Friday, July 29, 2011
The C is for Cure (evening show) (feat. Timber Timbre / Austra / Evening Hymns)
The Music Gallery. Saturday, January 29, 2011.
Following the warm'n'folksy matinée show there was time to stretch the legs out and then find some friends in the Music Gallery's fellowship room before it was time for the nightcap. It too was organized by Bruce Peninsula's Matt Cully as a fundraiser for his bandmate and friend Neil Haverty, who had been diagnosed with leukemia a few months previously. This show was a ticketed affair which had sold out pretty quickly, given that a couple of the bands might normally be seen in larger venues.
Leading off the evening was Jonas Bonnetta's Evening Hymns, who were slightly upsized from when I had seen them just a couple weeks before. Bonnetta (vox/guit) was joined by mainstay Sylvie Smith (backing vox/bass) as well as Tim Bruton (also of Matters and Forest City Lovers) on electric piano.
Now back from their journey north to Perth, Ontario to record their second album Spectral Dusk, Bonnetta's mind was mostly on his new songs. There was only "Cedars" to represent debut album Spirit Guides, and after that the set focused on the fresh stuff. There was more familiarity and confidence in the delivery of the new songs — "Arrows", for one, sounded a little more lived-in — but this was evidence that there hadn't been a radical change in Bonetta's approach, with his plaintive, emotional appeals burnished by Smith's warm voice.
There was one break from the new material for a cover of Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe", and that fit in just fine. Owing to his treatment schedule, Neil Haverty wasn't able to be at the show, but as Bonnetta closed with a solo rendition of "Spectral Dusk", sent out as a dedication, it was easy to believe that the vibrations would resonate his way.1
There was a very different vibe and some tangible excitement in the crowd for the show's middle act. For although Katie Stelmanis was well-known locally for her various projects — including a stint in Bruce Peninsula's choir — this was a first chance for most to see her Austra project in full force. Although those keeping an eye out had plenty of chances to see the band evolving from a "solo" project to a band, the news that Austra had signed to Domino Records and the unleashing of single "Beat and the Pulse" in the preceding couple weeks meant that there was suddenly a lot of buzz around the group and the expectation of something new.
The set, however, started with a moment that could have fit with her former musical incarnations, as Stelmanis emerged alone to take a seat behind the Music Gallery's grand piano. Lyrically though, it was almost like a manifesto, descriptive of what was about to come: "The morning I was born again / I was made into a beast". That complete, the rest of the band emerged while Stelmanis moved centre stage beside her keyboard. And as they launched into "Lose It", she revealed what sort of beast she had become.
All at once, there were lights flashing and beats pulsing and a massive amount of throbbing energy from the stage. Comparing this to the "Private Life" band of a year before is rather instructive — these are mostly the same players and mostly the same songs, but the sound and attitude are something else entirely. For one thing, the band's leader had become as emboldened as her music. I remember seeing Stelmanis a few times around the time her debut album Join Us came out. Especially vivid in my memory is seeing her open for Fucked Up, Hallowe'en '08 — in those days, playing mostly alone, even while pumping out her operatic tracks Stelmanis would often be up on stage in plaid and a trucker's hat, looking down at her keyboards, closed in on herself. Now, her look was totally different — bold, eyes on the crowd, with long hair unfurled and wearing check-me-out nylons with a long run down the left leg.
Her band were also visually striking, starting with the Tasseomancy twins (Romi and Sari Lightman) flanking her. Everyone was covered in glitter, even the shirtless Dorian Wolf on bass. The band was rather striking musically, as well, propelled by the thunderous force of Maya Postepski on drums and Ryan Wonsiak on synths tucked behind Stelmanis. And, at the centre of it all, that voice. When "Lose It" finished, such was the shock/impact that the crowd was silent for a second, breaking into applause only as the next track (b-side "Young and Gay") began.
It was one of those rare moments where I thought to myself, "oh — well, this could get rather big." It definitely crossed my mind that this might be my only chance to see the band this close up — never mind in a sit-down environment. "Beat and the Pulse"2 — the only song from the band that was widely heard at this point — was greeted with loud cheers, but they were well-deserved, as the performance was totally convincing. In a final unexpected twist, the set closed with a dark-disco version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" — given the pervading sense of ominousness in the rest of the set, perhaps it was meant as a lighter touch for the the audience to go out on.
In taking her penchant for operatic pop and marrying it to dancefloor-friendly beats, Stelmanis has clearly given herself a bigger canvas to paint upon — something that a lot more people can "get" right off the bat that still allows her to deploy her striking talents. We spend a lot of time talking about artists "developing", and often it happens incrementally right in front of us, but it's rather satisfying to be there when something like this gels into something greater than the previous sum of its parts.3
Listen to a track from this set here.
After a final burst of MC'ing from Matt Cully, drawing winners in the day's raffles, the room was plunged into darkness as Taylor Kirk, flashlight in hand, made his way to the stage. He hung the flashlight on his mic stand, shining down on his pedals, but there was no other illumination at all. It was so dark in the sanctuary that cars passing outside cast moving brakelight streaks across the ceiling — bringing to mind childhood memories of being tucked into bed, waiting for a sliver of moonlight to provide some comfort from the night's un-namable terrors.
That would probably be about the right state of mind for a Timber Timbre gig, given Kirk's fondness for ooky-spooky evil couched in a bluesy vernacular. Having seen only his gear on stage I wasn't surprised that this was a solo set, but it is an unusual occurrence these days, as he normally performs as a trio with Simon Trottier and Mika Posen. "I haven't done this for a really long time like this, by myself," he confirmed near the start, noting it was now a somewhat discomforting experience to face the songs and the audience on his own.
