Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Preview: INTERsection 2012

INTERsection: New Music Marathon and Musicircus in the Marketplace

Saturday, September 1, 2-10pm, Yonge-Dundas Square

"New Music" as a category doesn't lend itself to easy marketability. The name is a catch-all for a wide variety of sounds, and when you try to explain it, you'll usually hit some wall to make people's eyes glaze over. "Like classical music, but not written by dead people" turns off people who will begrudgingly listen to highbrow music if it's by a name-brand, canon-approved composer. Toss in an "avant-garde" and you'll lose even more folks who will assume this is tricky, eggheaded music that can only be appreciated by academic music theorists.

Challenging all of these assumptions, Toronto's own Contact Contemporary Music is leading a united front of local New Music purveyors for the wilfully populist INTERsection festival, where once again, the September long weekend brings a full day of diverse sounds to Yonge-Dundas Square.

Now in its third year (it was originally known as the New Music Marathon), INTERsection is free and runs from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, September 1. It's a great chance to experiment with some new sounds on your own terms, whether you just want to drop by and get a quick taste or settle in and really let the vibe wash over you. Not everything is easy and "user friendly", musically speaking, but there's a lot of disjunctive weirdness in pop music today, so a lot of this isn't completely beyond the pale.

And in terms of social/musical alchemy, something kinda awesome happens when you put something unfamiliar at these busy crossroads — a few people are going to pause and take notice, and slowly a strange coalition of shoppers, mendicants and musos builds up. At a few points during the day, it's discordantly delightful to hear something truly off the hook in the ad-bath well of commercialism.

In that regard, noise fans will want to show up early to check out a set from Roman Pilates. Kevin Crump makes noise music the old fashioned way — by banging metallic things together, loudly and repeatedly. Add an undercurrent of harsh drones and you can expect to hear something gloriously abrasive taking over the Square for a brief moment.

Otherwise, the Main Stage performers will mostly veer towards something a bit more conventionally "musical". The day's biggest guests are undoubtedly NYC's Bang On a Can All-Stars, who have been bringing New Music (and marathon-length concerts) to the masses for over twenty years. Not only will the full collective ensemble be playing a headlining set, but there will be a series of solo sets from its members as well — I'm especially looking forward to hearing Mark Stewart's rendition of "Electric Counterpoint" by Steve Reich echoing across the square.

Contact (who dazzled last year with their rendition of Fripp + Eno's "Evening Star") look to have some more cool stuff up their sleeves: "Gamelan Grunge" sounds titled to hook me in and they'll also be tackling the proto-prog repetitions of Philip Glass' "Two Pages".

Minimalism always gets a good showing at these events, and my expectations are sky-high with Bang On a Can and Contact members joining together for a performance of the best-in-genre "In C", by Terry Riley. A dazzling piece, the score gives the performers 53 short fragments of music, and they progress through them at their own pace, taking care not to get too far ahead of behind the musicians around them. This creates miniature eddies with different parts playing off each other, a hypnotic frisson of sounds falling in and out of sync. Not to be missed.

Besides all that, I'm sure some of the best stuff will be the material and performers I don't know anything about. I'm not familiar with Edges, for example, but I'm looking forward to their performance of Ann Southam's "Networks"

And meanwhile, there will be lots more going on between sets on the main stage. In honour of John Cage's 100th birthday, TorQ Percussion is holding something billed as a Musicircus, promising "performers scattered throughout and moving through the audience" besides some Cage-inspired works on a second stage.


If that's not enough, there's also more the following night, when Contact and Bang on a Can re-join forces for a gig at the Music Gallery billed as "Ambient2", presenting live arrangements of two of Brian Eno's most famous albums. Music for Airports gets more attention, and BoaC have recorded their arrangement to much acclaim, but I'm particularly stoked to bliss out while Contact tackles an extended arrangement of Discreet Music's title track in a promised "multi-media presentation".

This one isn't free, but promises to be worth a $25 ticket. (Or, given we're on the cusp of the new Music Gallery season, it'd be a perfect time to get a membership and save yourself five bucks.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Recording: Moon King

Artist: Moon King

Song: Icarus*

Recorded at Double Double Land, August 24, 2012.

Moon King - Icarus

Full review to follow. Celebrating the release of the Obsession I 12", this was a night to really take stock of how much this project has progressed. From the start, Daniel Woodhead and Maddy Wilde were creating some infectious fun on stage, but the development from the duo to the earlier band alignment to the current four-piece (backed by Steven Foster and Sexy Merlin, who each took an opening set on the night) is something exciting to consider. This was the sort of gig where gear kept getting unplugged and cymbals flying off, so it was no surprise that it ended in the dark with the power getting blown. What was surprising was how the crowd and band joined together for a blackout singalong on "I Found a Body" to finish the night off.

* At the time of this show, this song was listed on the setlist as "Dutch".

Recording: Legends of Jazz Piano

Artist: Legends of Jazz Piano

Song: Erroll Garner

Recorded at Hirut, August 24, 2012.

