Friday, April 29, 2011

Preview: Hot Docs 2011

Once again, Hot Docs is upon us, meaning that for the next ten days, there's more documentaries to choose from than even the most eager viewer could hope to see. It's good to see that the festival has expanded, adding some screens in the TIFF Lightbox — that should mean for some new, comfy digs, but it's a bit away from the other screens, so those packing in several films in a day will have to be careful about the logistics.

With over two hundred titles to pick through, it can quickly get dizzying to try and narrow it down. There'll be lots of reviews to look through, but if it's at all possible, it's also highly recommended to just pick something, and plunge yourself into someone else's actuality for awhile. (This is especially true for students and seniors, who can get tickets to daytime screenings for free.)

But if you want to narrow it down, here's a few that I'm looking forward to:

The Battle for Barking

Screening: 30-Apr Sat 9:30 PM @ Cumberland 2 / 2-May Mon 4:30 PM @ ROM Theatre

A fly-on-the-wall account of a British election campaign — including a surging far-right National Party candidate.

Bobby Fischer against the World

Screening: 1-May Sun 1:30 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre / 3-May Tue 7:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

Fischer's decent from superstar chess player (something that seems hugely unimaginable in today's celebrity sphere) to abject paranoid is the sort of thing that would seem too strange to be fictional.

Magic Trip

Screening: 30-Apr Sat 9:45 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre / 2-May Mon 3:30 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters are the stuff of counter-cultural legend, so it'll be intriging to see them in a human scale in this reconstructed account of their trip.

I, Curmudgeon

Screening: 3-May Tue 6:45 PM @ Innis Town Hall

The retrospective programs during the festival are always worth checking out, and this year's "Focus On Alan Zweig" should be full of entertainment. I wasn't totally sold on last year's A Hard Name, but his earlier, more introspective films are excellent fun, if slightly cringe-inducing to those who might see a bit of themselves reflected on the screen.

Open Secret

Screenings: 3-May Tue 9:30 PM @ Cumberland 3 / 5-May Thurs 11:00 AM @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The dirty laundry of small towns is always excellent material. I'm a little afraid of reading too much about this one for fear of spoiling it.

Timothy Findley: Anatomy of a Writer

Screening: 5-May Thurs 6:45 PM @ Innis Town Hall

The Outstanding Achievement Award Retrospective screenings are always an excellent seminar in the history of documentary making. This year's programme of Terence Macartney-Filgate's might have fewer screenings than usual, but they look worth planning around. I'm especially looking forward to spending some time in this one with Timothy Findley.

Cinema Komunisto

Screening: 6-May Fri 6:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 3 / 7-May Sat 4:00 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

I'm a sucker for Eastern Bloc kitsch.

Wiebo's War

Screening: 30-Apr Sat 7:00 PM @ Isabel Bader Theatre / 3-May Tue 7:15 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 / 7-May Sat 7:00 PM @ The Regent

Environmental message film meets political thriller — it will be interesting to see how much this film will humanize a man demonized as Canada's answer to the Unibomber and/or David Koresh.

The Redemption of General Butt Naked

Screening: 30-Apr Sat 9:45 PM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 / 2-May Mon 3:45 PM @ Cumberland 2 / 7-May Sat 9:45 PM @ Cumberland 2

Can a warlord make amends for killing more than 20,000 of his fellow citizens?

And, of course, there's a lot more to pick from. You can dig through all the films here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Download: The Perfect Transcription

Okay, a special treat. I've put together a compilation with a track from every band who played at The Perfect Transcription benefit show — you can read about the night starting here. That's eighty-five minutes of goodness that you can grab with this link:

Perfect Transcription compilation

This compilation is offered in 256 kbps MP3. If anyone has an avid interest in a lossless version, send me an email.

Recording: The Pow Wows

Artist: The Pow Wows

Song: Mary-Anne [Spacemen 3 cover]

Recorded at The Perfect Transcription (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized Live Tribute and Benefit for Natty Brooker), The Piston, December 4, 2010.

The Pow Wows - Mary-Anne

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Mighty Oaks

Artist: The Mighty Oaks

Song: Transparent Radiation [Spacemen 3 cover]

Recorded at The Perfect Transcription (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized Live Tribute and Benefit for Natty Brooker), The Piston, December 4, 2010.

The Mighty Oaks - Transparent Radiation

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Perfect Transcription (Part 2)

The Perfect Transcription (Live Spacemen 3 & Spiritualized tribute) (feat. Speedway / The Disraelis / Ostrich Tuning / The Mighty Oaks / Flowers of Hell / The Pow Wows / The Blooming Rosebuds / The Hoa Hoa's)

The Piston. Saturday, December 4, 2010.

You can read up on the first half on the night here, but to recap: this was a benefit show for Natty Brooker in the form of a live tribute to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, with a massive lineup of sixteen bands taking the stage. Commonalities between the bands included lots of lyric cheatsheets, plenty reverb, and quite a few of what we might term "older bands" (in terms of rock'n'roll, though, as opposed to, like, life.)

An appearance from Speedway — apparently reunited for the occasion — was considered to be a big deal in some quarters, though I admit I was unfamiliar with them.1 Stripping the gear down to the minimum required for a howling squall, they brought three guitarists and drums. The band was perhaps a bit rusty — or maybe just a little too untethered — starting off with an instrumental, and moving into "May the Circle Be Unbroken".2 I don't have anything to compare this to, but it didn't feel like the band was really tearing into the material.

