Monday, September 28, 2009

Recording: The Woodchoppers Association et Jah Youssouf

Artist: The Woodchoppers Association et Jah Youssouf

Song: unknown*

Recorded at the Music Gallery, September 19, 2009.

The Woodchoppers Association et Jah Youssouf - unknown

My notes for this gig can be found here.

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

Gig: The Woodchoppers Association et Jah Youssouf

The Woodchoppers Association et Jah Youssouf

The Music Gallery. Saturday, September 19, 2009.

After seeing Jah Youssouf and Abdoulaye Koné performing on their own at Musideum, I was looking forward to seeing them jamming with the venerable Woodchoppers Association, with whom they'd been touring Canada on the folk fest circuit over the summer. Turns out this show at the Music Gallery would be the last before the guests returned to Mali, and we got a full-length show, with two sets, each over an hour long.

The show opened with Jah Youssouf playing solo, giving a sample of his talent with the ngoni. He was then joined by the redoubtable Abdoulaye Koné for a couple numbers. On this show, he was more of a supporting player to the top-billed Youssouf, not taking any lead vocals, and keeping a lower profile. But his agile way with his instrument made him a key part of the overall sound.

They were then joined by the Woodchoppers, running ten deep, including a powerful four-piece horn section. The band was under the genial leadership of Dave Clark, wearing a lampshade-like hat and entertaining the crowd with self-knowingly unctuous banter. He began the Woodchoppers part of the set with some improvised conducting of the band, signalling for vamps and bursts of noise with broad gestures. When Clark turned and started to conduct the crowd, they took to it without hesitation, collectively becoming an unrehearsed choir. Perhaps like an athlete limbering up, these exercises might have had something to do with the band hitting the ground running on their first jam. Surely it's also that these are all seasoned musicians who have been playing together for a long time, and this subset in particular have been road-tested in this configuration. From the outset, the ngonis fit well into an electric jazz groove driven by el-p player Jason Kenemy, and the first set closed out with three strong rockers, the last one featuring Jah giving the audience a phrase to sing along to to a slow funky jam.

After about a fifteen-minute layoff go stretch, the second set started sans the guests, with a rollicking call-and-response number that the band took to the crowd with a pair of tap dancing shoes used as percussion along the backs of the pews. Jah and Koné rejoined the group and settled in for an excellent afro-funk-styled number, followed by three more simmering numbers. The final number of the main set ("the last chance to dance," warned Clark) turned into a whirling maelstrom of music, with the horn section taking to the crowd to walk up and down the rows of pews as they played, creating moving stereophonic fields of sound while the band played a low-slung groove.

For the encore, Clark invited the crowd to slide their pews right up against the stage to hear Jah right up close, and then the other musicians returned for one final number.

A very good time and a high standard of excellence throughout. A nice start to the Music Gallery season as well — hopefully all my trips to St. George the Martyr will be as ripping.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recording: Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex

Artist: Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Guests

Song: Eoleyo

Recorded at SPK Polish Combatants Hall, September 12, 2009.

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Guests - Eoleyo

My notes for this gig can be found here.

Recording: Daniel Nebiat

Artist: Daniel Nebiat

Song: Rahel Bella [Kahsay Solomon cover]

Recorded at SPK Polish Combatants Hall, September 12, 2009.

Daniel Nebiat - Rahel Bella [Kahsay Solomon cover]

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Guests / Daniel Nebiat

SPK Polish Combatants Hall. Saturday, September 12, 2009.

After a fine day spent tromping around the AGO and wandering the cityscape with K., headed over to the concrete bunker on Beverley for a highly-anticipated show, to see Getatchew Mekuria, the Ethiopian saxophone titan — and on the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year, no less. By a funny coincidence, ran into some of K's friends right after my arrival, so a chance to compare gig stories and so on. Looking around, as the General Chaos light show swirled above the stage, it was building up to be the sort of mixed crowd I was expecting, with different types all drawn to different elements of the bill.

The first night's opener was local musician and Wavelength veteran Daniel Nebiat. Born and raised in Eritrea before coming to Toronto, Nebiat plays an amplified version of a krar, a traditional lyre-like instrument. The unusual looking contraption was best described by the artist himself, who noted that it wasn't unlike the back of a chair. To introduce the crowd to the krar, Nebiat opened with one song solo before his band (keyb, bass) joined him, where the sound went from folksy to funky. Played with a plectrum, Nebiat coaxed a variety of sounds from his krar, including some funky chicken scratches that fit in well with the upbeat, dance-y music. Not quite repetitive — let's say circular: if you weren't listening for the lyrics, you'd best be getting to dancing. With that ba-doomp, ba-doomp rhythm familiar in Ethiopian and Eritrean music, it was easy to start moving along in a sort of club-footed skanking motion — and rather hard to resist. Most of the songs came as extended grooves — with the band, he played a half-dozen songs over an hour, a couple reaching to ten and fifteen minutes. Soon enough, you could see Jonny Dovercourt and Lullabye Arkestra dancing up front with the members of the Eritrean community, the grizzled old punks in leather jackets and the music nerds moving only slightly more hesitantly, everyone sloshing around their bottles of strong Polish beer. In theory, this is how we all like to think Toronto is supposed to work, and it's always rather nice when it does. A really strong set, and when it was done, I stopped at the merch table to grab a copy of his disc.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I've been lucky enough to have seen The Ex before, last time they rolled through town, and that was a pretty great show. For this, I was daring to expect even more, given what I'd heard from their collaborations with Getatchew Mekuria. Hitting the stage, the band tore right into it, ripping it up with an upbeat number, the flurry of the horn section followed by Terrie and Andy launching into a two-guitar interlocking attack, stepping towards each other as if about to engage in a joust.1 In a ninety-minute set, the band knew how to build up and release the tension, alternating the awesome explosions with intense quieter moments. After a two-song, barn-burning opener, the horns took over for a quieter, more subtly groovy number. A couple songs with Kat on vocals also were an effective switch-up.

