Monday, February 28, 2011
Artist: Hybrid Moments
Song: Untitled Structured Improvisation 1 [excerpt]
Recorded at The Garrison, October 24, 2010.Hybrid Moments - Untitled Structured Improvisation 1 [excerpt]
My notes for this set can be found here.
Mission of Burma (METZ / Hybrid Moments)
The Garrison. Sunday, October 24, 2010.
This Sunday night special was one of the "pop" presentations of The Music Gallery's fifth annual X AVANT Festival. It was also the night before the civic election, with most in attendance stuck somewhere between numb anticipation/dread and blank disbelief as to where the city would be finding itself a day later. Perhaps that might be considered a worthy state of mind to blast everything clean with some tuneful white noise guitar.
Setting the table for the night would be Hybrid Moments, the avant/improvisory guitar duo of Matt Vocabulary and Jonny Dovercourt. Given the nature of the beast, I was pretty sure I would be getting something different than when I saw 'em a few months back, and maybe it was just because they started off with a more subtle building sort of attack, but I got the sense here of the pair having a bit more structure in their "structured improvisations". This time, there was no drifting into Wipers covers or the like — though that may not be for lack of trying: "That was originally intended to be a cover of 'More Than a Feeling'", Dovercourt joked after one piece. "It didn't really work out." The second improvisation included some guitar that was distorted almost to the point of blippy-ness, with Matt V. shoving drumsticks into his guitar strings.
There was some crunchiness in the guitar tone, but there was space around what they were playing — they weren't filling the background with waves of distortion or anything. What they were doing here sounded a bit less fusty — or perhaps we should say more at ease — than that last time 'round, as well as less shred-y. The last one, along with a title ("The Pugilist") also had the most internal drive, but these were still generally abstract pieces.
There's room here for all sort of extra-musical musing. Like, for example, if this were two guys with saxophones, it would seem more immediately okay to appreciate the idea of structured improvisations with less baggage of "jamming" than guitars have. There are a few layers like that that you have to grapple with — or just straight-up ignore — before you even get to the music.
The first piece ten minutes, and the next couple were shorter ones, putting the band on stage for just over twenty minutes, probably about the right amount of clamour to lay on the crowd. Enough to keep me interested and to think that when I see 'em again, they won't be rehashing what they did here.1
Listen to an excerpt from this set here.
"It's going to be a really loud show, starting with the next band," Dovercourt noted, touting the earplugs for sale at the merch table.2 This would be the right mental place to be in for noise-grunge purveyors METZ, who took the guitar explorations of the night so far, and dipped them in acid 'til they were worn down to corroded sharp points. Once the trio were ready to go, all the rights on stage were extinguished, save for one on the bass drum, creating the murky atmosphere that the band prefers to go along with their hard-driving grind. Familiar tracks from their singles like "Negative Space" and "Dry Up" filled all the crannies of the room.
Interestingly, the band's live sound is a bit more straight-ahead than the recordings, where the band is willing to fuck around with things a bit, cross-breeding the noise with some studio trickery. That makes the songs more direct live — one new one barely stretched to two minutes, though one gets a sense of how the band could prolong it in the studio. METZ gigs are quick by nature, here just seven songs in under twenty-five minutes — and this might be on the longer side by the band's standards. Bracing stuff, and again I found it a pretty satisfying mix, with enough of a "song" sensibility to keep the noisier parts from getting too untethered. Word is that the band is finally working on a full-length release, so we'll see in the future if that's going to give their live sets something more like the arc of an album side than a batch of hit and run singles.3
Listen to a song from this set here.
Those opening sets were a good chance for the bands to reach a slightly different audience than usual, as Mission of Burma brought out a slightly older crowd, with a lot of folks who looked like grown-up music enthusiasts who don't get out to as many gigs as they used to. But I could well imagine people making an exception for the Boston three-piece. One of the most seminal 80's American bands, Mission of Burma helped create the topography around those nebulous terrains sprawling away from "postpunk", but didn't really last long enough in their original incarnation to enjoy the fruits of their labours, disbanding in 1983 after releasing an EP and an album that would come to be seen as forward-looking classics. Reuniting in the early part of the aughts, the band has had a second act that has outlasted the first in terms of duration and output, with the band now having released three albums — and receiving some well-deserved appreciation — in their second go-round.
As the band set up, there were some indications that this wasn't just your usual bunch of young tyros from down the block. Most obvious was the drum baffle in front of the kit, something you only usually see on a stage for the fussier sort of jazz combos. The trio took the stage, leading off with Roger Miller's "Donna Sumeria" (from 2006's The Obliterati), featuring a guitar groove that was pure fingertapping classic rock before exploding into the wiry shrapnel shapes the group is known for. From there, the songs featured alternating frontmen, veering into Conley's anthemic-yet-goofy romp "1, 2, 3, Partyy!" (from the most recent album, '09's The Sound The Speed The Light). After Peter Prescott's droll "Good Cheer", the band reached back to 1981 and their first incarnation for the blistering "This Is Not a Photograph", followed by "Mica" (from '82's Vs.) which contained a prominent intervention from offstage member Bob Weston behind the soundboard, with Conley's vocals slowly wiping themselves away in a hazy cloud.4
Playing a show outside the promo cycle of their last album, the band was free to range around their catalogue as they saw fit. Interestingly, they seemed to actually favour 2006's The Obliterati, which got a generous representation, including "Careening With Conviction", "2wtice", and "Let Yourself Go", of which Miller commented, "it's only a suggestion, not a command."
