Namedropping for Googlejuice

The PFG Social Club Presents: The Hip-Hoppingest Canada Day Ever!

Asking Shad where he got that ill 'Ehlife' shirt.

But of course, you might already know some of this if you check out PFG Express.  You  do check out PFGX don’t you?  You really should.

As previously mentioned in these pages, I don’t really do heat, and outdoors, and the sweltering masses.  What I will do, however, is free.  So when Shad says he’s giving a free outdoor show as part of the Toronto Jazz Fest, I sort of need to be there.

Regular readers and listeners of RadioPFG [you do listen to Radio PFG don’t you?] will remember how quickly Mr. Kabango won my heart after I saw the video for Yaa I Get It and heard him chew the mic for for almost four minutes with no hook.  It was all love after that.  

I’d dragged my heels on seeing him live since I knew he liked playing with a band, and I’m sort of lukewarm to rap acts playing with live musicians, since sometimes even the best bands lack the sort of urgency I get from the actual sampled recordings.  But credit where due, Shad’s trio were on point, and the soundman in Metro Square knew how to punch the drums and bass to an proper level of kick.  They worked surprisingly well on most songs,but Shad didn’t try to shoehorn the band into every song if it wasn’t best for the song.

Maybe it was the weather, the festive patriotism in the air, but Shad put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, by anyone.  Because even when he was playing a melancholic song like Telephone, he’s so damn charismatic, so happy to be practicing his artform, he makes the audience want to follow him wherever he wants to go.  His show brought it back to the essence of what hip-hop is supposed to be: he cold rocked the party.  Song after song got the heads bobbing, even when he spit rhymes no one knew, he was doing it over familiar instrumentals, like when he went on in ‘Close To Me’ by The Cure.  Just because.

Should have kept the film running.  He did ‘Creep’ by TLC after that.

Fittingly, he closed with the broke ass anthem ‘The Old Prince Still Lives at Home’, since we were all at a free show anyway. As he told the crowd, ‘It’s that stay-at-home swag.’

All told, he may have gone for less than an hour, but he just killed it.  You know it’s a good show if I feel the need to elbow through a crowd to tell the guy.  If you ever get the chance to see dude rock a crowd, just go, he will not disappoint.

Oddly enough, the show was not the last time I saw Shad on Canada Day, as he swung by Roots drummer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson’s DJ set at Revival later that night.

I’ve seen Questo spin before, and while that was like attending a master’s course in hip-hop musicology, I was relieved to hear him announce he was our ‘Human iPod,’ and wanted the crowd to get dancing. And that’s what we did for the next three hours, although I will admit he seemed to go off on a late-70s/early-80s R n”B tangent that lost part of the crowd for awhile.  Nothing a little Katrina and the Waves couldn’t fix. At one point a speaker caught on fire, causing the usually unflappable Thompson to exclaim, ‘That’s never happened before! We blew the speakers out!’ with a laugh.

But you know it ain’t a party until some clown-ass sucker has to ruin everyone’s good time, and no exception here. We endured the obnoxiously quartet of broads humping each other all night only to have the set came to abrupt close just before 3:00 a.m. when some fool tossed a bottle of Evian at the stage, splashing Quest’s gear in the process.  Genuinely upset, Thompson lamented the TB of music he keeps on laptop, then told the crowd that was it.  A tweet the next day let everyone know how that worked out.

A sour end to what was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time, and that’s not even mentioning catching Melissa McLelland and Esthero at Harbourfront, or doing an impromptu rendition of Shimmy Shimmy Ya with some Hip Hop Karaoke regulars for a crowd of families and children.  A little something for everyone, friends.

I just don’t know where you kids get the energy.

The PFG Social Club: The Pharcyde @ NXNE 2011

Grown folk music for the young at heart.

I was recently out at a pub in The Annex neighbourhood of  Toronto with some coworkers having a chat with one of the young’uns.  She was surprised to learn I’m as old as I am.

“You’re thirty-three!?  How’s that working for you?” she asked, displaying the typical skills for tact shared by many 20-year-old women.
“You know what’s awesome about getting older?” I said, “You stop caring about a lot of dumb shit.  You hit this age, you have a clearer understanding of what you will and will not tolerate.”

