Sunday, June 30, 2013

Recording: Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers

Artist: Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers (feat. Edie Brickell)

Songs: The Great Remember [Steve Martin solo] / Pretty Little One / Remember Me This Way

Recorded at T------ S--- Stage at Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto Jazz Festival), June 29, 2013.

Steve Martin - The Great Remember

Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers - Pretty Little One

Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers (feat. Edie Brickell) - Remember Me This Way

Full review to follow. What better way to bookend a Jazz Festival experience that started with Willie Nelson than with a night of Steve Martin's bluegrass stylings? This was a fun, high-energy night, with Martin displaying both his deft comedic timing as well as his nimble pickin' skills. There was also quite a variety of music explored within the bluegrass tradition, and just as a sample, here we have a solo banjo excursion, a brand new murder ballad, and one of the tunes penned by Edie Brickell from the pair's new collaborative Love Has Come for You album.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Recording: Light Fires

Artist: Light Fires

Song: Last Of His Kind*

Recorded at Pride Toronto (South Stage), June 28, 2013.

Light Fires - Last Of His Kind

Full review to follow. Moving up from her Pride debut a couple years ago on the Altera-Queer stage, Regina the Gentlelady showed that blondes do have more fun with a boomin', high-kickin' set on the big stage. Pride is a time for celebration and remembrance, which makes this tribute (possibly to Will Monroe?) a suitable anthem.

Do note there are a couple dance-related flaws in the recording here — to get Regina in full high-kickin' fidelity, you'll have to come to the Light Fires album release. The official announcement hasn't dropped yet, but I have it on good authority you should be heading to The Piston on August 1st.

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Recording: Kosher Dill Spears

Artist: Kosher Dill Spears

Song: Liquid Gravy

Recorded at Holy Oak Café ("Love Nation Night No. 2"), June 27, 2013.

Kosher Dill Spears - Liquid Gravy

Full review to follow. Jesse Levine's keyboard-based project draws from jazz improvization, Bernie Worrell-esque squiggle-funk and hip-hop beats, all tied together with a gleefully irreverent let's-dance attitude. This show was celebrating the release of his Laughing and Crying album, which you should totally check out.

Recording: The Draperies

Artist: The Draperies

Song: [excerpt from first piece]*

Recorded at Holy Oak Café ("Love Nation Night No. 2"), June 27, 2013.

The Draperies - [excerpt from first piece]

Full review to follow. The last time Eric Chenaux, Ryan Driver and Doug Tielli convened to play as The Draperies was June 21, 2009 — an occasion now preserved as the new album The History of The Hat, a new release on Thom Gill and Colin Fisher's Love Nation micro-label. With Chenaux in town for the next while this was a super-rare chance to see them play. This little wash of drifts — the second half of the first of two selections the trio performed — contains guitar, synth and trombone.

Bonus! I did a weird, experimental remix of the entire set. You can check it on my soundcloud.

* I'm not if there's a title to this piece — please leave a comment if you know!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Recording: Lower

Artist: Lower

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Garrison ("NXNE 2013"), June 16, 2013.

Lower - unknown

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

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

Recording: Ell V Gore

Artist: Ell V Gore

Song: Florida*

Recorded at The Garrison ("NXNE 2013"), June 16, 2013.

Ell V Gore - Florida

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 Beverleys

Artist: The Beverleys

Song: Dreams

Recorded at The Garrison ("NXNE 2013"), June 16, 2013.

The Beverleys - Dreams

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

Currente calamo: NXNE 2013 (Sunday)

NXNE 2013 (Sunday, June 16, 2013)

While these shows are relatively fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. In the fullness of time there will be a more complete accounting of the night that'll include even more details and recordings.

9 p.m.: the beverleys @ The Garrison

To close out the festival, I decided to just stay put in one spot again, which was actually an easy pick given the combination of familiar local talent and highly-touted imports to investigate. I'd actually seen the controlled frenzy of the beverleys' punk/grunge a few weeks previously, but I was excited enough that I was fully eager to see them again.

It was a pretty similar setlist, but instructive to compare sonically the difference between the modest PA at Clinton's and the roar-generation system at The Garrison.1 The guitars bled feedback, the voices had a tear-yr-throat-out edge, but the real revelation was hearing Audrey Hammer's drumming reverberating through the room.2 That combined to give the band a thunderous edge, and the middle of their set felt like back-to-back-to-back hits. The performance was, as always, a quick one, but it felt like a statement of vindication: the band announcing they'd said their piece and nothing else was required. And enough to cement my opinion that The Beverleys are certifiably among the next wave of great T.O. rock bands.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

10 p.m.: Ell V Gore @ The Garrison

That also left me eager to hear what the goth-punk howls of Ell V Gore was going to sound like in this room, after a somewhat-muddy result at the Pretty Pretty showcase a few nights previous. And indeed, there would be a weath of sonic detail audible here, from drummer Jay Anderson's little cymbal accents on "Her Vicious" to the strangled sounds of a beer bottle being used as a slide on Elliott Jones' guitar.4 Playing to a darkened stage (though still not as entirely black as we'd see a bit later on), the band had a lot of energy despite having played a full slate of official and unofficial festival sets.

Still celebrating the release of the Sex Static EP, the band was in menacing top form here. Given the mastery of their material they've been exhibiting, the most inneresting thing to see in the months ahead for this band is how they keep a sense of danger on stage, staying knife-sharp without becoming musically rote. But I reckon this isn't a group that's going to fall into easy predictability.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: Lower @ The Garrison

The night's second half brought a change of scene from Toronto to Copenhagen, with a pair of affiliated bands that have been touring North America together. There was a false start for Lower's set, with a bass cabinet futzing out in the first song. That led to a momentum-sapping break while a congregation on stage got things sorted out. And in the meantime, this was not a band particularly eager to engage with the crowd during the downtime.