The band pumped out songs with ruthless efficiency, rarely stopping to catch their breath. The set even looked ahead to the future, with one bracing new song called "This is Hi-Fi", plus another that might be called "Love Comes Undone" ("Love comes undone / I wanna undo you"), which I can't yet find any reference to online. There was the mesomorphic rock of "Nancy Reagan's Head" as well as some relative obscurities, like "Nu Disco", from the Peking Spring collection.5 The set-ending pairing of "Learn How" (sounding like the forehead from which a thousand postpunk bands sprung) followed by the bracing punk (not "post") of "That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate" finished things in awesome fashion.
And then a generous encore, and it was pleasing to note that something newer like "1001 Pleasant Dreams" was as bracing as "Academy Fight Song". After an instrumental (featuring Conley on guitar) the house music came up and I thought the band was done, but the crowd kept cheering and they came out again to tear out "The Ballad of Johnny Burma" and "Peking Spring". Nearly ninety minutes of goodness when all was said and done, and looking back, this would have to be counted as one of the year's best concerts.
1 And, in fact, I'll be seeing Hybrid Moments again at Wavelength 516, coming up on Sunday, March 13, 2011, where they'll be joined by The Deeep and Eons, the debut of the new "solo" project from Bruce Peninsula's Matt Cully.
2 This is totally laudable, but it really makes one wonder why this isn't the case at every show.
3 Perhaps in anticipation of having an album to offer, the band has made their three singles available on their bandcamp page on a "name your price" basis, which means $0 or more. Combined together, the six tracks make for a potent little EP.
4 Weston's manipulations were less gear-intensive than I might have imagined, involving just a small digital looping box patched into the soundboard.
5 This one does, however, make for a key part in the MoB story, as after writing it, Miller thought it should include a tape loop, which led to the band's association with original sound manipulator Martin Swope. Swope's role with the band, as an interventionist soundman who didn't appear on stage, was something new and Bob Weston has kept that element of the band alive with his presence in the reunited lineup.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Artist: Betty Burke
Song: El Dorado
Recorded at Holy Oak Café, February 25, 2011.Betty Burke - El Dorado
Full review to follow. My notes for this set can now be found here. This might properly be called "The Betty Burke Big Band" as six members past and present were crammed into the small space at the front of the room and making a righteous racket. The band's EP Dirty Mouth of The St Lawrence River is now available, so do get yourself a copy!
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour, October 22, 2010.Deloro - unknown
My notes for this set can be found here. Do note that the sound quality here is a notch below what I usually offer.
* Tony Romano said, "sometimes you wonder things" at the start of this one. I don't know if that was to identify the song or just a general musing. If anyone can confirm that as the title, please leave a comment.
Artist: Bruised Knees
Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour, October 22, 2010.Bruised Knees - Caesar
My notes for this set can be found here. The sound on this recording is a bit rough, which is a reflection on my capture of it and not the performance itself. Stay tuned for something better-sounding from this band.
Anagram (Deloro / Bruised Knees)
The Shop under Parts & Labour. Friday, October 22, 2010.
A return for Anagram to the bomb-shelter environs of The Shop, this time as the headliner celebrating the long-awaited release of Majewski1, their second album. The album adds by subtraction, stripping things down to the raw fury that the band exhibits at their shows, with Willy Mason's taut guitar lines the counterpoint to brother Matt's aggressively slurred vocals.
This would count as highly-anticipated in some circles, and I figured there'd be a tightly-packed crowd coming out for this one. I figured it would be a good idea to get there early — fortunately there was an intriguing pair of openers to start things up.
Leading off the night was Bruised Knees, who don't share much information about themselves on their myspace, but I recognized Chuck Skullz (ex-Creeping Nobodies). Leading off with a five-minute instrumental featuring textured guitar and extra percussion, they were definitely not afraid to let the songs stretch out. With a detuned, off-centre groove, the first point of comparison here is probably going to be Sonic Youth — Skullz' guitar work (at one point he jammed a screwdriver in the neck of his guitar) and vox do bring Thurston Moore to mind.2 But Natalie Logan's vocals, as well as her extra percussion, tug that in a different direction. Apparently the first time out with a new lineup, the band (anchored by Dennis Amos' drums and Graham Hancock's bass) was pretty fluid in the execution, which is vital for music that is more about the texture than singalong moments. Enjoyable stuff.3
Listen to a track from this set here.
I definitely came to this show excited to see Deloro again — the first time 'round they were very much an unknown quality to me, though with some intriguing familiar faces. While they set up, someone beside me in the crowd had asked me if I knew anything about the band and I gave a flip response along the lines of "imagine if Slint recorded a country album". Which was succinct and adequately reductionist for random semi-shouted conversation with strangers in a dark bar, but obviously a bit short on nuance. Still, as the band started playing at a slow simmer, if felt kinda right. The trio of vocalist/guitarists up front (Jennifer Castle, Paul Mortimer and Tony Romano) worked off each other as drummer David Clarke (a member of $100 alongside Mortimer) and bassist Dallas Wehrle (ex-Constantines) kept order.
