Friday, October 28, 2011

IFOA 2011: Bezmozgis & Shteyngart

Interview: Koffler at the IFOA (Bezmozgis & Shteyngart)

International Festival of Authors (Lakeside Terrace). Sunday, October 23, 2011.

A full house in the Lakeside Terrace, with rollicking borsht-flavoured folk tunes filling the air as the crowd filed in for this co-presentation with the Koffler Centre. The session was hosted by Gal Beckerman, author of When They Come For Us, We'll Be Gone, a seminal work on the Soviet Jewry movement, making him an apt interlocutor for two authors with similar backgrounds.

Though both came to North America during the Jewish exodus from the Soviet Union at the end of the 70's, David Bezmozgis and Gary Shteyngart came across as an odd couple so perfectly crafted that it might have suggested the hand of a literary author. Bezmozgis, the polite Canadian, was in a light, casual suit, reserved but with flashes of a sly smile. Shteyngart came across as more brashly American, a mile-a-minute Noo Yawk talker in a plaid shirt, his countenance providing no concealment for his emotions. There was a cool/warm dichotomy on display — if not quite Kennedy/Nixon than perhaps more like the possibilities suggested by a few day's facial growth: the subtle difference between a carefully-groomed beard and scraggly unshaven jaw. Just looking at their body language and hearing them speak, one could almost imagine Shteyngart throwing a plate of linguine against a wall to tweak Bezmozgis.

The session began with a brief reading from each author to give a taste of their work, and those glimpses of personality in their appearance were drawn even more sharply, with Bezmozgis giving a straightforward, slightly dry recitation of his material, letting the words themselves carry the task of bringing to life an excerpt from his recent novel The Free World. The book is set in the inbetweenrealm of Italy, 1978, where recently-departed Soviet Jews wait (and wait) for their fate as refugees in various Western nations to be decided. In the selection read to the audience, paterfamilias Samuel, a true-believer in the Soviet cause despite being denounced and forced to flee with his family, feels displaced from both his past and future.

Shteyngart then read from his Super Sad True Love Story, which is "set slightly in the future, when a completely illiterate America is about to fall apart. [beat] So, next Tuesday." From the get-go, he was a gregarious ham, reading with gusto, throwing in gestures and voices and accents for his characters. His book is a distopian vision marking him as "the Nostradamus of three months from now", including such of-the-moment events as tent cities in NYC.

Beckerman began the conversation with a look at the authors' common origins, both departing to the West in the massive '79 wave of immigration. Despite landing in different countries, both felt similar lingering effects of being at the vanguard of Russian Jews moving into unfamiliar communities, dealing with culture shock and class snobbery — both at Hebrew School and in wider society. This might explain how their origins could hold an outsized place in their work and imagination.

Discussing what set their experience apart from the previous waves of Jewish immigration to North America, Beckerman asked about the projections of the hosts, who had banded together to "save" the Russian Jewry, creating a particular power dynamic with the new immigrants. Coming into communities where there was less of a continuity with the pre-existing Jewish culture — as well as the fact that they were coming from a country that had the stigma of being "the enemy" — gave an outsider's edge to both men as youngsters, branding them with feelings of pride and shame in their backgrounds.1 As for how that contributed to their work as authors, immigrants have more of an ability to compare societies — which is a pretty explicit theme in The Free World.

Turning to influences — Richler, Roth, Malamud, Elkin, Leonard Michaels and Bellow were listed off — Bezmozgis said, "I was reading excellent books about people who, like me... had come of age, growing up in a Jewish immigrant community. And I looked around and I thought... I have some aspirations to write, and I found myself in the midst of yet another wave of Jewish immigration that is no less interesting than what has come before." Bezmozgis is comfortable in situating himself in that tradition, and enlarging it with the richness of material, both comedic and tragic, in his own experience.

In addition to those North American authors, Shteyngart also talked about drawing from the Russian literature — moved by Chekhov as a child, he was also influenced by the satirical tradition, including works like Voinovich's The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin. he also talked about his sarcastic edge emerging when "everything you've believed with all your heart, you're told is bullshit. After that it's hard to latch on to any[thing] political. It's always taken with a grain of salt." And regarding not writing "seriously", he added: "my fear is that I want to entertain a little too much sometimes," having to learn to modulate the humour to serve the literary purpose.

Amongst the topics in the Q & A period, Bezmozgis was asked who his "envisioned reader" was, and he talked about being aware that he's writing for a general North American audience — goyim like myself — having to find the right balance in explaining specific cultural references without being pedantic. There was also some back and forth on the current vogue for Russian Jewish stories (viewed as rather inevitable, given the demographics) and the role of arts funding (Bezmozgis passionately defended the need for support for authors travelling and taking their stories abroad).

And as the setting sun slanted into the windows, filling up the room and causing the participants on the stage to have to squint to look out over the crowd, Bezmozgis closed by musing on the sadness of the lost dreams of the Soviet true believers (embodied by Samuel in his novel) and the loss of cultural continuity with the disappearance of the Yiddish traditions of Ashkenazi Jewish life — leaving it unspoken that it's through literature that we can maintain something of these connections, creating empathy and understanding as our own identities shift and meld.

