Wednesday, August 31, 2011
catl (Steamboat / Youth Crime)
The Horseshoe Tavern. Friday, February 11, 2011.
Good-sized crowd on hand as I rolled into The 'Shoe with three-piece Youth Crime just about to get underway. From the looks of things, they had a lot of friends and vocal supporters come out, including a couple with home-made signs. The trio came equipped with dual guitar action plus drums, and a lot of the songs featured shared lead vocals in front of a minimalist rattle and clang. They were rocking to a ragged rhythm chug that was sometimes a little nervously stiff. The upshot of all that was that they had a bit of a Gun Club sort of thing going on — a couple songs sounded at the outset like they could have been covers of "Sex Beat". When they actually did play a cover — of X's "The World's a Mess; It's in My Kiss" — it was almost just as on point.
I liked some of the elements here, and there was something to songs like "Pick Up Your Feet" or "Nerve Endings". So it was enjoyable, but I wasn't totally convinced — some of the songs felt a bit too spare, to the point of sounding incomplete. They had a notion of how they wanted the guitars to work off each other, but went to the well maybe a bit too much with what they were doing, and songs like "You'll Change Your Mind" quickly zipped by without leaving too much of an impression.
Still, closer "Sharron" finished things off on a high and gave a notion of what the band might be capable of. Watching them, I thought this was a band that could develop into something given some time; but as of now that looks like it's not to be, as an announcement for their most recent show announced it was to be their last. But I'm sure the lessons learned here will be applied in the musicians' next projects.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Given that this was billed as a co-headlining show, I was expecting a decent-sized set from Steamboat. Although the band has but two EP's to their name, they actually have a pretty fair-sized stockpile of yet-to-be released material, which on this night would be supplemented by a couple brand-new ones. The set started with the half-dozen members of the core band on stage to generate their warm and soulful sound, with a funky undercurrent that implies at any given moment that the band could start channelling either The Band or Booker T. & The MG's.1
With pretty much no letup between songs, the band moved through some of their "classic" material — "How Long" was an early highlight here. After a half-dozen songs, the band was joined by the three-man horn section (including Joe Shabason and Jeremy Strachan) which always moves things up another gear. Tearing into the funky "Bread and Butter", the crowd was picking up on the dance-party vibe. Giving them a breather, there was one song that was new to me ("Not an Omen, Just a Warning") that was slowed-down to start before building up momentum. That was matched by another new one, with the irrepressible Maylee Todd on co-lead vox.
By set's end, the floor was filled in with increasingly wobbly dancers, some sloppy drunk to get their weekend going. Meanwhile, the band closed out the fifty-minute set with a soulful run through The Sonics' "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark". Clearly they could have gone on longer, but one supposed they wanted to leave the crowd with enough energy to keep dancing for the headliners.
Taking the stage at half-past midnight, catl launched into their set with more showmanship than I'm used to from the no-frills band. Drummer Johnny LaRue (rockin' a fine mid-period Castro/ hoax-addled Joaquin Phoenix beard) began alone on stage, launching into a taut groove before Sarah Kirkpatrick (keyb/vox) danced onto the stage, and they were eventually followed by Jamie Fleming, who plugged in his guitar and joined in for a long intro groove. "Don't drop your drinks, y'know what I'm sayin'," he muttered as the shuffle resolved into a tearin' version of R.L. Burnside's "Poor Black Mattie". That bit of stagecraft shouldn't be interpreted as meaning that the band has gotten slick all of a sudden — it's all still in the service of their leering, drunken blues grind, and even if they're getting a bit more professional (the merch table was selling the band's brand-new t-shirts) this is still a band that will play on your porch for a bottle of tequila.
Nestled around a few tracks from last year's very tasty With the Lord for Cowards You Will Find No Place, there was some newer material, like "Gotta Thing For You", (a vocal spot for Kirkpatrick which I don't think I'd heard before), and "5 Miles" (which has been around for a little longer). The band's tight arrangements co-existed with verge-of-falling-apart execution (Kirkpatrick poked fun at Fleming for launching into a "tuning solo" midsong during "Church on Time").
And meanwhile, the floor was packed in tight with dancing, clapping people blowing off Friday night steam, their refreshment increasingly overtaking their rhythm as the night went on — at one point, I had several people on different sides of me clapping at different off-beat times, like they were all unintentionally re-enacting that first scene from The Jerk. The set kept on with song after song: the new "Waiting List Blues" (which came across a a little undercooked); the Hasil Adkins two-fer of "Get Out of My Car" and "Chicken Walk"; and the excellent "Hold My Body Down".
As the band plowed along and the hour grew late the crowd thinned out somewhat, which I must admit brought me a sense of relief. There was a pair of back to back "Cocaine Blues", with Kirkpatrick handling the slowed-down traditional version ("I woke up this mornin', I had a hungry pain / And all I wanted for breakfast was some good old cocaine") followed by the band's own more rip-roarin' version. After seventy sweaty minutes, by the time the band finished with "Workin' Man's Soul", the room was a lot quieter, and whether it was the crowd's exhaustion or depleted numbers, there wasn't a general call for the band to come back, so that was the night.