Among the lists of thing I don’t tolerate in my early middle age.

  1. General admission concerts.
  2. Outdoor  general admission concerts.
  3. Getting weed smoke blown all over me at outdoor general admission concerts.
  4. Getting weed smoke blown all over me at outdoor general admission concerts by mooky frat boys  who stop blowing only to swap stories about getting their dicks wet.
I would never endure any of these things under normal circumstances.  But Sunday night was not a normal circumstance.  Sunday night was The Pharcyde.

The PFG Throwback: FLCL

Not an accurate representation. Actual show much more insane.

I’ve made no secret of how far anime fell from my good graces as I got older. Comics are probably the only nerdly pursuit I’ve invested more time and money in, but they can at least be sold one day for something resembling a return on investment. The 150+ VHS tapes I ultimately left at our old apartment when we moved were never going to get me a dime.

This sort of thing will sour a person.

But, despite my aversion to the Narutos and Bleaches and Death Notes of the world, there are series and movies that will always have a place in my heart and will always get a pass. And no collective except Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli gets carte blanche with me quite like Studio GAINAX.

These are the people who made the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remix Nadia. The people who crafted a beautiful meditation on faith and space travel with The Wings of Honneamise. And the people who continually reinvent the giant robot genre from Gunbuster to Gurrenn Lagann to a little known show called Neon Genesis Evangelion.

But perhaps none of their collected output means more to me than their 2000, six-episode miniseries FLCL, aka Fooly Cooly.

Essentially a demo for the studio’s newly finished CG division, FLCL is almost an indulgent vanity project, with the director throwing everything he loves [guitars, scooters, Lupin III, baseball] into a spastic bouillabaisse that doubles as an allegory for puberty.

How could this possibly be bad?

Naota is a middle schooler trying to play cool and nonchalant during a difficult time in his life. His brother has left him to play baseball in America, his brother’s girlfriend Mamimi is getting all kinds of inappropriate with him, and then a girl who may or may not be an alien runs over him with her Vespa and smacks him with a Rickenbacker bass guitar. Robots begin to spring from his head shortly thereafter. The series charts Naota’s struggle to deal with the changes in his body and his life, while trying to figure out what Haruka the alien girl is really after and defending his city from continued robot attacks. Yup.

Like most things featured in the Throwback, FLCL was hard to track down for a while. Despite popular airings on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, the company responsible for the original DVD release went under, copies dried up and prices shot up: the original Synch-Point boxset being the only thing I’ve ever been ripped off for on eBay; cost me 75 bucks, never showed up. I almost punched out a vendor at Toronto’s Fan Expo two years ago for implying my tastes were antiquated. Luckily, the show’s been reacquired by licensing behemoth Funimation, allowing me the chance to pick it up for a cool 30 bucks.

Visually, the animation hasn’t held up especially well. I can’t speak for the BluRay release, but the colours on the DVD look a little washed out, probably partially due to the yellow palette used on the sky most of the time. The animation isn’t quite as revolutionary as it was a decade ago: those 360-degree shots of people flying through the air look downright precious, although the famous ‘manga scenes,’ when the show changes from traditional animation to a camera panning over a narrated manga page, and the South Park cutout scenes look as good as they always did.

The Funimation set appears to preserve the original Synch-Point dub and director commentaries. For a guy who originally saw the show on a downloaded fansub, the show makes a fair bit more sense with the aid of a professional translation, though not much more.

And of course, there’s the music. Longtime readers of the site know how I feel about the pillows, and this is the place I first heard them. From the second the acoustic guitar chords of ‘Brannew Lovesong’ played during the menu, I was swooning like it was 2002 all over again. I know fans have given the band shit over the reworked instrumentals they did for the show, but I’ll always hold them in special regard. The video for ‘Ride on Shooting Star’ is even included in the special features, giving me the first legitimate piece of pillows memorabilia I’ve ever owned.

