Monday, December 31, 2012

Recording: The Skeletones Four

Artist: The Skeletones Four

Song: Trap Door

Recorded at The Drake Underground ("What's in the Box" – Night 5), December 30, 2012.

The Skeletones Four - Trap Door

Full review to follow. Time has zipped by since the S4 released their Gravestone Rock album, and there's now a new EP to file beside it on your digital shelf. With a full house packed in to wait for headliners Zeus, the band managed to turn some heads (and possibly gain a few fans) with their disciplined, proggy songs.

Recording: Breeze

Artist: Breeze

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Drake Underground ("What's in the Box" – Night 5), December 30, 2012.

Breeze - unknown

Full review to follow. I sometimes tend to not investigate much about bands until I see them live, so I was a bit surprised to see Josh Korody back up on the stage of the Drake a couple nights after playing with Beliefs. Turns out this dream-pop project has emerged from the ferment surrounding his Candle Recording Studio and it quickly established itself as something I'm keenly interested in.

There was a bit of Real Estate's unforced jangle here, but Breeze performed with a bit more abstract resolve, reaching with determination as the interlacing guitars built up structures akin to crystalline fortresses of solitude — perhaps a bit like what latter-day Deerhunter would come up with if they were timewarped back to cut an album for Creation in the late 80's. Which is to say that it plays off some reflections of the past but isn't beholden to any sort of revivalism. The band has only released a two-song single so far, but I'm marking them down as one to keep an eye on.

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

Recording: Modern Superstitions

Artist: Modern Superstitions

Song: unknown*

Recorded at "Garage in the Garage" Party, July 3, 2011.

Modern Superstitions - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* I suspect that the title to this one will have "Runaround" in in somewhere. Please leave a comment if you know the name for sure.

Recording: B-17

Artist: B-17

Song: Something to Write Home About

Recorded at "Garage in the Garage" Party, July 3, 2011.

B-17 - Something to Write Home About

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: "Garage in the Garage" Party

"Garage in the Garage" Party (feat. B-17 / "Matt Murphy's Band Jams" / Modern Superstitions)

The Garage on Dora. Sunday, July 3, 2011.

After a long day at Pride — which, as always, seems to be on the hottest day of the year — I still had enough energy to head over to Blansdowne for this affair. Billed as a "Garage in the Garage" party, the name was only slightly a misnomer. The private residence hosting the show did indeed have a garage door in the front opening into the living room, but it was a cozy home inside, not an oil-stained car hole. As the solid heat of the day dissipated, it started to feel rather pleasant out and there was a nice crowd gathering, spilling out onto the sidewalk. There was even some tasty jerk chicken on offer. The bands were set up at the back of the living area, facing out toward the open garage door, playing through a jury-rigged sound system that was, natch, a little rough. The vocals would be low all night, but there was a rawness appropriate to the spirit of the event.

After seeing B-17 make their début just a week previously, there wasn't much new to report for the band's second flight. The newly-minted Optical Sounds supergroup offered the same seven tunes as at the Dollar, filled with a raucous, joyful fury. In their early going, there was a lot more undiluted Stooge-y Raw Power in their approach, especially in Calvin Brown's scorching fuzzed-out wah-wah. And in the small, enclosed space Nick Kervin's drums felt quite powerful.

"Never Understand" (one of the tunes which does not appear on the band's recent EP) was a highlight here. And once again there was the proto-version of "Wishing Won't Make It So" without the title and lyrics yet in place. Although bassist Clint Rogerson didn't yet have the vocal hook to really clinch the song it was already constructed to serve as the set-closing freakout — it was modestly notated as "4800 lbs of Bombs" on the setlist.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The middle set was billed as "Matt Murphy and his mysterious, XFactor unnamed band" — and mysterious they have remained. There doesn't seem to be any information that I can wrangle up on this, so I don't know if this is an ongoing project. Similarly, I was hoping the identity of the drummer and bass player would come to light, but I haven't been able to dig that up either.1

At any rate, it was something rather different from Murphy, more known for his poppy sensibility and occasional country leanings. Instead, this felt more like he decided to form his own private Elevator, with a bit of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and hints of krautrock, though with a garage rock beat instead of the insistent motorik drive.

The first song, an instrumental, featured sawtooth analog synth set against a soothing, melodic guitar riff. The drummer (who was also handling the synth) took the first vocal and Murphy the next. The vox were often a little indistinct, or in the case of one song toward the end, simply wordless "aw-woaaahs". The songs were a little amorphous, as if they were being deliberately kept closer to loose jams, Murphy shouting out chords and other instructions as each began.

One definitely got the impression that these were still works-in-progress. As such, no surprise that a couple meandered a bit too much and sometime staggered over the finish line. I don't know if this was just a casual lark that emerged from the rehearsal space or a project that didn't attain liftoff, but this was a fun little set regardless.

Listen to a track from this set here.

As it got later into the evening, the neighbourhood didn't seem scandalized by the rock'n'roll show going on in their midst — in fact, I could spot people in the midrise condos across the way sitting on their patios and listening to the show from above. The night was closed out by Modern Superstitions, a band that has been around for long enough that it always takes a moment to remember they're still just getting started. Their long-gestating début album was only released a couple months ago, and the band clearly spent a lot of time deliberating upon what sort of sound they wanted to present on it.

In so doing, they actually wrote a lot of songs beyond what ended up on the album, giving them a chance to tailor their setlist to the sort of show they were playing — I know they had several of the quieter songs that would make their album in their repertoire at this point, but for this show they foregrounded their garage side, kicking it out as rough and ready as I've ever seen them. A cover of The Damned's "New Rose" gave a hint of where their heads were at, and the punkish, raw edge served them well.

It certainly seemed to energize vocalist Nyssa Rosaleen, who was the most animated I'd ever seen her — as if acting out the advice ("SOCK IT TO ME") printed on her sleeveless shirt. That compensated for the fact that her vocals were buried below Matthew Aldred's slashing guitar.

