Friday, July 30, 2010
The Weakerthans (Jetset Motel)
The Horseshoe Tavern. Tuesday, May 25, 2010.
This was a show I wasn't originally planning on. When The Weakerthans announced a gig at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, it didn't take me long to think that was more than I wanted to spend for a show at a bigger venue than I prefer — and anyways, I'd found the band getting a little staid, and a sit-down show in a soft-seater might just push the mellow envelope a bit too far. But after seeing The Weakerthans close up at their Sonic Boom in-store and being reminded why I dig them, a second chance arose with this hastily-arranged add-on show. Billed as a special fundraiser for Library Voices1, here was a chance to see the band in much more intimate circumstances — and in an environment that might inspire them to some extra rockin' out.
Walked down to the 'Shoe, arriving to find a decent crowd — there looked to be a good turnout from the savvy, slightly-older demographic, the type who don't go to as many shows as they used to, and when they do, they come down early to grab a seat before things fill up. Jetset Motel were on stage and getting ready to play.
Originally from St. John's but now based in Toronto, the band came together while backing up singer/guitarist David Picco, touring his 2006 solo album Saturday Night Sunday Morning. Under the band name, they've apparently rocked-up their sound a bit on their recently-released self-titled album.
Calling to mind, say, early Wilco, the songs were admirable in their unfussy rigour — tightly constructed little roots-rock-tinged packages. The first few tunes followed the template of Picco on acoustic guit providing the framework for Jimmy Rose's electric work, keeping things lively but never distracting from the lyrics. The same applied to the tugboat rhythm section that kept things buoyant without diverting much attention away from the songs.
Picco switched to an electric guitar later on in the set, which added some more country-honk swagger, and there was a nice bit of contrast with Rose taking lead vocals for one song that had a bit of a rougher, rangier flavour to it.
The band was likable in an unpretentious way, but not especially likable. Which is to say they were entertaining for the duration of the set, but I wasn't strongly struck by the desire to dig for more. They're working from a strong base and will probably appeal to the roots-rock minded, but don't really stand out from the crowd as of yet.
The floor had well filled in between sets, but there was elbow room and a fairly relaxed sort of vibe. I could've done without the woman behind me singing along — to pretty much every lyric of every song. Then again, I could see several other people also singing along. It was that kind of crowd.
The Weakerthans took the stage with a slow intake of breath of in sonnet form ("Past-Due") before roaring to full rock'n'roll life with "Plea from a Cat Named Virtute", and for a little while, everything was pretty close to feeling exactly right. The quartet's sound was filled out with the addition of super-utility player Rusty Matyas2 adding trumpet, keyb and a bit of guitar where required.
An energetic run through "Our Retired Explorer" anchored an early focus on 2003's beloved Reconstruction Site. Perhaps because this was some of the band's material that I dig the most, it felt quite incredible for the first twenty minutes or so — this was certainly the close-up, rockin' show that I was hoping for.
Such intensity is hard to maintain, though, and perhaps wisely the band didn't try, letting the energy level drop off a bit after that with the dirge-y waltz "Leash" (from '99's debut Fallow). That was a good bridge to "One Great City!", with John K. Samson left alone on stage to sing along with the crowd — and by now everyone was singing along.3 Even with the band returning, the quieter tone was extended on a joined version of "(Hospital Vespers)" and "Bigfoot!" that was unexpectedly affecting.
It was only after forty minutes that Samson engaged the crowd in more than his customary between-songs aw-shucks-like "Thanks!", commenting, after an energetic close to boppy mash-note "The Reasons", "I think I hurt my head there, headbanging. I feel like I have a slurpee headache right now" — a particularly Manitoban thing to say. The brainfreeze vibe was expressed with a run of songs from 2007's least-of-the-bunch Reunion Tour ("Hymn Of The Medical Oddity", "Night Windows", "Civil Twilight") that was probably the least engaging stretch of the show. Not, y'know, stinko or anything, just less good, the songs hitting less firmly on those perfect little specifics. In a nicely structured touch, the set finished with "(Manifest)", the third of Reconstruction Site's sonnet-songs — played, like a novel unfolding backwards, in reverse order from their appearance on the album.
Then a generous encore, beginning with Samson again out alone at the outset of "My Favourite Chords", the band following along to help finish it off. And then a further three songs, including closer "Exiles Among You", which was nice to hear.
Putting aside the feeling that, in the absence of new material, the band is coasting a bit, this was a pretty good show. I'm sure I enjoyed standing a few feet away from the band more than I would have the next night with them raised up on the high and distant stage at the Queen Elizabeth.
1 A Regina-based band who lost their equipment to flood damage after a watermain break.
2 A member of Winnipeg rockers The Waking Eyes, and, more lately, Imaginary Cities.
3 It used to mildly annoy me when people sang along to this, as if people who had never been there had no right to join in on the refrain of "I hate Winnipeg" — but I've come to realize that it's not specifically about Winnipeg. It's about the love/hate tension anyone feels with the place they come from. Samson's specifics — ones that I understand viscerally — stand in for whatever is crappy/familiar in the place you're from.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
The Tranzac Club (Southern Cross Lounge). Tuesday, May 25, 2010.
With some time to kill before the gig I was going to, I was flipping through the listings and considering my options when The Rent at The Tranzac caught my eye. Poked around a enough to dig up who was involved in this project1 — one of those purpose-built bands composed of musicians who are all busy in many other tendrils of Toronto's sprawling improvised music scene. This particular unit arose as a way for Scott Thomson to get under the hood of the compositions of Steve Lacy, which they've been doing for the past couple years, culminating in the recent release of their album Musique de Steve Lacy. Although I'm a casual sort of jazz enthusiast, I'd never really investigated Lacy, so I figured this would serve as a good introduction.