It was a solid-enough set from the band, but a bit of a grinding blue-collar effort in places. To cap things off, when I went to grab my parka, I found that someone had spilled beer all down the sleeve. An occupational hazard of attending to raucousness, I suppose.2
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are another big influence here, and given a recent high-profile Muppet covers album it's worth noting that Steamboat were way ahead of the curve in that department.
2 Details are sketchy at the moment, but word from the catl camp is that you should be keeping October 14 & 15 clear — one might guess that the band's forthcoming new album might be getting a big-ass release celebration on those nights.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Resolutionaries Marimba Band
Gladstone Hotel (Melody Bar). Friday, February 11, 2011.
Music Africa, the hard-working folks who put on Afrofest, have been keeping busy in the off-season lately by celebrating Black History Month with a month-long series of free Friday night shows in The Gladstone's Melody Bar. It's always a good opportunity to investigate unfamiliar acts: free, low-pressure, nice crowd, and (if you're so inclined) still done in time to head out to another gig afterward. And on a cold February night, it feels particularly fine to be sitting in the Melody Bar, watching streetcars trundle past in the crisp cold.
This night definitely fell into the "try something new" category, as I knew nothing about the Resolutionaries Marimba Band. Active for a year, the Peterborough crew are self-proclaimed purveyors of "Zimbabwean hybrid music", indicating that they're strongly aware of the tradition they're playing in, but not strictly bound to it. The band featured a drummer and bass player, plus three musicians rotating between the four full-sized marimbas. Under the leadership of founder Chaka Chikodzi, they delivered a polyrhythmic and highly tuneful brand of mostly-instrumental dance music, and turned out to be a delightful discovery.
Given the limits of the small stage, Chikodzi's main marimba was on the floor, right by the door out to the street. That meant he was first in line for a blast of cold air every time someone entered — which might have given him extra incentive to get the room heated up. And though I think the band was an unknown to most of the crowd, it didn't take long for the bouncy imperative to take over and get people up and dancing. The whole of the first set was given over to extended uptempo grooves, the players moving from marimba one to another as each song required. It was also a joy to watch the band, given the constant physicality of the playing, with mallets blurred as the rhythmic lines rubbed up and danced against each other.
After the nonstop dance party of the first set, the second started off on a different note with Chikodzi taking centre stage and playing mbira, backed only by drums for a quieter song, which also featured his appealing voice. After that, as the rest of the band returned, I recognized the old standard "Manhanga", a celebration of sweet pumpkins that had the crowd clapping along in its triple-fire pap-pap-pap rhythm. The next songs were slower and more intricate, but the music was still more than groovy enough to dance to.
Things picked up again with some extra drum action, a large two-headed one lying on its side giving the bandmembers a chance to step out in front of the stage and get in on the dancing. This was feel-good music in the most literal sense, and the positive vibes from the band brightened the room.
And, as always, it's interesting to see how these shows play out against the background of a crowd that's not necessarily there just for them. Toward the end, an older dude in sweatpants and a Ramones t-shirt came in through the front door and, surveying the situation, bowed to the band before throwing his coat to the floor and proceeding to dance in front of the stage. About a third of his dancing repertoire was The Robot. And once things wound down, with the karaoke crowd eagerly eyeing the tables up front, it was easy enough to skip outside and hop on the streetcar and head onward to the next show.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Artist: The Hoa Hoa's
Song: Landing on the Moon
Recorded at The Boat, August 26, 2011.The Hoa Hoa's - Landing on the Moon
Full review to follow. Although celebrating the release of their excellent new EP, the Hoa's were also casting an eye back to the past, exploring some of their older songs in this pre-hiatus show.
Artist: Colin Stetson
Recorded at The Drake Underground, August 26, 2011.Colin Stetson - Judges
Friday, August 26, 2011
Artist: Henok Abebe
Song: Keber Cha Cha
Recorded at 'Msaada' East Africa Relief Benefit Concert, Lula Lounge, August 25, 2011.Henok Abebe - Keber Cha Cha
Full review to follow. A solid evening's entertainment to raise some funds for Médecins Sans Frontières' relief efforts in Somalia. The night included several well-known acts pitching in, but the headliner was the youthful Henok Abebe, a rising star in the local Ethiopian music scene. Any donations going to MSF until September 16 will be matched by the Canadian government.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Old World Vulture (Ostrich Tuning / Epigram)
The Boat. Thursday, February 10, 2011.
It'd been a while since I'd been out to The Boat in Kensington Market — word on the street was that it had closed down for a little while — but its comforting dankness seemed the same as it ever was. It was too cold a night to putter around before heading to the show, so I arrived in the early going. In the empty-ish room, a scratchy copy of Alien Lanes was on the turntable and Keith Hamilton, in a Phaneuf jersey, was in the back corner, thinkin' for himself and watching the Leafs.
Soon enough Epigram were stirring and getting ready to play. From what I gathered, they were the ones who had put the night together, brought along the drumkit and had even put up a table for Second Harvest to try and get some twonies from those in attendance. When they got going, they started off with what I remembered most about the band — a glide-y sound with plenty of e-bow. Mostly playing tracks from sophomore album Reverie, the first two songs, each about five minutes long, were of a piece with what I had seem 'em do before. The spaciousness of the quiet interludes is my favourite thing about the band, and I dig how they can shimmer and coast along without always relying on a big explosion.