But most of all, throughout, it was sax heaven. Mekuria, now in his seventies, plays with a rich, groovy tone filled with vital emotion. There is undoubtedly tonnes to be said about the technical side of his craft, his technique, and how he bridges Ethiopian and European styles, but while playing with such vitality it's hard not just to slip into the richness of it.2 There were no few times where I just wanted the song to keep going, which isn't always (usually?) the way I feel in the midst of a ninety minute set. One to remember — one of the best gigs of the year.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I was left somewhat confused with trying to figure out the fellow singing was, and wondering what had happened to G.W. Sok, only to find out after the fact that Sok has apparently left the band to focus on his other art projects. Filling his big shoes was Arnold de Boer, who pulled off the feat well enough, though perhaps without panache.

2 I spotted Carl Wilson doing just that — eyes closed, head bowed and just listening, looking like he might shed a tear of joy as Mekuria played unaccompanied.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cinematheque: Toronto on Film

Not music related, mostly, but worth noting for folks interested in things local. Cinematheque has their fall season schedule up, and one of their programmes is entitled "Toronto on Film", a series of movies shot and set in Toronto — something we generally don't get to see enough of. The Last Pogo does satisfy on the musical front, and would be weirdly satisfyin' to see in the high-falootin' atmosphere of Jackman Hall. Similarly, I'm pretty jazzed at the prospect of seeing Videodrome up on the big screen. Videodrome, people! Also of note: the rather delightful I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, and EMPz 4 Life by the late documentary master Allan King.

Also of note, local, and tangentially related to this site is a free screening entitled Eleven in Motion, a series of new, short animated films inspired by the works of Painters Eleven. Mark November 11 down in your calendars.1

1 There's also a sweet-looking retrospective of Elia Kazan fims, if you can get over the whole "he named names" thing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recording: The Hoa Hoa's

Artist: The Hoa Hoa's

Song: Vinyl Richie

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, September 11, 2009.

The Hoa Hoa's - Vinyl Richie

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Disraelis

Artist: The Disraelis

Song: The Bitter Ash

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, September 11, 2009.

The Disraelis - The Bitter Ash

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Peelies

Artist: The Peelies

Song: Merde in French*

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, September 11, 2009.

The Peelies - Merde in French

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Planet Creature

Artist: Planet Creature

Song: Hymns*

Recorded at Rolly's Garage, September 11, 2009.

Planet Creature - Hymns

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Gig: "Optical Sounds' Back to Cool Party"

"Optical Sounds' Back to Cool Party" (feat. The Hoa Hoa's / The Disraelis / The Peelies / Planet Creature

Rolly's Garage. Friday, September 11, 2009.

Perhaps it's fitting for Optical Sounds to throw a party in a garage, given their bands' common musical ground. It also works out well for a crew — as much a state of mind and statement of solidarity as a record label in the old-fashioned sense — that's looking to find some interesting places to play outside of the usual bar atmosphere. As such, Optical Sounds is quickly becoming a trademark of quality in Toronto not just for psychedelic-minded garage pop, but also purveyors of good old-fashioned "happenings".1

A welcome relatively early start time on a workday, I cruised down Ossington to Rolly's Garage just before nine. For that extra touch of authenticity, a battered car door was leaning against the stairwell just inside the entrance. There was a decently groovy light show set up and a generally sweet ambiance. The only real setback for this as a venue is the lone bathroom available.2 Things were running somewhat late as the crowd filtered in. Optical Sounds honcho Robert Gibson was pacing about like the father of the bride on the wedding day — the planning all done, but still fretting a bit and looking for something to do. He busied himself with going around the room, lighting incense sticks — and leaving them burning, leaving Femke Berkhout of The Hoa Hoa's to follow behind and blow them out so they could smoulder away.

First up were Planet Creature, the most recent addition to the Optical Sounds family. A five piece (getting some extra vox from Femke Berkhout) that fit well in the same figurative garage as the label's other bands, but do bring their own thing to the table. At this point, the band is a slightly ramshackle unit whose pop sense connects to a few diverse elements: the first song had vague country echoes, but mostly there were new-wave suggesting snake-y guit lines and fuzzy chunks of organ-y keyb. Driven by the Clare Anderson's urgent drums, the band played an entertaining seven-song set, gaining strength as they moved along, plenty harmonies sealing the deal. A little rough around the edges, but not in an unpleasing way. Worth checking out.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Next up were The Peelies visiting from Montréal, an, urm, appealing combo who brought the exuberance of a shy smile to rockin' bilingual tunes. Working in the same broad musical terrain as Planet Creature, the quartet recalled, say, a less-noisy Vivian Girls. In fact, there were some places where the guits could have used more drive and the tempos some juicing up, but when it came together, it was solid. A good vibe.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I expended most of my cleverest adjectives the last time I saw The Disraelis, so perhaps now suffice it to say they are quickly becoming one of my fave local bands, effortlessly churning out sets that are fabulous sounding without ever veering into sterility. Credit the warm blanket of Colin Bowers' guitar insulating against Cameron Ingles' dark-hour-of-regret laments. The all-male trio played compact versions of "The Bitter Ash" and "Secret" before stretching out on the last couple numbers. A blissful half hour — that new EP can't get here fast enough!

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, to wrap things up, a trip with The Hoa Hoa's who played a relaxed, floating set of lysergic pop. Perhaps sounding a bit less urgent than I've heard them in the past, this just meant more time to enjoy the ride. A half hour focusing on their forthcoming album, including cuts like "Grew Up on The Seeds", "Vinyl Richie" and "Blue Acid Gumball", wrapping up, as advertised, just after midnight.

Listen to a track from this set here.