As I walked up to The Tranzac, I could hear a choral version of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" wafting down from upstairs and a group of people were practising dance steps in the Tiki Room — a typical sort of night, I'm sure, at the beloved/dilapidated cultural hub on Brunswick Avenue. I felt mildly awkward when I stepped into the Southern Cross Lounge, being the first audience member on hand. Fortunately, another guy — who'd be greeted by name by the band — showed up a few minutes later, and we were the crowd at the set's beginning. After some intra-band discussion over the charts, things got going.
To my unsophisticated ear, the style suggested a bit of a collision, with tightly-structured compositions of the Ellington/Mingus lineage filtered through a more economical, freer approach. Though there was a rigour to the songs' construction2, they still swung, such as an arrangement of "The Gleam" complete with a "cha cha cha" intro. "The Mad Yak"3, with Thomson's talk-y muted playing, was immediately appealing, and dispelled any notion that the composer or the players were going to sacrifice a good time for fusty academicism. Overall, the playfulness of the trombone offset the shriller soprano sax, finding a nice middle ground. And while the musicians were working from charts, there was still plenty of room to try things out, such as a mildly over-enthusiastic approach by Fraser at the end of "Prospectus". On the whole, though, the musicians were sympatico with each other as well as the material.
As the set progressed, a few more patrons dropped in. There were about a half-dozen by set's end — enough to outnumber the band. Occasionally, people using other parts of the facility would pop in to grab a drink from the bar, contributing to the casual air to the proceedings. But the community centre vibe shouldn't make one think this was some sort of amateur hour — it's mildly astonishing to me that you could drop in on most any given night at the Tranzac and hear such top-notch music. We take it for granted that there's so much talent close at hand.
So, indeed a most productive bit of time killing, and in between sets I cut out and headed off to the next gig. And remembered to put some Steve Lacy on hold at the library the next day.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 The members are:
Kyle Brenders, saxophone
Wes Neal, bass
Scott Thomson, trombone
Nick Fraser, drum set
The band also plays with Susanna Hood, who provides vocals, but on this night it was just the instrumental foursome.
2 That construction sometimes seemed to take the form of a structural roadmap (section A, then section B, etc.) at least as much as a staightforward tuneful determinism.
3 Like many of Lacy's compositions, this one was inspired by a poem — one by Gregory Corso in this case.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Song: Louisiana Lounger*
Recorded at FOUR CORNERS, Steelworkers Hall, July 23, 2010.Teenanger - Louisiana Lounger
Review to follow. My notes for this show can now be found here. This show consisted of four bands set up in four corners of a room, taking turns playing songs in a non-stop rock barrage. Quite excellent.
* Thanks to a commenter for passing along the title to this one.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Sonic Boom Records. Monday, May 24, 2010.
Out for a Monday night show by Vancouver-based1 rapper Shad on the eve of the release of his third album TSOL. Though hardly a hip-hop guy these days, I've kept an eye on Shad's advancement, having seem him relatively early on in November '062 where he was a striking presence — rapping while playing an acoustic guitar and wearing an "I Want a Clair Huxtable" t-shirt. His trajectory has been onward and upward since then, getting plenty good notices for 2007's The Old Prince and playing to increasingly larger crowds. Truth be told, that was an album that I'd admired more than liked when it came out, and as such, I wasn't particularly on the lookout for his new one — even if I'd felt that his success was well-deserved for a guy who eschews most of the shallow, materialistic trappings of a lot of current hip-hop and harks instead back to the more conscious golden age.
A good-sized turnout filling in the basement for this, skewing younger and, it would seem, more towards a hip-hop crowd, though with a good variety of curiosity-seekers such as myself mixed in. Throwing himself right into the new material, Shad started with "Rose Garden" from the new album before reaching back to 2005's When This Is Over for "Rock to It". "This will be more like 'Jazz to it'," he commented, fighting against an unco-operative guitar at the start of the song before rolling with the punch and abandoning it for the set, while turning the song into a freestyle.
Backed on keyboards and bass by Ian Koiter, and his DJ TLO, Shad then proceeded to fly through a set that mixed older material in with the new, apparently doing some of the new stuff before an audience for the first time. Included in that category was "A Good Name", which merged the personal and the historical as he broke down the stories of his given and family names. He was joined by Relic the Oddity on "We Are the Ones" ("This is a weird song, I'm not going to lie to you," he told the crowd at the start) and got a strong reaction for the new album's lead single "Yaa I Get It", with many of the crowd already knowing the words. A clap-along version of "The Old Prince Still Lives At Home" extended into a freestyle, which might have been the best moment of the evening.
Some songs got dropped in for only a verse or two, but the group managed to crank out an impressive dozen titles in their forty-minute set. With no shortage of nible-minded rhymes and dexterous delivery — not to mention a wide-ranging variety of pop-culture references3 — this was a thoroughly fun and entertaining time. Certainly enough to make me realize I'd have to pick up a copy of TSOL.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 Though raised in London, Ontario and born in Kenya.
2 At one of the first Make Some Noise shows at the Toronto Reference Library.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Artist: Wyrd Visions vs. Nif-D
Song: excerpt from an improvisation
Recorded at Teranga, May 16, 2010.Wyrd Visions vs. Nif-D - excerpt from an improvisation
My notes for this gig can be found here.
Artist: Gardenia and Nick Storring
Song: excerpt from an improvisation
Recorded at Teranga, May 16, 2010.Gardenia and Nick Storring - excerpt from an improvisation
My notes for this gig can be found here.
Svarte Greiner (The Sight Below / Wyrd Visions vs. Nif-D / Gardenia and Nick Storring)
Teranga. Sunday, May 16, 2010.
