Sunday, May 31, 2009

Gig: The Miles / Pants & Tie

The Miles / Pants & Tie

Pitter Patter Festival. The Boat. Friday, May 29, 2009.

Heading out of the Apostle of Hustle show, J. averred that he was sufficiently rocked for the night and was heading home, but I felt like I had the energy for a little more. Headed west from the Music Gallery towards Kensington, mentally flipping a coin, as I had nothing strongly in mind. Figuring that the gig at The Boat looked as good as anything, headed in there, where — marginally interesting fact alert — I had not previously been.

The venue more-or-less matched the impressions I'd heard from various sources — a long room, stage at one end with a dancefloor, bar at the other with restaurant-y tables. And decorated like, yes, the inside of a boat — possibly during the Carter administration. I have a certain soft spot for venues in their fading Blanche DuBois stage, so the portholes and red lights seemed okay by me. The crowd was a little worrying though — a whole lot younger and more fashionably dressed than me, setting off that tingling sense that I'd stepped into some other gang's clubhouse.

That sense of social displacement was probably as good an entry point as any to Pants and Tie, who were setting up as I arrived and soon launched into their set. A three piece, combining stripped down beats, Chic-esque guit and bass and a singular vocalist, whose twitchy yelps brought to mind nothing more than Bobby McCollough's sax in "Super Bad".1 Très no-wave. The band was obviously exploring the tension between those edge-of-breakdown vocals and the very controlled rhythms. Which is a worthy idea, and there's something there. At some points though, it did miss its mark, leaving the band sounding merely like an over-caffeinated INXS — possibly because a few of the programmed beats were a little too stiff and airless. Still, interesting to see live.

Out of nowhere, the dancefloor was packed with dancing young people. One looked over at me and, pulling out her American Apparel-branded shiv, hissed at me, "are we gonna be cool, Mr. Weatherbee?" and flicked it casually through the air. Nodding, I took a step back.2 The crowd, apparently, were suddenly in attendance to see The Miles, an energetic young three-piece. Rocking with guit, drums and keyb/synth bass, the vox were shared around, mostly between Steven Foster and Jesse Lee Wadon. Hitting the stage with a surf beat and ooky-spooky Munsters-theme organ, the band projected like a boys' varsity B-52's, throwing down an infectiously dancey new wave party. The band and audience were clearly having a blast, and it was hard not to get sucked in and quickly convinced of their merits. Projections are notoriously tricky things, but if there were a Toronto Band Stock Exchange, you might be wise to invest in The Miles now. Not that the band looked hung up on anything more than entertaining their friends — inviting the crowd up to dance on the stage near set's end. Worth seeing again — bring your dancing shoes.

There was one more band on the bill, but I was feeling wiped, so I decided to leave on that high note.

1 Or: imagine Paul Giamatti having a very bad day which ended up with him fronting a stripped down disco band, sputtering about his sexual dysfunctions.

2 Some elements of this paragraph are not, sensu strictissimo, entirely factual.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Recording: Apostle of Hustle

Artist: Apostle of Hustle

Song: Dark is What I Want

Recorded live at the The Music Gallery, Toronto. May 29, 2009.

Apostle of Hustle - Dark is What I Want

My notes for this gig are here.

Recording: Wayne Petti

Artist: Wayne Petti

Song: Up On the Hillside

Recorded live at the The Music Gallery, Toronto. May 29, 2009.

Wayne Petti - Up On the Hillside

My notes for this gig are here.

Gig: Apostle of Hustle / Wayne Petti

Apostle of Hustle / Wayne Petti

The Music Gallery. Friday, May 29, 2009.

Despite having looked around a bit, couldn't find any opener listed for the Apostle of Hustle show, making it a pleasant surprise when the poster at the door listed Wayne Petti as the support. Petti is best known for his work with Cuff the Duke, a band I have drifted away from a bit, but his half-hour set certainly was a good reminder of his appeal. Filled with self-depreciating banter, Petti held forth on Oshawa, the awkwardness (for both performer and audience) of a rock show in a church, and the merits of the Apostle of Hustle mug available at the merch table ("an excellent vehicle for liquids"). The set was based on City Lights Align, his '07 solo disc, with a couple dips into the Cuff the Duke catalog for "Belgium or Peru"1 and one (possibly titled "I Never Had Enough Time") from the group's forthcoming album. He threw in a cover of Guided By Voices' "Smothered In Hugs" for good measure, and closed on a high note with a rollicking singalong version of "Up On The Hillside".2 It's always a bonus when an opening act leaves you wanting to hear more and gives you the impression that he'd be a fine fellow to hang out with over some beers. Good stuff.

Listen to a track from this performance here.

Perhaps a nod both to the Music Gallery's avant roots and to Andrew Whiteman's love for found sounds, the between-sets music was replaced by the looping call of a Buddha Machine, giving the darkened church a trance-y feel as Julian Brown, clutching an LED lantern, led the band onto the stage.3 The gig was the local CD release show for the new Apostle of Hustle disc, apparently a concept album about a loon that ingests darkness and excretes rainbows.4 The set started in the darkness and at the far end of the band's catalog, with "Sleepwalking Ballad" and the title track from '04's Folkloric Feel before moving to the new "How to Defeat a More Powerful Enemy". From there, it was a mix from all three albums, though even the old was made new by some radical reinventions, most notably a new arrangement of "National Anthem of Nowhere" that sounded like the song had been folded in on itself like an origami tesseract.

The band was in excellent form, and the textured, Cuban-inspired sounds filled every nook and cranny in the room. The mix was a little pew-vibratingly bottom heavy — even when there wasn't a bass being played — but the band's sonic details were captured well, especially when percussionist Dean Stone left his kit to play cajon and the close-mic'd tambourine. Whiteman had a table of electronics, including a sampler, with which he managed to replicate some of the album's sound montages — live and trimmed down a bit, they felt more organic than they do on disc. The band was relaxed and in fine form throughout, giving a very strong set to their perceived audience of "stoners, loners, introverts and bathtub people". The set ended with an extended version of "Soul Unwind" that compensated for the loss of Lisa Lobsinger's vox with a fiery guitar groove. With encore, the show lasted an hour and a half — quite satisfying.5

Listen to a track from this performance here.

1 Capo 7th fret if you're playing this one at home.

2 In a spirited life-imitates-art moment, Petti momentarily couldn't remember the start of the third verse, which turned out to be about singing along if you know the words — "it comes from the heart, but my brain just can't remember".