Legends of Jazz Piano - Erroll Garner

Full review to follow. As advertised by their name, this group brought a night of Brodie West's original compositions inspired by (and named after) legends of jazz piano. That pivotal keyboard role was brought off by Ryan Driver, who I've now seen a couple other times lately in totally different contexts — he's one of those folks who deserves acclaim for being the glue in our city's musical world.

The rest of the band (Nicole Rampersaud, Jake Olerichs, Rob Clutton) are all dexterous players, handling quickly-negotiated arrangements. Oh, and tasty Ethiopian eats down at Hirut, too, making this a completely satisfying night out. Word is the band might be doing this again next month, so keep your ears open for details and then make a point of heading out east to support 'em.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Recording: Diamond Rings

Artist: Diamond Rings

Songs: I'm Just Me + Day and Night

Recorded at The Drake Underground, August 23, 2012.

Diamond Rings - I'm Just Me

Diamond Rings - Day and Night

Full review to follow. It's a bit hard to believe it's been nearly three years since I first saw Diamond Rings play. From the very start, it seems like the project has ascended to peak after peak, to the point where the forthcoming sophomore Free Dimensional is positioned to be a big-time phenomenon. And though he's breaking through to the mass pop audience that I don't really know anything about, it's always gladdening to see that Diamond Rings is still just John O from the block, supporting friends at local shows (and probably still hanging out at the Parkdale Library) — and I don't think that's going to change even if he's going to be busy for awhile conquering the pop charts.

At any rate, this small show was a fine introduction to some of the new material, as well as to his new live band. It was a little weird to see him without any Blue Jays gear, but with the team having switched back to the classic logo, maybe that sartorial torch-carrying can be filed under 'mission accomplished'. Meanwhile, the Diamond Rings look in 2012 is a bit sleeker, like Grace Jones in a Nudie suit — and the tunes were pretty sleek themselves. Soon they'll be everywhere, but for one night it was a rush to have them fresh and vivid in front of us.

Recording: Wendy Versus

Artist: Wendy Versus

Song: This Disease

Recorded at The Garrison ("Locally Grown: A GSC Fundraiser for Harvest Noon"), August 23, 2012.

Wendy Versus - This Disease

Full review to follow. Joining in to help raise funds for U of T's volunteer-run Harvest Noon Café, Wendy Versus brought a sound that instead of veering either to austere coldwave or fizzy dance-pop headed for something a little more grounded, thanks to Wendy Leung's emotive vocals. But it's still something you can move to — the giant, blinged-out dancing carrot was proof positive of that.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Recording: The Weather Station + Ryan Driver

Artist: The Weather Station + Ryan Driver

Songs: Let Em In* / Blue Skies Don't Care / If This World Were Mine [Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell cover]

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, August 22, 2012.

The Weather Station + Ryan Driver - Let Em In

The Weather Station + Ryan Driver - Blue Skies Don't Care

The Weather Station + Ryan Driver - If This World Were Mine

Full review to follow. A unique night at Holy Oak, with Tamara Lindeman and Ryan Driver joining forces to trade off and combine voices on songs old and new. Do note that the first one here has a bit of audible chatter at the start, before the beguiling mystery of Driver's flute quiets the miscreants down. And also note that Driver will be back in attendance next week (August 29, 2012) sharing the stage with Doug Tielli.

* I've gotten word that this is the title of this one, at least for now.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Recording: Rival Boys

Artist: Rival Boys

Song: Recovery

Recorded at The Great Hall (SummerWorks Festival Closing Party), August 19, 2012.

Rival Boys - Recovery

Full review to follow. Rival Boys have added some new textures to their live set since last time I saw 'em, with Lee Rose playing keyboard, violin and bass pedals alongside her bass. But they could also just blast ahead in straight-up fashion as they did on this number.

Recording: Tenderness

Artist: Tenderness

Song: Cruel As The Grave

Recorded at The Great Hall (SummerWorks Festival Closing Party), August 19, 2012.

Tenderness - Cruel As The Grave

Full review to follow. Playing in a venue with a far larger sound system than I've ever previously seen her at, there was more of everything to Chrissy Reichert's songs — more melody, more distortion, more bounce. Well-paired with a static-y abstract series of projections, watching this set felt like being in on a secret. I try not to wear the figurative A&R hat, but in a world where, say, Grimes and Tune-Yards are stars of some sort, there's no reason that Tenderness shouldn't be getting mentioned in the same breath.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Recording: Bry Webb

Artist: Bry Webb

Song: Holler

Recorded at The Theatre Centre (SummerWorks Festival), August 18, 2012.

Bry Webb - Holler

Full review to follow. Since the pointedly-quiet shows that accompanied the release of his Provider album, Webb has slowly been adding more layers to his live sound, this time 'round with a horn section and with Nate Lawr on drums for a fair amount of the set. Oh, and he played this new love song too.