The place was now packed and boiling, the band playing to a semi-attentive audience, even right up front. It was a "hey brah"-heavy crowd — about whom we'll hear more anon — treating this as background noise while busily getting their drink on. Some material managed to cut through — especially the superb "Drugs", as well as a pair with Jennifer Castle on lead vox. If there's a connection to the hurtingest kind of country music here, it's the the general sense of dread that the music trades in — the sense that things have been going wrong for a long while, and everything points to things going wrong up ahead. The music slowly built up to a shouty frenzy ("she said, 'take me as I am!'") and Paul Mortimer's closer had a bit of a redemptive vibe to send things out on a less-bleak note. Powerful stuff, and I was glad to have caught the band again, though I still hunger to hear them under slightly better conditions.
Listen to a track from this set here.
And then, The Shop was at about maximum crammage as Anagram took over. Launching straight into a schizophrenically locked groove, it took about the length of a song for the crowd to reach the hypnotized state that seems to take people over whenever they play. By the time band launched into "I've Been Wrong Before", bodies were bouncing around, and soon, it was pretty crazy.
Given singer Matt Mason's propensity to wander out among the crowd, there's always a fuzzy sense of where the band's space ends and the audiences' begins — and in the no-stage setup at Parts & Labour, it was even fuzzier than usual. The front rank of the crowd were pressing in past the monitors and the mosh-y people were getting really intense. People — by which I mean "dudes" — were pounding on the low ceiling when not bracing themselves against it to gain leverage as bodies bounced around.
When Mason wandered into the crowd, he was getting more than just bumped into, and the people pressing forward were knocking into the gear. From what I've seen of Anagram, it says something when the crowd is getting too much for the band. After "Evil", Mason inveighed against the crowd, "this is fun, but could people stop treating this like a fucking therapy session!"
Playing for nearly an hour, this was a marathon set by Anagram standards that allowed for not only an intense airing of the Majewski material but more as well. Not only did the band play go-to Cleavers cover "Fish", but also took a run through Leonard Cohen's "The Butcher".4 In one sense this shouldn't surprise, as Mason's songwriting, full of internal rhyme schemes, is less far away from folk cadences than you might expect. And lyrically, this one fits just fine into the Anagram worldview: "Well, I found a silver needle, I put it into my arm. It did some good, did some harm."
And then just a couple more to close it out, the quicker "Oh Well" followed by an extended run through the appropriate-to-finish-with "That's a Wrap". The set ended with Mason calling out individuals from the crowd: "You're an asshole."
Now, I come from outside of the punk/moshing culture, so admittedly some of the subtleties are lost on me, but I left the show thinking about the relationship between this band and their music and how crowds react to it. Is the crossing of a line from self-governed frenzy to assholish disruption a logical extension of the behaviour that band encourages? At some level this is music with a murky relationship between bad vibes and catharsis mediated through aggression and controlled chaos. Ask any suburban kid who tried making napalm in their back yard and you'll hear about the fine line between ecstatic release and getting burned. But it must be tough for a band that banks on a very particular kind of dynamic with the crowd to power their performances to depend on everyone — even the Friday-night "hey brah!" lunkheads — to understand the limits how far they can push things. Or each other.
But still, if you're not interested in the social experiment angle of an Anagram show — and not all of them are like this, by any means — you can still experience what's best of them in your own headspace with a copy of Majewski.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 The album is titled in tribute to late poster artist and friend of the band, Michael Majewski.
2 Skullz was a precision craftsman, with one rack of effects for his guitar (which was then, I believe, run through a keyboard) and another for his vocals.
3 I've already seen this band in further action and I can report that they're getting into their groove even more than when I saw 'em here. I do recommend checking them out.
4 "The Butcher" is now available with "Fish" on a 7" from the Telephone Explosion label.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Betty Burke (The Phonemes / Kathleen Phillips)
The Imperial Pub Backroom. Thursday, October 21, 2010.
Out on a Thursday night to the cozy back room of the Imperial Pub on Dundas for a show put on by the good folks at 50 River. The series is the brainchild of musician/promoter Holly Andruchuk, who can be found greeting patrons at the door with a bright smile and saying, "thanks for supporting live music!" There's a genuine charm in the whole presentation, starting with the idea that rather than just giving the musicians a stage to play on, there's a curated experience, including knowlegable write-ups that you can check out to acquaint yourself with the musicians before coming down. In the sliver of the room, the tables are topped with tall candles stuck in empty liquor bottles as the occasional rumble of conversation from the regulars at the front bar occasionally wafts through the air.
Besides the two bands on this night, each set was preceded by some comedy from Kathleen Phillips, delivering her deadpan stylings in storytelling mode, the first set discussing the shortcomings of cats (the "nihilist unemployed poets" of the pet world) in her dry drawl. Entertaining stuff, not always taking things to the obvious destination.
That applies, too, to The Phonemes, centred around the always-joyful Magali Meagher with frequent co-conspirators Stephanie Markowitz and John Tielli (plus a nimble guitarist whose name I didn't catch). I hadn't seen 'em for almost a year, so it was interesting to see how some of the newer material, now feeling a little more lived in, has gotten fleshed out. "Vanishing Point" is as catchy and appealing as anything Meagher has penned while "Paper Planes" (not, um, to be confused with the M.I.A. song) dances and drifts like its namesake. Meagher mostly played guitar, but also moved over to the piano for one number.
And then for a special treat, the band was joined by Maggie MacDonald for a bilingual duet on the sprightly yé-yé tune "Cet air-là", most famously performed by France Gall. MacDonald sang in English in her own translation while Meagher sang the original French, their differing voices (brash1 and gentle, respectively) contrasting as much as the languages they were singing — but it all worked.