After the bands, the Garage party was continuing, but I was getting sleepy and made my way out. A fun night and a good event. Word is that Optical Sounds is doing a Halloween party, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

1 Or "events", as they are known to the less hip.

2 Of course, there are several quiet alleyways in the nearby vicinity — hmmm... maybe that's why local residents are growing leery of the Ossington strip's recent explosive growth as an entertainment destination.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Recording: Young Galaxy

Artist: Young Galaxy

Song: Destroyer

Recorded at the Drake Underground, September 10, 2009.

Young Galaxy - Destroyer

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Young Galaxy

Young Galaxy / Treasure Hunt / Cancel Winter

The Drake Underground. Thursday, September 10, 2009.

It'd been a couple years since I'd taken in a show downstairs at the Drake. Not because I'd been consciously avoiding it — although it's not my fave joint to go to by any means. Although the Underground room is cozy enough, I must confess I feel a tad uncomfortable amongst the crowd that goes to the Drake to, y'know, be seen at the Drake — especially at the start of the film festival, with extended hours in effect and a whole other type of crowd underfoot. I'm sure it's superficial of me to think that it's just a destination for superficial people, but, well... y'know. Plus the drinks are gawdawful expensive.

An advertised 8 o'clock doors time turned out to be rather optimistic. When I strolled in about 8:45, I joined a queue winding up the stairway to the basement, and waited around for a few minutes before gaining ingress. At least we didn't have to wait too, too long after that for the gig to get under way.

First up, an unannounced addition to the bottom of the bill, a local combo called Cancel Winter. Inoffensive and competent, they played a thirty-five minute set of slightly mershy pop/rock. Two guits and keyb showed some musical versatility, there were hooks there, and everything fell into place just so, but by and large their music didn't do anything for me.1 File under "vaguely likable", but further research probably isn't warranted. Maybe their presence on this same bill as Young Galaxy made me sort of feel like they were presenting a similar sort of thing, but with the edges filed down some. Well crafted, but a bit too tight for my tastes — probably some commercial potential there, though.

Billed as something of a supergroup, Treasure Hunt came rocking as a double rhythm section — two drummers, two bassists.2 Of all the members' past projects, Holy Fuck might be the most immediate touchstone here, although with more of a metal undercurrent — think, perhaps, of Holy Fuck covering Primus, and you're getting warm. All instrumental, so the songs relied on the drummers' rhythmic propulsion and the heavy chugging melodicism of the basses. Generally entertaining, if not entirely down my alley. One of the string players relied a bit too heavily on one pedal, a sort of super-octave device or something that raised it up squeaky helium-like. Some of the shine was taken off it when a bunch of drunken frat-types — the sort for whom Borat impressions are still considered the height of wit — decided to start throwing themselves around with abandon, forcing a bunch of people who had been minding their own business to move out of their way.

Young Galaxy is a band that has managed to worm its way into my favour by twice taking me by surprise with a fantastic live presentation. Their self-titled debut album was okay enough, but I never really got them 'til I saw them them live, opening for Besnard Lakes at Lee's, October '07, and they positively blew the headliner away. Similarly, when I saw them this spring at CMW I was reminded how good they could be, and left anticipating a much-delayed second album.

That album (Invisible Republic) finally came out, and this was the local CD release show. Having given it a couple spins over the days leading up, I was pleasantly surprised with the big strides the band have made with this recording, turning in a positively excellent-sounding disc, packed with good songs. Perhaps it's a weird balancing out, then, that after being jazzed up by the album, I was brought down by a more... ordinary performance. Which isn't to say it was a bad show. But the previous times I'd seen them live, I'd left liking the band more. This time, I left liking the band the same amount.

Not to say the band wasn't working hard at it. Coming out dressed in druid chic, with hoods and ritual makeup, the band were giving their all, but it somehow just came out a little bit flat. The spark and energy that really won me over previously just wasn't there this time 'round. There was a strong start, with Catherine McCandless leading with a one-two punch of "Queen Drum" and "Outside The City", the latter one of only a pair of excursions back to the first album. Stephen Ramsay dedicated "Dreams" to his parents' dog, recovering after having been hit by a car, though sadly in the middle of the track a keyboard cable started to frazzle out, emitting a crackling buzz. Technical problems led to a couple minutes' lag, and when the band finally launched into "Firestruck", the new album's closer — an elegant slow-dance that burns with longing and puts a vivid image in my mind of the night's last dance in a high school gym — a song that should have been the centrepiece of the set... it kinda fizzled. The audience had begun talking amongst themselves and had lost focus. Somewhere in the back, a woman was singing — not singing along, just singing some random thing to herself or her companions. And so forth. In some subtle way the spell was broken, and the song was just a song. After that, the band recovered somewhat, and did a good run through "Destroyer" and got a good cheer for the populist "Come and See"3 before closing out the fifty-minute set with "Long Live the Fallen World". There was no encore — by the end the band kinda gave the impression they just wanted to get through it and get off the stage.

It's kinda unfair — if not unreasonable — to go to a gig expecting to have your socks knocked off, so perhaps part of my disappointment was partially a result of unduly heightened expectations. Again, it was an okay gig. Hopefully this album catches some ears, and the band gets back to town for a less problem-plagued show, with no technical glitches and a different crowd.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 One song was, admittedly, kinda appealing, but it also left me humming "No Cars Go" to myself afterwards.

2 Digging around some — the band doesn't seem to have a myspace yet — it looks like the membership is thus: Loel Campbell (drums, Wintersleep), Arlen Thompson (drums, Wolf Parade), Dustin Hawthorne (bass, ex-Hot Hot Heat), Mike Bigelow (bass, ex-Wintersleep/Holy Fuck)

3 "This song's in a beer commercial!" Ramsay noted, which possibly pitched it at the right level for the Drake crowd.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recording: Diamond Rings

Artist: Diamond Rings

Song: Something Else

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Diamond Rings - Something Else

My notes from this show can be found here.

Recording: Currently in These United States

Artist: Currently in These United States

Song: Cult of Me In The Ditch*

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Currently in These United States - Cult of Me In The Ditch

My notes from this show can be found here.