Recording: Doug Paisley

Artist: Doug Paisley

Song: End of the Day

Recorded at The Theatre Centre (SummerWorks Festival), August 18, 2012.

Doug Paisley - End of the Day

Full review to follow. In a duo format that put the focus on his warm voice and nimble guitar skills, the always-wry Paisley paid tribute to the Toronto Blizzard and declared his set to be an infomercial for Bry Webb.

Recording: Eamon McGrath

Artist: Eamon McGrath

Song: Signals

Recorded at Bloor + Roxton Stage (The Bloorcourt Arts and Crafts Street Fair), August 18, 2012.

Eamon McGrath - Signals

Full review to follow. At the day-long outdoor stage presented by Exclaim! and Saving Gigi, there were a lot of folks working all day to make sure things were getting done — but a special tip of the hat goes to McGrath, who was busy all afternoon and closed things out in a rockin' set with his band.

Recording: Pow Wows

Artist: Pow Wows

Song: Shock Corridor*

Recorded at Bloor + Roxton Stage (The Bloorcourt Arts and Crafts Street Fair), August 18, 2012.

Pow Wows - Shock Corridor

Full review to follow. I've been meaning to catch the new-look Pow Wows for a bit now, so it was handy that they showed up to add some rock'n'roll volume to the Bloorcourt Street Fest. Key discovery: Pow Wows believe that children are the future.

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

Recording: Let's Build Machines

Artist: Let's Build Machines

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Bloor + Roxton Stage (The Bloorcourt Arts and Crafts Street Fair), August 18, 2012.

Let's Build Machines - unknown

Full review to follow. I knew that The Wilderness of Manitoba's Will Whitwham was a prolific songwriter, but I didn't realize that alongside his introspective Lake Forest side-project, he's also been dabbling with upbeat electronic music as Let's Build Machines. On a pleasant afternoon, the street shut down for some festival action, this suited just fine.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Recording: Evening Hymns

Artist: Evening Hymns

Song: Moon River

Recorded at The Theatre Centre (SummerWorks Festival), August 17, 2012.

Evening Hymns - Moon River

Full review to follow. Although it's seemed like a rather long wait for those of us in the crowd to finally get a chance to hear Spectral Dusk as a finished product, it's been a far longer — and more personal — journey for Jonas Bonnetta, so I can only imagine that it must have felt special to release it to the world to a room filled with friends and peers. Playing as a seven-piece, this was Evening Hymns at its most vivid, a feeling intensified by Sean Frey's realtime lofi projections flickering behind the band.

CBC was onsite to record the show for future broadcast, and you can expect some video from this set to surface soon — but hopefully this will serve as a placeholder for now.

Recording: Fiver

Artist: Fiver

Song: Rockwood 1868

Recorded at The Theatre Centre (SummerWorks Festival), August 17, 2012.

Fiver - Rockwood 1868

Full review to follow. Establishing the night's sit-down-and-listen vibe, Simone Schmidt shared some of her newer story-songs with the crowd.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Play: I, Animal

I, Animal (Kazan Co-op, Dir: Richie Wilcox)

SummerWorks Festival (Factory Mainspace). Tuesday, August 14, 2012.

We are all animals. Cuddly and frisky, but may bite. There's something underneath our reason and carefully-constructed identities. Looks like it's up to something when you shine a light on it. Our urges, our instincts, carry us forward. Powerful, but willing to be controlled.

A new script from Daniel MacIvor gives us three monologues, each linked by the light of the moon above and by the speakers' unveiling their animal natures: a young nurse walking his dog talks about queer identity and social stratification; a hoodie-clad high-school student is known as "the dead cat kid" in the aftermath of a social media stunt gone awry; a jaded bourgeois fashionista dreams of the simplicity of being a girl with a pony.

The connections are left to the audience to fit together as they please, so there's probably going to be differing conclusions as to whether the exercise winds up as more than the sum of its parts. As character sketches, this triptych is variously successful. Stewart Legere impresses the most here as the high-school student who emerges from behind a wall of stoner cosmology to express the hurt — and possible usefulness — of being misconstrued and throught cruel. (He also gets in some good laugh lines along the way.) Kathryn MacLellan has the least to work with as an aging, pampered socialite, and though she identifies as a palomino rather than a cougar, the script never quite gives her the means to push the character beyond a stereotype. Antonio Cayonne, as a nurse who feels more confined by power dynamics than sexuality, comes somewhere up the middle, imbuing his character with a distinct personality.

The idea that animal urges underlie our human nature stretches back to antiquity and animates myths that still hold a power over us. In this play, MacIvor doesn't seem to be reaching for profundity so much as musing on how these atavistic urges affect our interfaces with contemporary society. Faced with transitional moments, it's the animal nature that guides each of these characters, though they each tell their stories as if it were something more reasoned propelling them along.

And perhaps that holds for all of us, never quite realizing that the stories we're constructing for ourselves, where we're the masters of our fates, and merely the thinnest of rationalizations. But I don't know that I found it to be all that revelatory, which I suppose is why this seemed at best to be "merely" a capable entertainment.