Of course the hockey game is on. This might be a night of out-there noise/drone at an African bar, but you still gotta have the hockey game on. It's the first game of the Eastern semifinals, and vast swathes of Toronto are engaged in an uncharacteristic flirtation with les Habs — one of those liaisons that, come fall, pretty much everyone will deny as they reconcile themselves to another season of grim, masochistic backing of the local side.
The stage area is gear-laden, but not with the tools of rock'n'roll. Looks like it should be an inneresting night — hopefully worth making the trip out on a Sunday. I'd been hopeful that the early doors time might mean that things'd get going sooner rather than later, but that doesn't really come to pass, with the headliner doing some soundchecking well past the time I was hoping things would have gotten going.
Killing time, I survey the crowd. I get the impression that everyone else here knows each other. I look around, wondering if I should drag a chair over to the area in front of the stage — surely this isn't going to be a standing sort of gig? Meanwhile, the mood is being set by DJ Craig Dunsmuir, playing something that sounds like Terry Riley, followed by something that sounds like pitched-down dance music.
Eventually, things got going as Gardenia and Nick Storring started their set — Gardenia (a.k.a Bryan Walker) on guitars and effects while Storring plays cello and manipulates things via laptop. With some vwip noises as Storring started a slow sequence of notes on the cello, Walker's guitar provided the background atmospherics. The sound got heavier with a slower, lower cello loop underlying Storring's live playing, while a steady, train-like chuffing rhythm — not quite a beat — emerged. Slowly, Storring's percussive bow taps transformed into a slowly-unfolding backbeat, riding the groove for three or four minutes, before collapsing into guitar haze. A series of treated rumbles ease down to become the bed for a mournful cello passage, setting up a very subtle touch of a vocal track, pitched almost the same as the cello it accompanies — before it falls in on itself and winds down, the whole thing lasting about fifteen minutes.
Without pause, the pair started again on a second piece. A humming loop from Storring — using a harmonica as the clay to sculpt his noise from — is accompanied by minimal shimmering guitar. Again, the piece builds up in volume and rhythmic complexity, easing for a bit in the middle into something like a beat-box Maggot Brain with Walker's guitar now less restrained. And then it all imploded into itself, receding into the distance as Storring played a low, grunting cello part that got looped below a higher, more fluid one, riding that out for the last few minutes.
My assumption is that this was pure improvisation, and not the musicians working out a pre-planned composition. It certainly had me thinking back to another occasion that I had seen Storring in this same venue, in a duo version (with Colin Fisher) of I Have Eaten the City. It's interesting to reflect on the division of labour here, as what Storring's doing is flashier and easier to follow, so it's less clear to the casual observer how Walker is impacting the process. But an absorbing set, even if I tend to like the ambient beginning and crunchy endings more than the middle parts.
Listen to an excerpt from this set here.
Starting 'round eleven, next up was a unique collaborative set billed as Wyrd Visions vs. Nif-D. Colin Bergh (usually seen playing slow-simmering folk with his double-necked guitar) and Matt Smith (with his laptop and yellow plastic case full of electronics) normally have fairly different aesthetics, and on this meeting, the common ground was more towards the latter's looptronica.1 Bergh appeared to be playing a krar, and started with a repeating little four-note plucked figure. Nif-D began layering his voice over top, and soon that was weaving in and out of slightly-out-of-phase doppelgängers of the krar line — building up into a cloud of pinging vocals, some glitchy noises and echoing drum. An interesting first phase, and perhaps the coolest part of the collaboration, as some of the subsequent ideas (such as a high-pitched looping noise) weren't as pleasant to listen to.
As that collapsed into a haze of Smith's distorted vocals, Bergh (now sitting on the floor) seemed like less of a driving factor in the second half of the set, adding wordless vocalisations under the cloud of Smith's own vox, which grew in number as the loops built up and took over like a sort of doowop zombie army. Drum loops slowly took over from the vocals, until only they remained, and Smith slowly tampered with them, pulling them out of sync to create an effect not unlike a crowd of bored junior high kids bouncing basketballs off a garage door — until it then resolved itself back into a kind of order and faded away.
Going just over twenty minutes, there were a couple bumpy patches here, but also some interesting ideas. Again, there was a chance to muse on the push-and-pull of a collaboration like this — it felt more like Nif-D was engineering the process, with Bergh serving as one more input for him to manipulate. But being less deterministic than a standard "instrument" obviously meant that what Bergh did created choices and decisions which affected how things proceeded. It's fair to day that I've never seen Nif-D playing the same thing twice. He has more of a method than a genre, and having something different like this to plug into it — especially the krar at the outset, but Bergh's presence generally — gave it a unique twist.
Listen to an excerpt from this set here.
Even though there was a fairly quick turnover for Svarte Greiner2, the room was less crowded than for the previous set. That could have been a case of some folks just wanting to check out what the local guys were up to (there were some other musicians in the crowd who seemed to drop by mainly for the Nif-D/Wyrd Visions set) or a case of gotta-get-to-bed on a Sunday night (the set started about twenty-five to twelve).
Erik Skodvin, hailing from Norway, took the stage without chatter or even saying who he was — not being sure in which order the last two acts were going to play, I wasn't even sure who he was at first. In fact, as I sat down on the floor, I couldn't even see who was playing — as he finished preparing to play, the room was plunged into almost total darkness, hardly dispelled by a few candles placed on the stage. The darkness went well with the music's dreamspace-like qualities, though — this was more suited to lean back with eyes closed and feel.
Sometimes when people refer to "drone" in more pop-structured music, it's not really all that droney. But this: more so, and very suitable for creating a woozy, floating sort of state. By this point of a Sunday night I'd usually be asleep — and this wasn't unlike that. Whether that sounds like a selling point or not to you would probably indicate your response to this set.