Or perhaps they didn't get to leave such a strong impression after the searing appearance from The Disraelis. The start of what would be a definite Optical Sounds tinge to the rest of the night, this was the band's first time out with a new lineup, with vocalist Cameron Jingles switching over from bass to guitar, Dave Barnes on drums and Calvin Brown on bass.3 A bashed out "Losing Touch With My Mind" was quite bracing, but even better was the following "Rollercoaster" — a 13th Floor Elevators elevators song favoured by the Spacemen 3. That one featured Richie Gibson (also from The Hoa Hoa's) on second guitar. This was pretty fantastic — rough-hewn but holding itself together, and certainly enough to give hope that the band will be returning for more.4

Listen to a track from this set here.

No strangers to Velvets-influenced drone-rock, Ostrich Tuning were a natural fit for this show. Like several other bands on the night, they chose to contrast the quieter and louder tendrils of the S3 sound, starting with "Honey" before kicking up the noise and getting all cosmic with "How Does It Feel?". My notepad contains a scrawled note that I'm thinking reads "insta-raga!".

The Mighty Oaks brought a more straightforward classic rockin' sort of sound — these guys could probably fill in a slot at a Crazy Horse tribute night with equal facility. They followed up "Just To See You Smile" with a fabulous version of "Transparent Radiation" that owed just a little something to The Who and BTO.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Flowers of Hell are pretty malleable behind mainman Greg Jarvis, so I wasn't too surprised to see them as a lean rock attack unit on this night, with Jarvis backed by a second guitarist, bass (Calvin Brown again) and drums. They also reached into the S3 live catalogue for a rocket-powered version of MC5's "Starship" — a little sloppy, but more than adequately propulsive.

As the hour grew later, I was starting to feel a little tired and wobbly. I even thought I was suffering some sonic hallucinations, but it turned out that the phased sounds of the Bo Diddley album playing between sets was entirely deliberate, as if it was being run through a flanger. At this staggery point of the night, The Pow Wows came out like a shot of espresso, leading the crowd in a chant ("N-A-T-T-Y SAT-UR-DAY NIGHT!") before a garage-y "Mary-Anne", which sounded like the product of a band that had been spending some time playing "Gloria". After that, they played "2:35" — and whether by accident or design, the clock actually passed that point as the band played the song — building up into shouting and frenzied drumming. It was a real rave-up, ending with a small-scale stage invasion and bassist/singer Jazzy Jimenez climbing on the drums — Sat-ur-day night, indeed.5

Listen to a track from this set here.

By this point, it was late enough that the bar staff were coming around and physically taking everyone's drinks away as The Blooming Rosebuds were setting up. I don't know much about this band (and their online info is pretty slim) though I did recognize Katerina T from Planet Creature on stage. They did good work on "Take Me to the Other Side", followed by a rolling version of "Come Down Easy". But the treat of the set was a reverse-engineered "Let it Flow", doing the Spiritualized song in a scrappy Spacemen 3 style.

Listen to a track from this set here.

By this point I was feeling rather knackered, but I was hanging on for The Hoa Hoa's, the night's last band. It was so late that there wasn't even any music on the PA while they band set up, while Cameron from The Disraelis was laying down on stage. From last call on, the crowd had been getting thinner, and it was to a discombobulated cadre that the band played the entirely-appropriately-entitled "Don't Fall Down". That one would count as a bit of a crate dig — a 13th Floor Elevators song that Spacemen 3 once recorded a demo of. And then, a properly dirge-y vibe to close out the night with the two-chord vamping of "Amen". And the whole thing wound up right 'round 3:30, six hours after the first band had taken the stage.6

Kudos to all the bands that got involved for a good cause, and to Davy Love, who put the whole night together. To commemorate the whole night, I've thrown together a compilation with one song from each of the bands that played — you can grab it here.

1 I dug around a bit, but I didn't come up with any more information about the band. If you have anything further to fill in on the bands here, do feel free to pass it along — along with any corrections to anything I might have gotten mixed up while trying to keep sixteen bands straight.

2 Given how the music of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized spend so much time in vacillation between profound sin and the search for redemption, there was more soi-disant evangelical material on offer this night than at most shows I go to. I wonder if anyone has done a cultural studies dissertation on "Spacemen 3 as 'Christian Rock'".

3 Most often seen behind the drumkit with The Hoa Hoa's, Brown might be a secret MVP of the Optical Sounds family, adding bass duties with The Disraelis to a such diverse talents as album cover artist and DJ — all while sporting a flashy fashion sense.

4 After a bit of a wait, it looks like there's tentative plans for a full-fledged show from the band in late May, so keep an eye out for 'em.

5 The Pow Wows will be playing what should be a rock'n'roll good time this Friday (April 29, 2011) at The Press Club along with The Bon and The Mark Inside.

6 In what should be a psych night extraordinaire, The Hoa Hoa's, along with Ostrich Tuning, will be playing with Asteroid #4 at The Boat on Friday night (April 29, 2011).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recording: Drunk Woman with Hamilton Trading Company

Artist: Drunk Woman with Hamilton Trading Company

Song: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space [Spiritualized cover]

Recorded at The Perfect Transcription (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized Live Tribute and Benefit for Natty Brooker), The Piston, December 4, 2010.

