Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Recording: Kids on TV

Artist: Kids on TV

Song: Poison

Recorded at Pride Toronto, South Stage, June 27, 2009.

Kids on TV - Poison

My notes for this set can be found here

Recording: Gentleman Reg

Artist: Gentleman Reg

Song: How We Exit

Recorded at Pride Toronto, South Stage, June 27, 2009.

Gentleman Reg - How We Exit

My notes for this set can be found here

Pride Toronto: Kids on TV / Gentleman Reg / Hooded Fang

Hooded Fang / Gentleman Reg / Kids on TV

South Stage, Pride Toronto. Saturday, June 27, 2009.

Ah, Pride. Political statement, cruising ground, big-ass party,1 corporate sell-out. Or for some of us, a break from imposing our heteronormative patriarchal agendas2 and a nice day out. On a warm, clear day, absolutely perfect for an outdoor concert, the big draw for me an well-curated evening programme at the South Stage under the rubric of "Just Gimme Indie!" so A. and myself braved the snaking queue on Church St. and inched our way closer, finally getting in as the crowds eased out after The Cliks' set. For all the waiting it was unsurprisingly empty inside, so we had plenty room to sit for a few minutes and still find some nice turf to watch once Hooded Fang hit the stage. Decorated with rainbows, the band (now down to six members) is still playing basically the same set of dance-worthy, catchy new-wave pop as when I saw them this spring, but they did a great job up on the big stage and seemed like utter naturals up there, uncluttered and confident. Except for Lorna Wright's vox being buried a bit at the start, the sound was very good, and Daniel crooned with authority. The half-hour set hit all the right notes. The area in front of the stage wasn't all that crowded at this point, but if you added up all the people inside the fence, it was probably more than you'd see at a club show, so hopefully the band turned a few heads.

J. found us during the set and we had some time to chat during the changeover. Not to mention some time to move away from the filthy, wigged-out dude, looking like he'd woken up in a flowerbed, who was staggering around erratically and kicking empty beer cups around randomly. He was somewhere away from us by the time Gentleman Reg hit the stage, launching into an intense, amped-up version of "How We Exit". "This is the rock set," he told us, and the band backed up his words, the set starting up with a couple mean two-guitar attacks. A couple covers in the middle, including a reinterpretation of Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart"3 and what Reg promised to be "maybe the gayest thing you see today," a take on the Brian Adams/Mel C. number "Baby When You're Gone". That was followed by "one of our own hits", a version of "We're in a Thunderstorm" that totally nailed it. A closing romp through "The Boyfriend Song" was just icing on the cake. Quite fabulous — this band has gelled since I saw them at CMW and are firing on all cylinders.4

Listen to a track from this set here.

There's a fascinating — and as of yet untold, so far as I know — story to be told about Kids on TV. Here's a band that played the same stage a year ago and is now playing an almost entirely different set and developing a new sound. KoTV are reinventing themselves — the new songs getting over on less raw, dirty energy, but still keeping the groove moving. Of the new stuff, at least two songs sound like clear winners: the X-Men disco tribute "Dazzler" as well as "Poison".5 What has become the core trio (Roxanne/Scott/John) were supplemented by Isabelle Noël on beats6, as well as some guest vox. KoTV appear to be working hard to reconcile their radical art origins with their presence at the rather corporate Pride — Roxanne in particular seemed to be chafing at the sponsor-heavy environment and rueful that the band could have a big Bud Lite logo or nothing on the screen behind them, but not their own well-constructed projections. The set ended with a mildly chaotic version of "Breakdance Hunx" that gave the impression that after the new, less familiar stuff, the band was "giving one back" to the audience. A good set, and KoTV should be saluted for not resting on their laurels.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I forgot my camera at home for this one. Thanks to A. for lending me some of his pix. He has a kick-ass camera that takes very good pictures, so I had to meticulously digitally fiddle with them to match my usual standard of distant/blurry looking.7

1 This could also be rendered as "big ass party", for those so inclined, I suppose.

2 I don't, like, carry pamphlets around or anything.

3 This might owe something to a similar arrangement of the song by L.A. band Abe Vigoda. Anyone know of any interesting connection that might have led to this?

4 Worth noting that Reg is playing a free show at Harbourfront, on July 25th. Attendance is de rigeur.

5 Hopefully this doesn't preclude a future cover of the Bell Biv DeVoe track with the same name.

6 Excitingly, she was playing a tenori-on, the first time I've actually seen one in real life action.

7 I also noted that suckingalemon was onstage taking pictures, so those'll be cool to see if they turn up.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Recording: Ohbijou

Artist: Ohbijou

Song: New Years

Recorded at The Opera House, June 25, 2009.

Ohbijou - New Years

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Evening Hymns

Artist: Evening Hymns

Song: Mountain Song*

Recorded at The Opera House, June 25, 2009.

Evening Hymns - Mountain Song

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Thanks to a commenter for provider the title to this one.

Gig: Ohbijou

Ohbijou / Great Bloomers / Evening Hymns

The Opera House. Thursday, June 25, 2009.

The local CD release party for Ohbijou's excellent new Beacons album was much-anticipated. Even had it gone off on its original late April date, it would have felt rather a long time in coming, with several of the new songs having already had a fairly lengthy tenure in the setlist. But: good things/thems that wait/etc.

I was a tad apprehensive at the fact the gig was at The Opera House — not one of favourite venues to see one of my favourite bands. Though I've seen some great shows there, I've also had some negative experiences including sweaty, claustrophobic overcrowding and muddy sound. While I has hopeful that Ohbijou wasn't going to draw as much from the pushy, angry demographic of concert-goers, I was mildly worried that the room might muffle the beautifully detailed interplay of their sound. At the very least, I thought to myself on arriving, the band was able to use the big stage at The Opera House to their advantage, having taken some extra effort to dress it up with dramatically-hung sheets overhead and so forth.