Recording: Aline Morales

Artist: Aline Morales

Song: Juízo Final [Nelson Cavaquinho cover]

Recorded at The Theatre Centre ("SummerWorks Festival"), August 16, 2012.

Aline Morales - Juízo Final

Full review to follow. In my notes, I observed that several of Morales' songs could be covers of Brazilian classics that I wasn't familiar with. On closer research, that turned out to be the case for this one, but that her own efforts don't pale in comparison to this speak to the high level she's operating at. I wasn't at all familiar with Morales' music coming into this show, but I was totally impressed both with her tunes and how effortlessly her band delivered them.

Recording: Sandro Perri

Artist: Sandro Perri

Song: Wolfman

Recorded at The Theatre Centre (SummerWorks Festival), August 16, 2012.

Sandro Perri - Wolfman

Full review to follow. Over the past year, the live presentations of the songs from Perri's Impossible Spaces album have been getting increasingly elaborate, stretching out to encompass extended polyrhythmic jams. Trying something different for SummerWorks, Perri has imploded the songs into a pulp (or is that into a Polmo Polpo?), bringing a seated and drumless keyboard-based quartet out for this quieter show.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recording: Buck 65

Artist: Buck 65 feat. Choir! Choir! Choir!

Song: Paper Airplane

Recorded at The Theatre Centre (SummerWorks Festival), August 15, 2012.

Buck 65 feat Choir! Choir! Choir! - Paper Airplane

Full review to follow. Most of the exclamation marks at this special SummerWorks show, filled with new songs, obscurities and b-sides, came from the interactions with Ame Henderson's inventive choreography. This song had a visual element as well, as paper airplanes sailed down in huge numbers from the balcony overhead, but it was also a special joint effort with Choir! Choir! Choir! that grounded the spectacle.

To try and get across the visual inventiveness at hand during this set, I've posted some photos on the MFS Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Recording: A Place To Bury Strangers

Artist: A Place To Bury Strangers

Song: You Are The One

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

A Place To Bury Strangers - You Are The One

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: OG Melody

Artist: OG Melody feat. Kit Knows

Song: Get Low + Kit's Freestyle

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

OG Melody - Get Low + Kit's Freestyle

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Wet Hair

Artist: Wet Hair

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Wet Hair - unknown

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

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

Currente calamo: The ALL CAPS! Island Festival 2012

The ALL CAPS! Island Festival 2012 — Artscape Gibraltar Point

While it's all fresh in my mind, a few notes from this year's ALL CAPS! Festival. Longer, more comprehensive reviews will follow down the road a piece.

The Wavelength collective might specialize in presenting boundary-pushing music, but as an organization they also operate with pragmatic incrementalism, letting things grow organically over each of the past three years. Although this year extended the pattern, the festival is now at the point where it's a pretty substantial undertaking. Along with incorporating the art-vibe and campout experiences that worked well before, this year saw the festival make the leap to a larger vision, incorporating outdoor stages and more high-profile touring acts. Aiming higher brings more risks, as well — especially in putting together anything outside, where bad luck with weather can cut into the walk-up draw.

Saturday August 13, 2012

Day 1 — feat. Triple Gangers / Esther Grey / Wet Hair / Tyvek / Choir! Choir! Choir! / Maylee Todd / Yamantaka//Sonic Titan

That was keenly felt on Saturday, where the remains of a storm system left high winds, a day-long grey sky and a soggy feel, causing the music to be moved inside. The sublime vibe of Artscape Gibraltar Point — housed in the re-purposed old Island elementary school — has always felt like a "retreat" in the best way, but as the day started I was wondering if the cozy confines of the Fireplace Room would be up to the task of housing the audience for bands that could pack a small club.

That wasn't too big a deal at the outset — as always, there was a fairly thin crowd at hand as the first day's music began. It was by no means quiet around the schoolhouse, with plenty of folks setting up their tents or otherwise exploring the space, and as long-time Wavelength host Doc Pickles took the stage (busily mentoring next-gen compères MC Metalman and MC Lightning Bolt) there was a respectable crowd, some forty-ish people strong, to check out Triple Gangers.