That would be the start of a series of guest stars that continued with Bobby Wiseman adding some piano to "Sunday Morning" and the members of Betty Burke adding percussion on "Steeples and People". Gentleman Reg, celebrating his birthday in a glittering pair of heels, came up for a sprightly version of "Pain Perdu". The Phonemes' off-kilter pop is always a good time and a chance for Meagher to give her friends something to sing about.
Listen to a track from this set here.
After another quick set from Kathleen Phillips (this time staying in grandmotherly character to tell a story about a weather-predicting dog) the show was switched over to an "AM Radio from a parallel dimension". That's the natural territory for Betty Burke, tellers of true stories. There had been some changes in the BB camp since I saw them last, with mainstay Maggie MacDonald now joined by Jo Snyder (guit) and Sheila Sampath (bass, keyboard). There were still echoes of the rootsy sound that Holly Andruchuk had provided while active in the band, but with an ipod providing drum machine beats the sound veered more towards new wave.2 MacDonald was dressed for that sound, too, rocking a Patti Smith look in a blazer and skinny tie.
The band is undoubtedly MacDonald's show, but there's room for her bandmates — one song, for example, featured Sampath's lead vox. And in the same community spirit as the Phonemes set, there was a series of friends and collaborators joining the band on stage. Sarianna Mileski sang lead vox on "The Prince" and there was another appearance from Gentleman Reg for a duet ("I can make you come, but I can't make you stay") which was followed by cake, everyone in the room joining in on "Happy Birthday". And besides those guests, there was also a visit from MacDonald's sunglasses-wearing alter ego Loni Lalonde. "I had to get rid of Maggie... she had too much impulse control," said Lalonde, a channelling of MacDonald's Cornwall days.
The stage was jammed full of people as the band closed it out with "El Dorado". Spirited throughout, the set had a celebratory vibe. Good fun — a band you should definitely check out.3
1 "I'm not a singer," Maggie commented at the outset, "but I am verbose."
2 Before one song, MacDonald gave praise to The Jesus and Mary Chain for their seminal historical influence in their use of drum machines, though interestingly the song that accompanied that comment owed at least as much to "Rivers of Babylon".
3 And, in fact, you have an excellent chance to do just that this Friday (February 25, 2010) at Holy Oak Cafe, where Betty Burke will be celebrating the release of their first EP. As a bonus, Evening Hymns are playing too.
Artist: Simply Saucer
Song: Nazi Apocalypse
Recorded at ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival, The Garrison, February 20, 2011.Simply Saucer - Nazi Apocalypse
Full review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here. Strange to think that music like this could lead to violence. The dominant modes for the last night of the festival were "face melting" and "pummelling".
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Artist: Hooded Fang
Song: Den of Love*
Recorded at ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival, The Great Hall, February 19, 2011.Hooded Fang - Den of Love
Full review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here. In the the midst of an intense sweaty party and some boss new songs, this slow dance stood out.
* Thanks to a commenter for passing this title along.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Recorded at ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival, Steam Whistle Brewery, February 18, 2011.Woodhands - unknown
Full review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here. I saw a woman at this show wearing a t-shirt that said "DANCE!" — and that happened. I saw a dude at this show wearing a baseball cap that said "OH S#?T WOODHANDS" — and that happened.
* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!
Friday, February 18, 2011
Soundscapes. Saturday, October 16, 2010.
Unlike some of the more expansive outings I'd seen recently, this was a traditional "taster" sort of in-store performance, a quickie for the band before shifting down the street to The Mod Club later that night for their proper gig. A fine chance for me to check out Brooklyn's much-buzzed-about The Drums. They turned out to be four fresh-faced lads, Americans paying tribute to 80's-style "indie" British guitar rock. They had a two guitars plus drums setup behind vocalist Jonathan Pierce, although one guitar player was functionally playing the same parts a bassist would have contributed. Pierce, meanwhile, sang in a slightly affectless tone, although the songs — leading off with "Best Friend" — had a tightly-packed pop feel.
Catching up with the album after the fact, it was interesting to note that while the recorded versions are straight-forward and fuss-free in their arrangements, they sounded almost baroque compared to the spartan crispness that the band brought live, stripping back the subtle layers of vocals and keyboards that are found on the album. Presented like this "Book Of Stories" had something not found on its album incarnation. This was just a quick three-song taster, but a fine introduction. The band aren't boldly forging into any new territory with what they do but they're awfully easy to listen to, so I can understand why they'd gotten people paying attention.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Artist: Not the Wind, Not the Flag
Song: excerpt from an improvisation
Recorded at ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival, The Music Gallery, February 17, 2011.Not the Wind, Not the Flag - excerpt
Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here. Night two of the festival was mostly given over to loveliness in various forms. Here's one.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Artist: The Guest Bedroom
Song: Ugly Thoughts
Recorded at ELEVEN: The Wavelength 11th Anniversary Festival, The Boat, February 16, 2011.The Guest Bedroom - Ugly Thoughts
Full review to follow— My notes for this set can now be found here.. An efficient start to the festival, four bands getting set up and rocking with remarkable precision.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Sheila Heti presenting How Should a Person Be? / Margaux Williamson presenting Teenager Hamlet / Tomboyfriend presenting Don't Go to School
Stone's Place. Thursday, October 14, 2010.
