Saturday, June 30, 2012

Recording: Fiver

Artist: Fiver

Song: Calm & Collected

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room, June 29, 2012.

Fiver - Calm & Collected

Full review to follow. Though I've been following Simone Schmidt's new Fiver project through some shows in a duo formation with Paul Mortimer, it was exciting to see the full four-piece band in action. Celebrating the release of their first 7" (as well as an EP of demos), the band played a full hour-long set of new material, without going to the well for covers or back to older projects.

Just last night I'd gotten a late-night text from a friend lamenting the fact that the Coffee Time at College and Ossington was suddenly shut down, and then tonight Schmidt dedicated a song to its memory — I feel like this is music from a world I can relate to.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Housekeeping

Due to (pleasantly) busy times, there's been no shortage of stuff going up here, but most of it has been of the quick-post variety. With a little more time coming up, I'm going to be getting back to tackling my backlog of recordings — so in case anyone new around here is paying attention, yes, next week you will be seeing reviews from June of 2011. It's not a typo. I'd love to be contemporaneous, but I work in the fashion of Ringo in that Simpsons episode — comprehensively and in order.

Meanwhile, I did a pinch-hit entry for the Wavelength blog, spotlighting some of the more awesome summer concert-going options, so check that out, and say hi if you see me at any of the events listed there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Recording: Mimico

Artist: Mimico

Song: Doses

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, June 26, 2012.

Mimico - Doses

Full review to follow. It wasn't too long ago that I first checked this trio out, but I was so impressed that I wanted to hear 'em again to see how their "psychedelic industrial goth prog" would sit the second time around — and I was left with no doubts. This is some really fine simmering stuff, droning and exploding in just the right ways.

Recording: Fiver

Artist: Fiver

Song: Rainbow of Blues

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, June 26, 2012.

Fiver - Rainbow of Blues

Full review to follow.

"You guys want a bit of relief?"

[some crowd-members laugh nervously; a couple people clap]

"Awww... there is none! [beat] This is a song called 'Rainbow of Blues'."

Simone Schmidt might make jokes about the sense of darkness in her songs, but just as in her work with $100, the empathy that she brings to her character studies is unassailable. Strictly speaking, this tune belongs to Highest Order of the Blue Sage, the "other band" Schmidt plays in alongside guitarist Paul Mortimer, but it sounds good in this duo setting. There'll be a chance to hear her new Fiver material backed by a full band on Friday night (June 29) at The Silver Dollar, which comes highly recommended.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Recording: Matt Dunn / Colin Fisher / Brandon Valdivia

Artist: Matt Dunn / Colin Fisher / Brandon Valdivia

Song: [excerpt from an improvisation]

Recorded at Toronto Laser Services (Offerings 1 Year Anniversary Celebration), June 24, 2012.

Dunn-Fisher-Valdivia - [excerpt from an improvisation]

Full review to follow. Although billed as a solo performance from Matt Dunn's Earth House project, this set turned out to be a collaboration with Not the Wind, Not the Flag's Brandon Valdivia and Colin Fisher. It had been a while since I'd seen Fisher playing sax, so that was a bit of treat. This section features his sax work along with Dunn's "cosmic wah" guitar.

The occasion, meanwhile, was the first anniversary celebration of Offerings, the defiantly offline journal dedicated to "documenting Toronto's anomalous music scene". It was a chance to reflect on how things never "just happen" — there's a lot of love and hard work invested by the folks behind the mag (Deirdre O'Sullivan, Andrew Zukerman, Isla Craig, Mani Mazinani, Tad Michalak and many more) that build our community. Long may their offerings continue.

Recording: Japandroids

Artist: Japandroids

Song: The Nights of Wine and Roses

Recorded at Lee's Palace, June 23, 2012.

Japandroids - The Nights of Wine and Roses

Full review to follow.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Recording: Not the Wind, Not the Flag

Artist: Not the Wind, Not the Flag

Song: excerpt

Recorded at Double Double Land, June 22, 2012.

Not the Wind, Not the Flag - excerpt

Full review to follow. Some nights Not the Wind feels like some form of secular spiritual sustenance. The big ending, with Colin Fisher's guitar shredding was intense as always, but this time out it was the quieter beginning, with Fisher on drums supporting Brandon Valdivia's work on percussion and kalimba that got to me the most.

Recording: Coca Cola

Artist: Coca Cola

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Double Double Land, June 22, 2012.

Coca Cola - unknown

Full review to follow. I have seen this joint project between U.S. Girls and Slim Twig play together before, but I must confess it didn't previously make anything like this much impact. Amongst the sampled dialogue and ambient segues, the songs felt a bit more, like, well songs, and that made the thing more interesting.

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

Recording: Bennink/Ex/West

Artist: Han Bennink/Terrie Ex/Brodie West

Song: [an improvization]*

Recorded at Double Double Land (Wavelength 545 – Summer Solstice Triptych, Part 2), June 22, 2012.

Han Bennink/Terrie Ex/Brodie West - unknown

Full review to follow. A wonderful set from this trio, filled with inventive technique from each of the players. The doppler effect wrorw swoops are courtesy of Terrie Ex, who was scraping the headstock of his guitar on the stage floor in a semicircle.

* It's also possible that this is a titled composition Please leave a comment if you know for sure!

Recording: Detention

Artist: Detention

Song: excerpt from an improvization*

Recorded at Double Double Land (Wavelength 545 – Summer Solstice Triptych, Part 2), June 22, 2012.

Detention - unknown

Full review to follow. Sam Shalabi and Alexander MacSween explored a variety of textures during this set — I found this part to be the most exciting.

* I am assuming without proof that this is an improvised piece without a title. If you know any different, please leave a comment and let me know!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Recording: Kontravoid

Artist: Kontravoid

Song: Expulsions

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (NXNE 2012), June 16, 2012.

Kontravoid - Expulsions

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Prince Innocence

Artist: Prince Innocence

Song: To My Right

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (NXNE 2012), June 16, 2012.

