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Black History Month is a time of reflection

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Evelyn Kissi of Humber’s Afro-Caribbean Student Association, urges appreciation of African roots.

Evelyn Kissi of Humber’s Afro-Caribbean Student Association, urges appreciation of African roots.

Dr. Francis Jeffers, curator of the Toronto-based International African Inventors Museum, recently brought his museum’s travelling exhibit to Humber’s Lakeshore campus as a prelude to Black History Month.

For Jeffers, the February marking of African heritage is about affecting change in the way we think and interact with different people and cultures.

“I look forward to the time when we don’t have Black History Month, when it just becomes normal. The day is hopefully coming when we don’t need to do that, but right now we need to,” said Jeffers.

“We need to create the opportunity to kick start a change in how people think and how we see people and how we work together.”

Evelyn Kissi, president of Humber’s Afro-Caribbean Student Association, considers Black History Month to be a time of discovery.

“It’s about ‘what does this culture have that we never heard of?’ We always see the negative part of what Africa has to offer, but my goal is to show the people of Humber that it’s not all bad,” said Kissi.

Black History Month is a time of reflection, a time to look ahead and consider how all communities have made contributions that advance humanity, said Jodie Glean, human rights and diversity coordinator for Humber College.

“When we look at the strengths of the past, we’re looking at the tools and the mechanisms that have been put in place throughout time which are allowing our black students and all black individuals to be able to achieve and go forward,” said Glean.

The Human Rights and Diversity office is bringing noted academic Dr. Njoki Nathani Wane to Humber North campus as part of a Feb. 4 event titled Building on the Strengths of the Past.

Dr. Wane, a University of Toronto academic specializing in anti-racist feminism theory, will be speaking on the role of educators in enhancing academic achievement, focusing on students of African descent.

Building on the Strengths of the Past will be held in the North Campus Student Centre, room KX101 on Feb. 4, at 11:30 a.m.

Harper, Hands Off That Subsidy

Conservative leader and Canada's PM Harper speaks with journalists over breakfast in Toronto

Stephen Harper is this election’s Rob Ford. He’s way ahead in the polls, widely despised by those who see themselves as “logical” or “practitioners of common sense”, and he’s promising a healthy mix of boneheaded reforms and handouts to the citizenry. The most sensational of which, has been the recent promise of an adult physical activity credit. While this is interesting in itself, the more important promise that seems to have been quickly overlooked is one which concerns all parties and all voters. I’m talking about his promise to eliminate per-vote subsidies (if the Conservative Government wins a majority of Parliamentary seats).

The main issue with this is, quite obviously, that the elimination of this subsidy means less funding for all political parties. This may not necessarily have a significant impact on parties with strong and well-developed fundraising infrastructures like that of the Liberals or Tories, but it would most certainly take a significant toll on smaller parties, especially those who do not have seats in parliament, (as if Elizabeth May didn’t have enough problems at the moment). Those who vote NDP or Green (or other parties which gathered 2%+ of the popular vote) often take comfort in the fact that even though their candidate may not have won, their vote still helped to fund/support the party. Under Harper’s proposal, these losing votes would essentially mean nothing, have no impact, and be little more than a statistic in Elections Canada’s reports.

The secondary issue is that it would mean that there is a significant financial hurdle for any small or grassroots party looking to compete in the “big leagues”. Without these subsidies, it becomes extremely difficult for any developing party to mount consecutive election campaigns. Certainly, it doesn’t make it impossible, but it does suggest that should this subsidy abolition ever pass, the face of Canadian politics would change dramatically. We would essentially become a three party system, with nearly no hope for expansion or growth. Parties will have to turn to new sources of capital, which may mean that wealthy individuals or corporations may find themselves increasingly involved in Canada’s political process. I think Layton said it best when he asked, “do we want to go back to the days where money, and those who can finance campaigns, determine the nature of our democracy?”

With all this worry and serious concern, why is it, you may ask, that Harper thinks this is a good idea? Simply put, he thinks this is an easy way to cut down on the number of elections that are called. The theory is that because of these subsidies, the “main” parties always have a war chest of funding “ready to go”, and as a result, could theoretically run a campaign at any time. There are periods of fundraising, sure, but financial accounts are always being replenished by these subsidies, making an election always a lurking possibility. For those who think that Harper’s been doing a good job, this may seem like sensible thinking. For those of us who think before we speak, we quickly point out that there are a great many reasons why elections are called, and this reasoning generally does not appear amongst them.