Declaring the completion of their respective long-gestating projects to be their matriculation from a DIY art school where they used each other as teachers and subjects, this was a triple-headed project launch party. The night was being held at Stone's Place, a Rolling Stones-themed pub in Parkdale. I'd never been inside before, and truth be told I'd always assumed it was for people who wanted something less edgy than, say, the Cadillac Lounge across the street — to say nothing of Wrongbar a couple doors down. And maybe it is, but it was actually rather cozy inside, with lots of couches gathered into intimate zones. Perhaps a bit decentralized for an event where you'd want everyone to pay attention to the stage, but well-suited for a crowd that was decidedly on the familiar-with-each-other side.
I found a couch to sit on against a wall perpendicular to the stage, which was comfortable enough, but poorly situated relative to the blinking lights flashing directly at the wall behind. I pondered whether my grand mal seizure would be an awkward bringing-people-together moment, and got back up to wander around amongst local celebs (and semi-celebs) that I recognized as people that maybe I should accost and start conversations with, though my will to mingle was not, on this night, particularly strong.
In between rock'n'roll oldies playing over the house system, Misha Glouberman, MC-ing in his inimitable style, stepped up to the stage to announce that things would not be starting on time but, in fact, at some subsequent time. No problem for the bulk of the chatty crowd on hand, which skewed older and, natch, artsy-ish — the sort of scene where people can be overheard talking about their "projects". And while it was getting crowded along the bar, there was also more than a few people in sight killing time by reading a book.
Once things got going, the night was presented in a two-part format — first a chance for each of the artists to present a sample of their work to the crowd; and then, after a break, a full set from Tomboyfriend. Margaux Williamson led off, showing a short clip from her movie Teenager Hamlet. In this situation, it was harder to get a grip on what the whole thing might be like, though even in what we saw the night's hallmarks of collaborative DIY self-referentiality were on display.
That was followed by Sheila Heti reading from the beginning of her novel How Should a Person Be? It sounded like a good ride, and though based in a version of her own actuality, also not entirely unlike the fables of her Middle Stories. Perhaps it's that in both her voice comes through so strongly — which I mean literally: I've heard Heti reading before, and after the fact could hear her as I read her work, almost as if it were an audiobook. I haven't tackled the novel yet, but do look forward to it.
And then a one-song sample from Ryan Kamstra's Tomboyfriend, playing "Almost/Always", one of the more wordy/literary songs from their album Don't Go to School. And then a break to mingle and cruise the merch table and consider what had just gone down.
The most striking thing about all these works of art is how closely intertwined they are. From Heti's reading: "Margaux complements me in interesting ways: she paints my picture and I record what she is saying. We do whatever we can to make the other one famous." These cross-connections go all the way around — Kamstra is in both the book and movie, while he in return writes songs about his friends. I'm sure far more thoughtful people than myself have put more thought into this, but I found myself musing on what it means for the glamourous people to gain that status by virtue of self-declaration and what the boundaries are between mutual reinforcement and mutual masturbation, and between creating mythologies and telling in-jokes. Handicapping the merch race, it looked like the book was winning — though it was also the bulkiest and hardest to conceal on one's person.
And then, once the band started getting ready, I looked upon the awkwardly-shaped stage (long and narrow, presenting the short front to the dance floor) and had a momentary Seeing Things-like vision of mediocre Stones cover bands cranking out rehashed Keef riffs. The crowd was a little thinner now — obviously some people didn't stick around to rock'n'roll, but there were plenty of vocal supporters on hand.
Showing a sense of occasion, bandmembers were celebrating the "don't go to school" theme, sporting uniforms marred by various school supply impalements.1 The choir, who would join the band on several songs were wearing graduation gowns. For the full set, the band led off slowly with "Romantic Shut In", just Kamstra accompanied by Sholem Krishtalka's piano and backing vocals, and then flipping to the other pole of the band's sound with the scrappy glam of "The Swan". Kamstra's musical vision is based in a synthesis of some disparate elements — the sexual chug of rock'n'roll against the narrative scope of showtunes, to name a couple.2 That murky mix reflects the fundamental ambiguities of sexuality and identity that Kamstra is expressing in his lyrics, blown up larger-than-life with his theatrical (and sometimes wilfully over-the-top) delivery.
Theatrical, too, in the sense of putting on a show. During "Hardboiled Wonderland" Kamstra took to the floor and danced like he was auditioning for an old-fashioned burlesque act. "I'm getting a little more comfortable with you," he said after, undoing his shirt to reveal a training bra underneath. The band, meanwhile, was getting into the giddy fun of it all, but definitely keeping things grounded with their solid playing. As I'd suspected after seeing them play some of these songs at an "open rehearsal", things were held together a lot more with a steady backbeat. Meanwhile Krishtalka and noted illustrator/cartographer Marlena Zuber gave vocal support as the songs lurched back and forth from cabaret to dive bar.
Now, I'm one who likes scrappy garage rock more than torch songs, so the fact that I'm more compelled by that side of band's work isn't too surprising. Thus, I'm drawn to stuff like the B-52's-on-poppers "Skank", with vocal parts passed all around and cowbell rhythms hitting on all cylinders. But I'm not blind to that other side, like the melodramatic hustler epic "Goldfinch Gluespoo", which arcs like a mini-musical. That one closed out the set, but everyone knew that there was going to be one more, and the band didn't wait long before plowing into signature song "The End of Poverty".