After opening with "No Bold Villain" (from 2008's self-titled breakthrough), he focused on new material from the then-forthcoming (and awesomely-titled) Creep On Creepin' On, including the title track and "Bad Ritual". Playing with just his guitar, he did receive a boost from his pedals, allowing for a harmony effect on his voice in the choruses of "Black Water". "All I need is some sunshine," he sings in that song, albeit in the voice of someone who seems pretty clear that it's not forthcoming. Complementing the dark mood established by the sentiments like that, Kirk would occasionally take a pull from a skull-shaped bottle between songs. It was no surprise that he exhibited a macabre sense of humour to match:
Taylor Kirk: When I get cancer I want a festival just like this. [peering out into the crowd] Matt?
Matt Cully [from somewhere in the back]: I'm on it. [beat] Please don't get cancer.
TK: I think I'm gettin'... [gestures] I think I feel something.
MC: A sore throat is not cancer.
TK: [long pause] Cancer jokes are not funny. Forgive me. [beat] Neil would laugh.
That would serve as the lead-in to the death-obsessed "Demon Host". Closing out the main set, "Lay Down In The Tall Grass" led into "Under Your Spell" (from 2007's debut Medicinals), which ended with some wild stomping causing splattery amplifier echos. Called back for an encore, Kirk did one more old one, the thematically perfect "There is a Cure". After that, Matt Cully had only to come up to the stage and ask the crowd to give a round of applause for Neil to close out a pretty memorable night.4
Listen to a track from this set here.
1There's no release date for Spectral Dusk yet, but I imagine we'll be hearing something once summer's warmth starts to fade. The band will be playing an evening show on the first day of the ALL CAPS! festival on Toronto Island, Saturday, August 13, 2011.
2 In an album where four songs begin with the definite article, it always throws me off that this isn't one of them.
3 After a buzz-explosion festival appearance and an album-release show at Lee's, Austra's upward trajectory continues with a homecoming show at the Phoenix on Thursday, December 1, 2011. Tasseomancy, whose Ulalume album is coming out in August, will be doing double duty in opening the show.
4 Time, in this case, has allowed for more of a happy ending than the slightly-awkward cæsura at the moment of this show. Responding well to treatment, Neil Haverty has been able to rejoin his bandmates, who made a return to live duty at the NXNE festival. They'll be playing again on Thursday August 11, 2011 at the Lower Ossington Theatre as part of the SummerWorks festival, when they'll be previewing tracks from sophomore album Open Flames. After hanging in limbo for most of this year, word is that it will be coming out on October 4th, 2011 — and following a tour there'll be a proper local release show for it on October 27th, 2011 at Lee’s Palace. Go and see the bands you love while they're still with us, and give them a fond hug while you have a chance — none of us can take our tomorrows for granted.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Artist: Snowblink and Friends
Song: Crabapples/Satisfied [Bruce Peninsula covers]
Recorded at "The C is for Cure" benefit (matinée), The Music Gallery. Saturday, January 29, 2011.Snowblink and Friends - Crabapples/Satisfied
My notes for this set can be found here. N.B.: there is a bit of an audible hum in this recording, loudest at at the start. It's a notch below my usual standard, but I felt like the performance merited my sharing it regardless.
The C is for Cure (matinée) (feat. Snowblink / Kith & Kin / The Deeep / Steven McKay)
The Music Gallery. Saturday, January 29, 2011.
This was, first and foremost, a concert that no-one wished was necessary. The sudden and shocking christmastime news that Bruce Peninsula vocalist/guitarist Neil Haverty had been diagnosed with leukemia felt like a blow — considering the vitality with which he always conducted himself it was a sobering moment of mortality even for anyone who knew him only as a fan. So I could only imagine the how it must have felt for his family, friends and bandmates. Besides playing alongside Haverty in Bruce Peninsula, Matt Cully was also his room-mate, a closeness which galvanized into putting together this day-long pair of shows as a fundraiser. The ticketed evening show would be more of a regular concert, pulling in some big-name friends, but the matinée was more of a friends-and-family affair.
It was also pretty rigourously all-ages, with babies and elders mixing in much greater numbers than you would normally find at a show. In fact, as I entered through the Fellowship Room, I was surprised at the robust turnout for a daytime gig. Two walls of the room were taken up with tables filled with food and crafts, all being sold as part of the fundraising effort, and the event very much had the feeling of an extended family gathering. There was even a poster-sized open letter from Haverty, explaining that because of his treatment schedule he wasn't able to be present, but expressing his thankfulness at the support he had received.
Heading into the sanctuary, I found the pews to be fairly full as well. It turned out I had missed Lake Vernon Drowning who had opened things up, but I did manage to catch most of Steven McKay's set.
I suspect that the Bruce Peninsula drummer is not a wild man of rock'n'roll, given how his solo songs tend to celebrate small domestic pleasures — sentiments like "we all need more soup on Sundays / we all need more movie nights" are not the stuff of outré hedonism. "Emma Comes Home", another one of those small-pleasures songs describing his joy in anticipating his wife returning from a trip, had the crowd clapping along to the song's coda.
"We weren't sexy guys," McKay explained in reference to that line. But he managed to raise some knowing laughs in the room when he told how Haverty had misheard the line as the more flattering "voice of Neil / sex appeal / is really rare" — so as a tribute, the band sang it that way.
As was the case with every time I'd seen McKay play, there was a slightly-shuffled lineup of friends playing alongside him. The most essential of which were stalwart backing vocalists Allie Hughes and Alex Samaras, both extraordinary singers who embroidered McKay's more basic baritone. Alongside them were Samir Khan on bass and Thomas Gill on guitar, neither of whom I'd seen backing McKay before, but their presence was no surprise given their participation in some other overlapping projects.
Given that McKay's songs could be as reliable (or dull) as the everydayness of his subjects, it's a testament to the power of the musicians that he plays with that they instead evoke the quiet magic of shared moments. The accompaniment (and especially the soaring vocals) led one habitué of the Music Gallery to comment to me afterwards that this might have been one of the best-sounding sets ever to rise to the Music Gallery's churchy rafters.
Listen to a track from this set here.
