Wednesday, December 20, 2006

White Cowbell Oklahoma at Lee's Palace, Saturday December 15/06

Toronto Chainsaw Massacre

In what might be a new seasonal tradition, White Cowbell Oklahoma played a Christmas show at Lee's Palace last Saturday. They were sharing the bill with Montreal prog-punk veterans Grim Skunk who haven't been seen on a Toronto stage in years.
Last year's Christmas 'Cowbell show at the El Mocambo featured plenty of the same stage act complete with Santa's giant juice-shooting prosthetic ahem, appendage, but a few repeated gags can be forgiven at a festive gig like this. Besides, this year they were joined by Grim Skunk who played to a good sized crowd given they went on stage by around ten p.m.
By the time White Cowbell Oklahoma hit the stage with a typically grandiose entrance, Lee's was packed. Five guys flailing away at various guitars and bass guitars led the group through a rousing opening song about getting high. By the end of the song, there were about a dozen people up on stage, including a judge and a couple of strippers prancing around the band. The judge was to preside over a trial between good (White Cowbell Oklahoma who love broads, booze and boogie) and evil (Satan representing the music business). The strippers were doing their thing. Although the simulated-lesbian-dominatrix-stripper schtick is a well worn cliche, the crowd loved it, and the White Cowbell Cowgirls (Cowbelles?) were happy to oblige. Much of the band's success derives from their visually charged stage act, which is at least amusing to even jaded members of the audience. They have Chainsaw Charlie sawing cowbells on stage with sparks flying everywhere, and a supporting cast of characters from Santa to a snowman, to the afore-mentioned judge and Satan himself to round out the band's already hefty stage presence.
White Cowbell use a lot of imagery associated with poor white American Southerners to present a raucus take of a religious revival meeting held in a strip club. They have southern-sounding pseudomnyms, they do interviews "in character" and dress like redneck extras from some lost Dukes of Hazard episode. While they are an obvious spoof of Southern Rock in the spirit of Spinal Tap, one wonders if the joke is on the audience- at least those who bought their trucker hats and bowling shirts at Urban Outfitters. White Cowbell Oklahoma is an odd but enjoyable mix of parody and sincere appreciation of seventies Southern and British rock.
They play better than spoof acts normally do, but their songs rarely stick out amongst each other. They all borrow liberally from the same early seventies English and American hard rock, with that Southern accent. Their flashier tunes, the ones where they can line up the various guitar players like Hollis on double-neck, the Sergeant, Clem (the band's main interviewee if not its leader) and the ebulliant Arland Stillwell III, all wailing at once, worked really well on stage. Anything less excessive would have sounded like a house band in some biker bar scene in a movie. While I haven't heard their c.d. "Casa Diablo", listening to White Cowbell Oklahoma without watching their stage antics wouldn't be the same. Luckily, they have a d.v.d. available, too.
Every few songs, the mock trial of the band versus the devil resumed, with the rightly dishonourable Judge interrupting the assorted guests running and gyrating around the stage and amplifiers. The band would start vamping on the introduction to Deep Purple's "Highway Star" (led by keyboard player Jesse, complete with what looked like Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord's floppy hat) until the trial recessed- they never did play the whole song, but we would hear more Deep Purple yet. The band wrapped up their set with their catchiest song, the charmingly meat-headed "Put The South In Your Mouth". Of course, the packed house demanded more, and the band was ready to oblige. They called members of Grim Skunk on stage to join them for an encore of "Space Trucking". Of course, nobody could surpass Deep Purple in over-doing this song. Anyone who has heard Purple on a twenty-five minute blow-out of their stage finale "Space Trucking" knows it ranks with "Dazed and Confused" for the most over-blown cock rock classic on any live album. White Cowbell Oklahoma's take of this seventies staple was spare by comparison, but still well worth the effort. Most of the audience left the show happy as soon as the song was over and the house lights came on. Surprisingly, after about fifteen minutes, the 'Cowbell returned for one last encore which caught the remaining crowd off-guard.
White Cowbell Oklahoma put on an entertaining concert, regardless of whether they are joking around or taking themselves seriously. Although their stage act is as important as the music itself, White Cowbell Oklahoma are not to be confused with some Weird Al Yankovic take on southern rock. The clearly appreciate the genre's music and they are eager to laugh at its excesses. The parody would wear thin very quickly if they were simply joking around and weren't playing well; imagine watching Sha Na Na playing a ninety minute set. White Cowbell Oklahoma seem to be courting true fans of southern rock as well as the trendier 'Everything Should Be An Ironic Joke' crowd. Holding on to both groups should be a challenge. In the mean time, they put on one hell of a show, that, ahem, most anybody can sure 'nuff enjoy.

Trouble Every Day

Of course, the title is a nod to Frank Zappa, but this is not a post about music. Unfortunately, I have been confounded by the 'Word for Blogger' software which I have installed in two computers, only to experience the same 401 error that won't let me upload text from my hard drive. Hence, this post will ignore the notion that blog entries about stalled blogs are a poor substitute for interesting writing and discussion, and I will take the time to kick start this blog before Christmas, as it were. Until I work out my Word for Blogger difficulties (as well as new, greater problems with my main computer), I will only be able to write material within the Blogger template.
Word documents awaiting their premiere here are mostly reviews I have written over the last while. The semi-recent ones include November 2006 appearances by Bettye Lavette, Prince Buster with Willi Williams and a bunch of other people at the Phoenix, and some recent music news. The idea is to cover many under-appreciated artists whose music finds its way into my hands, or whose performances I am able to see.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Now Getting It Ready...

This title borrows from a movie in which Peter Sellers is "getting it ready"... basically, my computer is keeps crashing and I have been busy with various other endeavours. In the mean time, I would like to post concert reviews I have written over the last while. I have covered dozens of concerts by artists who are hardly suffering from over-exposure, and I hope having reviews available here might force some direction and progress on this blog. I know I mentioned non-musical interests in my introduction, but I think I want to focus this blog on music matters; reviews and articles, which I hope will ultimately generate enough interest among fellow music nerds that we can learn a thing or three from each other.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Hello, and welcome to my first attempt at creating a web page of sorts. I haven't decided yet if this blog will focus on music-related musings, or if I will discuss other themes here as well. I write about quite a few topics from politics to book reviews, but I will likely start by writing about music here. I am not sure what the space limitations are here, but I intend to cover various issues pertaining to music, along with reviews of concerts, new releases, and new finds which seem obscure enough to warrant mentioning as 'new to me'. I would also like to engage people in discussing rare and unreleased recordings, about which there is often little information.
If I can figure out how to convert Word files into something I can upload here, I will also put up reviews of rarely discussed concerts from the few years. This is primarily in response to what I think is a lack of information about many of the artists I have reviewed over the years.
I should also take this opportunity to plug my radio show; it's called Veritable Infusion, and runs Mondays from 8 to 10 p.m. in Toronto on CIUT 89.5 fm or
Finally, my name is Erik and the names I wanted for this page were taken, so I picked a song and album title by the Jimmy Castor Bunch instead; "E-Man Grooving" which also works for me. I was tempted to run with "Veritable Infusion" but I want to write about things that might bore the average radio listener to tears, so I am not sure how closely related this blog will be to my radio show. I know there are a few of us music freaks who could easily blow a few hours discussing the best P-Funk tour or how the Rolling Stones' "Garden State 78" album came to be, or finding out a recording of some gig from long ago has recently surfaced and is now easily available at dimeadozen or some place. I might expand this blog or change topics altogether to cover various aspects of life in Toronto, let's see where it goes...