FLCL is still an amazing, ballsy work to witness, in the way that a lot of Gainax’s work is. It does exactly what it wants to do and doesn’t give a damn if you get it or not, and makes no effort to explain itself. If you know the pigeons that fly by in episode 5 are a nod to John Woo, or what the talk about red vs. blue ‘Cagliostro Castle‘ jackets, great. If you don’t, tough shit, you’re on your own. But an intimate knowledge of the jokes isn’t necessary to appreciate what a wonderfully mad experiment it is. It could even make me love anime again.

Ha! No, I can’t do that with a straight face.

FLCL: The Complete Series is available now on DVD and BluRay from Funimation.

Continuing Studies in Hip-Hop, or, Mourning the Adolescence I Wish I Had

She said reading Junot Diaz sounded in her head like I was reading it to her, since she found it so similar to my writing style. I told her it was one of the sweetest things anyone had ever said to me, and was also a reminder that I should step up the blogging again.  She agreed.  We’ll see if she still does when this is over.

People, this was a banner month for New York hip-hop history.  A couple of weeks ago, the folks over at DJPremierBlog got their hands on the full 10-minute clip of a 1995 freestyle session between Big L [RIP] and some guy named Jay-Z on the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia show on Columbia University’s WKCR.  And one week after that freestyle hit the web, Stretch and Bob hit the air for a 20th Anniversary show.

Like, you need to know, Stretch & Bobbito are responsible for probably the most important radio show in the history of hip-hop.  Saturday overnight, on a noncommercial radio station in the heart of the city, during the mid 90s.  That’s Biggie, Nas, Wu-Tang, Big Pun, Fat Joe, what most people consider the last great Golden Age of hip-hop.

Here, listen to Bob tell it.


How Red Dead Redemption Taught Me to Love Glenn Beck

Sooner or Later God'll Cut You Down

I woefully admit how late I am to the Red Dead Redemption party, which is sad for a Rockstar fanboy like myself [Playing Grand Theft Auto III the fist time was akin to a religious experience, and GTA4 is the only game I have pre-ordered and attended a midnight release for. Embrace my shame].

I wasn’t in any hurry to play RDR, primarily because I thought the open-world style of gameplay would prove ill-suited to such a sparse environment.  It works so well in the GTA series because you’re plopped in the middle of a bustling and well-developed urban environment.  I didn’t think I’d have the patience to cross vast ingame distances, on horseback, since equine transportation doesn’t come with radio accompaniment.

But, like Shadow of the Colossus before it, it turns out riding a horse through a vast landscape can prove quite serene. The game throws enough at you that even on those long horseback rides, I always found myself diverting off course to help strangers, hunt deer and collect plants, all those things that some people find mindless busywork in Rockstar sandbox games, I can never get enough of.  Let’s not even discuss my excitement when I took down my first Grizzly.

So the game provided me with numerous surprises. I certainly didn’t expect to walk away from it with a new appreciation of American Conservatism.


Remembering Satoshi Kon

Thank You. Rest in Peace.

I haven’t purchased anime in about two years, but the last time I did was when I found the final three discs of a show called Paranoia Agent on clearance [Geneon had closed its anime distribution by then, I think] and the only reason I bought them is because it was only a 13-episode show and helmed by Satoshi Kon.

A lot of anime is garbage. Can we admit this honestly? Even the ‘good’ titles are often rehashes of familiar scifi and fantasy tropes. But occasionally something comes out that actually makes use of the freedom allowed by the medium of animation to create something well above a pandering cartoon.

Perfect Blue is one of those films. Kon’s first movie is a psychological thriller about a former pop idol who wants to make it as an actress and finds herself stalked by one of her former fans who isn’t pleased with her more adult career choices. The movie displays the start of Kon’s fascinations with the dichotomies of truth and identity, the utter obliteration of what is real and what isn’t, looping back to the same spot again and again, revealing that what you just watched didn’t actually happen [or did it]. It blew me away when I first saw it, and is so much more than the gruesome cover artwork of an icepick-wielding Mima spattered with blood. Yes, there is murder. Yes, there is a rape [or rather, the filming of a rape scene for a movie, a moment which totally freaked a friend out when she saw it for the first time]. But it is a skillfully plotted thriller worth multiple viewings, and a knockout win for a first-time director. Kon joined the Miyazakis and Watanabes on my list of anime makers I would always keep up on, names that would always get me to stop and look at the box.

