Friday, December 31, 2010

Recording: METZ

Artist: METZ

Song: Soft Whiteout

Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour, August 13, 2010.

METZ - Soft Whiteout

My notes for this set can be found here.


METZ (Anagram / Induced Labour)

The Shop under Parts & Labour. Friday, August 13, 2010.

Having arrived after heading over from my previous gig, I only caught about the last ten minutes of Induced Labour who were perhaps as discomforting as their name suggests. Being stuck back in the crowd at The Shop is not a good way to be able to garner information like how many people there were in the band or what precisely they were doing to cause all that screaming.

That would turn out to be nothing more untoward than one manner of the group's vocalizations — there'd also be some croaking and shrieking on tap, all accompanied by rapid fire drumbursts and a constant guitar roar. If you listened to about five randomly-selected vintage AmRep tracks at once — or the soundtrack to a rock'n'roll demon possession in real time — you might get a similar effect.

Straight-up noise rock is generally outside my purview, so that I didn't get too much out of this should be taken with that in mind. Even when there was a veneer of tunefulness — like in the last song where they were ripping off "Ode to Joy" — this wasn't easy-to-digest stuff.

As the floor cleared out between sets, I was able to move up and grab some real estate closer to the front. And I did want to be be close to see Anagram, though experience told me I'd have to pick my spot carefully to not put myself in the path of what would surely be plenty of bouncing bodies. My absolute interest in seeing this set certainly struck me — when I saw Anagram for the first time at the start of the year, I enjoyed it, but I hadn't been electrified. And yet it was one of those shows whose memory grew on me, enough that I did seek them out a couple more times, seeing them at shows that managed to make me into a most ardent enthusiast. Perhaps it was partially that this show in P&L's somewhat claustrophobic basement surroundings was the most "standard" environment I'd seen them in for awhile might help to explain my affection.

Or perhaps it's that Anagram's music is so affecting. Even if I'm not one for the physicality that this engenders in some, there's something here that gets under my skin. And even if it's not something pleasant, given the band's emotional tone and subjectmatter, it feels damn good. To put it another way, the response in those forcing their way up to the front was not so much mosh-y as push-y and agitated.1 Looking around, I noted I wasn't the only one captivated enough to want to get close despite the peril — I'm amazed at the extent to which people will risk expensive-looking cameras by getting right in the action during sets like this.

Leading off with "Done Yet?", the turbulent thrum built up and there were soon bodies moving around — and suddenly waves of heat and stale beersmell started wafting through the room. That song, like most of the set would be from their then-forthcoming (though now-released2) Majewski album. At this point, seeing them live was the only way to commune with these songs and to get a feel for how they are constructed. It's interesting to note how most songs don't start with a count-in but rather a bass riff from Jeff Peers, whose low-end underpins things as Willy Mason's guitar slashes in from various crosscutting angles. Meanwhile singer Matt Mason attacks the songs on another front, prowling out into the crowd as far as his microphone cord would allow.

The songs are lean and sinewy but they can stretch out as necessary, the band sometimes riding out an unchanging chord to tension-inducing lengths. Besides the originals there was an especially good version of "Fish", a song by Whitby's Cleavers that Anagram have made their own. Mason's pauses stretch out longer and longer ("she scratches by back... scratches my toes...... Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.") to almost awkward lengths before the band comes back in. An intense and rather excellent half-hour.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I'd been hearing good things about headliners METZ for a while, but before this night our paths had not crossed. Taking the stage about quarter past one, the trio were celebrating the release of their third 7" single. They've been stingy on the official releases while building up their repertoire and their rep as a superior — and loud — live act.

As the set began, I felt a pleasing burst of flannelled familiarity — this is grunge, in the sense that we meant it back in my day.3 The band makes no effort to dispute this connection, here even introducing "Negative Space" (one of the sides from the new 7") as "Drown". "Alex wrote it with Smashing Pumpkins back in the day. It's on the Singles soundtrack," was the joke from bassist Chris Slorach. Labels aside, the music was, as advertised, loud and intense. I'd been holding the spot I'd grabbed to listen to Anagram, but things right up front were getting more animated. For my own peace of mind I moved around to the side, where it was generally more peaceable but the sound a bit more muddled up. The band did a pretty good job of plowing through what could have been a slop-inducing mess, beer flying through the air and friends up front more than willing to lean in to the microphones to add their vocal contributions.