Afterward, Kamstra looked like he'd just played about seven periods of hockey and sweated out any evils in his system. As a communal dance experience, this was convincing — enough that one doesn't feel too bothered on the way out to fret, "but is it art?"
1 I assume it's in that spirit that the album's title is mis-spelled "DON'T GO TO SCHOOOL" on the disc's spine.
2 In their recorded incarnation, the band throws even more elements in the mix, including a couple flirtations with a more electronic/dancey sound, such as on the heavily autotuned "Big in Afghanistan".
Monday, February 14, 2011
Dan Deacon (Lightning Bolt / John Milner You're So Boss)
The Great Hall. Tuesday, October 10, 2010.
Apparently there was a discount on hard-assed bouncers that The Great Hall got in on. "Any sharp objects?" asked one as he rifled through my bag. His partner peered at my ID through squinted eyes, like he was deep in concentration. Charmers.
Things were friendlier inside, with a healthy number of folks on hand before the show's listed 9:30 start time. And not an entirely regular crowd, either, as there was a small number of folks in masks and costumes circulating around. There was also a band's worth of gear on the floor in front of the stage — a drumkit and guitar, plus a heap of stuff including some pedals, toy instruments and a telephone receiver plugged into a little mixing board.
All of that belonged to locals John Milner You're So Boss,1 who opened things up. They exploded for a short set of noisy, shouty stuff — not a lot of vocals to be made out here. Vocalist Danielle LeBlanc had a propensity to wander as far into the crowd as her mic cord would let her while the zlblerbling toy keyboard and flailing guitar thrashed behind her. The music was not, um, melodically structured and it was formally untethered from the rigours of hardcore. One might categorize it closer to "I had an accident in my pants" — and leave it open to interpretation if that's a sad or happy turn of events. There was a sort of cartoon-y aspect to it, so if the aim of the noise and spasms was catharsis it didn't quite get there.
It was often unclear when songs started or ended. There was a setlist with about a dozen titles written on it, and the whole thing came and went in eleven minutes. Was it good? Or, more precisely, was it entertaining? In an eleven-minute burst, it had some charms, though I suspect more than that would generate diminishing returns.
And then, attention turned from the floor to the stage, with a large glowing skull mounted on an extended mic stand looming over the crowd2 while the masked ghosts, on the balcony above the floor, were dropping down streamers and balloons to be batted around. From the get-go the whole point was to create more of a spectacle than a show.
In that spirit, Dan Deacon attempted to lead the band, as they emerged, in an off-mic acapella version of "Get Older", that didn't get off the ground, as Deacon joked, "a magic moment could have been made, but drummers are embarrassed coward men." His gibe at his bandmates masked another thrust of the show — aiming for transcendence and grandiosity is okay, even if it doesn't work out. And it was with that in mind that his intense rhythm machine chugged to life. It was, all told, a ten-man ensemble, with the musicians shifting around, but at any given time, there were usually two guitarists, three drummers, two vibraphonists and three keyboard players. Deacon's vocals were massively vocodered/pitchshifted and more an element in the mix than the focus. The band was mostly playing material from his most recent album Bromst, interspersed with a few newer ones.
The vibe was mainly celebratory craziness, and in service of that there was a few stunt-like moves. At one point, Deacon called for the creation of a giant circle in the centre of the floor for a dance contest, which was soundtracked to a song inspired by Konono No 1.3 At times, it felt like the songs were almost more distinguishable by their extramusical qualities — this one gets the green strobelights, that one gets the dance contest, etc. Which is also to say that the whole thing was clearly more geared as a get-into-it participatory dance party.
To judge it as a set of tunes feels rather beside the point, though musically, our own Holy Fuck comes to mind as a point of comparison, though Deacon's tone was usually a bit warmer and less distanced. But there was definitely a love of arpeggiation, especially the kind found in electronic music, repurposed for this live ensemble. Or to pick another point of comparison, when you see four guys shoulder-to-shoulder playing vibes at the same time, you realize that the gap between this and, say, the Blue Man Group isn't so big.
There was certainly a propensity to stretch things out — the last three songs took up about half of the hour-long set, with closer "Baltihorse" going more than twelve minutes. The best of the bunch was probably "Wham City" (from his 2007 album Spiderman of the Rings), a tribute his own Balitmore cultural milieu. This was enjoyable stuff — arguably moreso for the people who were there to just let go and sink into the more celebratory aspects of the show.
Listen to a track from this set here.
There would be a different vibe after that. Though Dan Deacon was the night's headliner, there was one more band to go after him. That would be Providence's Lightning Bolt, making music since 1997, and apparently well regarded — though they were new to me.
When I came back towards the stage after the break between sets there was an almost absurd wall of amps being built. And looking around, it seemed like the crowd has changed considerably. Whereas before it was fully mixed, now there were largely dudes pressing toward the stage, and a lot more of 'em in punk gear than I'd spotted before.
Meanwhile, there was a protracted bit of setup taking place on stage, where drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale was quite particular about getting each drum individually mic'ed. Once that got settled, I wasn't sure if they'd started playing, or were soundchecking or goofing around, with Chippendale — who was masked, and vocalising with a mic built from a telephone receiver that was held inside his mouth — doing a sort of deranged beatboxing while bassist Brian Gibson kept getting ready.