3 Perhaps somewhat thematically, the band started off on stage in near darkness, and the lighting levels slowly went up as the night went on, culminating in the unveiling of the band's homemade footlight, which threw giant, dramatic shadows on the walls behind them. They also played their earlier song "Dark is What I Want" during the encore, perhaps underlining dark's recurring, unceasing appeal, regardless of how much light you add.

4 At least this is the impression I get based on the cover art and the band's large banner that was deployed behind the stage.

5 Anyone know what the final song in the encore was? ("Space is calling out your name") A cover? Something new or obscure from the catalog? I couldn't place it. Thanks to Zack for providing the missing title.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Album: PJ Harvey & John Parish / A Woman A Man Walked By

Artist: PJ Harvey & John Parish

Album: A Woman A Man Walked By

"Where does the passion go?" PJ Harvey asks near the end of this album, which I'd also been wondering for much of its length. I can't say I entered with high expectations, given that it was the sequel to the okay-not-awesome Dance Hall at Louise Point (1996) and the follow-up to her rather dull White Chalk.

In one sense it's hard to kvetch that she doesn't hit it out of the park all the time, when at least you can get the impression that she had a restless creative spirit, and is always experimenting with new voices (Mark E. Smith here, Karen Carpenter there) and new ideas. An album of "Meet Ze Monsta" rewrites might sound fab, but it's impressive she generally doesn't stoop to doing the easy thing. Which means, basically, I can appreciate this album, but I don't particularly like it.

"Black Hearted Love" has a little bit of obsessive zest, but does verge into rehash territory. The title track, with its "I want his fucking ass" refrain, has a bit of edge1 but quickly descends into "The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go", a mild, uninteresting coda. The sparer songs, like "The Soldier" and the concluding "Cracks in the Canvas" are perhaps the most rewarding.

Relistening reveals that this isn't a disaster, but I just can't find it fully engaging. Destined to be argued about in years to come as "perennially underrated".

Track Pick: 1 - Black Hearted Love

1 And provides some grist for those still working on their MA theses regarding "Power/Gender/Relationships in the works of Polly Jean Harvey".

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gig: Green Go / Shellshag / Fiasco / The Guest Bedroom

Green Go / Shellshag / Fiasco / The Guest Bedroom

Over the Top festival. Sneaky Dee's. Saturday May 23, 2009.

Celebrity encounter! Coming up the stairs to Sneaky Dee's, I was dying of thirst and made a beeline for the pitchers of water at the back of the bar. And by coincidence, the person that I almost pushed out of the way to get the water turned out to be local music blogger/ listings curator Historyjen. Instead of giving me a glare, she actually introduced herself and noted we'd been at several of the same Over the Top gigs. A class act!

Meanwhile, on stage, The Guest Bedroom were already playing, though I think I caught most of their set. After I composed myself, I moved to the back of the crowd to check them out. A nice sort of post-punk sound, a bit herky-jerky, and Sandi Falconer's vox brought to mind, say, Yeah Yeah Yeahs a bit. Some tunes were less hooky than others, but I found their set generally agreeable.

Brooklyn's Fiasco started their set with a hi-hat rocking selection that implied a dancey, post-punk sound, but that was a sly bit of misdirection — the band's true underpinnings turned out to be hardcore. They exhibited a kinetic physicality on stage, guitarist Jonathan Edelstein and bassist Lucian Buscemi lurching back and forth, doubled over their instruments. Edelstein's secret weapon was his rapid-fire fingertapping guitar style, which, to my admittedly limited knowledge, is a bit unique in the hardcore game. It brought a "technical" edge to their songs but never diminished their immediacy. Playing a number of instrumental songs from their new Native Canadians album, Jonathan commented, "we're playing everything really slow tonight for some reason," which makes one wonder what their pace would be like when they were really working at it. Those in the audience who were into this really seemed to dig it a lot.1 I was reasonably entertained, and had a lot of respect for these guys' proficiency and energy. Plus, their final song bore the nobly-titled sentiment of "I Figure It's Better We Do Something Ridiculous Than Nothing At All".

The stage set-up for Shellshag says a lot about the band: Guitar (Shell) stage right, a stand-up, three-piece drum kit (Shag) stage left, and a double microphone in the middle, looking like the frame for a Valentine's Day heart if you squeezed your eyes tight together in the right way. The duo stood facing each other while playing, a sort of he said/she said rock war, fueled by by primitivist riffs and Mo Tucker beats.2 The band careened from one tune to the next, nearly a dozen in a half-hour. A lovely DIY mess of domestic squabbles and everyday gestures, Shellshag looked a bit older and more world-worn then most bands at this festival, but exhibited an admirable amount of belly-fire. When the pace slowed for the lovely "Gary's Note" ("Everybody is a magnet some of the time") it seemed like a bit of well-earned, hard-won happiness. The set ended with the most "rock'n'roll" conclusion that I've seen in some time. After unclipping the mics from the drums, Shell passed them down onto the floor in front of the stage, while Shag stepped down to keep playing among the crowd. Soon, one drum was knocked over, and things went mildly chaotic as Shag mounted one of the drums and began stabbing the head with her stick, piercing it, while Shell was prying at his guitar strings, chanting "One! Two! Three!". Of course, the one time something like this happens immediately in front of me, my camera batteries were dead. My recording, however, ended satisfactorily with the sound of a drumstick clattering to the floor at my feet. This was sweet and rough in all the right ways.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then Green Go.3 The night's headliners have been an act I've wanted to see, not only from general praise for their live show, but also for the fact that I've seen Jessica Tollefsen and Fez Stenton at the front of crowds at various gigs but not on stage at one of their own shows. Premised as dance music played all live, the five-piece delivered a satisfying experience. For music like this, a good live drummer makes such a huge difference, so give credit to Adam Scott for propelling the songs with the right mix of drum-machine constancy without going overboard. The songs were also constructed with a stripped-down, dance-floor chant sensibility, but again, mostly smart enough to not be too merely repetitive. Fully enjoyable. On the one hand, I'm still slightly worried about hearing this music on headphones as an album — speaking broadly, this kind of dance-y stuff doesn't always translate well.4 But I'm more than willing to go see 'em live again.

1 It was, overall, a kinda thin crowd for Sneaks on a Saturday night, but certainly a there-for-the-music-crowd, and not the unloved we're-here-to-be-seeen yappers.

2 Besides her kit, Shag also had bells on her belt, for some extra jangling as she shook.

3 No matter what I do, some wayward perceptual apparatus in my brain always catches this as "Green Goo".

4 Although who am I kidding? It's pretty certain I'll end up buying the album regardless. That's just, like, what I do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Recording: The Superstitions

Artist: The Superstitions

Song: Natural Light

Recorded live at the Whippersnapper Gallery, Toronto. Over the Top Festival, May 23, 2009.