Prince Innocence - To My Right

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Warm Myth

Artist: Warm Myth

Song: Working

Recorded at The Garrison (NXNE 2012), June 16, 2012.

Warm Myth - Working

My notes for this set can be found here.

Currente calamo: NXNE 2012 (Saturday)

NXNE 2012 (Wednesday, June 13, 2012)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so there'll be a fuller accounting of the night by and by that'll include even more details and recordings.

8 p.m.: Warm Myth @ The Garrison

After a busy day of rock'n'roll that included a boat cruise and some in-store action, I headed over to The Garrison. Rumour had it that there was some sort of show going on at Yonge-Dundas Square, but that's not my scene. As the hour rolled around, I was content to be in what looked like an audience of three rather than a thousands-strong sardine can crush. And as the band held off, trying to get some technical glitches worked out, some friends and supporters trickled in so that there was at least a respectable handful around to see the live debut of Warm Myth.

Casey Mecija has played some solo shows in the past, but they were mostly a chance to workshop stripped-down versions of tunes bound for the next Ohbijou release. For this project, however, Mecija is working as much with sonics, crafting a different kind of music than what we've heard in the past. Her collaborator here is drummer Kieran Adams, most recently seen playing alongside Bonjay. In fact, his high-velocity work there came straight to mind at the start of this set, as his "In The Air Tonight"-style thumpitude was a bit at odds with Mecija's woozy synth track. That mismatch can be put down to the fact that the pair were very clearly still learning how this material works in a live setting (as well as the normal sonic gremlins in a set's first song as the tech gets everything in balance).

By second number "Working" (one of tunes featured on the band's soundcloud), that was reined in and there was a much more satisfying balance between the two players — all the more so as Mecija shuffled across the stage in the midst of a big, shred-y guitar part. Warm Myth is assuredly atmospheric, but that doesn't mean it's sedate.

The process isn't smooth and instinctive yet, and one song had to get a re-start (a "character-building moment," as Mecija called it), but there are some very interesting seeds here. Instead of some of more stereotypical hallmarks of the "electronic side-project", it sounds as if Mecija's sonic sculpting is aimed towards shaping new kinds of songs, and the quick set here really implies this'll be worth keeping an eye on.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 p.m.: Sean Nicholas Savage @ The Garrison

When I realized how long it had been since I'd seen Sean Nicholas Savage perform, I figured I'd better stick to see what he was up to. Given how quick Savage's artistic drive has propelled him from style to style, I figured there might be something else going on besides the solo disco crooner I'd encountered in the past. And indeed, he was now accompanied by a bassist (with amazing pants) who also handled the laptop, MPC and so forth controlling the backing tracks. That left Savage, who took the stage in a long red dress and a leer, to play guitar and sing.

His current set is less of an upfront dance party than I recall, trading that in for a more measured — almost limpid — style. It brought to mind some of the soulful British indie soul-pop bands of the '80's — a gentle sort of sound that encourages swaying more than boogieing. For whatever reason, this was coming out particularly quiet in the Garrison's PA, and even the slight bit of chatter in the room was getting competitive with the music. But still, glad I updated myself on Savage's present live set up. His release schedule has slowed down from last year's torrid pace, but it's evident that he's still got ideas to spare — and a wild-eyed stage presence, regardless of what genre he's working in.

11 p.m.: Shellshag @ El Mocambo

Given the complete unreliability of pretty much every surface transit route on this crazy night, I decided a nice walk would be in order and ended up simply hiking over to College and Spadina. Stepped in to a nearly-empty El Mo with enough time to catch the last couple songs from Our Brother The Native, part of Eric Warner's We Are Busybodies showcase. Their bearded, textured rock was pleasing enough but didn't make me sad that I hadn't arrived sooner.

In any event, I was on hand for another helping of Shellshag, who had completely charmed and beguiled me the previous afternoon. To some extent, I was hoping that lightning would strike twice, but I was also curious to watch the band with a bit more detachment, and see what I could figure out about the craft behind their casual-looking approach. Of course, as soon as their "pyramid of sound" on the stage lit up, I was all smiles once again and most attempts at analysis went straight out the window.

Shellshag's songs, though wrapped in an off-kilter Mo Tucker thump and roaring guitar, are often sweetly romantic at their core — "face to face / kiss me", Shell sang in the first one, and indeed they were standing face to face across their customized microphone setup.1 At first, I was one of the only ones standing up front and playing attention to the band, but it only took a few minutes for a few more people to start moving up — and after another song a couple beside me started dancing.

So it was interesting to see which of the spontaneous-looking gestures are, in fact, rehearsed rituals, but in the end, it didn't matter too much. There's simply some alchemical element in the pair's raw sound that just works for me — and as I made my way through the length of the now-filling room at the end, I was rather pleased to hear more than one conversation breaking out about how awesome the band were.

The band was partially in town to celebrate the release of a new 7" on We Are Busy Bodies, so hopefully that relationship indicates that they'll make it back this way sooner rather than later.

Midnite: Prince Innocence @ The Silver Dollar Room

After that, I headed across the street from one venue that was suddenly getting full (with people streaming in to see the Limblifter reunion) to another. There was a lineup sprawling out along the sidewalk in front of the Dollar — a sign that Prince Innocence has some considerable draw already. The crowd that faced them as they took the stage indicated that the lineup wasn't just for the night's headliners, either. Looking around me, I was amused to note that this was not a typical Silver Dollar crowd of grimy rock'n'roll lovers — they were a lot of club-going types who looked like they were slumming it here. There were people chasing buzz.

This project sees Josh McIntyre put aside Little Girls' reverb-laced postpunk in favour of a dancefloor-friendly minimal synth sound. With him staying put behind the gear, Talvi Faustmann is the face and voice of the band.

