Tag Archives: Ben Harper

What 2011 Sounds Like

I like lists. I list everything – from things I have to do, to music I want to check out (a never-ending list), items that need to be remembered. I’m certain my list-making has been noted with interest on here over the course of the last year. Top Five lists in particular. I wonder if that means I’m somewhat indecisive – I can never pick just one. So I make a list.

I got an email notification the other night after Lila posted her song list for 2011. Imagine my delight at having a new list to read. The best part of reading lists created by others (especially those that hold music to the same standard I do) is that they make you think and consider what you would put on your own list of similar making.

I’ve spent the last couple of nights reveling in thoughts of the last year. Remembering the songs that stick out. Highlights of memories.. Perhaps it’s too early yet for this kind of reflection – don’t most people save that for a New Year? Regardless of timing, this is my counter to Lila’s 2011 list. My Top 13 songs of 2011. It should be 12. I’d say I’m being rebellious, but the fact is, I couldn’t cut any more out. I whittled it down so much already, I couldn’t bear to take another out. Every song is tied to a memory from the past year. Every song has been shared in some way with those closest to me. Some given to me, like small gifts. Some shared with those I hold in the highest regard. Each and every one part of the essential makeup of who I am, what I’ve done and where I’m going. They have shaped my year. Have a listen.

Ryan Star, Start a Fire

My year both started and ended with Ryan Star. A January NYC adventure with Lila to see Ryan, Hesta Prynn, Gambit and Hot Chelle Rae at Webster Hall. This was the show that began my year. Ryan Star opening for Goo Goo Dolls in Erie was the last concert I saw this year, again, with my favourite travel companion – Lila. Truly amazing that Ryan began and ended my soundtrack of the year.

Even better is that I have managed to influence others to his musical fortitude. My rides to work are laden with his music (shout out to Melissa, who I maintain will be in tow should Ryan Star ever announce a Canada concert date… she was an immediate fan).

Despite the changes the last year have brought, the ability to listen to Ryan’s music, sing along loudly, dance wildly when alone and run faster when it’s on my iPod has not wavered.

Pretty Girls Make Graves, The Teeth Collector

This is where Sean B. gets a huge shout out. The scene: At work. New guy sitting in the room, reading his books diligently. Until my phone alarm goes off and I’m begged to go turn it off. I walk in, do so and am faced with the question: “Hey, is that Florence + the Machine?” Instant musical friend. Sean B. has shared a great deal of musical talk and influence over the last year. A quintessential musical snob (never ever trash Depeche Mode to him and never ask him to listen to the Foo Fighters), he never fails to share music and thoughts. And even when we don’t agree, he is still one of my first go-to guys for musial knowledge.

Pretty Girls Make Graves was one of the bands shared with me almost one year ago. Hundreds of songs given all at once. And while Pretty Girls are no longer making music together, they were an instant favourite. Retro-90s-girl-grunge. The guy knows good music.

Girl Talk, Jump on Stage

Another Sean B. recommendation. Girl Talk gets on the list since it is my at-home pilates work out music. An eclectic mix of classics and modern pop. It is the only way I can remotely tolerate current “pop” music – all part of a great mix. Girl Talk was shared freely (literally – the music is free) with so many people over the last year. I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t loved it instantly. The album All Day became an ice breaker at parties, the music I sweat to and a constant friend of my iPod.

Jump on Stage was chosen since it features sampling from Portishead.  ‘Nuff said.  I had to.

Grab Girl Talk here: http://illegal-art.net/allday/

Beastie Boys, Don’t Play No Game I Can’t Win

Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. It was the album that revived my love of the Beastie Boys. Not that it ever really waned, but they became a part of my past soundtrack. Now, as part of my current soundtrack, I have shared my love of this album with many. A great return. Add in DJ Z-Trip’s phenomenal mix of past and present Beasties and it was music love.

The video for Don’t Play No Game? Classic. Who couldn’t love it?

