Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Recording: Quasi

Artist: Quasi

Songs: Never Coming Back Again & Everything and Nothing at All

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 18, 2010.

Quasi - Never Coming Back Again

Quasi - Everything and Nothing at All

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Let's Wrestle

Artist: Let's Wrestle

Song: We Are The Men You'll Grow to Love Soon

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 18, 2010.

Let's Wrestle - We Are The Men You'll Grow to Love Soon

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Quasi

Quasi (Let's Wrestle)

The Horseshoe. Sunday, April 18, 2010.

"We're Let's Wrestle from London. That's England, not Ontario," said guitarist/vocalist Wesley Patrick Gonzalez as his band took the stage. "Embrace us — we're foreign." With a combination of cheekiness and modestly that the British can pull off more winningly than most, Gonzalez and his crew — recent signees to the venerable Merge label on this side of the pond — launched into a half hour of high-energy scrappy power-punk.

Like many a young British band on the rebound from a U.S. Tour, Let's Wrestle seemed a little relieved to be in Toronto1 and did a good job at getting the early arrivers onside with their musical attack. Energy enough for Mike Lightning to break a string during "I Won't Lie to You"2 causing Joanna Bolme from Quasi to help out with a temporary replacement four-string3 and the band plowed on without losing much momentum. The catchy "Tanks" was followed by the even catchier "We Are The Men You'll Grow to Love Soon", replete with exuberant bah-bah-bahs — sheer bouncy clap-along goodness.

With the crowd roaring in approval after that, Gonzales said, "I think this might be an apt time to sat we don't have any place to stay tonight. So, hopefully, we're gonna stay on one of your's floors. So, we'll be standing over there... just give us an offer..."

"We'll be happy to accept it," Lightning chimed in.

Live, they had a frills-free pop-punk sound, almost like a British take on The Thermals, except with lyrics about the dole and boredom rather than existential crises. On their fine In the Court of the Wrestling Let's album, which I grabbed at the merch table afterwards, the roughness is smoothed out a bit, giving more a rough-around-the edges scrappy-but-poppy vibe. Very appealing. I'm certainly awaiting this bunch's return, hopefully for a headlining show of their own, and hopefully by then Let's Wrestle will be big enough to make couch-surfing unnecessary.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Admittedly, I don't have a long and close history with Quasi, and besides some solid notices for the new album they're touring, I was mostly there for a chance to see kick-ass drummer Janet Weiss (best known as one-third of the much-missed Sleater-Kinney).4 Apparently, I wasn't the only one here out of that devotion, as there were many thirty-something riot grrrls in attendance, a crowd skewing older and more female-heavy that the music alone on offer might have indicated.

Indeed, Quasi's sound is essentially a vaguely frazzled take on classic rock, cut with a minimalist DIY vibe. A music partnership between Weiss and Sam Coomes (guitar/keyboards/most lead vox), the band has been around for quite a while, mostly as a duo, releasing albums since the early '90's. But with the recent addition of Joanna Bolme on bass5 the sound is apparently beefed up — or at any case, the on this night the band was rockin' like a hurricane.

Leading off with "Repulsion"6, the first track from their new American Gong album that segued into "Nothing from Nothing", we got from the outset some raging guitar work from Coomes, peaking early on with some Crazy Horse licks on "Never Coming Back Again"'s slop blues. The setlist gave heed to the new album, but also ranged around quite freely, going back to 98's Featuring "Birds" for "You Fucked Yourself". In fact, the set was quite well structured from an emotional/thematic viewpoint, working up from what felt like a burnt-out stoner's lament, perhaps Coomes' great topic — I have no means no know whether that's in any way autobiographical, though with his bugged-out eyes and occasional propensity to momentarily blank out on stage, its a stance he portrayed well.

Regardless, there was a run of material about the cages we find ourselves (or put ourselves) in. On "Birds", he'd sing, "free as a bird.../ Or is that just a word?/ Oh, to be free/ To free myself from me." He continued in that vein in "Everything and Nothing At All" and it culminated in the ironically-titled "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler", the downer-est dirge of the lot.

After all of that, the only way to go, mood-wise, was up, with the relatively jaunty "Smile" leading into a few more tear-it-out rockers, such as the suitably unsubtle "Good Time Rock N Roll". Well constructed in tone, even if there's something of a musical disjunction between the guitar-based songs and the ones played by Coomes on his battered keyboard. During a sort of Jerry Lewis free-jazz segue into "The Rhino", Coomes was playing the hell out of his keyb, ironic given the "FRAGILE: MUSICAL INSTRUMENT" stencil on it.

Weiss, meanwhile, was having a good time. And, showing she knows the older crowd the band is mostly appealing to, she deflected one song request (that the band would have to spend some time remembering how to play) by noting, "you guys gotta go to work tomorrow." And when she continued in that vein, saying, "thanks for coming out on a Sunday," a guy somewhere behind me — and someone that I must consider to be a kindred spirit — immediately called back, "thanks for starting promptly!" Oh well, what was it Coomes had sang earlier? "If it's not too loud, then you're not too old."

A lengthy run through "Bye Bye Blackbird" closed out the hour-long set, which was followed by a generous, three song encore, finishing off with a wicked cover of The Who's "Heaven And Hell", a fine way to go out. As a live show, this was vital and pretty convincing.

Check out a couple live tracks from this set here — one each with Coomes on guit and keybs.

1 "We like your country very much. It reminds us of more of home than America. We had fish and chips, it was pretty good, a pint of Guinness. I'm happy."

2 Which, like most of their songs, included some wryly observed lyrics: "No matter how many records I buy/ I can't fill this void" — sentiments familiar to many a shiftless rock'n'roll boy.

3The favour would be returned, with Sam Coomes using Des' guitar during Quasi's set.