Photo credit:

1 There was also an intriguing discussion of cultural differences in the sense of victors and victimhood in the generation of Jews that grew up in the Soviet Union (Bezmozgis: "we won that fucking war!") compared to those who had fled the Holocaust.

Recording: Bruce Peninsula

Artist: Bruce Peninsula

Song: Adrenaline

Recorded at Lee's Palace, October 27, 2011.

Bruce Peninsula - Adrenaline

Full review to follow. A raucous show to celebrate the release of BP's Open Flames.

Word from the stage was that if you'd like to have a close-up + stripped-down encounter with the band, you should circle November 16th on your calendar and head down to The Dakota Tavern.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

IFOA 2011: Daniel Clowes & Seth

Conversation: Daniel Clowes

International Festival of Authors (Brigantine Room). Friday, October 21, 2011.

Down to Harbourfront to lead off another year at the International Festival of Authors.1 One shouldn't try to stereotype the comic book crowd too narrowly, but this looked beguilingly like a comic book crowd — smart and equal parts slouchy and well-turned-out.2

Which would be a good match for the pair taking their seats on stage, who both were dressed about exactly as you would have expected them to — even if you only knew them from their work. Seth was natty as ever in a vintage-styled suit and plaid tie, while Daniel Clowes was dressed down in black jeans and shirt. One suspects that though they would blanch at the very idea of it, they know the value of their personal brands. They also played with the basement-dwelling/social outcast stereotype: "Cartoonists are not performers," cautioned Seth at the outset.

"It's basically like lifting up a log and expecting the worms to entertain you," Clowes confirmed, in his wryly deadpan manner.

That said, this was an engaging conversation, generally even-handed though it was officially billed as interview of Clowes by Seth. The latter, of course, is well-known as an illustrator and writer of Palookaville and such titles as Clyde Fans and It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, and is celebrating at IFOA both the recent release of a new "sketchbook" graphic novel The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists and the receipt of the $10,000 Harbourfront Prize. Clowes, meanwhile, is the author of the seminal Eightball comic, from which the the recently released The Death-Ray was drawn — as well as Ghost World, which, in its film adaptation might be his most prominent foray into the mass consciousness.

Seth led off with some basic questions like what led Clowes to become a cartoonist. After a youthful obsession with comic books, "I just never had any other ambitions," he commented.

An aspiring visual artist, "I became a writer of my comics completely by default." he turned out to have a natural ability as a storyteller: "the drawing was always a terrible struggle, but the writing... I didn't even have to think about that." Asked, if the writing was the easy part, why he persisted with the drawing, he replied, "to me writing is just the utility – there's no fun in it at all... you write to get to the stage where you can draw."

That led to some interesting back-and-forth with both agreeing that the more physically mechanical parts of the long process of cartooning give a space to let the brain be unoccupied, where the mind can wander and new ideas can be birthed. Seth asked about Clowes' artistic guideposts along the way, invoking Robert Crumb. Both agreed he was, in their youthful view, just "filth" — but ultimately, in the longer run, an inspirational figure. Clowes, however, was more immediately inspired by others like R. O. Blechman, whose minimalist, doodle-like cartoons appeared in book form in the 50's — "proto graphic novels", aimed at adults, and not sold in comic book stores. This was his lofty goal, but after frustrations in trying to break into the orthodox world of commercial illustration, he ended up in the comic book world, publishing Lloyd Llewellyn.

In the 80's there was a struggle against the mainstream comic world (which was much smaller back then than the multimedia corporate monolith it is now), with Clowes identifying as "a barnacle on the side of these big companies... thrown in the back of the store in that little cardboard box marked 'adult'".

"We were the 'alternative' guys who hate superheroes," was the self-perception of the time, which is rather unlike the situation today where there's more of a continuum, where people can comfortably like both realms. Commented Seth: "the superheroes won... everybody knows who the X-Men are now." But at the same time, the "serious" cartoonists managed to gain some cultural respectability, moving from comic book stores to book stores, and from being comic book writers to being authors.

All of that past struggle — being outsiders to literature for not being serious enough and outsiders to mainstream comics for being too serious — meant it was mildly ironic that Clowes was at a literary festival celebrating The Death-Ray, a superhero comic. He suggested that came about because the medium is now mature enough that the "alternative" guys don't need to define themselves against the superhero comics. And as for why, there was the challenge of doing a non-ironic superhero comic, one that doesn't wink at its own absurdity: "the worst idea," and therefore a perversely compelling one "you could ever have would be to do an earnest superhero story."

Moving from there, Seth poked into the darker corners of Clowes' misanthropic worldview: "you seem like a nice, well-adjusted guy. But in your work you clearly really hate people. What the hell is that all about?"