Not that there wasn't some sonic expansiveness. The band mixed things up by bringing up Trevor Townsend on extra percussion. His shaker and glockenspiel added a nice touch to the next song. And for an interesting sort of gravitas, the following one began with the band playing over some sampled dialogue of Del and Neal's hotel-room argument from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, bringing into play a large marching-band type drum on the stage. Enjoyable stuff, and good to see the band expanding their bag of tricks.
Listen to a song from this set here.
Although also playing instrumental music, Old World Vulture don't bring such a post-rock angle. With fewer quiet parts, they deal less in subtle, shifting dynamics, aiming instead for more of a sleeker sound. Devin Hughes' keyboards are the main melodic voice here, with Mike Costanzo (guit) and Anthony Perri (bass) providing texture or thrust as required.
The band played some songs from an album they were then in the process of recording1 including new songs like "You're Exotic" and "Last Kicks of a Dying Horse", the latter offering some pretty tasty shifts. Aggressive without being too monolithic, the band brought volume and a smoke machine. And also a variety of musical imperatives underlying the songs — one actually had a good beat you could dance to. Even when Hughes' keyb got a bit balky mid-set, the band kept pushing forward. Overall, a good time.
Listen to a song from this set here.
In the minor-est of minor observations, I'd note that it's not too often that you get two bands whose names start with "O" on the same bill. Ostrich Tuning were, name synchronicity aside, an interesting fit in this lineup. They can stretch out instrumentally as much of the other two bands that played, but no matter how far they push their excursions, they still come back to a "song" sensibility, with vocals and hooks and all those accoutrements. It also just so happens that they're in the upper tier of the city's bands, even if their occasionally drone-y propensities might not be something for everyone's taste.
The early part of the set included stuff from their self-titled debut album, which is a cracker of a disc, well worth chasing down. The unseasonal instrumental fanfare "We Like Summer" led into the catchy "Gender Trouble/Bodies That Matter". Masters of slowburning hazy drift, Ostrich Tuning's songs tend to segue in and out of each other, and "Bodies That Matter" — part of a three-song suite on the album — faded into another song, then returned for a mutated reprise. The band alternates lead vocals along with instrumental roles, but the vox tend to stay pretty low in the mix — another reason you can't be sure when one song has melted into another. At its best, the band's music can go from simmer to boil in subtle gradations — you're getting pleasantly mellowed out until suddenly you realize your face is melting.
Amongst the seven-ish songs (again, a bit hard to count) in a forty-five minute span there was also a newer one with an uptempo, Sonic Youth-y rhythm. But even that stretched out a bit — Ostrich Tuning aren't ever in too much of a rush. On the whole, excellent stuff.2
Listen to a song from this set here.
1 A recent dispatch from the band notes that the album is now being mastered, so keep an eye out for it soon.
2 Ostrich Tuning will be playing tomorrow (Thursday, August 25, 2011) at The Boat, kicking off the weekend-long Optical Sounds/Hoa Hoa's celebration. Not to be missed.
Monday, August 22, 2011
The Radio Dept. (Young Prisms)
Lee's Palace. Monday, February 7, 2011.
I do my best to avoid Monday shows, which means when I do go out it's usually for a touring band who I'll not get another chance to see again any time soon. And perhaps that was felt a little more keenly this time 'round, with the night's Swedish headliners making their long-awaited local debut. Oh well, at least Monday shows start a little bit earlier.
It actually looked as if the early start time might have as much to do with openers Young Prisms having to get home before curfew. Which is to say that the four-piece out of San Francisco looked like they might not have gotten into the club were they not up on stage.1
Certainly some of the sounds they were generating were of an older vintage than the players — and at a time when plenty of bands are finding fertile room to explore in the period where "alternative" was becoming "indie", it seems positively classicist to be looking instead at the time when "college rock" was becoming "alternative". Which is to say that Young Prisms' terrain was characterized by music that was smeary but melodic, with overlapping, passed-around vocals mostly handled by Stefanie Hodapp. Definite hints of Sonic Youth and pick-yr-shoegazing reference. Showing their affection for the latter, at the centre of the set, "Breathless" was connected to another song by a relatively lengthy segue of guitar haze.
Actually, both there and in a few other spots, my main complaint was that Matthew Allen's guitar tone could have been a little more aggressively Bloody — most of the time his sound wasn't so much steel wool as itchy sweater, and there were places where a bit more spiky noise would elevate the material. Still, the overall flavour was generally tasty, indicating the band is off to a decent start — the individual songs weren't overwhelming but there's something here. I did like how Stefanie Hodapp's languid vox rubbed up against the guitars. There were shades of our own Mean Red Spiders in a frisky sort of mood — closer "Softer" (a brand-new one) especially brought MRS to mind. Not strikingly new, but this the sort of thing that I dig.
Listen to a track from this set here.