4 As a friend said to me in before the gig, if you were starting a band from scratch — maybe in some sort of rock'n'roll fantasy draft — you would be very well-served to have Weiss behind the kit.

5 Bolme and Weiss have also worked together in The Jicks, Stephen Malkmus' backing band.

6 Not a Dinosaur Jr. cover.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Recording: Valery Gore

Artist: Valery Gore

Song: Worried Head

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records, April 17, 2010.

Valery Gore - Worried Head

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store: Valery Gore

Valery Gore

Sonic Boom Records. Saturday, April 17, 2010.

Out celebrating Record Store Day in the best way possible — checking out some of the free in-store action put together by Sonic Boom, who are developing a tradition of going all-out on RSD. Although the day would be capped with a big-name draw and a packed house upstairs for Sloan, I came at the other end of the bill, heading down to the basement mid-afternoon to check out local piano popper/singer-songwriter Valery Gore, who had been vouched for as worth seeing by my source. Still lots of elbow room at this point of the day, and I showed up with Gore just having taken the stage but still managed to swing around and get fairly close up on the left side of the room.

Playing alone and seated at her keyboard, Gore's warm voice had a little bit of, say, Chan Marshall's smokiness, but without the spare melancholy. Rather, Gore glowed with a more healthy optimism, and matched that with a brighter sort of work at the keyboard in a Carole King kind of way. "I'm a little bit nervous — I haven't played for awhile," she confessed to the crowd, almost losing her way during "Sparrow". Smiling during the middle instrumental passage, she navigated on the fly, figuring out how to move through the section in the absence of a drummer. "I feel like I'm in grandma's basement right now," she commented as the floorboards creaked overhead, and indeed, the set had an informal basement recital feel and a most pleasantly relaxed vibe.

A short set of a half-dozen enjoyable songs, and then I headed to the back of the room, joining the good number of people digging through the boxes of exclusive Record Store Day releases. And by good luck, Sonic Boom had a couple of things I was looking for, so that felt like a good sign to head outside on a fine day and walk to some more record stores, despite there being more appealing stuff slated on Sonic Boom's stage. Good times.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Recording: Minotaurs

Artist: Nathan Lawr and the Minotaurs

Song: Pink Floyd

Recorded at The Horseshoe, June 25, 2010.

Nathan Lawr and the Minotaurs - Pink Floyd

Update: My notes for this set can now be found here. Review to follow, but — holy hannah! I'll have to think on it some more and maybe ask around some, but my initial theory is that someone sealed off Nathan Lawr in a mineshaft with a stack of Fela records and this is what he came up with while he engineered his escape.

Oh, also: "it's not about Pink Floyd".

Friday, June 25, 2010

Recording: Daniel, Fred and Julie

Artist: Daniel, Fred and Julie

Song: Your Love

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2010.

Daniel, Fred and Julie - Your Love

My notes for this show can be found here.

Recording: Daniel Romano

Artist: Daniel Romano (feat. Misha Bower)

Song: She Was the World to Me

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2010.

Daniel Romano - She Was the World to Me

My notes for this show can be found here.

Recording: Fred Squire

Artist: Fred Squire

Song: You Sing Low And We Will Sing High*

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2010.

Fred Squire - You Sing Low And We Will Sing High

My notes for this show can be found here.

* Thanks to Adam for passing the title to this one along.

Recording: Julie Doiron

Artist: Julie Doiron

Song: The Gambler

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2010.

Julie Doiron - The Gambler

My notes for this show can be found here.

Recording: Baby Eagle

Artist: Baby Eagle

Song: Man of My Time

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2010.

Baby Eagle - Man of My Time

My notes for this show can be found here.

Gig: Daniel, Fred and Julie

Daniel, Fred and Julie (Baby Eagle / Jerry Leger)

The Horseshoe Tavern. Thursday, April 15, 2010.

Waiting for things to get started, I stared up at the ceiling and fretted to myself — as I am occasionally wont to do — over the fate of the Bye Bye Birdie mural, which is getting more tattered and dessicated with every year's passing. Isn't there some sort of heritage grant that can be had to preserve this minor piece of our local history?

Anways, I was distracted from my reverie by local singer/songwriter Jerry Leger, the evening's early opener. His set started off in an appealing enough manner — the lyrics mildly Dylanesque, the delivery calling Steve Earle to mind. Accompanied by James Mckie on fiddle and mandolin, the latter especially gave a Train a Comin' sort of feel to some of the tunes. Playing mostly songs from his 2008 You, Me and the Horse, with what seemed like a few newer ones as well thrown into the mix, Leger was an agreeable low-key presence in the fairly quiet room. Employing an earnest delivery, many of the songs were in a storyteller sort of mode, though even if some of his songs were working in a more contemporary singer/songwriter vein, he also showed his facility with a good old-fashioned honky-tonker on "Half Asleep and Drunk".

There were some diminishing returns as he stretched his set out to fifty minutes. I'd think a solid half-hour might have done to win over the early-arriving crowd unfamiliar with his work. As it was, I ultimately found the songs pleasant, but not especially compelling. This'd probably be agreeable stuff for folks looking for quieter sort of rootsy hellraisin'.

Next up was Baby Eagle, the songwriting vehicle for Steven Lambke of The Constantines. By a weird coincidence, this was the second time in a row that I'd been to a Julie Doiron gig that had a member of The Cons opening. Though in this case, the more immediate connection would be through Daniel Romano of the night's headliners, who co-founded the You've Changed record imprint with Lambke, cementing the connection with a split album by Baby Eagle and Attack in Black (Romano's rock band) last year. And more immediately, Romano was here on stage playing guitar with Lambke. The trio, sort of all pushed over to the far left of the stage, was rounded out on drums by Spencer Burton, himself also a guitarist in Attack in Black.