"String To The Sun", received its first airing in this set, coming off much rawer than the album version — in fact, comparing the sophistication of the finished product to what the band was playing here gives a good indication that this is a band that has larger aspirations than playing in a garage. And while I'm one who tends to approve of a rawer sound with the rough edges intact, if the trade-off is more polished gems like, say, "Bandits", than that's a promising deal.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I asked Murphy after if the group had a name, and he said, I believe, that it was "Band Jams", but I was never 100% sure of that, and even though he repeated the name, I could have misheard him in the party-ish surroundings. I didn't want to be the gauche dude repeatedly shouting at him, "Did you say band jams?" So for now, I am tentatively identifying this as "Matt Murphy's Band Jams".

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Recording: Dusted

Artist: Dusted

Song: Long It Lasts

Recorded at The Drake Underground ("What's in the Box" – Night 3), December 28, 2012.

Dusted - Long It Lasts

Full review to follow. A very solid night in the Drake's four bands/five bucks boxing week series, with all the bands sounding great. Dusted closed out the night, with Brian Borcherdt's reverbed high yalps and spare guitar given some presence by Leon Taheny's simultaneous drums/keybs. A nicely atmospheric sound, miles away from Borcherdt's better-known work in Holy Fuck.

Recording: Beliefs

Artist: Beliefs

Song: Leave With You*

Recorded at The Drake Underground ("What's in the Box" – Night 3), December 28, 2012.

Beliefs - Leave With You

Full review to follow. Beliefs' album is due out in March — I think we could stick a "highly-anticipated" in there somewhere — but they were already working out some even never material with a new rhythm section. It all seems to fit into their not-too-swoony/not-too-noisy shoegaze-informed template. Things have been building up nicely for the band, and it looks like they'll be getting even more attention in 2013.

* Word from the band says this is the title to this song.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Recording: SIANspheric

Artist: SIANspheric

Song: Jahm

Recorded at The Garrison, June 30, 2011.

SIANspheric - Jahm

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Ringo Deathstarr

Artist: Ringo Deathstarr

Songs: So High + Down On You

Recorded at The Garrison, June 30, 2011.

Ringo Deathstarr - So High

Ringo Deathstarr - Down On You

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: SIANspheric

SIANspheric (Ringo Deathstarr)

The Garrison. Thursday, June 30, 2011.

As always, I'm a fool for thinking that a rock'n'roll show would start on time, but the fact that even the doors for this one were forty-five minutes after the listed time rankled a bit. Even with that later start, it was pretty empty in the Garrison's backroom as a DJ plied their trade. It was encouraging to see General Chaos visual were on the scene, providing their trademark swirling visuals — a perfect backdrop for the hazy guitar textures on tap.

There was also an impressive heap of Marshall amps on stage, plus a bass cabinet covered by a rising sun flag — a visual signal that Ringo Deathstarr were equipped to bring the volume. The first thing to know about the Austin-based three-piece is that they are worthy of a far less goofy moniker. The second is that their sound is closely indebted to a narrow slice of British guitar rock extending roughly from Spacemen 3 to shoegaze. Although at this point they hadn't quite grown past putting new wine in old bottles, they played with a charming vigour, and were clearly embraced by a crowd that was too young to have seen this stuff in person the first couple times around.

Opening with ear-bleeding feedback whitenoise, "Tambourine Girl" alternated slow surging rumbles with jaunty pop hooks, the yearning in guitarist Elliott Frazier's barely-comprehensible lyrics coming to focus in the "Touch me touch me touch you there" chorus. "So High", with its back-and-forth vox between Frazier and Alex Gehring, showed the band at their catchiest. Gehring spent most of the set on her three-stringed bass, but switched over to guitar from time to time. There was also a lot of heavily-processed synthy backing tracks underlying the guits.

Touring on their debut full-length Colour Trip1, the band played as many songs from their pre-album singles2. There was something to like about pretty much all the tunes, but also a few places that drew too much attention to themselves, such as "Some Kind of Sad" which went beyond being an homage to the Jesus and Mary Chain and right into sounding like a thinly-veiled rewrite. The baggy dance beats of "In Love" worked better in this regard, recalling Primal Scream without aping them too much.

And while the band did a good job of moving from song to song, the tasty "Summertime" was undercut at the end when it just drifted into guitar-tuning. But otherwise, they built some momentum toward the end of the set seguing about six songs together in a non-stop barrage while the projections melded on the wall behind them over a slide of earthrise as seen from the moon. They were joined at the end by some of the members of SIANspheric — Sonic Unyon, their longtime label has released RD's albums, and there was obvious affection between the bands.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

That sense of respect-your-elders that Ringo Deathstarr showed the nominal headliners was not so obvious among their audience, about half of whom split before SIANspheric took the stage, skewing the average age in the crowd up by about a decade. Although that did keep the audience age in line with that of the performers.

Although I was certainly aware of the Hamilton group back in their late-90's heyday, they were one of the groups of Sonic Unyon's Rock Hits era that I was never really into. At the time it wouldn't have made any sense to me, but now their woozy, ambient/shoegaze leanings are the sort of thing I can appreciate much more. Though never breaking up, there have been some sabbaticals and lineup changes in their discontinuous history, and I was glad to have a chance to see this newly-reactivated group in action.

Still a four-piece in their current incarnation, bass and drums provide a framework to the guitars, with vocalist Sean Ramsay employing a knee-high rack of effects while Ryan Ferguson (also of Electroluminescent) also threw in some analog synth. There were a more modest number of amps for this set, but the stage was by no means spare, and they still had the tools to blast out the volume as required.

The set began with a tasty saturated blast of guitar hum that hit me in a good spot. The first songs on the setlist were "Bright Lights" and "Starfucker" — unfamiliar titles, presumably from the storehouse of music the band has been working on since releasing their last longplayer in 20013. I'm not sure the one of those ended and the other began — there was basically a noise section that segued into a slower, psychedelic middle and then worked its way back up into noise.