* Thanks to Matt Collins for providing the title to this one.

Recording: Mantler

Artist: Mantler

Song: Togethernest

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Mantler - Togethernest

My notes from this show can be found here.

Recording: 10,000 Watt Head

Artist: 10,000 Watt Head

Song: unknown* (Part I)

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

10,000 Watt Head - unknown

My notes from this show can be found here.

* Do you know the title of this song? Leave a comment! This is the first part of what was a continuous performance during their set.

Gig: Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (Part III)

Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (feat: The Phonemes, 10,000 Watt Head, Mantler, Currently In These United States, Wyrd Visions, Diamond Rings, Hank, Domaine D'Or, The Magic)

Lula Lounge. Sunday, September 6, 2009.

This is the third part of the day. For an introduction and an account of the first part of the day, click here. For the middle part of the day, click here.

9:45 The Phonemes — During the onslaught of Brides' set, I didn't notice the screen being set up on the side stage. Turns out Magali Meagher and Bob Wiseman had worked out a song "with a subliminal message" for Owen, which turned out to be a fantastically fun take of The Beatles' "Birthday", with synchronized backing vox on the screen. Magali then played one of her new songs accompanied by John Tielli before inviting a crowd of friends on stage to add voices and improvise percussion to "Steeples and People". The server station against the wall was raided for salt and pepper shakers to clink together, cymbals were overturned, Bob strapped on his accordion and everyone joined in. Everyone stayed on stage to finish off with a rousing take of "Pain Perdu". Open-hearted and rousing indeed.

10:01 10,000 Watt Head — And then for something completely different. 10,000 Watt Head, revered in some quarters but an unknown quantity to me, turned out to be a fairly visceral experience. Imagine a rock band fronted by one of the zombies from 28 Days Later, but with dreads spilling out the top of a ski mask, and singing in a mic connected through a synth/vocoder that turned his voice into something like an angry cartoon fly.1 As two drummers and a bassist back on the risers kicked up a heavy beat, the front line was more committed to chaos — or in the case of the guitarist, attempting to play on as vocalist Grasshopper fell over him, twitched about, and humped the air. The band's set consisted of eleven minutes of non-stop music — whether that was one or more "songs" or just an improvisation was pretty much irrelevant. There was a punkish sense of adventure to it, but not in a GG Allin sort of threatening/dangerous way — more of an unplanned/no safety net kind of way, like the drunk kids next door having a pillow fight while jumping on the trampoline.

Listen to a track from this set here.

8:14 Mantler — That quick , face-melting burst left an opening for Mantler, who was ready to go on the side stage, to play a bit of an extra-long set. Which was a welcome thing. Mantler (the nom de guerre of Chris Cummings) plays solo with electric piano and a primitive drum machine. Dressed in a white tuxedo, he affects the vibe of a lonely lounge singer crooning heartbroken lyrics2 masked behind a jaunty Curtis Mayfield rhythm. A fine songwriter, the extra time for a couple more songs was welcomed by Owen, who was calling out requests. A guaranteed good time.

Listen to a track from this set here.

10:48 Currently In These United States — A bit of a blast from the other end of the decade3, CITUS were most active in a time that I was less attuned to cool local bands, and I must admit I had not seen them before. Centred around the boyish charm and yelpy vox of Matt Collins, the band harkens back to some sweet pillars of 90's alt-rock, like Archers of Loaf on pixie stix or a polemicizing Superchunk. Hit me in a Pavement-y sweet spot, it did.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:23 Diamond Rings — Not just the pop sensation with the song all the kids have a crush on, Diamond Rings is, in fact, the alter ego of John O'Regan of the D'Urbervilles.4 Dancing up a storm as well as playing guit and keybs, John O. played three glammy new-romantic songs leading up to the "hit", all with a deft pop touch. His keyboards were decorated with a blanket or towel with a picture of a unicorn under a rainbow, a sign, perhaps, of the somewhat campy level at which he is pitching his persona. But there's also the seriousness of well-written songs underneath it, as well as a gee-whillikers sincerity projecting from the stage. A delightful romp — definitely waiting for more.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:44 Wyrd Visions — During the first song, with the crowd chatter conflicting with the delicately intricate songs it looked like the experience might suffer in comparison with the incredible set from the night before. But an in-set imprecation to silence from Owen made things a lot better. Still, not quite the same magic of the stars and the crickets, but, on the other hand, even if it dispels the mystery, it was cool this time to see the artist and to be able to watch how he went about his work. Colin Bergh turned out to look like a mild-mannered radio announcer or travelling salesman, albeit one with a book of demon lore tucked away in his valise. Even with the crowd effect, still pretty enjoyable, and after two songs he looked to Owen, who raptly gave the nod for a third, stretching the set out beyond a half-hour.

12:17 Hank — Another legendary Blocks combo, the Hank collective is singer/guitarist Cab Williamson, backed by what could be dubbed an all-star cast, including Magali Meagher and Mantler (both seen earlier in the day on their own), plus Lex Vaughn on drums. British expat Williamson gripped his microphone like someone who had been reared on "proper" brit pop singers in full-on grim seventies light entertainment mode while the rest of the crew played like a hillbilly swing band aiming for doo-wop sophistication. Heckled by Owen into playing "Danes In Peril!", Williamson tried to get out of it by claiming not to remember the chords, at which point, Owen reeled them off, and then jumped up on stage to sing along.

12:46 Domaine D'Or — "This next band is so VIP," Owen told us, "I have to soundcheck their gear for them." It turned out to be creepily costumed Domaine D'Or, a duo named after the luxe vintage. They dramatically took the stage in frilly wedding gear, their faces covered by nylons with featured markered on, creating a wholly unsettling expressionless effect. Playing a florid style of goth-y dance rock, the pair was nothing if not captivatingly entertaining, even if all the weirdness kinda overshadowed the songs.

