Sunday, April 06, 2014

Did that Rathburn a Little?

Erik Kolomayz's bloody bass after The Rathburns' show on April 5, 2014.

I get a lot of credit for pulling no punches when it comes to performing. In 2011, for example, after making a polite mess of a hotel room and proceeding to drag all the poolside furniture into the pool to have a feast with the band in the middle of the water at 4am, I woke up with a left big toe the size and colour of an eggplant. I taped my my toes together with gaffer tape and crammed them into my shoe in the fire exit before going out on stage at the London Music Club (Don't believe me? Here's proof at 3:51).

"The show must go on -- and will go on with 100% commitment," is something Paint is no stranger to (no pun intended). Personal crises, deaths in the family, just channel it all out on stage. This is a business,. This is art. This is performance. This is about your audience, not you.

But I must say, I walk out of every venue with my tail between my legs anytime I see a little Toronto band called The Rathburns.

My first interaction with The Rathburns, before they were even a band, was working with singer Frances at a record store. We shared an affinity for obscure Neil Young albums, and I always used to creep up behind her and smell her perfume -- which she was aware I was doing, but how could I not? Even after a sweaty slugfest on stage, she still smells spectacular.

Then all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, she was fronting this band (I didn't even show she sang at all, let alone wailed like a banshee and kicked the shit out of anything within a 10-foot radius), and the band just seemed to be coming out of the flood gates running.

I first saw The Rathburns live at the Horseshoe Tavern sometime last year, and before their set I see this dude roaming around the merch area with his arm in a sling, carrying a giant vial of prescription painkillers in his functional hand, popping these fuckers like candy. A few minutes later I see him on stage setting up the bass rig, and I'm thinking, "Seriously? Who's making the injured friend be a roadie!?!" He then carefully removed the sling, strapped on the P-Bass, and turns out he's Erik, the bass player in the fucking band.

The performance was one of zero restraint, by anyone in the quartet. Especially Erik. Complete sonic and physical annihilation.

I left the show and texted Jordan (Shepherdson, Paint guitarist) raving about what I just experienced, and how we had to play with them. So, we invited them to join a couple shows with us, including our Capsulated DVD release. We bonded pretty effortlessly, needless to say.

Cut to this weekend at the Rivoli, on the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. The Rathburns took the stage on a bill with our friends in Secret Broadcast (who released their Adam Kasper-produced album Filthy Souls) and the Ascot Royals, who were stellar as always in their own right.

But as though they weren't "fuck you" enough already, halfway through The Rathburns' set, I saw Erik jerk his right hand away from his bass for a moment and squirm a little. Next thing we all knew, the song had ended, and his hand was a swathing mess of red. This wasn't a paper cut -- he was fucking pouring blood.

So what does he do?

He licks some of the blood off his fingers, smears the rest all over his face, walks up to Frances, smears blood on her face, they keep fucking playing.

I'm always confident that Paint can hold its own in any situation, and we do. And I almost never say this about another band, so take this to heart: The Rathburns are a band that makes me just want to pack up my shit and go home.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Kurt Cobain Was My Elvis

(Rather than be a downer on this rather unpleasant anniversary, I thought I'd open this entry with a Kurt Cobain moment that always makes me laugh)
In April 2011, on the last day of tracking Paint's Where We Are Today record, producer Ian Smith and I went to see the Pixies on the Doolittle tour at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener. Before the show we caught up with a friend of Ian's named Norman Blake. Yes, that Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub. With the charisma of a wise elder and the kinetic energy and animation of a hyperactive child, Norman recounted the time Frank Black tracked him down at a Teenage Fanclub show in Scotland during the Pixies' 1993 supporting run on U2's ZOO TV Tour, confiding in him that at the end of the tour he was going to break up the Pixies.

Norman then made the most convincing case for a reunion tour I've heard: he pointed out that the Pixies weren't as appreciated while they were a band the first time around as they came to be after the fact, and that touring now was more a victory lap where Frank, Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, and David Lovering could actually perform for audiences who loved them, and experience just how influential their music and legacy have become firsthand.

A big part of The Pixies' filtering into mainstream consciousness came when Kurt Cobain claimed that all he was trying to do with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was rip off the Pixies -- and extended to working with producer Steve Albini, who recorded the Pixies' Surfer Rosa, on Nirvana's abrasive masterpiece In Utero. Of course, as bashful as he is, Norman didn't bring up the fact that Kurt Cobain had also cited Teenage Fanclub as one of the world's best bands.

So there I am in the Pixies' dressing room after the show sitting with Frank Black and Norman Blake, catching up on life, their families, and travels -- and it dawns upon me that I'm with the two guys Kurt Cobain cited as his biggest influences. This is music history right here. Never mind (no pun intended), for a moment, what Nirvana did; in the beginning, there was Teenage Fanclub and the Pixies.

My cultural awakening to music, which was discussed in a previous journal entry called "On Freddie Mercury and the Empowerment of Indians (From India)," came from the likes of Living Colour (as a person of colour facing a dominantly white playing field of rock 'n' roll) but my punk aesthetic and grassroots awakening to music -- the idea that it's a medium accessible to anyone with something to say regardless of your accessibility to formal training -- came solely, and entirely, from Nirvana. Some of the first songs I attempted to learn on guitar were Nirvana songs. I still can't play them properly.

I was lucky. I hit my formative years during a stitch in time when mainstream radio was being infiltrated by underground music; when Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous out of the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart. I didn't realize at the time that this was out of the ordinary; that the pop charts were no place for the destructive beauty of punk rock or anything remotely imaginative. But I came to expect -- and on more inspired days, demand -- that popular music not pander to patronizing notions that the audience is beneath its own intelligence, but has the capability to challenge the audience with art that appreciates and gives credit to the intelligence it has (harking back on my paraphrasing of Morrissey shared in Paint: Where The Fans Are Alright). Even though Nirvana on Top of the Pops may have been the exception to the rule, it set a standard for me right from the start that better was possible, and to strive for nothing less.

Instead of seeing The Beebs pacifying me on TV as a kid, I got my mind (and ears) blown by performances like this:

Being in grade school when Nirvana made their assault into mainstream society may have been what it felt like when the Beatles came out -- except Nirvana had two decades of anger and alienation built up over what had happened to music since the Beatles broke up. It all just poured out through their music in its dissonant ragged glory. And we all heard it. We needed to. It lifted us. It gave us hope. It spoke to us. It spoke for us. But it also gave us all the tools and the will to want to speak. Louder.

As Eddie Vedder so eloquently put all of our thoughts into words from the stage on April 8th, 1994, the day the news broke that Kurt Cobain had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head three days prior:
"Sometimes people elevate you whether you like it or not. And it's real easy to fall. I don't think any of us would be in this room here tonight if it weren't for Kurt Cobain."
I'm sure I speak for many when I say: Kurt Cobain was my Elvis.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, I'm left, despite this entry, with nothing to say but make a little room for kindness. Choose your words carefully because they can be weapons. Hug a stranger.

Or just crank "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" as loud as you can.