Drunk Woman with Hamilton Trading Company - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Hollowphonic

Artist: Hollowphonic

Song: Lord Can You Hear Me [Spacemen 3 cover]

Recorded at The Perfect Transcription (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized Live Tribute and Benefit for Natty Brooker), The Piston, December 4, 2010.

Hollowphonic - Lord Can You Hear Me

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Perfect Transcription (Part 1)

The Perfect Transcription (Live Spacemen 3 & Spiritualized tribute) (feat. Jared Phillips & Band / Courtney / Proof of Ghosts / Panamarama / Hollowphonic / Make Joy Cry / The Auras / Drunk Woman with Hamilton Trading Company)

The Piston. Saturday, December 4, 2010.

Although the immediate draw for this show was a bill stacked deep with talent, this was more than just a tribute show. Recently diagnosed with cancer, Natty Brooker — original drummer for Spacemen 3 and designer of a couple iconic album covers (for S3's Recurring as well as Spiritualized's Lazer Guided Melodies) — was being helped not only with the financial burden of his illness but also with a show of support. And thus this show was being streamed live to him over the internet as the back room of The Piston was crammed full of musicians and crowd in a marathon of a show.

N.B. With sixteen mini-sets on tap, I'm going to try and be as brief as possible here. And with so many bands and songs to keep track of, it's almost certain that I've omitted or mixed something up below. Please feel free to pass along any corrections, or any additional info on any of the acts that I found only limited information about.

Hitting the stage first at about twenty past nine was Jared Phillips & Band. This was, apparently, a new unit with no name yet. I didn't see a lot of info on Phillips — feel free to pass along anything further you have on who these guys were. The quartet lead the night off drawing from Spiritualized's catalogue, starting with "Shine a Light", which segued into a bit of "All Of My Tears" — this fell into the languid side of the musical divide before things picked up for the more aggressive "You Lie You Cheat".

Next up was another possibly-new, seemingly un-named unit. I have Courtney written down, but I'm not sure if that's a mere placeholder, or the name of the vocalist/keyboardist who was flanked by a pair of guitarists.1 It was mentioned this featured members of Hollowphonic and Fjord Rowboat.

With the keyb and laptop, this group brought something different to the table, with a zworping Wendy Carlos-esque synth sound and drum machine beats to back "Big City". That segued into "Walkin' with Jesus" that was more straight-ahead guitar rockin'.

After Steve Heyerdahl (generally a.k.a. Steve Shoe, and known as one of the city's foremost live sound techs) got set up with Proof of Ghosts, the trio launched into "Walkin' with Jesus".2 There was just a single floor tom and tambourine backing Heyerdahl's guitar, giving the set a raw, pummelling vibe — even more so when he kicked in a drum machine on top of that. It took a moment to get the sound right but it was pretty sweet once it got going.

I'm not sure whether Panamarama is an actual band or just something purpose-built for this show to give Matt Collins a chance to get a couple songs in. In a two-guitar plus drums setup, he tackled the genteel Lou Reed tribute "Ode to Street Hassle", then tore it open with a tasty, stretched-out version of "Cop Shoot Cop".

Unlike a lot of the other bands playing, Hollowphonic (formed in the late '90's, and back after a hiatus during the middle of the last decade) didn't need any cheatsheets to help them with chords or lyrics. A basic three-piece, they did a lot with a guit/bass/drums setup, knowing when to build up to a wall of feedback and when to pull back with restraint. They offered up a double-shot of Jason Pierce, playing "Lord Can You Hear Me" and "Sometimes", getting on and off the stage in ten efficient minutes.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Make Joy Cry — vets from Hamilton, as far as I can dig up — were another drummerless trio with two guitars and bass. With one set of pedals not working, the band plowed ahead without them, but this was still no lack of effects on the guitar sounds. Doing a pair from the second side of Lazer Guided Melodies, this was a bit unstructured and drifty, but not unpleasantly so. And not, given the source, inappropriate.

The Auras were the youngest of all the night's bands, looking like a cross between muppet babies and a hippie delegation. Unlike many of the lean-and-mean veteran sides, they came with six members and a whole lot of gear, making for a longer switchover — but we can always admire the youthful refusal to aim lower. Somewhat in line with their necklaces and headbands — a look carefully crafted to declare, "I am a golden god!" — they seemed to be channelling The Doors more than Spacemen 3 as they led off with a boogie-fied version of "Fixin' to Die".

On seeing them set up I was, admittedly, not expecting as much from them, but they were proficient. Or perhaps we could say proficient but not spirited — like a shiny pair of shoes that hasn't been broken in yet. With youthful abandon, they went on a bit beyond what they needed to, their first song going eleven minutes, followed by a more concise take on S3's "Bo Diddley Jam" that hit the nail on the head much more squarely. That closed things out with more promise, and a good reminder not to let myself get bogged down in superficial first impressions.

Drunk Woman came as a deluxe sort of custom-combo group, amalgamated with the Hamilton Trading Company as well as Jay Share-It from The Pow Wows. Keith Hamilton brought six members of his choir along and all the voices were put to use to tackle the elegant waltz of "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space". Most of the night's bands had taken from the source material the notion of the psych-drenched guitar freakout, but here the band was referencing the more ornate direction that Spiritualized went in. After that, they took it up from those genteel vibes with the more raucous "Come Together", which surged in a nicely menacing way.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And this is just the first half of the night! Part two can be found here.