The trio somewhat undermines any associations with hustlin' street hardness that the name might imply as they took the stage in tiaras — and banished it entirely by the time they got to the songs about bunnies and flowers. Ghislain Aucoin provided beats and keybs alongside his vocals, but it was the voices of Aurora Cowie and Ida Maidstone that really lifted the band. Gifted singers both, they were also openly having a infectiously fun time on stage, trading verses and executing a few dance moves. The lighthearted and upbeat subject-matter might trick some into thinking this is something like a novelty act, but there's real talent on display here.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Guitarist Steph Yates and drummer Tyson Brinacombe took to the stage like they meant business, in straight-cut shirts and ties, but the music they were generating as Esther Grey wasn't so easy to pin down. Yates propelled the pair, rocking a look in the neighbourhood of Katie Sketch impersonating Chris Isaak. Although the setup might have implied staid singer-songwriter strumming, the outcome was instead engagingly punchy, with some of the short songs suggesting they emerged more from the process of rocking out than letting emotive words flow forth. All of which left a highly-positive impression — for me, this was the new discovery of the weekend. And it just might have been because I was thinking back to all the other artists that I'd seen playing in the fireplace room, but the memory of Carmen Elle — now a civic Rock Hero — playing the first ALL CAPS crossed my mind afterward. I'm hoping to keep an eye out to see if Yates propels herself like that — she's already found a drummer to go along for the ride.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Although the sun was struggling to fight through the clouds a bit outside, things took a heavier turn musically with a pair of American bands steering their tour through the Island. The sources on Iowa's Wet Hair all mention Shawn Reed's noise roots with Raccoo-oo-oon, but as this project has expanded from a drone-y, experimental duo, the now-trio has veered toward something that brushed against pop aesthetics. In practice, especially with Reed's synth work, that gave them the vibe of a slightly-chipper Joy Division — but still something more bludgeon-y than the grim early New order vibe that that would imply. Some of the material mushed together a bit, and it was the material crafted with that vaguely-pop sheen that worked the best on me.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Giving way to tour-mates Tyvek, things got even more bludgeon-y. Applying heavy rhythms to motorcity punkrock, the quartet alternated between frustrated belligerence and weary live-it-up positivity. Top-notch stuff.

Listen to a song from this set here.

It wasn't long after that set ended that the room started filling up with a steady queue snaking into the room. The members of Choir! Choir! Choir! — and once again they were too many for me to easily count or fit into a picture — basically took over half the room, a wall of singers keeping together thanks to Nobu Aah's conducting and Daveed Goldman's timekeeping acoustic guitar. Even from "Mad World" at the outset, Aah turned one-hundred-eighty degrees and conducted the crowd as if they were one more section, indicating that this was as much a singalong as a performance. For TLC's "Waterfalls", the group was joined by Maylee "Left Eye" Todd — who managed to delight all the more for not quite nailing the rappity-rap-rap delivery. It fit right in with the warm hug of the hey-why-not-join-us communal spirit that C!C!C! brings.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Maylee Todd would be much more steady on her feet for her own excellent-sounding set afterward. It was a good thing that it did sound that fantastic, as by this stage of the day the room was really packed and it was hard for those not right up front to see much at all. And though I theoretically know that the performance included dancers, it was only toward the end, when Todd came out as far into the crowd as her mic cord would allow, when I saw anything of the performance at all. Not too big a worry, though as her always-sharp band delivered on a set that was again packed with new material.

There were also the same covers that I'd heard at the recent Harbourfront performance, and while the Sesame Street Pinball Number Count remained pretty awesome, this time it was the version of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" that took the prize, as Todd called Choir! Choir! Choir! up to the front to join her. With bodies surging up to the front, from where I was standing I couldn't tell where the band ended and the audience began. Funky closer "Do You Know What It Is?" definitely left the crowd wanting more. There's no word yet on when we'll be seeing a release of Todd's new material, but it has to be high on this list of most-anticipated local albums.

Listen to a song from this set here.

After that, the crowd dissipated a fair amount. For some mainlanders, it was the ferry's call home; for the campers, there was the call of the bonfire that was raging outside. Even with fewer bodies in the room, the lack of a stage was keenly felt for the recently Polaris shortlisted Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, as this is a band that puts no small effort into their visual presentation.

Although, to my surprise, they actually were presenting as more of a band and less of a spectacle than when I saw 'em in January. This time 'round, there was no ceremonial entry procession and no backdrops. That meant that the band had to rely on their music alone to evoke a sense of atmosphere, and they pulled it off with no problem. Outside of a couple tambourine-shaking laps through the crowd, this was a more straight-up performance, but musically it was very solid.

And even with strict curfew (to get the crowd to the ferry on time) looming, there was no sense that the band was rushing through it, slowly building up through their introduction to the expansive "Reverse Crystal//Murder of a Spider". The hard façade of incommunicability that they held the stage with before was abandoned for some actual banter (although not from singer Ruby Kato Attwood, who remained as composed throughout as ever). Maybe especially because, once again, I couldn't see much anyway, the intimacy of the room more than made up for the loss of theatrical spectacles, and it was very encouraging to see that YT//ST can pull of it all off without needing the extra enhancements.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Sunday August 14, 2012

Day 2 — feat. Ivy Mairi / Young Mother / Canadian Winter / Absolutely Free / OG Melody / Lioness / A Place To Bury Strangers

By the time I was making my way over to the island on Sunday, the skies were clearing up and it felt quite fine as I entered past the ranks of now-grizzled campers. I was delighted that we'd be seeing some of the bands on the outdoor stage, as was the ebullient Ivy Mairi, who projected no small amount of joy despite the feelings of dislocation brought on by performing a concert on what was once her elementary school soccer field.