The Superstitions - Natural Light

My notes for this gig are here.

Recording: The Paint Movement

Artist: The Paint Movement

Song: Knock Knock

Over the Top Festival. Recorded live at the Whippersnapper Gallery, May 22, 2009.

The Paint Movement - Knock Knock

My notes for this gig are here.

Gig: Tiny Masters of Today / The Superstitions / Windom Earle / The Paint Movement

Tiny Masters of Today / The Superstitions / Windom Earle / The Paint Movement

Over the Top Festival. Whippersnapper Gallery. May 23, 2009.

Decided to take in the early show at the Whippersnapper, and walked in just as The Paint Movement were preparing to unleash. A six-piece with most vox from five-stringed bassist Jason Haberman, there were also a couple vocals from guitarist Kevin Kralik, who looked meaner but sang softer. The whole thing was tied together by Jason Loftman's sax work. I had a vision of long tracking shot over the credits of a movie from 1983 — palm trees lining a highway under a pastel sunset, the camera moving along with the traffic, until suddenly lifting up and away. Which is to say there is a certain lush, cocaine elegance to this music. Perhaps a more literal point of comparison/departure would be to imagine outtakes from Chicago V as filtered through, say, BSS' "Pacific Theme" or through the sunnier pop side of The Sea and Cake and you're on the right track. Live, the half-dozen tunes had a nice widescreen feel and the band arguably deserved a bigger crowd than were out for the first act up at an early gig.

A track from this set is posted here.

The stage seemed roomier once Windom Earle (from Halifax) were set up as they took down the drum kit to give an unobstructed space to project their vidoes behind them. Dual synths, guit, bass and some sax. The band had obviously put a great deal of work into their visuals, which were well synced with their rhythm tracks — one song used footage of a dude air drumming in his living room tightly edited to match the song's beats. Musically, a little bit of Devo in their lineage, maybe some Six Finger Satellite, but also something of the "aerobics rock" of Go Team! — perhaps also recalling them in the way that many of these songs sounded like they could be the soundtracks to the car crashin' b-movies they were sampling images from. As I was mulling all of this over a couple songs in, and wondering if the band would be as interesting without their projector, a couple women arriving in the venue threw down their jackets, leapt in front of the stage, and started to shang-a-lang like they were at a sock hop. I thought to myself, "maybe I'm enjoying this on the wrong level." The (mostly instrumental) songs had enough going on to keep them interesting, and they did have a danceable vibe, so although this didn't totally win me over, I have no complaints. After all, you can never totally dismiss a band willing to take their pants off onstage.

After the previous night's festival of guitar pedals, it was a refreshing change to see a band with a more pared-down set up and less patch chords between guitar and amp. The Superstitions, looking like three lads who'd met up at the soda fountain, played an — um — leggy brand of garage pop, fronted by the magnetic Nyssa Rosaleen. Filled with youthful energy, the band tore through a set of short sharp rockers filled with clear tones and good songwriting. Bonus points to guitarist Matthew Aldred, who responded to all of Nyssa's banter with a slightly wearied "yeah", as if he were anguished for the talking to end and the song to start. An unexpected treat and very much worth seeing.

A track from this set is posted here.

Having thought that The Superstitions looked a little youthful, I was given a burst of perspective seeing Tiny Masters of Today. Fronted by brother and sister duo Ivan (guitar, vox; age 15) and Ada (vox, bass; age 13), the band are already vets, now on their second album and with plenty of press. While the idea of raucous teen siblings forming a band isn't unprecedented, their success so far is pretty substantial. A band like this comes with a bit of trouble separating the angle ("aren't they adorable?"1) from the music. Truth be told, if I were taking in the gig in a blindfold test, I would think I'd've found it generally agreeable. With Ada on the mic and Ivan's skilfully sloppy riffs, the first thing that would pop in my mind would be that sort of sub-sub-genre of mid-90's female-fronted bands that sounded like Kim Deal's wayward daughters — think that dog or Veruca Salt. Their sound had a decent level of wobbly uncertainty, which the songs delivered in short, chunky bursts — though things threatened to go off the rails a couple times. But there's no lack of talent here, and their set was enjoyable fun. Made me feel older than my Great Aunt Martha mind you, especially when, for their last song they blasted a cover of Sonic Youth's "Youth Against Fascism", a song that came out, like, subjectively last week or so to me, but is, in fact, older than those performing it on stage. I rolled up the bottom of my trousers and moved along to the next gig.

1 As pronounced by someone standing behind me while the band were setting up and Ivan was adjusting his amp. "Excuse me, Mr. Soundman?" asked Ada politely into her mic, "is the volume okay?"

Monday, May 25, 2009

Recording: Woods

Artist: Woods

Song: Blood Dries Darker

Recorded live at the Whippersnapper Gallery, Toronto. Over the Top Festival, May 22, 2009.

Woods - Blood Dries Darker

My notes for this gig are here.

Gig: MV & EE / Woods / $100

MV & EE / Woods / $100

Over the Top Festival. Whippersnapper Gallery. Friday, May 22, 2009.

For night two of Over the Top, decided to take in this show at the Whippersnapper, which meant breaking my self-imposed limitation of seeing only bands new to me. But for $100, I'm willing to make an exception. Billed as a duo show with Ian and Simone, we were instead treated to a hybrid, with four acoustic numbers, including some singalong action on "Not For Me" before the band joined in for the rest of the set. A new bass player (Jeff Pierce?) in tow, he handled himself quite admirably, getting thrown a little bit only on "Blaze of Glory". All told, this was a tidy and tasty set — ten songs in thirty-five minutes — with especially fine readings of "14th Floor"1 and the always hurtingly lovely "Nothing's Alright".

Knowing nothing about Brooklyn’s Woods, I quickly became interested as they set up. Not only was the drummer setting a beat up old bass with two strings across his kit, but out of a flight case emerged a particularly lovely effects rack with a row of pedals across the top, and on the bottom two cassette decks with a crossfader between them:

During the set, G. Lucas Crane sat on the floor in front of it and played it in a manner not unlike a DJ, but with cassettes instead of turntables. The tape players had no covers, so finger pressure on the heads acted to warp the sounds. He also added backing vox, sung through an old pair of headphones slung over his face. The tapes were just one further destabilizing element to Woods' sound, which could be be broadly described as "queasy psychedelia", little trails of sound squiggling off behind them like jetstreams. After getting their sound correct, the band launched into a number that sounded like a surf record deconstructed by Brian Eno with high falsetto vox. And so it went from there, the band using all of these elements fairly creatively, playing a half dozen songs over their set, a couple of which contained extended instrumental freaks-outs. Definitely exciting to be exposed to this live first, just to see how the sound was being manipulated. When the set closed, I grabbed a copy of their newest alb from the merch table. A highlight.