1 "Can I have more delay on the vocal?" asked the singer to the sound tech — the first of several such requests throughout the night and a reminder of one of my most vivid personal Spacemen 3-related memories: seeing a slightly-surreal set from Spectrum at the 2007 V-Fest, of which — mostly for my own amusement — I reproduce these contemporaneous notes:

A strange experience, as much as a good show. Playing the third stage at V-Fest, up against Interpol and Björk, there were maybe a dozen people lingering around as the 8:20 showtime approached, and then crept by, with no action on stage. (Which was actually against the rule at V-Fest — despite everything else, things were pretty much on schedule this year.) I helped a couple stoner guys move a picnic table to a more optimal viewing area in front of the stage. Figuring that the self-selected handful waiting around must've had something in common against the ten thousand over by the main stage, I attempted conversation with a woman sitting nearby and entirely failed to hit it off. In the background, an angry Limey was in negotiation via cellphone — presumably the tour manager unhappy with some element of how things were going down. Whether this was the cause of the delay or an effect I was unable to ascertain.

Well past nine, the duo hit the stage. Pete Kember, buttoned up with a gleam in his eye to accompany his hale and hearty glow, looked more like a trainspotting highlands hiking enthusiast than a drug-addled rock'n'roller. Flicking on keyboards, the pair brought a serious wall of drone, punctuated by a series of fussy demands to the soundman: "I must have exactly 300 milliseconds of delay on my vocals!" and giving an abbreviated performance of four songs spanning maybe twenty minutes. Far too brief, but what they played was pretty great, and sustained me as we left on the ferry, beating the mainstage crowd off the Island.

2 J., who had joined me for the earlier part of this night, leaned over to ask me, "What's the over/under on that one?" But the back-to-back versions would, in fact, be it for that one for the night.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Recording: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Song: The Cowboy

Recorded at Lee's Palace, April 24, 2011 (evening show).

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - The Cowboy

Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Recording: Flowers of Hell

Artist: Flowers of Hell

Song: Muchomůrky Bílé [Destroying Angel] [Garáž cover]

Recorded at The Cameron House (backroom), April 23, 2011.

Flowers of Hell - Muchomůrky Bílé [Destroying Angel]

My notes for this set can be found here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Recording: Donné Roberts

Artist: Donné Roberts

Song: Ariengue

Recorded at "Support Afrofest Concert", 518 Bathurst Arts Space, April 22, 2011.

Donné Roberts - Ariengue

Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recording: United Steel Workers of Montreal

Artist: United Steel Workers of Montreal

Song: Number Four

Recorded at (weewerk) 8th Anniversary Showcase, The Silver Dollar, December 3, 2010.

United Steel Workers of Montreal - Number Four

My notes for this set can be found here. The quality of this is a notch below what I usually offer, so beware — the introduction to this song is pretty fine regardless.

Recording: Elliott Brood

Artist: Elliott Brood

Song: Northern Air

Recorded at (weewerk) 8th Anniversary Showcase, The Silver Dollar, December 3, 2010.

Elliott Brood - Northern Air

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: (weewerk) 8th Anniversary Showcase

(weewerk) 8th Anniversary Showcase (feat. United Steel Workers of Montreal / Elliott Brood / Great Lake Swimmers / Canteen Knockout)

The Silver Dollar. Friday, December 3, 2010.

You don't need to be hitting one of the round numbers to order up a shindig, as local roots-ish label weewerk demonstrated on taking over the Silver Dollar for two nights of shows with current and past bands. I didn't make it out for the Thursday night opener (which featured a lineup including The Burning Hell, Fembots, Jenny Omnichord, Two Minute Miracles, Proof Of Ghosts and The Barmitzvah Brothers) but I was keen on the Friday night showcase. It being a Friday night, though, I managed to miss early acts Barzin and The Village Meat, due to joining K. for some pre-gig refreshments.

In fact, we staggered in to a fairly full room to find Canteen Knockout already on stage, belting out some proper roadhouse country music. My first impression was that if Gram Parsons' Live from Northern Quebec was an actual album, it might sound something like this — a notion that the band duly confirmed as they broke into "Cash on the Barrelhead". There were a fair few other covers in the setlist, including an impressive "Pretty Polly", but also some likeable originals, including "Navajo Steel" (the title cut of their first full-length from '06). Extra marks for pedal steel player Alex Maxymiw, whose tasty licks added some zing. I wasn't familiar with the band coming in, but this the sort of high-energy hoedown that I could get behind quickly.

Up next, Great Lake Swimmers took the stage with a pared-down lineup, perhaps befitting the notion of a stripped-down "showcase" set. There were also some different backing musicians in tow than I'd seen before, including Joel Schwartz (guit) and Bret Higgins (stand-up bass). They were joined by stand-bys Greg Milson (drums) and Julie Fader (backing vox). K. noted the absence of Erik Arnesen, meaning there was no banjo for the banjo-enthusiasts in the crowd, as well as some slightly sad faces among the contingent who consider him to be even more dreamy than frontman Tony Dekker. Dekker, amongst the most prominent of weewerk "graduates", was as humble as always, expressing pride at being here to help celebrate the label.

Though obviously beloved by many in the crowd, the band had to contend with being considerably less shitkicking than the acts surrounding them and there were tensions between those out for a hootin' good time and those trying to soak in Dekker's warm songs — at the start of "Moving Pictures Silent Films" a few women up at the front started shushing everyone, to little effect. So that's going to cut into the enjoyment of anyone looking for folky quietude. As such, when the band cranked it up for "She Comes to Me in Dreams" toward the end of the set, it worked better here.