"I'm really the last person to discuss... I've always felt that deep down that I was actually a very optimistic person at a certain level, and that I've always been continually disappointed." That lead into a discussion of his character Wilson, who for him embodies that underlying optimism, as he constantly puts himself into the orbit of other people, even though it never works out.3

That led, at the close of the first part of the programme, to more discussion on the evolution of the comics medium: was it better to work in obscurity on one's own vision instead of swinging for the fences of mainstream commercial success? A couple decades ago, "there was no money in it, why could anybody tell you what to do?" The balancing act between creative freedom and the pitfalls of obscurity and insecurity is a conundrum that any kind of artist can probably appreciate.

There was a variety of topics in the Q & A, such as the tale of Clowes' youthful encounter with Steve Ditko and the intellectualization of cartooning and analyzing it as high art — in that regard, both were in favour of Ivan Brunetti over Scott McCloud. And interestingly, someone asked about how the transition from book to movie was different between Ghost World and Art School Confidential, politely leaving unspoken the large gulf between how excellent the former was and the latter was not.

"When we made Ghost World, everything worked out well, and when we made Art School nothing worked out well," was Clowes' honest response, describing how with so much going on in the film-making process, there's just a lot of luck in how things work out, and it's hard to get an overview of what it's going to be like until it's done.

And perhaps best of all was this exchange, which summarizes the whole thing rather well:

Audience member: Do either of you feel like you've contributed something negatively to this society?

Clowes: I actually think about that a lot.

Seth: Do you know what you would consider negative?

Clowes: I think there's some bad vibes I'm putting out there.

Seth: Well, I'm certainly not giving any positive vibes about the future, that's for sure. I know I couldn't be less encouraging of the culture around me.

Clowes: I'd like to think we amuse a few people —

Seth: — on their way to the grave.

Photo credit:

1 As I shuffled into the Brigantine Room with the crowd, it felt like things hadn't changed too much from last year — in fact the PA was still playing, as it was a year ago, Emily Haines' solo album.

2 And in women's fashions, anyone with an affection for those 50's style upturned librarian glasses would have enjoyed themselves in this crowd.

3 "Why not create worlds you'd want to be in?" asked Seth, acknowledging that he can't do that either in his own work. He's no stranger to artistic depictions of self-hatred (as revealed at the close of his Palookaville comic) and the pitfalls of relating one's insecurities.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Recording: The Nihilist Spasm Band

Artist: The Nihilist Spasm Band

Song: No Canada

Recorded at The Music Gallery (X Avant Festival), October 23, 2011.

The Nihilist Spasm Band - No Canada

Full review to follow. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the idea of seeing a bunch of grandfatherly types (who look, variously, like they'd be more likely to be addressing a Rotary meeting, working on model trains, or going fishing) playing noise music is about a thousand times more subversive than watching a bunch of young tyros doing the same.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Playlist #20

Sunday Playlist #20

Nightwood - unknown

Broken Social Scene - Texico Bitches

Love is All - False Pretense

RatTail - George Mounsey

Best Coast - When I'm With You

Sunday Playlist is a semi-regular feature that brings back some of this blog's previously-posted original live recordings for an encore. You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Recording: The Big Sound

Artist: The Big Sound (feat. Drew Smith)

Song: The Tracks of My Tears (The Miracles cover)

Recorded at "The Big Sound II", The Great Hall, October 21, 2011.

The Big Sound feat. Drew Smith - The Tracks of My Tears

Review to follow.

Recording: Tim Hecker

Artist: Tim Hecker

Song: Ravedeath at Music Gallery [excerpt]*

Recorded at the Music Gallery (X Avant Festival), October 21, 2011.

Tim Hecker - Ravedeath at Music Gallery

Review to follow.

* I'm not sure if this a pre-composed piece or just created with the same method as on Hecker's Ravedeath, 1972 album. The set was a continuous forty-five minute work, but let me know if you can tie a title to this snippet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Recording: Dum Dum Girls

Artist: Dum Dum Girls

Song: Coming Down

Recorded at Lee's Palace, October 16, 2011.

Dum Dum Girls - Coming Down

Full review to follow. Keybs by Crocodiles' Robin Eisenberg.

Recording: Crocodiles

Artist: Crocodiles

Song: Neon Jesus

Recorded at Lee's Palace, October 16, 2011.

Crocodiles - Neon Jesus

Review to follow. Special dedication on this one to Little More than a Big Crashing Beat.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Recording: Cancer Bats

Artist: Cancer Bats

Song: Hail Destroyer

Recorded at The Theatre of Human Health (Bloor Ossington Folk Festival), October 15, 2011.

Cancer Bats - Hail Destroyer

Full review to follow. I'd vaguely heard this band's name, but knew nothing about them when I decided to stick around after METZ played. They come from different musical terrain from where I'm normally situated, but they're pretty good at what they do. And they won my respect for the positive community values that they embraced in taking part in this kick-ass festival.

Recording: Eamon McGrath

Artist: Eamon McGrath

Song: Cut Knife City Blues

Recorded at The Theatre of Human Health (Bloor Ossington Folk Festival), October 15, 2011.

Eamon McGrath - Cut Knife City Blues

Review to follow.

Recording: Ronley Teper

Artist: Ronley Teper

Song: Cornered in the Alley

Recorded at Emily's House (Bloor Ossington Folk Festival), October 15, 2011.

