Mike Dwarf

#860: We Stand Alone

This chapter is dedicated to Michael LeFevre

GETTING MORE TALE #860: We Stand Alone

On a recent road trip with Jen to the lake, I chose the music according to my recent modus operandi:  80s retro rock.  The stuff I used to listen to at the lake when I was 15 or 16 years old.  This time I decided on the Killer Dwarfs’ Big Deal album from 1988.  I didn’t get the cassette until the cottage season of ’89.  I have a lot of nostalgia for that year.  I turned 17, I had friends, and I even met a girl that liked me.  We held hands once!

The title Big Deal referred to the Dwarfs’ signing their big record deal with Epic.  This was their major label debut.  After two indies, they finally signed the “big deal”, and even made a music video lampooning the idea.  The album is a solidly hard rock album with a melodic side and a dash of dreams.  Big Deal‘s theme is dreaming, and making it come true.  Self determination.  It doesn’t sound like the band had to compromise too much in making the album. While a tad softer than the predecessor Stand Tall (1986), it sounds like a natural evolution from that point.  Better background vocals, cleaner production, and more considered arrangements.

Epic Records even funded a jokey video for “We Stand Alone”, though unusually dark.  It was very much a sequel to “Stand Tall (Stick To Your Guns)” from the prior album.  This time, the band sign to a label (in blood!) who forces them to change their image and name to the “Cuddly Dwarfs”.  They are forced to cut and style their hair.  They give it a go, but by the end Russ Dwarf breaks his puppeteer’s strings and re-emerges with wild hair, tricycle and goofy stage shenanigans.

As the album played in the car, my brain immediately began flashing back to those times (as has been routine lately). Like an old film projector, images appeared in my mind. I was sitting in the basement, hand on the remote control of the VCR, ready to hit “record” on the new Killer Dwarfs video. Bob Schipper may have been watching with me, or he may have come over later. Either way, we both enjoyed the song, which was their most melodic yet. I can remember my thoughts and feelings watching the video, which had a tenebrous edge. I seem to have a reaction to videos where people have goey stuff dumped on their heads, like in Gowan’s video for “A Criminal Mind”. Killer Dwarfs had similar imagery in “We Stand Alone”, when faceless record company suits issue new haircuts for the Dwarfs. As such I’ll always see the video, and thus hear the song, with a sense of…shadow.

As the Dwarfs themselves have said, the videos may have been comedies, but the music and lyrics have always been dead serious.  The album in general has a similar dark vibe for me. The records before and after were more aggressive, but Big Deal seems to have a different focus.  Songs like “Power”, “Lifetime” and “Tell Me Please” have a certain foreboding to them for me.  Others are different, like the accelerated “Burn It Down” which recalls the Dwarfs of old.  There are no real duds on the album, which is a workmanlike slab of granite to seek out if you like 80s metal or Canadian rock bands.

The Dwarfs did well enough but didn’t have a major breakthrough.  They were always respected, tending to get better album after album.  I read a few critiques of Russ Graham’s voice, calling it too nasal like fellow Canadian Geddy Lee.  If that’s a dealbreaker for you, it’s best to move on.  While Russ is more aggressive than Geddy, I do hear the resemblance they are referring to.  But don’t forget guitarist Mike Hall, who doesn’t get enough credit for his solo work and tasteful use of the whammy bar.  On drums, the Dwarfs boast the heavy hitting Darrell Dwarf (Millar), an animated character who provides the ever-important thump.  And of course Bad Ronbo Mayer on bass and backing vocals, keeping it together.

Peak Dwarfs for me was 1990’s Dirty Weapons, a seriously good heavy rock album with attitude and riffs.  I have a whole different set of memories of that album, but not as nostagic.  Dirty Weapons came at Childhood’s End, a period of rapid change.  There it remains emblazoned in that part of my memory forever.

VHS Archives #73: Killer Dwarfs interview + Bruce Dickinson rips off Darrell Dwarf’s undies! (1989)

“‘Arry wants it…’Arry gets it.” – Killer Dwarfs

You won’t believe this got broadcast on daytime television!

Laurie Brown talked to the Killer Dwarfs in rehearsal for their excellent fourth LP Dirty Weapons. Additionally you will hear a preview for a new song called “Nothing Gets Nothing” live in concert, plus some behind the scenes footage.  The band talk about the music scene in Canada at the time (not good) and touring with Iron Maiden.  “What Harry wants, Harry gets,” they tell us.