The middle act of the afternoon was sonically the odd band out, but The Deeep are still well within the same orbit of friends and musical collaborators as the rest of the performers.1 Echoing their earlier performance in the Music Gallery's courtyard, they once again brought a backdrop to put behind them on stage. But in the half-year since, the trio of musicians have come to sound a lot less like a project and more like a band. Souping up their sound, Wolfgang Nessel now had a bass, along with his array of samplers and other sonic toys, while Victoria Cheong was more tightly integrated as a part of the musical soundscape. Both worked in quilting together a patchwork of warm raggamuffin drones to serve as the palatte upon which Isla Craig — another in a string of astounding singers connecting the day's bands — could loop and layer her vocals.
As the mix of one-bar reggae loop, soaring synth line and looped vocals built up, a few of the older crowd members headed out to the Fellowship Room. Those that remained mostly leaned back and soaked up the grooves, three extended tracks, with statement-of-purpose and 12" single track "Mudd" sprawling out at the centre of it all.
Matt Cully, who had also been acting as the day's MC, ended his introduction of Kith & Kin by making a special appeal for quiet. Given that the trio's music is mostly a capella, any competing noise would definitely stand out. Composed of Bruce Peninsula's Ivy Mairi joined by the mother/daughter team of Kathleen McDonnell and Martha Farquhar-McDonnell, Kith & Kin play songs from the folk tradition. Some, like "Morning Tears", have passed through hands like Appalachian singer Jean Ritchie.
With all the tricks and noises that technology can bring to bear, I'm sometimes taken aback at how unadorned human voices added together can effortlessly create complicated structures of striking beauty, such as when the trio overlapped in and out of the round of an old Shaker work song, or a chillingly-beautiful version of the old sea shanty "Grey Funnel Line". Stunning stuff. For variety, there was one song accompanied by a hundred-year-old banjo, as well as a single original composition that saw Isla Craig return to the stage to duet with Mairi.
The group usually performs at christmastime, so this one involved finding a few new tunes for their repertoire. I'm as secular and un-xmas-y as they come, but after this I could easily see myself joining them at their next Wassail.
That set was followed by an emotional gathering on stage, as Neil Haverty's family passed along Neil's thanks as well as their own gratitude for the support they'd received. That set the stage for the matinée's finale, another band based around a radiant voice. Snowblink is an excellent band inasmuch as pretty much every time I see them I'm struck anew by how good they are. That's certainly a function of Daniela Gesundheit's vocals2, but it also reflects how her and musical partner Dan Goldman are continually striving to surround her voice with new arrangements. Here. the band led off with signature song "Rut & Nuzzle", as usual with some bells handed to out the crowd jangling along plus, for added audience participation, a well-timed crying baby joining in at just the right time.
They kept the focus off themselves in a quick set, playing just three songs before Gesundheit called up members of Bruce Peninsula "past, present and future" and spread them out along the stage. She led them in a slow, simmering version of Bruce Peninsula's "Crabapples" and "Satisfied". The song was mournful and filled with sad longing rather than the urgent energy of Neil Haverty shouting how he had never been satisfied. In fact, comparing this to my memory of Haverty running past me from the stage and dashing around through the crowd in this very same venue was a potent blow, and definitely the emotional climax of the whole day.
Listen to a track from this set here.
After that, a bit of a break was welcome as the crowd cleared out, allowing a whole other set of bands to prepare for the evening concert.
1 The extra "e" is for "extra friendship".
2 Daniela Gesundheit is a long-standing member of Bruce Peninsula's choir.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Live Love Large Benefit Concert (feat. Gentleman Reg / Kat Burns / Hooded Fang)
Metropolitan Community Church. Friday, January 28, 2011.
It's always rather nice to go to places off the gig map — anything on the other side of the Don Valley always feels like an expedition. And I'm generally enthusiastic about any gig I can get to in a church — they generally have good acoustics and nice architecture, but there's not a lot of reasons for secular types to visit 'em in their regular function. All that said, I might not have headed out to Riverdale for this one were K. not eager for a chance to see Gentleman Reg. And anyway, it was for a good cause, a fundraiser for the Friends For Life Bike Rally, which raises millions of dollars for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.
Lots of room in the pews as we arrived, grabbing spaces up front while a folksy guitarist finished off a quiet set for the earlycomers. I'd never been to the MCC before — a nice old church, and it was cool to hear the crowd being welcomed by Rev. Brent Hawkes, the senior pastor, and a true Toronto hero. Looking around as we settled in, I noted it was very much not a typical bar/gig crowd. Besides the charity auctions and fifty-fifty draws and so on, there was also some "local" talent interspersed around the marquee acts — and there were a few times where it felt like two separate events that were a little awkwardly melded together. Perhaps especially so when one of the show's organizers decided to reward herself with a musical set in the middle of everything else.
Once the main event of the night got started, Hooded Fang sounded quite good in the big churchy space, with room to provide some natural reverb to Daniel Lee's voice. He took advantage of the wireless microphone to roam a bit — there was some elbow room given how the multi-tiered stage/pulpit was used to accommodate the band's numbers, with the drums and keybs raised up behind the other bandmembers. It was the same adjusted lineup as the band's New Year's Eve show, with Matt Beckett (ex-Bicycles) subbing in again for bassist April Aliermo.
The band led off with "Land of Giants" from the debut EP, but otherwise played selections from their full-length Album. The crowd was appreciative, but it was more of a sway-in-your-pew sort of vibe than leap-up-and-dance. "Highway Steam" actually got a couple guys up dancing, but despite their efforts to get more folks to join 'em, most people settled for enthusiastic clapping along to the band. Appropriate to the night, the set closed with "Love Song".
Listen to a song from this set here.