It’s obvious that Harper is planning for the future. Quite a few of his promises thus far are contingent on things like the Conservatives winning a majority of parliamentary seats, or the promises not being honoured until several years have passed. He is doing his best to create a platform that, if successful, will gut the financial infrastructure of his opponents, and he is doing this by promising things to voters that he will not have to make good on until the end of his term (should he and his party win). It is my hope that voters see past this smoke and mirrors approach to politics, and instead see the sticks that are being obscured by carrots of fitness credits and cool new fighter jets.

In the meantime, I urge you to try and stay aware of what’s going on with this election. With new promises and controversies emerging every day, it’s easy for the subsidy-axing to get lost in the shuffle. Don’t worry about your immediate personal gains, and focus on the issues and promises that have far-reaching long-term impacts for the country as a whole. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re voting locally. You’re voting for the party leader, sure, but it’s indirectly that you cast your vote for them. At the end of the day, you’re voting for the candidate best represents your riding in Parliament. The party leaders matter, but it’s your local MP that ensures you voice is heard. Ignatieff may not have come back for you, but he’s got a whole mess of party members that did (as do all the other parties).

Oh, and read this: The Canadian Nixon. It’s a silly title, but the content itself is likely to open some eyes. On that Alex Jones-esque point, I bid you good night, and good reading.

Bring Green on the Scene: Let May Debate!

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With the Federal election now in full swing, we as voters are being bombarded each day with a multitude of issues, promises, and new attack ads. By far the biggest, and most nonsensical issue of whether the Green Party should be allowed to participate in the upcoming debate between the major party leaders. On the surface, the issue seems like it resolves itself. In 2008’s Federal election, Green Party leader Elizabeth May faced an uphill, yet successful, campaign to be allowed to participate in the very same debate. While logic would dictate that she should be allowed to participate again, this does not seem to be the case. This raises two basic questions: why not, and what’s the worst that could happen?

Their initial justification is that because the Green Party has no seats in Parliament, they (along with all other parties with no seats) would not be permitted to participate in the debates. It sounds reasonable, but as they were allowed to participate in the debates in 2008, what has changed? Maybe it’s because they just don’t get many votes in the first place?

Wrong. According to Elections Canada, in the last Federal election, the Green Party garnered 937,613 votes. This means that they received the fifth most votes out of all participating parties in 2008. To give you an idea of where their numbers lie in terms of the parties directly above and below them in the rankings, the Bloc Quebecois occupied fourth place with 1,379,991 votes, and “Independent” candidates took sixth place with 89,387 votes. That’s right. The Bloc managed to amass only 400,000 more votes than the Greens (which is very few, considering how many seats they won, compared to the Green Party’s zero seats), while the Green Party managed to best their nest closest ranked “party” more than ten-fold. Granted, ours is not a system based upon proportional representation, so these factors wouldn’t make a difference in terms of parliamentary seat distribution, but as debates are far from an official extension of our democracy, surely we can use these numbers to determine who should and shouldn’t participate in the party leader debate.

What do these numbers tell us? Considering Elections Canada reports the number of votes actually cast in the last election was 13.9 million, it means that just under 1 in 14 voters in the last election felt their views and beliefs were best represented by Elizabeth May and their local Green Party-affiliated candidates. Granted, the voter turnout of last election failed to reach even 59%, but this still does not excuse the fact that a great deal of Canadians voted Green, and their omission from the leader debates conveys the notion that the political views and beliefs of almost 1 million Canadians (who actively participate in the democratic process of their country) do not deserve to have their party’s voice heard in high-profile political debates.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we should open the debates to each and every party who fields at least one candidate in the election, because if 2008’s party turnout is any indicator, we’d have over 20 parties represented in the debates. However, I do feel that we should try as often as possible to expand the number of parties represented at these debates, on a case-by-case basis, to reflect changing voting trends, party growth or decline, and just to better represent who the “major” parties are at a given point in time. It is in this vein and on the strength of the previously mentioned voting figures that I suggest the Green Party should be granted full participant status in any and all election debates. As a party, they have made great strides in terms of growth and gaining voter confidence, and they should be treated with the same distinction as any of the “seat-securing” parties. Yes, they haven’t won any seats in Parliament just yet, but surely “close” counts for something!