And as shorter set, it wasn't as adventurously far-reaching song-wise, but it satisfied the cravings — and I was glad to have seen it as Dekker announced that this would be the band's last show "for a while".1 Giving thanks (as many others did on the night) to weewerk's founder Paul Klygo — "the hardest working man in indie rock," said Dekker — the band closed with "I Am Part of a Large Family".

The headlining timeslot was originally announced as a "special guest" but I doubt anyone with much knowledge of the label was too surprised that it turned out to be Elliott Brood, another band whose first release had come out on weewerk. Taking the stage looking much more casually dressed-down than usual, the trio jumped in with "Johnny Rooke" from Ambassador, their first full-length from '05, and the floor in front of the stage was quickly surging with excitement.

Now, this is a band I like, but don't go to see so much these days — not in the least owing to the frat-boy heavy crowd they've been adopted by. And indeed, it didn't take long for a cohort of well-refreshed dudes to start pushing their way up front, obliviously referring to each other as "bruhth" — as in the first syllable of brother. One guy, shoving past me with a pitcher in hand turned back to yell, "Bruhth! Get over here, bruhth!" To these guys — to whom two syllable words are a challenge, I guess — the band is simply The Brood, or, perhaps more of an all caps, exclamation-ed THE BROOD! And of course there was one of them shouting for "Oh, Alberta" after every song, even after vocalist Mark Sasso said they weren't playing it. What was that about it not being the band I hate?

For those not out to spill beer/stomp on people's toes, there was plenty good stuff on stage — the band did manage to preview some new material, including "Northern Air", which looks to be coming out soon on a single. And in weewerk tribute mode, they threw in the rockin' "Only at Home" from their debut Tin Type EP. It turned out to be a too-quick set, just six songs in a half hour. Half of those were new ones, which was cool for me (though not for the guy wanting "Oh, Alberta") but I could have stood for few more overall. Still, good to catch up with 'em.

Listen to a song from this set here.

After THE BROOD!, the place cleared out rather considerably. Those that were left on site maintained the aggregate level of rowdiness, though. Which is probably a befitting audience for United Steel Workers of Montreal, purveyors of a hard-driving roots sound — call it bluegrass/punk with traces of hot music. With a half-dozen members on stage and so much clatter and rhythm, it wasn't til I was I looked more closely that I realized the band has no drummer. But between the stompin' and clappin' and the band's rip-roaring style, it didn't seem like a lacking.

There was a rotating approach to lead vocals, though Gern f.'s gravelly rumble was the most grabbing, working well with Felicity Hamer's slightly-smoother tones. And besides a hell-raisin' ruckus, the band was also capable of a more heartfelt sound, whether in an aching ballad like "Emile Bertrand" or the politick-shit-kicking "Union Man". The small-town ballad "Number Four" — complete with an introduction from Gern that made it simultaneously more mythic, gothic and personal — was probably the best thing in this set. And otherwise, the songs bounced between relating the wages of sin ("Glen Jones") and the glory of redemption ("Jesus We Sweat") before closing with the lurching slow-dance of "My Cat Smells Like Place St. Henri".

I'd seen the band a few years back at a late-night music-festival timeslot, and they didn't do anything for me back then. I was willing to think that might be down to me having been drained and so on, so tried I came to this with a beginner's mind. But that said, my reaction was about the same. There's no doubt that USWM are spirited and entertaining enough that I mostly enjoyed the set, but I wouldn't imagine myself going out of my way to catch them again.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That made for a late ending to the night — an icy cold one that felt even moreso after emerging from the sweaty cauldron in the Dollar. It was also a memorable night because of [incident redacted], which would have worked well as the topic of either a rough-house holler or lamentin' ballad of the sort you might find on a weewerk release.

1 And, indeed, except for a trip to SXSE and a couple one-offs, it looks like things are still quiet in the GLS camp — hopefully a sign that a new album is in process.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recording: Ben Gunning

Artist: Ben Gunning

Song: I Can't Swim

Recorded at Wavelength 511, The Garrison, December 2, 2010.

Ben Gunning - I Can't Swim

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Vanessa's Entire Heart

Artist: Vanessa's Entire Heart

Song: Hilton Falls

Recorded at Wavelength 511, The Garrison, December 2, 2010.

Vanessa's Entire Heart - Hilton Falls

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Mean Red Spiders

Artist: Mean Red Spiders

Song: Shiny Skin

Recorded at The Garrison (Wavelength 511), December 2, 2010.

Mean Red Spiders - Shiny Skin

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Wavelength 511

Wavelength 511 (feat. Mean Red Spiders / Ben Gunning / Vanessa's Entire Heart / Willow Rutherford)

The Garrison, Thursday, December 2, 2010.

On a cold night, headed down from work and got to The Garrison a titch earlier than expected. That's the downside of winter gigs — when it's a cold night out, it's a lot harder to kill time. So I ended up in the venue indecently early, passing through The Garrison's front doors just as Duncan "Doc Pickles" MacDonell was flinging open the curtains to the back room. Caught the end of Willow Rutherford, the night's first act, soundchecking. Vribi, her Finnish violin player, was having microphone problems, so as the sound tech switched cables, the pair stayed on stage and amused each other, playing little bits back and forth, balancing on one leg and so forth.

