Saturday, March 31, 2012

Recording: Odonis Odonis

Artist: Odonis Odonis

Song: Mr. Smith*

Recorded at Cinecycle, March 30, 2012.

Odonis Odonis - Mr. Smith

Full review to follow. Although belatedly celebrating the release of their debut Hollandaze album, OO also managed to show there's a lot more where those songs came from. A crazy-packed Cinecycle crowd surged in approval.

* Thanks to Ian for passing the title to this one along.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Recording: Jennifer Castle

Artist: Jennifer Castle

Songs: Sailing Away + The Friend

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, May 19, 2011.

Jennifer Castle - Sailing Away + The Friend

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Bahamas

Artist: Bahamas

Song: Your Sweet Touch

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, May 19, 2011.

Bahamas - Your Sweet Touch

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Carl Didur

Artist: Carl Didur

Songs: unknown*

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, May 19, 2011.

Carl Didur - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* I'm inclined to think that this is two separate songs, but I'm not sure of that fact, or what the titles are. Please leave a comment if you have any info!

Gig: Jennifer Castle

Jennifer Castle (Bahamas / Carl Didur)

The Horseshoe Tavern. Thursday, May 19, 2011.

The previous time I had seen a set by Carl Didur had been in a much more beautifully park-like environment, but I had made my out early to the 'Shoe to catch him regardless of relative dankitude. The stage was packed full of gear as Didur stepped up — though looking it over, I figured a lot of it wasn't his stuff and that the standup piano, say, would be used further along in the night. I was right in guessing that the sound-activated light was his, though.

Still, it was enough stuff that I wondered if this was going to be a solo set — especially as I could see several of his musical peers and collaborators hanging out in front of the stage. But as he began, he was on his own with a couple keybs on the table in front of him. He also had a reel-to-reel unit with a long tape loop reaching over to a spindle about six feet away on top of the piano, and there was a boombox tilted back against the monitor making bird noises.

Those birdcalls, a loop of tapping percussion and Didur's minor key playing led off the set, with all of the elements slowly rubbing up against each other in different ways. The looped keyb ostinados and kosmiche percussion created a regular framework under his playing. After about six minutes of the birdcall song, Didur flipped the switch on an ancient rhythm box and moved on to a new idea.

A couple minutes later, a drummer came on stage and settled in, but more as if he was just there to watch, too. It was several minutes before the next piece began and he joined in, Didur's little repeated phrases on the keyboard shifting in octave and tempo to provide a throughline as the drummer countered with a propulsive buildup.

There were about five distinct "songs" in the continuous twenty-five minute performance. So far as I know, Didur is a little cagey with song titles, but if you see him play a few times, you realize that he's working with a defined set of compositions.1 His solo work is simply quite excellent right now, and this stuff works on several levels — musically it's soothing and groovy all at once and the underlying tonal warmth pulls you in. Plus, for one guy hunched behind a keyboard, light flickering away, it's interesting in that technical sense of how's-he-doing-it? but you can just as easily close your eyes, lean back and zone out a bit.2

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

The night's middle set was a mystery guest who had been listed only as "Tex Message" — a name that'd be less obscure now, but I was surprised to see Afie Jurvanen take the stage to set up his gear.3 So, as Jason Tait adjusted his drums up front on stage left, I knew it was going to be a Bahamas set, but I was confused by the pair of microphones on the other side of the stage. I was musing on the possibility that Jurvanen had added a horn section as a pair of backing vocalists emerged. I recognized Felicity Williams (from THOMAS, Hobson's Choice and many more projects) and her partner turned out to be Carleigh Aikins (formerly of Fox Jaws).

This unorthodox quartet is now the standard configuration for Bahamas, but was pretty new at the time, so it's no surprise that the setlist skewed towards the songs with more-developed arrangements for the backing vocals — which meant the set was loaded with material that would later emerge on Barchords. In fact, what would be that album's opening pair ("Lost In The Light" and "Caught Me Thinkin") led off the set. Of course, some of these songs had been around for almost as long as the ones on debut album Pink Strat — I remember seeing "Caught Me Thinking" back in October 2009 — but they were certainly less known to the crowd. It wasn't until "Already Yours" that Jurvanen revisited Pink Strat, and that would turn out to be one of only a couple, though there was an amusing version of "Hockey Teeth" as performed "from the set of Grease", with the vocals going back and forth between Jurvanen and the backing vocalists.

Williams and Aikins got to handle a few diverse tasks, from reeling off a commercial jingle between songs to adding a double-kazoo solo during "Okay Alright I'm Alive". That also shows the carefree vibe of the set — although there's a fair amount of sadness and regret in Jurvanen's lyrics, he's always maintained a genial stage presence. In fact, in some of the times I had seen him in the past, Jurvanen verged on being slightly goofy onstage; this time 'round, he was more relaxed and mellow.

For an artist who is now a hot commodity, the crowd at this show was semi-indifferent to his set, with far more people content to stand back and chat — or, increasingly, just get chatty right up front. Jurvanen wasn't in the mood to counter and in fact closed the nine-song set on the spare, quiet "Snow Plow". The murmuring around me took me out of this to some extent, but I was certainly impressed with how Jurvanen was presenting his newer stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That made for quite a contrast in two opening acts who might not have fit with each other, but who each felt like musical kin with Jennifer Castle. Both a sound explorer and a singer-songwriter, she sometimes operates with Didur's obliqueness — such as sets where she'd play continuously, seguing from one unfamiliar song to the next, blurring the distinctions between them — but she can also write tunes that are as catchy and well-constructed as any of Bahamas' pop confections.

This show was being held to celebrate the release of Castlemusic, which reconciles those opposing ideas. It also de-obfuscates the artist a bit, moving Castle's own name out front and relegating her previous "Castlemusic" moniker to the album's title. The show felt really well-constructed to let all these contradictions play off each other without appearing to be mutually exclusive.