Vocalist Adrian Toubro has a voice a bit reminiscent of G.W. Sok, but projecting despair instead of anger. He was the only member who really seemed to acknowledge the crowd, but it in a sort of ancient mariner sort of way, stoppething the passers-by as he leaned forward to tell them the story of his friends perishing in a car crash, or about a particularly grim fishing-boat accident, or something like that. He looked to be on the verge of breaking down throughout, and it occurred to me that if someone were to simply hop up on stage and give him a hug, the set would probably no longer need to continue. Behind him, the band ground out some corresponding post-punk dirges — hints of early Fugazi on quaaludes — looking bored and ignoring the crowd.

Musically, this was all right, but eventually all the sadness started to just feel a little over the top. I liked the band more after fifteen minutes than I did after a half-hour.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Midnite: Iceage @ The Garrison

The night's "secret guests" were fairly-widely known about relatively early on, though it didn't create a huge influx of patrons as Iceage took the stage. The room was full but not packed, even when people were leaving open space up front for mosh-y activity. Coming in, I had no strong opinions on the Danish quartet, though I knew they had a divisive live rep, and, I was told, a propensity for ignoring the crowd.

And while they presented a façade of youthful sullen uninterest, I think this was more of a carefully-crafted band persona. That they were more wry (and less gloomy) than they wanted to let on was hinted at in the way that guitarist Johan Wieth noodled out "Pop Goes the Weasel" while setting up. And, after taking the stage in pitch blackness, the manner in which vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt implored the photographers to move back felt like total bullshit. There's no light, it's a festival, there's heaps of media folks up front (to say nothing of the camera-toting hordes) — so we can only assume that the goal all along is to have a sort of crowdsourced strobelight effect with flashbulbs going off in a continuous stream once the set began.

And, even in the dark, Rønnenfelt moved with a lot of self-aware preening, like he'd majored in Frontman Studies (perhaps with a thesis on The Birthday Party). Musically, the base of the band's sound was credible (if somewhat generic) hardcore, so their differentiation factor — at least at this stage of their career — is that they want you to think they're bored while doing it. They're all still very young, so they might find some animating joie de vivre yet, but in the meantime, I could be bored at home — so why should I bother going out to see a band cultivating it?


1 And given the amount of time I've spent tracking the patient and gradual transformation of The Garrison, I'd be remiss if I didn't note how this was the first occasion for many to see the venue's grand new illuminated sign overlooking Dundas Street — a most welcome assertion of permanence.

2 The drums, in fact, would sound great all night, and on one of those nights where The Garrison lived up to its rep as a LOUD venue, kudos are due to soundtech Ryan for keeping everything sounding so good.

3 If you need proof, the beverleys will be playing at Measure (on Brunswick, formerly Annex Live) this Saturday (June 29, 2013).

4 A frequent prop for Jones, the beer bottle here also found employment at the show's, er, climax, spraying forth while being held against his crotch.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Recording: Drumheller

Artist: Drumheller

Song: Possessional

Recorded at The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), June 25, 2013.

Drumheller - Possessional

Full review to follow. Playing to a packed front room at The Tranzac, Drumheller celebrated the release of their new Sometimes Machine album (out now on Barnyard Records). This is an older tune, but it features some excellent ghost-wah guitar from Eric Chenaux, who is back in town from Paris for the next while.1


1 Eric Chenaux will be playing a solo set at next month's Feast in the East, Saturday July 6th at the Gerrard Art Space — as will his Drumheller bandmate Brodie West.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Recording: Tangiers

Artist: Tangiers

Songs: Here Come the Pieces + Return to the Ship

Recorded at The Garrison ("NXNE 2013"), June 15, 2013.

Tangiers - Here Come the Pieces

Tangiers - Return to the Ship

Full review to follow — but you can read my quick notes for this set here.

Recording: THIGHS

Artist: THIGHS

Song: Deeds + A Literal Cliff

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("NXNE 2013"), June 15, 2013.

THIGHS - Deeds + A Literal Cliff

Full review to follow — but you can read my quick notes for this set here.

Recording: Andrea Parkins

Artist: Andrea Parkins

Song: [excerpt from an improvization]*

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("NXNE 2013"), June 15, 2013.

Andrea Parkins - [excerpt from an improvization]

Full review to follow — but you can read my quick notes for this set here.

* I am assuming that this is an improvization with no specific title. If you know otherwise, please leave a comment!

Currente calamo: NXNE 2013 (Saturday)

NXNE 2013 (Saturday, June 15, 2013)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. In the fullness of time there will be a more complete accounting of the night that'll include even more details and recordings.

8 p.m.: Andrea Parkins @ The Tranzac (Main Hall)

After some daytime excursions, I made my back to The Tranzac for what would definitely be my main stop of the night. I would have been going to this even if this show had been going on outside of NXNE, so the fact that it was integrated into the festival was even better. For all that, the crowd looked more like something you'd see at a Burn Down the Capital gig than your typical venue-hopping festival-goer.

That sense of "outsiderness" was enhanced when the night began with a set from New Yorker Andrea Parkins that would be anything but standard NXNE fare. Featuring extended technique for accordion and electroacoustic improvization, Parkins has been recording and developing her style (inspired by Fluxus and John Cage) since the 90's, and here unleashed a variety of sounds (from accordion, laptop, electronics, bells, and a roll of packing tape) with a sense of calm stewardship. Elements of noise and distortion were balanced with ethereal waves of sound, a lot of with with a frisson of sheer unexpectedness — this is not your typical accordion set. This one was totally an unexpected delight.

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

9 p.m.: THIGHS @ The Tranzac (Main Hall)

After that, the night shifted to a different kind of noise as THIGHS began building their wall of amps on the dancefloor in front of the stage. I was amused to note the band setting up in such a manner that they'd be face-to-face with the sit-down crowd — and I was guessing that most in the front row might not have seen frontman/howler Mark Colborne in action before.