A track from this set is posted here.

A fair number of the crowd left after Woods' set, leaving lots of elbow room for MV & EE. Thems in the know started to sit down and settle in as the band set up, the stage suddenly filled with a plethora of effects pedals. The relaxed posture was certainly the way to take in opening selection "I Got Caves in There", which ambled its way along for about ten minutes, a relaxed groove. The band rolled with Matt Valentine's and Willie Lane's dual guitars plus Erica Elder on lap steel and what I'm seeing listed online as "cocola firebird", which looked like a styleized four-string mandolin. The rhythm section had a local connection, with Doc Dunn on drums and Mike Smith on bass.2

After the first track, the tempo picked up some, and began to rock out a little more. By "Hammer", the band had had hit a good groove, playing like a drowsy, narcotised Crazy Horse. Very good stuff. The slack-paced jams were apparently not everyone's idea of fun, as after about a half hour, the crowd, thin to start with, had withered in half, to maybe fifteen people or so. Whether it was because of the sparse group in front of them, or just that they were into their thing, the band seemed to play more for themselves, segueing from one song straight into the next. There were some excellent moments, and some less so — at times, the bandmembers seemed to get caught up in their own excursions and wandered a bit out of sync with each other, and in a few places, the guits wandered into widdly-widdly jamminess of the G------- D--- type. But the less appealing sections were generally redeemed by something more interesting. The band gave the impression that they could keep this up all night, given the chance, and by set's end the sound guy was starting to look agitated, heading up to the side of the stage to indicate to Erica that maybe five minutes more or so would be enough. It might be better suited to listening while collapsed in a beanbag chair in the basement, or, say, by a campfire, looking up at a starry sky and getting, y'know, cosmic, but I enjoyed this, generally speaking.

1 With that and "14th Floor" already written, $100 should come up with one more and have a 14 Trilogy. Or, possibly, a dozen more and — presto! — instant concept album.

2 Who I'd seen playing last weekend with Steamboat.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Recording: Baby Dee

Artist: Baby Dee

Song: The Song of Self Acceptance

Recorded live at 6 Nassau St., Toronto. Over the Top Festival, May 21, 2009.

Baby Dee - The Song of Self Acceptance

My notes for this gig are here.

Recording: Timber Timbre

Artist: Timber Timbre

Song: Trouble Comes Knockin'

Recorded live at 6 Nassau St., Toronto. Over the Top Festival, May 21, 2009.

Timber Timbre - Trouble Comes Knockin'

My notes for this gig are here.

Gig: Baby Dee / Timber Timbre / Ghost Bees

Baby Dee / Timber Timbre / Ghost Bees

Over the Top Festival. 6 Nassau St. Thursday, May 21, 2009.

I'd gone to a film last year, but had never attended a gig at the Over the Top festival. This year I was interested, but scanning through the list of gigs, it was pretty much all stuff I was unfamiliar with. Unsure of what to see, I took the plunge and bought a wristband and resolved to try and take in as many previously-unseen bands as I could. Decided to start off with this Baby Dee show, not only from some vaguely-remembered plaudit for her unique stagecraft, but also to check out Timber Timbre, recently in the news for having signed with Arts & Crafts.

So headed off to the mysterious 6 Nassau Street. The venue had a bit of the feel of a speakeasy, largely because of its hidden, look-in-the-alley entrance. A largely unfurnished room, maybe a dozen yards square, with the bands set up in one corner. And not a lot of air movement on what turned out to be the year's first hot day. This meant that once it began to fill up, it got a little stifling in the room. Fortunately it was a sit-on-the-floor and soak it in kind of show, so perhaps smoggy lassitude was contemplative observation's midwife.

First up and establishing this vibe well were Ghost Bees (now T.O-based, but via Halifax) a duo of twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman (guitar and mandolin) backed by Maya Postepski (percussion — also of Katie Stelmanis' band). Ghost Bees' music is wide-eyed folk, two gorgeous voices intertwining in eerie mysterious-twin synchronicity. Throughout the performance, the sisters watched each other carefully as they unfurled stories about witches and tea-leaf readers, giving a sort of private world folie à deux vibe. In the wrong context, I think this could all come off as too precious, but live, in this room, it was quite lovely. For their last two songs, the musicians pushed away their microphones and unplugged their guitars, singing unamplified to the rapt crowd. A good start to the night.

During Ghost Bees' last song, someone from the venue opened the side door to let in some air, and once the set ended, much of the crowd staggered outside to cool off, a living diorama of hipster types in the alley watched over by the staff in a Spadina restaurant's back door with some wry curiosity. Soon it was back in and a fairly full house settled down to hear Timber Timbre.1 The band began with a rising ambient wall sounding like bird calls before guitarist/vocalist Taylor Kirk began to weave tales of haunted dark places. The band — lap steel, saxophone, violin — was well-constructed to add colour and texture more than rhythm. The songs were like a gothic mansion, all stately and roomy enough to explore around in. And possibly occupied by ghosts. A sharp set was capped by "Trouble Comes Knockin'", the excellent final selection, which felt like it was built from a pile of bones dug up at that crossroads where Robert Johnson did some business. Not recommended for use while operating heavy equipment or while trying to inspire the hopes of a young generation, but surely worth hearing.

A recording from this set can be found here.

And then, after another cooling break in the alley, a fair amount of turnover in the crowd — the numbers were reduced a bit, and now it looked like several of the cohort from the previous night's Katie Stelmanis had come along. Meanwhile, the harp and organ were being pulled into place for Baby Dee. I'm staggered in attempting to reduce this force of nature to mere descriptions. Imagine circus-ground organ and a quivering croon but also soft, melodious fingers on harp strings — two sets of tunes that were a little far apart, yet totally synthesized somehow in a way that made sense. I tended to enjoy the organ songs more — they put me in mind of British Music Hall tunes, like a bawdy George Formby, and were filled with viciously witty lines.2 The harp songs were less immediate, though lovely in their own way — and it's a relatively unusual experience to see a harp in action, especially in the hands of a singer. This was a totally singular experience and a great set. Overall, a very good night, making me feel good for having taken the plunge.

A recording from this set can be found here.