Castle emerged alone, borrowing a lighter from someone in the crowd to light the candle on top of the piano4 before starting the set solo and a capella. Her voice managed to transfix the audience, and the room was whisper quiet at the set's beginning. Building the sound one step at a time, she picked up her guitar to play "Neverride" — the first selection from what would ultimately be the whole of the new album. Castle is a transfixing guitarist, playing in a blues-based style revolving around drone-y, circular figures. It's a subtle approach that sometimes gets covered over in a group context, so I'm glad the show took the time to spotlight this before moving along.

But I'm also glad she brought along a band, and once again that dual musical identity was on display in its composition. On the one hand there was a couple members of roots-rockers One Hundred Dollars, with Paul Mortimer on guitar and Dave Clarke on drums.5 But there were also a pair of players who slide back and forth through a lot of shape-shifty projects in the improvised music community, with longtime collaborator Ryan Driver on piano (and also adding some flute on "Misguided"), as well as bassist Mike Overton.6 Of course, not everyone was playing to "type" here — Driver can play a mean barrelhouse piano line when called for, and Mortimer/Clark have tricks far beyond the honkytonks.

And in the middle of it all, Castle still has a propensity to combine similar songs into mini-suites — here, the new album's "Misguided" moved effortlessly into "Who" (from the previous You Can't Take Anyone). In a mid-set solo spot there was a newer, untitled one that Castle's been singing for a little while now — it might end up being called "Sailing Away" — that celebrates the old itinerant bluesman's rootlessness: "don't need a home, I don't need a lover, I'll be out on my own, come hell or high water". And yet, that was combined with an instrumental called "The Friend".

The band returned, but the quieter material continued, and "You Don't Have To Be" used their accompaniment for colour more than volume. They got a little louder after that, though still with a mellow vibe for fantastic renditions of "Way of The Crow" and "Powers". The latter was in an especially slowed-down, moody version, again featuring Driver's flute.

Sadly, as the clock hit midnight, a few people started to trickle out of the venue, and it seemed like everyone that was left decided to get involved in a conversation, threatening to drown the music out. The band overcame the chattering with a rollicking version of "For My Friends" to close out the main set. For the encore, Castle took to the piano for "Remembering", and that seemed to re-capture people's attention. On the whole, a really good show, worthy of the excellent album it was celebrating.

Perhaps appropriately, there's a couple flavours on offer from this set: check out something loud and raucous here, or something quieter and meditative here.


1 There's a similar ambiguity in the work of Zacht Automaat, Didur's "band" project with Michael McLean, with most of the superb music that the band has released being divided only into cassette sides. Slim Twig's annotation of the ZA discography is the best account of this material, which comes with my highest recommendation.

2 As of this writing, Didur has just posted a new recording on his soundcloud page which "sounds different than my other recent doings", mentioning in a tantalizing aside that this was an exercise undertaken during "a break from the final assembly of the new Zacht Automaat double album." Keep your eyes peeled!

3 Later on, Jurvanen would use this handle mainly for his covers sets when he would tackle some of Willie Nelson's Stardust appropriations of the Great American Songbook.

4 Let's pause here to note that The 'Shoe does not have a house piano — it was considered important enough for this gig that the band brought one in.

5 I have seen Mortimer and Clarke backing Castle before, and they also play alongside her in Doloro. And while thinking of the latter, it's worth pointing out that with their self-titled album, Castle was involved into two of the best albums of 2011. You really need to own them both.

6 Overton plays with Saint Dirt Elementary School and a lot of other Tranzac-y units, but he has also performed with Great Lake Swimmers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Recording: The Ex & Brass Unbound

Artist: The Ex & Brass Unbound

Song: State of Shock

Recorded at Lee's Palace, May 18, 2011.

The Ex & Brass Unbound - State of Shock

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Swyves

Artist: The Swyves

Song: Arc-Eye

Recorded at Lee's Palace, May 18, 2011.

The Swyves - Arc-Eye

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Ex & Brass Unbound

The Ex & Brass Unbound (The Swyves)

Lee's Palace. Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

There were looming dark clouds over the Annex, but it wasn't quite raining out as I made my way into Lee's. There was a slightly unusual vibe in the room, as it had been taken over for the night by the Music Gallery, creating an unusual hybrid environment. Which meant, to the good, that a recording of the Ethio T.O show was playing in the background as the crowd filed in — but also, to the bad, Lee's was smelling extra skanky, as if someone had poured a few beers on the floor before closing the night before and left them to maltify the air.

And in curated MG fashion, Johnny Dovercourt was on hand to introduce the evening, alongside Rough Idea co-presenter Ron Gaskin. Looking around me, I figured it might have been through his influence that it looked like more of a jazz crowd than what you might expect to see at Lee's — which fit well with the openers.

Although I had never seen The Swyves1 play before, I was certainly familiar with the component parts. In one sense, it's a bit of a roles-reversed version of Canaille, who I've seen a lot, as both bands feature Jay Hay and Jeremy Strachan up front on reeds. In this case, though, the band is Hay's creature and a vehicle for his compositions, which gives the band a very different sound. They were joined by Dan Gaucher (also of Canaille) on drums and Aaron Lumley on double bass.

Hay handled all the horn parts on the band's self-titled album, which intercuts its free-range hard-bop with some more textured sound compositions. Live, though, the band was more solidly just grooving, getting right into it with "Please Put On the Kitchen Mittens" galloping off like Ornette before the more restrained "Sleeping Giant". Hay and Strachan switched off on baritone, and generally there was no shortage of bottom-end action going on in tracks like "Radius". There was also a nicely balanced attack from all members: Lumley played with a lot of physicality, sometimes strumming more than plucking at his strings, like he was looking forward to the headliners and about to reach for some power chords. There was also some good hard hittin' from Gaucher on closer "Cross-Eyed".