In one sense, I could comprehend it if some were cynical about this new project: after all, they were doing fashion spreads before hardly anyone had heard a lick of their music. On the other hand, McIntyre seems to know a thing or two about riding the mercurial waves of hype, and seems to be someone who is willing to deal with le fast-thinking of the modern world as a means to get his art out there, but backs that up with substantive work to justify the glare.

The downside of this sort of hype-driven bubble of attention is that is encourages the sort of short-term thinking that does the artists a disservice. To be honest, to me this felt like a work-in-progress for a project still finding its voice and looking for its strengths. Certainly as a live unit, this is not all the way there yet. Even limited to keyboard and laptop (and some live percussion flourishes), McIntyre looks pretty in control of things on stage; as a live vocalist, Faustmann is less solid. Whether it was big-crowd jitters or lousy festival monitors, she couldn't quite nail her parts for the first couple songs. Some of this will work itself out with more shows, and I suspect that future material might position itself a bit more sympathetically in her range. (In the early going, one point of comparison that came to mind is Austra, and it served as an indirect reminder of Katie Stelmanis' advanced technical abilities in the use of her voice.)

The best sign was that Faustmann's strongest vocal performance came on the pair's newest song, one that had been written earlier in the week. And as I said: I'm not particularly rushing to judgment here — I want to wait and see how Faustmann is doing six months or a year from now. By that time, she might also have a bit more of a grip on her stage persona as well — she gave good ice queen during the songs, but then dropped it and let the spell break in between.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 a.m.: Bleached @ The Silver Dollar Room

There was a bit of a crowd turnover after that, and it actually felt a bit less packed as L.A.'s Bleached took the stage to close out their three-night headlining stand. As always, this was a perceptive choice from booker Dan Burke, grabbing a band that's definitely on the way up. Even with only a couple singles to their name, the band managed to attract some attention — some of it for Jennifer and Jessica Clavin's past work in Mika Miko, but probably just as much for their of-the-moment girl group gone Gun Club sound.

Live, the sisters (both play guitar and sing, though Jennifer is more of the frontwoman and Jessica the lead guitarist) are backed by a no-fuss rhythm section to power their sugar-sweet buzzsaw bursts. It's simple — and not inexact — to want to situate the band in a continuum with, say, Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls, especially the rawer, earlier incarnations of both. At this juncture, Bleached hews closer to punk than either — it's no accident that their setlist included Ramones and Misfits covers. Although that also drew attention to their as-yet limited storehouse of material, as even with those, the band played for barely twenty-five minutes. But what they did play was excellent, and definitely enough to make me into a fan.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 a.m.: Automelodi @ The Silver Dollar Room

I knew nothing going in about Montréal's Automelodi, and was mostly sticking around waiting for the next set, but they turned out to be a very engaging surprise. There was a stage full of keyboards (and a vertical rack of hexagonal drumpads) for songwriter/producer/vocalist Arnaud Lazlaud to work with — he moved pretty fluidly around the stage, sometimes hunched over a synthesizer, sometimes shaking a tambourine and flipping it against the drumpad. He was backed by Simon Yupiktake on synths and guitar to combine for an icy, uncluttered musical approach. There was a continental 80's minimal wave here, though I know less about that stuff than the poppier material it inspired, and there was traces of that in the mix as well.

I think the band's success can be seen in a couple ways here — first and foremost, it made me want to dance, something that definitely doesn't happen with all "dance" music. And second, it was having the same effect on an interesting coalition surrounding me on the dancefloor, with goths and punks getting equally down. The songs' structures encouraged that, with the best moments coming during the long instrumental passages. Lazlaud had some presence as a vocalist, but some of the more portentous, nearly-spoken interludes were less compelling. This is the sort of material that falls outside of my musical sweet spot, so it was nice to feel a little swept up in it — and now I'll keep an eye out for this band.

2 a.m.: Kontravoid @ The Silver Dollar Doom

I was sticking around for the last set to check out the mysterious Kontravoid, who had been given a high recommendation by a couple sources. My energy waning by this point, I wasn't quite sure if I was going to make it, especially as gear adjustments kept the set from starting anywhere near on time. It was nearly twenty past when the lights went out and Cam Findlay began to play. Only a strobe light running in sync to the beat cut into the darkness, revealing quick slices of Findlay behind his stack of analogue keyboards and electronics.

If you were to guess his career based on the glimpses of moustache and leather gloves, "'80's hit man" might come to mind, and there was indeed a sense of menace behind the tunes. Musically, I could sense an affinity with the likes of Crystal Castles and Trust, both bands with which Findlay has played as a drummer. But his own stuff has more of a menacing minimal throb, making it feel like the aggressive, macho top to Trust's wan, conflicted bottom.

Sonically absorbing stuff. Even if there's not much of a stage show, the punch of the music made it feel like a vital live experience. Giving me enough of an energy boost to make it through the evening, I'm looking forward to hearing more of this.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 As if they're all part of one grand narrative, the songs are also quite often self-referential, with ad-libbed lines tossed in to embellish the story of Shellshag. "Do you remember when we played Sneaky Dee's?" asked Shell in one song — and I did, smiling to myself.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recording: The Disraelis

Artist: The Disraelis

Song: Sick in Your Dreams*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (NXNE 2012), June 15, 2012.

The Disraelis - Sick in Your Dreams

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to Richie for passing along the title of this one.

Recording: Reigning Sound

Artist: Reigning Sound

Song: We Repel Each Other

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern (NXNE 2012), June 15, 2012.

Reigning Sound - We Repel Each Other

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Andre Williams & The Sadies

Artist: Andre Williams & The Sadies

Song: I Wanna Be Your Favorite Pair of Pajamas

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern (NXNE 2012), June 15, 2012.

Andre Williams & The Sadies - I Wanna Be Your Favorite Pair of Pajamas

My notes for this set can be found here.

Currente calamo: NXNE 2012 (Friday)

NXNE 2012 (Friday, June 15, 2012)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so there'll be a fuller accounting of the night by and by that'll include even more details and recordings.