The music started slow, Skodvin playing with overtones as he slowly bowed the guitar for an unrushed nine minutes before he started to explore a new idea, plucking out slow series of notes that repeated with the subtle intervention of his laptop.3 After a few quieter minutes, the sound began to build up into a loud wall — loud, but not "noisy", as the real skill here was in the sense of the spontaneous composition in the whole thing, with the various elements woven into something that was decidedly more than just a pile of cacophonies. Existing its own little hermetic bubble, this was beautiful stuff.
At the very end, the music did get discordantly noisy, as if that bubble had popped, and we were being plunged back into the chaos of the world. Playing for just under twenty-five minutes, this was pretty amazing, and could have gone on for longer.4
Listen to an excerpt from this set here.
After that, an even thinner crowd for The Sight Below — it was, indeed, getting pretty late. A solo vehicle for Seattle's Rafael Anton Irisarri which, despite using basically the same ingredients as the previous set (guitar, laptop), the results were rather different. The set started off strongly, using loops of bowed guitars, and there was a nice ambient sense to it.
I was thoroughly enjoying things for about the first ten minutes, but when the beats came in, it was less inneresting — and that was the bulk of the set. Perhaps just the rhythm's deterministic regularity felt at odds with everything else, leaving an unresolved tension where this was neither effective as sit-down-bliss-out or get-up-and-dance music. There were also some subtle pre-recorded vocal loops, and that also made the set feel less "live"/fully-created-in-front-of-our eyes than the night's other music.
Well executed, but not really my thing. It went on a bit, lasting thirty-five minutes — and this time it felt longer than necessary. But I must not have been in the majority opinion, as Irisarri was called back for an encore, playing a dreamy ambient piece, which was a nice note to end the night on.
There were perhaps some technical problems behind the scenes — besides the late start, I understand that The Sight Below usually incorporates a live visual element into his act, but that wasn't running for this show. But, that notwithstanding, a rewarding night on the whole, with a good showing from the local undercard and Svarte Greiner definitely impressing.
1 Although, that being said, it's worth noting that Bergh's sound in Wyrd Visions is also partially derived from his use of a loop pedal, so he's obviously no stranger to the technological possibilities in play here.
2 Ex post facto edit: Well after the fact, I have realized that "Svarte Greiner" is a bandonym and not a personal name, so I have tweaked the text here where necessary.
3 Actually, in retrospect, this was a good chance for a staid rockist such as myself to think on the role of the laptop as a useful tool. Most of the time, seeing a computer on stage is a generic sort of turn-off for me, especially when it's used like a complicated tape deck where someone can just "press play" and sing along. But with the sort of music being created on this night, the laptop isn't an ersatz sort of replacement for something on stage as much as a tool for manipulating the sound in a way that would not otherwise be possible. And although there's still a decided lack of rock'n'roll flair in watching someone leaning in and peering into a screen, that arguably matters a lot less when it comes to "head" music like this, where the reward is in the immersive experience more than spontaneous visual excitement.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Song: Drip Drop March
Recorded at Poor Pilgrim Island Show 4 (Ward’s Island Ferry Docks), July 18, 2010.Drumheller - Drip Drop March
Review to follow My notes for this set can now be found here — but this title was perfectly timed, as it seemed inevitable that the band and crowd alike were about to get drenched by a thunderstorm. But it held off.
Recorded at Poor Pilgrim Island Show 4 (St. Andrew-by-the-lake Church), July 18, 2010.Snowblink - unknown
Review to follow. My notes for this set can be found here. Not my most elegant recording, but hopefully the song's grace makes up for that. This song includes backing vocals from Isla Craig and Felicity Williams.
* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!
Friday, July 16, 2010
The Blue Fog Revue (Feat. Rick White, Eiyn Sof, Wyrd Visions, Andre Ethier, Nordic Nomadic, Castlemusic, $100)
Lee's Palace. Saturday, May 14, 2010.
A couple inneresting-looking gigs on this night to choose from, but I decided to go with this showcase of acts on local record label Blue Fog. Well, "record label" in the loosest sense, anyways, inasmuch as they put do put out albums. But in terms of structure and ambition, it seems that Blue Fog has no desire to operate within established music industry rules, just to create a space for friends to make music for each other. And, on a night like this one, to combine forces and play some music together.
Heading into Lee's, Gram and Emmylou were singing to each other over the sound system and the stage — normally a literal "black box" — was covered in silvery foil. Add to that a thematically correct fog machine and blue spotlight shining up from the foot of the stage.
Starting things off, Rick White came out to greet the crowd and play one solo song — "You're a Deep, Dark Hole", the first track off the first Blue Fog release. "It's hash, too, so breathe deeply," White commented, looking at the fog unfurling over the stage. "It's not, really." [beat] "I think there's LSD in it though." [inhales] "Oh yeah, there is!"
And then, a quick taste from Eiyn Sof, Melissa Boraski's electric rockin' band. Playing just a quick pair of rootsy songs, "Weight of the World" was especially catchy. I'd been meaning to catch Boraski playing in a band format ever since seeing her playing a solo acoustic show last summer, and the taste here indeed indicated that a full set would be worth looking for.
Listen to one of Eiyn Sof's tracks from this set here.
Seeing Wyrd Visions on the bill at this show was definitely a selling point, given how I've been impressed by Colin Bergh's rigourously-structured folk rambles in the past, but I had been worried about how his intensely inward-looking music would go over in this kind of crowd. And indeed as he began playing, there was no shortage of chatter — though thankfully, at least, not very much right around me near the stage.