1 Pronounced timber TAMber.

2 Most amusing moment of the evening: one of those cooks from across the alley stepped into the room to see what all the fuss was about and looked around slightly suspiciously, like he thought the crowd were all putting him on by sitting around and listening to Baby Dee. He departed and, a few minutes later, brought a co-worker in with him, as if to prove his point about how crazy we were.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Recording: Gentleman Reg

Artist: Gentleman Reg

Song: We're in a Thunderstorm

Recorded live at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, May 20, 2009.

Gentleman Reg - We're in a Thunderstorm

My notes from this gig are here.

Gig: Gentleman Reg/ Katie Stelmanis / Kids on TV

Gentleman Reg / Katie Stelmanis / Kids on TV

Buddies in Bad Times. Wednesday, May 20, 2009.

An afterparty for a screening at the Inside Out film festival, this listed "short sets" by three worthy artists for $5, which sounded like a good deal. But coming on the same night as the Peaches gig, I was unsure if I'd be able to take this in. But an early start time at the Phoenix meant that as I paid the cover and was pressing my way through the tightly-packed crowd at the back of the cabaret, Kids on TV were taking the stage, sorting out the technical issues before getting started. I was still reorienting myself and soaking in their fabulously elaborate stage getups — sort of an Arabian Nights kind of look — as they launched first into Whodini's "Haunted House of Rock".

I was distracted as I finally saw A., who'd found himself a good unobstructed spot near the edge of the stage, and at the song's end, I managed to move up to join him. From the sounds of it, the band was doing some new material, and working in their mellower, more pop-ish vein — no "Breakdance Hunx" to be found here, but rather a cover of Kate Bush's "Cloudbusting" with a backing choir joining them on the stage. And then, just as I was starting to feel settled in, it was all over. Although it felt like a bit of an unusual set from KoTV, it was good to see them on stage after a relatively large gap. Plus, it may well be a case of the band finding the right place and time to work out the quieter side in front of a crowd — I imagine we'll see more of the "pump-you-up" stuff when they play next month at Pride.

Although KoTV had their customary projections in action during their set, the visual element took centre stage as Katie Stelmanis took over. Armed only with her laptop and her always-excellent pipes, Katie sang in sync to videos for three tunes, opening with a cover of "Natural Woman", the video made by some high school fans from Denmark. She was then joined on stage by a trio of backing vocalists (two of whom I could not place — name names if you know them! — but I marked John O’Regan of the D'Urbervilles)1 who added choral depth to two further selections, including her fab composition "Join Us". Good stuff. The latter two videos were by notable local artist Jesi the Elder.

And then Gentleman Reg took the stage for his three song set, playing crowd-pleader "The Boyfriend Song" sandwiched in between Jet Black standouts "Rewind" and "We're in a Thunderstorm", his keyboardist Kelly McMichael providing backing vox on the two newer selections. "Thunderstorm" was aided with by some understatedly deft work with his looping pedal. An utterly pleasing burst, but leaving me wanting more.

The night closed out with a vogueing demonstration from a crew called The House of Munroe, and it certainly amped up the party vibe with their kinetic breakdance-inspired work. As we left, A. said to me, "That was fun! The shows you drag me to never have anything like that." So take note, indie gigs: More vogueing!

A recording from Gentleman Reg's set can be found here.

1 Thanks to a commenter for pointing out that the singers were Emma McKenna and Carmen Elle.

Recording: Peaches

Artist: Peaches

Song: Set It Off

Recorded live at The Phoenix, Toronto, May 20, 2009.

Peaches - Set It Off

My notes for this show can be found here.

Gig: Peaches / Drums of Death

Peaches / Drums of Death

The Phoenix. Wednesday, May 20, 2009.

It had been five years and a couple albums since I'd seen Peaches playing1, so I figured I was curious enough to join J., who was quite keen on it, in checking out the Peaches Spectacle, 2009 version. Even if that meant a trip to the Phoenix, and a show in what would almost certainly be a cramped, fidgeting mess.

The opener was Drums of Death, one of the producers on Peaches' new I Feel Cream. Taking to his table of gear in pancaked skull makeup, from the back of the room he looked particularly like Manservant Hecubus as a professional wrestler. He turned in a set of extraordinarily bland dance music that quickly had myself and my friends rolling our eyes and looking at our watches. I am clearly no sort of authority on dance music, but I certainly found his stuff very tame and press-the-presets unoriginal. At his best, he reached a sort of bland generic-ness, tho when he turned the BPM's down and sang more the results were far worse. Some people near the front were clearly into it and danced and cheered, but it seemed like many of the people in the room were standing around glumly waiting this out.

As he was finishing, we moved up to improve our vantage point and the room quickly felt sticky hot and claustrophic as more people came to squeeze themselves up front. I spotted R. moving through the crowd and when she made he way over to us, she surveyed the crowd and said, "This is less... flamboyant than I was expecting." Looking around, I think I would concede that the crowd, while containing a good representation of a variety of persuasions, was less ostentatious than the Peaches crowd of five years ago.2 But still an interesting cross-section, as Peaches' music pulls in people from a number of camps: transgressive art-queers, dancefloor types, savvy pop-spectacle types, indie folk. All put together, it means that the 'stand quietly, bob politely' contingent are in the minority and endangered by those less concerned with, like, not violating other people's personal space as they heave themselves around. This is the price one pays when going to a show like this, mind, so I'm not particularly complaining.

When the PA started playing a piano-y version of "I Touch Myself" the crowd was getting itself fairly amped up. And moreso as the three-piece band (drums, plus two on knob twiddling/guit/keytar) stepped to the stage to the strains of the theme from A-Team, leading up to Peaches' grand entrance in a shirt with gigantically puffy sleeves, looking a bit like the apple from the Fruit of the Loom commercials. She began the show with a bit of Blue Man Group-esque japery, conducting the drummer with her gestures, before launching into "Show Stopper" from the new album.

And it was on. The next ninety minutes were about the music, yes, but also about the carefully choreographed show — now crowd surfing, then moving up to the elevated DJ booth3 and on and on. The band did a solid job presenting the songs with a live edge without overstating Peaches' elegant musical minimalism. There were also some attempts to transcend live limitations, complete with the projected heads of backup singing Peaches for "Lose You". And costume changes. And lasers. And a blinking crotch light to finish the set out with. Glow-in-the-dark matching keytars? Hey, why not!