But the real reason you’re watching this video is to see Bruce Dickinson rip the pants right off Darrell Dwarf.  It was the last night of the tour and therefore prank night!  Enjoy seeing “all of Darrell” as the audience did that night!

 

VHS Archives #15: Killer Dwarfs on MuchMusic (1986 and 1990)

Here are two MuchMusic clips featuring the Killer Dwarfs!

First is Russell and Darrell Dwarf in the Much studios in 1986. You can see just how small these guys are! Then in 1990 (they must have grown a bit by then) it’s Mike and Darrell Dwarf talking about their newest album Dirty Weapons.

Great, heavy band with a sense of humour.  Check ’em out!

 

REVIEW: Killer Dwarfs – Reunion of Scribes Live 2001

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
 Mike and Aaron are doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums that these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

 

 

“You guys do like to drink, don’t ya?  You are Canadian aren’t ya?  Most of us are Canadian in here, except for there’s one guy that I know of.  Security!”  — Russ Dwarf

Scan_20160313KILLER DWARFS – Reunion of Scribes Live 2001 (2002 Bullseye)

Aaron scored this for cheap at his “junk shop” and passed it down to me.  It was the only Killer Dwarfs CD I was missing — and for good reason.  I had the chance to hear it once, at the Record Store, while I was working for a stretch in Hamilton.   I didn’t think much of it then.  Has anything changed?

The Killer Dwarfs quietly went extinct after their final studio album, 1992’s Method to the Madness.  10 years later, the band reunited including Mike (Hall) Dwarf, who had actually left the band prior to 1992.  This is a full reunion of the classic lineup:  The Dwarfs Russty, Mike, Darrell and Bad Ronbo.  Let’s “Go DuNK” and see what the Killer Dwarfs 2001 sounded like.  At one hour and 11 minutes, Reunion of Scribes is the longest Killer Dwarfs album to date.

Strangely enough for a Canadian band, the concert begins with a recording of “The U.S. Air Force” (also known as “The Wild Blue Yonder”) before the band emerges with a limp version of their own “Dirty Weapons”.  What’s the problem?  It’s certainly not Russ Dwarf, who sounds vintage strong.   The guitar is too thin, and blemished with sour notes here and there.  Hey, it’s been a long time since Mike was a Dwarf!  The drums also sound disconnected from the song from time to time.  Chock it up to a bad recording?  (At the Docks, in Toronto.)  “Stand Tall” also suffers: the guitar needs to be front and center.  The sound of the band suddenly becomes sparse and weak every time Mike Dwarf stops playing the riff in order to lay down a solo.  The bass isn’t fat enough to fill the gap.

Another weakness to this recording is a concentration on songs from 1988-1992.  There’s nothing at all from their first self-titled album, even their first single “Heavy Mental Breakdown”, the song that helped put them on the map.  Instead the Dwarfs focused on more radio-friendly later music for this set.  Of that tunage, most of the hits are here:  “Stand Tall”, “Keep the Spirit Alive”, “Dirty Weapons”, “Doesn’t Matter”, “Hard Luck Town”.  Their first big label single, “We Stand Alone” is missing from the set, which instead includes lots of notable album cuts.  The best of these include “Believe in Me” from their second album Stand Tall.  Russ Dwarf’s ageless voice delivers hard-edged numbers like “Starting to Shine”, “Last Laugh”, “Nothin’ Gets Nothin'”, and “Comin’ Through” with all its usual intensity.

The most emotional moment (for fans) has to be the ballad “Doesn’t Matter”.  “Roll the dice and play the game, for the fortune and the fame.”  The Dwarfs did roll the dice, at least they tried.  “Doesn’t Matter” is a pretty simple lyrically:  get out there and give’r.*  The live recording doesn’t deliver its full power, but I do get the feels to hear them return to Toronto and play this song for their friends.

Most of these songs are still high-quality hard rock workhorses.  While Russ Dwarf brings it all and then some, the poor recording renders Reunion of Scribes an album that will only get infrequent plays at LeBrain HQ.

2/5 stars

* The Killer Dwarfs are the only band I can think of who actually used the word “give’r” in a song lyric.