"Jahm", another of the new songs, was a great success, if not the highlight of the set. It offered a gentle glide of guitar sliding behind just a hint of whispered vox buried way down. Certainly not constrained to verse/chorus type songs, the set generally offered contrasting spells of noisy shoegaze squall with quiet interludes like "No Space".

Building up to a final frenzy, they ended with the implosion of "All on Standby", Ferguson swinging his effects pedal around in the way most guitarists swing their axes while Ramsay spiked his guit to the stage floor a couple times, before falling to his knees to generate noise by twiddling knobs as the rhythm section headed off stage.

There's no firm announcement yet on any of their new material seeing release, but it sounds like good stuff. There's a general propensity to pay attention to the new in the face of longstanding, patient bands like SIANspheric, but here's hoping that they'll get their due whenever the new material does emerge.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 That "u" in "colour" is quite possibly a bit of a giveaway to the band's not-so-latent anglophilia.

2 These would be subsequently be compiled on the Sparkler release.

3 There was, however, a 7" single released in 2006 and an EP in '03, as well as a couple archival releases along the way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Recording: BBQ

Artist: BBQ

Songs: unknown*

Recorded at The Garrison, June 25, 2012.

BBQ - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* This is — I think — a pair of songs mushed together. Does anyone know the titles? Please leave a comment!

Recording: TV Ghost

Artist: TV Ghost

Song: Phantasm

Recorded at The Garrison, June 25, 2012.

TV Ghost - Phantasm

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Hoa Hoa's

Artist: The Hoa Hoa's

Song: Up in Georgian Bay, Down at Adam's Place*

Recorded at The Garrison, June 25, 2012.

The Hoa Hoa's - Up in Georgian Bay, Down at Adam's Place

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Word has filtered down to me that this is the title to this one.

Gig: BBQ

BBQ (TV Ghost / The Hoa Hoa's)

The Garrison. Saturday, June 25, 2011.

A Mark Pesci-promoted Saturday night at The Garrison, and a bit of an odd bill where it wasn't intuitive that any of the acts belonged together. And, truth be told, I was there as much as anything to see The Hoa Hoa's, who were tabbed as early openers. Besides some fans and friends, though, it was quite empty in the room — it looked like the headliner's fans weren't going to come out early to experience something different.

Truth be told though, I prefer an attentive skeleton crew to a room full of people who are indifferent to the band on stage, and as turned out, the band was sounding rather good in the room. They were focusing mainly on their then-newer material — a couple chestnuts like "Postcards" and "Vinyl Richie" were played, but the bulk of the set was comprised of material that would later emerge on their final EP. There were even a couple songs that are (for now, at least) as-yet unreleased, one apiece from from guitarists Lee Brochu and Richie Gibson. Brochu's was one I'd heard before, but Gibson's slower, introspective song was maybe brand new.

The band ran into some trouble when Calvin Brown's drum stool collapsed under him. He got through "All the Time" standing up, and managed to jury-rig some adjustments after that to get through the set, including the big implosion of "Blue Gumball" to finish.

As it would turn out, there'd only be a few more Hoa Hoa's shows after this, so I'm glad I went out of my way to see them. Handy rule of thumb: you'll never know how long your favourite bands will last, so never take 'em for granted — go and see them play when you have the chance!

Listen to a song from this set here.

Coming in, I didn't know anything about TV Ghost, a quartet out of Lafayette, Indiana. They were touring their Mass Dream album, and on songs like "Wired Trap" my initial impression was "spazzy, but howl-y". Further research would indicate that they have, on record, a more austere sound — on stage, that was backgrounded to a no-wave shiver down running down one's spine, invoking a sort of gloomy gravitas. It's similar territory to what Ell V Gore are doing here in T.O.

On stage, it was more of a highwire act, with the antics supplied by guitarist/vocalist Tim Gick — tall, lanky, pompadoured. He was a bit of an entertainer, more than willing to step up on his monitor to get right close to the crowd and wail on his guitar. Given the gusto with which he was playing, when he was turned around to face the drummer and slowly shuffling away backwards, I was mildly worried he might step back right off the front of the stage. That was averted, however, once he was down on his back, rolling around.

The rest of the musicians were more stay-in-place types, but there was a lot to watch anyway. At the end of "Phantasm" (a song that would emerge this year on a single), Gick was down wandering on the floor in front of the stage. He then leaned back against it and rolled backwards onto the stage, ending up on his feet, effortlessly playing the whole time. A bit later, he'd kick a cable loose from his amp, probably fatally damaging a patchcord in the process. The band kept it going while he swapped things up. One gets the impression that equipment damage and broken collarbones aren't unheard of in this band.

For the finale, while Gick was on his back, flailing around on the floor in front of the stage, keyboardist Jimmy Frezza was clinging onto the ends of his keyboard with both hands, playing it by biting down on the keys. No great surprise that the band was offering a live DVD for sale on the merch table.

Musically, it was bracing stuff, but there wasn't much there for anyone looking for choruses or hooks — you have to be on board with the idea that this works based on the different sort of atmospheres that the band brings, live and in the studio.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Mark Sultan has played in the Montréal garage punk scene for more than a decade in a half, both as a member of bands like Spaceshits and Les Sexareenos and in his later incarnation as BBQ, where he plays both solo shows and in an on-and-off partnership with King Khan. Here he was playing all on his own, with just his guitar and a couple foot-drums, a pretty unassuming guy in a newsboy hat.

His drum-thumping line-checking segued straight into jaggedly pumping rock'n'roll, though the first song's lyrics were mostly about getting more guitar in the monitor. The very idea of a "song" was sorta up for dispute here, as the set was often long bursts of songfragments (some lasting well under a minute) seguing directly into each other, sometimes only barely differentiated by key and tempo changes. Sultan's guitar was all chunka chunka chunka crude rhythms with the clattering percussion rushing along to keep up. It's a deliberately pared-down backdrop for his soulful voice, though that was often deliberately scuffed up as well.