Find DJ Z-Trip’s remix here: http://ztrip.bandcamp.com/album/z-trip-presents-all-access-a-beastie-boys-megamix

Hollerado, Got to Lose

Summer of 2011. I had held tightly a sense of musical snobbery, ignorant of much of the current Canadian indie scene. Got to Lose was shared with me and launched months of great music shared. With lyrics like “we sipped red wine with our lips upon the vine and our bodies got tangled in the night”, my interest was piqued. Maybe I was due for a change. It was likely a challenge of super hero-ish proportion to get me to pay attention.

Even now, their current release, “Good Day at the Races” makes me smile and sing. They are eclectic and fun.

Hey Rosetta, Welcome

A song that makes you pay attention to the detail. Whether it is how bright the stars are in the sky (something I’ve noted with increasing frequency this year – all because of those late night/early morning runs) or the guitar riff that plays two-thirds of the way through the song, the song became a reminder to appreciate the small things. And then to share them with those that will appreciate them with you.

Yoav and Emily Browning, Where is My Mind

The Pixies did it first. The Sucker Punch soundtrack reminded me of it. The soundtrack that played throughout my summer. The movie that played and reminded me how to be at my strongest. And when I heard the oldest of my “Little Beats” singing along to the Pixies version, my pride was strong.

This was a song played during nights of solitude. A bottle of wine, my thoughts and anticipation. A song just for me.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Paris

Summer 2011 ended with a tour of Toronto with Lila and a meet-up with my favourite French Mafia member, Sophie and her cousin Jill. Sound Academy. Packed house and being blown away by the sheer power that is Grace Potter. I’ve loved her music for ages, but seeing her live was a great ending to my summer. Warm winds at the waterfrong, Ben Harper’s crooning voice after the electric energy of Grace Potter, fried dill pickles and amazing company. A stellar combination.

Young the Giant, My Body

My Body started it. I have to properly thank the superhero who shared this first. I had no idea. This was the song that made me run harder, run faster, run happier. At work, it came on the radios and the mood changed on the entire line. People smiled. Volume increased. Tapped toes. Bobbed heads and sang along. Watching a song change people this way and charge the atmosphere made me realize Young the Giant were something great.

Followed by the release of Cough Syrup, they have maintained their status as a favourite of the year’s soundtrack. Every time I hear Cough Syrup, I share that I’ve heard it and welcome the fact that there are people who listen for me when I can’t hear it. It makes me smile and remember and think of excellent things.

Even better will be to share Young the Giant at Sound Academy with Sophie in March. Continuing their inclusion in my daily soundtrack is a great thing.

Company of Thieves, Won’t Go Quietly

This is where I thank Lila. She has been my musical partner in crime for ages, but we have had an amazing 2011 together. We have shared great music (even when we disagree on it). She has been a truly amazing friend and I’m eternally grateful for her.

Lila shared Company of Thieves with me when Death of Communication came out. Then when Running for a Gamble dropped, she made sure I had it in my hands. Of course, it was immediately shared with those that influenced me the most this year. My gift back to them.

Florence + the Machine, Shake it Out

2010 had Flo on the soundtrack as well. Which means that when Ceremonials was released, it was immediately downloaded and reflected upon. And while there are some who claimed Shake it Out sounded like an 80s sitcom montage (I’m taking that as a compliment.. it means it’s a memorable song.. ha!), I instantly loved much of the album. The acoustic version of Shake it Out is what gets sung to the loudest. The lyrics resonate, Florence Welch’s voice gives me shivers and I dance wildly. A great vision.

Although Shake it Out and What the Water Gave me were both pre-released the remainder of Ceremonials didn’t disappoint. No Light, No Light has shown up on my running list countless times. An album that will likely show up on next year’s list as well.

Foo Fighters, Walk/These Days

I think if I was going to choose a single album of 2011, Foo Fighters’ Waking Light has to be it. Which is extremely surprising for me. Perhaps a sign of good influence showing me that not all great music is not “popular”.

It started with Randy Scott Slavin (of Hesta Prynn video fame) and his directing of a White Limo video. Parquay and crazy monkey business.