"Can I get less light and more fog?" asked Bergh, playing his double-necked guitar while seated on a stool. His music provides exactly that. And then things got even more interesting a few minutes into "Bog Lord", his second song, when he was joined by the first set's house band — composed mainly of members of Steamboat — who unobtrusively started adding extra colour to the song. There was some keybs, guitar from Andre Ethier and subtle sax from Joseph Shabason. This gave a bit of volume to cover over the chatterers, though it wasn't all blasting or anything. But it definitely added an extra dimension.
All of which was just prelude to a full-length set from Andre Ethier, whose last couple albums have been released by Blue Fog.1 With acoustic rumination lately superseding the garage rock frenzy he had worked in his old band, the Deadly Snakes, it was good to see him quickly setting up with the full band behind him for this set. And indeed, his Dylan-ish lyrical sensibility was very well complemented by Steamboat's musical muscle, and nicely goosed by some some smoky saxophone from Shabason.
Ethier, not bogged down by any sort of music industry obligations (his main gig is currently his work as a visual artist), gave a notion of what's he's been up to since his last album in 2008, playing some new songs ("English for Flamingos", "Wax Candle") and a cover of Donovan's "Get Thy Bearings". The set started off on the softer/more melodic side, but gained energy as it went on, really hitting hard on the garage-ier stuff like "Nothing is Written in Stone" and "Cop Killer".2 I suppose I would describe myself as a fairly casual devotee of Ethier, but this set served as about the most potent argument for his merits possible.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Chad Ross of Quest for Fire, who records for Blue Fog as Nordic Nomadic, came out to play some guit and sang lead on a song. Then, a couple more from Ethier. All told, that was an hour and forty minutes worth of music — and that was just the first half of the show.
Starting off the second set in quiet fashion was Castlemusic, with Jennifer Castle accompanied by some basic percussion as she spun out her real folk-blues. Just sort of taking the stage and launching into it, Castle, like Wyrd Visions before her, plays music that unspools in its own dreamy manner, so a pair of songs was no quick hit'n'run set. Crowd noise was again a problem, but the performance was top notch. Transitioning into the heart of the night's second half, she was joined on stage by Simone Fornow, and they did an a capella duet of what sounded like an old folk song.3
The band took the stage while that was going on, and $100 launched right into their set, leading off, with what I think is a new one (the refrain was "if you got no ties that bind you")4 that was followed by a superb version of "Fourteenth Floor". Indeed, the full band sounded excellent, playing what sounded like definitive versions of several songs, including "Black Gold". One of our best local acts, $100 are a delight in any configuration, but it was a real treat to hear the robust, full band arrangements, with Stew Crookes' pedal steel and Jonathan Adjemian's keybs rounding out the sound.
Jennifer Castle came back out to join the band for a pretty run through Neil Young's "Old Country Waltz"5 and the main part of $100's set climaxed with "No Great Leap", before segueing into the next part of the night with the Rick White-penned "Pain" — the gateway to a several numbers of a subset of $100 backing Rick White.
It's always neat to see a group of musicians suddenly flip over into suddenly playing a different sound, and backing White the band was now much heavier and more psychedelic. And rather excellent, to boot. Admittedly, I'd fallen off from regularly picking up White's albums, but this was a kick-in-the-pants reminder how good he is when he's on his game.6 Quite a thing.
The second set was just shy of ninety minutes, so by the time it wrapped up it was about quarter to two, and unsurprisingly, the crowd had thinned out quite a lot. And it looked like that was going to be it. A lot of people were getting ready to split, though a few were still applauding, and the music started over the sound system. I started to pack up, when, at Rick White's invocation, the band came back out. With some friends on stage, they played "Forest of Tears". A welcome closer, though by this time I was feeling pretty wiped. Overall, a fine celebration for Blue Fog.
1 Indeed, they are rather descriptively entitled On Blue Fog and Born of Blue Fog.
2 An Ethier original, and not an Ice-T cover.
3 I couldn't place it, but the refrain was "nobody's fault but my own".
4 New material on the night also included "If It Weren't For the Carnations" and "Meet Me Where the Sparrows Drop".
5 It's worth noting that while $100 almost always play a cover during their sets, they almost never play the same one twice. It'd be interesting to see what would be by now a rather extensive list of all the ones they've tackled in concert.
6 The last couple times I'd seen him live were solo acoustic sets, which were less riveting than hearing him blasting it out with the band.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Broken Social Scene
Soundscapes / Sonic Boom Records. Sunday, May 9, 2010.
As a special hometown celebration for the release of their new album, Forgiveness Rock Record, word came out that Broken Social Scene were going to play a day-long mini-tour with four sets at four of Toronto's premiere independent record stores, with free tickets given out in advance with purchase of the album. Though I'm not particularly in the loop, I managed to hear about this in time to get tickets to the last two of the days' shows.1
Figuring this'd be the sort of thing people would be eager to get into, I wandered by Soundscapes early, and indeed, there was a queue already forming outside the store, a varied mix of older and younger folks.2 There was a bit of confusion in all the hurly-burly, with a coterie of the ticketless trying to decide if they would have a chance to get in, but on the whole, it was a very well-organized affair. Soundscapes even went all-out in bringing in some risers to make a small stage — a literal step up from their usual in-store arrangements.
As soon as the door was opened and people started filing in, the band — fully set up and on the stage — began playing an instrumental entry groove, and once everyone was mostly settled in they segued into "World Sick", the new album's lead-off track. A quick glance across the stage revealed the basic current core lineup was on the stage3, rocking acoustic guitars with indoor sunglasses the order of the day. The slow and gentle arrangement set the tone for this performance and hit the right emotional tone — world-weary but guardedly optimistic, which is BSS' stock-in-trade, really.