There was an edge of in-the-moment contingency at play where the music could go from practised primitivism to simply falling apart in seconds, with songs sometimes lurching to a stop midway through and with a couple stretches of botched changes — "sorry to waste your precious time," Sultan commented after one of the vacations from tunefulness.

The music invoked Hasil Adkins' atavism as much as Ramones as much as Sam Cooke, so there is a range hidden in the wall of clatter. It felt something like a lo-fi attempt to recreate all of the Animal House soundtrack as one medley, despite not having listened to it for a decade or two — like Otis Day and the Knights after a long bender.

The songs were mostly based around simple lyrical sentiments — topics essayed included "I can't get you out of my mind", "I just can't wait", "I'll be loving you", "I can't go on" and "I want to be the only one". But there was some postmodern meta-commentary interspersed among those sentiments. After Sultan sung he'd "pray you die", it was quickly followed by the spoken aside, "I meant that in a very loving way".

One could "read" the sudden shifts of the musical landscape here as a deconstructive method as well, I suppose. But as it went on, it seemed more and more like undifferentiated mush to me. That said, though I was finding this less interesting than the other acts of the night, there was a big crowd for this, packed in tight up close and ready to dance. So maybe I was just overthinking the situation.

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Songs: Call Her Name / Please Don't Drive Me Away [Sam Cooke cover] / 5 Miles

Recorded at The Dakota Tavern, December 23, 2012.

catl - Call Her Name

catl - Please Don't Drive Me Away

catl - 5 Miles

Full review to follow. Spreading xmas cheer (and a few tales of drinkin', drug abuse and dyin') catl warmed up the December night with three sets of lowdown boogie scuzz-blues. This will be their last stand at The Dakota for awhile, as drummer Andrew Moszynski is moving on to other things. This version of catl will be having one last blast at The Horseshoe on Saturday, January 19th 2012, so you'd best get out there and dance before the band goes into hibernation for a little while.

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Song: Church on Time

Recorded at Comfort Zone (NXNE 2011), June 18, 2011.

catl - Church on Time

My notes for this set can be found here.

recording: Peelander-Z

Artist: Peelander-Z

Songs: Ice Cream! + Ninja-High Schooool

Recorded at Comfort Zone (NXNE 2011), June 18, 2011.

Peelander-Z - Ice Cream! + Ninja-High Schooool

My notes for this set can be found here.

NXNE 2011: Saturday (Part 2)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2011.

Saturday, June 18, 2011 – Part 2. Featuring: Peelander-Z, catl, Biblical, Bad Cop, B-17

N.B.: I had written some contemporaneous notes about the festival here. This redux version comes with a few additional observations as I have now had time to properly go through my recordings. Notes on the first part of this long night can be found here.

Midnight: Peelander-Z @ Comfort Zone

After the relatively sedate button-down orderliness I just left, this was a bit of a fun-aneurysm. Walking into a Peelander-Z set already in progress is like picking up volume seven of a manga series, leaving you wondering how the particularly strange scene in from of you came about. Stories of the band's gleefully absurd live shows are legion, so I thought I knew what I was going to get as I hustled down into the Comfort Zone — but this was more than I was expecting. Within the first couple minutes of my arrival there were on-stage costume changes and an invasion by inflatable monsters.

The band was formed and based in New York City, but it's easy to situate Peelander-Z in the trippy technicolour turbo-mindwarp pop culture of Japan, where all the members originally hail from. Or so one story goes. The band counters such facts with their own cosmic origin story, like a Saturday-morning cartoon version of Sun Ra.

And like a cartoon the songs were introduced with title cards, giving the notion that each segment was more of an excuse for madcap audience participation tactics. In that kind of environment, it's somewhat true that the music was secondary, or at least designed to facilitate the sensory overload. But there's no small amount of fun in their Ramones-y velocity rock, especially given how it could stop and spin off in any direction, from hardcore shout-along to bouncy jazz groove.

Audience participation was pretty much mandatory — but hardly something that had to be enforced. Besides singing along — the lyrics were pretty easy to pick up ("Mad Tiger!" "Ice Cream!") — there were tin bowls and sticks passed out to the crowd for percussion as well as a sort of limbo contest where a rope was passed over the crowd at about shoulder level, forcing everyone to duck. Oh, and there was human bowling.

There was so much going on that I couldn't even begin to account for it all here. The set ended with the band picking out members of the crowd to replace them on stage, and at the end, after all the brightly-uniformed members were introduced by their colour-names, the audience was declared to be "Peelander Toronto". This might sound goofy — and maybe it is — but there something so unself-consciously fun about the whole affair that it transcends any such limitations you might put on it. Next time they come around, don't doubt and don't get hung up on words like "gimmick" — just go.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

12:40 a.m.: catl @ Comfort Zone

The sensory overload didn't end there, as catl's side-stage mini-set started as Peelander-Z's last notes were still fading. "Side-stage" is actually a rather generous description, as the trio were simply set up on the floor in the wing leading towards the bathrooms. So there'd be no separation from the audience here, and soon enough keyboardist/vocalist Sarah Kirkpatrick would be dancing in and with the crowd while Jamie "catl" Fleming plowed onward with his locked-in guitar grooves.

Dancing's an important element here. Always a sweaty celebration of the greasy get-down blues, catl succeed in that they re-invest the genre with propulsive hip-shaking energy, here provided by now-departed original drummer Johnny LaRue. And down in the Comfort Zone's dim blacklight depths, the band was in fine form. They'd already played a full set upstairs earlier in the night as well as three previous between-set quickies like this one. Concert promoter Dan Burke — who tends to run his venues more like semi-autonomous parallel events during NXNE — has had a fair few good idea in his time, but catl-powered festival showcases has to be right up near the top of the list.