It finished with These Days being a near constant thought in my head. Music shared with those that are like-minded sounds better. Proof that old dogs (so to speak) can learn new tricks. Which is to say, I learned something this year. To listen better. To leave behind my snobbery and be open to new ideas.

Even Walk was a near constant shared listen. Even after it was noted to me that the video was based loosely on the movie Falling Down (one enjoyed ages ago and completely forgotten).

I took a poll of which song to pick. It was decided we couldn’t pick just one. Walk and These Days.

Foos have always been sort of background music (save for Everlong.. a truly great song). Never has a Foos song been so prevalent in my soundtrack. They’ve always been there – steadfast and good – to be sure. But not overtly current. Waking Light was a great album, at a great time, to have them at the forefront. Here is my appreciation to those that shared it with me and reminded me that, even I, could appreciate “popular” music. When it’s great.

I’ll take all that with a side dish of Cheese Whiz, please.

The Black Keys, Lonely Boy

Howlin’ For You was another one of those summer songs that made people smile and rock out while checking cars. Not that the Black Keys were off my radar before this song (Tighten Up was enjoyed), but it was the one I heard most this summer.

When El Camino was released, I had to have it. The pre-released Lonely Boy was another one of those shared songs. Even better was when I shared the video. Shared laughter. Was that really it? Best video ever. Followed by catching up on the SNL performance. Lonely Boy is one of those songs that makes me smile every time I hear it. Both because of its shared value and because it’s just a damn good song. It’s a song that makes me jump up to share it when I hear it. And I’m calling it now – Gold on the Ceiling from El Camino (which was performed at SNL) will be one of the songs to start my 2012 soundtrack.

Stay tuned.

A night of velvety goodness…

Typically I don’t get to see many shows unless I travel south.  So when my good friend Nom sends me a message about an art gallery (The Bohemian Gallery in Bracebridge) she is affiliated with is hosting musicians now for small intimate gigs then I jump at the chance.   Nom and I share many music likes (and dislikes) and she fits in with the groove that Betty Beat and I dance too.  I trusted that she wouldn’t take me to some off-the-wall artsy fartsy gig, and she didn’t.  Tammy at The Bohemian Gallery is a sweetheart and makes a mean cup o’ Joe, I will return.

The gig consisted of two young folk musicians.  Two cute Canadian boys from British Columbia, travelling across the country playing their tunes for anyone that will really listen, well I really listened.  I love their vibe, I loved their gumption to just travel and play anywhere.

First up – My Boy Rascal – Nom gave me a bit a background as she had youtubed to get a feel for what we were getting into that night.  She was bang on – he did have a Ben Harper vibe.  He played an eight song ‘unplugged’ set and I was a fan right at the first tune “OK”.  Nom and I had been chatting and prior to the show about cover songs, about the new show Cover Me Canada and about Betty’s previous blog post about covers and over-played music at her  job.  We were talking Alannah Myles and Black Velvet.    My Boy Rascal softly says after he played three original songs ‘this is a cover of a Canadian Classic, I think you will know it’.  I leaned to Nom and said ‘Black Velvet’ before one note was even played.  I nearly spit coffee across the gallery when I heard “Mississippi in the middle of a dry spell’.  Seriously, I must be musically psychic.  I loved it, even if I couldn’t look at Nom as she was red-faced and on the verge of tears.  It was a funny moment for us, but in an art gallery immersed in the mellow vibe of an amazing musician we had to contain it, we did and all was good.

Next up – Folk Thief – The first note in gave me the chill, the chill of nostalgia and he is clearly influenced by the country folk twang of Johnny Cash.   As I’ve blogged before, JC is a huge reminder of my Grandpa Smith, and I always appreciate the memory.   I didn’t just love Folk Thief’s tunes – the nine song set was completely original music, but his interaction with his intimate audience (and vibrant wee babe) was charming and entertaining.  The shoe stompin’ on the guitar case, the squeal of the strings all added to the great set. 

The final was a song where both My Boy Rascal and Folk Thief played together and it was a great close to the evening.

I’m a fan, and I will follow these boys virtual as the finish out their tour.  Look them up and give them a listen.