Ronley Teper - Cornered in the Alley

Full review to follow. An excellent day, part of a full weekend of music at the new — and utterly welcome — Bloor Ossington Folk Festival. The fact that the venues include places like "CL's Yard" and "Emily's House" should give you a hint at the local, intimate scale on hand here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Download: Wavelength ELEVEN

Five nights... compressed into two hours! I've put together a compilation with a track from every set from February's Wavelength festival.You can grab it here:

Wavelength ELEVEN! compilation

This is offered on a PWYC basis — payable the next time you go out and see any of these fine artists. Remember folks: 'pay what you can' doesn't mean 'the least you can get away with' — we can't have serious cultural ambitions if we only pay Walmart prices.1

Most of the tracks here are different than the ones from the festival I've already posted, so if you dig back and grab those, you can mega-size your memories.

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

1 This is a paraphrase of a comment by the always-insightful John Lorinc. You should read this is you wonder how our civic infrastructure been allowed to wear down so much and are worried about the future of our city.

Recording: Braids

Artist: Braids

Song: In Kind*

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, October 14, 2011.

Braids - In Kind

Review to follow.

* Word on the street sez that this is the correct title for this one.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Recording: Loom

Artist: Loom

Song: Around Again

Recorded at Placebo Space, October 13, 2011.

Loom - Around Again

Full review to follow. An excellent night celebrating the release of Loom's new Epyllion album. Brooke Manning and co. are already pushing past the songs' recorded incarnations, as seen on this tune's recasting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Recording: LAST

Artist: LAST [Lullabye Arkestra & Steamboat Superstars Anniversary Band]

Song: Fog Machine

Recorded at The Garrison (ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival), February 20, 2011.

LAST - Fog Machine

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Ghostlight

Artist: Ghostlight

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Garrison (ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival), February 20, 2011.

Ghostlight - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Neon Windbreaker

Artist: Neon Windbreaker

Song: RA

Recorded at The Garrison (ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival), February 20, 2011.

Neon Windbreaker - RA

My notes for this set can be found here.

Festival: Wavelength 515 (Night 5)

ELEVEN! Festival (Wavelength 515 – night 5) (feat. Ghostlight / Simply Saucer / Neon Windbreaker / LAST [Lullabye Arkestra & Steamboat Superstars Anniversary Band])

The Garrison. Sunday, February 20, 2011.

Perhaps the most focused of any of the nights at the festival, Sunday's closer (at The Garrison, Wavelength's spiritual homebase) was given over to bleeding ears and rock issued from aggressive guitars. Perhaps it was that a certain kind of crowd was attracted to this like moths to a flame, but there was a strange vibe on the night, as if menace and violence were lurking just under the surface. That can lead to some pretty compelling music, but sometimes you worry about it boiling over. Early omen: there was a drunken, middle-aged guy sitting at a table back near the mixing desk, pounding his fists on the table and kinda rumbling at no one in particular. He got tossed before the first band even began. He wasn't totally representative, but there was an older crowd on this night, perhaps reflecting that three of the four bands are very much more "established" than "up and coming".

Ghostlight (who'd fall into that former category) sort of went from soundchecking to playing in an impenetrable blur, which'd be one good description of their M.O. Another would come from Doc Pickles, who jumped up to the stage, delivering a tray of shooters to the band and singing his intro, repeating over and over "Let's get ready / let's get ready / let's get ready to melt faces!"

Sharing a heavily-overlapping membership, Ghostlight serves as a sort of Mr. Hyde to Mean Red Spiders' Dr. Jekyll, stripping away any of the Spiders' pop veneer — don't expect any Bacharach covers here. Rather, this was an eight-man face-melting unit, with three guitarists complementing bass and drums and a couple guys dedicated to adding textures with electronics and various knob-twistings, as well as flute/sax. But the music wasn't mere noise-jamming, there were loosely-structured songs moving in and out, with lyrics and all, although they mostly came in offhanded shouted bursts. One that I could make out was: "You won't know why!"

Besides leading off the set with those shooters, their onstage concepts included tinfoil (for hats and as a musical implement) and insane volume — it all made me laugh with joy. The music surged in a way that was totally ungroovy, but that's not a failing. They played for a half-hour, and the set ended with amps still rumbling even while several members had already started packing their gear. Awesome stuff.1

Listen to a track from this set here.

Ghostlight's zwippling rock chaos would turn out to be an effective lead-in for Simply Saucer. Making the veteran Ghostlight crew look like newbies by association, Simply Saucer formed in '73 and made unprecedented music in near-total obscurity before breaking up near the end of that decade, issuing only one 7" in their active lifespan. It wasn't until another generation of Hamilton rockers at the Sonic Unyon label gave their unissued recordings a more proper release that the band started to be acknowledged as a prescient proto-punk unit worthy of celebration.