With two albums (and that split release) under his belt, there's clearly more in the pipeline as Lambke was playing pretty much all new material. Clearly Lambke is in a moment of creative ferment, tossing off one new number after another, and even giving some their debuts. "These are all new, but this one's brand new, first time maybe," he said, introducing one. Some, like "Man of My Time" were reasonably catchy stuff.1

Lambke, with trimmed moustache and round wire-rimmed glasses, needed only an apron over a tweed suit to appear the very image of a grocer or apothecary in an old Western town — a look which suited the band's vaguely sepia-glossed sound. Playing in this configuration, the songs had a bit of a John Wesley Harding feel, if that album were recorded after driving all night and drinking sixteen cups of coffee. Lambke's musical approach is clearly to serve his lyrics, and his voice and guitar bring lurches of tension that underpin the songs. The set featured quick songs — ten of 'em in just under a half-hour. Maybe they were so new that the arrangements aren't stretching much beyond just fleshing out the words. Mind you, I don't mind the concision at play here. Enjoyable, and made more interesting by witnessing it live, but like the previous Baby Eagle material I've heard I can't say it made a long-lasting impression on me.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Going in to Daniel, Fred and Julie's set, I was curious to see what exactly they would bring to the table. Having released their self-titled album not long before, there's perhaps not enough there alone to fill out an entire setlist. On the other hand, given the album is largely composed of traditional folk numbers, there's basically a bottomless well that they could draw from in the same vein. Or, and more intriguingly, there's the not-insubstantial songbooks that each of the participants brought to the table.

Originally conceived as a joint informal folk session between Daniel Romano and Fred Squire, the story as it has been told is that Julie Doiron basically just sort of happened by and ended up adding her voice to the album. Whether it happened so accidentally or not, it's mighty fortunate from the perspective of getting people to take notice, Doiron arguably having a larger built-in fanbase than the others. I know that it was her presence that gave me the impetus to grab the album, and from there to head to this show — part of a tour arranged, it would seem, from the positive reaction that the album had garnered.

The set opened (as does the album) with "The Gambler and His Bride"2, which sets the template for the whole project, with its warm harmonies and mournful subject matter. The tale unfolding over eight minutes, this is a brave way to plunge into a show, but the audience was quietly riveted throughout — a good sign. In fact, this would be one of those shows where the audience was largely paying attention and crowd chatter was not an undue distraction.

That one was followed by "Runner", one of the two original Daniel Romano compositions from the album — though in sound and topic, it could pass for the work of that esteemed folk artist Public Domain. When the band followed that with "I Dream of Jeanie", now the third cut from the album played in sequence, I wondered if we were getting a sort of folk version of "Classic Albums live".

That was sidetracked, however, as Squire and Romano departed from the stage. "This is the point of the evening where I have to play three songs," Doiron said to the audience, pausing for a moment to thoughfully correct herself, "I mean, 'get' to." As the requests immediately began from the audience — one guy was shouting for "Blue" within seconds — Doiron nodded in appreciation, but said she'd rather play some new ones. Accompanying herself on guitar (she'd been singing only during the DF&J songs) she led off with the "maybe the gambler" song she'd previously introduced at her January Cobourg show, as well as the one about "reckless drinking and foolishness" with the picking structure like "House of the Rising Sun".

Listen to one of Julie's songs here.

"Sorry to take it down," Julie said after those two introspective songs. "That's okay, we'll just take it back up," Romano responded as he and Squire returned to the stage, the trio launching into the jaunty "No One Knew My Name". And after one more tune, we were treated to Fred Squire's solo turn.

Squire is perhaps the most elusive of these three musicians, preferring, it would seem, to keep a slightly mysterious low profile. Formerly a member of Shotgun & Jaybird, his most well-known works come from the points where his career has intersected with Julie Doiron, including their work together in Calm Down It's Monday as well as a collaborative album together with Mount Eerie. His stage persona matched that somewhat-oblique secretiveness, spending the evening behind a pair of Roy Orbison-styled shades.

Once alone on stage, he looked at the crowd and considered his words for a moment. "Yup," he said, followed by a pause. "Yyyyyuuuuuuuuppppppp." Before breaking from a his stoicism a bit and adding, "these are some newer tunes. They've been getting great reviews. So they're, uh, on a new EP, which I affectionately titled last night The Horseshit EP. And, yeah, see what you think. Whatever."

The first of them (with a refrain of "no matter how high it gets") had a downer vibe to it, and it was followed by one written as an answer song, of sorts, to the night's first tune, with the murdered Albert speaking to Frankie from beyond the grave as she awaits her execution. Intriguing stuff indeed.

Check out a song from Fred here.

That segued directly into Romano's solo spot, which he shared with Misha Bower (well known in these parts as a member of Bruce Peninsula3). They sang the gorgeous "She Was the World to Me"4 as well as what I'm assuming is another "new traditional" that might be called called "Banks of Trillium", ending with a quote from "Farther Along". Very good stuff.

Check out a song from Daniel and Misha here.

From there, we had just one more from the group to go out on, the old Wobbly anthem "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum", before departing to loud applause. The band returned to encore with "Your Love", the other Romano original from the album. Hearing those harmonies pour out from the three vocalists spread across the stage was a nice improvement from the slightly-affected mono of the album, and a gorgeous way to end the evening. The whole thing ran about sixty-five minutes. A very nice show, and a fine chance to see the folky side of these artistes.5

Hear our three heroes' voices combine on a track here.

1 Some of the other new ones included "Thistle in Bloom", "Dog Failure" ("this is not about any specific dog," explained Lambke) and "Fisherman or Fish".

2 A variant of the old folk ballad "Frankie and Johnny"

3 Bower is also going to be seen on stage coming up soon at The Fringe, as an actor (and writer) of Georgia & Leona. Get more information on the production here, where, as a bonus, you can grab an MP3 of Bower and Romano singing Billie Holiday's "Ghost of Yesterday".