Peaches seemed pleased to be playing in front of a healthy hometown crowd, but reminded us that she had to flee the nest to make it big, commenting, "where the fuck were you when I used to play the Cameron House?" After an hour, I was fading a bit, but Peaches was going strong and there was still lots of dancing and a steady stream of people pushing their way up to enter the Presence of Peaches. The set ended, unsurprisingly, with "Fuck the Pain Away" and loud cheers before a two song encore.

We moved back during the gap before the second encore ("Take You On") to get some air and position ourselves closer to the doors. I saw Gentleman Reg over by the back bar, so I figured I still had time to get over to Buddies to see his set. So, as the song ended, headed out and for the brisk walk over. It was a fun show, but a bit wearying. If I'd gone in with a different, more "let's get this party started" sort of mindset, I'm sure I'd've been blown away.

A recording from this show can be found here.

1 Timelessly vivid memory of that Opera House gig: Peaches clambering to get to the top of the speaker stacks, and once she'd taken to her perch, announcing to the crowd: "It's dirty up here! It's even dirtier than me!"

2 I leave it to anyone with an interest in such things to contemplate the ramifications of the mainstreaming of an artist like Peaches. If the crowd is less fashion-conscious/wearing less fetish gear, does it mean that the artist is less cutting edge?

3 Rockin' out above the styleized Phoenix logo, it felt as if Peaches was saluting the crowd like some sort of sexed-up, robo-rockin Evita.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Album: Japandroids / Post-Nothing

Artist: Japandroids

Album: Post-Nothing

"We used to dream/ but now we worry about dying," the band opines on what might be their signature track, continuing "I don't wanna worry about dyin'/ I just wanna worry about those sunshine girls". That situates them as being old enough to be worried about not being as young as they used to be, but still young enough to raise a ruckus about it. This Vancouver duo (guit/vox/drums) are garage rock maximalists, filling up their songs with a young man's rock'n'roll frenzy that owes as much to "Working For The Weekend" as to any punk antecedents. Full of pithy, quotable lyrics: "some hearts bleed/ my heart sweats" might encapsulate them best. Although there are a couple duff tracks, this is filled overall with a wonderful energy that makes it feel like they are reinventing rock'n'roll anew — post-nothing indeed.

On a somewhat sad note, sort of upsetting my normal way of doing things, I was a bit taken aback when after looking around some, I realized that this album was being released on vinyl and digital only: no CD to be found. It upsets all my little rituals of ownership, and seems like a sign of things to come. At least there was an option at Zunior to buy the album as lossless FLACs, but it's just not the same as having an disc to file away on the shelf — it just feels impermanent somehow.

Track picks: 2- "Young Hearts Spark Fire", 5 - "Heart Sweats"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Album: Junior Boys / Begone Dull Care

Artist: Junior Boys

Album: Begone Dull Care

Following on the very good So This Is Goodbye, we find Junior Boys in fine form and growing in confidence. Inspired by the work and methods of NFB animator Norman McLaren, these tracks are meticulously constructed, carefully orchestrated works. Working with longer tracks — most clocking in over six minutes — the album gets off to an excellent start with the slow-simmering "Parallel Lines", and for a couple tracks, the album sounds like a real world-beater. While it remains full of interesting countermelodies and details at the edge of the frame, it doesn't quite maintain its momentum throughout. But because of the textures and hooks, it's never less than good listening.

Yes, it uses the elements of 80's dance-pop, but it never comes off as retro-fetishism. Jeremy Greenspan and Matt Didemus simply use these sounds with surgical precision to craft some excellent tunes. This doesn't have a monster single like Goodbye's "In the Morning", but it's still eminently worth listening to the whole way through.

Track Pick: 1 - "Parallel Lines"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Recording: Steamboat

Artist: Steamboat

Song: Can You Picture That? (Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem cover)

Recorded live at Sneaky Dee's, Toronto, May 16, 2009.

Steamboat - Can You Picture That?

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Gig: Steamboat


Sneaky Dee's. Saturday, May 17, 2009.

What better way to celebrate the release of a twenty minute EP than with a two-and-a-half hour performance?

Headed down not knowing a lot about Steamboat. I know I've just missed seeing them two or three times in the past. and I knew I had seen various members ably performing in other bands — including, convincingly, The Old Soul. Plus, there was an impressive list of guests slated, so it seemed like a no-brainer. For six bucks cover and a seven dollar CD, it was incredible value for money.

Steamboat on their own roll five deep, such excellent players all that it'd be unfair to single any one out1. Imagine the grease'n'gravy of Booker T & The MG's leavened with a soupçon of The Band, able to provide sympathetic backing across a variety of genres — specialists in all styles, to borrow a phrase. Over the course of two generous sets, the band played a lot of covers, with some of their own material thrown in — and given some of the top drawer stuff they were covering, it's a complement to say the originals, written and delivered by Matt McLaren in a soulful voice, fit in well. If there's any criticism to be made — and its a small one — it's that (at least as of yet, maybe) the band doesn't have as much of its own material to rely on. But besides relying on themselves, they also got by with a little help from their friends.

The first guest up was Doug Paisley, whose name was not immediately familiar to me2 who mixed some country dust into the formula, performing a pair of strong tunes, including the ripping "If I Wanted To". Next up were Ian and Simone from $100, duetting on George Jones/Tammy Wynette's "Golden Ring" plus a roaring take through their own "Tirade of a Shitty Mom", the band bringing the menace to the latter. The first set ended with Alex Lukashevsky joining the band for a couple covers, including a bit of reggae-lite on Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come".3

After a break, the band threw down a few more numbers, before being joined by Sandro Perri and Mantler. I'm familiar with Perri's avant-pop stylings, but had not been exposed to Mantler, wearing a white tuxedo and taking over the electric piano, delivering some smooth, lounge-y tunes, leading off with "I Guarantee You a Good Time". Perri took a turn at the mike for an original (I think) that developed into an extended slinky groove of a coda.

Andre Ethier4 took over and led off with a tune which sounded like "You're a Big Girl Now" in a mellow car crash with "Dress Rehearsal Rag", a sax mourning the scene, and followed up with a powerful Joe Tex cover. Following that, the focus was back on Steamboat themselves, augmented for the rest of the night by an excellent Stax-styled horn section, which was put to good use on a ripping take of Eddie Floyd's "Big Bird" and a few more.