NOTE – If I can make one more PR-related comment, it’s this: if we were on a PR system, they’d have seats in parliament, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Think about that before you attempt to write-off the Greens. They may not have seats, but if the previous reform referendum had passed, they’d have several.

In the interest of transparency, I’ve never once even considered voting Green. I don’t see eye-to-eye with them on a lot of issues, but that doesn’t mean they are in any way illegitimate or deserving of being barred from the televised debates. Who decides who can and cannot be in the debates? Let the voters decide through their ballots, not through their ridings. Debates do not decide seats, they are merely a means of letting opposing parties battle it out intellectually, helping to inform viewers of the differences and similarities between the parties vying for their votes. Instead, these debates should be representative of how Canadians vote, not who wins. The debate helps to shape who wins, and should be representative of those vying for seats in Parliament, not necessarily those who are already there.

What do you think of the debate about debate participants? Is it a legitimate cause for discussion? Is it just a means of diverting attention from more important issues? Should we just flat-out refuse the Green Party taking part and uphold the regulations that barred them from participating in the first place? Surely this won’t be the last time we see a debate of this sort, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on expanding the debates to include rising/growing political parties, Green or otherwise.

Take A (Fare) Hike, Bozo

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The big news of today is the proposed increase in TTC fees. Well, not the full fares themselves, just the cost of purchasing tokens or tickets, which, under this proposal, would increase ten cents from $2.50 to a whopping $2.60. It may not seem like much, but despite the low monetary change, it’s a slap in the face of all who use public transit, and will serve as what I consider to be the first true test of Mayor Ford’s term.

Sure, the cash fare remains unchanged at $3.00, but this dime raise still has major repercussions for anyone who uses public transit, though perhaps not necessarily those who commute to work. Why the qualification? It’s simple. Anyone who uses transit to get to and from work five times a week, and who does SOMETHING involving transit on the weekend will likely always have transit passes, and not have to rely on (or worry about the cost of) tokens, tickets, or cash fares. For the rest of us poor souls who do not enjoy the benefits of unbridled transportation, we are now being shafted, plain and simple. By taking an extra dime, it means for every 25 rides we take under the proposed new system, we could have taken 26 under the current rate plan. Will this make people use the TTC less? Probably not. Will I start saving up for a car or bike and really stick it to Transit City? Definitely not. I do think though, that by closing the gap between the token and cash fares, people may start saying “screw it” more often, and just ponying up coins rather than going through the trouble of acquiring tokens and then finding them when necessary at the bottom of their purse or pockets. Think about it – $3.00 is a lot easier to count up when you’re in a rush than feeding multiples of $2.60 into the token machine. Maybe this’ll also help push people to purchase more transit passes, since it now would take fewer trips to justify the purchase compared to just using tokens or tickets. Perhaps it’s all just a big scam calculated to turn people against Ford. Maybe, but I’m not really one for conspiracy theories.

Again, the ten-cent increase in token fare isn’t really the issue. The way I see it, the proposed twenty-cent increase (assuming I want to return from where I hypothetically travelled to), is insignificant. Hell, I probably spend more than that each day on just throwing pennies at pigeons. The fact of the matter is that while this is an annoyance, the fact that the city is stealing every 25th ride from me isn’t really a problem. The problem lies more in the justification for this rate increase. Has there been an increase in efficiency or quality of service with the TTC over the past year that would justify their request for more funding (which was denied by City Hall under the watchful eye of Mayor Ford)? OF COURSE NOT! In fact, I would like to offer a reward for the first person to contact me praising the TTC, who could also pass a polygraph. There’s $20 and a Clark Bar in it for you!