Though a good chunk of the packed house fled after Peelander-Z finished, there was a good cohort of folks ready to boogie. With twenty minutes to fill between mainstage sets, the band had time for four songs, three of which were extended groovers — leading with the excellent loose-limbed swing of "Hold My Body Down" — plus the frenzied rush of Hasil Adkins' "Chicken Walk". Playing loose and ragged, this felt just superb, a rejuvenatin' burst that gave me a second (third?) wind that carried me through the rest of the night.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1:00 a.m.: Biblical @ Comfort Zone

The Illuminati was the sort of hard rock band that just wasn't on my radar, so it's unlikely that the merits of bassist/vocalist Nick Sewell would have brought me out to see successor band Biblical. I am, however, an enthusiast for all things Steamboat-related, so a band that includes Jay Anderson (drums), Matt McLaren (here on guit) and Andrew Scott (guit/organ) is going to intrigue me, even if they're working on something out of my musical comfort zone. But Biblical has no traces of Steamboat's feel-good soul groove, instead taking its cues from Sewell's propensity for chugging hard-rock. Local stoner-metal titans Quest For Fire come to mind, but take that amped up a couple notches and veering occasionally from Hawkwind-like drift (thanks to Scott's organ work) into Ace of Spaces velocity.

The talented lineup gives the band some room to deviate from mere heavy metal thunder. Musically, they were more than willing to stretch things out, such as on the more groovy/less menacing "Oubliette", which felt like it'd fit in a "no commercials for forty-five minutes!" extended set on the classic rock station. Also, McLaren's smooth lead vocals on a couple tracks (including "Eyes Of Lies") made for a contrast with Sewell's throaty growl. But it's his gruff voice and meaty bass-playing that really stood out here. He was clearly having fun with this, stepping down into the crowd in the slowed-down middle of closer "Nickel & Dime".

Splitting the difference between cough syrup and trucker-grade speed, this was a bad-news boogaloo that had just the right evil late-night lurch. Heavy music is going through one of its periodic critical re-appraisals right now, so there's no reason that this isn't as accessible to PBR-hoisting Pitchfork readers as unrepentant leather jacket-wearin', devil horn throwin' rawk fans.

Listen to a song from this set here.

2 a.m.: Bad Cop @ Silver Dollar

Headed back upstairs to close things out with the late-night rock'n'roll portion of the programme. I got up in time to catch the tail end of Crocodiles' final set of the weekend. There was a packed crowd for that, but as soon as they finished, a lot of people split, leaving plenty elbow room. At this point of the night, the floor was a sticky mess of spilled beer but the no man's land filled back up when Nashville's Bad Cop took the stage.

I had seen them before — well, sort of — but it was hard to really get the measure of the band that time, as lead singer Adam Anyone (who looked a bit like Paul Robinson in The Diodes' heyday) hadn't made it over the border, and the set consisted of instrumentals from the remaining pair. Making it across intact for NXNE, and bringing an adjusted four-piece lineup, this was a whole different story. Still, even after the first song, basically a garage-y rocker, I wasn't sure what I was going to be getting, but as the band got warmed up, the set leaned increasingly to no-frills punk. After a few songs, a paid of balding middle-aged dudes even tried to start their own pit in front of the stage.

They were definitely getting more exciting from song to song, mostly animated by Anyone's stage presence — as the vernacular goes, he gave good face, with animated eyes and constant motion. In fact, it was after he put down the guitar he'd been playing for the first few songs and went full-on frontman that things really took off.

He certainly brought an edge to the proceedings, presenting songs about being "young and stoned" and "doing everything you want, all the time". There was also, as banter, comments like, "this song is about spending most of your childhood in a Tennessee jail. It's called 'Fried by Lightning'". This would have been a perfect match with Teenanger, who'd played the same stage earlier in the night. It turned out to be an exciting and worthy set, so hopefully they'll be able to get back into the country again.

Listen to a song from this set here.

3 a.m.: B-17 @ Silver Dollar

Three in the morning and the bar was even emptier now, and as I walked around between sets bit of broken glass kept getting caught in the treads of my shoes. Given the length of the day, I didn't know if I'd have been able to maintain much enthusiasm for anyone playing a 3 a.m. timeslot, but this was one of my most-anticipated bands of the night. Perhaps a bit unusual for a band playing their debut performance, but B-17 were being billed as an Optical Sounds supergroup, with Action Makes vocalist Clint Rogerson on bass, alongside Nick Kervin (of the Easy Targets) on drums and a pair of Hoa Hoa's (Calvin Brown and Richard Gibson) on guitars.

Gibson handled some of the vox — the split would even up a bit more later on — but here mostly handled the more tuneful guitar parts while Brown threw down with some ace feedback-drenched wah-wah. In their nascent state, the band was well-formed, but not as honed as they'd get over the following year. One got the sense that the DNA of their influences were still being absorbed — a cover of "Real Cool Time" made sense, and there was otherwise a feeling that the songs were still closer to rewrites of covers that the quartet was surely jamming on together while getting their bearings.

There were a couple of the signature songs that would make it to their debut EP (which is now a thing), including set opener "Bad Situation". "Wishing Won't Make It So" at this point didn't have its title or chorus, but its skeleton was there in a set closer listed as "Sabbataph". Like that song, the project as a whole would become sharper and more focused over the months to come — especially as it became clearer that this was more than just a mere side-project — but this was absolutely an auspicious début.

And from there time to stagger home, exhausted, with another year's NXNE complete.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Recording: Feist

Artist: Feist

Song: The Bad in Each Other

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Jason Collett's Basement Revue"), December 20, 2012.

Feist - The Bad in Each Other

Full review to follow. Bringing the revue out of the basement coziness of the Dakota Tavern and into the much larger confines of the Great Hall, Jason Collett still managed to convince the audience to act as if they were in a small, intimate space, keeping quiet to listen to poets and gentle songs. Scaling things up meant that this would be less of a night to shine a light on some emerging artists and more of an opportunity for old friends to get together.

