All posts by Darren

Vernon Again

There were a number of things we left undone when we returned from Vernon on Thanksgiving weekend so I went back on Thursday. In between shopping for furniture, meeting lawyers, and other errands, I was able to do some driving around the area.

Back when I lived in Vernon I was so busy with work, school, and friends that I didn’t take much time to explore the backroads. During my recent visits, I’ve made an effort to go on some exploratory drives and learn where the roads in Vernon take you.

On the way home I decided to stop by Gray Monk and pick up some wine for Sharon. Rather than take the highway I tried Mission Road out of Vernon which ambles along some lovely farmland before passing Predator Ridge golf course and becoming a dirt road.

Cow
Cow hanging out on Commonage Road

The dirt road doesn’t last long and I eventually joined Carrs Landing Road where I drove alongside the shore of Okanagan Lake. I stopped at a couple of beaches to enjoy the views and get some photos, something I’d hadn’t done much of on this trip.

Kopje Park Beach
Beach at Kopje Regional Park
Gibson Heritage House
Gibson Heritage House at Kopje Regional Park

After over an hour of driving and exploring I pulled in to Gray Monk and demanded fine wine for the people in Vancouver. Sharon now has a tasty Merlot and the next time we run into our friend Patrick he can expect a bottle of Gray Monk’s fancy-pants Pinot Noir.

View From Gray Monk Winery
View from Gray Monk winery
Squeaky Cheese
In hindsight, I should have stopped to see what “squeaky cheese” is all about

After Gray Monk it was time get moving so I rejoined the highway and made the run to Vancouver. I had heard it was raining on the coast so I did take the opportunity to have lunch in Merritt and enjoy the last bit of sun I was likely to see for a while.

Halifax

Flew into Halifax yesterday with Sharon. The overnight flight is a bit cramped and neither of us managed to sleep so we arrived at 6:30am local time, hooked up with Sharon’s friend Colleen, and immediately fell asleep at her place.

Once we were awake a refreshed we took a walk through the boardwalk, the farmer’s market (where I found delicious blueberry chocolates), and downtown. Then back to Colleen’s for one of the many local beer’s she’d stocked for us and over to the Wooden Monkey for dinner. The Wooden Monkey is a tasty place with vegan options and some excellent beers (such as the PumpHouse blueberry ale) on tap.

The main event planned for Saturday night was to see Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea) perform at The Casino which turned out to be an actual casino with a large ballroom for the show. They’d lined up rows of chairs but I felt more like we were walking into a sales convention than a concert. When Alan came out with his band any thought of boring sales conventions disappeared. Those guys rocked it out! Kendell Carson was playing fiddle, which was cool because she’s from Vancouver and we last saw her guesting with the Deep Dark Woods at the Biltmore. The whole band was on fire and super-tight. The highlight for me was their cover of John Mellancamp’s Paper in Fire, which gave me chills to hear how powerfully they played it.

After the show Colleen suggested we check out Bearly’s House of Blues where Garrett Mason, the son of a local blues legend, was sharing the stage with another local blues talent, Keith Hallett. Fantastic show! They reminded me a little of The Smalls reincarnated as a blues band. Mostly I think because two of the guys looked pretty workmanlike with their dirty trucker caps and flannel shirts. Anyhow, they rocked this little blues bar and I’m envious that Halifax has such a cool place to see shows.

Now we’re awake on Sunday morning (actually afternoon local time) and are about to head to Peggy’s Cove.

Tofino

Sharon and I are hanging out in a swanky resort (Black Rock Resort) in Ucluelet for Josh and Shan’s wedding this weekend. We got here a bit early so we could enjoy some of the west coast and so far it’s been fantastic!

We drove in yesterday, stopping along the way to see the attractions at Coombs where they have a little tourist market featuring goats grazing on grass roofs of all the buildings. Sadly, it was too early in the season for the goats to be out. Still, we got to chat with a number of locals and explore some funky shops.

After Coombs we explored Cathedral Grove, one of my favorite places along the drive since it features a good chunk of old-growth forest.

Largest Tree

Our last stop along the way was at a place colloquially known as “The Rocks” where a river has worn down a large swath of rock. Whenever I’m going through I stop and get out to climb around on the rocks and take pictures.

River

Late in the afternoon we arrived at the Black Rock to find ourselves in a fancypants resort. Our room is fabulous and we’ve got a view right out onto the waves crashing over the rocky shoreline.

Dave was in Tofino overnight on a bus run (he drives for Tofino Bus) so we headed over to see him and wound up in The Shelter for dinner and to watch the Canucks hockey game. Canucks won although we didn’t stay for the third period. I was starting to fade after driving all day and had to drive back to Ucluelet in the rainy night. Shelter is a superb restaurant too and it’s been a few years since I’ve been there. Dave’s planning to move back to Tofino so I’m hoping to be out again before the year is out.