The band were on stage for more than ten minutes before getting going, and it soon became apparent that all of those amps weren't just for show, as this was an intensely loud set. The band tore off into some muscular shredding aggression, and the crowd that had packed up in front of the stage responded. I needed to move back pretty much right away.
Although the music wasn't generally tuneful it wasn't undifferentiated noise — there's obviously chops and technique here. Call it pummel-core, I guess. Adding to the disorienting gutpunch of the instrumental attack, Chippendale's vocals were run through all sorts of weird effects. I guess I could sort of appreciate this, but I wasn't sure I actually liked it. Plus, it was a worknight and I was getting tired. I hung around for about a half-hour, then cut out early.
1 I must admit that I'm not cool enough to immediately be able to tell if the band is named after the hot-rodding American Graffiti character or the '70's slugger for the Mets (a/k/a "The Hammer" — 112 OPS+ on his career). Or, perhaps less likely, the controversialist 18th century Catholic bishop.
2 This would be the souce of what might be this show's most notorious legacy: apparently a personal icon and longstanding stage prop for Deacon, the skull was stolen after his set, leading to a threat from Deacon that he would never play this town again until it was returned — which it was, a couple months later.
3 In fact, I believe Deacon called out the title as "Konono Ripoff No. 1".
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Sunday Playlist #7: Wavelength ELEVEN Festival preview
It's one of the most wonderful times of the year! This year's Wavelength Festival might not have the "hook" of last year's, which wrapped up the weekly incarnation of the series and featured a lot of reunions. But what this year's version has is a huge number of superb bands. Regular readers of this space might note that there's a lot of groups that I've highlighted here, but just to bring it all in one place, here's some live samples of what you can expect to hear. If you had to pick just one night to go to, it should be all five.
Night 1 (Wednesday, Feb. 16) @ The Boat
Night 2 (Thursday, Feb. 17) @ The Music Gallery
Night 3 (Friday, Feb. 18) @ Steam Whistle Brewery
Night 4 (Saturday, Feb. 19) @ The Great Hall
Night 5 (Sunday, Feb. 20) @ The Garrison
You can find out more about the shows these songs came from if you search the tags on the right side of the page.
Artist: Abstract Random
Song: Mi Nah Wanna
Recorded at Daps All-Ages 6 (Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture), February 12, 2010.Abstract Random - Mi Nah Wanna
Review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here. Lots of good stuff at this solid show, but let's start with some cool audio from the day's most visually striking band. Note to other bands: more masks and facepaint and dancing!
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Artist: Resolutionaries Marimba Band
Recorded at The Gladstone Hotel (Melody Bar), February 11, 2011.Resolutionaries Marimba Band - Chinwechangu
Full review to follow — my notes for this show can now be found here. The lovely people behind Afrofest are celebrating Black History Month with a series of concerts at The Gladstone every Friday in February. The shows are free + early and a good way to check something new out. You can find more info here.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Toronto Public Library (Parkdale Branch). Friday, October 8, 2010.
Down into Parkdale on a Friday evening for another library show hosted by the wonderful people in the excellent Make Some Noise program.1 Given the performer, I was sort of expecting a giant crowd and got there early to find it pretty quiet. Luckily Av. had made the same assumption, so there was someone to kill time with as we tried to guess which of these Parkdalians were working as security guards at this library branch, which were wearing security guard uniforms because they were on their way to a security guard job elsewhere and which ones just liked wearing security guard uniforms. Meanwhile, the final touches on a nifty decorating job were being put in place by Tasseomancy's Romy and Sari Lightman, with some flowers and plenty of candles and tealights adding some ambiance. At the centre was John O'Regan's guitar case, filled with some of his favourite books from the surrounding library shelves.2
Once the library's usual patrons were replaced by those out for the concert, Diamond Rings emerged in a sleeveless shirt and purple scarf — a slightly stripped-down version of his usual glam getup to suit the relaxed environment of the concert. Instead of his usual get-dancing workout, this was planned as a stripped-down acoustic affair, with O'Regan modelling it after Nirvana's MTV Unplugged set, which he admitted he had been watching repeatedly instead of practising. He even went to the trouble of shopping around to get the same style of acoustic guitar microphone as used in that set, to the disdain of the music store clerks who insisted on telling him it wasn't a very good microphone.3
O'Regan was clearly happy to be playing at his own local branch, even if the now smooth-running Diamond Rings productions were upended for the new arrangements. He started with what I'm assuming is a new song ("I'm holding you up like you were holding me up/ like you were holding me up before") followed by "It's Not My Party", which worked very well in this format. With the candles' glow casting shadows as O'Regan chatted about the excellent apple he'd found that day, it felt like a super-intimate show. There was a good mix in the crowd, with the sort of familiar faces you might see at a Diamond Rings show supplemented by a contingent of kids and parents.
Putting down the guitar, O'Regan moved over to his keyboard for "Give It Up", and would switch back and forth throughout the set. In another nod to Unplugged, O'Regan paid tribute to some of his influences, covering a couple songs by his friends, including PS I Love You's "Actually (I Am a Monster Now)" and Emma McKenna's "Slow the Moon". And he also kept pondered aloud on his considerations on how to recast the songs for this format — commenting on "Show Me Your Stuff"'s rap, "how do we do that, without a beat, in the library? And I think the answer is, you kinda don't. But I don't take no for an answer, so I'm going to give it my best try." At the end he laughed at the slightly tenuous results, commenting "maybe we'll save that for the Plugged album."