The Swyves' lively combination of situatedness in tradition with forward-looking striving to overcome the pains of in-der-Welt-sein is in the best jazz tradition, but like a lot of the other bands you can see these guys working on, genre imposes a false limit to their appeal. I'm glad they were on this bill; they deserve to be heard by punks, noise-heads, pop fans and indie kids.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

The sound-world of long-running Dutch band The Ex is so expansive that "punk" is wholly inadequate as a musical descriptor. But in terms of ethos and independent spirit, they certainly represent a model that any punks worth their salt could emulate. Their lengthy discography contains more collaborative albums than those by the group on their own, and the numerous paths those collaborations have explored have helped to keep the band constantly striving and exploring in new directions.

The last time they were in town it was as part of an extended group playing behind Ethiopian saxophone legend Getatchew Mekuria, and the spirit of that was certainly being maintained in this recombination of The Ex & Brass Unbound. As the name suggests, this was indeed a hybrid creature, with the four-piece core band augmented by an international four-piece horn section with dual saxes, trombone and trumpet. I recognized reedsmen Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson; they were joined by Wolter Wierbos as well as Roy Paci, who had played the trumpet parts on the band's recent Catch My Shoe.

Watching The Ex play live is a life-affirming joy, especially in seeing guitarists Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor bouncing around — and nearly off each other — like atoms in an excited state. That happened right off the top, as there was only a quick hello from vocalist/guitarist Arnold de Boer before the band launched into the dual-guitar interplay, slightly funky backbeat and the subtle hint of a horn line of "Maybe I Was The Pilot", the opening track from the new album.

The extra players stepped forward more on the apocalyptic visions of "Cold Weather is Back", vamping away in alarm as the interlocking guitars were stuck in a sustained tension groove before the horns (who were tackling all of this without charts) ended the song in an extended skronk-off before the guitars picked up the insistent one-note riff of "Double Order", which extends the likembé-inspired guitar tone the band had previously explored, while de Boer pitched in little bloops by dipping the headstock of his guitar down to his keyboard. Unlike that show with Getatchew Mekuria, where I was a bit confused by de Boer's presence, here he felt more familiar and integrated into the band, and with the focus on newer material there was less occasion to think of him as a mere stand-in for founding vocalist G.W. Sok.

After all the joyfully-agitated energy, there was a bit of a rest with drummer Katherina Bornefeld coming up front to sing Hungarian folk tune "Hidegen Fújnak a Szelek". That longtime live staple originated on Scrabbling at the Lock, the band's 1991 collaboration with Tom Cora, which also provided "State of Shock", the setlist's next selection, with the horn section taking the place of Cora's cello.

Touching on the band's African inspirations, they played "Eoleyo", a Mahmoud Ahmed tune that's surely one of the most insidiously catchy songs ever devised. This time 'round it might not quite've reached the heights of when the band played it with Getatchew Mekuria, but it was still pretty great. That was chased with "Lalé Guma", another old Ethiopian number, complete with skronking sax solo from Gustafsson.

As recorded, the songs (especially the material from Catch My Shoe) aren't in a hurry, but live, they were stretched out even more, and the main set went nearly seventy minutes with only ten titles, finishing off with album-closer "24 Problems". The band came back for a massive version of the totally amazing "Theme From Konono" and tried to leave it at that, but the crowd called them back again.

No wonder — this was undoubtedly one of the best shows of the year. Especially in the early-going, it was almost overwhelmingly amazing. Every time I've seen The Ex play, they bring such "thereness", a force that puts you so concretely in the moment that it feels like a soul rejuvenation, and for days afterward I felt like I'd paid a visit to the fountain of youth.

Right after the show I'd posted a song from this set here — and now I've added another one here.


1 Do note that "Swyves" rhymes with "gives", and definitely not with "wives".

2 The band's 2010 album came out on Blocks, which might put them in the presence of that kind of broad musical coalition. There's also a newer bunch of tasty goodness you can check out at their bandcamp.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Recording: The Wedding Present

Artist: The Wedding Present

Songs: Lovenest + You Jane

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, Match 25, 2012.

The Wedding Present - Lovenest

The Wedding Present - You Jane

Full review to follow. Although the "gimmick" for this tour was a front-to-back playing of the band's classic Seamonsters album, they were also promoting the brand-new Valentina, and started the night off with a few selections from that. All told, I enjoyed that part of the set just as much.

Recording: Toquiwa

Artist: Toquiwa

Song: Kennedy [The Wedding Present cover]

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, Match 25, 2012.

Toquiwa - Kennedy

Review to follow. I genuinely think I lack the words to explain the jaunty bulldozer of Toquiwa. Hello Kitty cheerfulness in the service of full-force rock, maybe the best entry point is this song from the night's headliner that they covered. In their own words, "Hey Toronto! It's crazy!!"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Recording: Absolutely Free

Artist: Absolutely Free

Song: Triangle*

Recorded at Comfort Zone (CMW 2012), March 24, 2012.

Absolutely Free - Triangle

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

* Thanks to the band for passing the title to this one along.

Recording: The Inbreds

Artist: The Inbreds

Songs: Get Along + Amelia Earhart

Recorded at Lee's Palace (CMW 2012), March 24, 2012.

The Inbreds - Get Along

The Inbreds - Amelia Earhart

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

Recording: Zeus

Artist: Zeus

Song: A Strong Mind

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records (CMW 2012), March 24, 2012.

Zeus - A Strong Mind

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

Currente calamo: CMW 2012 (Saturday)

CMW 2012 (Saturday)*

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.