Playing from all of their singles plus throwing in a couple newer ones, I was generally enthused by the band's interesting positioning in the catchy/not-catchy continuum. Not a lot of singalong choruses or anything, but some guitar hooks that you can catch on to. But also plenty shouty sharp corners in the Jesus Lizard-y mold, and the band was willing to let the beat drop and the guitar slip into shards of less-structured noise every once in a while. Good stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

As I'd felt on other occasions, I had somewhat mixed feelings about the venue — the vibe is apropos to the music but there really isn't enough space to step away if you happen to be a one that doesn't want other people's sweat (or gawdknows what else4) on you. And if you want to actually hear and see the band, you have to insinuate yourself right up in the thick of it. At the same time, a few overenthusiastic knobs aside — and they're everywhere, sadly — it's generally a comfortable enough crowd to be in, and the people who run the joint are class acts. Which is to say the space isn't without flaws, but I guess they're not so immense to keep me from heading back there on a semi-regular basis.

1 This, of course, doesn't give people licence to act outside the bounds of polite behaviour. For the life of me I cannot understand how these tall louts who suddenly have to be at the very front once the music starts think it's okay for them to push aside and stand in front of people shorter than them.

2 By virtue of trying to capture their live raw abrasiveness, Majewski is the band's least compromising recording to date. Although not suitable for every mood, it's a rip-snorting bit of work and one of my favourite albums of the year. No CD release, but you can grab it on vinyl if you're into that sort of thing, or as an intangible artifact here. Bonus points for selling the album in FLAC sans extra mark-up.

3 When I say "grunge" in casual conversation, I don't mean anything like a lot of dross that came to get lumped in with the term — I mostly mean, "it sounds a bit like TAD."

4 On my way out, as I stopped to give my regards to Anagram guitarist Willy Mason, there was a dude doubled over one of the room's plastic garbage cans. "Is that guy puking? Is that what's happening here?" he asked, looking mildly less than thrilled.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recording: Picastro

Artist: Picastro

Song: Two Women

Recorded at Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival), August 13, 2010.

Picastro - Two Women

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Picastro


The Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival). Friday, August 13, 2010.

Unlike some of the others in the SummerWorks music series, this one was very much a sit-down affair, and as I entered the theatre, a couple rows of chairs were being set up on the floor in front of the stage. A handful of people were trickling in, but it wasn't too crowded.

I was guessing that the women sitting in front of me were here for Evening Hymns, as they seemed to be unfamiliar with Picastro. Looking over the gear on the stage, one of them said to the other, "I think I'm going to like this band — I see cello and melodica... all we need are group vocals and fingersnaps!"

Uh-oh. I was musing to myself whether I should warn them or not, as Picastro's music works on a completely different plane than the jaunty indie-rock that I think they were expecting. Instead, the band is powered by the near-drony guitar figures and and keening/narcoleptic vocals of Liz Hysen, backed by Nick Storring's ghostly cello and Brandon Valdivia's percussion. Yeah, I'm not sure how this will go over with anyone expecting fingersnaps, but sitting down, with a quiet audience — this was a fine environment to settle in and listen.

The set lead off with "Split Head", from most recent album Become Secret. That would form the bulk of what the band played, but there were also what I think were a couple newer ones in there, too — Hysen needed to refer to her notebook a few times while singing. For the first couple songs, the vocals were higher in the mix than I think I've ever heard at a Picastro show — usually the slight snatches of lyrics are buried, poking out just enough to set the mood and let the slowly unfolding music provide the rest.

There's such a sense of dark melancholy to the band's music that I'm always taken aback to be reminded that the musicians aren't mordantly gloomy. In fact, between songs, while Hysen got caught up in some complicated re-tuning, she was relatively spirited and chatty. But then it's back into some sort of abyss with the stately bleak desperateness of "The Stiff".

A lot of the songs have a striking tension as they surf the line between atonal discomfort and soothing drift. Even what I'm finding "soothing" here is not some people's cup of tea — when Hysen switches from guitar to violin, I could imagine many people finding her interplay with Storring's cello to sound all too much like something Sherlock Holmes would play while in a particularly languid mood. After that, "Car Sleep" (from 2007's Whore Luck) felt like an upbeat pop tune.

There was also some subtle use of a looping pedal in final number "Albanis", Hysen picking out a theme on a guitar with one extra-weirdly tuned string that added one more decentering element as she switched again to violin. Not necessarily easy music to listen to, but very beautiful stuff when you're in the right frame of mind.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I could have quite easily stuck around for the other half of the concert featuring Evening Hymns, but I has something entirely louder and less genteel to head off to.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recording: Persian Rugs

Artist: Persian Rugs

Song: Phone Call From the Lake

Recorded at The Garrison, December 28, 2010.

Persian Rugs - Phone Call From the Lake

Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recording: Forest City Lovers

Artist: Forest City Lovers

Song: Tell Me, Cancer

Recorded at The Great Hall, August 12, 2010.

Forest City Lovers - Tell Me, Cancer

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Gentleman Reg

Artist: Gentleman Reg

Song: Driving the Truth

Recorded at The Great Hall, August 12, 2010.