This morning I got up at 7 and went for a short run along the Wild Coast trail, which runs right through the resort. Beautiful place with plenty of lookouts where you can see the waves crashing into the rocks on the shore. Sharon and I spent the morning wandering along the 8km trail with plenty of stops to take pictures.

That evening we headed back to Tofino to fill up our growler of Tofino Brewing beer at the brewery. Place is so cool! It’s basically a brewery built into an industrial garage just outside of town. There’s a counter in the front corner where you can sample the beers and get your jugs refilled.

After the brewery it was time to explore the town a little bit. Sharon’s only been out to the west coast once, briefly, some years ago so I figured we ought to have a proper tour. We got to check out my favorite bookstore in the world, Mermaid Tales, where we picked up some new books and had a long talk with the lady behind the counter. Turns out she knows Dave! She’s also part of the new Tofino roller derby team, The Black Pearls.

Finally we headed back to the Black Rock, after stopping at Long Beach to see the surf, and had a beer with Reilly and the gang. I also dropped off the melodica that we picked up for him in Coombs and that started a jam session with Jason on the melodica doing blues covers.

Now it’s Friday morning, sunny, and we’re planning to get out for more hiking.

Quick update on the heels of a fantastic Kaiser Chiefs show

I just got home from the Kaiser Chiefs at the Commodore. Fantastic show! Tight band, singer really knows how to work a crowd. Near the end he wandered over to the side bar, stood up on it, and belted out a song after knocking back a shot that the bartender handed him.

A couple of weeks ago Sharon won tickets to the Trews show at the Vogue Theatre. It was a meet-and-greet package thing so after they figured out how to get us in (apparently the promoter was the one handing out the prize but never bothered to tell anyone working with the band!) we got to watch soundcheck and then go have a quick chat with the band before having our photo taken together! Band guys were super-friendly and I suppose that’s because they’re from the east coast.

Their show that night was outstanding. Sharon’s seen them 10 times now (this is only my 3rd Trews show) and it was one of the best she’s seen too.

There’s a song off the last album called “If You Wanna Start Again” which is a slower one but it’s become one of my favorites. Seeing it live cemented it for me.

There’s a couple of shows coming up and tomorrow I’m going to run to Red Cat records to score some tickets to the Polyphonic Spree on April 7.

…and now I sleep!

Cleaning Up and Hunkering Down

The last couple of weeks have been fairly chill. Well, not really, I’ve started swimming and that’s been going fantastically. The gym is rocking again although it’s been a bit spotty as I’ve tried to ramp back into a 5-day-a-week cycle again (MWF – gym & TTh swim) and my body said NOT SO FAST BUDDY. So my 4:30am plan is still a work in progress as is the 5-day workout cycle. I should have it nailed by the end of the month. Just need to take things a little slower.

I’ve mostly hunkered down in my place to dig into more software stuff, which I won’t bore anyone with here. I’m enjoying it and it’s good to have a more singular focus again. Sticking with one thing at a time means I get more forward movement.

Last week was Sharon and my 2nd anniversary and we had dinner at Naam to celebrate. Sharon’s vegan so Naam is one of our main places to go since they’re all vegan/vegetarian. The food’s amazing too. I’m slowly pulling my diet away from meat again, but this time it’s a more natural transition instead of jumping in with both feet.

This weekend Sharon had a friend of hers in town so we were out last night with a pack of people on Commercial and then hit the Alibi Room this morning for tasty breakfast.

Not a lot of shows coming up. Just Joel Plaskett and Rammstein. I’m keeping the weekday shows out now since my mornings are early so I’ll miss bands like Chixdiggit! from Calgary. Most everyone showing up I’ve seen so there’s not much draw in me going out for them.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

We hit the film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a dark movie and deals with some intense subject matter but I like that there’s a strong female lead especially since Daniel Craig, normally a tough guy in films, was the one that the girl kept saving.

There’s been some other great films lately. The Descendants featuring George Clooney was a favorite. Tintin, which we saw recently, was an enjoyable ride too.

On the new year’s weekend Sharon and I went up to Porpoise Bay (just north of Sechelt) for a night of camping. The weather was great! Lots of sun, no rain until we were on our way back to Vancouver. The campground was quiet so we went in to a local pub for a snack and a beer before going to the Raven’s Cry Theatre to watch Mission Impossible. I like going to smaller local theaters since you don’t have to put up with a pile of advertising before the movie.

It was nice to get away and we’ve officially done the first camping trip of 2012 as well as the last one of 2011. Once we got back to the mainland we stopped in at Amelia’s place in Squamish to check out her newly-purchased townhouse and visit with her, Dave, and Amelia’s parents who had come down from 100 Mile House for the holidays.