First up was Evening Hymns, a local-via-Peterborough act, playing a set of Hayden-meets-Counting Crows-eque pop. Frontman Jonas Bonnetta has a plaintive voice and some vaguely pretty tunes that were at their best when delivered with a a six-piece backing band, adding flourishes on keyb, trumpet, and Sylvie Smith's backing vox. It was a spirited set with a nice energy level, but most of it didn't particularly connect with me. There were some good moments, and one winner in a new "Mountain Song" carried by James Bunton's (guesting from Ohbijou) rollicking beat, but overall, count me amongst the unconverted at this point.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I'd seen Great Bloomers in a much smaller room this spring and was left with no strong impression. A bigger room with an enthusiastic crowd did not cause much change. The band is mildly MOR, but not unforgivably so, and actually led off with some fairly strong stuff, but I soon found it sagging a bit. Perhaps the well-executed cover of the Muscle Shoals classic "The Dark End of the Street" revealed the answer — the band's own material (as of yet) just hasn't reached that next level. It did pick up again towards the end — "Dark Horse" and "Speak of Trouble" both demonstrate some emergent popcraft, the former also showing that the band shouldn't be afraid to flex its country-rock muscles.

But in any case, all was prelude to Ohbijou's taking the stage. Boasting an enhanced lineup with extra strings and Kiely Russell's trumpet in addition to the core seven-piece, the band played an hour-long main set, very heavily leaning on the new album — only "St. Francis" from Swift Feet made it into the main set.1 This garners to complaints from this corner — it's highly exciting to hear the band playing the newer stuff with full confidence and in lush sound. The band seemed rather happy to be playing for the hometown crowd, forging one more connection between band and place to add to the ones they celebrate in their songs.2

There was a good crowd on hand, but down on the floor it wasn't packed in and felt fairly comfortable.3 And the sound, in the end, was pretty good, with all the players audible in the mix and nothing too overpowering. In terms of sheer performance quality, this might have been the best I've even seen from Ohbijou — this band is performing at a remarkably high level right now. There was also a pleasing visual aspect to the show, with the sheets above the band's heads acting as a screen for some live projections of colourful Brownian motion. A three-song encore began with the ineffable sweetness of "Thunderlove" and ended with the all-hands-on-stage percussion spectacle of "The Woods". Quite a time. Ohbijou are one of our best bands, and hopefully this album does them well.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I can't put a title to the last song of the main set, tho I'm sure I've heard it played before. The lyrics start with "I'll lay it down". Can anyone help here?

2 Like the empty hole in Queen Street that always puts an echo of "Memoriam" in my mind when I walk by.

3 Though I have no love for the guy who started loudly yelling "encore!" with two songs left in the main set.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Recording: The Hoa Hoa's

Artist: The Hoa Hoa's

Song: Grew Up on The Seeds

Recorded at the Silver Dollar, NxNE Festival, June 20, 2009.

The Hoa Hoa's - Grew Up on The Seeds

My notes from this gig can be found here.

R.I.P. Sky Saxon

Recording: Nightwood

Artist: Nightwood

Song: Unknown*

Recorded at Rancho Relaxo, NxNE Festival, June 20, 2009.

Nightwood - unknown

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* I'm guessing this one is called "Play the Dishes", but I can't find anything to back that up.

Recording: Woodpigeon

Artist: Woodpigeon

Song: The Alison Yip School for Girls*

Recorded at the Horseshoe Tavern, NxNE Festival, June 20, 2009.

Woodpigeon - The Alison Yip School for Girls

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Note: This was broadcast live-to-air by the CBC, so if you dig around somewhere on their website, you could most likely find their version of it as well.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recording: Zeroes

Artist: Zeroes

Song: Mudslinger

Recorded at the Silver Dollar, NxNE Festival, June 19, 2009.

Zeroes - Mudslinger

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Mika Miko

Artist: Mika Miko

Song: Business Cats*

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, NxNE Festival, June 19, 2009.

Mika Miko - Business Cats

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Thanks to a commenter for helping out with the song title.

Recording: Matt & Kim

Artist: Matt & Kim

Song: Yea Yeah

Recorded at the Whippersnapper Gallery, NxNE Festival, June 19, 2009.

Matt & Kim - Yea Yeah

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Silverghost

Artist: Silverghost

Song: Bad Blood

Recorded at Neutral Lounge, NxNE Festival, June 18, 2009.

Silverghost - Bad Blood

My notes for this set can be found here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Song: The Last Road

Recorded at the Silver Dollar, NxNE Festival, June 20, 2009.

catl - The Last Road

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: The Mark Inside

Artist: The Mark Inside

Song: There is Nothing to Admit

Recorded at the Velvet Underground, NxNE Festival, June 20, 2009.

The Mark Inside - There is Nothing to Admit

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Clydesdale

Artist: Clydesdale

Song: Unknown*

Recorded at the Silver Dollar, NxNE Festival, June 20, 2009.

Clydesdale - Unknown

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Do you know the title of this track? Please leave a comment!

NxNE: Saturday

NxNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto 2009.