One the band let that wall of amps loose, a few of those first-row patrons moved back to protect their ears, but they were probably still within Colborne's range as he, as always, wandered off as far as his extended mic cord would allow, channelling his inner genteel psychopath — or, possibly, an alien sent to earth in human form who isn't quite sure of which things he should acknowledge/ignore/bump into/rub up against, sputtering half-intelligible bursts like "I LOSE HOPE!" all the while. The band's tightly-controlled cacophony, with its razor-sharp stops and starts, ground out behind him — a little slower and less frenetic than in the past in the first of what would turn out to be several numbers that were new to me. From the sounds of it, the band has turned over their setlist a fair amount from a year ago, with fewer of the songs from their album peppered throughout. I've been a fan of this band since I first encountered them, but this was the best-executed set I'd seen from 'em — truly a cut above.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

10 p.m.: Lean Left @ The Tranzac (Main Hall)

I've already talked about this amazing set here. You can also listen to an excerpt from this set here.

Midnite: Tangiers @ The Garrison

After that, I headed into the sweatbox of The Garrison's back room for another highly-anticipated set. Tangiers released three very fine albums before packing it in, but coming out at a time when I was just starting to go to more gigs, I missed out on seeing them. Now, celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their debut Hot New Spirits, co-leaders Josh Reichmann and James Sayce had reassembled the lineup that recorded that album. Headlining a night-long showcase put together by local label Hand Drawn Dracula, there was a tightly-packed crowd that looked like they'd been waiting (all night/several years) to see this set.

When they emerged to the darkened stage, the band pulled it off with tightly-coiled, fuss-free intensity that gave them the appearance of a well-oiled touring machine more than guys who casually picked it up after such a long gap. Switching back and forth on lead vocals, the songs sounded a bit like variations on "Pirate Love", but I totally mean that as high praise. The band were focused enough on executing that there wasn't much in the way of stagecraft, but the audience was so buzzed at the start of each song that the set never lacked for palpable excitement.

It's perhaps a sober realization of age and experience over youth's dazzling energy that it seems clear that these guys could stick together and make a totally credible go of it, but that (from all reports) they don't feel the need to extend this reunion past one show — one burst of rock'n'roll glory instead of a return to the spirit-breaking slog.

Listen to a couple songs from this set here.

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Song: Fuck You Blues

Recorded at Manalon's back patio ("Exclaim! Patio Day Party"), June 15, 2013.

catl - Fuck You Blues

Full review to follow. After a season-long hiatus to consider their options after losing a member, catl have returned in a new iteration (v 4.0, by my count) with Sarah Kirkpatrick taking over on stripped-down, stand-up drumkit to provide the rhythms for Jamie Fleming's guitar blasts. A full-on sound system will certainly give a bit more oomph to the drums, but even in patio mode, they showed they're out to raise as much of a clatter and a ruckus of a dance party as they did as a trio.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Recording: The Luyas

Artist: The Luyas

Song: [Montuno prelude]/Montuno*

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's ("NXNE 2013").

The Luyas - [Montuno prelude]

The Luyas - Montuno

Full review to follow — but you can read my quick notes for this set here.

* There's some chatter in the crowd during the opening instrumental passages here, so I have trimmed it into its own separate file. Worth hearing if you want to hear the guys beside me responding to The Luyas' Jessie Stein's meditations on mortality.

Recording: Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano

Artist: Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano

Songs: three unknown songs*

Recorded at Double Double Land ("NXNE 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano - two unknown songs

Bill Orcutt & Chris Corsano - unknown

Full review to follow — but you can read my quick notes for this set here.

* Does anyone know the titles to these? Please leave a comment!

Recording: Mexican Slang

Artist: Mexican Slang

Song: Mouthbreather

Recorded at Creatures Creating ("NXNE 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Mexican Slang - Mouthbreather

Full review to follow — but you can read my quick notes for this set here.

Currente calamo: NXNE 2013 (Friday)

NXNE 2013 (Friday, June 14, 2013)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. In the fullness of time there will be a more complete accounting of the night that'll include even more details and recordings.

10 p.m.: Mexican Slang @ Creatures Creating

After spending the day at the 159 Manning BBQ, I took a quick trip just around the corner to drop into the Creatures Creating gallery, home to a three-night stand of NXNE shows curated by Wavelength. The spot was easily recognizable, given the swirling colours of General Chaos swirling in the front window, but the show turned out to be in the let's-call-'em-cozy environs of the low-ceilinged basement, with a stage at the back similarly receiving the GC treatment against the backdrop of Alex MacKenzie's glittery backdrop.

I was just in time, with Mexican Slang finishing their preparations and launching into their set. I'd been hearing good things about vocalist/guitarist Annabelle Lee's quartet for months, but had never worked things out to check for myself. As it turned out, this was right down my alley, with their "fuzzy heavy dreamy punk rock jams" sounding something like a poppy version of Homestead-era Sonic Youth that had installed Kim Gordon as fulltime leader. The band was rough around the edges in the best way — though the collapsible NXNE backline might have contributed to that. Racing through a short set, this definitely left me wanting more.1

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: We Were Heads @ Creatures Creating

I stuck around for one more set to check out another band that was totally new to me. Hitting the stage with enough enthusiasm that they got started early, my initial impression of We Were Heads was a shouty sort of metallo-funk party band. After a few songs, I got a sense of the cultivation behind the clatter, and a notion that you might want to append a semi-ironic "avant" to whatever genre tag you'd assign 'em. They didn't make as big of an initial impression on me, but I'm sure I'd find them suitable for further evaluation. If nothing else, give them points for having the good sense not to end their band name with a "z".

Midnite: Bill Orcutt + Chris Corsano @ Double Double Land

If Wavelength are mildly-unexpected presenters at NXNE, then having a couple Burn Down the Capital shows under the festival's umbrella was an all-out jaw-dropper. In the best way, mind you — I was thrilled that as another option on the schedule grid that some folks might get exposed to some of the city's most dynamic cultural programming. This set was the capper of a night of full-on noise-rock at the (equally-surprising-to-be-a-venue) Double Double Land that saw sets from Brian Ruryk and a temporarily-reunified Induced Labour.