As the set wore on, the original groups of women dancing in front of the stage were increasingly replaced by tall dudes, bro-ing down and reaching over to grab each other's shaggy hair, celebrating some sort of drunken ritual. It was just the sort of night where there was so much music that at one point or another, a break was indicated, and there was a lot of turnover near the front of the room. After being on stage for over ninety minutes for their second set, the band ended with a one-song encore, fabulously tearing through "Can You Picture That?", originally by The Muppet Show's Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Matt McLaren admitted that this was a favourite song from his childhood, and, in this context, it felt like a telling formative influence. It was somewhat amazing that the band still had the energy to play with unabated energy all the way through. Added up, it was a thirty-plus song marathon — my second wind needed a second wind to keep me going through it all, but this was totally a lot of fun.

It's worth passingly noting that if a band were to come up with subtle variations on some post-punk group from some bleak Northern English town, they'd be hailed as visionary, but anyone working on subtle variations on some soul band from some bleak Southern American town is usually dismissed as merely retro. This is probably incorrect thinking. Steamboat are working and sweating, generating radiating waves of fun with excellent craftsmanship. There's serious talent in this band, both as sympathetic backing musicians and on their own stuff, so hopefully this EP is just a start. Daunting thought: how long will their release party be for a full-length album?

Listen to a track from this show here.

1 Although perhaps I will single out Christopher Sandes' organ — complete with Leslie Speaker — which really tied everything together throughout the night.

2 Though it turns out that I have seen him perform in his Dark Hand and Lamplight project.

3 Interesting fact: a reggae-lite version of "The Harder They Come" with Alec Lukashevsky on vox sounds not entirely unlike "Two Princes" by The Spin Doctors.

4 Andre was playing one of those... what d'you call those four string guits that are bigger than a ukulele? One of those.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Recording: The Vaselines

Artist: The Vaselines

Song: Dying For It

Recorded live at Lee's Palace, Toronto, May 15, 2009.

The Vaselines - Dying For It

My notes from this gig can be found here.

Gig: The Vaselines / Rick of the Skins

The Vaselines / Rick of the Skins

Lee's Palace. Friday, May 15, 2009.

Admittedly, this was a gig I felt a little apprehensive about. At thirty bones, this was more than I generally prefer to spend, not in the least because paying that price sort of meant admitting that I was willing to pay the Nostalgia Premium, and I was vaguely worried that the Law of Expensive Tickets1 sometimes brings out strange elements. It turned out to be a very good crowd — certainly no shortage of people around my age who discovered The Vaselines back in the day when Nirvana first covered them2 and definitely a more female-friendly draw than some of the gigs I've been to lately.

The whiff of the past was strengthened by openers Rick of the Skins, who said, at one point, almost confessionally, "we're from the nineties". Much to my surprise, I totally missed out on this Halifax band which apparently caused something of a sensation when they emerged in '97 — a time I was paying attention to other things, I suppose. There were certainly some people in the crowd who were excited to be seeing them, greeting several tunes with excited whoops. Dedicated multi-taskers, the band switched up instruments frequently, giving a bit of an impression of "if you don't like this one, just wait five minutes!" But although the sound shifted somewhat as the singers and players rotated (sawtooth analog synths, a hint of no-wave skronk, an homage to Kraftwerk) there was a general underlying unity hearkening back to a time when "Alt.rock" was a part of the common parlance. I reasonably enjoyed their half-hour set, there were three or four very sharp numbers, although also a couple goofs3 that were probably more amusing back in the day. Word is the back are back together and raising up some new material, so best of luck to 'em.

Once the stage was clear, the dancefloor started to fill in quickly, and the crowd's eagerness was apparent. The Vaselines appeared on stage as a five-piece, Frances and Eugene with their guitars flanked by a third guitarist stage left plus a bassist.4 Things started off rough, with the band launching into "Son of a Gun", which sounded out-of-sync and unbalanced, Frances' vox buried and the bass stomping all over the place. At song's end, the soundman stuck his head on the stage to gesture to the bassist to turn his amp down, and things certainly improved after that.

Regardless of sound issues, the crowd was loud and appreciative — perhaps the legendarily screwfaced Toronto crowd was out of town for the long weekend. "This is a bit of a raucous crowd tonight, isn't it?" the infectiously enthusiastic Frances asked the band at the first song's end. "I hear the men in Toronto are sensitive — fuck that, we want a bit of rough!" If nothing else, the band gave good banter, Frances full of mildly saucy declarations and praise for the crowd. "This is noisiest crowd we've had so far," she'd later declare, confessing her new-found love for Canada while Eugene made milking gestures with his hands.5

Fortunately, the banter was backed by a strong musical attack. While still not sounding overly polished, the band was solidly rocking, two guitarists exchanging leads (Frances stuck to rhythm) while the rhythm stayed steadily danceable. A vaguely-countrified new song ("Picked a Cherry"?) followed the classic template of back-and-forth vox, albeit at a slowed-down pace. The band would later add a second new song, Frances expressing surprise at the audience's enthusiasm for the new material.

Working from the same setlist they've been playing throughout their North American jaunt6, the band played for sixty-five minutes, plus a three song encore, including a rockerrific rip through "You Think You're A Man". It was a charming time, and, in the end, I guess I'm glad I ponied up the money. If the band decides to stick with it and keep up with more new stuff, it'll probably take less than twenty years for them to get back to these parts.

A track from this set is posted here.

1 "The frequency a person goes to gigs is in inverse proportion to the average price they pay for them."

2 While I'd like to front that I was cool enough to have heard The Vaselines on some K Records collection before that, I shall tell no lies.

3 Most notably a group chant of "We all come from the horned one / and to him we shall return" that had me looking behind them for the descending six-inch model of Stonehenge.

4 According to an account of their Brooklyn show here, the lineup included Stevie Jackson [guit] and Bobby Kildea [bass] from Belle & Sebastian and Michael McGaughrin [drums] from the 1990's [the band, presumably, not the decade].

5 One dude somewhere behind me thought he could engage the band in one-on-conversation in the middle of the set, loudly informing everyone in the venue that he'd had a beer with Eugene's aunt and uncle. Um, congratulations, I guess.

6 "We're going to have to change the set around," Eugene mused towards the end when someone in the front row correctly called out the next song.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Recording: Vetiver

Artist: Vetiver

Song: Wishing Well

Recorded live at Sonic Boom Records, Toronto, Friday, May 15, 2009.

Vetiver - Wishing Well

My notes for this in-store performance are available here.

In-store: Vetiver


Sonic Boom. Friday, May 15, 2009.

With some time to kill before the Vaselines gig, decided to drop into the basement at Sonic Boom to check out an in-store performance by Vetiver1, a band I knew pretty much nothing about. A quick glance online told me that frontman Andy Cabic is a friend of Devendra Banhart, and that the band had come up through that whole freak-folk scene, but I headed in without much more foreknowledge.