That would eventually lead to re-formation of the band, both as a still-occasionally-working live unit and to their 2008 reunion album Half Human, Half Live. This incarnation came with four musicians behind singer/guitarist Edgar Breau and the set led off with a couple songs from that album. The band had the punk rock virtue of being loud as hell, and the main sonic curveball came in the form of Dan Wintermans' distorto-theramin, which added an unsteady buzzing undercurrent, similar to Allen Ravenstine's analog synth work with their contemporaries Pere Ubu. Instrumental "Exit Plexit" hinted at their psychedelicized early Pink Floyd side while "Takin' You Down" had an agreeable tough chug, even if it's less avant then one might might imagine. Some people want to write the blues out of punk, but as this proves that's probably just revisionism.

"Low Profile", a '77 demo recording which came out as a bonus track with Cyborgs Revisited was speedier live, and the band really hit their stride with the seminal "Nazi Apocalypse" which, again like Pere Ubu, looks into the heart of darkness for a metaphor for adolescent angst: "I'm cyanide over you," moans Breau to doomy chords and the haunting ripples of the theramin.

Things got weird during the bouncy misogyny of "She's a Dog" (one of the songs on the band's 7" single released when they were "part of the Toronto punk scene"). In a crowd that was, en masse, not moshing, a couple guys decided to start, bouncing off eachother and people nearby who were just minding their own business. They got shut down by security a couple times. And then, during "Here Come the Cyborgs", all hell broke loose, with a fight starting in front of the stage. As the doorman dragged one of the perpetrators away from the scene, a second scuffle broke out. Doc Pickles — who was right up front and busting some robot-inspired dance moves — seemed surprised to be in the middle of actual fistfights and would later relate, with much gusto, how it was Lindsay Roe of (defunct?) rockers Elbow Beach Surf Club, who waded in and broke that one up. It was almost like a mental hygiene film on the negative effects of punk music come to life — and, almost as if in response, the band finished with "Get My Thrills". I think it was bassist (and, along with Breau, a founding member of the band) Kevin Christoff who'd later comment, "Just like a Friday night in the Hammer!"

I wasn't sure what to expect going into this — there was the possibility that this could merely be a competent rehashing of quarter-century-old glories. And my slightly-worried lack of anticipation was filtered through what I knew about Breau's post-Saucers career, which musically mostly involved a more genteel folk style.2 But it turned out that this was a fully satisfying set. The volume and raw drive in the music managed to tear it out of Hamilton, and out of the 1970's and make it feel like it belonged in this moment, getting the blood flowing and the fists flying.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The least-established of the night's band's, Neon Windbreaker might have collected as many blog posts and column inches as all of the other bands on the bill combined in the months leading up to this show. Not bad for a group existing in a grey zone between joke band (which is what it basically started as) and serious project, all while writing songs after having started playing gigs and adding/subtracting members at a prodigious rate — at this show, the band acknowledged the drummer's first gig with the band while bidding farewell to a guitarist, while also dedicating a song to yet another former member in the crowd.

The set started with a bit of a bait-and-switch, with guitarist Johnathan Dekel leading off with a doo-wop styled introduction ("Can I get more slapback?" he asked before starting) that led right into Eric Warner's more aggressive vocal stylings, ranging from forceful shouts to throat-shredding yowls.3 "Melodic shoutcore" might be the best genre tag here, although the instrumental attack often comes off a bit more mannered than Warner's vox.

"We just released a sandwich a few weeks ago," Warner commented non-nonchalantly between songs, despite the prima facie strangeness of that statement. That would be a reference to their Sandwich + Fruit EP, released at a show where, instead of creating any sort of physical manifestation of their "product", a download code was sold with food items.4 Besides their handful of originals (most in the sub-two-minute range) the band also apparently has a soft spot for mid-90's CanCon radio-friendly alt-rock, covering Limblifter's "Tinfoil". And set-closer "Furniture" was similarly introduced with the assurance that "this song is not a Silverchair song."

Not my sort of thing musically, but for a joke-origin sort of band, they were certainly no worse than a lot of bands who take themselves very seriously. And, more importantly, the band was fun on stage — or off stage, as the case may be, as nearly all the members took a turn hopping down from the stage to play amongst the crowd. Warner started the set there, Dekel would later jump down to wrestle with someone (while still playing), and the bassist was down there during the final song. The sense that they're out for fun and not taking themselves too seriously made this go down a lot easier.5

Listen to a track from this set here.

After all of that, there was still a keyed-up crowd to end the night, eager for headliners (and community-minded Wavelength regulars) Lullabye Arkestra, who were promising something more expansive than their usual performance. In fact, it started off like a regular LArk set, with a billowing smoke machine obscuring the room during a lengthy ambient intro with a keyboard drone providing a spine as bass and drums slowly built up. Justin Small and Katia Taylor then segued into three songs in their usual duo format, ending with "Nation of Two" before they were joined by three additional players from local soul-rock titans Steamboat. The combined unit was dubbed LAST (for Lullabye Arkestra + Steamboat) for this set, and they played with a hard rock ferocity that would have merited tossing in a lightning bolt slash in there: LA⚡ST.

Although one might think of Steamboat as being genteel water to LArk's oil, there's no shortage of connections here. Family is the first, with Taylor welcoming her brother Nick to the stage to take up the guitar.6 Meanwhile, Matt McLaren and drummer Jay Anderson (who'd also played percussion the night before as part of Maylee Todd's band) are no strangers to harder-edged sounds in their Biblical project.