After Doc Pickles' characteristic intro, Rutherford re-emerged in a striped shirt — with her accordion, she just needed a baguette tucked under her arm to really connote "Paris!". And that would be a propos, I guess, given the romantic café music the duo played. On a stage loaded with Mean Red Spiders' gear, the pair were clearly having a blast playing with each other — watching, holding a note a little long — as if the whole point of the gig was their own amusement. The songs were mostly straightforward sprightly ditties, though Rutherford managed to slip in an occasional off-colour lyric under it all.

It worked well in the mostly attentive, quiet-ish room, with a few rambunctious types on hand willing to sing along — or wail along to mournful lines like "throw me an anchor". Bantering with the crowd, Rutherford showed a quick wit and off-kilter sensibility to go with a good voice, and some nice music. I enjoyed it, though it's not the sort of thing I'd go out of my way for. Your mileage may depend of your appetite for preciousness.

An album launch from one of the bands who had famously played at the very first-ever Wavelength show would be a major event, one would think. But as Mean Red Spiders took the stage, it was to a pretty thin crowd. Similar to a lot of good old-fashioned Sunday night Wavelengths, probably, but I was looking around and wondering: "is this what fourteen years and being fundamental to the scene gets you?"

I've mused a bit on the existential predicament that MRS is up against before — doing their foundational work in the pre-internet era, for one thing, and cursed (as it were) by still being a working group, lacking the romance of absence to create the aura of legend. And generally not given the credit they deserve, seeing how the shoegaze-y torch they've held high has gone from unfashionably marginal to terrifically au courant. Which is to say: if some unheralded group of twenty-year-olds from a fashionable zip code had released any of the band's albums right now, they'd be heaped with visionary praise.

That would apply equally to I Am the Sea, the band's long-gestating fourth disc being released on this night. After the full-on shards-of-noise attack that I'd witnessed in the band's live show, I was mildly surprised at the textured restraint that the album brings. But that puts it right in line with the rest of their recorded output. Perhaps fitting, then, that for this album-celebrating show, the band was less aggressive-sounding than when I'd seen 'em before. There was more of a low thrum underlying the sound than an explosive roar, as if they'd dimmed their ghostlight for the evening, putting Lisa Nighswander's vox more prominently in the mix.

The band launched right into the title cut of the new one, sax wailing away, but weren't afraid to put the new songs up against their older material. In fact, there was a three-song jaunt back to their '98 debut Places You Call Home for "Necktie", "Shiny Skin" and the slow whoosh of the title cut. Further on in the set, the band took the sonic chaos down even further for the sing-song lullaby lilt of "When Will We See You Again" and the nearly tropical groove of "I Just Feel Fine", a definite highlight of the set, drifting along to a mellow flute. The set finished with one last new one in "Somethings". I wasn't feeling physically shaken like I had been the previous couple times I'd seen the band, but I'm not one to complain when a band has enough range in their sound to bring a different vibe.

Within a certain limited terrain — call it the Wavelength worldview, maybe — Mean Red Spiders are a key part of our cultural history. But they're sure as hell not a museum piece or a nostalgia act — they're making music that deserves an audience.1

Listen to a couple tracks from this set — something from the new one here, and a classic cut here.

Doc Pickles, in his mutable introductions, always brings a sense of joyful discovery that he's here to be delighted by whatever's going to happen — his contagiously open-hearted anticipation is a formidable weapon. But this time, he was visibly excited to be presenting Vanessa's Entire Heart. This solo project is the bandonym of Vanessa Hanson (formerly of Ptarmigan) of whom the host pronounced, "if I drank bourbon — and enjoyed it — this is what her voice would sound like."

Added to Hanson's voice was a combination of resonator guitar, looping pedal, folk songs and piercing feedback — a winning mix of, ahem, entirely heartfelt songs with occasionally harsh squealing busts. This recast the songs from something as humble and unassuming as the person delivering them to something much more forcefully filling the room. In that vein, "Psychopath" was a highlight, perhaps most adroitly transforming what could have been a quiet, internal song into one laden with shards of howling feedback. "Girl on the Moon" used a bow to add a layer of ringing metallic dissonance to the proceedings. But regardless of the delivery — and not every song was draped in clamour — Hanson's underlying sensibility is pretty straightforward, as evidenced by an attack on Echo & The Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" to close things out.

Given the oil-and-water mix of voice and guitar, this might be something of a like-it-or-hate it proposition. I found it quite agreeable — even if I wasn't whooping out my appreciation as Doc Pickles was.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The hour growing late between bands, there was a pretty empty room when you discounted musicians and staff. A lot of the shows that Wavelength are doing these days have a bit more of a "special event" vibe, but I'm glad they're still programming straight-up showcases like they used to. Getting started around ten to one, Ben Gunning might not have been playing to much of a crowd, but I was impressed by the company he was keeping on stage. I was admittedly never much of a fan of Local Rabbits, his old band — and as such I'd never looked into his more recent solo material. But as I saw Allie Hughes, Alana Stuart and Felicity Williams — three of the city's finer voices — taking the stage as backing vocalists I was paying attention. There was more solid talent besides that, with Gunning's vox and nimble guitar work backed by bass, drums and Michael Davidson on vibes. And also Joseph Shabason — more recently seen lending his smooth sax tones to the recent Destroyer album and tour.