Now I’m back, recharged, and onto my 4:30am plan again so I can get a jump on the day. I’m getting into the gym regularly and start swimming again tomorrow. Hopefully within a couple of months the weight I put on over the last part of 2011 will melt off and my belt starts fitting like it did 6 months ago.

Not too many shows coming up. I’m sticking with weekend shows since the 4:30am thing doesn’t mix with late nights. Most of my favorite bands toured last year so I’m not expecting as many shows this year. Who knows. Maybe Mudhoney will put out a new album (let’s hope!)

Joel Plaskett – Vogue Theatre on Saturday, April 14
Rammstien – Rogers Arena on Sunday,  May 13

Oh, and I’ve put a hold of my beer drinking (‘cuz I’m such a lush, haha) while I get my jean size back down to where it should be. Dave gave me a huge jug of Tofino Brewing beer which I had to pull out with friends to help polish it off. It was a delicious coffee-infused beer. We drank it on Saturday night before going over to Lana Lou’s to watch some a local friends-of-a-friend’s band perform. They were pretty cool. Don’t remember the name but they rocked a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s Holiday in Cambodia to finish off. Dude sounded quite a bit like Jello Biafra and it was rad to watch.

Paste it, traced it, erased it

When I left my job earlier this year it was because I wanted a life change. Working at a stressful job, even though it was well-paying, was setting me up for a life of poor health and eventual disease and I vowed I would avoid that road after witnessing my Dad’s death from cancer just 6 months after he retired from a stressful workplace.

I find I’ve become stressed out again, despite the changes to my career trajectory. As a result I’ll be making a few changes in the coming weeks to bring back a sense of balance and a lifestyle that I can maintain. I also need to drop the 10 pounds I gained over the past 4 months and get back into a healthy lifestyle.

Music’s already off the table. Although there are aspects I enjoy (primarily the social opportunities), it’s something that takes work and diligent practice to get good at and I found that I was constantly worrying about practicing enough or trying to fit practice into my busy schedule. I’ve still been running the music room in our amenities building, but that responsibility ends next week when I step down and make way for a new leader who can get things in order.

I’m scaling back my involvement with the amenities building too. I wound up as the head of the committee, but it’s made going down to the amenities building more of a job than as a fun perk I received when I bought into this building. I step down as ABC chair next week.

The biggest change will be getting back into the outdoors again. Of all the things I’ve tried over the past few years, going camping, hiking, and biking has had the biggest impact on my mood and energy level. When I first moved to Vancouver I made it a rule to get into the outdoors at least once a week. Getting out of the city and all the stress and pressure was like hitting a release valve for me and I would come back recharged and ready to kick some ass again. Now that I’ve been hiding out indoors, I find that the stress slowly builds until I start to snap at my girlfriend and blow up over the most trivial incidents. This is where I am right now and it needs to change, quickly!

This all starts this weekend when Sharon and I abandon our new years plans to head to Porpoise Bay campground near Sechelt to get a night in the woods, away from the city noise and BS.

This winter will likely involve a lot of snowshoeing since Sharon and her friend are doing a snowshoe clinic up at Grouse in January. I’m not sure if I’m going to try out cross country skiing this year. With swimming and then a woodworking course beginning in February I’m likely to be stretched for time.

Hooray for 2012! I’ll see you outside.

Rollins, Dinosaur Jr., Deep Dark Woods, Wu Lyf, and Kyuss!

It’s been a busy month with me fighting some kind of super-cold/cough/flu thing and trying to get ready for Christmas. Here’s a rundown of the last shows this year:

Wu Lyf – Friday Nov 18 at The Electric Owl

This was  a band my friend Shannon is heavily into and I came out solely on his recommendation, having never heard them before. There’s not much out there about the band from Manchester, England since they don’t do interviews and don’t publish much about themselves. Their work is self-produced and self-released so their popularity is all word-of-mouth.

The opening band, Crystal Antlers, rocked it and featured the keyboardist from the Mars Volta. Shanman talked to him after, apparently he produced the Crystal Antlers album and has been doing his own solo stuff while Mars Volta is hanging out until Cedric and Omar gather everyone up for the next album.

Wu Lyf was an interesting band to watch. Not sure if I can describe their music. Part Joy Division, part early U2, but different than both those bands. They definitely have a rabid batch of fans in Vancouver. Seems all the college-age indie kids came out in force. A mosh pit started up right away. Strange, because it’s not the sort of music that warranted moshing. The singer made a comment about guys removing their shirts and the drunken college mosh crowd obliged turning the front section into a sweaty mess of male torsos. Ugh. Time to move to the back!