Saturday, June 20, 2009. Featuring: Clydesdale, Woodpigeon, The Mark Inside, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, catl, Nightwood, Hank & Lily, The Hoa Hoa's

8 P.M.: Clydesdale @ Silver Dollar

After the afternoon show, had some non-rock time to stretch my legs and grab a bite to eat, but it wasn't too long before I was back at it, starting off, again at the Silver Dollar. I'd never heard of Clydesdale, but the members' past credentials (Tangiers, Deadly Snakes, Grasshopper, The Killer Elite) were pretty impressive, so I figured I'd take a chance. It turned out to be a vital, exciting set. Classic rock in, say, the way The Only Ones or The Replacements were classic rock, and filled with the sort of energy you might've heard in a Tangiers or Deadly Snakes song. The four-piece were rigourously tight behind Shawn Leger's raspy vox. Even some technical problems with the drums couldn't slow the momentum. No weak songs, though one with Yuri Didrichsons on keyboards had an especially catchy edge to it. A band this good won't be playing the first slot of the evening for long.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 P.M.: Woodpigeon @ The Horseshoe Tavern

Down to the 'Shoe (for my only appearance there during the festival) to check out Calgary's Woodpigeon for what turned out to be part of a live CBC3 showcase. I was a bit late getting on board with this group, now basking in Polaris-related buzz, but was curious to see what I'd heard praised as a solid live show. Based on the songs and voice of Mark Hamilton, the band takes simple songs and gently fabricates elaborate arrangements around them. This live set worked with a similar logic, starting quiet and small ("the slow jam portion of the evening") and gradually building up — in intensity as well as the number of players on stage. With strings, keys, and vibes (courtesy of local guest Paul Aucoin) there's an orchestral sweep to this music, intercut with a Tango In The Night pop sensibility (as Hamilton confessed in introducing "The Alison Yip School for Girls"). For my money, this worked out pretty well, and I was well impressed by Hamilton's superior form of soft rock. The band seems to still be gaining strength, as witnessed by a nice new cut "The Saddest Music in the World", complete with sampled looping whistle. The band played a longer-than-usual set, capped by the presentation of an award from Galaxie radio. Safe to say we'll be hearing more from 'em.

Listen to a track from this set here.

10 P.M.: The Mark Inside @ Velvet Underground

Tried my hardest to find one more band named after an animal to complete the trifecta, but no luck. Looking at the listings, the most promising thing close at hand seemed to be the unenticingly-named Dirtblonde from Liverpool, whose blurb promised "white noise racket" and namechecked Sonic Youth. So I ducked into the Hideout, a venue not normally on my radar, right on the hour to see a very non-British, non white-noise-racket bunch with Flying Vees, headbands and lather pants completing their setup.1 I was quite confused until the one with the headband announced, in a very un-Liverpool accent that "the band they hired didn't show up, so they got us instead — and we're a much better band". As they launched into a Sunset Strip-styled sleaze-rock riff, I was already fishing out my schedule. When the backup singers, wearing miniskirts and angel wings, came on stage I ducked out the door.

Cutting my losses, walked a few doors down to the Velvet and got in just as The Mark Inside were beginning their set with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for vocalist Chris Levoir's father. This was a perfectly acceptable consolation prize, as the only reason they'd not been on my list of things to see is that I'd seen 'em a couple months ago at CMW. Looking back, my remarks at the time seem unduly negative now, as my memories of the set ended up being warmer than my contemporaneous notes. Or perhaps I was just more receptive on the second time around, but I enjoyed this set pretty well, especially in the first half when the tempos were at their fastest, and Gus Harris' rhythm guit had a pleasingly insistent edge to it. "There is Nothing to Admit" received an especially pleading reading. I'm still a bit less sold when they slow down and get more of a bluesy vibe, such as on "Shots". A brand new track "Everything is a Daydream" hit closer to the mark, with its slightly manic vibe and torrent of lyrics more suggestive of a nightmare. An enjoyable set, and I'm glad I had this second viewing.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 P.M.: Olenka and the Autumn Lovers @ Bread and Circus

Coulda easily stuck around and taken in the Zoobombs, but once again was feeling the itch for something different, and soon I found myself walking the length of Augusta to get to Bread and Circus, a spot totally unfamiliar to me. Moving from drizzly outside to sauna-like inside, my glasses actually steamed over, forcing me to blindly grope my way towards the back room, a squarish space with tall ceiling and raised tiers of tables at the back. It had the look of a sit-down place where you'd more likely go to see a play than a gig, so perhaps appropriate for something I was expecting to have a sort of cabaret feel. The band was on stage when I entered, but still going through a fairly lengthy soundcheck process, so I had enough time to compose myself and find a spot. This would end up being the venue with the loudest talking crowd of anything I saw at NxNE2 which I think cut into my enjoyment some. As for the band, starting with the sprightly opener "Odessa", we got the promised folksy jaunt, with sweet harmonies, strings, stand-up bass, and occasional accordion decorating the songs. Having no other familiarity with the band, I don't know if it was by design or just a product of the venue's sound that Olenka's acoustic guit was very front-and-centre, overwhelming all the other elements to the detriment of the sound. There were a few places where I felt the swooning romantic roil the band seemed capable of, but overall I found it muddled and mildly underwhelming.