I've heard a bit of Chris Corsano's apocalyptic drum work, but I mostly knew of Bill Orcutt (and his time in Harry Pussy) by reputation. As the pair settled in to play, Orcutt looked fairly relaxed — almost professorial — sitting on his amp. It was quickly apparent that these two were working on a pretty advanced level. Where a lot of improvised music works on the principle of starting off and kinda meandering along until the musicians lock into an idea, this set dispensed with that. Each of these pieces hit the ground running, compressed as tightly as diamonds, a controlled burst of energy and then done. Even while marshalling spazzy explosions from his guitar, Orcutt managed to convey a sense of restraint. Corsano was a bit more openly galloping along, but his playing always had a laser-guided sensibility behind it. It was less than twenty minutes into the set when Orcutt called out the last song, but it still felt like there was more musical content than most sets of double that length. Next level chaos theory, expertly applied.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

1 a.m.: The Luyas @ Sneaky Dee's

Wanderin' circumstance ended up re-programming my night, which is how I ended up seeing The Luyas. Not a band that I sit down to listen to very often, I have come to enjoy them as a live act, and given I'd last seen them on the cusp of the release of their Animator album, I was curious to see how things had developed.

Even in a smaller venue for a festival-sized set, the band had brought along their DIY lightbulb rig — and there was a larger sense of scale at play as the band was willing to play fewer fully-fleshed out songs than try and trim and tuck more tunes in. In that regard, album-opener "Montuno" sprawled over the middle of the set, its lowkey pulsations managing to capture the attention of a somewhat wayward crowd. Though stretching out to forty-five minutes, this felt like a quick set and that the band had a whole second act that they had to hold back on.

Listen to a track from this set here.

2 a.m.: Majical Cloudz @ Sneaky Dee's

I think I've already said what I have to say about this here. You can listen to a track from this set here.


1 Prolific recorders, the band also has a quartet of EP's available for (free!) download on their bandcamp. Recorded with a rough-and-ready lo-fi aesthetic, there's a bit less groove than in the live incarnation, but also shows off the range of Lee's compositional interests.

Recording: Hoover Party

Artist: Hoover Party

Song: West Lake Memories*

Recorded at Tibet Kitchen's back patio (Healing Power Afternoon Show), June 23, 2013.

Hoover Party - West Lake Memories

Full review to follow. Celebrating the summer solstice with a pair of new tape releases, Jonathan Adjemian capped off a most pleasant afternoon of music in the back patio of Parkdale's Tibet Kitchen, returning with some more Liquidity For These Troubled Times. As the music unfolded, I found myself looking upwards to the sky, between the streamers of brightly-coloured prayer ribbons and the shade-giving tree, to see a small puff of a cloud drifting by. This seems topical and relevant to the music at hand.

* Title awaiting confirmation — this was the last part of an extended medley of music that made up the set.

Recording: Pachamama

Artist: Pachamama

Song: Fuck The Entertainment Industry*

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, June 22, 2013.

Full review to follow. A fine night to celebrate the release of Pachamama's first tape (delivered in a beautifully-designed package) on Healing Power Records. It feels like the musical partnership of Brandon Valdivia (also of Not The Wind, Not The Flag, Mas Aya, and more) and Alexandra Mackenzie (also of Petra Glynt and a celebrated visual artist) is just getting started, too, as this newer-than-the-tape song indicates. The soundtrack to a revolution that you can dance to.

* This is a working title for this brand-new song, and is subject to change.

Recording: Prince Nifty

Artist: Prince Nifty

Song: Vox News Double Double Dose

Recorded at Holy Oak Café, June 22, 2013.

Prince Nifty - Vox News Double Double Dose

Full review to follow. Long a paragon of DIY co-operation around town, Matt Smith remains an inventive and under-appreciated musician, as capable of filling out a set with avant-dance beats as Gregorian chants. This track — an experimental/bouncy single before landing on the recent Pity Slash Love album — hews towards the former. It closed out a celebratory set at Pachamama's tape release show.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Recording: Matana Roberts

Artist: Matana Roberts

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Music Gallery, June 22, 2013.

Matana Roberts - unknown

Full review to follow. I felt a bit bad pitching this show to people on the basis of Roberts' association with Constellation Records (who put out one of her albums) and her having played with the likes of GY!BE, when I discovered, as she played, that there was so much more. Tapping into the deep river of traditions, you could feel Duke Ellington and Steve Lacey in the air during her freedom jams.

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

Recording: Kyle Brenders Quartet

Artist: Kyle Brenders Quartet

Song: Excerpts from the K Suite: "Kicks" + "Kazoo"*

Recorded at The Music Gallery, June 22, 2013.

Kyle Brenders Quartet - Excerpts from the K Suite: "Kicks" + "Kazoo"

Full review to follow. Kyle Brenders, accompanied by his "new and improved" quartet (Nick Fraser, Wes Neal, Peter Lutek), played a suite of ten linked pieces, each of which begins with the letter K. Some beautiful push + pull here, and the set included a nice mix of sax and clarinet (including some double clarinet passages).

* Thank to Kyle for passing the title to these along.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Recording: Ben Billington + Ryley Walker

Artist: Ben Billington + Ryley Walker

Song: [excerpt from an improvization]

Recorded at The Tranzac (Tiki Room), June 21, 2013.

Ben Billington + Ryley Walker - [excerpt from an improvization]

Full review to follow. Originally billed as a set from Chicago's Tiger Hatchery, border troubles led to a stripped down duo appearance from Billington + Walker, which led to a nice head-to-head cultural exchange with Not the Wind, Not the Flag, who followed to close out the night.