Speaking from my own experience on New Year’s Eve this year, it’s clear there are serious infrastructure issues with the TTC which must be addressed before they can justify asking their riders to pony up more cash for what is, at best, the same service they’ve “enjoyed” for the previous 365 days. The feather in the city’s cap on NYE was the fact that for the first time in several years, the city was footing the bill for those within the city to use the TTC for free between midnight and some ungodly hour in the late evening/early morning. Myself, Steph, and several friends even planned in advance to use this as our primary means of returning home from a night of revelry and merriment. Knowing that subway service had been extended to almost 4am (last trains leaving Union and Finch/Downsview about 330am), we felt that leaving about 245 and arriving at Sheppard station about 30 minutes later would be more than sufficient to catch the one of the last few trains. How wrong we would prove to be. It’s not that we missed all the subways, it’s that they weren’t doing their job. Having spent over 40 minutes in Sheppard station, we bore witness to no fewer than 5 subways passing through the station, all of which were “Out of Service”. There were maybe 15-20 others who were in the same predicament as us, so it wasn’t just our tardiness that damned us to a night of transit terror. This was problem one. Problem two came when we were able to track down a member of the TTC to find out just what was going on with the supposed subway service. All this fellow could muster up was a shoulder shrug, an “I dunno”, and a helpful “all the subways have finished now. There is still surface service available with the night buses.” No explanation as to why so many “Out of Service” trains were running in lieu of functional ones, and no apology for poor service / failed promises was given. Where is the accountability? Problem three came shortly after when we finally caught a bus, which the driver promptly decided had too many people, and then wanted to go “Out of Service” herself. This is less an infrastructure / accountability issue, and more an issue of one insufferable crank not wanting to perform the task they are financially compensated to do, and as such, will be left out of this discussion. Cranky coachman aside, the TTC clearly showed that the new year would not be one where effectiveness, efficiency, and overall rider satisfaction are priorities.

Looking at this example, I can’t help but ask again – where is the added value that could potentially justify this rate hike?

If the TTC began offering a cleaner, greener, less-meaner level of service, I would think that people would have no issues with a 4% increase in token cost, especially when that cost is still less than the full adult cash fare. They’d be more receptive to giving additional funds to a service that seems to be improving, innovating, or just making good use of their monies. After all, isn’t this what characterized Mayor Ford’s rise to power? The end of wasteful spending and the halting of the gravy train? Let me tell you – so far, he’s been rather sparse with his statements, but this could be a defining moment that sets the tone for the coming months and years.

After all, the reason the TTC is passing the cost to the consumer is that the city itself has refused to increase funding from the previous year’s level. I agree with their stance, citing my general dissatisfaction with the TTC on NYE/ on maybe 40% of the rides I take. I think the hike itself is a bold and dickish move on the part of the TTC. Rather than find a way around their funding deficit, they are seemingly trying to force Ford’s hand by targeting the very persons he vowed to look out for: the citizens of Toronto. It certainly won’t be an easy fix, and even if this rate hike doesn’t go through, I’m not sure the statement outlining the hike’s defeat will be able to undo the damage already done by the TTC and their proposal. After all, as many have already pointed out, Ford’s big hurrah so far has been his abolition of the Vehicle Registration Tax, which was swiftly followed by the current topic-du-jour. Sure, he axed one tax, but here comes another tax (of sorts)! Not to mention he’s gutted a lot of useful social programmes in the name of saving money, so I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear of people taking offense to Ford’s budget. It’s hard to believe that it’s been such a rollercoaster of a Mayoral term already, and he hasn’t even been in office for two months!

Like I said, maybe this whole TTC business will be a strong indicator of how Ford will conduct the remainder of his time in office. Will he stand up to the TTC and take them down a notch, or will he stand idly by while this rate hike is put in place, for the sole reason that at least those tax-paying, car-driving voters won’t be footing the bill for the TTC’s shortcomings?

Mass Hysteria at the Kool Haus with Social Distortion

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Despite my previous railings against the establishment, tonight found me once again trudging through the parking lot of Toronto’s Kool Haus to take in another punk rock exhibition. The featured artists tonight were Frank Turner, Lucero, and the legendary Social Distortion.

The night’s lineup was simply sublime. Going in a logical and chronological order, the night’s lineup was sure to display a linear regression of punk rock, showcasing, in a way, bands and their influences. Is it a stretch to say Frank Turner was influenced by Lucero, and Lucero was influenced by Social Distortion? Perhaps, but I’m going to need empirical evidence to back up your claims. I was there, and you weren’t.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to catch Frank Turner’s set as I was caught in traffic returning from a dash across the border. Actually, I was able to catch the last 45 seconds or so of my personal favourite, (and perennial show-closer), Photosynthesis, but I don’t think that’s substantial enough of a viewing to really be able to comment. I was able to catch his first show of the weekend the night before at the Horseshoe Tavern (where he played for roughly 90 minutes, no less!), and that was an absolutely religious experience, to say the least, so I really wasn’t too distraught about missing the overwhelming majority of his set. We did have a field reporter in the crowd, one Mr. Stephen Henderson, and he felt that while the set was good, compared to the previous night’s performance, Mr. Turner’s Kool Haus set was little more than a duplication of the previous night’s effort, truncated for time by removing a few songs here and there. Apparently, even the stage banter was more or less phoned-in from roughly 18 hours earlier, which sounds a little unfortunate. In my opinion, if it was anyone else but the hardest working man in punk rock, I would be offended. However, because it is Frank Turner, some exceptions must inevitably be made.