Kon passed away this week from pancreatic cancer, in the middle of his most recent project. My first thought was that I was a fool for not seeing his most recent work, 2006’s Paprika. But I think now it’s a good thing. It means I’ll have two more hours where I can be wowed by the man’s genius, two more hours to press STOP on the remote and say, ‘What the hell was that?’ in the best possible way. Seeing as it’s based in dreams, knowing Kon, it’ll probably make at least 2/3 of Inception look like a student film. I can’t wait to rent it.

And just because I always thought it was so brilliantly unsettling, I’m throwing in the opening credits to Paranoia Agent, the show I bought years ago, about people who fall into utter despair, only to be smacked in the face with a baseball bat by a boy in golden rollerblades.

Just keep laughing, even as the world ends around you. Primetime viewing in Japan, that.

We lost a good one this time, and at 46, way too young.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Clever Headline

In which the author embarks on a three-tiered discussion of the recent conclusion of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, and feature film adaptation.


Image: Martin Ansin

When you live in Windsor, Ontario, Scott Pilgrim is a somewhat fun if confusinglittle book by the guy who uglied up Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero [okay fine, it’s not that bad, but after Christine Norrie and Chynna Clugston’s work on the previous series, O’Malley can be pretty jarring].
But when you move to Toronto, Scott Pilgrim becomes somethingelse entirely, especially when you find out you work with the guy who married Wallace Wells. They love Scott Pilgrim up here. It’s almost totemic, a piece of art that celebrates and justifies everything from indie comics to video games to manga fandom to living in Toronto. Me being me, I did not react well to this enthusiasm.

Minor spoilers after the jump.

The Day I Won the Internet

You may have heard that yesterday the geniuses over at Old Spice, on the heels of debuting another miracle of commercial marketing starring Isaiah Mustafa [aka ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’] started posting Mustafa’s personalized replies to comments, tweets and Facebook wall posts on YouTube.  They started going up around noon EST and got posted steadily for the next eight hours, totalling about 130[EDIT: They seem to be at it again today, though whether these are leftovers from last night remains to be seen].

And of the thousands of people who tossed comments out, my lame one gets picked. It’s funny how the oddest things can snap you out of a funk brought on by professional setbacks.  Well, that and a well timed Carrol Chaning impression. But we’ll discuss that another time.  Peep the vid below.

Class is in Session: Questlove at the Drake Underground 6/29/10

In about four seconds, a teacher will begin to speak.

He said he had two sets: the set for dancing and getting wild, and the set for standing around and watching. The crowd obviously wanted the dancing set. He surveyed the crowd, repositioning the pick in his trademark afro and arching an eyebrow.

“Y’all are getting the fishbowl set,” he said, as the younger members of the crowd groaned their disapproval. “They’re both good sets!” he assured them.

“This is the history of the hip-hop sample according to Questlove.”

And like the bell rang, homeroom started. While my companion might have preferred he went with the dancing set, as a very amateur student of hip-hop, I was enthralled.


Some Final Words on Banksy

He likes getting scratched behind the ears. The dog does, too.

Thanks to the benevolence of some kind folks on Twitter I was able to scoot downtown today to get a look at the remaining Banksy piece here in Toronto I hadn’t found.  It’s probably my favourite of the batch, given the colour.  A little irritating to see how close I had been to it during my initial search on Monday; basically walked right past it.

For his part, Banksy has been continuing his North American travels, hitting up Detroit and Boston so far, with more to come no doubt.  To those of us who are fans, I found this post on Wooster Collective summed up the sentiment, echoing what I wrote the other day:

It’s been amazing to see how Banksy’s road trip across North America has completely energized local communities…For us, Banksy has given people a new reason to get out of their homes, explore their cities on a scavenger hunt trying to find pieces that have been put up in both heavily trafficked areas as well as those off the beaten path. [Source]

Exactly.  But if there’s one thing I’ve noticed since moving to Toronto, this city might love hockey, but they might love hating even more.

Tuesday morning word trickled in that the ‘Will Work for Idiots’ piece had been sloppily gone over by local tagger Manr.  Now, see…sigh.