Recording: Knurl

Artist: Knurl

Song: [excerpt from an improvization]

Recorded at The Tranzac (Tiki Room), June 21, 2013.

Knurl - [excerpt from an improvization]

Full review to follow. As a high-school reunion unfolded in The Tranzac's Main Hall, local noise legend Alan Bloor brought his custom-welded instruments and contact mics to bring a wall of RRRRRRRRWRRRRRRRRRRROWRLRRRRRRRRRRRRRBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBRRRRRRRRRRR to the Tiki Room.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Recording: Greys

Artist: Greys

Songs: Rennie + Carjack

Recorded at 159 Manning ("Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 – Manning BBQ 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Greys - Rennie + Carjack

Full review to follow. As always, a wonderful day at Tim McCready's annual non-NXNE all-day barbeque/hangout/music extravaganza. Bands played in the basement, living room and backyard, and there was plenty going on otherwise. You can check out my photo album from the day on the MFS Facebook page.

Greys are another band that I've been meaning to check out for a while now. Good stuff that anyone who digs, say, METZ, should check out. This livingroom set might not be totally representative, as I can extrapolate and guess that at most of their shows there's a lot more bodies bouncing off each other.

Recording: Young Mother

Artist: Young Mother

Song: A Lighter Affair

Recorded at 159 Manning ("Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 – Manning BBQ 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Young Mother - A Lighter Affair

Full review to follow. As always, a wonderful day at Tim McCready's annual non-NXNE all-day barbeque/hangout/music extravaganza. Bands played in the basement, living room and backyard, and there was plenty going on otherwise. You can check out my photo album from the day on the MFS Facebook page.

If the band's talk of taking some time away from doing shows to focus on writing new material is true, this was an excellent last stand: up close and sounding great in a living room, fog machine blasting away as much as the band.

Recording: Biblical

Artist: Biblical

Song: Oubliette

Recorded at 159 Manning ("Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 – Manning BBQ 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Biblical - Oubliette

Full review to follow. As always, a wonderful day at Tim McCready's annual non-NXNE all-day barbeque/hangout/music extravaganza. Bands played in the basement, living room and backyard, and there was plenty going on otherwise. You can check out my photo album from the day on the MFS Facebook page.

Announcing things were going to get trippy, the band launched into this extended version that plays like it should take up all of side three of a vintage double live album. Perfect backyard jams to lean back and stare into the sky for a spell.

Recording: Joseph and The Mercurials

Artist: Joseph and The Mercurials

Song: Violent Femme*

Recorded at 159 Manning ("Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 – Manning BBQ 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Joseph and The Mercurials - Violent Femme

Full review to follow. As always, a wonderful day at Tim McCready's annual non-NXNE all-day barbeque/hangout/music extravaganza. Bands played in the basement, living room and backyard, and there was plenty going on otherwise. You can check out my photo album from the day on the MFS Facebook page.

I've been meaning to catch this group for a few months now, and while a sunny backyard might not be the natural environment for their "50's Blue-Eyed New Wave", it was a evidence that this is a band to watch — putting a lot of effort not just into the music, but also their visual presentation as well. (If you need further evidence, check out their stylish video.)

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

Recording: Willie Nelson

Artist: Willie Nelson

Songs: Always on My Mind + Let's Face the Music and Dance

Recorded at Massey Hall, June 20, 2013.

Willie Nelson - Always on My Mind

Willie Nelson - Let's Face the Music and Dance

Full review to follow. It's good to get a chance to see one of the best. Once Willie hit the stage, the polite veneer of pretending that the fact this was part of the Jazz Festival was somehow relevant was promptly forgotten. No matter, when for ninety minutes the boisterous, singalong crowd was serenaded by voice and guitar with hit after hit.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recording: Kontravoid

Artist: Kontravoid

Song: Impurities

Recorded at BLK BOX ("NXNE 2013"), June 13, 2013.

Kontravoid - Impurities

Full review to follow, but my quick notes for this set can be found here. P.S.: Anyone interested in live Kontravoid should be aware that he is offering up a couple live sets for free download on his bandcamp.

Recording: No Joy

Artist: No Joy

Song: Slug Night

Recorded at BLK BOX ("NXNE 2013"), June 13, 2013.

No Joy - Slug Night

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

Recording: Cellphone

Artist: Cellphone

Song: Dirt Angels [drum machine version] + unknown*

Recorded at BLK BOX ("NXNE 2013"), June 13, 2013.

Cellphone - Dirt Angels [drum machine version] + unknown

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

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

Recording: Dream Affair

Artist: Dream Affair

Song: Over And Over

Recorded at BLK BOX ("NXNE 2013"), June 13, 2013.

Dream Affair - Over And Over

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

Currente calamo: NXNE 2013 (Thursday)

NXNE 2013 (Thursday, June 14, 2013)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. In the fullness of time there will be a more complete accounting of the night that'll include even more details and recordings.

8 p.m.: Dream Affair @ BLK BOX

I was feeling more inclined to settle in at one spot rather than worry about shuffling around too much, especially on a cool and greyish evening that didn't look conducive to getting around. So I decided to go with this showcase, put together by Pretty Pretty, the dance night-cum-music label run by Cam Findlay and Elliott Jones. The fact that they'd both be playing later on in the evening was a draw, but I also liked the idea of sizing up the undercard and see if anything stuck with me. The venue's sound would be an issue for most of the night, even though in theory this patchcord-heavy kind of lineup should be perfect for the room's new PA system, mostly designed electronic music in mind.