Second on the dockett was Memphis, Tenessee’s Lucero. Now, in the interest of being completely up front, I’m not the most educated when it comes to the ways of Lucero. I know more or less that they exist, I have a general understanding of what they sound like, but I don’t know much past that. I don’t know what songs they played, I don’t know if they played hits or b-sides, I just know it was fucking brilliant. Honestly, when I saw Murder By Death, I thought I had just heard the most interesting voice in punk rock. I know think I may have been mistaken. It’s singer Ben Nichols’ gravelly, soulful voice is what takes this band to another level of excellence, though the inclusion of a pedal steel guitar and some pianos/organs certainly don’t harm their cause. Despite my unfamiliarity, my cohort Stephen was quite happy to see them again, though disappointed that their newfound horn section were not along for the ride. Thankfully, the lack of brass did little to deflate his enthusiasm, as he and about a dozen other of the Lucero faithful in attendance sang their under-represented hearts out in support of their chicken-fried rock idols.

Following Lucero’s 50-odd minute set, Social Distortion appeared to an uproarious wave of elation and enthusiasm. To say that Social D was the most anticipated band of the night would be an understatement. Obviously, being the headliner does mean that most in attendance are there to see you, but it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that EVERYONE came for Social D and were delightfully surprised that singer and guitarist Mike Ness’ “hand-picked” openers were both fantastic in their own right.

The night itself proved to be something of a special night as Mike Ness had elected to do away with his usual mechanic-couture look, opting instead for a crisp white shirt, suspenders, a fashionable long wool coat, and his trademark slicked back hair. The rest of the band also seemed to be in their sunday best, which helped to add just a dash of class to their otherwise down-and-out-down-on-his-luck brand of punk rock. Perhaps instead of selling out they had bought in?

The setlist itself was fairly predictable, as Social Distortion sets tend to be. As is the case with many of these older, long-in-tooth punk bands, their setlists are generally a 70/30 split between fan favourites and curveballs. For Social Distortion, these curveballs came in the form of a song off of their forthcoming album entitled Bakersfield and the inclusion of (in my opinion) songs like Still Life and Through These Eyes. In fact, you’ll find the entirety of their setlist below.

Social Distortion’s Set
The Creeps
Another State of Mind
Mommy’s Little Monster
Sick Boy
Don’t Drag Me Down
I Was Wrong
Bye Bye Baby
Still Life
Ball and Chain
Through These Eyes
Bakersfield (new)
King Of Fools
When She Begins
Making Believe

–encore–
So Far Away
Prison Bound
Down Here (With The Rest Of Us) [as requested by Frank Turner]
Ring Of Fire

As you can see, notable fan favourites like 1945, Bad Luck , Let It Be Me, and the ubiquitous Story Of My Life were not deemed worthy of prime-time. They also did not include any material off of their last studio album, Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. This is all too unfortunate, but the fact is that this was a solid 18-song set running nearly 90 minutes, leaving no fan feeling cheated or disappointed. Plus, I always say it’s better that a band doesn’t play all the songs you’d like, so you have a reason to see them again. Silver linings and open windows.

The songs that did make the cut though, they were performed wonderfully. Mike Ness’ delivery of classics like Ball and Chain and Mommy’s Little Monster sound as good today as they did 20 years ago. Every guitar solo, every drum fill, every wail and exclamation were intact and ravenously lapped up by the all-too-eager audience. Though some songs certainly sounded a little slower than their previously-recorded counterparts, the bulk of the crowd did not seem to notice or care. Looking around the hall that night, I don’t think I’d ever seen so many audience members singing along in my life. For a few fleeting moments I wondered if this would still be the case if Social Distortion wasn’t playing so well; and then they played Don’t Drag Me Down and I instantly became another anonymous voice mimicking Ness’ drawl as best as I could.