I'd heard her pure voice before in Bruce Peninsula and her familial Kith & Kin trio, but'd never had a chance to hear her singing her own songs. The first, accompanied only be her own guitar, was enjoyable enough, but once joined by Lucas Gadke and Matt Bailey, fleshing out the sound with mandolin, guitar and double bass it was quite fabulous. The tunes were largely from her new No Talker album, starting with the gorgeous "Something Of Love".

The sky was still changeable overhead, patches of sunshine chased by dark cloudbanks (or vice versa), which also works as a description of the music: meditations for the partially-cloudy soul. Urbane and earthy, this was a perfect start to the day.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Although the sky was clearing up again, the dark clouds moved inside for Young Mother's hypnotic badvibe postpunk throwdown. Fresh off the release of Future Classics, their humbly-titled debut full-length, it had been a while since I'd had a chance to check in on the band, who I'd liked right from the first time I saw 'em (which was, in a serendipitous turn, also at a Wavelength festival).

But now they're employing a disciplined musical economy to produce a more focused attack, packing as much meaning and menace in a fraction of the time these songs had previously sprawled out to. Singer/guitarist Jesse James Laderoute is now backed by a solid trio (bass/drums/sax) to produce a taut groove, torquing the balance between the instruments to get some intriguing effects — one song featured an incongruously mellow saxophone groove juxtaposed against staccato guitar plucks from the strings above the guitar's bridge. An excellent set — and now that the band have become who they are, so to speak, it'll be interesting to see in what direction they push from here.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The tensions that Young Mother's music induced were minor compared to the tremors seen as word went around that the caterers were already, at this relatively early hour, out of sandwiches. In another deft improvisational twist, the organizers managed to get a backup food provider on site without too much of a delay, likely forestalling food-related rebelliousness.

Meanwhile, as that drama played out, the action returned outside for Hamilton hip-hop crew Canadian Winter. I didn't know what to expect from 'em, but was intrigued to see the DJ was flanked by a guitar player and percussionist to add instrumental textures to Kobi's raps, delivered with a straight-outta-London accent.

The music was driving and included some interesting flavours — Doc Pickles could be seen plotzing when one song led off with a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis sample. That served as a solid backdrop for Kobi's storytelling, ranging from tour stories to the emotions evoked on experiencing T.O. for the first time. Another noteworthy introduction and a savvy programming pick from the Wavelength crew. And speaking of savvy, the band's moniker is extra-clever for providing a hook that'll probably appear in nearly in nearly everything that'll ever be mentioned about 'em: something along the lines of, "keep your eyes open, 'cause you know that Canadian Winter will be back sooner than you think".

Listen to a song from this set here.

A quick flip in the scheduling put things back inside for local krautrockstronauts Absolutely Free — partially by design, I'm sure, as their mad scientist lab of a stage setup probably required the resources of the big soundboard inside. But it had the interesting effect of keeping the sunnier bands grouped together in the sunshine while isolating the darker, more simmering stuff in the schoolhouse.

Absolutely Free's emotional tenor isn't as pessimistic as the other "inside" bands on the day, but they did share a certain penchant for extended repetitive grooves based on "chug" more than "vibe" — if not the gentle chainsaw violation implied by an offhand Heathers reference, think of it as an encounter with a mildly aggressive sawtooth waveform.

In a weird bit of symmetry, just as the band was completing their set-up, most of the powder on stage flicked off — just as had happened to these guys on the same stage a year ago as members of DD/MM/YYYY. Once that was sorted out, the songs involved the meticulous instrument-switching soundscapes that they've been experimenting with, including one particularly simmering instrumental that I think was new to the setlist.

Against the backdrop of General Chaos' especially effective liquid canvasses that looked as if they were videoconferencing in from the surface of a distant star, the bandmembers' shadowselves loomed over everyone as the band closed with patient build of "Clothed Woman Sitting".

Listen to a song from this set here.

As the actual sun started dipping down in the sky, the "Sunset Stage" was closed out with some 90's-styled R&B jams from OG Melody. Working in an unusual configuration, vocalist Isla Craig was without Thom Gill on keybs and backing tracks, forcing her to get by with the help of her friends.

Those substitutions cave the set a playfully off-kilter feel, with the music sometimes swooping out in unexpected loops and bursts that kept catching Craig a little off-guard. Her reaction was to laugh and roll with it, so although the execution verged on sloppy in a few places, it was also engaging, as if the audience were just hanging out while the band experimented to see what was going to work.

Inviting Kit Knows up to the stage, he threw down a topical freestyle that won immediate approval from the crowd as he cracked jokes about camping and the ubiquitous red ants. Craig closed out the set "with the people", hopping down off the stage to join the folks swaying up front.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Since emerging in 2007 from the aftermath of No Dynamics and controller.controller, Lioness have proven to be patiently keeping their eyes on the prize. After getting out an EP in fairly short order, the band spent a good long while lying low before re-emerging this year with the full-length The Golden Killer.