Midnite: Andre Williams & The Sadies @ The Horseshoe Tavern

After spending all afternoon at the most-excellent 159 Manning BBQ, it seemed mildly strange to consider that I was starting my proper "day" at NXNE at midnite. By that point of the day, there's a certain temptation to just go home and sleep, but this was one of the sets that I had definitely been planning to go out of my way to catch during the festival.

Unsurprisingly, the 'Shoe was rammed as I made my way in, but I did manage to find a tiny bit of room along the wall at about the back of the dancefloor.

In proper soul revue fashion, The Sadies emerged first and began to lay down a groove, grabbing the audience's attention before Andre Williams — Mr. Rhythm himself — took the stage in his dashing red satin suit. At 75, the genial Williams seemed to be out to establish that he was still, as one of his songs puts it, "Agile, Mobile and Hostile".

It was definitely a treat to see him — and, in a festival filled to overflowing with the new and young, to see a senior citizen command a room like this. Williams was spirited, and the Sadies were as whip-snap sharp as always. That said, at a more objective level, I was struck by how much this show reminded me of the the last time Williams was in town. Except for that increased vitality on Williams' part, this was pretty much an abbreviated version of the same show. It was a little surprising, given how Williams and The Sadies had just dropped the new Night and Day collaboration, that none of that material made its way into the setlist.

Part of that was surely down to having to work within the confines of the festival grid. As it turned out, it took a few songs for things to really feel like they were cooking, and by then, the band were a good way through their allotted time. There was enough that Williams still managed to squeeze a costume change in, but as he departed the stage after a rollicking run through "Car With the Star", it really felt like this could have kept going.

One assumes that there's a fairly significant non-festival-going crowd that would be into this, so we might hope to see a full show from this pairing yet to come.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 a.m.: Reigning Sound @ The Horseshoe Tavern

Being just warmed up by the point the timeslot was over would be a problem for Reigning Sound as well, although they dealt with it by just chugging onward. That would be a popular choice with the crowd — after Andre Williams' set ended, the Horseshoe emptied out a bit — just enough that it had gone from being "crammed" to "full". And though I couldn't say that I was familiar with Greg Cartwright's Memphis soul-garage project, there was clearly a strong and vocal contingent on hand to whom this was a big deal. That's probably be because although the band has been an on-and-off-concern for over a decade, it had been in quiet mode lately, and obviously too-long away for the enthusiasts to bear.

The five-piece quickly established a rock-solid groove, nimble and capable of lashing out. On top of that came Cartwright's gravelly vocals, which had a slight taste of Faces-era Rod Stewart. I knew that he had also produced The Deadly Snakes, and played alongside them for awhile to boot (leading to some lingering fondness that he expressed for Toronto) and that was also evident in the band's lean toughness.

It's always an interesting experience to be a neophyte in the midst of a crowd of devoted fans, with joyful roars of recognition coming for song after song. I was able to dig all of them in greater or smaller proportion, although admittedly, after about a half-hour, I was starting to get antsy, feeling worn-down from the long day. The band had started at about quarter after, and was still going strong at the top of the hour — creating some unhappiness, I'm sure, for anyone who had shown up for the next band. I thought about ducking into somewhere or other nearby to catch a 2 a.m. set, but I really needed some fresh air and ended up just hiking up to the Silver Dollar.

Listen to a track from this set here.

3 a.m.: the Disraelis @ The Silver Dollar Room

My timing being thrown off, I arrived to catch the last couple songs by UN (whether that's meant as an abbreviation à la the United Nations or an emphatic, all-caps french definite article I don't know). The slightly-goofy synthpop was a bit perpendicular to what I'd been seeing on the night but wasn't unwelcome — as something random to encounter during the festival I feel like I coulda done far worse.

That was tangential, however, to my late-night plans to catch a set from Optical Sounds O.G.'s The Disraelis. This was a band that I adored in their previous incarnation, their alchemy arising from the "delicious tension between Colin Bowers' crystalline guitar lines and Cameron Ingles' opaque murmurs, a collision between heightened rationality and bleary oblivion." Bowers has since taken his guitar sound to The Holiday Crowd, and after a fallow period, Ingles has reconvened a new trio with his bass backed by Calvin Brown and Richie Gibson (both formerly of The Hoa Hoa's and now with B-17). This gives the music a different cast and it's to their credit that instead of trying to replicate Bowers' sound, Gibson is playing to his own strengths, as paisley and psychedelic as the shirt he was wearing.

There were sparks — actual, literal ones — when I first saw this new lineup a couple months ago, but there was still a bit of a tentative feeling of transition. I was quite pleased to see that things felt a bit more settled in now, and the set — dominated by new songs — did a good job of showing where The Disraelis are headed. With a more muscular attack from drums and guitar, Ingles is pushing his vocals a little more, and there was a bit less space for his bass up front, but the heavier sound meant that the new material felt less like a hangover and more the the aftermath — or precipice of — a bad trip, a sentiment sealed with the set-ending blistering attack on the 13th Floor Elevators/Spacemen 3's "Rollercoaster". Well come on, and let it happen to you — you gotta open up your mind and let everything come through.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Download: 159 Manning BBQ 2012

Okay, a special treat. I've put together a compilation with a track from every band who played at this year's 159 Manning BBQ, which you can read about here. You can grab it with this link:

159 Manning BBQ 2012 compilation

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

Recording: Cousins

Artist: Cousins

Song: Die

Recorded at "What We Do is Secret" (159 Manning BBQ), June 15, 2012.

Cousins - Die

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Buck 65

Artist: Buck 65

Song: Small Town Boy

Recorded at "What We Do is Secret" (159 Manning BBQ), June 15, 2012.

Buck 65 - Small Town Boy

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Shellshag

Artist: Shellshag

Song: The Promise [When In Rome cover]

Recorded at "What We Do is Secret" (159 Manning BBQ), June 15, 2012.