Overall, considering this was the first time I’d been afforded the opportunity to take in either Lucero or Social Distortion, I left the Kool Haus completely satisfied. It’s hard to believe that in the span of a week I’ve taken in two punk rock bands that have been touring more or less for thirty years apiece. Are the cornerstones of the modern punk rock movement becoming afflicted with the Rolling Stones Syndrome? Are they just going to milk us music fans for every dime that we have through incessant touring and merchandise sales? It’s entirely possible, but to be honest, I don’t care much. Keep touring, I say. Any day I’m able to see Mike Ness “singing” (I use this as a relative term) Don’t Drag Me Down is one fine day.

My Very Good, No-Fuss Night with the Three Gregs

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I’ve had the good luck of being able to attend a lot of concerts in the past two months. Maybe the stars are aligning, maybe karma’s finally paying out, or maybe it’s just my dumb luck, but the Toronto concert scene’s been very good to me as of late. I’ve been able to catch Against Me!, the Thermals, Millencolin, and a whole slew of others, but the high point of all these shows had to have been on October 14th, which saw the Bouncing Souls and Bad Religion taking up residence at the Kool Haus.

Despite taking place at one of my least favourite venues, this tour had the makings of something magical. It was a crisp fall evening, I was riding the coattails of a birthday high, and I was going to see two of my most favourite bands of my high school and university years. Short of getting into a fight, nothing could ruin the night. Oh wait! That almost happened. Way to live up to that “Boston Red Sox fans are dicks” reputation, stranger.

Anyway, I didn’t really know the opening band, Off With their Heads!, so I wasn’t too distraught that I missed their set. Maybe next time, fellas. I did arrive just after their set ended, meaning the crowd had dispersed from the stage so I could quickly and easily slip into the second row of meatbags along the stage barricade, an ideal position to watch my favourite New Jersey mooches do what they do best.

It’d been about three years since I’ve seen them perform, and not much has changed. Bassist Brian Kienlen still looks like a dirt bag (in a good way), vocalist Greg Attonito still bounces around wearing a shirt and tie, the Pete is still the Pete, (though without much stage banter this time around, sadly), and drummer Michael McDermott seems to have figured out how to play an entire set without having to take his shirt off (maybe he wasn’t giving 110%?). Their set clocked in at about an hour, which I thought was a little brief, though adequate. The setlist itself focused primarily on songs off of their seminal effort, How I spent My Summer Vacation, with a song or two from each of their other albums. The set featured staples like Manthem, True Believers, Sing Along Forever, their cover of Lean on Sheena, Kate is Great, No Rules, and the always-colourful East Coast! Fuck You!. It also featured a couple choice cuts off of their latest effort, Ghosts on the Boardwalk, in the form of Gasoline and Never Say Die (When You’re Young). Sure, they left out some classics, and it would have been nice to hear more off of Ghosts, but the fact was they had an opener slot, and they put on a great show. They’re still super-tight live, Greg’s voice is only getting better with age, and their songs really do stand the test of time. Considering they were one of my immediate top-three favourites while I was discovering punk rock, I don’t think my love for their music has ever faltered. They’ve never been the flashiest band, but they’ve always got that inescapable, intangible energy that makes it impossible to resist jumping around and singing along (forever).

Following the band with one Greg, I was treated to a band with two of them! I know it’s a garbage segue, but it’s the best I can do with the funds provided. Anyhow, Bad Religion was the headlining act, currently in the midst of celebrating 30 years as a band. I’d like to say things like, “it seems like yesterday they released their sophomore album”, but I can’t as they’ve been touring longer than I’ve been alive. Think about how strange that is. A musical group which I idolize to some extent has been in existence and actively creative for longer than I’ve been on this earth. I say “actively creative” because unlike a lot of other legacy acts, they still release new material to this day. In fact, they are also touring in support of their latest album, the Dissent of Man, which was released mere days ago. Sure, I think it’s only got 2 or 3 good songs, but it’s still new material, and maybe it’ll grow on me.

Having fifteen studio albums under their belts, one would think it would be difficult to put together a setlist that is representative of their entire catalogue. Bad Religion has found a way around that by callously omitting entire albums from consideration when piecing together the night’s entertainment. You won’t find anything off of Into the Unknown, No Substance, or The New America, but you will find helpings of every other album in their quiver.