PP's stock-in-trade is dark and synth-y, served with an extra helping of dark, which made the BLK BOX (the current incarnation of the Great Hall's basement) an appropriately-named venue. It is indeed a rather dank/dark space, not unlike a subterranean cavern. As Dream Affair took the stage, it felt all the more broodingly cavernous for having an audience of about fifteen on hand. The Brooklyn-via-other-places trio have an EP out on Artificial records, which makes them labelmates to the likes of Doom Squad. DA's sound is a bit more straight-up dark-edged synth-rock — vocalist/guitarist Hayden Payne looked like he might have been equally at home in a skate-punk band, but he sang with the requisite moody sensibility. If you imagine the background characters in a highschool in a John Hughes movie — the ones hanging out by the smoking doors — this is probably what they'd have on their walkmans. Not entirely distinctive yet, but enjoyable stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 p.m.: Black Marble @ BLK BOX

Coming after that, Black Marble felt a little, ah, more of the same. Also from Brooklyn, this duo (Chris Stewart and Ty Kube) brought the synths well enough, but didn't put across very much personality at all. Perhaps most telling was how vocalist Stewart set up his keyboards facing away from the audience, leaving even less of a focus on stage when he turned around to play them. The boom-y sound in the room did the band no favours, however, and a lot of their set sounded like listening to someone in the next bunker over cracking up the Depeche Mode, muffled through a thick concrete wall.

10 p.m.: Cellphone @ BLK BOX

Standing astride the "synth band" and "rock band" segments of the night, locals Cellphone definitely brought something more distinct. The band was originally named Skitso Convo, and there is definitely hints of a split personality here — the sonic balance changes a bit from song to song (just as much as the players shift around from instrument to instrument) but the net result is off-kilter metallo-punk with synth elements. It's something you can't quite dance to and can't quite get comfortable with — like an annoying itch that you sort of start to enjoy after a while.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

11 p.m.: Ell V Gore @ BLK BOX

Moving into the headliner part of the night, the crowd (that had been slowly increasing) finally hit the tipping point of the room feeling more full than empty. Pretty Pretty mainman Elliott Jones was using this night to celebrate Sex Static, the first release from Ell V Gore (as well as the first release from Ben Cook's Bad Actors imprint). Even through some lineup changes, the band has been increasingly strong as a live unit and while some of the sonic details were lost in the PA, each song felt driven, like a ferocious beast tearing raw chunks of flesh from its fallen prey. EP opener "Her Vicious" was especially tasty and the band built up to a roar that even the sound system couldn't muffle. I'd catch them again a couple days later on a better-sounding stage and get a bit more out of that, but anyone coming across their slashing goth-punk here for the first time would have walked away impressed.

Midnite: No Joy @ BLK BOX

By midnite, the room was quite full for No Joy. Although I've seen the band a few times before, I was curious to see if there would be any changes in their live presentation, given the huge forward strides they'd taken on their massive-sounding new Wait to Pleasure album. The answer was "not really". Having established their live incarnation as quite-literal shoegazers, ignoring the audience while ferociously playing doubled over their guitars, Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd don't seem to be inclined to mess with the formula too much. There is a bit more swagger to it now, as if they're doing this by choice instead of out of necessity. (This was borne out in a slightly more streamlined on-stage presence — gone were the segues of prerecorded movie dialogue, used to cover up long stretches of tuning, for example.) The first two-thirds of the set were devoted to the new album before mixing in a couple from debut Ghost Blonde, and even if this didn't give me cause to readjust my preconceptions of the band, it was still a good time.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 a.m.: Tonstartssbandht @ BLK BOX

As could be expected, about 75% of the crowd headed for the exits after that, though I was definitely sticking around, as I was intrigued by some of the high praise I'd been hearing for Montréal-via-Florida brother duo Tonstartssbandht, even if I hadn't investigated them too closely. Taking the stage after the night's quickest changeover, the pair launched into a near-continuous stream of twitchy avant-Americana music — imagine hearing a three-hour Grateful Dead set played in thirty minutes and you're on the right track. A lot of the remaining crowd were intensely into this, from the women sitting on the sides of the stage to the dancers on the floor, but I have to confess it somehow didn't click with me at all. Maybe it was fatigue setting in or something, but I didn't get much out of it — though after the set a local musician with impeccable taste commented to me that it was the best set he'd seen in five years.

2 a.m.: Kontravoid @ BLK BOX

As the hour grew late, the crowd thinned out even more, though a few night owls could be seen coming down into the room. They were probably folks who knew that Kontravoid is the sort of band you want to be listening to at the end of the night, when you needed something that could articulate all the stresses building up in your system. Cam Findlay is still playing without his facemask, but that doesn't reduce the menacing air that he brings to his dark synth concoctions. In blackness save for the strobelight at his feet, Findlay's music has the cold austerity of a leather glove slapping against constrained flesh — and there's a certain subset of the population that are willing to shell out to experience just that.

Listen to a track from this set here.

On the whole, a good night, but not an exceptional one. Although the Pretty Pretty aesthetic should be right at home in a dark cavern, the space just didn't quite jibe with the show, and the sound was never as good as the music deserved.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Recording: Lean Left

Artist: Lean Left

Song: [excerpt from an improvization]

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("NXNE 2013"), June 15, 2013.

Lean Left - [excerpt from an improvization]

Proper review to follow, but for now you also can read some thoughts about this performance here.

Recording: Majical Cloudz

Artist: Majical Cloudz

Song: Childhood's End

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's ("NXNE 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Majical Cloudz - Childhood's End

Proper review to follow, but for now you also can read some thoughts about this performance here.

Recording: Sacred Harp Singers

Artist: Sacred Harp Singers

Songs: 107 [Russia] + 47b [Idumea]

Recorded at 159 Manning ("Don't Trust Anyone Under 30 – Manning BBQ 2013"), June 14, 2013.

Sacred Harp Singers - 107 [Russia]

Sacred Harp Singers - 47b [Idumea]

In time, I'll have much more to say about this whole day, but for now, you can see some tangential musings here. To the uninitiated, these songs will sound a little particular at first: the first time through the tune the ensemble is singing the "shapes" — the fah-so-lahs that are associated with the musical notation.

NXNE 2013: Moments of Transcendence

[Note: I got sidetracked thinking about stuff. Apologies for the rambling musings; some more proper notes and many sounds from NXNE will start flowing soon.]