4 p.m.: Zeus @ Sonic Boom

Unsurprisingly, after playing what I heard was the most-packed, line-around-the-block showcase of the festival the night before, this brought out the biggest in-store crowd to Sonic Boom that I've ever seen in the new location. The aisles were filled in, and there were lots of folks with little kids, which is always an excellent sign. On the cusp of releasing Busting Visions, their sophomore disc, the band was relatively clean-shaven and looking ready to prove themselves ("We have high hopes it," Carlin Nicholson told the crowd.)

Most of the set was new material (they only dipped into Say Us for "Marching Through Your Head") and it veers beyond the easy power-pop Beatles encapsulations that worked for the debut, with some 70's keyb wigginess and the occasional vague reggae lilt in the mix for the slightly more expansive songs. The set ended with the new album's title track, complete with what's surely to become a crowd-pleasing cowbell breakdown. The band mentioned they'd be back in town for a full, proper show at The Phoenix in June.

Listen to a track from this set here.

5 p.m.: Sandman Viper Command @ Sonic Boom

Even as the large bulk of the crowd slipped away, I stuck around to check out Sandman Viper Command. I'd been meaning for a while to cross paths again with this local quartet for a progress report. They have an engaging two-guitar sound, and Aaron Harvey's basslines kept a pleasingly bouncing momentum alongside Matt Meyer's drums. Overall, I'd say I'm closer to respecting than loving the band, but there's enough likeable elements here not to write them off — Dan Reardon's guitar work certainly adds the most interesting edges to the sound. The much-younger cadre that was up front for this really dug it, and when you see that a band like this has fans out singing along to themselves you have to figure they're doing something right.

6 p.m.: Writer's Strike @ Sonic Boom

There was general disappointment in the air that a much-anticipated set from Rich Aucoin was cancelled — everyone was curious to see how he would have fit his parachute and group dancing into the store's space. But in his stead, he sent his Halifax-based tourmates Writer's Strike. I didn't know anything about them, but I decided to get a taste. As it turned out, the band's sound could be described as sorta stereotypically "indie" with anthemic aspirations against vocals that move from yelpy solo vox to group singalongs. And lots of instrument switching between songs. To that end, I wasn't sure if I'd heard their "New York City" before, or if I was just familiar with all of its component parts. Regardless, it was admittedly catchy.

It also looked like they were learning some tricks from Aucoin that made them a fun band to experience live, from having lyric signs held aloft to encourage audience participation to a finale where they handed out homemade flags to turn the area in front of the stage to a lake of waving fabric. Not precisely my thing, but there's potential here musically, and they already know how to be engaging on stage.

9:30 p.m.: Connoisseurs of Porn @ Comfort Zone

After a dinner break with some friends, my night-time schedule wasn't particularly fixed. I wandered down to College and Spadina, figuring I'd see if I could find something interesting. Ducked into sets at the Silver Dollar and the El Mo, but didn't hear anything that made me want to pay closer attention. The free poutine at the M pour Montréal showcase was appreciated, though.

Wanting something less user-friendly, I wandered down to Comfort Zone for the showcase put together by Resonancity and Buzz Records. Given that this was a sort of weird little outgrowth on the festival schedule, it wasn't too shocking that this one wasn't running on "CMW time", but even early on, there were enough familiar faces arriving that it was pleasant enough to hang out.

The showcase proper started with Mississauga's Connoisseurs of Porn and the tone was set with vocalist Grant Spooner taking the stage dressed only in his underwear and a pair of piano key socks. Noisy stuff — spasmodic but not entirely untuneful — the music even occasionally veered into a co-ordinated stomp. Down in the dark netherworld of the Comfort Zone, this all made sense, and it was an entertaining ride. Plus: where else at CMW could you see dudes stumbling around in their underwear and screaming? (Well, to be sure, I'm not entirely clear what's going on in those industry suites.)

10 p.m.: Devin Therriault @ Silver Dollar

Wandered upstairs to a surprisingly quiet Dollar to see what was going on up there. Turned out to be Devin Therriault on stage. With just a bass/drums rhythm section behind Therriault, this had a stripped-down, scrappy feel, exhibiting a heavy Strokes influence but with an amped-up soul kick. One song brushed up aginst The Animals, and I got the notion that the band might have been listening to some Stax sides while mapping out their backing vocals. I wouldn't want to foreground that stuff too much though — it was there, but mostly as a leavening agent against the Strokes-yness. All told, a pleasant surprise.

11 p.m.: Whale Tooth @ Lee's Palace

My source told me that it wasn't too crowded up at Lee's, so I decided to switch up my plans and get up there for The Inbreds. Prudence dictated, however, that I shouldn't wait too long, so I jumped on the streetcar to get up there for the preceeding set. Obviously a tightly-run ship, I walked in right at the top of the hour and the band was just underway. And indeed, while it was getting busy, I had no problem finding a spot down on the floor in front of the stage.

The band turned out to be Whale Tooth. Though I'd never seen them play, I was passingly familiar with their music. I'd even seen frontwoman Elise LeGrow in her solo jazz persona a couple CMW's ago, so I knew that she had substantial talent as a singer. That voice as well as LeGrow's, um, physical presence were definitely the best things about the band — her propensity to leap in the air or spin around on stage dancing was infectious. And the four-man crew alongside her provided an upbeat, dance-friendly vibe with a high energy level. It was fun and definitely entertaining to watch though I wouldn't say any of the songs rubbed off on me.

Midnight: The Inbreds @ Lee's Palace

It felt like a pretty quick turnover after that, but then again there wasn't a lot to set up for The Inbreds — just bass and drums, of course. That I had come out to see them again a day after their in-store appearance would probably indicate the esteem in which I hold the band, though as they hit and stage and launched into "Matterhorn" I didn't quite get the been-waiting-so-long buzz that I'd felt the day before. But I could feel it being set off in the people all around me, and as the pair started to hit some of the material that they'd held back the day before, I could feel my joyfulness growing. When they launched into "Prince" — the first song of theirs that registered with me when I originally saw the band at a Hilario-era show opening for The Rheostatics — I was a little giddy.