The vibe was pretty relaxed, with the band taking time in between songs to chat with each other and the crowd. The interaction included one of those Kevin Drew curveballs, where he threw in a singalong chorus from "Money Changes Everything"4 at the end of a slowed-down "Superconnected". Suddenly I was remembering why I love this band.
Claiming a cold, Drew asked afterwards if anyone had a tissue. "I just had an erotic thought," he joked.
"Me and My Hand!" shouted someone in the audience, referring to the onanistic closing track of the new album.
"I can't sing 'Me and My Hand' with my mom here on Mother's Day," Drew replied — though while the band tuned, he did try out a few lines of a rewritten version, now called "Me and My Mom".
Meanwhile, the other bandmembers stepped up as well. Andrew Whiteman sang on "Art House Director", the sprightliest thing yet in the set, and while introducing "Stars and Sons", Brendan Canning talked about having last played Soundscapes in 20025, taking care to send a shoutout to BSS alum and former Soundscapes employee John Crossingham. before a clap-along run through the song.
"Fucked Up Kid" from Kevin Drew's "solo" album Spirit If... was a slightly less-expected addition to the set, and perfectly suited for the stripped-down instrumentation. The band was especially unhurried on this one, letting the relaxed instrumental portion slowly unfurl, stretching the song out even longer than its album version. Then, in a true goofball left turn, Canning lead a song dedicated to a friend's late dog, which was treated with as much seriousness by the band as any of the other songs, with chords being explained before it started and Spearin throwing in a nifty melodica solo.
Looking back and forth at each other to figure out what to play as a final song, someone in the crowd shouted "All to All", and the band took up the challenge. "Well, we'd be winging it on the spot," Drew warned, but they quickly worked out an acoustic arrangement of the synth-heavy number. "I'm looking forward to this," Canning said as the others behind him argued over what key the song should be in. As Whiteman held the riff at the start, it almost felt it was going to fall apart, but keeping things going, Lisa Lobsinger plunged into the vocal. It turned to out to work pretty well, with the band excitedly rushing the tempo but holding it together.
Overall, quite exceptional.
With some time to spare before the next round, plenty of time for a relaxed walk up to Bloor and check out the line situation at Sonic Boom, where, indeed there was already a queue forming. Or, rather, two — one for ticketholders, and a much-longer one of unticketed hopefuls trying to snatch a spot. Ran into J., and we stepped in fairly close to the start of the ticketholders' line, with some time to kill examining the racks of DVD's we were standing beside.
Eventually, we moved downstairs, managing to catch a spot close up as the entire basement got crammed full, the staff apparently trying to get in as many of the folks in the non-ticketholders' line as possible. This time the band took the stage in the more traditional way, and with a stronger sense of purpose, probably attributable to the fact that this was more like the band's regular rocktastic set-up with less adjustments to be made on the fly. Leading off with the You Forgot It In People pairing of "Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries" and "Shampoo Suicide", an oldie-but-goodie indeed (as Drew suggested) with all the overlapping sprawl hinted at in BSS' best work still intact.
At the outset more focused and less banter-y than at the Soundscapes, the band moved straight into "7/4 (Shoreline)". Lisa Lobsinger handled the vocal part ably, and it was gratifying to see her approach it in her own way and not merely try to imitate someone else's singing. After finally pausing to chat and pass instruments around6, the next segment focused on the new album, represented by the trio of "Forced to Love", "Texico Bitches" and "Water in Hell". All of these were pretty convincing, with a couple possibly surpassing their album versions — in the case of "Water in Hell" perhaps as much for the go-for-gusto slight sloppiness as anything.
Kevin Drew, as is often the case, was filled with a fuck-the-practicalities enthusiasm, willing to turn all the amps as high as they'd go — with Peroff being the sober second thought in this case. Meanwhile, having fun in these environs, everyone wanted to raise the top of their guitar necks to the low basement ceiling. Drew again solicited a round of applause for his mom — and this time he even sang a song to her. It was more than just an improvised riff, too, and seemed like something the band had worked out in advance. Goofy and sweet while being slightly awkward in its earnestness, it fit in quite well with the rest of the material.
"That was the closer right there," Drew concluded after that. But quickly moving on to the "encore", there was an open discussion between band and crowd over what to do next ("'Romance to the Grave?'," Drew responded to one suggestion. "No, I can't do that right after 'Mommy I Love You'!") And sadly, Drew didn't think he could pull off "Sweetest Kill", which I was hoping for.
But instead, in a cool sort of twist, Drew called Julie Doiron, who'd been hanging around in the "backstage" area to add her voice to "Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl". Cool and unexpected, though it didn't have quite as much lift as I've seen the song get in the past. But that might capture the essence of this performance the best — at a technical and even emotional level, I've seen the band reach higher heights, but given the premium that I place of proximity and honest raggedness, this was pretty awesome. And in terms of seeing the band these days, given that I was at such close quarters made this a pretty big deal. Even if their big Island show spectacular might have been, y'know, more and bigger and longer, I chose to forgo that, as any of the additional goodness that they might have brought would have been mostly obviated by the alienation of being further away, in a giant crowd, etc. etc. In other words, utterly unlike meeting them in the basement.
And then, "Meet Me In The Basement", a perfect closer, which hit just right. For all the talk of how instrumental songs can be emotionally ambiguous, this one's joyful triumph seemed obvious here, for audience and band alike — as the song hit the false ending, before the horns punched back in, Drew said, "this is what it sounds like to us when we see all of you!"