My Boy Rascal – http://music.myboyrascal.com/

Folk Thief – http://folkthief.com/home.cfm

And keeping in the ‘if you post/tweet it, I will listen’ theme of things, I found My Boy Rascal had posted a youtube video of ‘Black Velvet’




Nocturnal Activities



It’s been months since Lila and I hit a concert together. In fact, the now illustrious No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn adventuring was the last time we took off together. So imagine our delight when we planned on a quick trip into Toronto to see Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Ben Harper.

The plan was to take a day, hit Toronto early, pamper ourselves a bit, see some friends and hook up with more friends for the concert.

And that is exactly what we did. I won’t bore you with details of the perfect pedicure or how fabulous it was to catch up with old friends and meet new ones (shout out to Sophie and her cousin-in-law, Jill, for keeping us company and sharing fried dill pickles late at night under the stars).

Let’s keep to what is important here: The music.

Sound Academy does well as a smaller venue, despite packing in a crowd much like sardines on a hot plate. In two words: hot and smelly. But, it’s par for the course. It smells like a concert. And the patio is second to none, right at Polson Pier, so you wait to go in with views of the harbour, sailboats a plenty and beer in hand. A pretty good way to spend a summer evening.

A note to those who will choose to see a concert here: Pay the extra $20 or so for the balcony seats. Less heat, less crowd and no blissed out fans swaying into you or gaggle of girls pushing through on their way to the one bathroom that doesn’t have a lineup equal to that which you see only at amusement parks at the height of summer on a long weekend.

Upon entering and meeting up with our party, we managed to snag a table on the patio, grabbed beverages of the alcoholic variety and let the gossip flow. C’mon now. We’re girls. It happens. And as it happens, while we were sipping beer and trading gossip notes, we heard the low and sultry voice of Grace Potter. Time flies. We hauled ass inside and managed to push and smile our way closer to the stage. Normally, we would be front and centre immediately upon getting to the venue in order to see our favourite bands, but the lure of sun and beer and good company was too much to pass up.

Luckily, we managed to get a good view of the stage. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are even more enticing live than they are on the sad little speakers in my stereo. Which isn’t to say they are bad at home, by any stretch of the imagination. I became a fan based on YouTube videos and poached MP3s (until I downloaded the album in its entirety). But live, they are outstanding. The live show does justice to the strength of Potter’s voice. Her stage presence is nothing short of breathtaking. She has a great energy and moves from low and slow to dancing ’round the stage in fits of complete musicality. Is this a group that truly loves to perform? If they don’t, they put on a great game face. Matt Burr, for example, is the single most smiley-est drummer that I’ve ever seen. Which made us smile.

Although we were a bit disappointed with the set list (Lila’s favourite wasn’t played), I was appeased when Paris was played as the encore song. Not necessarily my favourite, it was an excellent way to end the set – with the crowd dancing and singing along. As they should. Lila and I were both ecstatic to hear White Rabbit live as well. So, when I say disappointed, I mean an insignificant amount of disappointment. Because, overall, the only thing I could have wished for was a longer set.

Just a side note for the band: More Merchandise! Lila and I have a tradition of getting concert paraphernalia wherever we go. I managed to snag a super cute Ben Harper tee and sticker. But, since I already have the GPN album, I was left with no tangible memory (well, aside from the numerous photos and videos we shot).

And, of course, I would be remiss to not discuss Grace’s stage outfit (since she does often on her FB page). Gorgeous. There isn’t much to say about it. It caught the lights, it was flow-y and pretty and she looked amazing. Just as I expected.

This was just the opener. As Grace said, she was “lathering” up the crowd for Ben Harper. No “lathering” required, since the crowd was completely ecstatic when Ben came out. I can happily say that everyone standing around us commented on the strength and amazing tone that Grace possesses, the energy this group brings to a stage and how completely fantastic they found them. And I admittedly smiled to myself, having previously discovered GPN – sharing good music, even with complete strangers, is an inspiring experience every time. When the person standing next to you watches a band you love with a smile and can only exclaim, “Holy shit.. they’re GOOD. She’s AMAZING” it gives you a little shiver to happily respond, “I know!” And when the feel of the bass and the drums build to a crescendo and you can feel it deep in your chest as you nod your head and sing along… it’s perfection. Shared perfection, which is almost always better.