1:01 The Magic — "When did The Magic get so big?" shouted someone in the crowd just as the band was about to start playing. Not sure if meant the extent of the membership (eight, I believe, including horn section) or the fact that the room was pretty well-filled at this point. I was trying to remember why the band's name was vaguely familiar and it clicked when I saw Sylvie Smith, who had recently impressed while moonlighting on vox with Evening Hymns, at her keyboard. The Toronto/Guelph combo plays a sort of "big pop", 80's style, incorporating a wide range of sounds: various synth squiggles, vague reggae rhythms, country flourishes, all tied up in a bow. Having lived through a decade's worth of smooth 80's pop once already, I admit I found myself looking over my shoulder to see if this was history repeating itself as farce or tragedy. But that's my limitation, I guess, and I realize there are more than those two options. And the band was by no means narrowly aping anything. The songs were catchy, at least, so that counts for a fair amount. I wasn't won over, but am at least benignly neutral towards this lot, who I'm guessing I'll have more chances to evaluate.

Admittedly, I was also pretty beat by this time, having been standing around for pretty much all of the past, oh, nine-plus hours. As the band left the stage and the DJ's started up in earnest, I ducked out, trying to get myself home with what strength I had left. A great show overall, but not the way you'd want to spend every weekend.5

1 The vox were buried way down in the mix, ending up sounding like an insistent memory in the back of one's mind that would neither fully reveal itself nor just go away.

2 "I've Been Destroyed" and "Lately I'm Sad" are typical song titles.

3 Their band website can still be found on Geocities, which feels like coming across a Neanderthal in a glacier. Some cool Wavelength gig pix from shows at Ted's Wrecking Yard can be found there, tho.

4 It's possible that as Diamond Rings, John O. is also fighting crime, costumed crusader-style when summoned by a giant diamond ring spotlight in the sky. At least I'd like to think so — I mean, that's what the tights are about, yes?

5 Which is, ironically, what I'd concluded one weekend previous, in no way figuring that I'd be at another all day marathon so soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Recording: Brides

Artist: Brides

Song: Sinatra*

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Brides - Sinatra

My review from this show can be found here.

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

Recording: Alex Lukashevsky

Artist: Alex Lukashevsky

Song: Horsetail Feather

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Alex Lukashevsky - Horsetail Feather

My review of this show can be found here.

Recording: Permafrown

Artist: Permafrown

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Permafrown - unknown

My review of this show can be found here.

* Do you know the title of this song? Leave a comment!

Gig: Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (Part II)

Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (feat: Everybody Gets Sick, Dan Werb + RRReg, Permafrown, Nick Flanagan, Picastro, Samir Khan, Kids On TV, Alex Lukashevsky, Brides)

Lula Lounge. Sunday, September 6, 2009.

This is the second part of the day. For an introduction and an account of the first part of the day, click here.

6:45 Everybody Gets Sick — A special birthday reunion for Owen's birthday if I understand correctly — poking around, I can't seem to find more than tangential references to them online, so I can't say much more than what I saw first-hand. A four piece, with banjos and slide guitar, but don't let the instrumentation fool you — this group was more no wave than no depression, their songs filled with spasmodic, repetitive lurches, like Butthole Surfers covering "Ventilator Blues". Not particularly suited to my palate, but they had their advocates in the crowd.

7:04 Dan Werb + RRReg — Performing some new material together as a duo in public for the first time, the pairing of Dan Werb (Woodhands) and Gentleman Reg came off as an inspired combo with the peanut butter of Werb's rubbery electrofunk mixing well with the chocolate of Reg's vox.1 While getting the levels checked, Reg was the first performer of the day brave enough in the face of Owen's disinterest in such things to lead the crowd in a singalong of "Happy Birthday". The pair debuted a pair of songs, the second one in an extended dance mix that got stretched out a bit extra mid-tune when something came unplugged and everything went silent. After some brief confusion, everything was hooked back in and we got the song's outro, which got a little bit glitchy by the end, but the pair pulled through. Funky dance entertainment, and I'd say I'm looking forward to hearing more from this pair.

7:30 Permafrown — Another special birthday reunion, playing their first show in over two years, Permafrown continued the squelchy keyboard tip. I immediately recognized Amy Bowles of Pony Da Look and knew this'd be entertaining, but Robin Fry's Cheeze Whiz/royal court fanfare/funky keyb work certainly sealed the deal. Drummer Mike Leblanc rounded out the trio, who played grand guignol art rock, the songs pitched to dramatic heights by Bowles' operatic gestures and singular vox. If orcs left their damp caverns for a night at the disco, this is what they'd probably want to get down to.

Listen to a track from this set here.

7:51 Nick Flanagan — Nick of Brutal Knights did a ten-minute comedy set. It is widely said that comedy is a subjective thing.

8:03 Picastro — Liz Hysen's ever-mutable Picastro has had its share of notable local musicians — including Owen Pallett — pass through its ranks. On this night, the band played as a two piece, with Hysen seated and playing electric guitar accompanied by a drummer/keyb player. A couple covers (including "Sovereignty You Bitch" by Portland's Big Blood) in Hysen's spare red-wine-and-quaaludes style were heavy but a not unpleasing ride.

8:17 Samir Khan — Reprising his solo turn from the previous week's Friends in Bellwoods show, Khan again played his melodic "sensitive" songs. Feeling mildly apprehensive to be playing a looping pedal in Owen's presence, the songs were, regardless, nicely accented by his efforts.

8:44 Kids On TV — After a ten-minute break2 — pretty welcome by this point — Kids on TV took the stage in their skeleton wear for a slickly-executed four song set. This time through, an especially nice run through "Goodbye Horses" (a one-hit wonder from the Married to the Mob soundtrack) with frequent guest's Julie Faught's vox adding just the right touch.