A decent-sized crowd trickled into the basement but there was still plenty elbow room as the band took the stage. Cabic greeted the room with a genial "Hey everbody", his voice bringing to mind Ira Kaplan, which may explain why, as the band launched into "Oh Papa", my first impression was of something not unlike a mellow Yo La Tengo playing some country-ish Grateful Dead tunes. Despite being near the end of their tour, and playing a show for non-paying customers, the band was warm and cheerful, which largely matched the tone of the songs they played. "Maureen", with excellent harmony vox from keyb player Sarah Versprille, was a quiet gem, and I was starting to find myself rather captivated. The band moved into a couple songs from their recent Tight Knit album, which showed off a bit more bounce than the older tunes.

The band threw in a cover of Loudon Wainwright's evocative "The Swimming Song", and ended on the location-appropriate "Wishing Well", a sorta second-cousin to "You Ain't Going Nowhere", which the band had recently released as a single on Record Store Day. It was a lovely half-hour set, and if I didn't have a ticket in hand for a different gig, I'd've probably headed down to The Horseshoe to hear more.2 As it is, the band made at least one fan from the show, and I'm pretty sure disc-purchasing will follow. I'll keep my eyes open for next time they come around.

A track from this performance is posted here.

1 A note on pronunciation: I'd been saying their name like a french word, like vuh-tee-ver, but it turns out it's said more like "whatever".

2 Although one wonders if a frisky Friday night crowd at the 'Shoe would drown out the band's more gentle material.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Recording: Little Girls

Artist: Little Girls

Song: What We Did

Recorded live at The Horseshoe Tavern, May 8, 2009.

Little Girls - What We Did

My notes for this show are here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hot Docs: Sunday, May 10

Reviews of screenings from the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Encirclement: Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy (Dir: Richard Brouillette)

A comprehensive and rigourous (read: long) examination of the implications of neoliberal capitalist economics, this 160 minute film is a testament to the Hot Docs audience — I was somewhat surprised to see a nearly full house for something that doesn't promise a thrill ride of excitement.1 A black-and-white talking head documentary, mostly in French, about economic theory running two-and-a-half hours. I enjoyed it. But I was left wondering who the envisioned audience was: I could only think that most people willing to take the plunge were the sort who were already pretty well versed in all of this stuff. Still, however, this was enjoyable. The interview subjects were all engaging2, and all were given time to fully lay out their ideas — no sound-bites here. One long burst in a theatre is probably not the way to watch this — a comfy couch and several breaks would enhance the experience, so worth looking for on television or DVD.

When We Were Boys (Dir: Sarah Goodman)

Nothing better than ending the festival with a good film, which may also be the most "local" of all the local films, taking place mostly at Royal St. George's College, not much more than a stone's throw from The Bloor where it was being screened. A verité portrait of private-school boys in grade 8 and 9, featuring a large supporting cast, but zeroing in on two subjects. A wonderful look at what it means to be a boy, it also serves as an eye-opening look at what life is like for the "privileged" kids, who are told not to merely "settle" for going to McGill and ending up as a doctor or lawyer. But overall, despite laptops and overseas trips, a lot of things about those years are still the same, and the movie was wonderfully evocative of the small gestures, tussles, and verbal sparring that boys go through. Added bonus: a very nice soundtrack with some ace local indie bands, assembled under the supervision of Jim Guthrie. At the start, we're thrown right into it, and it takes a bit for the immersion to move from overwhelming to intimate (and the sound in the theatre certainly left some things muffled and unheard), but this is a very good effort. Do see it.

1 Although I'm guessing that some people came in without double-checking the length of this, as there was a slow stream of people pulling the plug from the ninety-minute mark onwards.

2 Bernard Maris was a particular delight to encounter, and is now on my list for further investigation.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hot Docs: Saturday, May 9

Reviews of screenings from the 2009 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Toronto, Canada.

El Olvido (Oblivion) (Dir: Heddy Honigmann)

World documentary master Heddy Honigmann (who underwhelmed a little last year with the slightly thin Emoticons) returns with a film ranking in the top tier of her rich career. In Peru, presidents come and go, but working folk are always toiling. El Olvido takes us on a tour of Lima where we meet a variety of people working in the service industry — not only in the formal sense of waiters and bartenders (who we see being taught to always provide service with a smile) but also those in the vast informal service industries, such as street hawkers and entertainers who put on the quickest of shows in crosswalks during red lights and hope for change from the cars ready to stream by them. We learn how to make a Pisco Sour (the national cocktail) and see the proper way to don a presidential sash while seeing how the people who provide these services live. With her warm empathy, Heddy elicits the hopes and dreams of the people we see and also finds out what happened on the days the bigwigs stopped by. Her eye also catches the beauty — and the rough side — of Lima. This film in its tone and details recalls her 1998 effort The Underground Orchestra but this is by no means a rehash. A perfectly wonderful film. Hightly recommended.

Invisible City (Dir: Hubert Davis)

Following two young men in Toronto's Regent Park as they navigate their neighbourhood and high schools, trying to get over and trying to grow up. Against beautifully-lensed shots of Regent Park under a siege of redevelopment, Mikey and Kendell look for the path they want to take, with the appeal of the street competing against the imprecations of their hard-working moms and the few authority figures that look out for them. This is a very good doc (and festival award winner for best Canadian feature), sticking with its subjects over a long stretch of time, and giving us a chance to watch them grow up. Its only failing might be that it doesn't do enough to show us what the boys are up against — with their loving mothers' guidance and support and teachers like Ainsworth Morgan, as well as their own generally articulate self-reflection, we see the things pulling them to the straight and narrow, but the pitfalls are merely shadowy suggestions. That aside, this is well worth seeing. (Well-paired with Code of Silence, a student short directed by Chris Quigg that scratches the surface of the "stop snitching" phenomenon. Capably done, but it leaves a hunger for a more comprehensive treatment of the subject.)

A Hard Name (Dir: Alan Zweig)

Alan Zweig turns outward from the personal investigation of his previous Loveable to meet and hear the stories of a group of ex-cons. Zweig is an excellent interviewer, both a friendly presence good at getting people to open up, but also pushing a little bit and asking the questions that are also in the audience's mind: why'd you do what you did? Would you go back to crime if you knew you wouldn't get caught? The film's subjects show varying degrees of self-awareness and desire to change, and a range of articulacy. I left the screening slightly underwhelmed — perhaps it just didn't live up to my expectations. A bit hard to take in places — the folks on screen went through a lot of bad shit and, in turn, inflicted a lot of pain on others — but it's still worth seeing.