Kicking off the evening with their first-ever single, We’re Only Gonna Die, and ending the regular set with the stellar American Jesus, the songs between the bookends were sure to please any BR fan in the house. Fans of their major-label years were treated to such gems as A Walk, 21st Century Digital Boy, and Recipe for Hate. Those who wanted to hear cuts from their post-major label period heard Sinister Rouge, New Dark Ages, and a handful of songs of their new album, most of which I found to be nothing more than momentum-killers. The crowd who were most catered to were those who were fans of their first album, How Could Hell be any Worse? and their “holy trinity”, SufferNo Control, and Against the Grain. You, I Wanna Conquer the World, Fuck Armageddon, this is Hell, it’s safe to say that Bad Religion knew exactly what the audience wanted to hear. I was even treated to two of my most favourite BR tunes, Atomic Garden and Do What You Want. Following a short jaunt off-stage, they returned to satisfy the churning mass of fans with a three-song encore consisting of Infected, Los Angeles is Burning, and Sorrow.

While it’s safe to say their 90-minute set was nothing short of phenomenal, it was their stage presence that I found most impressive. Singer Greg Graffin is a man who has a lot on his plate: he’s an active professor, he’s an author (with a newly released book, Anarchy Evolution), a family man, and on top of all this, he fronts one of the biggest punk rock bands of all time. He still sings with a verbose passion not seen in any other punk rock band, with spastic, lurching arm movements to match. However, one caveat regarding his live performances: his segues are some of the most drawn-out, cheesy, nonsensical things you’ll ever hear.

The rest of the band also shows no slowing in their performances, which is admirable because again, they’re OLD. They don’t call ’em Dad Religion for nothing, amirite? Bassist Jay Bentley looks from afar like he’s still pushing 30, guitarist Brian Baker continues to melt the faces of any fan unfortunate enough to take up residence in front of his amplifier, and what about guitarist Greg Hetson? Well, he still jumps around like a monkey, and I like that a lot. Much like the Bouncing Souls, this is a band that doesn’t need a fancy light show or pyrotechnics to make an impression. Their purposeful, yet spontaneous roaming around the stage while performing is both engaging and entertaining. The fact that they put on as good a show as they do with just a couple of backdrops and a couple spotlights is inspiring.

It is not surprising that I bill this night as nothing short of fantastic. What was displayed here was a sort of vision of things to come. You see Bad Religion doing their thing for the thirtieth year, and think, “wow, how do they do it? Can anyone else do it?” However, you would have already seen the Bouncing Souls, who are going on 23 years together now, and you think, “wow, these guys may just have it in them.” There wasn’t a “passing of the torch” on display that night, but there was a definite feeling that that moment was not too far off.

I fear the day that either of these bands do decide to pack it in, but I take comfort in the inevitability of that moment, considering at the end of the day, we’re only gonna die.

Wonder and Whiskey at the Horseshoe Tavern

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This past Sunday, Indiana’s own Murder by Death brought their distinct brand of alt-country punk rock to the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Supporting their efforts was the local speed-gospel trio the Schomberg Fair.

The night itself began with a spot of bad news, as the third artist on the night’s bill, Samantha Crain, was forced to cancel due to vehicular issues. This proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Schomberg Fair, as their being thrust into a later time slot meant that they would have a prime opportunity to melt the faces of both the early birds and those choosing to be fashionably late.

Armed with a banjo and a blood red Gretsch, guitarist and vocalist Matt Bahen set a blistering pace musically and lyrically, somehow finding the perfect, elusive balance between the Reverend Horton Heat and the Sunday gospel choir. For the few, fleeting moments that they chose to slow down or pause, bassist Nathan Sidon was happy to fill the gaps with some of the most distinctive and powerful vocals you will ever hear. His is a voice that cuts through the air with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, yet remains silky-smooth like a bolt of polyester. Rounding out the trio was drummer Pete Garthside. The only thing one can say about his performance was that he is a man who truly hates his instruments. He was not just keeping the beat; he was pounding his drums with a thundering intensity and fervor that is seldom found in music. In short, as the sole act tasked with warming the crowd up for the headlining Murder by Death, the Schomberg Fair showed that they not only had the [pork] chops, but the applesauce too.

Seeing as the proverbial gauntlet had been thrown down, one would think that Murder by Death would be worried about being upstaged by the local talent. If this was in fact the case, these Indianan punks were showing no sign of being intimidated or concerned. Instead, Murder by Death emerged from the backstage to what could only be called an overwhelming standing ovation, at least by Horseshoe standards.