9:05 Alex Lukashevsky — In a clever tribute to a tribute, Lukashevsky played five-sixths of the songs from Final Fantasy's Plays to Please EP, consisting of songs originally written by... Alex Lukashevsky. So, starting with "Horsetail Feather", we got a quick tour of the unique lyrical sense and fine guitar skills from the man Owen described as "the best songwriter in Toronto". A quiet set slightly threatened by general chatter in the background, but neat to see the songs coming full circle.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9:24 Brides — "This is the cleanest these guys have sounded in a long time," young T. commented after Brides' first song.3 Almost certainly true (though I'd only seen them once before to compare) although it's a relative claim regardless, given the complicated rock attack that Brides bring to the table. A half-dozen deep, with two guitars scrambling for space against driving bass, keyb and sax, it isn't by nature a "clean" sound. But there are degrees of chaos and Brides were a mite more reigned in than what I recalled, whcich essentially meant they were choosing their moments a bit more carefully for when to really spaz it up to eleven. Which I think worked out fairly well for them, as I found these four tracks worked on me all right. Fifteen minutes, though, was about the exact right amount of this, mind.4

Listen to a track from this set here.

The final part of the day should be posted tomorrow.

1 Or is that the other way around? On second thought, this metaphor probably doesn't work here at all.

2 "Why not go and get some gum?" Owen helpfully suggested.

3 There appears to be at least three bands claiming the name, so it might simplify things to mention that "our" Brides' myspace is here.

4 Noted: Minus Smile (of KoTV) was taking in the show at the edge of the stage with evident satisfaction, and when one of the guitarists strayed too far from his amp and managed to pull his cable loose, he had a volunteer guitar tech on hand to get plugged back in and then make sure for the rest of the song that the tautly-stretched cord didn't get pulled out again.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Recording: Laura Barrett

Artist: Laura Barrett

Song: Consumption

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Laura Barrett - Consumption

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Electric Canaille Trio

Artist: Electric Canaille Trio

Song: Vincent Massey*

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Electric Canaille Trio - Vincent Massey

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to Jeremy for passing the title along.

Recording: Slim Twig

Artist: Slim Twig

Song: Norma Jean

Recorded at Owen Pallett's 30th Birthday Party, Lula Lounge, Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Slim Twig - Norma Jean

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (Part I)

Thirty Years of Owen Pallett (feat: Final Fantasy, The Two Koreas, Slim Twig, Electric Canaille Trio, New Feelings, $100, Laura Barrett, Snowblink + Luxury Pond)

Lula Lounge. Sunday, September 6, 2009.

Celebrating his thirtieth birthday, Owen Pallett decided to live out every boy's fantasy: an all-day concert, with performances by collaborators and friends, a show where Owen could request songs, dance at the side of the stage or hop up to sing on a chorus — just because it's his birthday. Not a secret show by any means, but not so widely publicized, the show was PWYC and attracted a good crowd at all points of the day, with plenty young folks and a reasonable turnover as the early-comers tired out and were replaced by the night-time crowd. A testament to the breatdth of Owen's musical interests, there was a real variety of music on the stages, and the whole thing also served as a kind of mega-showcase for the Blocks recording Club.

Owen served as master of ceremonies, cheerleader, roadie and stage manager, keeping his eye on the time during both his own set and others, acting as arbiter when bands asked, "Do we have time for one more?" The left side of the room, the seating area beside the bar at Lula Lounge, had been stripped of its table to create the second stage, perpendicular to the main stage at the end of the room. With sets scheduled every twenty minutes, the bands could set up while the other stage was playing and for the audience, only a ninety-degree pivot was required to change vantage points. When it clicked (and throughout the day it mostly did) bands would be ready to go chop-chop, and several sets were separated by only seconds-long gaps.

Suffering from some bad TTC luck, I arrived at about ten minutes after the listed starting time of 3:40, and was planning to stay to the limit of my tolerance and strength. As it turned out, I lasted the whole damned day. This is gonna be a bit of a long one, then, and even split into thirds, there's a lot to go through — do excuse the abbreviated, blurb-y nature of some of these reviews.1

3:40 Final Fantasy — arrived at ten to four, paid what I could, and stepped in to catch three songs from the man himself, playing on the side stage. Armed with only with violin and no keyboard, Owen played two Heartland tunes plus "Independence Is No Solution" in the time I saw him on stage. A canny move to put himself in the leadoff spot, as there was a nice-sized crowd at hand at this early hour.2

4:05 The Two Koreas — Been a while since I've seen this local crew, consisting of a combination of local media scribes and slumming "real" musicians. Well, slumming's not the right word, as they aren't just on a lark — they've been dishing out their "jangular electric beat muzik" for more than a half-decade now, and are rather proficient at kicking out the jams in that wide-ranging subgenre that claims The Fall as supreme progenitors. The set started with a couple quick smash-and-grab originals, featuring frontman Stuart Berman's barked vox and shift-stepped dance moves and ended with a massive, frothing cover of Swell Maps' "Helicopter Spies" that veered into something else, and crashed briefly into The Feelies' "The The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness" for about a ten-minute non-stop rock onslaught. Reasonably good fun.

4:21 Slim Twig — Although I've seen him with Tropics a couple times and once with his avant-rockabilly combo, this is the first time I've witnessed Slim Twig's current incarnation with sample-based material. And although the raw sonic stuff is different, it feels like a different facet of the same musical sense — in this case, Slim's "ahurgaburga" Ballroom-Blitz-on-cough-syrup vox backed with drum loops and sundry other effects, including, in the first song, percussive samples of breaking glass. Though I've always found Slim to be an... interesting live presence, I've never been compelled to go out of my way to see him. This set didn't radically alter my opinion, though I did appreciate its energy and flow, and it got right catchy for the last couple songs with the guit, and then went out with one relying on a sample lifted from "These Boots Are Made For Walking".

Listen to a track from this set here.