12 A.M.: catl @ The Silver Dollar

In theory catl are the sort of act that I should have taken pains to avoid at the festival — they're local and play a reasonable number of shows. But I'd never been able to put it together to go out and see them, so I wanted to seize this opportunity, even if it meant missing out on some out-of-towner who might not pass this way again. Turned out to be a grand time. Catl's elemental blues-rock might be superficially compared to the John Spencer Blues Explosion, but there's a slightly different dynamic at play here. Originally a drums/guitar duo of Johnny LaRue and eponymous singer-guitarist catl (ex-Pecola) — whose aggressively slurred vocals gave the songs a vibe like The Fall covering John Lee Hooker. Added to that is the organ/percussion/vox of Sarah Kirkpatrick (ex-Shitt Hottt), who fleshed the songs out even more. Although seated, catl put a sweaty workman's effort in.3 The intense forty minutes was about the right length to appreciate this — and the band are definitely on the list to be seeing again.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 A.M.: Nightwood @ Rancho Relaxo

With no pick for this slot, went with a bit of a random choice, and I settled on this as much as anything because I wanted to be at the Rancho an hour down the line, but this Montréal trio turned out to be quite entertaining. Two women up front on guitars and vox plus a non-woman drummer behind. Both Erin Ross and Amber Goodwyn played more on the bottom strings, so the absence of a bass player wasn't really felt. There was a strong musical interplay between the two, both on guitar and in their tag-team vox. The band mostly dealt in slow-burning tunes — I don't know if any of their songs were actually about things you'd find in the woods at night, but they gave that kind of implicitly menacing vibe. Well, mostly, there were a few more upbeat numbers, including one with a chorus of "play the dishes, wash the guitar" which brought to mind the domestic adventures of Sleater-Kinney's "Little Babies". The band staked out a clear sonic space and did a good job of exploring that little patch of the woods.

Listen to a track from this set here.

2 A.M.: The Hank and Lily Show @ Rancho Relaxo

Watching the set-up during the soundcheck for The Hank and Lily Show, one could get the impression that a show was about to begin. But even then, there was still was a burst of anticipation when a voice started to sing with the stage empty, "Don't be afraid / don't be afraid / 'til I tell you why you ought to be afraid". Making their way through the crowd Hank (in a sort of steampunk gas mask) and Lily (wearing miniature deer antlers) led their followers (a bassist and a trio of backing singers) to the stage. And soon we were plunged into an old-fashioned medicine show, complete with testimonials for the snake oil and comic books available at the merch table. Although they were playing with this old-timey country imagery, the music was more blues-based. Not that any such book-learnin' distinctions meant much in the face of a sweaty good-time spectacle. Clearly a band that decided to stake itself on an ability to entertain, and in that department they delivered in spades. Hank (with a wireless mic concealed in his mask) delivered his vocals in a low-down hoodoo growl, contrasting with Lily's naif, chirpy sweetness. The songs about sin, prison and the apocalypse included lots of audience participation and generally led to a sweaty bit of fun craziness. Very much worth seeing live.

3 A.M.: The Hoa Hoa's @ Silver Dollar

Ended off the whole marathon of a day with The Hoa Hoa's, who I'd seen (and been pretty rocked out by) at the same venue during CMW. Commenting, "let's go on a trip together" the band launched into its thick and syrupy brand of psychedelic garage rock. An even better show than the first time I'd seen 'em, I was totally captivated, despite being a little bit exhausted. A fine way to end the festival and try to drag myself home before the sky started to get light.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I can't honestly say with one hundred per cent accuracy that anyone on the stage was wearing leather pants, but the band had the aura of leather pants.

2 I found it striking that a member of another band on the night's bill was standing at the opposite side of the room from me, holding an audible conversation during the set.

3 In fact, I can't recall the last time I saw so much sweat running down the body of a guitar from the player's arm.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recording: Laura Barrett

Artist: Laura Barrett

Song: Sorting Hat*

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, June 20, 2009.

Laura Barrett - Sorting Hat

My notes from this gig are here.

* A tip of the hat (as it were) to Paul for providing me with the title to this one.

Recording: Times Neue Roman

Artist: Times Neue Roman

Song: Roq Roq

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, June 20, 2009.

Times Neue Roman - Roq Roq

My notes from this gig are here.

Recording: Lightmares

Artist: Lightmares

Song: Ghost You're a Liar

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, June 20, 2009.

Lightmares - Ghost You're a Liar

My notes from this gig are here.

Gig: Daps All-Ages & No Shame Afternoon Extravaganza

Daps All-Ages & No Shame Afternoon Extravaganza (feat. Ruby Jean & The Thoughtful Bees, Lightmares, Spiral Beach, Times Neue Roman, Pick A Piper, Laura Barrett)

Rolly's Garage. Saturday, June 20, 2009.

Despite a late night before, managed to get up on Saturday and head down for this all-ages matinée. The fact that it was put on by the capable folks behind the No Shame and Daps All-Ages series made it feel like the quality control had been taken care of and some good bands guaranteed.1 Plus, I was interested in checking out the venue, a converted auto repair shop, on the happenin' Ossington strip. It was grey and drizzly out, but by showing up in time for the first act I managed to avoid the full-on rain that came a bit later.

It was also worth the early start to catch Ruby Jean & The Thoughtful Bees, a Halifax DOR outfit fronted by Rebekah Higgs. I'd seen Ms. Higgs in her solo incarnation at a CMW showcase in '08, and had vaguely enjoyed her tunes but wasn't particularly struck by them. So it was a surprise to see the magnetism that she unleashed in this context. Sampling and manipulating her own vocals, Higgs led the three-piece backing band (guit/drums/beats and effects) through an energizing set of 80's-flavoured dance rock.2 She even stepped in front of the monitors to challenge the slight crowd at hand to get into it and dance. Good songs, good energy, and a lot of fun.

The all-ages element felt in effect for Lightmares, a young trio out of Sudbury who played a quick, five-song set of energetic rock'n'roll. Bassist Nicholas Millard — a dead ringer for Dennis the Menace — sounds like he's absorbed a Four Seasons compilation3 and put it to good use with his falsetto backing vox behind guitarist Jamie Millard's leads. The band bashed out their tunes with gusto, and it sounds like they're starting to get a handle on the songwriting process. Worth keeping an eye on.

Listen to a track from this set here.