Although seeing O'Regan playing these songs without the dance-y trappings seems like a novelty now, it's worth remembering that this is how the whole thing started — a guy playing some catchy songs on an acoustic guitar. Regardless of the technology being used, it was those songs and the personality behind them that makes Diamond Rings work. And while this setup might not have the zazz of the full DR experience, it was a really enjoyable as a one-time special occasion.
1 For those not yet in the know, not only does the library put on some good concerts, but they are committed to collecting local independent music. The library now has hundreds of CD's in their local music collection that anyone with a library card can take out.
2 I spotted 1984, the Great Gatsby, The Outsider, Leviathan, Women Who Run With Wolves and Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women in case anyone was hankering to start a Diamond Rings book club.
3 And indeed, when the mic slipped off the guitar during "Something Else", O'Regan muttered, "sorry Kurt."
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Bonjay (New Look)
The Garrison. Thursday, October 7, 2010.
Down Garrison way it was tumbleweed quiet early on. A Thursday night, and looking around, I figured that a lot of Bonjay's core audience must still come from the late-night party scene that they started out in. There was a DJ playing some dancey music, but no takers, and even after pushing things back there was still only a thin crowd on hand as openers New Look took the stage.
This duo — with Sarah Ruba on vox and keyb and Adam Pavao on keyb and electronics — is originally from up this way, but now based in New York City. Ruba wore a keyboard slung over her shoulder, keytar-style and played while she sang. Pavao mostly just tended to his table of gear — his arsenal included a laptop, but he seemed to be doing most of the work manually via knob-twiddling.
Musically, New Look shared a propensity for electro-dance with the headliners, but in a more detached manner. The synth sounds were spare and icy cold and included some nice squibbly sounds.1 Ruba, meanwhile, was a pretty formidable singer, showing off a strong voice that had the right amount of restraint for the material. That put this band into similar terrain as Everything All The Time, Bonjay vocalist Alanna Stuart's other band, though with less of a top 40 eighties bent.
The band also featured some appealing abstract-y animated geometric shapes projected behind them that seemed to be synced to the music. This was a handy bit of visual distraction as both band members were keeping too busy with music-making for much in the way of stagecraft. The set featured a relatively small number of songs — they were generally more 12" than radio-edit length — but even as the grooves stretched out they maintained a pop sensibility. They got a pretty good response from the crowd that was slowly filling the place up as they played. I wasn't knocked flat by what they were doing, but it was good entertainment — and a very good table-setter for what was to come.
Listen to a track from this set here.
By now, that late-night party crowd were showing up, and the place was pretty full by the time Bonjay were getting ready to play. Looking around me, I got the sense that this wasn't the usual Garrison crowd, and though Bonjay have grown and expanded their reach past the dancefloor-intense milieu they'd emerged from, that set might still be their most loyal draw. Still, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was won over by the band after seeing them on an indie rock bill.
Gathering together different crowds is a by-product of the fact that singer Alanna Stuart and sound provider Pho aren't interested in limiting themselves too much, as proven on Broughtupsy (the band's new EP being released at this show) which manages to straddle several divides. Founded in a fusion of dancefloor and dancehall, Bonjay have moved it to the next level with their ability to craft songs fortified by a lot of other pop influences that work just as well on headphones as sound systems.
Having been busy touring and trying to win over strangers, the pair obviously relished being in front of friends and family. This was a fully-supportive crowd, and after a few songs Stewart would comment, "I feel like this is an episode of The View... I could say anything and you'd cheer." She'd also noticed that this was a late-arriving crowd, confessing that at ten o'clock the band was worried they'd be playing to an empty room. But with the full house in front of them, they threw themselves into it, mixing up some older tracks with material from the new EP.
The set also mixed in some of Bonjay's distinctive covers, including TV on the Radio's "Staring at the Sun" and a medley of Feist's "How My Heart Behaves" and "Honey Honey". The covers were successful transformations, but pleasingly it was the band's new originals that were the best part of the set. Take, for example, something like "Shotta", a hooky little thing that's still amped up enough for the dancefloor.
The songs were propelled by the fact that, as always, Stuart brings a powerful presence to the stage, that hint of fully-justified self-confident swagger. Stewart was putting a lot into her performance, so it was probably as much for hew own sake that the band slowed it down mid-set for EP closer "Creepin" before storming back with a cover of Caribou's "Jamelia". There was still enough in the tank to go out on a very strong note, with the ferocious "Frawdulent" and their first big jam "Gimmee Gimmee" wrapping it all up.
Called out for an encore, the band brought out one last cover, Betty Davis' "Feelings". It's satisfying to think that Davis — for decades written off as a minor musical footnote — has recently become a go-to choice for take-no-shit women to demonstrate that they can have chops and sensuality in one fierce package. And that was something that was surely on display here.
A most worthy celebration. If you haven't gotten your hands on Broughtupsy, one of the best EP's released last year, you should find yourself a copy; and if you haven't seen Bonjay live, you should rectify that as soon as possible.2
1 I'm by no means much of a gear nerd when it somes to synths, but I believe some of Pavao's sounds came from an Oberheim SEM.
2 Bonjay will be playing a free in-store at Soundscapes on Saturday, February 12th at 7 p.m., so you could take care of both these things at once.