4:40 Electric Canaille Trio — The latest offshoot of Jeremy Strachan's Canaille project is a reed-less trio with Strachan on guitar, Mike Smith on bass and drummer Dan Gaucher. Playing from lead sheets, the music was a sort of abstracted surf rock, and although there was an improvisational jazzy undertone, Jeremy seemed to be channeling Hank Marvin more than Bern Nix.3 Another touchstone might be some of the more laid-back, exploratory numbers by The Minutemen. Regardless, this was proficient without sacrificing spontaneity, and a really inneresting set — five compact numbers in fifteen minutes.

Listen to a track from this set here.

4:57 New Feelings — Meanwhile, the side stage had been filled up with a table full of electronic gear for New Feelings, a three-piece consisting of Matt Smith (a.k.a Nifty) and Rob Gordon (former members of Les Mouches along with Owen Pallett) as well as Alex Snukal. The trio's music was "organic-electronic" with all the sounds created live and then looped into increasingly complex beat-driven constructions. As any of these musicians would be capable of creating a fully-fledged live electro-thing on their own, it was interesting to try and see how the division of labour was achieved and how the musicians were playing off each other. Not really my go-to kind of stuff, but enjoyable to hear, even if, like most knob twiddling music, I'm always left with the feeling that it would be more fun to be making it than to watch it.

5:20 $100 — Always one of my fave local acts to catch, I was pleased to note we were getting the full four-piece band (with new bass player?) and not just the Ian/Simone duo. The band led with a mellowed-out version of "Black Gold", chased by its sequel, the lamentin' "Courting My Heartache". Even a broken string on Ian Russell's acoustic could hardly slow the band down, getting out six tracks in their twenty minutes. The set closed with a special birthday request from Owen, a cover of The Judds' "Why Not Me" with Byrds-y guitar work from Paul Mortimer. A good time as always.

5:43 Laura Barrett — And then another local artist that I would go out of my way to hear on almost any day. Laura Barrett — sporting a fetching new hairdo — came backed with Doug Tielli (guit, theremin), Randy Lee (violin) and Dana Snell (flute, glockenspiel, vox). The added oomph of the extra players allowed her to dig into some of the more textured sounds of Victory Garden, featuring four songs from that album. The opening "Wood Between Worlds" was quite lovely, but the vocals were a bit lost beneath everything else, but that was sorted out, and we got stellar takes of "Bluebird" and "Consumption", the latter driven by Tielli's bolero-like guitar. And closed out, natch, by the still-and-always swoon-inducing "Deception Island Optimists Club". Would it be too much to ask for a full set with a lineup like this?

Listen to a track from this set here.

6:09 Snowblink + Luxury Pond — This sneaky double billing in fact looked deceptively like Snowblink, Luxury Pond being Dan Goldman's bandonym and the flipside to Daniela Gesundheit's Snowblink moniker. As to which of the five songs performed belonged to who seems a bit beside the point, given the simpatico collaboration between the two. As I witnessed last week, the pair's songs cause a sort of beguiling fog of wonderfulness to descend. A small, sculptured "Shhhh..." placed on top of an amp didn't entirely dispel chatters in the room, but it wasn't so bad as to overwhelm the band. Perhaps not quite as beguiling as a week ago — I wasn't being taken by surprise this time and had raised my expectations accordingly — but still lovely stuff.

A non-materialization by one of the scheduled bands led to the first gap in the day to change over the main stage, but by this point, three hours in with pretty much no pause, a bit of a break was more than welcome.

The rest of the goings-on will be posted in the day or two.

1 And for the first chunk of the day, please excuse the lack of photos — I was fooling around with camera settings, and in the early going took photos that were essentially blank.

2 Although it appears that no few people ducked out after the set, or at least retreated to the tables, as the floor was much quieter after his set.

3 Although the band's final selection certainly leaned more towards a Ulmer-esque kind of jazz rock, with Smith adroitly handling a tricky, nimble double-timed bass line.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Recording: Final Fantasy

Artist: Final Fantasy

Song: Keep the Dog Quiet*

Recorded at Bite Your Tongue #1 (The Guild, Toronto), August 5, 2009.

Final Fantasy - Keep the Dog Quiet

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing along the title.

Recording: Gowns

Artist: Gowns

Song: Marked*

Recorded at Bite Your Tongue #1 (The Guild, Toronto), August 5, 2009.

Gowns - Marked

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to a commenter for providing the title to this one.

Recording: Wyrd Visions

Artist: Wyrd Visions

Song: Unknown*

Recorded at Bite Your Tongue #1 (The Guild, Toronto), August 5, 2009.

Wyrd Visions - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Do you know the title of this song? Please leave a comment!

Recording: Carl Didur

Artist: Carl Didur

Song: Scarborough Bluffs ambient piece — excerpt

Recorded at Bite Your Tongue #1 (The Guild, Toronto), August 5, 2009.

Carl Didur - Scarborough Bluffs ambient piece

My notes for this performance can be found here.

Gig: Bite Your Tongue 1

Bite Your Tongue 1 (feat. Final Fantasy, Gowns, Huckleberry Friends, Wyrd Visions, Carl Didur)

The Guild. Saturday, September 5, 2009.

The first concert in a new series from the people who brought you Extermination Music Night, this seems to be more of an "aboveground" effort, given the advance tickets and the Toronto Arts Council grant.1 The location — revealed only on picking up the programme — turned out to be outside in the park behind the Guild Inn, a fair distance from downtown for the concert-going crowd.

Indeed, climbing up from the subway at Kennedy station and grabbing the 116 bus, it seemed pretty clear to me which were the Scarberian citizens headed home and which were the concert goers — and I wondered to myself if I were equally easy for everyone else to "type".2 A weirdly non-overlapping Venn diagram that makes one realize our concerts and suchlike are less socially inclusive than we like to convince ourselves. But still, an amusing ride through strip-mall land, watching concert attendees trying to comply with the organizers' requests to not drink at the event site by swigging their drinking boxes of wine while on the bus. Despite having checked the destination against the map and thinking it was a bit soon, when a whole bunch of people got off the bus as soon as it turned onto Guildwood Parkway, I followed suit, meaning we were about a fifteen-minute walk away from where we wanted to be. But a nice walk on a fine evening is no problem for me, and it was a nice chance to stroll through a pretty corner of the city — conditioned as we are to rage, rage against suburbia as blight, we forget how lovely it can be with mature tree cover and wide, sleepy streets.