I
Sacred Harp Singers @ 159 Manning

I was heading down for the Manning BBQ — Tim McCready's all-afternoon, all-evening party with all-around good vibes — which is generally considered to be one of the coolest things happening during NXNE. Enroute, I stopped off to grab a mickey of rum, knowing that there's a 7-11 on the corner of Dundas and Manning, and that I could grab a slurpee and fix myself what is known in Winnipeg as an "after-school special". That, plus some free beers made a sunny day even brighter and kept me pleasantly socially engaged.1 With bands on a backyard stage and playing in Tim's living room, this was as casual and close-up as you can get — pretty ideal by my standards. I saw some friends play some cool stuff, and some people that I didn't know play some cool stuff, and when I came in from the backyard at the end of a set out there, I found a group of Sacred Harp singers were huddled in a square in the living room.

Sacred Harp is a variation on shape-note singing, a sight-reading method with a simplified musical notation designed for communal singalongs. I've come across this before (mostly at Kith & Kin's holiday wassails, from which I recognized a couple faces in this ensemble), and I really love this beautiful music, even if I don't have any connection to its churchy Protestant origins. As the ensemble finished their song, I was spotted and got waved into the middle of the group and suddenly found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor, voices on all sides of me. In a full ensemble setting, this is where the group leader would stand, not just to conduct, but also to enjoy the honour of listening in the best-sounding spot where all the voices meet. And though I felt a little conspicuous being in the middle and not off to the side, I got over myself once I could basically just close my eyes and soak in the music.

And I was powerfully moved. As someone who experiences a lot of live music, I enjoy a lot of it, but it's not all that often that I'm swept right up into it like this. It's not just a matter of having had a few drinks and not just a matter of, like, digging it — it's being pulled into it in a whole different way, unexpectedly and all at once.

Regardless of your opinions pertaining to the disposition of souls, it's hard not to react to this without pulling out that whole vocabulary of metaphors of religious experience — although surely the music was engineered to prime just that sort of response. It's not my vocabulary — I'm sure I'd be more comfortable labelling it as an unmediated I-and-Thou moment — but, like, whoa. There was a feeling of ascension, like a column of light from on high had been sunk into my skull, beaming something down. Like floodgates opening, I was filled with melodies and colours and joy. Very trippy and healing, like a spiritual carwash.2

It was so emotionally involving that I wasn't really paying attention to the way I was sitting, and as the recital wound down (the punk band in the other half of the room being nearly ready to play) I sort of came back into myself and realized my foot was totally asleep. I was being extra careful as I stood up, and it was only when I put my weight on my other foot that I realized that one was even worse off and I nearly went down in a heap on top of the alto section. More than a little embarrassed, I quickly shuffled out of the room to find a place to stand for a minute, flexing my foot and realizing I'd managed to fuck up my ankle. Such is the worldly cost, I guess.

Machines don't capture all the spirit, but you can listen to a couple sacred songs from this set here.

II
Majical Cloudz @ Sneaky Dee's

I did manage to see one more fab living room set, and then it was time for me to head off for my night of NXNE proper. I limped up the street, got myself another slurpee, mixed myself a medicinal-strength after-school special, and took it for a shuffling walk up Dundas street. My timing was pretty good and I managed to catch a couple sets in the DIY basement retreat at Wavelength's showcase, which felt like a more humanistic setting than some of NXNE's more corporate outposts. Low ceiling, loud music, swirling lights. (And, speaking of transcendent possibilities, I also [deleted: 108 words].)

And from there I headed over to Double Double Land, which was surely an even less-likely festival venue, where I caught the compressed noise-diamonds of Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt. That more or less took care of the planned part of the night, and after grabbing a drink at the convenience store to give a good home to the last of my rum, with a sort of homing instinct I pointed myself toward the Silver Dollar, where a friend had suggested that Jef Barbara at one o'clock might be worth checking out. I arrived there just as Mikal Cronin's midnight set was finishing, and ran into another friend who said he was heading over to Sneaky Dee's. I shrugged and joined in with a "why not" sort of attitude and thus ended up catching The Luyas, who I like fine enough.

And after that, through a complete lack of any planning whatsoever, I ended up being there for the "secret guest", who turned out to be Montréal-based buzz act Majical Cloudz. This pleased me in a way: I'd checked out a few tracks and was surprised at the depth of my dislike for them ("Coldplay for hipsters," was my reaction) relative to the excitement they seemed to be generating among some people I know. That made this a chance to revisit my opinion, as I am definitely a person who can be won over by a good live performance.

I was not won over.

I would go so far to say that while I'm guessing that this was probably someone else's transcendent moment at the festival, I left thinking that it was totally bogus. Vocalist Devon Welsh (his nose and eyebrows making him a dead ringer for Bert the Muppet, shaved head notwithstanding) is being sold as an intense frontman making direct emotional contact with the crowd, but at this show at least, that mostly just translated into a broody diva act: complaining about the on-stage sound throughout, he moaned, "something feels terribly not right," at one point, proceeding to comment that his voice could give out at any time, and implying that like a too-delicate bloom he could simply perish from this earth at any given moment.

I'm not against shtick. In fact, in the right context, I quite like it. But when shtick swaddles itself in those tired vestments of "authenticity" and tries to pretend that it's utterly disingenuous spontaneity, it tends to completely turn me off. Plus, no amount of ersatz "intensity" can elevate what is some fairly dull material (provided by stoic knob-twiddler Matthew Otto) — although I might have been wrong with the Coldplay crack, as live it sounded more like slowed-down versions of INXS' power ballads.3 By set's end — oh goodness, oh quel surprise! — the burdens of it all were just too much for Welsh, who jumped to the foot of the stage and crouched down, the audience around him following suit, a contrived simulacrum of intimacy that just left me rolling my eyes.

You can judge for yourself, and listen to a track from this set here.