Moving from the sanctuary to the church's hall, there was a long break after that, and while the hors d'oeuvres were most welcome, the organizers weren't keeping as tight a rein on the schedule as they might, meaning that Kat Burns' set was cut down to keep things running on time. Leaving the rest of her Forest City Lovers bandmates behind for the occasion, Burns played solo with guitar, leading off with "Tell Me, Cancer". Unfortunately, she'd only play three songs on the night, winding up with "If I Were a Tree". She enlisted the audience to snap their fingers in time for that one, and gave the impression that she was just starting to get warmed up.
Listen to a song from this set here.
After that, it was a quick changeover for headliner Gentleman Reg, playing in trio configuration, with Reg Vermue joined by Kelly McMichael on keybs and Jon Hines on second guitar. They opened with a couple of Jet Black songs ("To Some It Comes Easy" and "Coastline") before mixing things up with a pair of covers. Their arrangement of Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart" has been around for a while now, and it was joined by a slowed-down run through Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy", which worked very well in this configuration, with the McMichael singing the chorus as a counterpoint commenting on Vermue's laments in the verses.
Hynes moved over to the drumkit, keeping time on a couple of Vermue's now-large stock of as-yet-unreleased songs. These days, this is really the highlight of any Gentlemen Reg set, given the quality of the material he's building up. After that, the set closed with a quieter version of "We're in a Thunderstorm" before Reg was called back for one more. There were several in the audience shouting for "Boyfriend Song", but he went instead with "You Can't Get it Back", leaving Hynes to handle the guitar as he leaned around while singing.
Listen to a song from this set here.
A good finish to the evening — hopefully much was raised for the cause, and I'm guessing that the organizers learned a lot that will make their next one run more smoothly. Meanwhile, like at most non-bar shows, it was done at a decent hour, and it was just a short walk down to grab the Carlton car to head back homeward.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Recorded at Bana Y'Afrique Festival, David Pecault Square, July 24, 2011.Afrafranto - Agoro
Full review to follow. Bana Y'Afrique remains a well-curated festival, but not enough people are seeing it. Based on the stretch that I saw, what the Square needed most was a few hundred more people on hand. When they're firing on all cylinders, Afrafranto are one of the best bands you can find in the city, but having an audience reflect some energy back up to the stage would take the whole thing to another level.
Song: Eight Long Years [random passerby remix]
Recorded at Wavelength 511: Band on the Run, July 23, 2011.Digits - Eight Long Years [random passerby remix]
Full review to follow. This song is an example of what can happen to concerts pop up in unexpected places. A guy who had been going past on his bike stopped, transfixed, and took in a good chunk of the set, leaning over to tell me, "Every one of this guy's songs in a hit!" You can hear him adding some impromptu backing vocals to this track.
Song: Summer Breeze
Recorded at Wavelength 511: Band on the Run, July 23, 2011.Rambunctious - Summer Breeze
Full review to follow. This dixieland-improv unit, led by the singular Michael Louis Johnson, doesn't know any songs — but they will compose some on the spot based on titles provided by the audience. The stomping noise you hear near the start is one of the younger audience members bouncing along.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Dentata (Anagram / Bruised Knees / Holy Mount)
The Silver Dollar. Friday, January 21, 2011.
After hanging out at an entirely different kind of show, I headed down Spadina and climbed up to the Dollar just as Oshawa's Holy Mount were taking the stage. Although their thick sludge (heavy in the way that "heavy metal" meant forty years ago) is a bit out my musical sweet spot, I had been favourably struck the first time I had seen 'em. Now streamlined down from a quartet to a three-piece, Brandon McKenzie has slid over from guit to bass, joined by Troy Legree on drums and Danijel Losic on guit and vox. The band led off with both sides of their new 7", "The Rain The Might" and "Breeze Blows West".1 When I'd seen 'em before, I'd noted that with their talent for heavy sludginess, they got better the slower they played, but "Breeze Blows West", with its pummelling hook is quite fabulous, and shows that they can nail it at a (relatively) higher tempo.
Losic's vox are flattened — sometimes a little too much so — but when he hits his sweet spot, like on closer "Meadowvale", it fits quite well. Stretching things out, they only played five songs in their half-hour set. "Heavy mellow" might be the most apt descriptor for the band, and they're doing it very well right now.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Bruised Knees had also impressed when I'd first come across 'em, so I was glad to have another chance to hear how things were coming along. With some time to gel under their belts — that last show I'd seen had been the first with a new lineup — and on the Silver Dollar's sound system, they sounded very good. From opener "Inside Eye", the band's main elements were on display — and occasionally interestingly juxtaposed. With his singleminded droning guitar lines and stoic glare, Chuck Skullz (ex-Creeping Nobodies), brings a Sonic Youthfulness to the table, which is contrasted with Natalie Logan's brighter demeanour and enthusiastic percussion. Their vocal styles are similarly contrasting, which brings a pleasing frisson, undermining and animating what could otherwise just be deadpan atonal art-punk.
With Chuck Skullz and bassist Graham Hancock creating treated sounds, Logan boosted the energy with some driving percussion, even on the quieter "Folk". That one brought with a singsong-y tunefulness that, indeed, could have been ripped from a folksong, as could its refrain of, "we are ghosts, we are ghosts". Closing with the tasty "Ethio", this was a fine-sounding set showing that the band has moved along well in their process of becoming-who-they-are.
Listen to a track from this set here.
I'm not sure that headliners Dentata are quite at that stage yet. Which is to say that despite being gifted with no shortage of distinctive signifiers, their musical identity seems to be an unfinished work. Put another way: they have a look and an attitude which says far more about who they are as a band than their music does.