There were a few more surprises in expanding things out to a full set, including a guest turn from Wayne Petti, adding his voice to "North Window". That was a lot of fun, though that was one of the few songs that Mike O'Neill couldn't quite catch up to. It was after that the set really hit its stride, with top-notch renditions of Winning Hearts' "Never Be" and "Get Along". Even the rough spots made things more endearing, such as O'Neill taking a mulligan to restart a solo during "He Never", and later ending another song suddenly when he managed to disconnect his bass cable.

It seemed like the band was taking an extra-long break while the crowd chanted for an encore, but the reason was apparent when drummer Dave Ullrich returned to the stage in an Elvis jumpsuit, complete with cape. Instead of returning behind the kit, he strapped on the bass while O'Neill took over the drums for a role-reversal version of "The Runaround". It was a little rangy but extraordinarily fun, and then they switched back to close the whole thing out with "Amelia Earhart", arguably their greatest song. So glad I went to this.

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

1 a.m.: Absolutely Free @ Comfort Zone

I got back down to Comfort Zone to see the other end of the showcase there, with the last band already on the stage, but not too far along into their set. Absolutely Free is a rebirth, of sorts, with four-fifths of the members of DD/MM/YYYY reformulating and refocusing. As I found myself a spot, they were settled into a surging kosmische groove. There was a lot of gear on stage, and the members shifted around a lot, even mid-song. There was drums and bass and guitar involved, but there was also three keyboard stations, and there was usually more than one of those in use. At a few points, in fact, one member would even be using two of them, playing one keyboard, while reaching over to hit notes on another that was facing away from them.

Given all that, it's not surprising that there was a shifty sonic sensibility at play. The music was by no means formless, but think of it as sloshing around in a loose, baggy container rather than a constraining box. The vocals were textural and not particularly intelligible — even peaking harshly when they got loud. Easily diggable stuff. I was always more of an admirer than a fan of the Daymonths, but with that band's spastic edges replaced by a groovy trance, I think I'll be seeing more of Absolutely Free.

Listen to a song from this set here.


* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW. This year, the name situation has been made more ludicrous with the addition of a top-level sponsor that has been smushed into the festival's name. I don't know what product they're selling, and frankly I don't care. I have no plans to acknowledge them by name and I suggest you do the same.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Recording: DZ Deathrays

Artist: DZ Deathrays

Song: Cops/Capacity

Recorded at El Mocambo (upstairs), March 23, 2012.

DZ Deathrays - Cops/Capacity

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

Recording: Johnny Dowd

Artist: Johnny Dowd

Song: Emily/Meryl*

Recorded at Comfort Zone (CMW 2012), March 23, 2012.

Johnny Dowd - Emily/Meryl

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

* Thanks to a commenter for passing the title along.

Recording: The Inbreds

Artist: The Inbreds

Song: Matterhorn

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records (CMW 2012), March 23, 2012.

The Inbreds - Matterhorn

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

Recording: Marine Dreams

Artist: Marine Dreams

Song: Yet To See The Sun

Recorded at Saving Gigi ("Lazy Afternoon" showcase), March 23, 2012.

Marine Dreams - Yet To See The Sun

Full review to follow. This unofficial CMW showcase was indeed a most pleasant lazy afternoon in the delightfully cozy Saving Gigi.

Currente calamo: CMW 2012 (Friday)

CMW 2012 (Friday)*

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.

1:30 p.m.: "A Lazy Afternoon" @ Saving Gigi

I started off the day at Saving Gigi, which is such a friendly spot that I never want to leave once I'm there. They were hosting a daytime show that was put together by Exclaim!, You've Changed and Kelp Records, with sets from Pink Moth, Marine Dreams, Adam and the Amethysts and The Weather Station (playing new songs!). Cozy times, but once it was done I had to drag myself out of there to get down to Sonic Boom for one of my most-anticipated festival moments.

7:00 p.m.: The Inbreds @ Sonic Boom

In the grand scheme of things The Inbreds may not be bigger than, say, Pavement — but while I didn't feel the need to see the latter on the reunion circuit last year, there was no way I could resist nostalgia's siren call of the 90's CanAlt duo. I saw 'em a handful of times on their original run, but not during any of the few previous times that Mike O'Neill and Dave Ullrich had gotten back together again, so the last time I'd seen the pair on stage together was back in '96.

No surprise, then, that there was a little rust as they led off with "North Window". O'Neill (who's been around town the past couple weeks playing the six-string while promoting his new solo album) especially looked as if he was trying to remember how he wrung the sounds he used to pull from his capo'd + chorded bass. But regardless, the massive endorphin release from hearing it had me grinning — and I briefly thought I was just going to start laughing like that guy who broke his hip.

By about the third song, though, the muscle memory was taking hold and things were sounding pretty steady as the pair joked on stage, tried to remember where they'd recorded the stuff and played selections from all four of their albums.