III
Lean Left @ The Tranzac

Saturday, my ankle still a little sore, I went to see some bands play on a patio and I dropped somewhat-warily into a VICE party in a parking lot where I felt under-tattooed and under-American-Apparel-ed.4 Anyways, after that, I headed to the Tranzac, for another show whose very existence under the NXNE banner pleased me greatly.

Tad Michalak's Burn Down the Capital shows consistently look beyond fashion and trend to bring the unusual and unclassifiable to town, and I was obliquely pleased that somehow his shows over the weekend were, at some level, equal options to everything else on the festival grid. As a great fan of both the sax work of Ken Vandermark as well as the guitar interplay of Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor (of Dutch punk lifers The Ex) , I would have gone to this in any event — but I was pleased that this was part of my "festival experience".

Running into some friends, I ended up with a spot right up front, and after an engaging performance by Andrea Parkins and an amazing set by THIGHS, as Lean Left set up on the floor in front of the main hall's stage, I realized I was going to have Hassels (and his amp and his astonishing guitar) right in front of me. Once the band was set up, Hassels rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet a couple times like a tennis player preparing to serve, and then everyone launched into it. Vandermark's sax and Paal Nilssen-Love's drums were flanked by the two guitar players. They were acting as much percussionists as anything else, especially Hassels, who played his guitar with a drumstick for much of the set — sometimes thwacking the body, sometimes the strings, or occasionally just using it like he was trying to pry the strings off.

This was so fascinating that some early sound problems (the sax was very low at the start of the show) didn't matter to me at all. There was so much unfolding from each of the musicians from moment to moment, but I was mostly mesmerized by what was right in front of me, which was hard not to do when I could occasionally feel the long, untrimmed ends of Hassels' strings brush against my legs a couple times as he swung around especially close to me. And a few minutes later, Hassels held the headstock of his guitar down against the surface of the table beside me, grinding the tuning pegs back and forth, leaving a few new scratches on the table's surface in the process and sending rorwing rumbles through the amp.

And once again I was totally engaged in the moment. While the music that Lean Left created was melodically unstructured, it had an instantaneous internal logic that held it all together. There's something truly powerful about improvised music where the performers are listening and reacting to each other with such easy closeness — and when it's unfolding right in front of you, it can really blow you away. The set felt like it flung past me in a rush, and all I could do was hang on, grinning. The best set I've seen all year.

A recording ain't the same, but listen to an excerpt from this set here.

IV

As someone who goes to a fair number of shows, I've oft thought about why I go to shows. People head to gigs for a whole lotta different reasons. I mean, everyone likes music, generically speaking, but a lot of the time, heading to a gig is mostly a chance to gather with old friends and occasionally encounter new ones. In fact, over the years I've come to admire people for whom that's a primary function, as they're the ones who seem more well-adjusted, less fixated on the music as a thing-in-itself. But what can you say for those wide-eyed ones over at the side who show up hoping for (but never necessarily expecting to get) that rare spark, that moment of true bliss — that moment where you're transported a little bit beyond yourself? Ah, that little taste of transcendence. (It's no wonder music enthusiasts are subject to a lot of easy junkie metaphors, always trying to recreate that perfect first high.)

The thing is, even when you go in with big expectations, most of the time the highest reasonable expectation is "really good", and not "mind-blowing". And the more stuff you've ever seen, the less likely you are to have your mind blown. This is probably why I kinda admire the people who basically let their tastes of their younger selves ossify, and stick with that stuff, going back to it again and again for a sort of contact high of remembering how life-altering it once was. I've never (yet) hit that point where my taste is fully composed, though, and that retrospective-glow thing just doesn't work for me, which is maybe why I dislike any sort of reunion shows.

Ironically, of course, I headed from The Tranzac to go see a reunion show, catching Tangiers' ten-years-ago-already reunion at The Garrison. It was good, but once again just back in that realm of merely good. Having tasted something far stronger right before, it didn't make as much of an impact on me, and though there were many late-night options open in front of me, I knew it was time to call it a night.

Having those experiences on back-to-back nights seems like unusual luck — having those moments of dare-I-say-it transcendence are really rare, like once or twice a year rare. They can't happen all that often because there's such a wide range of internal and external factors coming together — from one's own mood, to being in the right spot in the right room, to the musicians being especially on, to having listened to everything else so far in your life and being primed for this next thing to be a catalyst that creates some unexpected new connection. But it's that whole not-because-they-are-easy-but-because-they-are-hawd thing that gives those moments their exceptional value.

And maybe that's why I reacted so strongly, in a negative way, to that Magical Cloudz set. In the name of having captured that essence, it seems like it's selling a cheap reproduction of it. And yet, and yet... what is the standard by which I can call bullshit on this? How am I supposed to judge the quality of someone else's experience? A younger version of me would have been as likely to have been totally fucking impressed by that set as to have ranted forcefully about Welsh's jive-assed "my feelings are so real they hurt" shtick. Anyways: nowadays, I've got other, better things to worry about. Namely, to get out there, and soldier on every day, and hope that once or twice a year that that thing happens.


1 Though when I had a chance to meet the housecat, I momentarily thought I was going to be done with people for the day, just like in that comic.

2 It's probably frowed upon to "monetize" this sort of thing, but an enterprising sort could totally rent out that central spot as a therapeutic treatment.

3 Ribbing aside, one singer that Welsh brought to my mind after some thought was Fatima Mansions' Cathal Coughlan, and the comparison is illustrative, as Coughlan starts, on the surface, from a similarly emotive place as Walsh but then delves into a more interesting pathos by moving — knowingly — over the top. He could also tear into a contrasting rocker to offset the ballads — a move that Welsh doesn't seem to be interested in.

4 When I described the scene later to someone later, with a big parking lot full of people drinking free beer juxtaposed against five porta-potties, they cogently concluded, "that, right there, should be a VICE 'don't'".