With the extra players joining in without a break in the sound, they tackled a few numbers from LArk's catalogue, filling out "We Fuck the Night" and "Fog Machine" with additional crunch and several guitar solos that fit in quite nicely. Nick Taylor took lead vox for one of his own songs, bringing in some dual guitar leads which was a nice lead in to a mini-set of classic rock covers, leading off with the heavy vibes of Pink Floyd's "The Nile Song"7 and Joan Jett's more playful "Bad Reputation" (Kat on vox here), then traipsing through some Motörhead and Deep Purple (McLaren taking the mic for "Space Trucking"). The main set ended with the "Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!" call to arms of "Ass Worship", and then an encore (reverting back to just Small and Taylor) brought the set to a robust seventy-plus minutes. A little exhausting, but good fun.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Last years' tenth anniversary festival, celebrating the end of Wavelength's weekly incarnation, ended with a big spectacle and a wrap-it-all-up group hug — a widescreen moment of a thing done. This year's festival just ended like a regular show, which was less celebratory/sad/emotional, yeah, but also more like it's part of a flow — like there's still more to come.8

1 Although they don't play with great regularity, Ghostlight do pop up playing live from time to time. They're also closely affiliated with the boutique inyrdisk CDR label, which puts out limited-edition runs of all sorts of strange, wonderful noises.

2 I remember seeing Breau opening for Richard Lloyd back in '08, and he was singing strange, possessive songs about Nico and gentle, dull songs about oceans — a far cry for the work he's best-known for.

3 Dekel is a noted local rock writer, while Warner is a concert booker and head of the We Are Busy Bodies record label.

4 The "unmastered, live off the floor EP" remains available for free download here.

5 The band remains active, but have slowed down from a heavy live pace they were maintaining this spring. They have a blog, but apparently no other official online presence.

6 The pair have also collaborated on Nick's Church & State project, which is his main vehicle for his own songwriting and production work.

7 This might perhaps have helped to plant a seed in the mind of some members of the local music journalism establishment with regards to Pink Floyd's recent return to "cool" status.

8 Next year's Family Day falls on February 20, 2012, so mark that down and start planning now to celebrate at the next Wavelength festival.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recording: Wild Flag

Artist: Wild Flag

Song: Boom

Recorded at Lee's Palace, October 11, 2011.

Wild Flag - Boom

Full review to follow. A fully rockin' night out with Wild Flag, featuring leg kicks a-plenty, a Rolling Stones cover and an extended version of "Glass Tambourine" that sounded like it could have taken up all of Side 3 of a classic live double album.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recording: Maylee Todd

Artist: Maylee Todd

Song: I Tried

Recorded at The Great Hall (ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival), February 19, 2011.

Maylee Todd - I Tried

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Eric Chenaux Electric Trio

Artist: Eric Chenaux Electric Trio

Song: Amazing Backgrounds

Recorded at The Great Hall (ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival), February 19, 2011.

Eric Chenaux Electric Trio - Amazing Backgrounds

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Grimes

Artist: Grimes

Song: Crystal Ball

Recorded at The Great Hall (ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival), February 19, 2011.

Grimes - Crystal Ball

My notes for this set can be found here.

Festival: Wavelength 515 (Night 4)

ELEVEN! Festival (Wavelength 515 – night 4) (feat. Grimes / Eric Chenaux Electric Trio / Little Girls / Maylee Todd / Hooded Fang)

The Great Hall. Saturday, February 19, 2011.

The Friday-night action for the Wavelength Festival moved to the expansive semi-grandeur of The Great Hall, with its high ceiling and the unoccupied horseshoe-shaped balcony above the floor, as well as the large stage made all the more theatrical by the large arch above it. It's a decent room when the vibe is right, but it's also a space that can feel extra-desolate with a small crowd and extra-packed with a full house. It also has perhaps the worst bathrooms for a venue of its size in the city.

As the early crowd for a five-band bill filtered in, host Doc Pickles took the stage to greet them. Someone must have mentioned to him beforehand to push the merch, as his monologues were peppered with the slightly awkward pitches of a self-hating consumerist. He was more in his natural habitat in relating a fable about a lazy bear and an industrious beaver.

Once all the gear was ready to go, the stage was given over to Grimes, bandonym of Montréal-based Claire Boucher. Although she started with a slightly ominous warning ("I'm very sick, so I can't sing. And I'm going to try some new stuff that's maybe risky right now.") she actually sounded to be in good voice, but was looking a little rough. Creating slightly-unorthodox one-woman dancescapes, Boucher has moved quickly from the more found-sound bricolage of her debut full-length (the Dune-Referencing Geidi Primes1) and follow-up Halfaxa to Darkbloom (a split album with d'Eon), which has more of a beat-driven vibe. That was palpable on opener "Crystal Ball" with dancey beats underneath a synth set on harp-like sounds and gauzey layers of vocals.