Mind you, a look and an attitude can get you pretty far these days, and goes a good distance in describing how in a pretty short time the band was able to marshal a young-skewing crowd that filled up the Dollar.2 There's a bit of a grind and shout to their sound, more Sabbath than Riot Grrrl, and given the exacting care that founders Dana Wright and Tamsen Fields bring to the stage (before playing, they were busily tying undressed barbies to the drums and mic stands) the Joan Jett/Lita Ford sort of vibe they were rocking seems by no means accidental.3
A figure dressed as the Grim Reaper bowed a cage-like implement to create some atmosphere at the outset before the quartet launched into "Earwig", subject of the aforementioned video. That one, as well as some of the more-effective songs came in short bursts while some of the more extended ones churned away in a less-compelling matter. There were lyrics that lived up to the band's name ("I will crush you / in between my legs") and plenty of don't-give-a-fuck attitude on stage. All of which meant that this was a reasonably-entertaining show, though perhaps not yet quite worth the excitement the crowd showered on them. To what extent their musical attack can be sharpened — and to what extent that can be conveyed on their forthcoming debut album4 — will go quite a ways in revealing whether or not this band will grow the teeth that they're bragging about.5
Listen to a song from this set here.
A lot of the crowd melted away after that, but there were still quite a few on hand for Anagram, still carrying the momentum of a good year that had been capped by the release of the fantastic Majewski.Without too much fanfare, the band launched right into the slashing "Good Idea at the Time". Vocalist Matt Mason, unshaven and with a new moustache, looked a little manic as he tore into "Those Were the Days" with gruff gusto, the band's taut snarling chug in lockgroove behind him. With the glorious fuck-you energy of "Fish" (a song by Whitby's Cleavers that Anagram have made into a staple of their live sets), the front of the stage was was filled with bodies bouncing around, plus one or two guys drilled into their own place and doing their little crazy psychedelic dances.
The intense volume and energy papered over the cracks of the band getting mildly unwound during an extended run through "I've Been Wrong Before", and as they played their cover of Leonard Cohen's "The Butcher" towards the set's end they were a bit more detuned than usual, but that's not a big flaw in the middle of it all. Indeed, given how the end of an Anagram set feels a bit like coming out of a hypnotic trace (with furtive gazing around, wondering if you did anything that runs against your basic moral nature), the little details are less important than the state of mind they create.
Listen to a song from this set here.
3 They seem to be the dominant forces in the band, though the drum chair is notably filled out by local artist Alexandra Mackenzie, also of Romo Roto. In this company, guitarist Neil Cavalier is mostly shunted to "generic token male" status.
4 Word is that album is going to be coming out on local imprint Blue Fog.
5 Dentata play tonight (July 22, 2011) at the Four Corners III show at the Steelworkers Hall.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Canaille (Stop Time)
The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge). Friday, January 21, 2011.
With some time to kill before a gig down at The Silver Dollar, I was well-pleased to catch word on the social networks that Canaille were playing a last-minute evening gig at The Tranzac. That also made it a convenient chance to check out Stop Time, a group with a couple familiar faces, including Michael Davidson (one of the primary go-to guys for local rock groups wanting to add a vibraphone, as well as playing in a number of his own more improvisatory groups) and drummer Dan Gaucher (seen in more projects than I could count, and doing double-duty on this evening). The group was rounded out by Harley Card (guitar) and Dan Fortin (bass) and worked as more of a composers' workshop than jam session.
"Dredge", the first song, was pleasantly mellow but could be slotted in as Tortoise-y post-rock, with gentle melodic pushes from vibes and guit pushed along by the rhythm section. Perhaps unsurprisingly for any band named after a musical concept, some of the compositions gave the impression that they were little experiments, playing with texture here and rhythm there, and the music was more subtle, often on the quieter side. They focused more on the interplay than on a musical attack or out-front solos — that meant there were a couple places where this edged a little bit more towards "smooth" than I'd prefer. But on the whole, pleasingly understated stuff. The set closed with a couple from the band's Twice album (available on their bandcamp), including "Bail" and "Permanent Bad Move", the latter the more extended of the set, with a slow build that simmered nicely against Fortin's bassline.
Listen to a track from this set here.
At early-evening shows like this in the Tranzac's front room, audience-members sometimes have to get used to the idea that the musicians are often playing mostly for each other — in the early going, besides the members of both bands and a couple friends, the "crowd" was pretty much me. As as usually the way, though, during the set a few more people drifted in — some more casually than others just to hang out for a bit near the back, some grabbing a seat to take this in. So there were a few more bodies on hand as Canaille set up.
Although the most striking element of the band's lineup is the horns, with saxman/leader Jeremy Strachan joined by Jay Hay on tenor and Nick Buligan on trumpet, the biggest change since I had last seen them has been the addition of Jesse Levine on keybs. Adding both texture and mildly disruptive colours, his superb work was nimble and complementary in a way that really buoyed up the sound. His efforts definitely tied together "Angeer" — a new one that Strachan mentioned will be the lead-off to the band's forthcoming sophomore release.1
That one moved with some straight-up swing, ending on a march beat, and after that, the band zeroed in on Canaille's stock-in-trade, a sound that sounds like a collision between ethiogroove and an old spy movie. As if the material from the yet-unreleased album wasn't fresh enough, Strachan unveiled a brand-new composition that he'd composed that afternoon, a slinky prelude that segued nicely into "Pillows". Despite working from brand-new arrangements on unfamiliar material, the band handled it well, especially Mike Smith's nimble bass guiding it along.
The set closed with Sun Ra's "Watusa" (which will also be featured on the album), and it definitely left me glad I had come down. Potential Things, the band's first album, was pretty tasty stuff, but they've clearly stepped it up a notch — do not miss them when they're playing this fall to support the new album.
Listen to a track from this set here.
After that, it was rather tough to leave the cozy confines of the Southern Cross, especially since the night's later show would be featuring Metal Kites and Gabriel Levine, but I had another show to attend to, so I regretfully moved along.
1 Practical Men, forthcoming from the Standard Form imprint, still doesn't have a release date, but I am told that it's done and at the plant now, so it shouldn't be too long before this phenomenal album is going to be unleashed on the world.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Out Of The Box Music & Arts Festival
Toronto Underground Cinema and The Great Hall. July 29 – July 31, 2011.