The only downer was that this put my arrival time about twenty minutes after the scheduled starting time at seven. But it turned out that things were mildly behind schedule, and after my ad hoc hiking group found its wayward way to the concert site, I actually had a few minutes to settle in and absorb the surroundings before things started happening.

Hearing noises coming from towards the Bluffs, wandered away from the stage to find Carl Didur playing in a little hollow, his back to the lake, giving a rather lovely view to soak in as he created an ambient soundscape. Using tape loops in a pair of old reel-to-reel machines and sundry other gear, Didur created a slowly-shifting sound-field. It ranged from slightly harsh to pastoral in tone, with loops of drums, guitars, birdsong and human voice all winding their way in at various points. Bent over his gear with a cigarette dangling from his lips, occasionally tossing a loop of tape to the ground when switching to a new one, Didur looked like a man concentrating hard on some sort of abstract problem that he could — maybe — solve with his hands. There was generally a well-thought-out throughline through it all, and except for a couple transitional moments it was quite absorbing, with a pleasing circularity when old loops would appear back in the mix at a different speed and in a different context. Good stuff.

Listen to an excerpt from this performance here.

Moved back to the stage area and grabbed a spot of grass just as Wyrd Visions was starting to play. The solo project of one Colin Bergh, he played sitting on his own in the centre of the stage, the gathering darkness slowly making the glowing eye of the horsehead under the central arch the only source of light around. Playing on a double-necked guitar3, with occasional accents from a looping pedal, his songs were droney folk rambles — folk in the olde Brittania sort of way. Imagine Jandek as a minstrel singing songs of the boggy dew, and you're kinda on the right track. The fact that his set, just over a half-hour, consisted of four songs4 indicates that his tunes are designed to unspool themselves in their own dreamtime. All of these elements could go so wrong, and could veer to the unlistenable or the precious. But in these circumstances — the near-dark and the first stars winking on in the sky; the fecund descending dampness; crickets chirping in the background — it was perfect, almost sublime.5

Listen to a track from this set here.

Switching things to an entirely different kind of murky gloom was Huckleberry Friends. This local trio (guit, bass, effects, stand-up drum kit) traded off instruments frequently and played like a goth band with sub-Mo Tucker beats, both guit and bass working in the same sludgy low-end. The effect was ultimately a bit too monochromatic for my taste, but this band does have some ideas, and, if nothing else, a rigourous aesthetic.

Next up were Gowns, a duo from San Francisco, with "straight man" Ezra Buchla on synths and gear and the engaging Erika Anderson on guitar (and, on one song, playing live percussion via an iPod app). Folky drones played with synth-punk passive-aggression, the music a blurry smoosh of bad vibes. Lit from below with a footlight, a giant silhouette of Anderson was projected onto the rising columns behind her, suitably visually exciting, and befitting the songs' almost melodramatic downer sentiments. The generally dark songs were countered by the artistes' cheery disposition and chipper banter ("Sorry for the feedback — we don't normally play at, like, the Parthenon") and their unbridled enthusiasm to be playing this show in these surroundings. They closed with an epic, lacerating number, nearly ten minutes long, that worked itself into a storm of broken emotional fragments. An impressive set.6

Listen to a track from this set here.

A lengthy changeover between sets had me looking at my watch in worry, as I wondered how strict the eleven o'clock curfew was going to be. Taking the stage at about quarter-to, Final Fantasy launched right into creating a loop on his keyboard and supplanting that with his violin. For me, one of the best things about seeing Owen Pallett live is that his concerts are done in the Hüsker Dü vein — filled with songs from the next album, instead of the last one. This show was no exception, filled with songs that were unfamiliar to me, the artist openly disdaining his "hits" — a woman shouted out "CN Tower!" between songs, only to have Owen respond with a strongly-worded negative. Playing on the unlit stage, this had all the elements of a classic set in the offing, with even one of those random live moments, when Owen cut his loops off mid-song to shake off a spider on his ear and then dipped back into the song without missing a beat. Alas, the curfew was indeed being observed, and even though Owen managed to squeeze in one last song after being told it was time to stop, the plug was pulled at about ten past eleven. Still, it was an excellent-sounding set, ending with a song that I'd never heard before ("Independence is no solution for modern babies/ because babies they only want to dance") that the internet suggests might be a cover.7 After being cut off and inviting everyone out for his all-day birthday affair, the crowd burst into "Happy Birthday" as everyone dispersed. All told, a very satisfying night, and high praise is due to the organizers for putting it all together.8

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Assuming that logo's presence isn't a jape — the programme made several other spurious claims.

2 The non-concert-attending guys on the bus beside me could almost have been wearing tattoos reading "SCARBOROUGH STEREOTYPE" in big, old english letters, as they discussed which places were "good for dealing" and which were "too hot".

3 Although, in the murky circumstances, it was hard to see how much, if at all, he was playing on the upper neck.

4 I think, anyways, the songs also more or less melded one into another.

5 The only drawback were the dusk-loving mosquitoes which were swarming with ferocity. By the end of the set, I was kinda glad it was quite dark out, as I felt like my forehead was covered with mashed bug bits from my constant swatting.

6 For the curious, Gowns have nearly an hour's worth of MP3's free to download here.

7 And some further research indicates that, indeed, it appears to be by Sylvester Boy.

8 The trip back wasn't too bad, though I'm guessing the driver was a bit taken aback at the bus-filling crowd that greeted him on a quiet street late on a Saturday night.