Boucher sometimes used her vocals as a textural tool, though in some songs they were unsmooshed enough to regain comprehensibility. All of which is to say that though she had built her musical style from the ground up, it does sound like she's heading for a sort of convergence with the tradition she's working in on stuff like the dancefloor-ready "Vanessa". The songs had a propensity to stretch out, so there were only five in her half-hour set, which ended with a new one — Boucher didn't express a lot of confidence in her ability to play it, and indeed it did falter a bit.

Keeping her hands busy with keyboard and electronics, Boucher didn't have much of a stage presentation. And perhaps it had something to do with her feeling unwell, but some of the songs felt a bit de-energized. There were encouraging signs throughout the set, but I didn't find it completely compelling. But given the speed of her musical development, Boucher is well worth watching, and as what was originally a prototypical bedroom recording project spends more time on the road I'm sure she'll project herself more forcefully on stage.

Listen to a track from this set here.

A deliciously Wavelength-esque left turn after that with the Eric Chenaux Electric Trio taking the stage next. It was, in fact, a quartet on this night with Chenaux's amazingly nimble guitar work backed by Nick Fraser (drums) and Rob Clutton (bass), as well as percussionist Blake Howard. Although these might not be household names to those with a strict rock'n'roll mindset, this is very much an all-star combo of artists working at the intersection of folk-inspired singer-songwriter composition and free-ranging improvisation — the sort of fusion fostered in places like The Tranzac.

Putting all those elements into play right from the start, the set led off with "Put In Music This Ballad For Me", a re-assembly of fourteenth century ballad "Notes pour moi". If I had to describe Chenaux's style I might label it "avant wah", given his propensity for creating complicated guitar lines sent down a snaky path by his pedals, but generally staying in sight of a clear melodic line. That mindful waywardness made Clutton a good musical counterpoint — he was high and clear in the mix, but playing clean, uncluttered basslines. That was followed by "Amazing Backgrounds", another song which had originally appeared on Love Don't Change, his collaborative album with Michelle McAdorey. Eschewing any selections from the recent Warm Weather album, the set hewed closer to Dull Lights, his album from '06, with the inclusion of the title track and "Worm and Gear".

It was interesting to watch the division of labour between Fraser and Howard — they actually had about one drumkit between them. Howard was doing more of the accents and "percussion" work, with shakers and congas, but he also had the bass drum. Both of them played a lot with eyes closed, feeling out the groove — and it's the groove here that really got the songs over. When the band eased off for "Dull Lights", which was more quiet and abstract, the audience was less into it — and me as well, a little. But while it was cooking, it was great stuff.

Even when it was really cookin', there was still a mellow undercurrent to the music — appropriate, perhaps, to an all-seated ensemble. The songs were played in a manner allowing them to gently unfurl, giving the musicians time explore the ways they could weave their lines together. That peaked in the nine minutes given over to closer "Love Don't Change".2 Quite fabulous stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Then another extended intro from Doc Pickles, this time singing a jaunty improvised tune while Little Girls dealt with a recalcitrant laptop. Once it was up and running, it provided ever-melding visual effects on the screen behind them. The background images turned out to be geometric vector-y graphics interspersed with stock footage. The images flowed into each other just like the band's songs, which ebbed and segued with looped guitar noise and occasional muttered greetings from guitarist/vocalist Josh McIntyre.

Given that the previous couple times I had seen Little Girls had been in the lo-fi confines of The Shop, I was curious to see what a bigger sound system would do for what I had found to be a muddled sound. As it would turn out, though this was the most-nuanced I'd ever heard the band, they're still pretty murky by design, with McIntyre's vocals usually reverbed to incomprehensibility. But the sound was also beefed up, with the band now sporting a synth-ier edge, mostly as simmering texture, another ingredient in their simmering Joy Division-y brew. Many of the songs came and went in two-minute-ish bursts, and though there's been some evolution, there's a lot of continuity between older stuff like "Youth Tunes" and newer songs like "White Night" and "Ex". Those would subsequently make their way onto the new Cults EP (on Hand Drawn Dracula), which similarly continues and torques their earlier sound.

Maylee Todd can perform in explosive funk mode as well as being a harp-weiding balladeer, but she always beings a sense of adventure to the stage. That dramatic flair was in evidence as she took the stage wearing something that resembled kimono pajamas, leading a five-piece backing band sporting plenty facepaint all around. The set started off in quieter mode, playing a slow song that still managed to swing, Todd's harp complemented by Andrew Scott's gurgling analog keyb sounds. That gave the first part of the set a cast that, while undoubtedly beautiful, had less Saturday night oomph than one might have expected. Mixing songs from the fine Choose Your Own Adventure with some newer stuff, things started to ramp up with "Hooked", featuring Hooded Fang's Lane Halley and Julia Barnes stepping on stage to dance along as well as add a burst of horns.