Coming up over the long weekend is a brand-new festival that's heavy on local talent and looking admirably ambitious right out of the, er, box. With all-ages matinees and evening shows at two different venues, there's more stuff packed into this weekend than you could actually see. All of the shows are $10 at the door, or you could see as much as you want with a $15 pass.1
Or you could get in for free! Courtesy of the Festival, I have three pairs of passes to give away. All you have to do is send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with "Out of the Box" in the subject line and your mailing address in the body. At noon on July 24th, I'll randomly select three winners and send the passes your way.
The jewel in the festival's crown are the competing shows on Friday night, with a folksier origami-themed show2 at The Great Hall headlined by Olenka and The Autumn Lovers up against a more rockin' night at the Underground Cinema that sounds like it was custom-designed to delight me, with a lineup including MFS faves The Hoa Hoa's and Planet Creature along with Rival Boys and The Davey Parker Radio Sound playing in front of 3-D projections.
Listen! The Hoa Hoa's - All the Time
Listen! Planet Creature - Ramona
Saturday features the intriguing Papermaps at the Underground Cinema, alongside Heartbeat Hotel and Foxes in Fiction, a couple acts I've been meaning to catch for awhile. Sunday night — and it's a long weekend, so you can stay out late — again has duelling showcases. And that's not even mentioning the daytime all-ages shows.
Full information on the festival can be found here.
The fine print: Contest closes Sunday, July 24, 2011 at noon E.D.T. These golden tickets are guaranteed to be 98% oompa-loompa free.
1 This is a pretty crazy good deal, and the passes are available now at Rotate This and Soundscapes.
2 Did I mention that most of he shows have elaborate themes? Giant origami! 3-D projections!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Sunday Playlist #17
Tropics will be playing at the Four Corners II show at the Steelworkers Hall on Friday, July 22, 2011.
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.
Artist: Colin Fisher + Mark Hundevad
Song: excerpt from an improvisation
Recorded at The Tranzac (Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party), July 16, 2011.Colin Fisher + Mark Hundevad - excerpt from an improvisation
Full review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here. Happy birthday to Spontaneous Combustion Magazine, which serves as a guide to local improvised and experimental musics, and exists as a beautifully-crafted physical object as well as online, where their gig listings are a great boon to anyone looking to expand their musical horizons.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Sean Nicholas Savage (Dr. Ew / Army Girls)
!059. Saturday, January 15, 2011.
For a while now, I've had a sort of ambiguous relationship with the less formal venues in this city. Like pretty much everyone, I love the idea of shows-not-at-bars, and in theory I really dig the notion of there being different sorts of places to see bands play. On the other hand, seeing corners cut with what is most assuredly entrepreneurial gusto often sets my internal alarm bells ringing, nanny-state caution monkey that I am.
Also, when I head out to see a band, I'm the sort who likes to pay attention with a certain kind of focus. So if that performance is taking place in the context of what is essentially a giant house party, where not nearly everyone's agenda matches mine... well, I guess you could just call me a party pooper. It might have been those instincts that had hitherto kept me away from !059, a well-known "semi venue", that until recently played host to musical shows and a slew of other artistic endeavours. Located in a residential strip that's almost in the shadow of Casa Loma, it's a little off the beaten track (though hardly remote) and the sort of place you'd just pass by if you didn't know what you were looking for.
Not good at party time, I actually arrived in the relative early going, with just a handful of people lingering in the main area, which had once been a living room with a wall removed to open the space up further. There was no stage so much as a zone at one end of the room against the front window overlooking the street outside, now cluttered with gear. One of the long walls of the rectangular room was taken up by a staircase — there was a coatrack up there, as well as the bathroom and the locked-off rooms belonging to the house's occupants. Not much furniture in the main area, just a couple chairs below the stairway — and opposite that on the other long wall a sort of three-sided wooden step below a bay window. That was the spot I staked out — I figured a little elevation never hurts in trying to see a band play.
And indeed, once the floor started filling in, I was glad to have claimed my little space. By about eleven, it was starting to feel full, with about fifty or sixty people on hand. The crowd included a lot of guys who were comfortable wearing their toques inside, and maybe it was just because it was the dead of winter, but flannel usage looked to be up about 15 per cent.1
One of the main reasons I wanted to come down for this was to see Army Girls, who were playing first. Although I had seen Carmen Elle and Andy Smith playing together before, that was before they'd even settled on a name. Now, they were more focused on Carmen Elle's new songs (with the last vestiges of her earlier "solo" stuff stripped out of the setlist) and were showing more comfort with each other, with an easy and natural interplay that animated their stripped-down but not spare sound. Smith's drums pushed without calling too much attention to themselves, keeping the focus on Carmen Elle's adroit guitar work and fabulous vox. "Always" was pretty kickass, and there were some other top-notch songs like "Here It Comes" that should be showing up on their forthcoming EP.2
The house-party sound was a little rough, and the vocals might have been bumping up against the limits of the PA a little, but in any room Carmen Elle's voice is capable of expressing a yearning that suggests something more complicated than either toughness or yielding surrender. And the pair's basic guit/drums sound works like that too — not quite scrappy, but certainly not soft. Closing with "The Power", the set was only a tantalizing EP-sized six songs — "we don't have any more," was the confession at the set's end as the crowd called for another. There's so much talent on display here that I'm taken aback every time I see this duo — and they're good enough that I've gone out of my way to see them a couple more times since this show.
Listen to a song from this set here.
If the room was comfortably full as that set had started, with the next fifteen or twenty people to show up it started to move to feeling crowded — and there'd be a steady stream of more people arriving all night long. And it was an out-for-a-good time party sort of crowd — definitely not like a temperance meeting. When a burning smell wafted through the room before the next set (over and on top of the pungent smell of weed in the atmosphere) my inner Fire Marshall flinched big time, that familiar voice in my head crying WATCH OUT WATCH OUT as I thought about alternate exit routes. And opposite me, the stairway (which had no banister on its open side away from the wall) was getting filled up with people standing on the steps, making it a perilous passage for anyone headed past them up or down — an accident waiting to happen in a room full of invulnerable-feeling drunks.
