The Fireball spirit of rock and roll

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These days, the bloated, lifeless corpse of rock and roll is inescapable. Our radios have been given over to mediocrity and dreamless sleep, with very little sustenance for our desperate, aural hearts. But every once in awhile someone comes along to remind us of the vitality of rock and roll — the power and the edge. Songwriter and powerful guitar player, Greg MacPherson, is one of those people, and he’ll be bringing that vitality to Victoria this Friday.

“Rock and roll music is supposed to have a sense of danger and possibility, the sense of taking some risks. That’s the same with life,” says MacPherson, talking to me from his home in Winnipeg. “Life, particularly played out in rock and roll music — I think hip-hop has it too — [is] all about taking risks and trying to push the envelope somehow. There’s an energy that attracts me. I don’t listen to rock and roll music to just chill out. I want to be moved. I want to get kicked in the head. It should be like a defibrillator, like a jolt. It should be inspiring.”

MacPherson’s biography and art are both examples of rock and roll life, filled with challenges that are met with constant vigour. He runs a non-profit in the Winnipeg inner-city and runs his own record label (Disintegration Records), while creating energetic music and touring to support it. I am exhausted just listening to him rattle off everything he does. This isn’t an accident. MacPherson’s focus is both intense and admirable, a rare quality in an increasingly distracted world.

“I remember when Joe Strummer died in 2002, and he was 50. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Holy shit, I’ll be 30. What if I only have 15, 20 years left, you know?’” reflects MacPherson. “I have had a bunch of friends over the years die quite young and it always strikes me that I’d like to do a lot in this life and get a bunch of shit done. Do some interesting work and maybe make the world better somewhere, at least tread lightly and not hurt things more than I’m helping them.”

His new record, Fireball, is a furious blast of guitar-driven, kinetic energy (not to mention that it’s one of the best Canadian rock records of this almost-half-over decade). The album is dense and heavy, tackling life head-on with thunderous guitars, a monstrous drum sound and refreshingly straightforward lyrics.

“I had a pretty heavy turn in my life over the last couple years and that’s reflected on the record . . . I’m working around folks who are really committed. All my colleagues and I here are working with people in our community who are struggling. Their lives are incredibly difficult or fascinating or inspiring or frustrating. I think that stuff filtered into the record in a big way.”

The sounds on Fireball are just as big as the words, rarely letting up to give the listener a peaceful breath. It’s how MacPherson attacks music both live and in studio. “I go into a recording session trying to do it as live as possible but still being okay with changing a couple things here and there. But the bed tracks are always live.”

Live — good rock music all about that little four-letter word. You can make all the great records you want, but if you can’t translate them to the live setting, you’ve lost the spirit of rock and roll. Few acts come with the ferocity of MacPherson, who often tours as a duo with his drummer Rob Gardiner. “I respect any kind of playing. But the most excitement I get from seeing a band play is when someone is just about hurting themselves and you don’t know what’s going to happen to that person on stage. Like, ‘Jesus, are they going to fall into the audience? Is he going to break the guitar? Is he going to smash his teeth on the microphone? Holy shit; take it easy, man,’” MacPherson says with a laugh, which is odd to me. After talking with MacPherson it seems to be that he attacks all aspects of his life with the same relentless energy as the singer climbing the scaffolding or the drummer splitting his knuckles open on the cymbals. We, the listeners, and the world of rock music are all the better for it.

Greg MacPherson w/ West My Friend Lucky Bar (517 Yates St.), Friday, May 2

Tickets $10 in advance (Available at Lyle’s Place and Ditch Records) or $12 at the door

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