I try to avoid stereotypes as much as possible, but it's hard not to see the evening's headliners as vague avatars of presumed Scandinavian traits: polite, reserved, efficient. So when vocalist/guitarist Johan Duncanson greeted the crowd with a concise few words ("We're The Radio Dept. from Sweden. Thanks for having us.") it seemed about exactly right. If you were going to describe the band's appearance, "unassuming" would come to mind, with three blokes that you could easily imagine playing pick-up soccer after a day of designing safety features for consumer products. They looked like any three Swedish guys you'd pull off the street — which is to say there was a certain amount of stoicism on stage. It was even a rigorously egalitarian set-up, with the trio (who play without a drummer) spaced out evenly across the front of the stage.
I'm far from an expert on the seemingly limitless amount of spookily well-executed pop-rock emerging from Sweden, so I can't say much to situate the band amongst their peers. In fact, I hadn't really distinguished them from the background noise of ten thousand bands competing for my attention until notices for their third album (2010's rather fine Clinging to a Scheme) started piling up. Once I did get my hands on it, I was pretty quickly seduced by the band's effortless music, humane but by no means rough-hewn and packed with spectacularly memorable songs.
Clearly I wasn't the only one that had been brought on board, given the sold-out venue, and that increase in profile had obviously opened some doors for the band. This had enabled them not only to make it over to North America to tour, but also to help bring the newer fans up to speed with the release of the career-spanning Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 compilation. Given that was the release that the band was ostensibly promoting, it made sense that they started off with "Freddie and the Trojan Horse", one of the non-album tracks on that set. This song (and some others throughout the set) had a two-guitar setup — Martin Larsson would subsequently switch over to bass as required.
My only concern coming in to this show was how much presence and spark an unapologetic "studio" band would bring to their live show. They certainly weren't out to impress with their gear — Duncanson had but a teenie little rehearsal amp on stage. Roaring walls of sound this ain't, but it is sleek, well-crafted pop, quietly impassioned in a way to draw the listener in.
The setlist seemed meticulously-planned to cover as many facets as possible, with Clinging to a Scheme's "This Time Around" followed by a back-to-back pair of excursions to 06's Pet Grief ("I Wanted You to Feel the Same", "The Worst Taste in Music"). Then a b-side ("Messy Enough") and another retrospective pair, from 2003's debut Lesser Matters. Although received wisdom is that the band's earlier material hadn't crossed the terminator from shoegaze to dreampop, except for the relative balance of guitar to synthesizer there's more continuities than radical breaks. "Why Won't You Talk About It" and "Ewan", both with that more prominent guitar sound, still weren't exactly a noisefest or anything.
Regardless of whether the songs came from the breakthrough album or anywhere else in the discography, the crowd immediately recognized and cheered each song. And while the band wasn't too demonstrative, they did seem impressed and spurred on by the enthusiastic crowd, even if you had to read between the lines in Duncanson's banter ("You're too kind.") to perceive that.
The quieter "Domestic Scene" was pretty tasty, but for a while in the late-middle part of the set, I was pondering to myself on the utility of seeing this sort of live performance. This is contained, carefully-crafted music, and the band's means of production imply they're never really going to tear it up. It's a solid representation of their music, but not particularly different from the recorded versions. Of course, where there's amazing songs behind it all, it hardly matters, and as "Heaven's On Fire" kicked in, it made me feel churlish to doubt the power of the band.
In un-rock'n'roll fashion, the set ended with the band leaving the stage one at a time, leaving the backing track playing. And in a less dramatic gesture than a roadie coming to stop the squall by pulling the last guitar off a feedback-squealing amp, here the music ended when someone came and pressed a button on the laptop.
After that, the house music came up as if that was it, but the crowd kept clapping for a couple minutes, and finally the band returned to play the glide-y/dreamy "The City Limit" (another old one from Pulling Our Weight), still looking a little surprised at the extent of the adulation being sent their way. And then, pretty much precisely one hour after taking the stage, it was done.
Looking back, I have no regrets that I went. It was a solid but not particularly exciting show. Certainly not the sort of thing where I'd feel compelled to head back to see 'em. However, it looks like I'm the odd one out here. Although this show was a long-awaited local debut for the band, they've already made their return, and will be back in town yet again in short order2 — so obviously this is turning some peoples' cranks.
1 Another manifestation of their youth was their keen food-related chatter between songs, which accounted for nearly all the banter during the set.
2 The Radio Dept. will be back in town at The Mod Club on Thursday, November 17, 2011.
Artist: Eric Chenaux
Song: Put In Music This Ballad For Me*
Recorded at Placebo Space, August 21, 2011.Eric Chenaux - Put In Music This Ballad For Me
Sometimes you're amazed at what one man with a guitar can do. Full review to follow.
* Thanks to Mike Smith with the fastest-ever buzzer time on passing along a title.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Artist: The Weather Station
Song: If I've Been Fooled
Recorded at CSI Annex, August 19, 2011.The Weather Station - If I've Been Fooled
Full review to follow. A rather lovely night in a particularly beautiful space, in the tall, airy half-basement of the new CSI Annex facility.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Artist: Sister Shade
Song: unknown [excerpt]*
Recorded at The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge). August 18, 2011.Sister Shade - unknown [excerpt]
Full review to follow. On a night where Not the Wind, Not the Flag were celebrating a tape release and getting ready to go on tour, the out-of-town guests — consisting of Jax Deluca and some friends — were a pleasing surprise.