In the original announcement the next band up was Swirling Shores, listed as "An unforgettable showcase of fearless performance style and sophisticated songwriting skills". Given that there's a million bands out there I've never heard of, it didn't seem strange that that didn't strike a chord, although as it turned out, I was apparently the only one not in on the open secret that this was an undercover show for Spiral Beach, concealing themselves from the NxNE authorities. So, after having seen them the night before and being entertained beyond my expectations, it was a nice turn to have a chance to reinforce my new disposition. Opening up with an improvised goof to call bassist Dorian Wolf to the stage, the band played a half-hour set that semi-overlapped with the previous night, although the first part of this show had more of a gently swirling vibe until kicking things into dancing gear with "Made of Stone" and "Dominoes". All told, the sort of lucky chance that really turned me around on the band.

A pleasing change of direction after that, with hip-hop crew Times Neue Roman taking over. Consisting of Rob Bolton's raps backed by live keys and DJ augmenting their well-produced tracks, the band had a variety of musical flavours, ranging from electro to reggae.4 I'd broadly put Bolton's flow into the broad category of "post-Eminem" — though to say much more would put me seriously out of my depth and probably reveal my ignorance about contemporary rap music. The band did a good job of bringing it live, with the keys and turntables adding a spontaneous feel, and the crowd that had assembled by this point were fully appreciative. They even had a fair number of fans out, calling, at set's end for a track called "Hands" to cap things off. I had no expectations coming in, but was fairly impressed.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Next up were the rhythmically intense Pick A Piper, with two drummers at the centre of a frenzied squall, towering over the guitar and bass in front of them. The songs were built up from pre-recorded synth lines and juxtaposed the tribal pummeling against more gentle and rhythmic elements. I recognize the band's talents, especially in keeping two drummers going full-bore without them stepping on each other, and having strongly defined dynamics allowing the songs to build up and ease off. There were some undeniably good moments when everything simmered nicely in a groove, but sometimes I got the impression that, with the drums pounding away, there was no other gear to shift into. A powerful band, but not necessarily with a strong power over me.

The show was completed with the highlight of the afternoon, a set from the always-awesome Laura Barrett, playing solo but bearing a fancy new bass pedal.5 Playing a mix of old and newer material, she managed to charm those hearing the songs for the first time as much as the older hands. By the second song, most of the audience was sitting down and paying close attention. In a spontaneous moment, during "Robot Ponies" Rebekah Higgs started to throw in some harmonies and was quickly invited up front for a do-over duet version. The set closed with the lovely "Deception Island Optimists Club", ending a most pleasing afternoon's proceedings.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Not to mention the work that had gone into the funky art decorating the space. And the barbeque.

2 Revealing cover: Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted".

3 Or possibly a whole lotta Weezer.

4 Though I wouldn't've picked them as a bunch to have a band name based on a font joke. I wonder if anyone has broached the issue of them starting a beef with noise-punks Times New Viking?

5 And also bearing biscotti, showing that entertainer's knowledge that the surest way to an audience's heart is through their stomach.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Recording: The Homosexuals

Artist: The Homosexuals

Song: Bruno Speaks / Unknown*

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, NxNE Festival, June 18, 2009.

The Homosexuals - Bruno Speaks / Unknown

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Do you know the title of this track? Please leave a comment!

Recording: Golden Triangle

Artist: Golden Triangle

Song: Neon Noose

Recorded at Velvet Underground, NxNE Festival, June 19, 2009.

Golden Triangle - Neon Noose

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Spiral Beach

Artist: Spiral Beach

Song: Unknown*

Recorded at Whippersnapper Gallery, NxNE Festival, June 19, 2009.

Spiral Beach - Unknown>

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Do you know the title of this track? Please leave a comment!

NxNE: Friday

NxNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009. Featuring: Spiral Beach, Matt and Kim, Parlovr, Zeroes, Golden Triangle, Mika Miko, The Homosexuals, Experimental Dental School

7 P.M.: Spiral Beach @ Whippersnapper Gallery

Making my way through a College Street under siege, booths busily being set up for Taste of Little Italy, found a bit of a queue in front of the Whippersnapper Gallery as ID's were busily being checked. Still managed to get in a few minutes before seven and found a patch of floor not too far back from the stage. For the "big time" of NxNE there were a couple lighting rigs flanking the stage, adding a bit of visual flair to the venue.

I'd only seen Spiral Beach once before, December '06, when they opened for Tokyo Police Club at the Horseshoe. Though I'd sampled and enjoyed their first alb, the live show left me feeling unimpressed — I recall thinking this was a young band with more spirit than songs. After that, they'd sort of been put on my mental backburner while they continued to garner a lot of positive vibes. But let it be said I'm willing to give second chances, so I came to the show with an open mind to see what'd changed in a couple years. As it turns out, although the band still looks shockingly young, there's been a whole lot of development. Although still usually pitched as a good-times-party kind of band, Spiral Beach's music had a darker, psychedelic edge than anticipated. Even on the faster numbers — including a new one that sounded like Piper at the Gates of Dawn hooked up to a primitive drum machine — there was something that suggested, "even if I'm dancing, I'm still in the middle of a bad trip". Interesting stuff, and it brought me around enough that it occurred to me I'd see 'em again.1

Listen to a track from this set here.