4 This song has surfaced on Romano's rather excellent recently-issued solo album Workin' For The Music Man, which I recommend. Romano will be playing a solo show at Parts & Labour on Sunday, July 11, 2010, which'd also be well-worth checking out.

5 And it looks like the DF&J project continues to have legs, with the group opening for Jason Collett at his Mod Club show on Wednesday, July 21. [Update: it appears this show has been cancelled.] There are also rumours of a fall tour.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Recording: Disappears

Artist: Disappears

Song: Marigold

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, June 22, 2010.

Disappears - Marigold

My notes for this set can be found here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Recording: The D'Urbervilles

Artist: The D'Urbervilles

Song: The Receiver

Recorded at The Drake Underground, June 19, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

The D'Urbervilles - The Receiver

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: PC Worship

Artist: PC Worship

Song: Staring at the Sun

Recorded at The Garrison, June 19, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

PC Worship - Staring at the Sun

My notes for this set can be found here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Recording: The Schomberg Fair

Artist: The Schomberg Fair

Song: Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down

Recorded at Rancho Relaxo, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

The Schomberg Fair - Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: John Doe & Exene Cervenka

Artist: John Doe & Exene Cervenka

Song: The New World

Recorded at The Great Hall, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

John Doe & Exene Cervenka - The New World

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Soft Pack

Artist: The Soft Pack

Song: More or Less

Recorded at The Garrison, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

The Soft Pack - More or Less

My notes for this set can be found here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Recording: Best Coast

Artist: Best Coast

Song: When I'm With You

Recorded at The Great Hall, June 17, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

Best Coast - When I'm With You

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Thee Oh Sees

Artist: Thee Oh Sees

Song: Dead Energy

Recorded at The Great Hall, June 17, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

Thee Oh Sees - Dead Energy

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Besnard Lakes

Artist: The Besnard Lakes

Song: And This Is What We Call Progress

Recorded at The Mod Club, June 17, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

The Besnard Lakes - And This Is What We Call Progress

My notes for this set can be found here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Recording: Baby Dee

Artist: Baby Dee

Song: The Robin's Tiny Throat

Recorded at The Music Gallery, April 13, 2010.

Baby Dee - The Robin's Tiny Throat

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Josephine Foster

Artist: Josephine Foster

Song: My Life Had Stood - A Loaded Gun

Recorded at The Music Gallery, April 13, 2010.

Josephine Foster - My Life Had Stood - A Loaded Gun

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Baby Dee

Baby Dee (Josephine Foster)

The Music Gallery. Tuesday, April 13, 2010.

A double header at The Music Gallery of... what would you like to call it? Maybe operatic/sideshow avant-folk singer-songwriters. Whatever it was, there was a pretty full house of mostly devoted fans and the grand piano was set up at the front of the room.

I was a stranger to the first artist up, Colorado-born (via Chicago, and, more recently, via Spain) Josephine Foster. Accompanying herself mostly on guitar (though she'd switch to the piano for the set's closing three songs) she came across as a woman out of time with a pure voice and pure folk vision.

It took me some time to get into the headspace of this, with her vocal style more melodramatic and warbling than singers normally use nowadays. Almost an old-timey affectation — shades of opera (unsurprising, as Foster aspired in her youth to that profession) crossed with theramin-like trills — but for all the melodrama implicit in that, there was also a sort of reserved formality.

That said, Foster still had a warm, humble touch, whether in her performance or her somewhat enigmatic song introductions. Foster played songs from throughout her career (a half-dozen albums under her belt reaching back to 2004), including a couple from her recent Graphic as a Star, wherein she set to music some of Emily Dickenson's poems. There were even a couple that seemed to be fairly new and unrecorded songs. Ending on "Indelible Rainbows", she played eight songs before being called back for one more. A very appreciative response to her set, and during the intermission the place was buzzing with conversations wondering if the headliner could match that.

Listen to a song from this set here.

So a bit of a tall order for Baby Dee, who began with some effusive praise for Josephine Foster: "It strikes me so much how much her enjoyment of singing just shines as she does it. And I realized as I was listening to it that if I sang that good, I'd enjoy it too. With me it always like, 'aaaaugh'," she joked, giving a few examples her own efforts before concluding, "anyway, fun's over."

Everyone laughed like that was a punchline, but indeed it turned out to be a statement of purpose. Although it wasn't totally clear from opener "April Day", this wasn't going to be a light jaunt all the way through. On the whole, the vibe of the show couldn't have been more different than the last time I'd seen Baby Dee, which had a funhouse whimsicality throughout. Here we got, after "April Day", a mini-suite of songs from the new A Book of Songs for Anne Marie. "We're just getting started here," she said at the conclusion of that. "We have lots of dirges."

And dirge on the musicians would. Baby Dee played seated at the piano and was accompanied by Matthew Robinson (cello) and Sarah Alden (violin). Her combination of almost-exaggeratedly dramatic whispers and deliberate enunciations played with the same sort of sense of upended expectations that Foster had employed in her set, but Baby Dee was simultaneously less transporting and more affected. Which isn't a slight — she was working in her own style and doing well at it.

There were plenty of lovely musical moments, with a delicate interplay between the piano and strings. A couple instrumental preludes were very fine, as well as little moments like the quick pizzicato bursts in "A Compass Of The Light". Perhaps at the emotional core of the set was a stirring reading of "Safe Inside the Day". The closing pair of "As a Seal on Your Heart" and "As Morning Holds a Star", essentially combined into one song, closed the main set out strongly.

Although she played admirably and offered some levity between songs, it felt as if perhaps she was determined to play up to the church-y dignity of the Music Gallery.1 Baby Dee projected a general sense of delicate insecurity throughout the set — of course, it's foolish to try and "read" such an expert performer so closely, and tempting to see too much of the persona that's being put into the songs. Coming back for an encore with a lighter touch, we were told, "I was nice all throughout the show, but now we're going to do a bad, nasty song". Launching into "The Earlie King", we got a quick sense of the other side of the coin, where the dirges give way to bawdiness and fairy-tale frightshows. That ended things on a lighter note. On the whole, a fairly transporting show.