* I'm not sure if this piece has a title or was just a spontaneous improvisation. Please leave a comment if you know the name!
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Wavelength 514 / Burn Down the Capital present: Hush Arbors / Jason Ajemian / Loom / Spiritual Sky Blues Band
Placebo Space. Saturday, February 5, 2011.
On a snowy Saturday night, headed out to Blansdowne to see a show where I knew pretty much nothing about any of the four bands. While that could be a dangerous undertaking, I felt secure there'd be something interesting to learn about, given that the show was being co-presented by Wavelength1.
I found the venue above an automotive repair shop, but the Placebo Space turned out to be far more delightful than that might indicate. It was a "shoes off" show which added a livingroom sort of feel to things. This'd be a relatively posh version of the semi-venue, a notion that intrigues me so. Cheerful and tidy, the centre of the floor was occupied by a big heap of cushions that would slowly be claimed for seating as the room filled up.
The space very much had an artsy loft feel, and the crowd on hand felt a bit more like a group you'd see at an opening than a rock show. All around the room, the walls covered with canvasses, including some cool grey large-scale silkscreened industrial landscape shots that registered more as visualizations of memories than photos. There were also some colourfully fractal-type paintings behind the corner of the room where the bands were set up. Those paintings made for an interesting backdrop for General Chaos' colourful projections, swirling all night behind the bands. That certainly gave the gig the air of a Wavelength show, but that notwithstanding, the sensibility of the show felt a little closer to fellow co-producer Burn Down the Capital.2
I had no idea who Spiritual Sky Blues Band were, but as they set up, I recognized Jay Anderson (on drums, also of Steamboat, Biblical and many other projects) and Doc Dunn (on guitar, also a member of MV & EE as well as making lovely sounds on his own). The trio, rounded out by Gaven Dianda (in Saffron Sect with Anderson, also of Tijuana Bibles and ex-Flashing Lights), played an improvisory — or even jammy — sort of psychedelic derivé, ambling through cosmic headtrips. After a couple minutes of noodle-widdle on the guitars, as if they were building up steam, Anderson kicked it in and things started in a more rocking way. At times the band featured a raga-ish (in a Mike Bloomfield kind of way) slow unwinding, a willingness to stay inside one musical spot and shine their flashlights into every corner before moving on. That made this a good soundtrack to lean back on a cushion and nod one's head, watching the General Chaos lights slowly spin — like the universe spins — behind them. And feel cosmic, dude.
The set unfurled as one continuous jam, but it waxed and waned as the band moved from idea to idea. This sort of stuff could go on for hours, but on a night with four bands on the bill, the forty minutes was probably enough.
The name Loom is doubly suggestive — besides the rich associations of weaving things together, there's also the slightly menacing notion of looming over someone. Although at this show Brooke Manning showed signs of a musician finding her feet, there was more than enough here to suggest that her work was tapping into a richness that suggested both of those definitions.
At the outset, Manning was not brimming with confidence and swagger. In fact, as the band prepared to play, she actually solicited help from the crowd with tuning her guitar. Manning was front and centre in an unconventional trio, backed by Elaine Kelly (whose solo project is called Carnival Moon, and can also be spotted playing in Lake Forest) on harp as well as Maya Postepski (also of Trust and Austra), seated on the floor playing keyboards. The keybs would be really essential to shaping the sound here, dark and creepy and menacing. On opener "Grown", Postepski generated a John Carpenter soundtrack-worthy hum. That plus the subtle harp notes and Manning's snaky guitar figure created a hushed and menacing mood, at odds with the lyrics: "I'm so busy thinking about kissing you / and I want to do that without entertaining another thought". The tone of the music was more like the looming presence of a nightmare — perhaps knowing up front the calamity that one's desires will cause, but pushing ahead nonetheless. The song was quietly devastating and entirely awesome.
Manning had trouble getting "Dream Doe", the second song, off the ground. She was visibly flustered, even apologizing to the audience. This contributed to an extra-spare set, as during that song she narrowed her focus to her vocals, not playing her guitar part and relying on Kelly and Postepski to carry her along. In one sense, her demeanour helped sell the songs, giving them another layer of wounded anxiousness. And after that, she put the guitar down and she leaned into the lyrics, singing with her hands linked behind her neck. Everyone was pindrop quiet — she had the room. The rest of the set unfolded with a tentative sense of handling something valuable and delicate — even the nominally upbeat "It is Love" was less sure than it would later become, feeling here more like a fragile aspiration than a confident statement.
A very noteworthy introduction. I've already seen Manning a couple more times since this set, and the songs have held up every time — even as Manning's confidence has grown in leaps and bounds. Her album Epyllion is coming out on Nevado Records this fall, and should be considered a most-anticipated release.
Listen to a song from this set here.
I was, like most of the crowd, still milling about and chatting when Jason Ajemian started howling to announce his presence. When he paused to suck in another lungful of air and set back to it, people in the room joined in, in some sort of impromptu collective unburdening. Apparently satisfied with the focus that provided to everyone in the room, he then set to his stand-up bass with a vengeance, thwacking away at it in a highly percussive manner, with one mallet stuck in the neck and using another to hit the strings. His vocals at the start were a little unhinged as well, asking what I think was the musical question "Is Yrself Structural?".