8 P.M.: Matt and Kim @ Whippersnapper Gallery

Stayed on — hell, I'd gotten here early for — Matt and Kim, a band I was curious to see live. Despite the fact that the album didn't quite sit right with me, I'd gotten a notion that there was something to this Brooklyn duo. They took the stage with an instrumental fanfare and Matt was soon oozing positivity ("it's a beautiful goddamn day in Toronto") to the enthusiastic crowd in the stupidly hot room. Kim, meanwhile, was fighting the aftereffects of some bad Thai but still put in a spirited performance. It wasn't a visually satisfying experience, what with both musicians playing while seated on a low stage, I only caught a glimpse of either when they stood up. But musically, it was a worthy effort. Though there might have been one too many instrumentals in the short set (including a quick run through "The Final Countdown") the band's irrepressible gusto was impossible to deny, so I can say I left liking them more than I did when I came in.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 P.M.: Parlovr @ Supermarket

After that, walked over to see Parlovr ("one of Montreal's most talked-about unsigned acts") at Supermarket2, part of a showcase for Nevado Records. The three piece featured a dual-guitars-no-bass setup, though Louis Jackson's guit had a split output into the guitar and bass amps to prop up the bottom end. On a stage decorated with traffic signals, the band played a reasonable set of post-Strokes indie rock with a Montréal twist, guitars cleanly intertwining around slightly howl-y adenoidal vox. They were entertaining and brought some pleasantly goofy banter (including an onstage argument over Heath ledger versus Val Kilmer) but the songs weren't so memorable. There's a good base here, and I wouldn't write this band off, but I wasn't totally convinced by what I heard.

10 P.M.: Zeroes @ Silver Dollar Room

Wandered over to the Silver Dollar to see Zeroes, another Montréal band. Which made for an interesting compare and contrast, I guess. Zeroes had a bit more of a colder, post-punk edge — the guitars more menacing and the keybs icy — hints of, maybe, Magazine and bands of that ilk. I liked the band's textures, but found their stage presence to be a bit lacking in charisma: even when, say, grinding a guit against an amp, it seemed a little rote. That's petty, sure, but given the onslaught of bands I was in the middle of, the marginal things tend to stand out a little more. Interestingly, on listening to the playback of my recording of this set, I found myself liking it more than I remember, which might indicate that I was hitting a bit of a wall at the time. Possibly a good soundtrack for wandering the city while the drugs aren't quite doing enough to squelch the voices in your head — which may or may not be your idea of a good time on a Friday night.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 P.M.: Golden Triangle @ Velvet Underground

By this point, I was definitely looking for something outside the broad category of "boys with guitars", so, looking over the listings, grabbed the streetcar down to Queen and walked over to Cameron House, thinking that The Hank and Lily Show would be a good change of pace. But inside, I found about a dozen people in line waiting to get in to the back room. That didn't seem entirely promising, so I ducked back outside and looked at the listings again and decided that the answer was just a bit further down the street at Velvet Underground. Got in with Brooklyn's Golden Triangle already on stage, a repeating riff echoing through a thick layer of reverb. When the drums, muffled like they were being played in a room a couple doors down the street, kicked in, I felt at home. This band's sound could probably be captured with a fairly reductionist blurb like "imagine if The Vivian Girls had convened as a surf band". Which might sound like pithy snideness save for the fact that, to me, that sounds like a bloody marvelous idea. With dual female vocalists up front, those snake-like guitar lines, and the primal drumming, I was totally into this — just the right mix of murk and sass. One of the best sets I saw at the festival.

Listen to a track from this set here.

12 A.M.: Mika Miko @ Sneaky Dee's

A bracing walk up Bathurst gave me a bit of a second wind. I'd been a bit eager to check out Mika Miko and was a little worried, given some buzz, that I might round the corner on College to find a line-up. Turned out to be no problem — possibly the demand had been spread out, given that this was the band's second set of the night. Veterans of the same Smell-based L.A. scene that has produced No Age, Mika Miko have a more straight-up punk feel — the rapid-fire songs came with shades of Liliput, Wire, Undertones and so on. But as with all first-class rock'n'roll bands, their energy made it all seem new and spontaneous. The duelling vocals of Jennifer Clavin and Jenna Thornhill were the most powerful weapons in the arsenal, but the whole band was on fire. I can't really say if this was objectively good, but in the moment it felt ferociously vital — which kinda means it seemed fantastic.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 A.M.: The Homosexuals @ Sneaky Dee's

Oh my. I guess I could pull cred and say I was familiar with original-wave British punks The Homosexuals, but, quite honestly, I'd never heard of them. I had no idea what to expect from this set, but from the moment I saw the blazer-clad older British chap pulling his carry-on towards the stage, I was guessing this was not going to some rote re-hash of the glory days. Instead we got a tour through the mind of Bruno Wizard, who claimed to have fired his crack band after catching them listening to Bruce Springsteen and was now backed by "the future of fucking rock" in the form of Fiasco3 — or at least two-thirds thereof. After some introductory comments, Bruno moved behind the drum kit to give a history lesson about how all rock music is derived from African rhythms before picking up the guitar and playing a couple songs. He was then joined by Jonathan and Julian, who backed him sympathetically and ably, even if it was evident on occasion that they had as little idea as the rest of the audience what Bruno was going on about. Songs were interspersed with free-association digressions on cosmology and history (what was that about riding on a beam of light with Einstein again?) until Bruno deigned to start a song or Jonathan could sneak in a count-in. Fortunately, Bruno seemed to be canny like a fox and I think — I think — that to be entertained by his erratic tangents was more like the sort of sharing vibe he was encouraging, and not a case of "let's laugh at the nutter". The set ended with an extended version of "You're Not Moving the Way You're Supposed To", which was pretty fantastic — in fact, all of the tunes on which the Fiasco lads got a groove on were pretty hot. Bruno announced that when Fiasco's bassist was done school, they come back for another gig, which would be free for anyone in attendance "with love in their hearts". A baffling and unique experience.

Spend a few perplexing minutes with Bruno here.