The only other thing I have to share about Grace Potter is her age (faux pas?). She’s 27. Which always surprises me since her voice has a maturity and depth I haven’t heard in ages. Reminiscent of Joplin at her best (in terms of vocal quality), with a sense of style more akin to celebrity fashion gurus (with a bohemian flair), there is a raw edge to Potter that you don’t expect from someone so young.

My next goal? To see a full set from GPN. I can’t wait.

 So, on to Ben Harper. What can I say about Ben Harper? The guy is a genius. He is as delicious in person as he is on any screen throughout my house. Oh yeah, and he sounds pretty good too. I’m not certain that Sound Academy was the best venue for his sound. I’d rather see him play in a smaller venue. Like my living room, sitting on my couch, guitar in hand… oh, wait. Okay, so maybe without such a crowd. But I suppose that is what you expect – big names make big draws. So, despite spending the rest of my evening grappling with the crowds, the set was flawless. There were new favourites, old favourites, a couple of covers (Zepplin and CSNY) and Ben was just as expected – solid and good.

But the best moments, for me, came with crowd interaction. During Ben’s encore when he exclaimed, “Toronto! You always smell so good!” and then noted he was high by the second song in (I didn’t inhale…) – that smelled about right. The moment when instead of batting the one single giant green Heineken balloon, he decided to jump on it and pop it – the claps and cheers from the crowd was equally endearing. Even better was when he realized he dropped his wallet (I was farther back by this point.. I’m guessing wallet) after the popping debacle and his laughter became contagious throughout the crowd and the cheers were deafening.

Overall, Ben Harper delivered a solid set in a venue that may not have been my first choice to see him in. But it was solid. And good. Nothing may have taken my breath away, aside from the stifling heat and the crowd at The Sound Academy, and I fully admit to taking a breather outside for a bit to indulge in some greasy goodness that is the deep fried pickles at the outdoor food vendor.

Since it was my first Ben Harper concert, I will give him this – he has some really amazingly dedicated fans. The crowd blissed out to every song, hung on every note and the vibe was laid back and relaxed. A much different vibe from GPN’s opening set. But it was perfect for a warm summer night in July. It is the way summer should be spent, so I’m ecstatic I got to spend it watching Ben Harper for one night.

As is tradition for Lila and I at every concert, or, really whenever we get together, there are shots consumed. We usually try for at least one of something expensive. Although we both agreed to re-think that idea for a “tradition”. Anyway, last night’s shots of choice, in classic Beat & Lyric stylings: Melon Balls. One of each. Cost: $12.50. Half the price of NYC’s Hypnotic, but a wee bit more than Woodstock’s Dirty Polar Bears. Went down smooth. Much like the show.

Nicely played, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and Ben Harper. Thanks for letting us spend the night.

p.s. More pictures and videos to follow soon – I almost always poach from Lila, so you’ll have for her to chime in.

Song(s) for Today – Anticipation

It’s the shortest countdown I’ve ever done (and if you know me, you know I usually count down everything).

One day. Just one. Tomorrow Lila and I will hit Sound Academy in Toronto to see Ben Harper. Grace and the Nocturnals (who we both adore) are opening. We have some amazing people to keep us company and we’re going to spend our afternoon pretty-ing up and hitting the town.

Some will call it crazy – much like the No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn escapade. Hell, I’ve even been called somewhat irresponsible for a multitude of reasons. And it’s all good. And so worth it.

So, the songs for today are pretty obvious. Ben Harper’s latest from his new album, Don’t Give Up ‘Til it’s Gone and a favourite from Grace and the Noctunrals.

Concert debauchery notes to follow, I’m sure. Stay tuned.

Don’t Give Up on me Now, Ben Harper

 Paris, Grace and the Nocturnals (the first song I heard from this band and immediately loved):

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