Somewhere since I last saw 'em, the core trio have beefed up with an additional keyboard player, freeing up vocalist Vanessa Fischer for more full-on frontwoman duties, including staring down the audience with her eerie cat's-eye contacts. That would just be one of the many details showing an even-sharper visual sensibility for a band that's always paid a lot of attention to their presentation.

That gave the audience something to connect with as the band took a couple songs to really hit their groove — but once they leaned into that death disco beat, it started getting better and better. Even taking the tempo down didn't reduce the intensity, and though I knew I liked the band coming in, this was a fierce reintroduction, and a reminder than this hunter is ready to pounce.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The underlying vibes of menace and tension that were hinted at in Lioness' set were pushed into the red for closers A Place To Bury Strangers. But whereas the former had provided the means of catharsis with the music's danceability, APTBS felt more like a steam engine with no release valve — the pressure building and building.

Or perhaps that imagery came to mind as the band brought what felt like a stadium-sized fog machine to the modest-sized Fireplace Room, which was quickly shrouded in a thick, obscuring haze as the trio got going. Employing massive distortion piled on top of sheer volume, this was more of a physical experience than a musical one — it took me more than half the set for the sheer overload of it to sink in enough to be able to distinguish between songs in any meaningful way. Which isn't to say I wasn't enjoying the caustic force of it all, although it clearly was enough to drive more than a few people out of the room, even before it ended in a prolonged insano strobelight whitenoise obliteration.

Listen to a song from this set here.

That pummelling conclusion to the festival was certainly at odds with the previous year's mile-high doubleplusfeelgood joyburst from Rich Aucoin — perhaps in itself a bit of a self-consciously reflexive bit of contrarianism from the Wavelength crew. It did feel a bit un-Wavelength-y to spend the day building up with the local talent only to close things out with a big-name import with no previous WL connection.

Plus, that closing taste of apocalypse did give a bit of a reminder of how much less of a focus there is on ALL CAPS' original all-ages mandate. While the festival remains open to all, it feels like youth inclusion is just another by-product, rather than something the festival is going out of its way to foster. And on that score, I haven't done the math, but my strong inclination is that as things have become more "professional" the average age of the performers is going up as well — in the past we've seen more of an effort to make sure that "all ages" is something that also happens on stage.

Still, no matter what, this was on balance an excellent weekend — one that I was looking forward to all year and will look forward to again next year. Even as things get bigger, the original animating spirit and Wavelength ethos remain intact. Everything feels human-scaled, and I heard several different people independently comment on the decorum of their fellow attendees — somehow, without enforcement, this has remained an asshole-free zone, which is pretty rare for any sort of concert. In the end, even if this wasn't the best of all possible worlds, Wavelength's practical prescriptions made sure the whole weekend worked, and once again, I left the island feeling enriched.

Addendum: I have more photos from the weekend posted in an album over at the MFS Facebook page.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Recording: Absolutely Free

Artist: Absolutely Free

Song: Clothed Woman Sitting*

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

Absolutely Free - Clothed Woman Sitting

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

* Thanks to Elena for pointing out the title to this one.

Recording: Maylee Todd

Artist: Maylee Todd

Song: Hieroglyphics

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Maylee Todd - Hieroglyphics

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Choir! Choir! Choir!

Artist: Choir! Choir! Choir!

Song: Psycho Killer [Talking Heads cover]

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Choir! Choir! Choir! - Psycho Killer

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Triple Gangers

Artist: Triple Gangers

Song: Crazy*

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Triple Gangers - Crazy

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

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

Recording: Lioness

Artist: Lioness

Song: Krokodil Tears

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

Lioness - Krokodil Tears

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Canadian Winter

Artist: Canadian Winter

Song: Get The Show on the Road

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

Canadian Winter - Get The Show on the Road

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Young Mother

Artist: Young Mother

Song: No Straight Lines

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

Young Mother - No Straight Lines

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Ivy Mairi

Artist: Ivy Mairi

Song: Passing Cars

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 12, 2012.

Ivy Mairi - Passing Cars

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Recording: Your 33 Black Angels

Artist: Your 33 Black Angels

Song: Patient Love

Recorded at Comfort Zone, August 11, 2012.

Your 33 Black Angels - Patient Love

Full review to follow. An especially fine set form Y33BA, as always moving forward and bringing out new material, including some from their forthcoming Grasshopper — which you can sample on their bandcamp. It always seems that no two sets are the same — this night included some driving new wave keytar action — but the band are a superb live experience in any formation.

Recording: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan

Artist: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan

Song: Hoshi Neko

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan - Hoshi Neko

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Tyvek

Artist: Tyvek

Song: Air Conditioner

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Tyvek - Air Conditioner

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

Recording: Esther Grey

Artist: Esther Grey

Song: Surf 'N' Turf*

Recorded at Artscape Gibraltar Point (ALL CAPS! Festival), August 11, 2012.