Listen to a song from this set here.

1 "I think some of you might might have been here the last time I played in this place," Baby Dee told the crowd between songs. "I think I sang a song entitled 'You Must Not Pee in the House of God' [beat] 'Unless It's an Emergency'. And I'm not going to do that again."

Monday, June 14, 2010

NXNE 2010: Picks

Generally speaking, I'm more about "wha'happened?" than "what's coming up". But with the musical overload of NXNE coming up fast upon us, I thought I might offer some gentle suggestions for guaranteed good times at the festival. I probably won't make it to everything below, but these are all bands that I've seen — recently if not frequently. And to maybe help push you over the limit to check some of these folks out, too, I've added some links to my live recordings, so you can get a bit of an idea what to expect. (And if you want any further thoughts on the bands, click through to my reviews from the recordings.)

Thursday, June 17th

Best Bets:

Young Galaxy (Mod Club Theatre, 8 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

The Besnard Lakes (Mod Club Theatre, 8 P.M.)

Times Neue Roman (El Mocambo (Upstairs), 10 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Zeus (Rivoli, 10 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

The Diableros (Comfort Zone, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

The Bitters (Silver Dollar, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Elliott BROOD (Horseshoe, midnight)

Other solid bets:

Grand Analog (Rivoli, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Friday, June 18th

Best bets:

catl (Comfort Zone, side stage between sets) (hear 'em live!)

Giant Hand (Drake Underground, 8 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Soft Copy (The Garrison, 9 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Timber Timbre (Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, 10 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Diamond Rings (Wrongbar, 11 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Japandroids (Lee's Palace, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Other solid bets:

Leif Vollebekk (Sneaky Dee's, 9 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Katie Stelmanis (Wrongbar, 10 P.M.)

Rich Aucoin (El Mocambo (Downstairs), midnight) (hear 'em live!)

The Two Koreas (Comfort Zone, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Revolvers (Rancho Relaxo, 1 A.M.) (hear 'em live!)

PS I Love You (Lee's Palace, 1 A.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Murder Ford Monument (Silver Dollar, 3 A.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Saturday, June 19th

Best bets:

The Magic (Sneaky Dee's, 11 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

The D'Urbervilles (Drake Underground, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Maylee Todd (The Piston, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Action Makes (Comfort Zone, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

The Peelies (Sneaky Dee's, 3 A.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Other solid bets:

Sean Nicholas Savage (Drake Underground, 9 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Bruce Peninsula (Horseshoe, 11 P.M.) (hear 'em live!)

Sunday, June 20th

Best bets:

Allie Hughes (The Garrison, midnight) (hear 'em live!)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Recording: Deloro

Artist: Deloro

Song: No Fun

Recorded at The Shop @ Parts & Labour, June 11, 2010.

Deloro - No Fun

Review to follow. Update: My review of this show is now posted here. This is not a cover. The band is a supergroup of sorts, featuring Jennifer Castle, Paul Mortimer, David Clarke, Tony Romano and Dallas Wehrle.

Recording: Robyn Hitchcock

Artist: Robyn Hitchcock

Song: Luckiness

Recorded at The Drake Underground, June 10, 2010.

Robyn Hitchcock - Luckiness

Review to follow. Update: My review for this set can now be found here.

The other day, when I was walking down the street, listening to this song on Robyn Hitchcock's new album, a woman passed me going in the other direction, and she was carrying a plastic bag that announced, in large letters, "LUCKY". Which seemed unusually, well, something-or-other.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Recording: The Deeep

Artist: The Deeep

Song: Slow Coaster*

Recorded at The Music Gallery Courtyard, June 10, 2010.

The Deeep - Slow Coaster

Review to follow. Update: My notes for this set can now be found here. This is a new project featuring Wolfgang Nessel and Isla Craig. Inneresting sample on this one — "when they burned me in effigy, my vacation was complete!".

* Thanks to healing power for providing a title for this one.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recording: The Hoa Hoa's

Artist: The Hoa Hoa's

Song: Falling in Love is For Young People*

Recorded at The Garrison, April 10, 2010.

The Hoa Hoa's - Falling in Love is For Young People

My notes for this set can be found here.

* I don't think this one has a name yet... let me know if you hear anything. I've subsequently seen this one listed on setlists as "Falling in Love", and the EP formalizes the whole thing.

Recording: Ostrich Tuning

Artist: Ostrich Tuning

Song: Gender Trouble (Bodies That Matter)

Recorded at The Garrison, April 10, 2010.

Ostrich Tuning - Gender Trouble (Bodies That Matter)

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Gig: The Flowers Of Hell

The Flowers Of Hell (The Hoa Hoa's / Ostrich Tuning)

The Garrison. Saturday, April 10, 2010.

It's funny how trips to venues sometimes just come in clumps. After a bunch of shows at The Garrison, I hadn't been in awhile, so it was a surprise to see the pool table cleared away and the bathrooms under construction, leading to a succession of confused patrons heading back from that direction. The occasion was a night put on by Optical Sounds, and once again General Chaos was employing the swirling visual backdrops.

Leading things off was Ostrich Tuning, for whom I'd definitely fallen when I'd first caught them back during CMW. Once again the music came almost entirely without breaks, generally segueing from one song into the next. In fact, for the length of the half-hour set, the band played to a steady droning keyboard loop, which unified their sound (and probably gave ammunition to anyone that'd want to say that all the band's songs sound the same). That steady undertow might also have had something to do with the fact that on this night the band was down to a four piece, without a dedicated keyboard player.1 That didn't change their sound too much, however — it was still an atmosphere-heavy trip.