Todd's greatest strength (besides a powerful voice) is her fearless gregariousness on stage, never afraid to get a little goofy. Or, in the case of an extended percussion groove preceding "Summer Sounds", to get a little physical, throwing down like she used to in her aerobic sock-hop events. A mini-segment at the centre of the set substituted soulful intensity for pure groove, with excellent results, including a new slowburner called "I Tried", plus another with a chorus of "everybody needs a mouth to mouth".3

Any worries of a groove shortage were put to bed in the final part of the set, with a cooking "Aerobics in Space" (including an appearance by band's namesake Pegwee, a creature of indeterminate origin that looks somewhat like a giant oven mitt) and "Haven't You Heard", a Patrice Rushen cover where Todd jumped down to the floor to sing, creating a giant circle in the middle of the dancefloor around her as she invited people to step out for a Soul Train-style dancing breakout.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Closing out the night, Hooded Fang stretched out seven wide across the stage. Starting off, there were nimble versions of "Highway Steam" and "Green River", staples from their debut Album. There was also a slightly haphazard run through "Promise Land", but perhaps the band was just gearing up for the sonic approach of the new songs.

Although it wasn't entirely clear at the time, this was essentially the pivot point closing the Album era and inaugurating Tosta Mista, as the band gave the crowd a first shot at hearing some of the new songs, starting with the new wave frenzy of "Jubb". That sound would come as a shocker for many in the audience, but for anyone who had witnessed singer/guitarist Daniel Lee's other work in Hut, this would seem of a piece. For me, the most surprising element would be how much of that he brought to Hooded Fang. "Brahma" cut the difference between old and new a bit more, with room for the horns before the slow-dance awesomeness of "Den of Love".

Tom McCammon boosted the horn section for "Laughing" and the band closed out the main set with "Love Song". They returned for a couple more, closing the night out back at the beginning of their oeuvre with "Land of Giants" from their initial EP.

There are other options than, say, Wavelength. But I admit I'm partial to an event where you can see someone like Maylee Todd rock an incredible set up on stage, and then look over beside you when the next band is playing and see her dancing and snapping pictures like everyone else in the crowd. "Probably the best thing ever to happen to Toronto," said Daniel Lee.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 This one is still available as a free download from Arbutus Records, which is doing some fine work out in Montréal.

2 Like several songs in his discography, this is one that Chenaux has recorded twice, revisiting it on 2008's Sloppy Ground after first essaying it on the album that bears its name.

3 Update: We now know that this song is Maylee's new single "Hieroglyphics", which you can grab as a free download here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Playlist #19

Sunday Playlist #19: City vs. Country

Great Bloomers - Dark Horse

The Wooden Sky - The Wooden Sky

Evening Hymns - Arrows

The Treasures - Natural Disasters

$100 - Hell's a Place

Sunday Playlist is a semi-regular feature that brings back some of this blog's previously-posted original live recordings for an encore. You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Recording: Bruce Peninsula

Artist: Bruce Peninsula

Song: The Leaves

Recorded at Soundscapes, October 4, 2011.

Bruce Peninsula - The Leaves

Review to follow. Open Flames took a longer journey to fruition than anticipated, but life's like that most of the time. Sounds like it was worth the wait, so be sure to check them out when BP come to your town soon.

Recording: Diamond Rings

Artist: Diamond Rings

Song: All The Time

Recorded at Mod Club, October 3, 2011.

Diamond Rings - All The Time

Review to follow. A fresh new song — or as we might say in Diamond Rings-speak, "a hype new jam". There's a bit of chatter around me as the song starts, but it dies down once the vocal starts. "Come a little closer, I don't mind / I wanna be with you all the time / can you feel your heart beat next to mine / I wanna be with you, I wanna be with you now".

Monday, October 3, 2011

Recording: Veronica Falls

Artist: Veronica Falls

Song: Last Conversation

Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour, October 2, 2011.

Veronica Falls - Last Conversation

Review to follow. This sorta sounds like The Vaselines covering the Velvets' "What Goes On" — which is sorta my idea of heaven.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Recording: Soundstreams

Artist: Soundstreams

Song: Credo in Us [John Cage composition]

Recorded at The Gardiner Museum – A Celebration of John Cage @ 100! (Nuit Blanche 2011), October 1, 2011.

Soundstreams - Credo in Us

Full review to follow. The ensemble for this piece includes treated piano, found percussion and clock radio — with some cellphone interference and audience reaction adding to the indeterminacy. Lots of of dynamics here, so you might find some parts rather quiet and others rather loud.

Recording: Isla Craig

Artist: Isla Craig

Song: Parcel of Rogues [from a folk song based on the Robbie Burns poem, via Steeleye Span]

Recorded at Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture (DAPS All-Ages VII), October 1, 2011.

Isla Craig - Parcel of Rogues

Full review to follow. If you have a music folder titled "songs that are pretty", you can file this one there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Recording: Ohbijou

Artist: Ohbijou

Song: Turquoise Lake

Recorded at Trinity-St Paul's United Church, September 30, 2011.

Ohbijou - Turquoise Lake

Full review to follow. Ohbijou launched their new Metal Meets album (and also "sweaty sad sex") to a packed house, bringing a bit more toughness to their sound but never abandoning the sweetness at their core. There's an inneresting opportunity hear to hear how the recording process has meant that even the live version of the song has gotten bigger than when we first heard it.