Esther Grey - Surf 'N' Turf

Full review to follow — but you can check out my quick notes for the festival here.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Play: The Fever

(Cohort Theatre, Dir: Rose Plotek)

SummerWorks Festival (Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace). Friday, August 9, 2012.

"The relative affluence existing in the United States is directly dependant upon the labor and resources of the Vietnamese, the Angolans, the Bolivians and the rest of the peoples of the Third World. All of the United Airlines Astrojets, all of the Holiday Inns, all of Hertz's automobiles, your television set, car and wardrobe already belong, to a large degree to the people of the rest of the world."

"You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows" [Weatherman manifesto], 1969

Once it gets in your system it can take over like a fever racking your mind. There's only so much to go around in this world, and we have so much of it while they have so little. It's not an accident, not in nature's design; it's the outcome of a system that has been put in place.

And what if you travel a little, see the world, and have it rubbed in your face? You thought you were just getting by back home, but in the grand scheme of things, you're rich, rich, rich. They toil in squalid conditions for such meagre pay, and we get everyday low prices.

Doesn't it make sense that we should support progressive politics, advocate for more fairness, suggest that we could do with a little less? Doesn't it make sense that they should support revolutionary politics, throw out their oppressors and try to create a society with less abject misery?

I remember, as more sensitive and less callous youth, being terrified at doing this calculus over and over. Our comfort depends on their poverty. I didn't have to look hard to see the gross inequalities in the world, and I remember how stirring it felt, how much idealism it brought on — the system is broken, and we can fix it!

And then, I remember reading and reading and thinking endlessly and angstfully about it. Getting deeper and deeper, and realizing how complete the system was, how invisible it is. How it defines us and gives us our sense of self. How complicit we are in it. And the further down you chase those invisible connections, and the deeper you find them anchored into the very core of your being, the more idealism bleeds away, replaced by a grim, feverish determinism. I am part of the system. The system is me. I am a good person, it's not my fault that armed guards in sweatshops watch over the people making the consumer products I enjoy. I feel their pain.

But so what?

This monologue, written by Wallace Shawn, takes us through all of these contradictory realizations. After a decent, secure life, the play's character has had a political awakening. Visiting a poor country, she realizes how much she has, how little they have. When she returns home, everything is suffused with a "sour lovelessness", as she realizes her lifestyle is subsidized by other people's misery. But what can she do about it? Give everything she has to the poor? Didn't she work hard for it, isn't is hers? Should she live in misery so that someone else can be comfortable?

And back and worth it goes — a comfortable life's synthesis and a miserable world's antithesis are incommensurate vocabularies, whose insolubility brings the titular fever. The text is by no means overwhelmingly didactic — circling around back and worth on itself, it weaves together many strands of biography, desires, and ideals shifting and connecting through tantalizing threads of associative logic.

At a technical level, it's a tour-de-force for actor Katie Swift, who delivers the rapid-fire dialogue, talking non-stop for over an hour. But it feels like a real conversation — just one where ideas come out in a steady rush and one thing leads to another quickly enough to keep you unsettled.

Also noteworthy is Rebecca Picherack's subtle lighting design. At the beginning of the piece, Swift simply walked down the aisle and sat on the stage's single chair. The house lights remained up as she began, reinforcing the feeling of a conversation. It was only with exquisite slowness that the lighting changed, focusing on Swift more tightly as her words burrowed down and became more internal. Slowly, everything darkens and becomes murky.

The topic obviously fascinates me still, and I felt a sense of sympathy at watching the protagonist trying to work these things out. But the seeming irresolvable futility was, at some level, as frustrating as my own inability to satisfactorily escape the dilemma. The fever either burns you up, or you find some form of first-aid to tamp it down to something manageable, to make it one more niggling background hum that just becomes a part of the symphony of all of a life's problematic background hums.

It's not a theatre of catharsis — if anything it invokes a Foucauldian sense of a self-enclosed system which defines us to our core and from which there is no escape. The system is all-encompassing. The critique and proposed solutions are part of the system and reinforce it, strengthen it. There's no foothold to get outside of the system. Once you accept the framing of the problem, there is no response that doesn't implicate you. (You want to advocate gradual reform? Then you're prolonging other people's misery. You want to try and raise your kids to be good, moral people? Then a generation from now they'll be passing the same smug platitudes along and nothing will have changed.)

It's hard to imagine that the intended audience is going to be surprised by any of this. This play isn't being performed for the Conservative caucus or for heads of state at a G20 conference. Instead, it's being presented to a well-educated, culturally-aware crowd who laugh with meta-awareness as the protagonist intones how supporting socially aware art won't, can't, change things.

At the same time, it remains a timely piece. Socially concerned people hereabouts have spent more time lately inveighing against the 1% — at one level, this monologue turns the tables and reminds us that in the global scheme of things we are the greedy "haves". Would we dare to apply the share-and-share-alike arguments we aim at bankers to ourselves?

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows that the war is over

Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That's how it goes

Everybody knows

"Everybody Knows", Leonard Cohen