Most of the descriptive phrases that I could think up ("druggy slog" amongst them) have a negative sort of connotation, but on seeing them for a second time, my opinion that this was an excellent group was strengthened. Were it not for my previous introduction, I'd have been utterly floored. Semi-somnambulant drone rock isn't everyone's cup of tea, and this would probably drive some people batty, but I think Ostrich Tuning are on to something really good. Hopefully there'll be some more chances to see 'em again.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Things had been a bit thin at the outset, but the place filled up rapidly as the Hoa Hoa's were getting set up. Moving outside of the Dan Burke/Silver Dollar circuit, where they're most often found when not putting on "happenings" in more unique venues, the band had no problem getting a lot of friends and enthusiasts out to rip it up.

"Since mashups are all the rage these days, we're going to try something," Richard Gibson said, as the band led off with a combination of The Troggs' "I Want You" and "Wild Thing" — amusing, given how un-radically different the two songs are.2 The band was in top rave-up form on their own "Hey Joe" before switching around instruments for "Looking For Sun". I note that one of their new songs is now listed with the title "Modern Men". And just as one of their unrecorded songs gained a title, a brand new one was played, full of Nugget-y goodness, indicating that the band has internalized the lessons learned from covering "Thinking About Today", combining its jangle with that evergreen D to A "radio on!" two-chord chug.3

One of the things making the Hoa's of the best live bands in the city is their relentless forward movement, with new, good songs being added to their setlist all the time. Not that the older stuff is being pushed aside — there was an especially fine version of "Postcards", slowed down just a bit, the band really burying themselves in it. Kristina Koski from Planet Creature joined in on flute for "Grew Up on the Seeds" before the band closed out with the customary rave-up on "Blue Acid Gumball". Tearing it up as usual, this felt like the night's headlining set.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That was a tough act to follow for The Flowers Of Hell, a sophisto sort of instrumental rock orchestra, under the leadership one of the band's guitarists, founder Greg Jarvis. The band apparently has live branches in both Toronto and England, giving Jarvis access to a deep pool of talent to explore his compositional ideas. Live on this night, the band was nine members deep, with two guitars, keyb, trumpet, violin and cello.

There was definitely a Spiritualized vibe to the band's sound, with a retinue of slow builds and carefully-arranged crescendos. Sounded pretty good, but some of it was merely pleasant, sounding like the interstitial bits of more interesting works. But at some of the points when the music wasn't really going over, one could blame the venue more than the musicians, as during the quieter build-up passages, the band suffered the fate of most anything in The Garrison that doesn't grab the crowd by the throat, which is to say audible competition from semi-engaged chatterers throughout the room.

In addition to their originals, the band mixed in a thematically-linked pair of covers, starting with a version of Laurie Anderson's "O Superman" which didn't do much for me — though that probably says more about my feelings for the original then where the band took it on stage. It would later be followed-up with Lou Reed's "Street Hassle", which worked better, sounding like exactly the sort of fusion that the band was built for. It's laudable for this crew to take their rock theorems to the people, but I dunno that this was the right venue to really appreciate 'em. And in the flow of the night, it felt mildly like a letdown after the Hoa's energy. I bet Flowers of Hell would make for some good headphone music, or live in a place where you could feel out the subtleties a little more. They did get some good applause at the end of their set, though, so they certainly got through to some of the crowd.

1 I note that the blurb on the band's myspace page is now reading "+ five percent - ten percent", which might be a comment on personnel turnover, but they're still cagey on more specific information than that.

2 This was edited after a commenter pointed out to me that "I Want You" is also a Troggs song — I must confess that I hadn't heard it before. Check it out here.

3 I can't quite make out what it is that Lee Brochu says as the band starts it up, but I think he describes it as "a summer of love song", which fits the bill, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recording: Grand Analog

Artist: Grand Analog

Song: Not Enough Mondays

Recorded at Daps All-Ages V, Kapisanan Philippine Centre, April 10, 2010.

Grand Analog - Not Enough Mondays

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: $100

Artist: $100

Song: Positive Hex

Recorded at Daps All-Ages V, Kapisanan Philippine Centre, April 10, 2010.

$100 - Positive Hex

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Doldrums

Artist: Doldrums

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Daps All-Ages V, Kapisanan Philippine Centre, April 10, 2010.

Doldrums - title unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Does anyone know the title of this one? Please leave a comment!

Gig: Daps All-Ages Concert Vol. V

Daps All-Ages Concert Vol. V (feat. Grand Analog, $100, Maylee Todd & Pegwee Power, Doldrums)

Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture. Saturday, April 10, 2010.

Back down underground to the basement of Kensington's Kapisanan Centre. This time around the Daps folks put even more work in on a nice decoration job, with streamers dangling down from the ceiling the length of the room. There was also a hanging sheet acting as a divider, creating a bit of a separation between the front and back areas, and others sculptured around the ceiling, giving the whole place the feel of a comfy cave.

As the early crowd filtered in, Airick Woodhead, wearing a floppy parson's hat, could be seen sitting cross-legged on the stage with a mug of tea, flipping through his notebook. Doldrums exists in a full-band configuration, but for this show was stripped down to a solo appearance for Woodhead, best known for his work with local pop unit Spiral Beach.1 Leading off with some appropriated and doctored found sound ("My wife makes... fist noodles" got twisted around and progressively weirder) the songs were swathed in acid-tinged weirdness, like a one-man Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Perhaps partially the product of the solo format, there was a rustic, gentle folk undercurrent to the songs, even when the vocals were getting warped and looped while Woodhead accompanied on guit and keyb. It'd never really occurred to me how appealing a voice Woodhead has, capable of reaching pure notes with a titch of a Rufus Wainwright quaver. Showing the sort of lo-fi artistry that the project is aiming at, the set included a cover of R. Stevie Moore's "No Know" alongside the originals. A quick twenty-minute set. Low-key but an interesting introduction.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Perhaps anticipating more balladry, most of the people in the room decided to sit on the floor for Maylee Todd & Pegwee Power. With all their wires and gear, the band — especially stand-up bassist Chris Kettlewell, who had only the slimmest margin of clearance from the low ceiling — looked like they were filling up the small stage. The crew featured Eric Woolston on drums this time 'round, but the vibe and setlist were similar to when I had seen them a couple weeks before.