The final segment of the night was a set from the triple-headed hydra of Snowblink, AroarA, and Feist. This alignment had fallen together for Feist's performance at the Polaris gala a couple months back, but here it sounded like a real band, not just a collection of musicians backing each other. This big sound was certainly an altogther different experience than when Feist had last played the basement revue — exactly a year ago to the day!

Recording: Snowblink

Artist: Snowblink

Song: Cyclone

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Jason Collett's Basement Revue"), December 20, 2012.

Snowblink - Cyclone

Full review to follow. Bringing the revue out of the basement coziness of the Dakota Tavern and into the much larger confines of the Great Hall, Jason Collett still managed to convince the audience to act as if they were in a small, intimate space, keeping quiet to listen to poets and gentle songs. Scaling things up meant that this would be less of a night to shine a light on some emerging artists and more of an opportunity for old friends to get together.

The final segment of the night was a set from the triple-headed hydra of Snowblink, AroarA, and Feist. This alignment had fallen together for Feist's performance at the Polaris gala a couple months back, but here it sounded like a real band, not just a collection of musicians backing each other. Daniela Gesundheit took advantage of the lushness added by extra hands to debut this new song, which has a bit of a classic Fleetwood Mac feeling.

Reading: Michael Ondaatje

Artist: Michael Ondaatje

Reading: excerpt from The Cat's Table

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Jason Collett's Basement Revue"), December 20, 2012.

Michael Ondaatje - Reading from The Cat's Table

Full review to follow. Bringing the revue out of the basement coziness of the Dakota Tavern and into the much larger confines of the Great Hall, Jason Collett still managed to convince the audience to act as if they were in a small, intimate space, keeping quiet to listen to poets and gentle songs. Scaling things up meant that this would be less of a night to shine a light on some emerging artists and more of an opportunity for old friends to get together.

Poets and authors are always an essential part of the Basement Revue experience, and this bigger show saw Collett upping the ante to bring out celebrated local author Michael Ondaatje. Ad hoc collaborations are also a highlight of these shows, so it was pretty cool to see him being accompanied by Leslie Feist's guitar, and the voices of Snowblink's Daniela Gesundheit and AroarA's Ariel Engle.

Recording: Kevin Drew

Artist: Kevin Drew

Song: Good Sex

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Jason Collett's Basement Revue"), December 20, 2012.

Kevin Drew - Good Sex

Full review to follow. Bringing the revue out of the basement coziness of the Dakota Tavern and into the much larger confines of the Great Hall, Jason Collett still managed to convince the audience to act as if they were in a small, intimate space, keeping quiet to listen to poets and gentle songs. Scaling things up meant that this would be less of a night to shine a light on some emerging artists and more of an opportunity for old friends to get together.

Y'know those stories about punk shows where the band's repertoire is so small that they simply play their set twice? Well, Broken Social Scene mainman Kevin Drew and co. had just one song rehearsed as they debuted some new material, and as it finished, Drew seemed to be having enough fun that he led the band through it for a second time. "Was that egotistical?" he asked afterward. Just like that incident, this song has his familiar fingerprints all over it, and was presented by a crew of longtime friends and collaborators including Ohad Benchetrit, Dave Hamelin, Dean Stone and Charles Spearin. Drew mentioned that they've been recording, so there should be more like this to come.

Recording: Guards

Artist: Guards

Song: Don't Wake the Dead

Recorded at Lee's Palace (NXNE 2011), June 18, 2011.

Guards - Don't Wake the Dead

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Cartoons

Artist: Cartoons

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Comfort Zone (NXNE 2011), June 18, 2011.

Cartoons - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

NXNE 2011: Saturday (Part 1)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2011.

Saturday, June 18, 2011 – Part 1. Featuring: Cartoons, Ivan & Alyosha, Guards, Wild Nothing

N.B.: I had written some contemporaneous notes about the festival here. This redux version comes with a few additional observations as I have now had time to properly go through my recordings.

8 p.m.: Cartoons @ Comfort Zone

By Saturday night, the long slog of NXNE was getting to me a bit, and I was more than a little groggy and in need of a pick-me-up. After the first band I was going to see wasn't close to getting on stage as the hour approached, I was in no mood to wait, so I walked over to CZ to find Cartoons already on stage. As it would turn out, being five minutes late meant I missed about a third of their very brief set. Points for not overstaying their welcome. Their abrasive, AmRep-styled guitar-skinning was pretty invigorating stuff, and I managed to pick up a few lyrics like: "You're stupid!" and "Kill the hostages!" in the shouted din.

Later on, more pieces here would fall in place for me, like putting it together that the band is fronted by Denholm Whale (who also serves as the bassist for Odonis Odonis). Cartoons is part of the Buzz scene, centred around that local DIY label and The Garage, its not-metaphoric, now-defunct venue of choice. Many members of that loosely-connected network have been building momentum in the city's scuzz-punk underground, and now that the likes of METZ and The Soupcans have been taking T.O.'s ugly side to the wider world, this substrata of bands might be getting some more attention.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 p.m.: Ivan & Alyosha @ Lee's Palace

That set certainly gave me a jolt, though with my underlying fatigue, it's around here that my notepad starts mentioning things like "seeing hallucinations almost". As I headed up to Lee's, getting in with folksy combo Ivan & Alyosha taking the stage, my next comment was far less cryptic: "Ah — here's the earnest shit that I've been dodging so far."

Part of that arose from the fact that this by no means my first (or second, or third...) choice for this timeslot. There were a couple things farther afield that I was more interested in — but seasoned NXNE'ers know that the Saturday night is always a hassle for getting around. Between the big, free show at Dundas Square, Luminato, and some manner of MuchMusic event, the east-west streetcar lines were pretty unreliable, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get anywhere and back without missing something, as I knew I would be headed to Lee's down the line. So I figured I might as well get in there while it was still quiet and see whoever was playing the early slot there.