Shellshag - The Promise

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Little Orton Hoggit and his Ten Cent Wings

Artist: Little Orton Hoggit and his Ten Cent Wings

Song: Whiskey River [Willie Nelson cover]

Recorded at "What We Do is Secret" (159 Manning BBQ), June 15, 2012.

Little Orton Hoggit and his Ten Cent Wings - Whiskey River

My notes for this set can be found here.

Currente calamo: 159 Manning BBQ 2012

"What We Do is Secret" – 159 Manning BBQ 2012 (feat. The Harp Twins / Julie Doiron / The Cola Heads / Unfinished Business / Marnie Herald / Choir! Choir! Choir! / Little Orton Hoggit and his Ten Cent Wings / Shellshag / Buck 65 / Cousins)

159 Manning. Friday, June 15, 2012.

While this is fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so this'll be elaborated upon a bit by and by when I have proper time to go through all my recordings.

One of the more positively remarked-upon developments at NXNE over the past couple years has been the uptick in unofficial events, especially those taking place in the daytime. Whereas a few years ago, bands had to keep it on the downlow if they were playing outside of their sanctioned showcase timeslots, suddenly there's piles of BBQ's, parking lot shows and taco bar extravaganzas. Which is a fabulous thing — it doesn't substantially subtract from the bands' draw in their "official" appearances, it gives out-of-town bands more exposure and it really ramps up the festival's sense of eventfulness.

Timothy McCready, the "Emperor-Wizard of 159 Manning" is contributing to this, with his summer backyard extravaganza now in its fourth year. But while this all-day affair took advantage of NXNE to bring a couple out-of-towners out to play, it also felt pleasingly tangential to the hype-driven nature of a lot of North-by events. Which is to say, this wasn't particularly the place to go to if you wanted to be seen taking in the buzziest bands in town. In fact, unlike your typical NXNE day party, this didn't even trade on the name value of the musical acts at all, given that the lineup was kept secret until the event was underway. Instead, by tapping into a genuine local community spirit, this felt more like a village fair than a festival schmoozathon.

The event took advantage of several spaces — the backyard was the town square, with a stage set up for the performers, and the fence to the neighbours taken down to create an overflow area given over for the food zone, where two entire roast pigs were being served up. Inside, under the glare of shag-carpet clown art, the living room played host to a few sets, the basement got jammed out, and a photographer took over a room upstairs, offering portraits to anyone wandering in. There was a lot of stuff going on all day, so while I'm focusing on the music here, don't think that was the extent of the fun.

In the afternoon quietude, as the earlybirds trickled in Camille and Kennerly Kitt were setting up between two walls of books in the living room. Friends of Tim McCready who were brought in especially to open and close the day, their professional moniker The Harp Twins tells you exactly what you're getting. Playing rock classics and contemporary hits arranged for two harps, there were a few people on hand as they got started, but soon enough the living room was full with seated folks, attentive during the music and laughing and chatting with the twins between songs.

In fact, the informal vibe meant that an impromptu Q+A went hand in hand with covers of Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Led Zeppelin. That didn't subtract from the ornate beauty of the playing, which just seemed to follow from the way that the full-size acoustic harps gave both a feeling of stately beauty and an aura of old-time durable sophistication.

The peak was a singalong presentation of "Don't Stop Believin'", which turned into a crowdsourced experiment on how many lyrics people could remember on the spur of the moment. The twins were suitably impressed with how well the audience did, though I don't know if they realized how many choir-members — who will be further heard from later — they were playing to.

Back outside, the afternoon's heat was at its peak, the sun still too high to allow the house to cast the shadows that would provide precious shade later on. No surprise, then, that Julie Doiron was resigned at first to needing sunglasses to play her set. With her usual idiosyncratic self-reflection, though, she'd later ponder over whether she should be wearing shades, worrying about how they make it harder to establish eye contact. Worrying about attaining and keeping that kind of emotional closeness is at the core of Doiron's work, which might be why this backyard setting will fold in well with some of the best-remembered times I have seen her play.

Unvarnished, unedited human emotion is Doiron's stock-in-trade, and the same unfiltered rawness sometimes emerges as occasional lapses of over-sharing while chatting on stage. But amongst the usual songs about heartbreak and pain, it was a simple celebration of trees and grass that registered the most in this sun-drenched backyard: "by the lake, there's a rock, and it lets me lie on top / warmed by the sun and cooled by wind / and the water, it sings to me."1

Away from the sun, a smaller subset of the crowd carefully made their way inside and down to the basement. That rehearsal-y backdrop felt just right for a quick'n'loud set from The Cola Heads. There was a fun and nostalgic vibe at hand, as this was a reunion of sorts for this first-ever teenaged band2 for Julian Swift (who would later play with The Labour Of, Electricutie and Queen City Distributors). Original drummer Liam Jaeger (now of The Balconies) was joined by Swift's brother Nick Sewell (of Biblical/The Illuminati) on bass.3

"Sounds like: band practice" could be the operative element here, with the punkish bursts flying by like adolescent spasms, guitar roaring and vocals mostly an unintelligible mumble underneath. This'd be the loudest set of the day, but it was quite fun — if only someone had brought a rum-laced slurpee from the 7-11 up the street to go with the sweaty basement echoes and amiable brotherly ribbing it would have felt like a perfect slice of displaced teenaged fun.

That look back would be a good lead-in for the full-on youth rock of Unfinished Business, consisting of three girls between eleven and thirteen years of age who write all their own songs. Armed with one bad-assed guitar, Sita Gribben launched into the totally-awesome call for empathy "Try Not To Laugh" ("people falling off a pogo stick / try not to laugh"). Other songs were about rock stars, BFF's and haunted houses. Their set was a real joy to witness — they've already got the bravery and skills to rock out that put most of us to shame.