"Do you hear commercials coming from the monitors?" Todd asked, mildly perplexed, in the middle of "Hooked", and indeed, there was some sort of radio interference coming through. Laughing, Todd improvised a quick tune while that got tied down. The collective decision to stay sitting down suited the first few songs, but once the energy level was picked up with "Aerobics in Space", Daps founders April and Dan took up the challenge of trying to get people up and moving, joining in an impromptu dance-off. The groove-party vibe of that and again-awesome Patrice Rushen cover "Haven't You Heard" gave way to just one quieter song on the harp ("Protection Plan 101") to finish things off. The vibe of the set was a little more loose than the band could be, but it suited the basement vibe pretty well.

Somewhat to my surprise I hadn't seen $100, one of my favourite local bands, playing since September. That means there's been time enough for these crafty storytellers to have a bunch of new material in their setlist.2 This show featured just the core duo of Simone Fornow and Ian Russell, but the stripped-down arrangements were ideal to focus on a whole lotta new words.

With the streamers wrapped around the microphone stand, Fornow couldn't prowl around the stage in her usual caged-animal manner until she could untangle the mic between songs, so she was stuck stationary for the lead-off train song "900 Miles", an adaptation of an old traditional number.3 New songs included "Not On My Watch" (an investigation of the old folk archetype of the kind-hearted jailer) and "Meet me Where the Sparrows Drop" (a soldier's lament). "If It Weren't For the Carnations" was a pretty little hurtin' number in the band's best tradition while closer "Positive Hex" is arguably the band's most upbeat song to date4, with a nice intertwining vocal part from Russell.

A nice crowd on hand to listen to the songs, and the "free for 12 and under" admission policy was certainly being taken advantage of by a number of parents bringing their little ones to check things out — so while I wasn't the oldest person in the room, I was probably the oldest one without a toddler. As one often sees in situations like this, Fornow appeared to be delighted to be playing for a room filled with children and friends. And for myself, it was certainly nice to have a chance to hear the songs old and new. I haven't heard much talk yet of the timing of a follow up to Forest of Tears but I do hope it's on its way.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Between sets, slipped outside for some fresh air. Quite a nice day out, and it wasn't too much of a surprise to discover another gig going on in the art gallery next door. Ah, Kensington. Stood outside chatting and listening to an acoustic duo playing and felt revivified going back down into the darkness with a dub rhythm coming from the sound system.

Easing into their set with an instrumental that kicked over into opener "Weekend Love" was Grand Analog, out of Winnipeg, a vaguely familiar name but not a band that I had investigated previously. The band brings a mostly-live approach to ecumenical hip-hop, with bass, keybs, and DJ behind vocalist Odario Williams, filling out tracks with plenty reggae and soulful flourishes. Williams, bedecked with an improvised wig of those streamers that had previously been dangling from the ceiling, was a live wire on stage, playing by ear and mixing things up when necessary. On "I Play My Kazoo", for example, he waved off the beat and threw a verse down a cappella before re-starting the song and otherwise tried to inject some life into a semi-lively crowd.

The songs were mostly about day to day livin', the value of music and scourge of all those little problems that keep cropping up. Williams succeeded in getting the crowd involved in closer "Not Enough Mondays", an anthem for anyone who's ready to start on one well-intentioned bit or self improvement or another — but maybe in just another week or so. The whole thing made for an entertaining live stew.

Listen to a track from this set here.

On the whole, another fully entertaining day. These shows remain a valuable community service provided by April and Dan. There was even, inconceivably enough, some room down there for a few more people. Next time out, you should be down there.

1 I'm guessing, though, that the full band will be letting their freak flags fly at their upcoming show in the Wavelength Summer Courtyard Series, being held outdoors at The Music Gallery on June 10th. It'll also serve as a release party for, of all things, a limited-edition "VHS mixtape" that the band is dropping. Which sounds mildly retro, but serves as a good enough means to deliver some of the sounds and visual art coming out of the Doldrums camp.

2 In fact, the band has so much stuff that they have a bit of a dilemma — between the "new" new stuff that they're eager to show off and the audience-pleasing classic songs from their defining first batch, some of the older new stuff they were playing a year or so ago is squeezed out of the set. (Of course, establishing a timeline of a song's "newness" by when I've first heard it is obviously an inexact science at best.)

3 Also known in some versions as "I'm Nine Hundred Miles Away From Home", which is what Fiddlin' John Carson called it when he recorded it in the 'twenties, I do believe.

4 "We can move along now/ no more starin' at the top from the bottom rung," the song begins, eventually daring to admit "things are goin' better than I ever had foreseen". Ultimately, the song is a measured stand against entropy: "time ain't here to trip on/ sure it turns things grey/ but it also turns 'em green". Given some of the dark corners that $100 has explored, even a slim glimmer of light feels like a lot.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Recording: Ethio Stars Band

Artist: Ethio Stars Band

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Gladstone Hotel (Melody Bar), June 4, 2010.

Ethio Stars Band - title unknown

Review to follow — but let me just say that if I see a better show this month, then it's going to be a helluva month. Update: My notes for this set can be found here.

This band is confirmed for the Festival Bana Y'Afrique (Metro Hall, July 25) and is a "must see" — mark it in your calendar now!

* Does anyone know the title to this song? Please leave a comment!

Recording: Lisa Bozikovic

Artist: Lisa Bozikovic

Song: Wanting the Wanting

Recorded at The Music Gallery, June 3, 2010.