There was, in fact, no Ivan and no Alyosha to be found (they are, indeed, characters The Brothers Karamazov), and my somewhat snide first impression of the Seattle band turned out to be not wholly justified. Having four guys lined up across the front of the stage, with an electric guitar, two acoustics and a single floor tom for percussion did create the notion of a rustic folk-rock combo, though it turned out that the usual drummer wasn't present (possibly due to those omnipresent border issues) so the percussion here was as a result of the bassist filling in.

Musically, this would fit next to the northwestern rootsy, harmony-laden, bearded adult-alternative band of your choice. That might sound like I'm consigning them to "generically bland" status, and yeah, that was kinda my feeling at first. But as the set went on, they won me over a little on the strength of their comfortably stripped-down, likeable songs. There were some nice touches as well, like the echo-y ruffles during "Easy to Love".

Playing songs from their then-current Fathers Be Kind EP as well as tunes from their '09 full-length, plus a few from a still-forthcoming follow-up, they were also genuinely gracious on stage, glad to be sharing their songs, even if it was to a thin early crowd. Though it must be noted that the place was filling in as they played, and by the end they were getting good applause for songs like "On My Way" and the profane clap-along "Glorify" that closed it out.

10 p.m.: Guards @ Lee's Palace

Now it was starting to get busy for the night, with the Saturday Night crowd filling in as NYC group Guards set up for what looked to be a more theatrical set. There was a large backdrop with a freemason-ish logo, a lamp on stage topped by a stuffed bird and a smoke machine obscuring everything. The music had a similarly theatrical heft, dabbling in atmospherics of menacing gloom that were mixed with jaunty shots of lightness.

Between the fog and my perception slowly becoming even more unreliable, I wasn't entirely sure what I was seeing, wondering to myself if, in fact, I was seeing an omnichord on stage. That turned out to be the case, and one the more unique elements of the band's sound were the little trills it provided underneath everything else. Interestingly, though it sounded central to the songs, it was apparently the player's first show with the band.

Or maybe I'm just more inclined to pay attention to omnichords. For most people, however, it's ubiquitously mentioned that vocalist Richie Follin is the brother of Cults' Madeline Follin, though that doesn't mean much to me. He seemed to bring a poppy sensibility and classic rock'n'roll changes, reminding me a bit of Bradford Cox's tin-pan-alley side.

There were interesting moments, but a lot of this didn't connect for me. "Sail it Slow" did just that a bit too much, and when they slowed down again for an extended run through "Trophy Queen" toward the end, it didn't quite carry the crowd along. The upbeat material, when tended to come along in two minute-ish bursts (including a cover of MIA's "Born Free"), fared better, but there wasn't quite there enough to stick in my head.

I hadn't given much more thought to the band since this set, but it looks like the hype cycle is coming back around for them, with a single just dropped and their debut full-length out in early 2013.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: Wild Nothing @ Lee's Palace

By eleven, there was a really full house for Wild Nothing, showing how once again I'd missed the boat on a buzz-y band. Which is mildly strange, as this was the sort of thing that I do casually enjoy — the jangly roll of The Smiths, but with its morose-y vibe replaced by a more upbeat, optimistic delivery. Conceptually not so far from, say, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Originating as a recording project from singer/guitarist Jack Tatum, he was here backed by a sympathetic three-piece band. In theory, that should have opened up the sound a bit from the self-recorded material (on which Tatum played nearly everything) but the band wasn't exactly jamming out on the arrangements.

Starting with "Golden Haze" — the lead-off title track of the then-new EP that followed on the band's full-length debut — the set would be filled with trebly guitars and gently dance-able beats. The pleasingly bouncy "Our Composition Book" won me over and from there I enjoyed the set pretty well. The music is mostly situated in a fairly narrow stylistic patch, but there were enough variety to keep things interesting. Those minor variations weren't always to the good — "The Witching Hour"'s slower tempo dragged a bit and pushed Tatum a bit out of his natural vocal range.

The songs were then all new to me, but the EP and full-length Gemini album, out for more than a year, had apparently been around long enough for the crowd to have favourites, as there was a cheer at the opening notes of "Chinatown" and "Summer Holiday". And also long enough that Tatum already had a couple new ones to mix into the set. "Disappear Always" would emerge on this year's sophomore album Nocturne, and set-closer "She Falls Down" (a bit colder, and more mechanical than the template, here slowing things down in an interesting manner and gaining gravitas) was even tastier, though it doesn't yet seem to be released.

It was an efficient ten-song set, straightforward and without much banter or showmanship, but a good introduction — I grabbed a copy of both discs on the way out the door.

There was a positively huge lineup for Twin Shadow as I made my way out, but that wasn't the set for me. I was headed off for something far weirder...

Listen to a song from this set here.

This was a long-enough night that I'm splitting this account in two — the rest can be found here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recording: Ty Segall

Artist: Ty Segall

Songs: Annette's Got the Hits (feat. Steve McDonald) + unknown*

Recorded on the Captain Matthew Flinders (Bruise Cruise @ NXNE), June 18, 2011.

Ty Segall - Annette's Got the Hits + unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Uncle Bad Touch

Artist: Uncle Bad Touch

Songs: Uncle Bad Touch + Running and Rolling Your Way

Recorded on the Captain Matthew Flinders (Bruise Cruise @ NXNE), June 18, 2011.

Uncle Bad Touch - Uncle Bad Touch + Running and Rolling Your Way

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Jesuslesfilles

Artist: Jesuslesfilles

Song: unknown*

Recorded on the Captain Matthew Flinders (Bruise Cruise @ NXNE), June 18, 2011.

Jesuslesfilles - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

NXNE 2011: Bruise Cruise

Bruise Cruise (feat. Jesuslesfilles / Uncle Bad Touch / Young Governor / Ty Segall)

Captain Matthew Flinders. Saturday, June 18, 2011.

Amongst the barbeques and in-stores that have increasingly been filling up the daytimes during NXNE, this little excursion was perhaps the most anticipated. The idea of being out on the lake, taking in some sun while watching cool bands play is pretty irresistible. Cue plenty of "I'm on a Boat" jokes.