That short set left a few minutes to wander around — time to chat, have a beer, and grab some of the tasty, tasty pork. Wandered back inside and found a spot on the floor as Marnie Herald was getting ready to play. A comfy living room felt like the right sort of space for her folksy songs, delivered in a sterling voice. "It's a Pity Party" stuck with me, and had some nice understated keyboard touches from Catherine Stockhausen, who was sitting in. The songs they played together had an unfussy, informal feeling, as if the pair were working out their collaboration as we watched. The set ended with them tackling Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart", which they admitted they'd first played together only the day before. It was a little ramshackle, but given how the whole thing felt more like hanging out than a performance that was just fine.

Back outside, the crowd had really swelled up. Some of that was from folks coming out after their workday had ended, but the bigger reason was that about half the crowd was about to perform. By the time they were assembled and ready to go, I couldn't even manage to get a headcount on the semicircle of people now taking up half the yard. Under the leadership of Nobu Aah and Daveed Goldman, Choir! Choir! Choir! has grown from a small meet-up to an informal force of hundreds. Obviously the concept taps into something pretty deep in people, where the joys of singing along is just one element of an inherently communal experience.

That works on audiences as well, and given their repertoire4, it's hard to not want to just sing along. That's helped by the unfussy arrangements, which don't try too hard to be fancy, leaving the songs and voices to showcase themselves. In this first set, "Mad World" worked very well and closer "La Isla Bonita" managed to end things with a big stomping, clap-along finale.

Sloan's Chris Murphy, who had been adjusting the drumkit on the stage while the choir had been singing, even got into the act, adding a kickdrum beat to the end of "La Isla Bonita". When I saw him on stage, my curiosity was piqued, and I figured that just maybe Little Orton Hoggit and his Ten Cent Wings might, in fact, be another name for someone I had seen before. In fact, it would turn out, Matt Murphy has been using this moniker for awhile while playing some good-time country music. Here, he stayed in character throughout the set, in shades and a cowboy hat, telling the story of his unfortunate career — where he had worked with all the greats, only for various misfortunes to intervene and consign him to perpetual obscurity. Murphy would act as his interlocutor throughout, prying details out and throwing in plenty of zingers in a cornpone routine that was sort of halfway between Hee Haw and Nashville.

The set was heavy on covers — although the original omni-key "Honky-Tonk Modulation" was trotted out as an example of Hogget's own ahead-of-his-time impulses. Most of it, like a jaunty run through "Whiskey River" was good to git down to.

Listen to a track from this set here.

When I first got wind of the full lineup for this show, I was totally stoked that Shellshag was on the bill. Not every set that I saw three years ago sticks with me, but the spirit that the Brooklyn duo play with really did. Eschewing the stage (and the PA), they set up right on the lawn and plugged into their "pyramid of sound", mics angled in a Y so that Shell (guitar) and Shag (drums) could stand and face each other while they played. Shell's long hair masked his face as he leaned in to sing, cranking out non-stop riffs on his clear plastic guitar. Shag smiled ear to ear, shaking her bell-adorned limbs for extra jangling percussion as she pointed a drumstick at the sky, looking elated to be playing rock'n'roll.

The net effect, I must confess, was completely intoxicating — maybe not even for the shaggy songs they were playing so much as the sense of elation it brought about. As they rumbled through a cacophonous cover of When In Rome's baldly romantic one-hit-wonder "The Promise" ("I'm just thinking of the right words to say / I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be / and if I had to walk the world, I'd make you fall for me / I promise you, I promise you I will"), grinning at each other throughout, I leaned to a friend and commented, "if I ever get married, this is what I want it to be like."

No doubt that the heat-haze and the backyard beers had something to do with it, but this was the most satisfying set that I'd seen in months. So much so that the big finale — when the anthemic "Fuck Society" ended with Shell carefully stacking all of the drums on top of each other in a precariously tottering tower — seemed like icing on the cake. A spectacularly joyful time.

Listen to a track from this set here.

After that, I was mildly fatigued as Buck 65 took the stage, but I was almost certainly in the right frame of mind. Richard Terfry might have been the day's biggest name, but he also acted if he was just here to hang out at a friend's house, talking about being neighbours with McCready and coming over to watch movies here. For this set he was in solo mode, rapping to backing tracks, but his little shuffles and between-song banter kept it feeling fresh.

Marnie Herald has worked with Terfry before, so it was no surprise when she joined him to serve as a hook-singer for "Gee Whiz" and stuck around for several more, including the Bronski Beat-sampling "Small Town Boy". It was a surprisingly comprehensive set, going past fifty minutes, and reaching back to some older material like "Wicked and Weird".

Listen to a track from this set here.

By now, night was falling, the pork was all gone and the backyard was pretty crowded as Choir! Choir! Choir! began assembling for their second set. In a rare mis-step for the day, I bailed on them a little too early — I wish I was standing there and paying full attention for their rendition of Big Star's "Thirteen", but by then I was already headed inside. After this long, I needed to rest up a bit, plus I was eager to stake out some turf in the living room.

Given that half of the crowd was actively singing in the Choir, I probably didn't need to have rushed in quite so soon, but I was eager to be close up to check out Cousins, whose recent The Palm at the End of the Mind album had gotten a fair bit of attention. Filled out with piano and other keyboard flourishes, it boasts a classic-rock informed sound that's intriguingly at odds with their live rep as a stripped-down duo,5 where guitarist/vocalist Aaron Mangle plays sitting down, his foot at a kickdrum to enhance Leigh Dotey's percussion.

Even with the minimalist lineup, the band seems to know a thing or two about rock'n'roll dramatics: "this is the last time we'll play this song," begins "Singing". Added to an ability to come up with songs that you can sing along with (despite never having heard them before), Mangle really seems to be on to something here. By the time the set closed out with the Velvets-y roll of "Die", I was sold on the band. Interestingly, all my worries about needing to stake out a space early on in the living room were unfounded — although it was filled up by the time the band began it wasn't crammed — and by the end they were playing to about a dozen bodies.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That made it all the more surprising when I headed outside to find the back yard fuller than ever. The Harp Twins, now with their more portable electric models, were playing to a buzzing party crowd. Some people were singing along, some just drinking and chatting and treating it as background noise. Sometimes when you're in a situation like this, you have to step back and consider how unusual and awesome it is — y'know, ho hum, just another evening in a backyard with a stage, musicians playing harps while a couple hundred people hang out.