There's still some goddamn excellent songs here and while the "hits" were represented ("Drag Us Down", "Amelia Earhart ", "Any Sense Of Time") the band dug a little deeper too, making me think I should pull out and revisit Winning Hearts, their final album from '98, which seemed a bit disappointing at the time. The whole thing left me thinking I should drop everything and rewrite my Saturday night plans so as to be able to see their full set at Lee's. And if you don't have Kombinator and It's Sydney Or The Bush, I note that you can grab 'em electronically from drummer Ullrich's Zunior digital music site for $5.55 apiece. Essential stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:00 p.m.: Last Year's Men @ Silver Dollar

Dan Burke has a pretty solid record with his now-standard triple-night headliner format, bringing in unknown bands to anchor his programming at the Silver Dollar. So even though I knew nothing about Chapel Hill's Last Year's Men, I had them down as a must-see band. For a Friday night with a pretty stacked lineup, it was less-packed than I woulda expected when I arrived with the band already tearing through their set. But the crowd on hand — including The Pow Wows, who had been playing in the timeslot before them — were whooping it up. Tearing through strings on borrowed guitars, vocalist Ben Carr was wrestling with a Flying V while bassist Montgomery Morris toasted Canada (and its beers) in a charming Southern accent. Musically, "tasty grease" is the genre here, and I have no doubts that they'll be drawing some repeat customers when they finish up their stand tonight.

11:45 p.m.: catl @ Comfort Zone

No need to kill time between sets when you can just duck downstairs to the Comfort Zone, where the 11 o'clock band was just starting their last song as I walked in. I grabbed a drink and walked past the crowd in front of the stage to grab a spot in the dark zone off to the side where catl launched into a frenzy as the last notes from the stage faded. When I saw 'em a month ago, the band were a little bit out of their element on a brightly-lit, high stage, but in the dark and on the floor it felt just about right.

It was here that I was really able to get the measure of how new drummer Andrew Moszynski was fitting in with the band, the loud snap of the backbeat helping to drive the band's dance party energy. "The Blues" is one song that you can channel and play all night long, and that's the elemental boogified frenzy that catl tap into with reckless abandon. Soon, that little nook off to the side was filled with moving bodies and it was all a quick blur until they turned things back over to the main stage with the night's headliner all ready to go.

Midnight: Johnny Dowd @ Comfort Zone

I generally only get down to the CZ for festival showcases, so I don't know when they spruced the place up a bit. But the old mural/sculpture that was behind the stage has now been moved to the side of the room (it was behind where catl were playing, over by the bathrooms) which opened up the space behind the stage, which now features pattered brushed chrome walls. Lit with purple spotlights, it's a particularly '80's look. I mention this because the sleek retrofuturism that evokes was a perfect backdrop for Johnny Dowd, who was taking the blues in directions it never went before. Backed with a drummer playing an electronic kit and a keyboard player, the musical accompaniment was often gothy/industrial, making this sound like some weird mutant direction that the blues went in an alternate universe. Sorta like the difference between Jonah Hex and Hex.

Dowd, who looked like an avatar of hard livin'/still survivin', brought a vaguely desiccated weirdness to the stage — the old fashioned weirdness, where all your fetishes were sought out in seedy back alleys and delivered in plain brown wrapping. Veering into talky sing-speak, there were songs here that were more Ministry than Muddy Waters — in the best parts, while Dowd intoned about cocaine, coma-fied women and other temptations, the music had me thinking about bands like Nitzer Ebb.

When that weird edge receded and the keyboard player switched over to a straight-up Hammond-y sound, it was less interesting and more like talk-show-band blooze. But at a festival where there's a lot of twenty-year-olds labelling their bands "experimental" because they once heard a Radiohead album, seeing a senior citizen belting out a song called "Hot Pants (I Need a Spanking)" which sounds like Public Image covering John Lee Hooker, well, that's fucking next level shit.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 a.m.: Monster Truck @ El Mocambo (upstairs)

Coulda stuck around CZ for the guaranteed good times of some bands I already knew, but decided to zag for a random adventure, and found myself heading up the stairs to the El Mo's "legendary"/dowdy second floor, another space that's usually off my grid outside of festivals. Walked in with Hamilton's Monster Truck taking the stage.

There are some people who might go to watch a monster truck show "ironically". This band is not for them. This is genuine, chug-groove, raise-your-beer rawk. Metal in that Led Zep/Soundgarden lineage, the band (who I could hardly see on the low stage past the packed-in crowd) included yowling, shirtlessness and surging keyboards driving things. Which is to say it appeals to the headbanging crowd rather than the moshing crowd, and while I'm a member of neither, I hew more towards the latter's music. So this wasn't particularly my sort of thing. But it was okay, and I enjoyed it enough that I stuck out the set, even if it was more in a casual hang out at the back sort of way rather than close-up, ardent observation.

2 a.m.: DZ Deathrays @ El Mocambo (upstairs)

I was also sticking around to check out Australian visitors DZ Deathrays, even if ninety per cent of those that were cheering on the previous band had split. That meant there was a lot of elbow room to enjoy the Brisbane duo, whose self-chosen genre of "party thrash" about covers it all. There's a lot (a lot) of DFA1979 in their DNA, and singer/guitarist Shane Parsons prefers a lot of harsh digital distortion, but the constant push from drummer Simon Ridley kept things moving. Parsons also made a couple moves down to the floor, setting up a loop and leaping down from the stage to engage in some mild chaos. This is pretty projectable stuff — you could imagine huge crowds singing along to songs like "Cops/Capacity". Good fun, and presumably you could catch these guys on their way up for a fraction of the cost of a big reunion show by a band on their way back down.

Listen to a track from this set here.


* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW. This year, the name situation has been made more ludicrous with the addition of a top-level sponsor that has been smushed into the festival's name. I don't know what product they're selling, and frankly I don't care. I have no plans to acknowledge them by name and I suggest you do the same.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Recording: John K. Samson

Artist: John K. Samson

Songs: When I Write My Master's Thesis + Pamphleteer

Recorded at The Music Gallery (CMW 2012), March 22, 2012.

John K. Samson - When I Write My Master's Thesis

John K. Samson - Pamphleteer

Full review to follow, but for now my quick notes for this set can be sound here.

Recording: Cold Specks

Artist: Cold Specks

Song: Hector

Recorded at The Music Gallery (CMW 2012), March 22, 2012.