The reality was a bit more banal. The day was clear, blindingly bright and scorchingly hot, even in the gentle breeze while out cruising. So it might have been a blessing in disguise that rather than having the bands weren't playing out on the deck, they were down in the bottom-level ballroom. That made things feel rather less exotic — so much so that a large proportion of the attendees, putatively here to see the bands, never bothered coming below from their sun-drenched networking/consumption of overpriced drinks.

The day was presented by the M pour Montréal festival, and appropriately lead off with a couple 514-area bands. Jesuslesfilles were the first to take the stage — or, rather, the railed-off mini-dancefloor in the fore (up front, to us landlubbers) of the space. There was plenty of elbow room for the musicians, even with the drumkit set up on a riser behind them.

There were a half-dozen rows of people up at the front of the room taking this in, leaving lots of empty space behind, but it felt like enough bodies to make an audience for the five-piece. They were singing francophone lyrics, often delivered with male/female co-vox, but given the slightly-muffled nature of the improvised PA, their voices would have been semi-incomprehensible in any language.

Of Montréal bands that I know, I figured I could see this lot on a bill with, say, The Peelies1, though JLF were a bit less "punk" in their execution. They were still pleasingly rough around the edges, with quick songs in the two-three minute range. It got a bit less engaging when they slowed down, but on the whole, good stuff.

Listen to a song from this set here.

It was amusing to see the land-based social order was replicating itself on the boat, with the too-coolsters staying topside, indifferent to the opening bands. There weren't many more folks on hand for Uncle Bad Touch2, another Montréal act. This trio had a straight-up rocking sound, with a bit of sleaze-nasty in the guitar sound and occasional hints of metal. Given the aggression with which they played, it was no surprise that the drum kit was being slowly pushed forward, soon at constant risk of tumbling right off the riser.

Though the lyrics were in a language I was more fluent in, I'd have to say that the band didn't leave a huge impression on me. But with nine songs in just over twenty minutes it didn't stick around long enough to get boring, especially toward the end, when the boat started to roll a little underfoot.

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

When I came back from a wander to check out the views of city and the calm waters of Lake Ontario receding off in the hazy distance there was much more of a crowd on the lower deck to see Ben Cook (a.k.a.Young Governor), who was attired in a cruise-appropriate tropical sunset shirt and captain's hat. "I've been called Bernie and I've been called Michael J. Fox today," he commented. "So I'm doing all right."

There was a bigger crowd on the stage, too, with his not-officially-credited but most definitely present backing band The Scuzz — including a keyboardist that sat out the previous day's in-store. The keybs were quiet at the start but more prominent a bit later on for stuff like "Bedtime Stories". That additional element didn't upset the musical balance too much, however.

One part of the expansiveness of the band's sound, relative to some of Cook's other projects, is a propensity to not rush into songs, several of which included lengthy instrumental introductions (often powered by smooth saxophone licks) that would basically double their length. And though the music references classic rock forms through an especially 80's-vintage power-pop lens — "The Beat of My Heart" which could have slipped through a timewarp from a Rockpile setlist — there's still an elemental propensity to veer headlong into velocity, like "Summer Girl", which finished at about twice the speed it started at. Showing as much eagerness as the crowd to get to the headliner, the band careened through the more-punkish "Call Me When the Cat Dies" before clearing the stage to make room.

This whole nautical experience seems to have had an impact on Cook, who liked this set enough to issue it on a tape3 — and who has more recently shifted his attention to a new project called Yacht Club.

Listen to a song from this set here.

There was still plenty space at the back of the room as Ty Segall and his rhythm section took the stage but it was rather packed up front — I was about four rows aft and even from there I could hardly see a thing. Mostly just occasional flashes of Segall's tie-died shirt — and that was before the intense mosh-y action got started.4

Wearing a pair of sunglasses — and with another pair perched on his head — Segall lead off with "Imaginary Person" from 2010's "Melted", picking out some tracks from his ever-growing discography. The highlight of the set came fairly early on when he invited Redd Kross' Steve McDonald (who was at NXNE as a member of OFF!) to join in on bass for a run through "Annette's Got the Hits", which dates back to 1980, when the band was still known as Red Cross — a song older than Segall himself. "That was the coolest thing that has ever happened to me," he commented after.

With the boat pulling into the dock, there was an increased urgency in the room, and at the end of the slower-starting "Finger" the crowd suddenly exploded into a moshing frenzy. With the boat back on land, the band cranked through the last few songs, ending with a run through "Paranoid" wherein Segall leaped into crowd, being held aloft under the rather low ceiling, his face and guitar both smooshed right up against it as he kept playing, taking time only to stick his head up through the foam ceiling tiles. Given that he invited the crowd up to sing along for that, it was no surprise that the show ended with a general stage invasion, feedback shreiking as the bandstand filled up — and from there, rocking out covers (including GG Allin's "Don't Talk to Me") pretty much until he was told to stop.

As always, a bracing live experience. And if this wasn't all that exciting as an aquatic excursion (the boat hugged the shoreline out to about the mouth of the Humber and then back), it was a worthy daytime experience, enough so that it would be repeated for the next NXNE.5

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

1 Which turns out to have been on point, given that the two bands have shared a split tape.

2 The band has more recently rebranded themselves under the more compact, less creepy moniker of UBT.

3 Though by now it might be tough to get your hands on a copy, Cook released my recording of this show as one half of the The First Three 7"s / Live On A Boat cassette.

4 I've mentioned it before, but I'll renew this curious observation: I certainly dig Segall's music, but it's mostly "punk" by association, and I don't quite understand what it his about his performances that engender such an enthusiastically mosh-prone response from the crowd when nothing of the sort happens to other musicians with a similar level of rockitude. It just seems mildly odd to me.

5 Segall seems to enjoy our neck of the woods: he's covered some Southern Ontario proto-punk heroes and retains connections to some local bands. He's also been a fairly frequent visitor to Toronto, playing at increasingly large venues, including (on February 6, 2013) The Phoenix.