Ajemian was playing totally unplugged and unamplified in the small space, dragging has bass back and forth to get right up close with different members of the audience. His playing was "free", in the jazz sense, and even when plucking the strings, it was still strongly percussive and filled with liquid-like tempo changes. And then, unexpectedly, he flipped the script on everything he had done so far by plunging into a magnetically engaging cover of Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage".
After telling the story of how on the previous night someone had requested "The Gambler" and he'd obliged, of course the crowd wouldn't let him go on without doing it. And everyone joined in to sing as the song got through a verse and chorus. With the back-and-forth going on between Ajemian and the crowd, it felt more like hanging out in a friend's living room than a gig. He closed out with his own "100 Rainy Days", bowed and melodic but the playing still expressive. And unexpectedly, that led back into a reprise of "The Gambler", and the set ended with the crowd clapping and singing along. Fantastic stuff from a set I had no expectations about going in.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Ajemian stayed on stage — or, more exactly, moved back onto the stage area from his perch at the edge of the seated crowd — to back up his friend Keith Wood, who is the driving force behind Hush Arbors. Normally playing with a full band, on this night it was just the pair with Ajemian backing Wood's acoustic guitar and high, keening vocals. This stripped-down format suited the room and the late hour, intimate crowd vibe.
The set lead off with "Follow Closely" from 2008's self-titled effort3 but most of the songs came from the more recent Yankee Reality. The most distinctive thing here was Wood's helium-voiced reverb-heavy vocals — Woods' Jeremy Earl comes to mind a little here — which were put to work in the service of his folk-y compositions. If "New Weird America" is indeed a genre, this would be a part of it.
The band featured mostly compactly-constructed songs, though "Devil Made You High" extended out for around seven minutes. Ajemian's bass (here nimble and more conventionally handled than during his own set) and vocals were a warm complement, and he added some nice rat-a-tat percussion on "Coming Home". There was a slightly rootsy undercurrent throughout, but most clearly on closer "Whisky", played specifically because Ajemian wanted to hear it.
Enjoyable stuff. It didn't make the same strong impact on me that Ajemian's set had, but it was a most pleasant way to round out the night, after which I put my shoes back on and tromped out into the cold and snowy night.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 For the didactically/historically inclined, it was WL 514.
2 Anyone looking to explore further into the realms of "weird"/"out" music — from mutant pop to spazz to noise to drone — would do well to trust the curatorial skills that Tad beings to his Burn Down the Capital shows, which concern themselves more with pushing musical limits than chasing trends, all while fostering community and putting on shows in new and interesting places.
3 Wood has released quite a lot of music under the Hush Arbors banner, but this was the first to get wider distribution from the Ecstatic Peace label.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Song: Buff Stop
Recorded at ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Artscape Gibraltar Point), August 14, 2011.Muskox - Buff Stop
My preliminary notes for this set can be found here. The new Muskox album Invocation/Transformations is out on September 6th, and it'll be welcomed to the world with a release party at the Tranzac on Wednesday, September 14, 2011.
The ALL CAPS! Island Festival — Artscape Gibraltar Point
While it's all fresh in my mind, a few notes from this year's ALL CAPS! Festival. Longer, more comprehensive reviews will follow down the road a piece.
Now in its third year on the Island, the ALL CAPS Festival is truly coming into its own as a remarkable event. The past two years were completely enjoyable experiences in themselves, but with a boost from the folks at Whippersnapper Gallery, the art quotient was boosted up here and everything felt a little bigger in scale.
Saturday August 13, 2011
Day 1 — feat. Moon King / Jen Castle & Yuula Benivolski / Monogrenade / Evening Hymns / Julie Doiron / More or Les. Host: Laura Barrett
Also bigger than ever (thanks to some very nice publicity) was the demand — from what I heard, there was a large lineup waiting for the doors to open, snapping up the remaining tickets instantly. When I arrived about an hour later, there was a "SOLD OUT" sign on the door and sad people being turned away.
Knowing it was going to be a busy evening, I arrived with some extra time to wander around a bit. One of the cooler elements of the festival is the facility itself — set in the old island elementary school, Artscape Gibraltar Point is now an artists' retreat, and several were kind enough to open the studios to the visiting public. I ducked into a couple and had some nice conversations with the artists about the stuff they were working on. I dug Chris Gardiner's collage-y works and just adored Pat Jeffries' project of painting portraits of the Island's hundred-year-old black willow trees, closeups of the gnarled trunks showing each one's uniqueness and personality.
Right at six, things got started in the Fireplace Room, with Laura Barrett, the day's special guest host, telling the crowd the secret and arcane origin story of the Moon King. The latest project from Daniel Woodhead finds him and his stand-up drumkit joined by his one-time Spiral Beach bandmate Maddy Wilde on guitar. With some added parts from an ipod, the music was thumping, rollicking fun — catchy pop presented with a shambling DIY edge.
Listen to a track from this set here.