Meanwhile, while I mused about safety and doom, wondering how difficult if would be to get out through the window I was standing beside, a quick changeover had Dr. Ew ready to go. The quartet jumped right into the brisk "I'm Not Mad At You Anymore", and from the top this was more rocking than the last time I'd seen Drew Smith (formerly of The Bicycles). This was a different lineup than the previous time I'd seen him with a band, with only Mike Le Riche (guitar, also of The Darcys) holding over. Here, he was joined by the Steamboat-y rhythm section of Matt McLaren (bass and piano) and Jay Anderson (drums). As far as I can tell, this has become Smith's regular group, and it was a fizz-pop sugar rush fully worthy of his songs, bouncing from one two-minute confection to the next. They also brought a tougher edge to songs like "The House Of Many Mansions".
The crowd was getting more boisterous, but to my surprise people paid attention to the quieter "Let's Make It Legitimate". "Did anyone just fall in love?" Smith asked the crowd as they finished. "I love you guys!" one dude drunkenly shouted back. After rocking out a couple more, the set ended on a softer note with "Stay In Place" and "Oh Human History" — "I miscalculated," Smith commented on not having saved a barnburner to close out on. Still, this was fabulous material presented by a top-notch band. As I've said before: Smith's bubblegummy songs and presentation make it easy to underestimate his skill and talent, but there's something seriously good going on here.
Listen to a song from this set here.
Setting up on the extended ledge in front of the window opened up the space on the floor where the bands had been playing, but the still-increasing numbers soon filled that up and the place was feeling quite jammed for Montreal's Sean Nicholas Savage. The last time I had seen Savage had definitely rubbed me the wrong way, maybe just because his ongoing lightning-fast evolution had turned what I had thought was going to be a folkie strummer into a disco crooner. And while I can appreciate his musical progression from The Everly Brothers to The Gibb Brothers, the karaoke-like nature of that performance just didn't work for me.
This time around was somewhat better. Savage was still singing over backing tracks played on a ipod, but somehow the fact that the music was a more stripped-down, basic midi sound rather than instrumental versions of finished album tracks made a difference.3 What can't be denied is how hard Savage is working to be an entertainer — he prowled along the ledge with magnetic energy, and the crowd totally ate it up as he sashayed into "Can’t Get My Mind Off You" (from his then-forthcoming Trippple Midnight Karma). "Disco Dancing" (from the barely-older Mutual Feelings of Respect and Admiration) was treated like a classic, with people singing along, and the crowd up front (including host Henri Faberge and Daniel Moon King Woodhead) slow dancing.
There was a large and enthusiastic crowd up front who were fully into this — though countered by the fact that a few rows back it was more just another background element of the massive houseparty. I can see why people find this fun, and I can see the hard work that Savage is putting into his live performances — I even enjoy his steady stream of fresh music he keeps putting out. But in the end, I have to confess, this kind of live show just doesn't do a lot for me. All the more room for the people who do get it, including all those who rushed up front when, in lieu of an encore, Savage selected "Sexual Healing" on his ipod and semi-lipsynced into an empty wine bottle, dancing and whipping up the crowd into a singalong frenzy.
The end of the "show" part of the night meant that the party proper was just kicking into high gear, but that was enough of a time for me. When I managed to make my way up the Stairs of Peril to retrieve my parka I found that all of the coats that had been hung up had fallen into a giant heap and were buried under layers of coats from more recent arrivals. That meant you had wade into a knee-deep pile, tromping on other people's coats until you could dig out your own, all while trying to dodge the line of people waiting to use the one bathroom. That could be a metaphor for the place as a whole — either that sort of thing is a minor impediment to your fun, or it's enough to make you wonder if this is the sort of fun you want to have.
1 Actual overheard conversation:
Hipster #1: After the show, we're going to take some drugs and go up to the castle.
Hipster #2: [brightly] *I* like doing drugs!
2 Entitled Close to the Bone, the disc was recorded by Ben Cook, and is now slated for a September release.
3 It maybe (probably?) shouldn't matter so much at all — but that's a whole other unpacking of my inner rockism that I'm not prepared to get into here.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Artist: Four Corners II*
Song: Losing Touch With My Mind (Spacemen 3 cover)
Recorded at Four Corners II (Steelworkers Hall), January 14, 2011.Four Corners II - Losing Touch With My Mind
My notes for this set can be found here.
* This is, in fact, the four bands at Four Corners II (Rituals, Sun Ra Ra Ra, Quest For Fire and Lullabye Arkestra) playing simultaneously. It's a bit of a chaosbomb, but it's presented here for those who are interested.
Four Corners II (feat. Lullabye Arkestra / Quest for Fire / Sun Ra Ra Ra / Rituals)
Steelworkers Hall. Friday, January 14, 2011.
The initial Four Corners show was such a success that it seemed inevitable that there'd be sequel. In fact, the concept is so wonderful (and, ex post facto, so obvious) that it's a wonder that this hadn't happened sooner. Basically, instead of having one stage where four bands take turns playing their sets, these shows get rid of the stage and have four bands set up in each of the corners of the room, letting them take turns playing one or two songs. The outcome is a non-stop stream of music, with all of that deadtime for set breaks and changeovers suddenly eliminated as the bands power onwards.
There was also the chance to apply some lessons learned from the first incarnation — this time out in the Steelworkers Hall, there was one more section of the multipurpose room open, creating a slightly bigger space. And besides colour-coded spotlights, each corner was also decorated with a matching light sculpture. And just as importantly, the slow-pouring draft keg was replaced by bottles of beer this time, keeping the queue moving faster.