I enjoyed the show and also enjoyed finally checking out the Electric Owl, a new venue on the site of the old American Hotel which had been notorious as a drug-infested dive bar that was eventually raided by the police and shut down. The Electric Owl is a great place to see a band. Nice high stage, well-laid out, and very new and clean. I hope there’s more shows there in the new year.

 Kyuss Lives! – Wednesday, Nov 23 at The Commodore Ballroom

I finally got to see Kyuss, or most of the band, now billed as “Kyuss Lives!” since founding member Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Eagles of Death Metal) didn’t participate in the reunion of one of the best (and most underrated) stoner rock bands of the 90′s.

The band laid down a faithful rendition of their heavy, rumbling songs from all 3 albums. Brant Bjork’s drumming was the highlight for me. The guy just looks cool with his long black hair, bandanna, and thick moustache.

So happy I saw them. I never thought I’d ever see Kyuss and I’m excited to read that they’ve been working on a new album. Hopefully it lives up to the old stuff and doesn’t suck like new albums from recently-reunited 90′s bands (Jane’s Addiction – I’m looking at you here).

Opening band The Sword ripped into us with some intense metal. My high school self would have loved The Sword. I enjoyed their show, but I’m not so much of a metalhead anymore.

The Deep Dark Woods – Saturday, Nov 26 at The Biltmore

I’ve always enjoyed seeing The Deep Dark Woods, a small folksy jam band from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Their singer always growls about funny stuff during their shows, which he did at the Biltmore show. They turned some of my favorite songs into epic jam sessions and the show featured several appearances from local violin player Kendel Carson, who has been making a pretty big name for herself as a solo artist.

Another local band, The Sumner Brothers, opened the show and I would say they nearly stole it from the Deep Dark Woods. One guy has a raspy, Tom Waits style voice which I enjoyed. I’ll have to see them again. They’re from Vancouver so we likely won’t have to wait long.

Dinosaur Jr. – Sunday, Dec 18 at The Commodore Ballroom

I’d never really listened to Dinosaur Jr. before their show and I decided to go because a heap of my friends were going and Henry Rollins was going to interview the band before they played.

The interview was interesting. The band’s history is that they made 3 critically-acclaimed albums before Lou Barlow, the bassist, left the band and formed Sebadoh. During the interview Lou made a crack about being kicked out of the band.

Dinosaur Jr. killed it on stage. Lou flailed at his bass, J. Mascus, surrounded by 3 stacks of Marshall amplifiers, put up a wall of guitar noise, and Murph kept everything together on drums.

They played their 3rd album (and last album before Lou split), Bug, and I spent the whole show anticipating the song Don’t which is another wall of guitar noise punctuated by shrieking and screaming “Don’t you like me?!” I guess the band members are too old to destroy their voices on that song so they brought up a local guy named Devon to do the screaming for them.

Reilly ran into Devon the other night and asked him about the D Jr. show. Apparently Devon is in a local band called Beekeeper and hooked up the song through a friend of a friend connection. I thought he rocked it and I’m going to have to keep an eye out for them.

Get my ham glazed

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears were outrageously good at the Rickshaw tonight. He’s like Eddie Murphy and James Brown rolled into one dude. 7 piece band with a horn section and everyone tight and high energy. Old blacksploitation films projected behind the band, bassist pulling off ridiculous dance moves.

Sheepdogs (from Saskatoon!) opened. Like a bunch of shaggy bears led by a viking doing authentic 70′s rock music. Glad to have seen them finally. Bought their album on vinyl too. One day I’ll have to pick up an amp to plug the record player into so I can play all this stuff.

Cold’s nearly gone and I made it back into swimming tonight too. Our swimming class is shrinking which is kinda nice when it’s smaller. Still learning lots and am excited about making swimming a part of my regular routine soon.

Now sleep.

Wild Flag

When news broke out that Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater Kinney were in a new band with Mary Timony of Helium, you couldn’t look at an indie-rock website without a headline about Wild Flag splashed across it. That was over a year ago and I’ve been waiting to see this band play ever since.

Their new album is good. Really good in fact. The kind of album that doesn’t grab you at first with a catchy, but quickly tiresome song, rather the kind off music that rewards repeated listens. You start to dig into one song and then another song opens up for you and then you discover that gem at the end of the album and wonder how you ever overlooked it in the first place.

I finally got to see the band at the Biltmore on Saturday night. I was still reeling from a cold that kicked in during the week but was determined not to miss Wild Flag. And what a show it was! Easily one of the best shows this year, if not in my lifetime. Musically it’s like a rollercoaster, it builds up and then roars ahead before slowing into a feedback-soaked jam.

Carrie really let go with the vocals and was much less restrained than she was on the album. There were a couple of new songs and some extended jams in the album tracks.

I’m glad I got to see them. The music is fantastic and seeing new songs makes me hopeful they’ll be back in a year or two after dropping a new album.