And just like in real life where any sort of perfect moment is usually marred by some sort of awkward reality, in the best BSS tradition, there was that sense that the band didn't know how to end the song, as the emotional bombast eased off into a slow, kinda noodly, guitar outro.7
A little more than an hour — not bad for a freebie, and pretty good for a band on their fourth show of the day. An excellent time, and a nice reminder that no matter how big they get, Broken Social Scene aren't too big to get up close and personal. I didn't stick around after to wait and hug Kevin Drew, but one gets the impression that that he would have found that totally all right if I had.
1 The two shows earlier in the day were at Criminal Records and Rotate This.
2 Amusingly, a MuchMusic interviewer working the lineup marched past me (y'know — way out of the demographic) to talk to the teenagers behind me in line and pick their brains about the importance of record stores and so on — a topic that, as they laughed amongst themselves after, they hadn't really put much thought into.
3 That'd be Whiteman, Canning, Drew, Goldberg, Spearin, Peroff and Lobsinger for those with a scorecard. They were augmented on horns by Julia Hamilton and David French.
5 The band was obviously enjoying themselves in this environment, including Sam Goldberg, who was flipping through CD's on a shelf behind the stage during the songs he wasn't playing on.
6 With the band fully filling up the stage, their guitar rack was stashed on the floor right in front of them, and Drew drafted the nearest fan in the front row as a temporary roadie to pass guitars up between songs.
7 And a tip of the hat here to Pete Nema, who in describing the ending of the BSS set at The Island show, nailed the description of this phenomena just right: "Every time I see them, it seems as though they may have an internal competition between band members to see who can leave the stage last. I'm thinking the last person to pack it in wins."
Monday, July 12, 2010
Artist: Occidental Brothers Dance Band International with Samba Mapangala
Recorded at Queen's Park, Afrofest 2010, July 11, 2010.Occidental Brothers Dance Band International with Samba Mapangala - unknown
My notes for this set can be found here.
N.B.: This recording is a capture of CIUT's live feed.
* Does anyone know the title of this song? Please leave a comment!
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Artist: Your 33 Black Angels
Song: Psycho On Your Side*
Recorded at The House of Everlasting Super Joy, July 10, 2010.Your 33 Black Angels - Psycho On Your Side
Update: My notes for this set can now be found here.
Full review to follow, but let it be noted that Y33BA tore it up at the Optical Sounds 2nd Birthday bash. This little scorcher, which sounds sort of like the sharp-clawed punk spawn of "The Bells of Rhymney", came near the start of the set, and my mind was melting throughout.
* Thanks to Steven for passing the title along.
Friday, July 9, 2010
Mantler (Sheesham and Lotus)
The Tranzac Club. Thursday, May 6, 2010.
A big party in the main hall of the Tranzac Club to celebrate the release of Mantler's new Monody album. Although his first three albums came out at a more regular clip, there's been a gap since 2004's Landau, and as a regular player on the local scene, there were evidently quite a few folks waiting on a new disc.
The room filled up during the opening set by Sheesham and Lotus, purveyors of fine old-timey music. Working in the Southern proto-string-band tradition, the pair (also known as Sam Allison and Teilhard Frost) might superficially seem like an odd match with the smooth sounds that would be coming from the main act, but there's a whole tangle of connections at play here.1 The pair play mostly banjo (Allison) and fiddle (Frost), but there are some other interesting things tossed in — including such devices as the "sepiaphonic monophone", an antiquated amplification horn the pair sing into. The songs were drawn from a variety of sources, from traditionals like "The Fox" to newer stuff like Porter Wagoner's "Head Over Heels In Love With You" — but it all sounded spot-on, coming out with the right amount of slightly tinny raggedness.
"Don't let the sounds of Sheesham and Lotus distract you from getting one of those new Mantler records", Frost said to the room. It certainly didn't distract the crowd from chattering away, the band playing to a semi-indifferent majority standing around in the back. The band didn't let that get the best of them and kept on through their set, but it did lessen their impact a bit. This isn't the sort of music that requires a conservatory-quiet audience — a certain amount of enthusiastic whooping and clapping and dancing is more of a natural backdrop — but the general impression here was that the bulk of the crowd weren't looking for that kind of revelry.
Mantler is a character.
Not in the sense that he exhibits some sort of gregarious personality; the very concept of Mantler is the creation of local musician Chris Cummings, and not merely a nom de guerre. Perhaps the two aren't entirely different — take a Wurlitzer electric piano, add a tux and a persona of a lounge singer laughing to keep from crying — but don't just assume that the one is the other.
That electric piano is, perhaps, at the core of the Mantler sound — soulful and funky, but not without a certain limp softness. That latter can be found, a bit, on the new Monody — a decent album, but even as I was listening to it, I was making comparisons to how I remembered some of those songs in a live setting, with a bit more funky electricity in the live arrangements.
And one could see from the outset that this was going to be a fairly full-on kind of show. Rather than setting up on the main room's stage, there was a large amount of gear set up on the dance floor — certainly enough that the stage would have been rather crowded. But at the start of the show there was just Cummings, playing alone, starting off with "Author" and the melancholy "Crying at the Movies", both from the new album.
With the mood established (and the crowd much more attentive than they had been), he slowly built up the sound around him, adding more and more players with every song, starting with Steamboat rhythm-meisters Jay Anderson and Matt McLaren on drums and bass. A couple more songs as a trio before Christopher Sandes (organ) and Nick Taylor (guitar) — also in the Steamboat camp — joined for "Uphill Battle", a newer-than-the-album tune.
Long-time collaborator Dennis Frey2 added backing vox on "Playin' Along" (from 2004's Landau). Once joined by Mike Smith and Andy Scott, there was an amazing run through "I've Been Destroyed" with Frey hitting the vocal hook hard for the duration of the song as Cummings stood up to rap out a verse. Hot stuff!
