Sunday, August 12, 2007

Still Doing His Rock N' Roll Duty...

...creating a buzz, buzz, buzz.

It was a Canadian music flashback weekend...concert choices included folkie Bruce Cockburn (who I first saw live in the early 80's), Blue Rodeo (who I first saw live in the late 80's) and rock n' roller Kim Mitchell.

I went for Kim (as opposed to for a soda).

Because although my love for music extends to most all types and styles, I will admit, as Karen Walton recently stated, I'm a rocker at heart.

"This is rockland wonderland..."

I don't go out that often anymore. My hearing ain't what it patience for the crowds and the drunks and the noise ain't what it ability for staying up really late isn't what it was ---yeah, I'm getting old.

Sort of like Kim.

Mr. Mitchell just turned 55. Where do rock n' rollers go to die (if they aren't the Stones or Aerosmith or the Who or any of the other handful of superstars who've managed to survive long past their prime)? In Kim Mitchell's case, he kinda retired (at least from writing and recording), toured occasionally, and ultimately ended up taking a gig as Q107 Toronto radio's drive home dee-jay.

But when it's in your blood it's in your blood. Last year Kim began writing and recording again and this summer released 'Ain't Life Amazing', his first cd in over eight years.

And it's pretty damn good. A solid B+. If you're familiar with this classic Canadian rocker's tunes, listen to the title track. It's vintage Kim Mitchell and could be a show closer if his fans would allow it.

He also began touring again with more frequency, playing a lot of smaller venues across Canada over the past year. The stripped down band consists of Mitchell on guitar/vocals, Peter Fredette on bass and backing vocals, and a drummer. And this weekend they were in Buttkick.

"I am a wild party
Oi Oi Olé!"

So I ventured out to a club I'd never been before. The Drink. I'd describe it as sort of like the El Macambo but servicing a slightly lower class (if that's possible)...and the bar is in the middle instead of the back. A near brawl broke out at the entrance mere seconds after our get the picture.

Anyway, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...

First, the Bad. The sound sucked. One of the best things about the Kim Mitchell band is the harmonies and interplay between Mitchell and his longtime compadre Fredette. Not this night. Drums much too loud, vocals way too low, and little to no separation between the bass and guitar. It was like it was mixed for a much larger venue because the further back you went (like, to where you couldn't actually see the stage), it started to sound not bad. But up close? Like listening to a big ol' wall of Mud.

The Ugly. In general, the clientele reinforced why I don't go out that often anymore. Yes, the Drink is something of a 'rocker bar', but that doesn't mean unattractive and fall-down drunk is the only way to be. Between the long-haired dopeheads stumbling into walls to the 17-year-old wannabe groupie chicks dancing on the bar a la Coyote Ugly to the plethora of forty-something 'cougars' stalking anything male...let's just say I kept my eyes forward and on the stage at all times. Make no eye contact...stay outta trouble.

Finally, the Good. Mitchell's guitar wizardry managed to shine through the shitty sound mix. The old guy can still play. And he seemed like he was having a ball. Smiling, chatting a lot between songs, jumping and twirling around the stage (especially during some of his tunes like 'Million Vacations' and 'Paradise Skies' from his days with Max Webster, a 70's Canadian band that still holds a fond place in the heart of a lot of us old folks), This and the advantage of a smallish club that allowed one to be less than fifteen feet from the stage (the last time I saw him was in the early 90's at a large outdoor grandstand venue) were some of the bonuses.

So some good, though his new look took some adjustment. You see, today he looks like this...

Whereas he used to look like this...

That's how he be when I met him back in the early 90's. We sat down for about an hour at the offices of his management to discuss Kim appearing in my movie Guitarman. He was always my first choice to play the pivotal role, and months and months of pestering finally led to a sit down in Toronto. I was determined to have a real guitarist, even though everyone else wanted to take an actor and 'transform' him.

But I wanted to believe this character could really play a wicked guitar, plus I thought if we got a known axe grinder, we could use that artist's stage persona to our advantage. And we contacted Sting's people and Angus Young's people and Slash's people and Johnny Winter's people. Some phone conversations took place but there was next to no interest. Plus we didn't have a lot of money to offer. But Kim seemed genuinely interested and so I pitched and sold and he listened and nodded.

I thought we had him...

But the next day he called and said that as much as he liked the story and wanted to do it, he just wasn't an actor...he seemed really hung up about possibly making a fool of himself. It was a pass (I still used Mitchell's look at the time as a model for the musician we ultimately cast: Jack Semple).

But he was gracious and polite and funny...much like the persona he projects onstage. A regular guy...the people's rocker...a self-proclaimed Canuck 'hoser' who still reacts almost with surprise at the adoration he continues to receive.

Like he did last night.

I'll leave you with a song, and though it feels like it should be 'Rock N' Roll Duty' or 'Go For Soda', I gotta go with the sentimental favourite 'Patio Lanterns'...

As soon as he strummed the opening chords, the crowd in all its aged ugly drunken glory seemed to become 16 again. Lighters were held aloft as they swayed and sang along to lyrics of teenage summer nights and first love. The music washed over us, and for a brief moment, those patio lanterns were the stars in our skies once more, lighting up our lives.

Keep on struttin' your stuff, Kim. You're still the original guitarman in my book (screenplay/movie).


Callaghan said...

...I've got decisions to be made between lager and ale.

Between TV on the Radio, Iggy, Steve Earle and Tom Waits, I'm always amazed how our tastes match up.

Mitchell is an underrated Canadian rock'n'roll staple. Unfairly lumped in with the less interesting cottage rockers who shall go unnamed, he's a heck of a guitarist, performer and songwriter (even if he doesn't write too many of his lyrics).

Kelly J. Compeau said...

I know people who know Kim and they describe him just as you have, Will. A kind, humble and unassuming man with a real passion for rock 'n' roll.

All We Are is one of my favourites.


bstockton said...

I have a real thing for forgotten Canadian rockers.

There was a great article in the Globe a couple years ago about Trooper, who have sold millions of albums in a country with only 30 million people. They play something like 150 dates a year, grinding it out in every nook and cranny of the country, playing in places like 'The Drink'. They do it because the enjoy it, but mainly because they need to to do that many dates just to make a living. Unless you 'made it' in the 'states, there's very little money in rock and roll.

With a different lucky break or two those guys could have had a couple American hits and not have such a tough slog of it, and they would get more respect in Canada.


Juniper said...

So those are the lyrics after "I'm a wild party!"

...Oi Oi Olé!"


steadysteve said...

Yeah, I agree.As Kim has gotten older his music has become more matured and wiser.Yet,Kim hardly writes any of the lyrics to his songs. From the early days of Max Webster, up until fairly recently, the song wordsmith was Pye Dubois.After Dubois and Mitchell parted ways, on this new effort, Kim enlisted help from various people, including fans on his website (

Let me state, Kim is a GREAT guitarist. One of the best, and if you listen to the new CD, his music is still contemporary. It still has bite, and he is able find lyricists that fit his musical style.He is still important enough to listen to today. Nothing against the Trooper's, or Helix, or Coney Hatch's of the world, but Kim is still putting out music that is worth listening to.
With Kiim doing an afternoon DJ gig at q107 in Toronto, he doesn't have to depend on constant touring to make a living.Kim Mitchell, is more than a Canadian Icon. He is a very significant artist in the Rock world today.BTW, I'm an American from Florida, and have been a fan since the very early days of Max Webster.


steadysteve said...

And Kim has said the lyrics to Wild Party is "Rah Rah ole!!"