With the sax and vibes and those backing vox, the music was, unsurprisingly, on the smooth side. You could call this "yacht rock" and be also quite literally correct, given that Gunning's album Mal de Mer is a song cycle told from the perspective of a disaffected employee on a cruise ship. Gunning's vox were soulful but also somewhat clenched, delivered with a Fagan-esque yalp — one more factor bringing the mighty Steely Dan to mind as a comparison here.2

It was, as Gunning noted on introducing the title track, "a lot of mid-tempo," so your reaction to the whole enterprise would strongly depend on your tolerance for that sort of thing. But there's no denying that Gunning has staked out one little sonic patch of terrain and was tending it with rigour. Besides material from Mal de Mer, the band played a new song called "Destructive"3 and visited Gunning's older Beigy Blur album for the likeable "Why Can't I Leave Myself at Home?". The set finished with "Take the Hook", but Doc Pickles whipped up the crowd enough to merit an encore with "Drinks", which listed back and forth a bit with end-of-set choppiness, but made it back into port.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 And in case I hadn't put it directly enough: I Am the Sea is a really strong album that does their catalogue proud. Next time you're at Soundscapes, you should pick yourself up a copy.

2 In fact, given the mood and instrumentation they crew was working with, it was a shame they didn't tackle a cover of The Fez.

3 This song is, in fact, now available on a 7" that's getting a release party this Saturday (April 23, 2011) at The Drake. Show up early (9:00 sharp) to catch an opening set from Mantler.

Recording: Pixies

Artist: Pixies

Song: Where is My Mind?

Recorded at Massey Hall, April 19, 2011.

Pixies - Where is My Mind?

Review to follow. My notes for this set can now be found here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recording: Revolvers

Artist: Revolvers

Song: Break it Loose

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records, November 26, 2010.

Revolvers - Break it Loose

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store: Revolvers


Sonic Boom Records. Friday, November 26, 2010.

In-stores at Sonic Boom can be a malleable thing. Sometimes they're just a quick taster before a band heads to their main gig of the night. In this case, though, Revolvers' set counted pretty much as a gig in its own right, celebrating the re-release of their debut album Apocalypse Surfin' on the local Optical Sounds imprint, with the label helping the band get out a handsome vinyl version. So with no other show to get to, the band could not only stay a little longer, but also get going a little later, with a scheduled eight o'clock start time.

Things were still a little thin on the ground as the hour rolled by, but as more friends and curiosity-seekers came down the stairs there was a respectable crowd on hand as the band got started fashionably late, in true rock'n'roll style. And speaking of rock'n'roll style, the band was also looking the part — especially guitarist/vocalist Sebastian Molaro sporting some oversized sunglasses and a bit of Jagger-ish frontman swagger.

Over the course of their set, the band featured several tracks from the album, starting with the ace opening cut "Break it Loose". Tasty stuff, and I got the impression the band is feeling more settled in their music and confident enough to sit in a groove a bit more than previously. The rhythms were hitting a little heavier, and not just metaphorically: I note that drummer Lavien Lee, who did a lot of work with brushes when I first saw the band, is now on sticks almost full-time.

And though the band was celebrating the wider availability of their album, it has to be noted it's also a snapshot from a while back. It's good to note that there's several songs newer than the album that show that the band's style is still evolving. On some of the more recent songs the sound is more psych/less blues, which works pretty well — not that there still isn't some boogie in their beat, such as on the choogle-ized "Cadillac 21". And showing one more tool at their disposal the did a "brand new one" called "I Love You", which slowed sown the tempo without sacrificing the groove — even if it demonstrated that the band are still not all the way there as imaginative lyricists.

A good set, showing the solid base from which the band is presumably going to keep expanding. The album is worth hearing, but the band's greatest strength remains its live show, so check them out when you get a chance.1

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 You can catch the band playing the Drake Underground on Friday, April 29, 2011 with Trap Tiger plus Snake and Crane.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Playlist #13

Sunday Playlist #13

Kite Hill - Clouds of Living Things

The Owle Bird - Jewelled Beasts

Clare & The Reasons - Wake Up (You Sleepy Head)

The Hidden Cameras - Do I Belong?

Gentleman Reg - Falling Back

You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Recording: Surf City

Artist: Surf City

Song: Crazy Rulers of the World

Recorded at The Garrison, April 16, 2011.

Surf City - Crazy Rulers of the World

Review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here.

Recording: Sister

Artist: Sister

Song: Feather on the Ocean Floor

Recorded at Sonic Boom (Record Store Day Celebration), April 16, 2011.

Sister - Feather on the Ocean Floor

Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Recording: Rouge

Artist: Rouge

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Sonic Boom (Record Store Day Celebration), April 16, 2011.

Rouge - unknown

Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

* This one might be called "Sex, Money, Revolution". Please leave a comment if you know the title for sure!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Recording: Jon Langford's Skull Orchard

Artist: Jon Langford's Skull Orchard

Song: Streets of Your Town [Go-Betweens cover]

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2011.

Jon Langford's Skull Orchard - Streets of Your Town

Review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here.

Recording: Jon Langford and His Sadies

Artist: Jon Langford and His Sadies

Songs: Where Were You? + Memphis, Egypt [Mekons covers]

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, April 15, 2011.

Jon Langford and His Sadies - Where Were You? + Memphis, Egypt

Review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Recording: The Wilderness of Manitoba

Artist: The Wilderness of Manitoba

Song: Forest City Love

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, November 25, 2010.

The Wilderness of Manitoba - Forest City Love

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Leif Vollebekk

Artist: Leif Vollebekk

Song: Southern United States

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, November 25, 2010.