After that burst of energy, it was outside to the beach behind the school for something altogether more meditative. Billed as a collaboration between musician Jennifer Castle and visual artist Yuula Benivolski, this inverted the usual order for these sorts of things where the visual component is sort of a backdrop to the musician playing. Here, instead, Castle, though present, was involved with the use of pre-recorded music soundtracking the ritual unfolding on the lakeshore. Symbolically suggestive without being to overt in its motives, the piece involved two women covered (like priestesses — or sacrifices) in thin sheets walking into the water and, at a distance, flanking an effigy-woman in wire, arms upraised. With ritual precision, the effigy was set on fire as the waves washed over the figures in the lake. With Castle's haunting voice in the background, the scene was static, with only the ungoverned fire and water breaking the stillness. As the effigy burned itself out, the figures in the water moved back to the shore, slowly following the waves to cloak their movement.
The first real wildcard of the weekend came on returning to the fireplace room. Montréal's Monogrenade don't have much profile in the anglosphere yet, but there's no reason that the language barrier should be too much of an impediment for the quartet. Showing quite a musical range, the set started with slower, moodier stuff featuring keybs and cello instead of guitar. By set's end, though, they were showing off a dancier, more aggressive sound. If bands like Karkwa and Malajube can gain notice outside la Belle Province, there's no reason Monogrenade can't follow in their footsteps.
As the sunset grew closer, it was back out to the beach for a set by Evening Hymns. What was originally going to a special presentation with Jonas Bonnetta providing a live soundtrack to a new 3-D film he's working on didn't come together, but in this environment the band's "regular" music cast a spell nonetheless.
As the audience gathered on the beach, I spotted a bearded figure and a woman out swimming in the middle distance — and for a moment I was convinced that Bonnetta and bandmate Sylvie Smith were reenacting their video for "Dead Deer". But as the actual Bonnetta and Smith stepped out to tune their instruments, I turned and saw their doppelgangers swimming back to the shore. From there, it was all quietly amazing, with the first lines of "Spectral Dusk" ("You would sit by yourself / at the end of the day / watching spectral dusk / settle in on Ontario Lake") feeling so utterly right as the evening's pink tendrils reached across the horizon. The set included several of the new songs from the band's forthcoming second album, as well reaching back for a beautiful version of "Cedars". The set ended with Bonnetta's solo version of "Mountain Song", slowly building loops of keyboards and vocals, finally getting loud enough to drown out the sound of the waves hitting the shore.
On the way back from the beach, the full moon was hovering over the lake to the east, its reflection creating a golden path across the waves. For just a second, it felt like I could have climbed on and walked down it to some more ethereal place.
Listen to a song from this set here.
Back inside (and feeling more grounded), as Julie Doiron finished setting up, the thing that fascinated me most about her set was considering how she would be able to contain herself to the strict half-hour time limit. Doiron's shows are usually free-flowing affairs, with no setlist so much as a series of songs flowing in accordance with Doiron's mood, and as many audience requests as she can cram in. Doiron also has a particularly charming way of getting caught up in her avenues of banter, and even though she resolved at the outset to talk as little as possible, she still managed to get sidetracked chatting about the features of her new iphone.
But there was still a cavalcade of songs, including a couple brand new ones — one was described as having been written immediately after SappyFest, just a few weekends ago. Plus a few interesting requests — I'm not sure when I last heard her play "Sweeter", for example. And never afraid to discover she no longer remembers all the chords and words in the middle of a song, there was also a somewhat haphazard run through The Dinner is Ruined's "Sleep Little Willie" as a nod to Dale Morningstar, whose studio is right next door. The room was packed tight for this and extraordinarily hot and sweaty, but I would have happily had this go for twice as long.
Closing out the night was brunch-loving rapper More or Les. Performing with two DJ/beat controllers on a table behind him, Leslie Seaforth brought a playful edge to his wordplay. Focusing on the daily ups and downs in life might seem old hat in the shadow of Shad, but do recall that Seaforth has been developing his style for more than a decade. It showed in his poise on stage as he ran through a rapid succession of cuts. With some people opting to grab an early ferry back to the mainland, there was enough space for the crowd to move around a bit. A fun way to end the day.
Sunday August 14, 2011
Day 2 — feat. Muskox / Dog Bus / Steamboat / The Wooden Sky / DD/MM/YYYY / Rich Aucoin. Host: Doc Pickles
Sunday's weather report brought with it the threat of thundershowers, though in the cloudy afternoon, that mostly meant it felt a little cooler. That overcast sky meant that the island felt a little less over-run, and the vibe at Gibraltar Point was a little more relaxed overall. Made sense, then, to ease into the day with the mellow-ish sounds of Muskox.
For a band I like a lot, it's just been bad luck that I haven't made it out to see 'em since they released their last album in October '09. Now, with a new album in the wings — look for Invocation/Transformations on September 6 — there was all the more reason for a revisiting. Sporting a slimmed-down five-member lineup, there was also a subtly different element to their sound — less the "progressive chamber jazz" that I identified when I saw 'em last and not even the old avant-bluegrass tag that I think I've also used before. Which is all to say, of course, that genre distinctions aren't entirely helpful in pinning down Mike Smith's compositions. With no harmonium, horns or extra percussion, this was a more agile beast than in the past, and the music a little more sleek. Perhaps best to just say that Muskox are taking their prog-Americana sound into a never-quite-happened version of the past's future, with flying cars leaving coloured trails across a post-industrial sky — but also with banjos. For some reason, they never used to think the future would include banjos.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Sunday's wildcard also represented the strong commitment that ALL CAPS has to its all-ages roots, stressing the importance of having an environment conducive to under-18's not only in the audience but also on stage. Waterloo's Dog Bus brought the day's youngest musicians, with rapper Jules Mkools (age 19) supported by his brother Jakey MkSpanky (age 13). For most of their set, the pair were backed by two-thirds of K-W pop-punk unit Courage My Love. Taking the stage in matching tracksuits, the pair of MC's proceeded to throw down on topics like space ships, ice cream and robots.