The advantage of the January version was the the room was less stiflingly hot — at least at first — but it also made hanging out in the patio area less enticing. Speaking to the sense of community these shows foster, I noted members of all four bands from the first Four Corners in attendance — including, of course, the guys from Ancestors, who once again set things up.
While the room filled, the DJ was spinning a variety of dancefloor-friendly stuff (from reggae to ELO) that'd be unlike anything forthcoming from the night's bands. In fact, the overall net vibe of these four bands would be "less punk, more metal" than the previous show. There's still a fair amount of musical terrain covered by the four bands, but definitely a shared love of volume — a fact I regretted as I realized that for the first time in ages I'd forgotten my earplugs.
The room was pretty full by the time things got started, with Rituals, in the red corner, leading off. Of the four, this was the only band I had no familiarity with1, but they were speaking my language with a sort of gloomy, reverb-laden post-punk sound. I liked the ingredients, but at first I was somewhat unsure if I liked how they mixed them. There were shades of, say, Crystal Stilts, but Rituals brought something darker and harder-edged to it — like angry stoners on acid out to recreate half-remembered metal jams.
Listen to one of Rituals' songs from this show here.
Rituals played two songs, then over to the green corner, where Sun Ra Ra Ra sounded ragged right off the bat — like they'd been standing out in a parking lot screaming all night just to be ready for this. Raging garage punk sizzling in all directions, this is a band that takes "Psychotic Reaction" to heart as much as a manifesto as a sonic template — inspirational lyric: "you really can't control what's on the other side of your mind."
Check out of of Sun Ra Ra Ra's songs from this show here.
Quest for Fire were a literal change of pace, with their first song coming out at about a third of the speed of Sun Ra Ra Ra's frenzied spasms. The band was beefed up for the night with extra guitar from Holy Mount's Daniel Losic, and they were deliciously sludgy in a bliss/drone sort of way — "it's a very blue scene right now," quipped the guy standing behind me, correctly noting that their colour fit their vibe just fine. The only other time I'd seen the band, quite early on in their run, hadn't done a thing for me — but this was going down just right.
Listen to one of Quest for Fire's songs from this show here.
Unsurprisingly, Quest For Fire played one song in about the same time the other bands had played two, and then the action moved across the room to Lullabye Arkestra. For their own regular sets, the husband-and-wife duo of Kat Taylor and Justin Small have developed a theatrical build, with smoke machines and rising keyboard drones. But here, it was right into it, and as their musical fury burst out in frenzied bass and pummelled drums, the guy in front of me set to some honest-to-goodness headbanging. That's the sort of intensity that Lullabye Arkestra can bring, and when they're raging full-force, they're something to behold.
Listen to one of Lullabye Arkestra's songs from this show here.
And then it was back to Rituals as the second lap began. It's worth noting once again how effortlessly everything flowed, with no sound problems and bands striking it up as the last notes from the band before them were still fading. Quest For Fire hit their faster gear, which is still a much slower chug than anyone else on hand and Lullabye Arkestra broke out a pair of new songs — one of which, with Taylor's vox and a chorus of "set it on fire!" was pretty, um, inflammable.
By the third time around, the bands were really hitting their stride, especially Rituals, who, all at once "clicked" with me. The crowd that had been surging from corner to corner as bands switched off were starting to list now, some people fading back to grab a beer or marshal their strength while Sun Ra Ra Ra were playing like Thirteenth Floor Elevators on meth. Meanwhile, as Quest For Fire played, I was half-drunkenly convinced for a minute they were pulling out an Alice in Chains cover, or something vaguely familiar that I couldn't pin down. It was only after the fact that I realized it was, in fact, Pink Floyd's "Fearless" — a non-classic that went down well with some ragged extra heaviousity.
At the start of the fourth and final lap around the room, it's called out that the bar is closing in a half-hour. By now, the floor was slick with spilled beer, and the room had indeed heated up, the windows now fogged over. As Rituals completed their last pair of songs, there were lots of people staggering around with two or three beers. Sun Ra Ra Ra launched into a bad-vibe version of Spacemen 3's "Rollercoaster" that seemed to be more to call for damaged schizophrenia than liberating mind expansion.
That would give a peek ahead to the grand finale, when all the bands combined for a four-cornered version of "Losing Touch With My Mind", another Spacemen 3 cover, with all four bands simultaneously raising as much cacophony as they could muster while trying to stay in sync. Quest For Fire were the loudest, and hence the best to use as a guide. But once they all got going, it was like a sonic apocalypse — or at least some kind of Dionysian mindmelt, and the room broke out into clumps of people dancing, with groups of friends wandering around high-fiving each other, and people making out along the scarce available wall space. The "song" lasted about six minutes, the bands shifting in and out from each other, and then ended as each of them fell into a long squall of feedback for another couple minutes.
Listen to the intense madness of the finale here.
Quite exhausting, but also a helluva ride. Slightly more than an hour-and-a-half, all told. After that, the outside cold felt rather bracing, although the conditions were less conducive to people simply collapsing outside on the lawn to recover.2
Once again, if you noticed that the pictures here are way better-looking than they normally are in these parts, that's because I've borrowed a few shots with the kind permission of Ivy Leah. Ivy captures the passion of bands because she's passionate about them as well — and can be found right up in the thick of it at many of the city's finer no-bullshit rock'n'roll shows. Check out her stuff here.
1 With the crowd rushing from corner to corner while I held my spot at the centre of the room, I didn't realize during the set that it was the multitasking Leon Taheny (a member of Germans, and seen on stage recently with Bruce Peninsula — as well as a producer of many fine records) behind the drumkit.
2 And just to catch up with the bands involved, it should be noted that Rituals have a gig at Parts & Labour on Saturday, July 23, 2011, and Quest For Fire is playing at The Silver Dollar this Friday (July 15, 2011). And, most excitingly, Four Corners III (featuring Dentata, Tropics, Boars and The Soupcans) goes down at the Steelworkers Hall on Friday July 22, 2011.