to give you one more performance before it relaxes for the night and wipes off the grease paint.

Numan is best known for his 1979 hit “Cars”, a chilly and rigidly structured blast of guitar-free synth from The Pleasure Principle. It’s one of the greatest examples of electronic pop music, and perhaps one of the slyest and most cogent commentaries on our relationship with technology.

Numan’s mainstream pop success fizzled out as the 1980s progressed, but he continued to release albums at a relatively steady pace, refining his sound and gradually moving from the cold all-synth sound of The Pleasure Principleto harder, guitar-laden music that felt closer in spirit to Trent Reznor than Kraftwerk.

His latest album, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind), is his first in several years. As the title implies, it’s a grim and dark affair charting his course through depression and creative uncertainty. Numan fans will recognize his style immediately, but for those who only recall him as the awkward android figure from the ‘80s, Splinterwill come as a shock. Grinding, booming bass and plenty of effects-heavy guitar lines present a version of Numan that feels like an Edwardian Gothic nightmare.

 

Numan has adopted appropriate attire to match his persona, with a crushed velvet top hat and dark jackets replete with furred collars. The lead single “I Am Dust” will tell you everything you need to know about the album’s obsession with mortality and despair. It’s those obsessions, though, that have given Numan a new creative edge and a catharticspark. /Aidan Morgan

 

 

The Lad Mags

Friday 7

Vangelis

It’s nice to know that even a few years into being a band, a group like Edmonton’s The Lad Mags can hit an important new milestone.

“We just recorded our first song past the three minute mark –– I think it’s three minutes and 30 seconds –– so we’ve been calling it our prog song,” says Amelia Aspen.

Impressive, because the five-member group works mostly in two-minute bursts of garage-rock, creating short pop songs that draw as much from psych as from vintage soul.

“Everything we do is pretty quick and short,” says Aspen. “I don’t think our set has ever extended past 30 minutes, and it’s usually less than that. We like to just keep it snappy. For a lot of psychedelic musicians, it’s nice to have something seven minutes long: you can just jam out and the band can take you on some sonic, cosmic journey, but that’s just not the kind of music that we make. We keep it snappy, poppy, quick and short.”

The group started with this style in mind, drawing from music like “a lot of the Motown bands and Girls in the Garagecompilations,” says Aspen. “They’re really simple but powerful. These women just have so much sass. At the time that we were getting together, we were just feeling that and wanted to channel that a bit.”

Aspen and her bandmates –– Ashley Hollands, Candice Kelly, Dara Humniski and Joe Stagliano –– share a bunch of duties, with songs coming in from three core songwriters and some members rotating on guitars and the Farfisa organ. If you’re hearing a bit of a spooky influence in their music –– for example, on their new seven-inch, first available at this Saskatoon show –– it mostly comes from Hollands, according to Aspen. What do we mean by spooky? Well, like, their Facebook affiliation being listed as the Devil.

 

“I’m not saying she’s the source of all the creepy, spooky stuff, but she’s definitely really into classic horror movies and ghost-y references,” says Aspen. “A lot of that stuff is her artistic input. She’s a creep. A loveable creep.”

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