2 A.M.: Experimental Dental School @ Rancho Relaxo

Well. One could imagine anything'd be a letdown after that but I felt like I had one more set in me, so walked over to Rancho to see Experimental Dental School, who, possibly fortunately, were really neither. That is, not so much experimental per se as a minimalist pop act using a double-decker rack of guitar effects to stretch out their sound some. Drummer Shoko Horikawa and guitarist Jesse Hall traded off vocals and took the songs out on little excursions, but didn't drag things so far away as to crumble the foundations. They also exuded a cool, positive vibe from the stage, seeking high-fives from anyone digging the sounds. I'm willing to concede by this point of the night I was more just surfing on the vibe rather than listening carefully, but this was enjoyable. A nice vibe to end the night and head home, a little exhausted.4

1 Which, as it turns out, came to pass a bunch sooner than I'd expected.

2 Slogan: "Kensington's least grungy venue".

3 Recently in town at the Over the Top festival.

4 It looks like the band is offering a free album for download on their website — which I'm now going to check out and recommend to you as well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Recording: Ume

Artist: Ume

Song: Captive

Recorded at Neutral Lounge, NxNE Festival, June 18, 2009.

Ume - Captive

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Chang-A-Lang

Artist: Chang-A-Lang

Song: Throw Away Litres*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room, NxNE Festival, June 18, 2009.

Chang-A-Lang - Throw Away Litres

My notes from this gig can be found here.

* Thanks to w4st3l4nd for providing the title.

NxNE: Thursday

NxNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto 2009.

Thursday, June 18, 2009. Featuring: Chang-A-Lang, Silverghost, Ume, Kittens Ablaze, Wildlife, Amy Campbell

8 P.M.: Chang-A-Lang @ The Silver Dollar Room

For Thursday, had very little of an agenda, and, to be honest, hadn't done much in the way of research, so I was free to sort of just go with guesswork — a sort of triangulation of venue, band name and well-written blurbs. Going with the first of those, it seemed safe to start at The Silver Dollar, where Dan Burke's hand-picked bands can usually be relied upon to bring the rock. So, first up: Toronto's Chang-A-Lang, a three-piece bringing offerings of rock'n'roll in exchange for sweat. The band had a nice stock of power pop-ish tunes, mostly sung by guitarist Brian Okamoto, though bassist Jeanette Dowling took the reins for a couple, and provided sterling backing vox throughout. The band would be right at home at a packed party and might've been a bit out of their element playing the early slot to a smaller, less jumpy crowd but still managed to entertain by giving the impression that they were entertaining themselves. Fun stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 P.M.: Silverghost @ Neutral Lounge

Walked over to the top of Augusta to head down to the mouldering depths of Neutral, a venue I'd not previously visited. Before it filled in with people, it had a sense of cool damp, and that musty smell of an unfinished basement in an old house. Not a superb layout for live music, with a small stage, raised one step up, tucked into a corner in the shorter half of the room, leaving the larger half of the room with lousy sightlines. It wasn't crowded at this hour, so I had no problem there, but I'm guessing this would be an awkward venue for latecomers if it were jammed. The blurb for Detroit duo Silverghost, featuring Marcie Bolen (ex-Von Bondies, guit/vox) and Deleano Acevedo1 (vox/keybs/beats via laptop) had promised "male/female-fuzz-analog-pop" which sounded worthy of checking out, the pair largely cashed in on that promise. Bolen — in a styling pantsuit (very 1981) — was the more magnetic presence, but the tag-team vox were well-done. The first couple numbers featured a classic Detroit rock sound, with fuzzy organ and tambourine-laced drum track, and might have been the best overall. The songs following had a bit more of a new wave sound, and brought to mind fellow Detroit rockers The Slumber Party. Although the programmed beats mostly fit well into their aesthetic, there were some moments where the I felt the absence of a live drummer. But the band had good songs and executed well. Worth checking out if you are a fan of the "male/female-fuzz-analog-pop" genre.

Listen to a track from this set here.

10 P.M.: Ume @ Neutral Lounge

Instead of shuffling venues, stuck around for Austin's Ume, who had been hotly tipped by Frank Chromewaves. This trio brought a rock attack not unlike a single-guitar Sonic Youth, powered by the proficient Lauren Larson. Although I was expecting perhaps something "heavier", Larson's playing showed a crafty range that unleashed a variety of bracing sounds thrown into relief by her demure looks and small voice chirping "thank you" at the ends of songs — like, say, an anime heroine destroying marauding invaders with pulsating energy bolts only to transform back into an unassuming student. It was an enjoyable set that hinted at greater possibilities — I felt at times that the band was a little... contained and in such heightened control that the songs couldn't breathe as much as they might.2 I'd also wager that the band would sound better on a more powerful sound system, so here's hoping they return to play a slightly bigger room.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 P.M.: Kittens Ablaze @ Rivoli

Looking through the blurbs, my eye was caught by "Americana-indie rock band... orchestral... full of violin and cello riffs" and that seemed worth a go, so grabbed the Spadina streetcar down to Queen to head into Rivoli for Kittens Ablaze. With keyboards on the floor and on an ironing board, not to mention a cello with extra tall spike for stand-up action playing, the co-ed six-piece had a chaotic edge, bringing a ramshackle approach to what is normally a staid style of orchestrated pop. So, some credit for that, but there was also an air of diverse elements merely heaped on top of each other, and the songs too often felt under-arranged. There were a couple moments where everything came together, but overall, I didn't really connect with this.