Cold Specks - Hector

Full review to follow, but for now my quick notes for this set can be sound here. Sort of daring herself to go through with it, Al Spx precedes this song with a quick soulful run through the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Recording: Martha Wainwright

Artist: Martha Wainwright

Song: Can You Believe It?*

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records (CMW 2012), March 22, 2012.

Martha Wainwright - Can You Believe It?

Full review to follow, but for now my quick notes for this set can be sound here. "I really like the makeup sex / it's the only thing I ever get."

* Thanks to Daman for passing along the title to this one.

Currente calamo: CMW 2012 (Thursday)

CMW 2012 (Thursday)*

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.

5 p.m.: Martha Wainwright @ Sonic Boom

Nice to run into some familiar faces as I settled into the stage area at Sonic Boom, starting off my festival with some afternoon action. It's been a few years since I last saw Martha Wainwright — since Canada Day 2008, in fact — and to be honest, my first impression was how much more she looked like a McGarrigle than I recalled. For this quick set, she was playing the stuff that was at the forefront of her mind: all-new material from a just-completed album. As I recalled from seeing her before, I was more drawn to her wonderful voice and on-stage physicality than her songwriting — though the last song with its recountings of "make-up sex" was engaging.

Listen to a track from this set here.

6 p.m.: Simone Felice @ Sonic Boom

With a four-piece band and backing vocals shared all around, Catskills singer-songwriter Simone Felice brought a rambunctiously fragile rootsy sound. Felice's countenance made every song seem like hard-won battle, and this was good stuff, though I can say it's not really a musical direction that's going to captivate me all too often.

7 p.m.: Great Bloomers @ Sonic Boom

This is the second time or so that I've heard the new songs from Lowell Sostomi's Great Bloomers that'll be coming out soon on the band's sophomore album. And while there doesn't seem to be anything as indelible as, say "The Young Ones Slept" (which the band included in this set), there's a couple tunes there that I'm keeping an eye on. Overall, I do like the more rockin' direction that the music is going in — a more muscular approach that was reflected with the set-closing cover of Television's "See No Evil".

8 p.m.: Chains of Love @ Sonic Boom

Suffering from a bout of post-SXSW rock'n'roll flu (an ailment that was known locally this week as "Grimes disease") Vancouver's Chains of Love took the stage in a fevered haze that had nothing to do with musical enrapturement. They still managed to crank out a solid set, building a miniature wall of sound behind a series of songs that were as solidly constructed as a pair of boots that were made for walkin'. Nathalia Pizarro and Rebecca Marie Law Gray bring a lot of brassy attitude (and maracas!) to the stage — enough that I expected some JD to drive a motorcycle through the front door and up to the stage and squeal off into the sunset with them at set's end.

9:30 p.m.: Cold Specks @ The Music Gallery

Former Etobicoke resident Al Spx seemed to suddenly burst out of nowhere when it was announced that her band Cold Specks was signing to Arts & Crafts. I hasn't looked into the project that much, but wanted to take this in to try and get a feel for it without too many preconceptions. She brought a four-piece backing band (presumably mostly from her current home base of London, England, though local hero Jay Anderson was in the drum chair) and while they did an admirable job in fleshing out the songs, this felt very much more like a solo project than a "band."

Fortunately Spx had no shortage of talent to carry a longer-than expected set (going nearly an hour) where everything served as a setting for her powerful voice. Not a belter by any means, her vocals packed a low wallop without ever getting too showy. She was a nimble guitar picker, too. Cutting in a few different directions, this had a singer-songwriter heart underneath it all. And for all the talk about "doom soul", Spx leavened the tumultuousness in some of the songs by not being afraid to be goofy — at one point filling in a tuning break with a rendition of the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

She certainly won the crowd over, garnering a standing ovation before closing out the night with an a cappella (and microphone free) rendition of "Old Stepstone" filling the Music Gallery's church sanctuary space. Ultimately, the connection to Arts & Crafts isn't so strange if you consider her to be more akin to fellow new signees Snowblink than, say, Trust or any of the electro-y dance-friendly bands they've just signed.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: John K. Samson @ The Great Hall

A long wait for a streetcar after that made me think that there was no way I'd be able to make the start of my next set — even assuming that the venue wasn't already at capacity. But through a stroke of good luck, I bounded up the stairs of The Great Hall to hear the roar of the crowd and the sound of "Highway 1 East", the miniature that serves as the opener to Samson's Provincial album. As I found myself a space above the crowded room the four-piece band was seguing into "Heart of the Continent", and for awhile, it looked like Samson might just be playing the album start to finish.

It took a couple more songs following the album's tracklisting before there was a curveball, with the backing band leaving the stage for Samson to tackle the Weakerthans' "One Great City!". From there, he'd throw in a few more Weakerthans tracks, with the members of the band coming onstage to join him as needed. A bassist moving from electric to double bass provided a wide sonic range to support the songs, and the dynamic lead-guitar chair was ably filled by Shotgun Jimmie, who'd opened the evening at The Great Hall with his own set. During "When I Write My Master's Thesis", Jimmie put more vigour into backing vocals about academic citations than I ever imagined I'd see, holding his arms in the air above him in triumph as he belted out the word "Sources!".

All told, this was a really strong set, from the arm-raised-in-a-toast recitation of "Elegy for Gump Worsley" to a performance of "Pamphleteer", my all-time-favourite Weakerthans song, which I'd never heard the band do in all the times I had seen them. For another curveball, as the band got back to the louder material they did a cover of Jawbreaker's "The Boat Dreams From the Hill" and after closing the set on the quiet domestic note of "Taps Reversed", Samson strapped on the bass in the encore to play "Anchorless" (sounding baffled on reminding the crowd that the song was twenty years old) before closing the set with an unplugged, unmiced singalong version of "Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure". Completely satisfying.