Leif Vollebekk - Southern United States

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Olenka Krakus

Artist: Olenka Krakus (feat. members of The Wilderness of Manitoba)

Song: Flash in the Pan

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, November 25, 2010.

Olenka Krakus - Flash in the Pan

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Wilderness of Manitoba

The Wilderness of Manitoba (Leif Vollebekk / Olenka Krakus)

The Horseshoe Tavern. Thursday, November 25, 2010.

A No Shame-promoted Thursday night at The 'Shoe is probably going to get a pretty good crowd, so my main worry going into this one was whether it would be quiet enough to hear the bands. Thankfully, the fact that the whole bill was on the quieter/folky side probably kept away some of those looking for a more hootin' and hollerin' sort of show, and it worked out generally okay. The night started with the quietest of the three acts — London's Olenka Krakus who was, on this night, performing sans her Autumn Lovers. I was, admittedly, checking this out more out of curiosity than devotion, as the only other time I had seen Krakus perform, it hadn't done much for me. But she had gotten some pretty glowing reviews for her new album And Now We Sing so I tried to see if I had been missing out on something.

For this night, Krakus was getting by with the help of some Toronto friends in the form of a rotating support cast from the evening's headliners. That included Stefan Banjevic's cello and Melissa Dalton's harmony vocals on "45". "The rest of the band is drunk in London," Krakus joked with the crowd while introducing "Berlin", the first of a few songs done totally solo. The thinner crowd out for the opening slot were paying attention to her warm voice ("I believe this might be the quietest I've even seen The Horseshoe," she commented) making this feel like the right situation to properly appreciate her efforts. Still alone on stage, she did a beautiful version of Big Star's "Thirteen", her voice illustrating the yearning ache of the lyrics. This went a fair ways towards winning me over.

And then Banjevic and Dalton returned, this time joined by Will Whitwham, making a whole alternate mini-band for "Mama's Bag". Feeling at ease in front of a crowd that was playing attention, Krakus played "Shadow Walker", a fresh one, newer than her just-released album. The set closed with the older "Flash in the Pan", Whitwham getting to join in on what he called of his "favourite songs ever".

A worthy set — enough that next time around, I'll go in prepared to pay some closer attention.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The first time I saw Leif Vollebekk I was actually a little surprised that it clicked with me. I'm generally suspicious of singer-songwriters who wear their Dylan-ish influences so openly on their sleeves — if only out of a sense of their general fungibility. But something in Vollebekk's toothy smile and unaffected air — not to mention his songs — did work for me.

He's pretty open about his inspirations — there's no doubting the affinity he feels for a scuff-it-up-a-bit sonic approach. "It's out of tune — this is an homage to Neil Young," he said, launching "Off the Main Drag". "If not, the next one will be." But lyrically, he's more inclined toward Dylan, cementing that with a cover of "You're A Big Girl Now".

With the room filling in, there was a bit more background chatter by that point so I was glad to see him with a backing rhythm section, including stand-up bass. The trio brought a nice kick to "Don't Go To Klaksvik". Besides that one, there's a marked geographic theme to Vollebekk's titles, with the set also including "Quebec", "Southern United States"1 and "Cairo Blues" all helping to mark him as the classic sort of wandering singer, soaking up everything he sees.

He did a lot of tuning between songs, but it was mostly covered with engaging banter and it didn't leave much sense of dead time sapping the momentum. And keeping things nicely mixed up, the set closed with his slowed-down take on Neil Young's "Barstool Blues", now with just Vollebekk plus his drummer, the delivery involving a loop pedal to build up a sonic backdrop of violin parts behind his electric playing. A good closer, capping off a solid set of well-written songs and earnest delivery.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Though I was no stranger to them, this was probably the first time I was eager to see The Wilderness of Manitoba. I was a little dubious after the first couple times I had seen 'em, filing their gentle folk excursions in the "merely pleasant" pile. My opinion was changed a bit by their sheer ubiquity as a local live act, but moreso by actually sitting down and listening to their full-length When You Left the Fire, which really made a case for the band.

I was worried that a show in a get-drunk-and-loud bar environment might not be the place to consolidate my appreciation, but leading off with the rollicking beat of "Dreamcatchers" (from their 2009 debut EP), it seemed like the band has learned something about grabbing the attention of a larger, maybe less-attentive crowd. Getting people onside with something upbeat allowed them to hold onto people when they followed it up with the quieter "Orono Park". As the set went on, people got yappier, alas, but never enough to impact too much on the set.

And this was a good room for the band's harmonies, which are central to their sound. With a line of microphones up front, the well-arranged four-part harmonies are one of the band's strongest points. That they are writing some strong songs to put their voices into helps as well, and I was glad to hear "Hermit", one of the selections from the album that had made me think I'd been selling the band short. The set drew mostly from the album, though they threw in the unreleased "Forest City Love" and closed out the main set with "Evening" — a signature song of sorts, and one of the original touchstones that defined the band's sound.

They returned for a couple more, closing with the seasonally-correct "November", another of the album's best tracks. No doubt playing a lot of shows and getting out on the road a bit had done the band some good — overall, they were more focused than when I'd seen 'em before, holding things together over a longer set. All told, a warming finish to a good night.

A couple different flavours on tap: check out a couple songs from this set here and here.

1 That one made for a weird coincidence: Krakus had played a song called "Berlin", and this song talked about listening to Lou Reed's Berlin.