"You might be asking how we can top that," Cummings commented at the song's end. The answer was more of a moreness as the horn section (Joseph Shabason, Jeremy Strachan, Bryden Baird and Tom MacCammon) took the stage. "Childman", "In Stride" and "Fortune Smiled Again" would get big horn arrangements, closing out the hour-long main set in a widescreen bookend to the single-spotlight closeup it had started with.
Returning to the stage for the encore, Cummings commented, "I wrote this song in 1997, and my life is a lot better now. Don't take it too literally," launching into "Lately I'm Sad". Indeed, Cummings was justifiably pleased with the night's turnout and reception, and was willing to stretch things out a bit, returning to play one last song solo, ending the night like it had begun. Well-written songs are amenable to a variety of backdrops, and while Mantler's shows range from one-man-with-a-beatbox affairs to full band blowouts, they're always a fine time — but best of all when we get all of them in one go.3
1 The keen-eyed might note that both of these guys played on Mantler's new album. In fact, Allison has been a collaborator with the night's headliner for a long time, going back to their pre-Mantler project Hall Of Famer. Plus, like the headliner, there's an underlying theatricality to Sheesham and Lotus' act, bound up a bit in the tensions between knowing that these guys are playing in character, but at the same time expressing something beyond character.
2 I later heard someone describing Frey's appearance as "more Mantler than Mantler!".
3 Mantler is playing next Friday (July 16) at the charming Holy Oak Café with Jay Anderson and Matt McLaren — a show that will be at the more intimate end of the spectrum.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The Tranzac Club (Southern Cross Lounge). Wednesday, May 4, 2010.
Gearing up for increased visibility and summertime shows, this gig was billed by Tomboyfriend as an "open rehearsal" — a chance for the band to play some songs live in a semi-informal setting for a supportive audience with a lot of friends at hand. In the prolonged process of completing their debut long-player Don't Go To School1 the band was showing off some of the songs from that, as well as some even newer ones, plus old faves and a couple covers tossed in to boot.
The band revolves around singer/lyricist Ryan Kamstra2 but achieves liftoff with the work of a supporting cast whose numbers increased after each song. Following the mini-epic "Goldfinch Gluespoo"3 Kamstra commented, "We add more band through the evening," warning that anyone could be called upon — and the fact that members of the choir were seated throughout the room and straggled up to the front to join in on songs made it seem for a moment that anyone in the room could be impressed into service.
But at the start, it was just two voices plus Sholem Krishtalka — who would perhaps prove to be the essential force holding everything together musically — on piano. Kamstra, wearing a muscle shirt and tie, gave the impression of an accountant doing some karaoke to blow off some steam4, holding the microphone two-handed, elbows out, like he was about to impale himself or commit some manner of rock'n'roll harikiri. The sound was thickened a bit on "Almost/Always", now with a driving bassline and little guitar nibbles pushing the song forward. And then with the choir gathering around a microphone to dance and sing, the full expansiveness of the band's sound was more evident. The first, longer set focused on newer material, including stuff from the album and even a couple songs that are even newer — including "The Commons", which featured the "yay!"-shouting choir.
After getting through all the new material, and a quick break, there was a more relaxed attitude for the second set, starting cabaret lounge style with a couple covers, including the George Gershwin standard "The Man I Love". That was followed with Krishtalka crooning Ani DiFranco's "Not a Pretty Girl", stating, "there is nothing ironic about this cover". After a couple more numbers, the whole thing ended with a clap-along, folky version of the band's signature song "The End of Poverty".
With their theory-into-practice correctness and friends-having-fun stage attitude, there's a sense of the right boxes being checked off with this band — but there's still moments where it feels as if the whole thing hasn't quite jelled. The band is riding the fine line between ecstatic spontaneity and under-rehearsed shakiness — although that sort of thing tends to work itself out over time.5 The most critical thing, though, that decides if the band stands or falls is Ryan Kamstra's songwriting.
Kamstra is blessed and cursed with having knocked one out of the park on the first pitch, so to speak, with "The End of Poverty" and the immediate impression was that nothing else has quite poked at the essence in the way that song did. Besides setting the template with its singalong giddiness, the song is also word-drunk, and swollen with a certain metaness, as if crafted by a magpie snatching shiny bits from half-remembered songs and other sources.6 But "End of Poverty" also calls attention to itself by sticking around a bit too long — it's a brilliant three-and-a-half minute pop smash lodged into a five minute song, containing the seeds of its own hangover. That, and some of the other logocentric songs, leave the impression that what Kamstra needs more than anything else is an editor.
On the whole, it's probably not entirely fair to be too judgmental of a band playing a show billed as a "rehearsal", so let's take all of this as a sketch suggestive of the picture that's going to emerge with more performances. I'd certainly like to check them out with a drummer and everything else going on, and wait for a chance to give that album a spin.7
2 In fact the membership has shifted considerably since their initial 3" CD two-song demo, which has been the band's only previous official release so far.
3 "They become shorter from hereon in," Kamstra assured the crowd at the song's conclusion.
4 This proved to be all the more apt when it turned out there was a song called "Karaoke Singer" in the band's setlist.
5 And in that regard I'm also looking forward to hearing this lineup play with a drummer, which'd likely be one more ingredient binding it all together.
6 This cut-and-paste method, also evident in some of the newer material, does manage the interesting feat of somehow coming around full circle to 70's storyteller-styled songwriting. And it should also be noted that if leaves the lyrics occasionally coming off as too abstracted/constructed, there are counter-examples where the songs are still rooted in a more immediate here-ness, such as the ballad to a friend "Margaux".
7 In that spirit, I note that Tomboyfriend is, in fact, playing a gig this Friday (July 9th) at Buddies in Bad Times, as part of the "Keith Cole Experience". Eight bucks gets you three bands plus the always-entertaining Keith Cole.