Lisa Bozikovic - Wanting the Wanting

Review to follow. My review can now be found here. A sweet but too-short set last night. I do think I'll mention here that if I were naming names for the Polaris Prize, Bozikovic's Lost August would definitely be in my longlist.

Recording: Soft Copy

Artist: Soft Copy

Song: Extracurricular

Recorded at Teranga, April 9, 2010.

Soft Copy - Extracurricular

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Soft Copy

Soft Copy (Super Repeater / Hybrid Moments)

Teranga. Friday, April 9, 2010.

A quiet-ish Friday night at Teranga, Kensington's Senegalese restaurant/indie hangout. I showed up ahead of schedule to find a handful of gig patrons hanging around the front and a few of the owner's friends hanging around the bar at the back.1 Turner Classic Movies is on the TV over the stairway down to the street, showing an old Western, and at the bottom of the stairs each new arrival is announced by the slam of the door behind them. It's a "friendly" sort of crowd, in that most of those in attendance seem to already know each other. In other words, not a lot of people here who just looked up the gig and decided to check it out.

In that spirit of friendliness, opening things up were Hybrid Moments, a collaboration between Matt Nish-Lapidus (who also works under the reductive moniker of Matt NL or mn-l) and Jonny Dovercourt (musical curator by day, rocker by night, most frequently these days with Danger Bay — and friends back to high school days with Soft Copy's Andrew McAllister).

"Do you like music?" Nish-Lapidus asked as the pair began to play. "We don't." They launched into a lengthy chug/shred duet, mostly on the boundary between focused and unfocused. Nish-Lapidus had his laptop hooked up for treating his guitar sounds, but applied it mostly uninvasively. "We're going to play some more hits," joked Dovercourt at the end of that, as the band launched into a song that actually turned out to have lyrics and a chorus and so forth. This turned out to be a cover of Wipers' "Mystery". A further jammy instrumental moved along, hit a bit of a catch in the middle with the players waiting to hook into an idea before taking off in another direction. And then eventually found its way into The Misfits song from which the pair took their name.

So this was generally exploratory stuff. I'd label the pair a jam band, but that has a whole other connotation, so let's call 'em a "jam space band". Not sure if this was just an ad hoc pairing or part of a more formal collaboration, but at this point it felt more a look inside the creative process than a completed idea.2

Playing with no guitar pedals and a small-but-enthusiastic group of friends were Super Repeater, bringing to the table a no-frills, no-nonsense kind of rock. A dry guit/bass/drums trio with an occasional punkish undertone, recalling, maybe, a meat-and-potatoes Mission of Burma or Flipper without the confrontational edge.3 They played with a workmanlike, deadpan rigour which was generally admirable, but I was wondering at the start if they had the songs to keep things lively. The set was backloaded, though, with some of the catchier stuff, such as "Age of Irony". The band were austere and spartan if not occasionally a bit too affectless. But they were succinct, if nothing else, running through ten songs in twenty-five minutes, and that's a virtue that's hard to argue with.

Headliners Soft Copy also came with an uncluttered musical attack. But the trio also had more more popsmarts buried in their compositions. No surprise, as these guys have been at it for awhile, with singer/guitarist Andrew McAllister and drummer Paul Boddum making their mark in Neck/Christiana4. They are joined by "new guy" Wes Hodgson on bass. Together, the band's music is lean but not spare, and forward-thinking while incorporating plenty of flourishes from the sound-world of 90's "alternative" guitar rock.

McAllister clearly wasn't one to take himself too seriously on stage, shouting out his between-song banter in gleefully manic bursts ("That one was about Donald Sutherland! The next one's about the CBC!") and making fun of himself while re-tuning. Smartly arranged songs with judicious backing vox and, if you want to listen, some depth to the lyrics. The set started with a couple from 2006's Wolf, wolves and more wolves before turning to the new Vicious Modernism with a vengeance, and the band really shined on tracks like "Public School" and "Extracurricular" before ending on the jaunty financial meltdown ditty "Hot Cakes". An energetic and focused half-hour set.

There was a pretty dude-heavy contingent in the small-ish crowd, mostly of a certain "type" — you could have probably asked everyone in the room what their favourite Electro-Harmonix product is and not get any blank stares. I'm guessing that the band aren't overly obsessed with "making it" (in the Armada sense) and that their art is a balanced part of more mature lives, but I'm sure they'd like to see an audience commensurate to the effort they're putting in.

For a PWYC show with some advance notice (including, even, an actual ad in one of the weeklies) it wasn't a gigantic turnout, and it set me to thinking about who the audience for Soft Copy might be. Given their musical style and pedigree, the folks who were listening to the bands whose style Soft Copy is extending would arguably eat this stuff up — if they were still in the market for new music. I'd actually wager that on a Friday 'round midnight, the natural audience for Soft Copy's music was probably in bed, flipping past Turner Classic Movies and vaguely thinking about their mortgages. There's a decent-sized cohort of folk who would really dig this music, but they don't buy CD's anymore, or go to many shows, or really follow "new" bands as much as they used to. If SC could find the means to connect to this crowd, they'd do pretty okay for themselves.5

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 A pair of posters taped over neighbouring urinals in the men's room — one for Carribean Dance Theatre and the other promising a "psychedelic tugging off" — speak to the different crowds that share this space.

2 As this goes to press, so to speak, I see that Hybrid Moments now have a myspace page and some more dates coming up. So it'll be inneresting to observe if the lads are going to keep developing the stuff they're working on, or treat each show as a new, blank slate for sketching ideas.

3 A set-closing pair of covers by The Adverts and The Sonics also serve to help map out the band's musical terrain.

4 They were reunion participants in the recent Wavelength 500 celebrations.

5 If you want to hear some for yourself, I note that Soft Copy has a NXNE gig at The Garrison on Friday, June 18, 2010.