Over the course of their decade-long existence, the members Murder by Death have made a name for themselves playing music that can only be described as genre-defying. Playing music that is equal parts country, punk, instrumental, and academic, Murder by Death put on a show that was both sonically eclectic and powerful. Of course, what would the alternative have been? Considering they utilize brass instruments, pianos, and an electric cello, what could one expect other than the musical equivalent of a delicious bag of Bridge Mix?

Currently touring in support of their newest release, Good Morning, Magpie, Murder by Death played a set that spanned the entirety of their catalogue. Bathed in a crimson hue throughout the night, singer and guitarist Adam Turla was in fine form, delivering whiskey-soaked renditions of Comin’ Home and Ball and Chain that would have appeased even the most critical of concertgoer. Coupled with fan favourites like Brother, the obtusely titled Until Morale Improves, the Beatings will Continue, and the Tom Waits-ish, You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shaving with a Knife), the set offered newcomers a chance to get up to speed, while still satisfying the Murder by Death faithful.

Overall, the pairing of the Schomberg Fair with Murder by Death was a stroke of sheer brilliance. The energy level of the night never faltered, and the bands performed flawlessly. In a booze-fuelled whirlwind of country-fried rock and roll delight, the Horseshoe Tavern proved to be the setting of an exquisite happening where the people drank whiskey instead of water.

Frank Turner on Israel Boycotts

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It looks like Frank Turner is again making waves in the punk rock press circles, this time following a series of controversial dates within the Israeli borders.

It is no secret that the Israeli government’s actions regarding their enforcement of the blockade of Gaza has drawn a great deal of attention internationally, both from the public and private sectors. From diplomats to punk rockers, there have been loud cries calling for swift political action, sanctions and boycotts of Israel, as though these actions would somehow honour the lives of those gravely affected by Netanyahu and his government.

To draw from the acclaimed Canadian group Propagandhi’s A Public Dis-service Announcement From Shell, “it’s easy enough to sit in your comfortable homes in the West, calling for sanctions and boycotts … but you have to be sure that knee-jerk reactions won’t do more harm than good.” Yes, these words may have originated with the Shell petroleum company, and was intended to defend corporate interests, but that doesn’t mean that in this case, they cannot be applied as a call for rational thinking. This is where Frank Turner comes in.

In a blog posted on his website following his return to more ethical and human right-respecting shores, Turner posted a lengthy update on his travels, defending his actions and generally outlining what he saw and experienced. Upon his return, Turner was criticised by the greater punk rock community for not supporting a universal boycott of Israel. Rather, Turner had honoured both his commitment to perform and his commitment to the greater Israeli population. In his defense, he writes,

“For what it’s worth, I think the basic problem of two competing nationalisms claiming the same territory is a thorny one. I think Israel has a real problem in that its leadership schooled itself in an era of genuine existential threats (1967, 1973, to say nothing of the Holocaust) but is applying that mindset to a fundamentally different reality with a different balance of power. I think the Palestinians are suffering, but I think too many people are too quick to overlook what an awful bunch of shits Hamas are.
It’s not at all clear to me that, even if I did unconditionally condemn the Israeli government (which I don’t), I shouldn’t play shows there. The shows were organized by private citizens without any state involvement, and I’m not in the habit of judging individuals by the actions of their government. We in the UK and the USA, after all, have the Iraq war and occupation hanging over our collective heads. Of course I’m aware that some artists are boycotting Israel, as is their right; however it seems morally duplicitous to me to boycott Israel and not (say) the USA. Maybe big artists can afford to boycott one small state for the sake of some media grandstanding, and not the other, their main cashcow?”

Removing one’s personal beliefs or views on the issue, this, to me, seems to be a well-supported, and reasonable explanation. Depriving Israeli citizens of something as trivial as a Frank Turner gig is just that – trivial. If the performance in question has some kind of link or significance to the government, then a refusal to perform can be a powerful state. In the case of Frank Turner, a self-described, “skinny half-assed English country singer,” to deny the masses this form of live entertainment will have a most minimal of impact on their overall existence, and will not spur political change. If anything, one would think that left-leaning, dissenting punk rockers boycotting Israel, thereby keeping their messages and rhetoric outside its borders, would be in the government’s best interests. It begs the question, is it still a boycott if it serves the offending party in question