12 A.M.: Wildlife @ Rancho Relaxo / Amy Campbell @ Free Times Café

In a world without lineups, I'd've probably slipped next door into the Horseshoe to see The King Khan & BBQ Show, but I didn't feel like waiting in any sort of queue. At Spadina, let chance carry me when I saw a streetcar coming and headed back up to College instead of heading further down Queen. I was feeling whimsically random and just followed my feet without checking the schedule and found myself going upstairs to Rancho, just a couple minutes before Wildlife started playing. A song-and-a-half's worth of slightly yelpy modern rock rubbed me the wrong way somehow and made me feel like this wasn't what I was in the mood for, so I headed back out.

Again, by random chance, instead of turning left to go to the Silver Dollar to check out the rock onslaught of Montréal's Red Mass, I turned right and started walking. When I passed by Free Times Café with it's NxNE sight outside, I thought, "what the hell," and ducked in. Settled in amongst a spare crowd in the back room where, except for the blueshirt working the door, I was the youngest person in sight. On stage turned out to be the folksy Amy Campbell, singing and playing an acoutic guit, accompanied by a stand-up bassist. At first I thought it was some sort of oddly arranged three-piece, as the song in progress as I entered also included table-top percussion by a guy sitting up front — but when I saw the people behind him shaking their heads and rolling their eyes, I realized that he was just a really obnoxious drunk who was pretty oblivious to what an ass he was being. So — two kinds of entertainment at once! Besides seeing how Campbell would deal with the drunk guy, my decision to stay put was sealed by the bass player's entirely sympathetic and effortlessly nimble lines. So I settled in and ended up enjoying it pretty well. Campbell's voice and songs reminded me of, say, Shawn Colvin, and made me think back to a time when I actually listened to a fair bit more music like this. "Oh Heart, Oh Highway" — the title track from her latest album — was given an especially fine reading. She was also a good storyteller between songs, and the drunk guy eventually mostly wore himself out. For something completely random to drop into, a nice surprise.

After that, I had some thoughts of hitting the Silver Dollar to see The Zoobombs, but the outside air hit my like a wall and I suddenly realized how tired I was on what had been a get-up-early workday. And once it occurred to me that seeing one more set would mean foregoing the subway home, that more-or-less clinched it. Caught the streetcar up to Spadina Station and headed home to bed.

1 Rock t-shirt: Rolling Stones, lips logo.

2 Though this also gives the impression (that I have in no way tested, yet) that the band is capable of disciplined and focused studio efforts.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Recording: Amos the Transparent

Artist: Amos the Transparent

Song: New Beginnings

Recorded at Sunrise Records, in-store performance during NxNE Festival. June 18, 2009.

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Recording: Dinosaur Bones

Artist: Dinosaur Bones

Song: Ice Hotel

Recorded at Sunrise Records, in-store performance during NxNE Festival. June 18, 2009.

Dinosaur Bones - Ice Hotel

My notes from this gig can be found here.

In-store: Amos the Transparent / The Coast / Dinosaur Bones

Amos the Transparent / The Coast / Dinosaur Bones

Sunrise Records. Thursday, June 18, 2009.

Getting away from work earlier than expected, I headed downtown with plenty of time before the NxNE showcases started, so I decided to take in some action at the Sunrise Records just off Yonge and Dundas. There was a small, low stage set up, just enough room for a drummer plus two people up front. Walked in just as Dinosaur Bones were getting ready to play, and that tiny stage meant that Dave Wickland (keybs) and Branko Scekic (bass) were relegated to the floor alongside, but the rudimentary P.A. and monitors had a bit of a democratizing effect, pushing Wickland's Roland up in the mix a bit. The band played a solid half-hour, including a good new song, "Highwire Act".

Listen to a track from this set here.

After stepping outside for some fresh air, headed back in to find a smaller crowd waiting for The Coast to finish setting up. The band seemed a bit out of their element with the in-store setup — perhaps they hadn't brought all their usual gear along, or weren't anticipating the stripped-down system, but there was a faint awkwardness at hand, such as a power cord from a pedal stretched taut in the middle of the stage, creating a bit of a tripping hazard. I got the impression they weren't entirely satisfied with their sound and performance, although I found it generally satisfactory. Although these local lads have been hotly tipped in some quarters, I'd garnished a (probably unfair) impression that they were filed under retro angophilia, which doesn't normally cause me to rush out of my way to see a band. From what I heard live, I wouldn't categorize them so narrowly. With a textured two-guitar sound, The Coast's songs weren't in-your-face hooky, but had plenty of crinkly bits around the edges to keep one engaged. They also tried out some new material, including one with Luke Melchiorre moving from bass to keyb to give a different sound to the bottom end. If this was what they sounded like when playing within in-store constraints then I would imagine the full show would be good stuff.

Ottawa's Amos the Transparent are a band that gets large bloggy love in this town. Despite their many local appearances, I'd only caught them once — spring '08, opening for Basia Bulat — and came away feeling rather neutral. So no reason not to stick around and see if I was more struck the second time 'round. The band decided to tackle the limitations of the in-store environment in a different way, going with a acoustic, sit-down performance. This seemed to push the band out of their comfort zone a little, as the arrangements were a little off-the-cuff, but it gave the proceedings an unforced, enjoyably casual air — "we're playing at The Drake tonight," Jonathan Chandler said, pushing their later showcase appearance, "and it sounds nothing like this". The band was also playing to a small crowd, although it looked like everyone present was filming/taking photos with elaborate cameras, ready to add to the online cavalcade of Amos-love. The songs were all enjoyable and had lots of room for vocal interplay between Jonathan Chandler and Kate Cooke — and for variety a nice one from Mark Hyne. Although this might not be typical of the band's sound, it was a nice chance to witness the band's genial personalities in a relaxed atmosphere. Put me in a good frame of mind to begin the "night" part of the night in a series of dark, dank bars.

Listen to a track from this set here.