The argument goes, ‘live by the can, die by the can.’ You’d like to believe most writers work under a code, and will refrain from flagrantly going up over someone who got there first. But the game is the game, and people will go over to claim a prime piece of real estate.  One piece of vandalism cannot be celebrated over another. Manr had every right to paint that alley as Banksy did.

But see, Manr wanted to make a statement.  He didn’t care if it was good, he just wanted to get himself over on Banksy.  Don’t think it’s a mistake that you can still see the original piece under that weak throw up. That’s the whole point. He wants all the Banksy fans, all the people who don’t give a shit about street art any other day of the week, to see his name. I can certainly understand that logic, I’d probably be pissed if no one in my city cared about the thing I dedicated my life to, but the second some crossover celebrity hits town, it’s all anyone can talk about. But what Manr did was just lazy.  And he’s got every right to be lazy, and I’ve got every right to think he’s a douche because of it.

That said, I think the alternative misses the point as well. I mean, props to the owners of that pub for recognizing what they had on the back of their building, but  it’s still altering the original environment of the work, and I just think graf should respected but not protected.

And Torontoist, I know you had people arguing for the reveal of the locations, but you should know I would not have had the amazing day I had on Monday if I had just gone to points on a map. I wouldn’t have talked to the people I did, I wouldn’t have seen the neighbourhoods and parts of the city I did.  And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

My Day With Banksy

Sore feet, but happy.

Anyone who loves street art probably froze for a good fifteen seconds when the headline ‘Banksy Comes to Toronto?‘ hit Torontoist on Sunday afternoon.  It wouldn’t have been the first time people thought they spotted the man’s work on the streets of T-Dot, people around here have been mistaking Fauxreel and Banksy’s work for years, so there was a healthy dose of skepticism.  But the evidence continued to pile up, to the point where the CBC of all places reported that Banksy’s publicist [Banksy has a publicist?!] confirmed that the pieces spotted were legitimate.

And then it seemed everyone in this city lost their damn fool mind for a minute.


On the Genius that is Jay Smooth

I have been woefully lacking in public appreciation for the homey Jay Smooth and all he’s done on his various sites over the years.  As an orator, Jay’s that cat you wish you could sound like, the guy who breaks everything down real simply, respectfully, in a way that always makes sense.  Today, he talks about people with a fatalist attitude towards politics, or when T-Pain met Hannity.

There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than browsing dude’s YouTube channel.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Let’s Talk About Love

Is this woman a genius? Tens of millions would say so.

Regular readers [Hi, Glenn] are likely aware of my love for the 33 1/3 series of music guides.  Slight, portable, packed with insight on records from the classic to the cultish, they represent some of the best music criticism you can find on the shelves. But one selection gave me pause: Carl Wilson’s book on Celine Dion’s ‘Let’s Talk About Love.’ How could that piece of garbage warrant any booklength examination? Why was it longer than books on Illmatic or OK Computer? So I did what I imagine most petulant and superior music fans would have done: sucked my teeth and walked away.

But this book refused to go away. It made year-end ‘best of’ lists, intelligent people recommended it online and in print, just last week it got an endorsement on the Slate Culture Gabfest.  So I finally bit the bullet and read the thing this week.  And it is everything they say it is.

Thing is, it’s not about Celine Dion at all.


I Got You Stuck Off the Realness

Ceci n'est pas un livre.

“Is it possible that contemporary literary prizes are exactly like the federal bailout package, subsidizing work that is no longer remotely describing reality?”

–David Shields, “Reality Hunger”

Yowch. There’s a lot to yowch about in Shields’ [“The Thing About Life is One Day You’ll be Dead“] latest. Reality Hunger calls itself a manifesto on the cover, but if anything it’s a printed mixtape. An argument presented in over 600 numbered snippets, none more than a page or two in length, some Shields wrote, some lifted from a variety of sources across a number of disciplines. The only way of distinguishing which is which is a poorly [by design] assembled appendix at the back of the book, an appendix Shields urges the reader not to consult. Because knowing who said what defeats the purpose of the book and what Shields is trying to accomplish. He wants to blend not only genre, but form. (more…)