Listen to a couple tracks — something old and something new — here.

midnight: The Autumn Portrait @ Gladstone Hotel Ballroom

That pretty much took care of the planned portion of my night, and I found myself wandering down Queen Street, ducking into The Gladstone more or less on a whim. Didn't know who was playing, but it turned out to be The Autumn Portrait, who had driven across the country to play for about twelve people. Although their melodic modern rock wasn't particularly my thing, I sorta felt for the trio, but they made lemonade by inviting up the most eager members of the crowd to join them onstage to dance.

But it was satisfying that I ran into some friends there — random social encounters being as much of a festival reward as "discovering" a band. That felt like enough for the night, and I decided on my first evening of CMW I wanted to get home in subway time. There'll be a couple long nights to follow.


* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW. This year, the name situation has been made more ludicrous with the addition of a top-level sponsor that has been smushed into the festival's name. I don't know what product they're selling, and frankly I don't care. I have no plans to acknowledge them by name and I suggest you do the same.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Recording: Hobson's Choice

Artist: Hobson's Choice

Song: Oh Beauty

Recorded at Holy Oak Café (Wavelength 519), May 15, 2011.

Hobson's Choice - Oh Beauty

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Betty Burke

Artist: Betty Burke

Song: River of Need

Recorded at Holy Oak Café (Wavelength 519), May 15, 2011.

Betty Burke - River of Need

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Wavelength 519

Wavelength 519: Idus Maia (feat. Betty Burke / Hobson's Choice)

Holy Oak Café. Sunday May 15, 2011.

It was a rainy night that felt more like xmas in Vancouver than mid-may in T.O. That made it feel all the more cozy inside Holy Oak Café, where the window normally overlooking the street was covered by a sheet for General Chaos' swirling projections. And it seemed like I wasn't the only one casting my mind westward, as host Doc Pickles — filled with post-election malaise — was in a mood to fulminate on Canadian history, settling in somewhere around the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. With one of the scheduled bands cancelling at the last minute, there was some extra time to kill, which was filled in a lengthy discourse on Louis Riel, Bloody Saturday and "grid thinking": "the reason it's flooding — it has nothing to do with bad planning. It's like bad ideological memories. [...] Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, Louis Riel isn't dead, he's just part of the memory that doesn't end yet."1

All of which was a pretty good lead-in to Betty Burke, a band with its own share of true stories and whispered secret history lessons. Leading off with the jaunty trouble-with-capitalism ground-level reportage of "New Job", vocalist Maggie MacDonald led the band through a non-stop ride down the Trans-Canada, with a special radio that only picks up broadcasts from the nearby mythical past.

The venue's low-tech sound system was getting some on-the-fly adjustments while the band got going, with musical confederate Magali Meagher hopping up to make the adjustments. In performance, Betty Burke's beatbox folksongs bring goofy joyousness into the service of truth, and when, for example, the band managed to break each other up during "When the Wind Blows" it felt like an enhancement, not a flaw.

Waving to some passers-by peering in through the venue's front door, there was also the usual amount of improvised interactivity that MacDonald brings to a gig, this time out including queef jokes (including some on-the-fly lyrical rewrites to "Hazel Eyes"). In theory, every song begins when the new drum track is selected on the ipod, but there's always a discursive overlap, with the bandmembers commenting on the last song's performance and MacDonald informing the audience of the next song's true story status.

But under that, there's a whole bunch of good songs as well as the musical flexibility to adjust on the fly. Guitarist Jo Snyder is often the one holding things together, keeping MacDonald's lyrical train on the rails as well as adding some excellent backing vox for "River of Need". And after slowing down for a brief seance, the set went out with a rambunctious "El Dorado", Sheila Sampath channelling her inner John Paul Jones on the keybs.

The band's Dirty Mouth of The St Lawrence River EP shows off their musical and songwriting strengths (you should get yourself a copy!) but live, they never step into the same river twice, and all the minor indeterminacies make for a fun time.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

I didn't really know anything about Hobson's Choice, but I recognized a couple of the folks that were in the band, first and foremost including Felicity Williams, who has one of the most beautiful voices in town. I also recognized Michael Davidson on vibes — his presence, plus Rebecca Hennessy on trumpet, implied that this would be a textured sort of music, even if the only other instrumentation was Harley Card's acoustic guitar. And indeed, as they began with "Oh Beauty", there was a spare loveliness to the sound. It'd be conceptually easy to fit this into the new wave of soft rock alongside, say, THOMAS, with whom Williams also sings, though Hobson's Choice brings more of a jazzy edge to it — enough so that Joni came to mind in a few spots.

Card sang lead on some of the material and was certainly a capable vocalist, but less distinctive than Williams' ethereal tone, which is so lovely that it's very expressive even when she's singing wordless phrases. But the vocal arrangements, including Hennessy's harmonies, were top notch. Even with an album and a couple EP's under their belt3, the band was working on new material, including "Watcher", a song about the Gulf oil spill ("is this the cost of more?").

Beautiful music, perfect for a candlelit café. Kudos to Wavelength for bringing a show into into a space that always has a good atmosphere — in fact, it's always worth checking out what's coming up at Holy Oak.

Listen to a track from this set here.


1 Louis Riel surrendered on a May 15th, and the murderous force of the police fell upon the assembled citizens of Winnipeg on a different May 15th, making the "Ides of May" a unique signifier in the annals of resistance to the status quo in Canada.

2 There's no word of any upcoming activity from the Betty Burke camp, but Maggie MacDonald will be examining that dirty 'ol river from another perspective when her musical play Paper Laced with Gold debuts at Harbourfront's Hatch Festival on April 28, 2012.

3 The band is giving away one of those EP's on their website.