With my night of "proper" NXNE-ing yet to start, I didn't stick around to the end, so I'm not sure how long the party went, but it was a helluva day. Everything was well-planed and well-executed — a real taste of the good life.

N.B. In addition to the individual songs I've posted from this day, I've also put together a compilation that features something from everyone who played, which you can grab here.

1 Meanwhile, Doiron talked about being nearly done with her new album, recorded by Rick White, meaning that there's some hope that the long wait since '09's I Can Wonder What You Did with Your Day is nearly done. As far as I know, this is separate from her work with her Cancer Bats-driven "power quartet", which is said to have done some live-off-the-floor recording at 6 Nassau.

2 You can check out some sweetly charming circa '97 footage of the band on youtube.

3 It was apparently Sewell's insistence and technical support that got the band back together to record some of those Anthems for a Fourteen Year-Old Boy, the fruits of which are now available as a free download on their bandcamp.

4 There's plenty of C!C!C! to sample on their soundcloud.

5 Perhaps acknowledging that divide in their sound, the band has also just issued a very-tasty live tape, which offers a nice capture of their rawer live incarnation.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recording: Hussy​/​Tuning

Artist: Hussy​/​Tuning

Song: [excerpt]

Recorded at Oz Studios ("NXNE Afternoon Comedown"), June 17, 2012.

Hussy​/​Tuning - excerpt

Full review to follow. This set from a quintet with members of Hussy, Ostrich Tuning and more sounded like a work in progress, but process is interesting, too. It later worked its way to a sleazy lurch through "Sister Ray" that transformed into a noise jam that was nearly the undoing of the venue's art installation-y fringe of wall-high streamers. Addendum: You can hear the official release of this session here.

Recording: Henri Fabergé

Artist: Henri Fabergé

Song: Be a Man

Recorded at Oz Studios ("NXNE Afternoon Comedown"), June 17, 2012.

Henri Fabergé - Be a Man

Full review to follow. Employing the literary device of the unreliable narrator, Henri Fabergé passes along some Father's Day advice.

Recording: Bleached

Artist: Bleached

Song: Lovespells*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room, June 16, 2012.

Bleached - Lovespells

Full review to follow.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing along the title to this one.

Recording: Chang-a-Lang

Artist: Chang-a-Lang

Song: Thicker Than Blood

Recorded at Of a Kind (NXNE 2012 in-store), June 16, 2012.

Chang-a-Lang - Thicker Than Blood

Full review to follow. Managed to catch a couple acts at yet another fine in-store at the community-minded Of a Kind. As always, Chang-a-Lang were great fist-pumpin' fun.

Recording: Mac DeMarco

Artist: Mac DeMarco

Song: Rolling Like a Dummy

Recorded on The Captain Matthew Flinders (Bruise Cruise – NXNE 2012), June 16, 2012.

Mac DeMarco - Rolling Like a Dummy

Full review to follow. The vocals were pretty low down in the boat's ballroom, so don't expect to learn all the words to this new one from this.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Recording: Ivan Julian

Artist: Ivan Julian

Songs: Blank Generation + Constricted

Recorded at The Bovine Sex Club (NXNE 2012), June 14, 2012.

Ivan Julian - Constricted

Ivan Julian - Blank Generation

Full review to follow — but my quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Grass Widow

Artist: Grass Widow

Song: Lulu's Lips

Recorded at The Garrison (NXNE 2012), June 14, 2012.

Grass Widow - Lulu's Lips

Full review to follow — but my quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Carnivores

Artist: Carnivores

Song: unknown*

Recorded at El Mocambo (upstairs) – NXNE 2012, June 14, 2012.

Carnivores - unknown

Full review to follow — but my quick notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Boxer the Horse

Artist: Boxer the Horse

Song: Karen Silkwood

Recorded at El Mocambo (upstairs) – NXNE 2012, June 14, 2012.

Boxer the Horse - Karen Silkwood

Full review to follow — but my quick notes for this set can be found here.

Currente calamo: NXNE 2012 (Thursday)

NXNE 2012 (Thursday, June 13, 2012)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so there'll be a fuller accounting of the night by and by that'll include even more details and recordings.

8 p.m.: Boxer The Horse @ El Mocambo (upstairs)

The first thing that struck me about Charlottetown quartet Boxer The Horse is that they still look fairly young — dapper vocalist/guitarist Jeremy Gaudet looked like he could have stepped away from some Rushmore-like private school to play with the band. The second thing that struck me as he began to sing is that accounts of Gaudet's Malkmus-ness are not inapt. But it would go too far to call them especially Pavement-y — the impression that he leaves is far closer to, say, "Jenny and the Ess-Dog" than "Two States". Which is to say that the band is working for a more straight-up rock'n'roll recipe book than something slanted and enchanted.

Closer observation also hinted at some other influences. Gaudet's economical body language — a wagging finger here, a hand on hip there — suggest, say, the archness of Jarvis Cocker. Some sublimated anglophilic tendencies were revealed when the band touched on both Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You" and some Billy Bragg. Note to young bands: in a showcase-style set where you're trying to show what's special about you, doing even one cover is questionable, but having two in the setlist is way too much.

The third — the above-mentioned Billy Bragg — came as a means for Gaudet to fill some time while guitarist Andrew Woods changed a string, so maybe that one can be written off to bad luck. The band was actually having a bit of a tough time in that regard, as bassist Christian Ledwell blew a string as well, forcing him to dash off stage mid-song to go hunting for a replacement.