Their sound included no few nods to what I'm assuming are current trends in teenage mersh pop, which is admittedly the sort of thing I avoid by instinct, but there's no doubting that everyone on stage is talented and brimming with youthful energy. In the end, this was goofy fun, and at any rate, it's nice to know that in 2011 that the next generation of rappers are still urging people to throw their hands in the air — and subsequently to wave them like they just don't care.
Some older hands of the old school were up next as soul-rockers Steamboat took the stage. This is another band that I had some difficulty imagining in being contained to a half-hour set, given that they tend to prefer more sprawling shows where they can groove for long enough to get people up and dancing — and then exhausted, and then dancing again. Keeping things relatively straightforward for the festival set, this was just the "core" six-piece version of the band, sans driving horn section or other accoutrements they use to mix up their sets.
They still managed to get a good groove going early, leading off with "Bread and Butter", one of many cuts that the band has perfected on stage but not yet released as a recording. In fact, most of the set was dedicated to songs newer than the bands two EP's, but there was nothing "brand new" ready to be played. Still, plenty to dig in songs like "Right Back in Your Heart" and the set ended with a guest turn from Maylee Todd.
After that sweaty experience, heading outside for the next set was a more-than-welcome idea, even if the overcast skies of a couple hours previous were now looking a little more threatening. Introducing a new outdoor location for the festival, there was a stage set up right beside the pond between the Lighthouse and the water filtration plant. The clearing was home to a boat graveyard, with a matching stage constructed by the Whippersnapper crew. The faded sign reading "Paradise Falls" completed the noir-ish environment for The Wooden Sky to play against.
Gavin Gardiner's band can play it roadhouse rough when required, but can also tone it down to perform with nuanced atmospherics, and that was largely what they did here, keyboards acting like a protective blanket against the dark clouds overhead. There were a couple new songs in the mix, and during one of them, in time with the instrumental break there were suddenly fireworks bursting overhead — a very delightful surprise. As if that was too much for the sky to take, however, as the smoke cleared, the first drops of rain began to fall. A whole lotta tarps were hurredly pulled over gear as the band finished their set, the last song gaining an even larger fanfare of fireworks dazzling against the quickly-darkening sky. Truly the sort of stuff that memories are made of.
Listen to a song from this set here.
The next set had originally been slated to be on the outdoor stage as well, and though it looked as if the rain wasn't going to have a lot of staying power, the prudent decision was made to move DD/MM/YYYY back inside. That led to a bit of a scramble to keep things on schedule — this was one show that could not run late — so the band started playing while still sorting out the aftermath of a blown fuse. Admittedly, though, gear failure sorta feels like an organic part of the band's sound, given their propensity for creating a glitchy herky-jerk tapestry of noise. They managed to ride out the roughness at the start and keep flowing along. It had been more than a couple years since I'd seen a full set from the daymonths, and it seemed to me that some of the increased musicality that has found its ways into their recordings (there was a palpable shift with '09's Black Square) is coming out in the live show. Which isn't to say they're mellowing out, by any means, they're just a bit less aggressively/shiftingly noisy.
I came back from a cooling break outside to note a pair of lecterns set up at the end of the room, covered in electronic gear while a single lightbulb dangled from an extension cord overhead. The movie screen behind the stage was pulled down as Rich Aucoin hurredly got his equipment ready to go. Projected visuals are a big part of Aucoin's live presentation, and as everything wrapped up, he began running the video, which even included a segment for the sound check. As the room filled back in, the set began with a wonderful prelude — Aucoin had obviously been carefully making observations all day, and as the music slowly built, a slideshow of messages about the day's events and performers flashed on the screen.
If Aucoin has one great talent beyond his technical gifts, it's that he knows how to do lift in a way that can elevate even the most jaded heart, his simple messages cutting through to the immediacy of the now, where we're all in this together.
The performance itself was — and was probably engineered to be — a dancey blur. Each song came front-loaded with instructions for the chorus and then burst by, with explosions of confetti and dance circles and Aucoin — with his cordless microphone — working the crowd at the centre of it all. The set ended, as is usually the case, with most of the crowd gathered together under a rainbow parachute fluttering aloft just under the ceiling — which felt perfectly suited in this former elementary school lunchroom. Exhausting but kinda exhilarating, it felt like the perfect way to end the festival.
On the whole, the Festival was a triumph, and well-done by everyone involved. Given the massive good vibes engendered and what was already a demand-outstripping-supply situation, it looks like the biggest problem for next year is going to be accommodating everyone who wants in.
Addendum: I have more photos from the weekend posted in an album over at the MFS Facebook page.