When everything was in order, there were some good moments, and on the whole I dug the band. Definite potential being demonstrated, but it's not quite rounded out yet. Hopefully next time I see them, they have more of their own songs at hand then they have time to play.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 p.m.: Jane's Party @ El Mocambo (upstairs)

Admittedly, I was sticking around to see local quartet Jane's Party because I was on hand for the bands in the timeslots before and after — although I had no particular preconceptions about them. They turned out to offer a slick retro-pop sound, with shades of, say, The Elwins cut with hints of soulful dad-rock.

Though there was an possibly-admirable lack of toughness in their approach, the restraint sometimes leaned a bit too far into bloodlessness. They have a good line in vocal harmonies and were nimble in switching instruments around, although none of the switches seemed to introduce any different flavours. Ultimately, this is a fine-enough band, but not particularly compelling to me. A little too safe and desexualized, and while there are some nice arrangements, none of the songs seemed to be about much that was really interesting.

None of these are fatal flaws, and in current market conditions they could do well for themselves with what they have already — although I'd hope that they have the time to get a little deeper.

10 p.m.: Carnivores @ El Mocambo (upstairs)

Atlanta's five-piece Carnivores, meanwhile, hit much closer to my sweet spot. Admittedly, there might not be anything more boundary-pushing with their throwback farfisa-y garage rock, but it's what I dig. A little sadly, as sometimes happens at these things, the band from the furthest away had the smallest turnout, though they were the best thing I'd seen at the El Mo on this night.

With vocals by committee, the band has a sound as vintage as the fringe on keyboardist Caitlin Lang's shirt. Her keyb sound underpinned the hazy guitars surrounding it, for a Nuggets-y feel that was more prominent than any "Southern" signifiers, though there is a long history of obscuro garage rock combos from down that way. In one sense, it almost felt as if working in that oeuvre, the band was some sort of time-displaced forerunner of a less straitlaced/more goofy regional blend — which is to say they probably sound a bit like some of the bands that influenced the B-52's.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: Grass Widow @ The Garrison

In the middle of a relatively high-profile bill, a nice full room at The Garrison for San Francisco's Grass Widow. Celebrating the release of Internal Logic (which was being sold at the merch table on vinyl and cassette), it seemed like there were some more people out to see the band than the last time they passed through town. I must confess: it's rather telling that I have very strong memories of The Raincoats, for whom they opened, but not much mental residue from their own set, which was a bit lacklustre. Perhaps I'm plagued by enjoying the platonic version of the band heard on their albums rather than the sloppier version that works in the flesh.

My memories of this show will be stronger, but it was still not an immaculate set. I am, of course, always an advocate for the shit-happens minor imperfections of live performance, but whether it was being at the end of their tour, or residual border exhaustion, the band was at about the far end of how sloppy I'd want to see a band playing. There were moments of great alchemy — a locked-in instrumental groove here, knee-wobbling three-part harmonies there, but there were also muffed guitar solos, dropped beats and the like to boot.

Those calling-card vocal interweavings are also a bit hard to get right on stage, especially in a quick-set-up festival setting. I was shaded to the side in the PA's sweet spot, so it mostly seemed all right for me, but there were people in the crowd shouting for more vocals throughout. All told, I'm still waiting to have my best-ever live experience with Grass Widow — but I like them enough that I'm eager to see them come back any time.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Midnite: The Nils FC @ Bovine Sex Club

There was a pretty substantial line when I left The Garrison, presumably to catch the next couple next-wave big-buzz bands on the lineup — but I was scurrying for a date with history. This time, the TTC wasn't on my side, and it was about a quarter-past when I got in through the door at The Bovine. There was a good crowd on hand, and definitely the first one I've seen at NXNE that I've felt at the young end rather than the old.

I must confess that I don't know much about Montréal's power-pop-via-punk The Nils — but I did know that founder/vocalist Alex Soria committed suicide back in '04, so I wasn't really sure what to expect from the band. It seems that this is a case where the band on stage knows that they're not the original thing and aren't trying to pass themselves off — although the festival has them billed as The Nils, Alex's brother Carlos Soria (bass) was at pains to tell the crowd that they were The Nils FC, and they were doing this for love, not money. (That said, they also wanted to sleep in a hotel and not someone's floor, so in the best punkrock tradition, they were hawking t-shirts from the stage during their last song.)

So I don't know if they were bona fide, but they were pretty good. Convened here as a quartet, I don't know any of the other members' relationships to the band's various incarnations, but they were in sync as a unit. Guitarust Marko Donato split vocal duties with Soria and the lineup was rounded out by Phil Gravedigger (guit) and Sebastien de Champlain (drums). They played with the devotion and energy that proved punk ain't a young man's game, and it was just rough enough to feel like a properly ragged tribute to Alex Soria's memory.

The Nils FC play again at The Great Hall on Saturday, June 16 @ 1AM

1 a.m.: Ivan Julian @ Bovine Sex Club

That was a satisfying excursion, but the main reason I'd come to The Bovine was to witness NY punkrock legend Ivan Julian. Julian was one of the guitar turbines that powered Richard Hell's Voidoids, creating some of the best rock music of all time. In the 90's, he was noted for his sideman work, most prominently with Matthew Sweet. And along the way, he's had some groups and worked as a producer, but never quite made a name for himself as a frontman. Seeing his name when I was going through the festival's listings, I was surprised there wasn't more chatter about his appearance, but I must confess that going in, even I wasn't sure if he'd have what it takes to pull it off as a solo performer.

That would turn out to have been utterly misplaced. Although his singing voice ranges closer to "functional" than "elegant", it fits the material well — and Julian was a live wire on stage with real presence — his face filled with emotion as he played before dramatically dropping to his knees. he also knew how to get the crowd onside, leading off with a fast version of "Love Comes in Spurts" before presenting some of the newer material from his revent Naked Flame album. Julian had some years on the members of his backing band, but they were all slashing foils and there was no shortage of dual guitar interplay. Stunning virtuosity, natch, but also real passion. A fabulous set, and I was rather glad that I went.

Listen to something old and something new from this set here. And n.b.: Julian plays again, tonite (June 15) at midnite at The Velvet Underground.