Gentleman Reg - Driving the Truth

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Carmen Elle

Artist: Carmen Elle

Song: Cold and Alcohol

Recorded at The Great Hall, August 12, 2010.

Carmen Elle - Cold and Alcohol

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Forest City Lovers

Forest City Lovers (Gentleman Reg / Carmen Elle)

The Great Hall. Thursday, August 12, 2010.

"Enjoy the awesome awesomeness," said the woman at the door as she stamped my hand. Well, you can't ask for a better welcome than that. I stepped into the large open space of The Great Hall, taking in a scene of OOTS-y wholesomeness, with songs by local musicians playing in the background while little circles of friends sat on the floor chatting. This is not, it should be said, a mean-looking crowd.

As is often the case at shows hosted by local label Out of This Spark, there's been some effort to make the whole thing a bit of an experience, including a nicely decorated stage. Also a frequent sight at OOTS shows: label honcho Stuart Duncan pacing semi-distractedly around the room, as if he were on the lookout for last-minute problems to solve. Everything seemed well in hand, though, and there was a decently-sized early crowd on hand, especially considering that this show was competing with one at SummerWorks that'd appeal to mostly the same audience.

I picked this one because it was a stacked lineup, and I'd been waiting for awhile to get a chance to see a full set by Carmen Elle. Here, she was playing as a two-piece with Andy Smith on drums. "We tried to decide over dinner if we were going to have a band name, but we couldn't think of anything... yet."1 Name or no, the pair were on to something with their stripped-down rock'n'roll goodness. Carmen Elle is a crafty guitar player as well as a very fine vocalist, with a superior voice that occasionally brought to mind a tougher kd lang. The songs were getting better and better as the set progressed, Carmen Elle getting more relaxed and rocking out some — stepping up onto an amp here and doing a high kick there. That was admitted after not to be so much of a big rock-star move as a cue to Smith — the pair were still learning to play these songs together. If this was just the rough sketch of where this music is going, then the fully-formed versions should be really special. I'm very much looking forward to hearing more from this pair.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And after that, a perennial favourite in the middle slot. Quietly taking the stage, Reg Vermue introduced himself, "Hello, everybody, my name is Gentleman Reg." Long pause, as he looked out and waited for the chattering crowd to react. I counted about ten steamboats before he leaned into the microphone, speaking more forcefully, "I said, 'I'm Gentleman Reg'". That got people's attention and garnered the requisite amount of applause for Reg to begin. On his own, he played one of the new songs (let's tentatively call it "Maybe We Won't") that he'd debuted during his Drake "Regidency" early in the year. He was then joined by his band leaping into "To Some It Comes Easy". That would be one of the relatively few older songs being played this night, with the setlist focusing on the post Jet Black age — not just the new ones that had been aired out a few times already (such as the likable one that might be called "Make It Better") but also a pair of brand new songs. Reg rightly noted those ones were "synth heavy", leaning heavily on Kelly McMichael's work to propel them along. "Charmed in a Phone Booth" was the title of one, "Driving the Truth" the other — that one featured a very tasty squiggly instrumental outro.

Vermue is sitting on enough new material that it couldn't all crack the setlist, and the amazing new song "It's True" was missed here. But it's good to see things being mixed up, and besides the regular appearance of "Wild Heart", there was also a slowed-down cover of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy", with bassist Jon Hynes taking over guitar and McMichael singing the choruses, making the song into a duet.

Playing what was pretty much the band's only local set of the summer, Reg and company played for just shy of fifty minutes, As always, I was glad to have the chance to catch a snapshot of the band's steadily-evolving repertoire.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, at the heart of the awesome awesomeness, Forest City Lovers played to celebrate the launch of Carriage, the third full-length under the FCL banner. The core five-piece unit was supplemented for this show with some extra textures by Claire Whitehead on violin and keybs. The set started off, just like the album, with the owlish "Phodilus & Tyto", and there was a chance to hear the extra strings right from the outset. The band would follow along with the album tracklisting for a couple more songs, including the delightful "Tell Me, Cancer", before starting to skip back and forth a little more.

Overall, this would be a more ornate, less rock configuration than they'd brought to the table lately. With a lot of family and friends in attendance, the band was a bit more in recital mode, a little tentative and more stiff than they can be. This generally didn't undermine the songs too much — in fact, it helped add a certain stateliness to material like "Keep the Kids Inside". And as always, no matter how the songs were being presented, there was still Kat Burns' warm voice at the centre of it all.

All told, the band would play nine of their new album's eleven tracks to start the show2 before pausing to tune and introduce the band. They then dipped back into some of the older songs, mostly favourites from 2008's Haunting Moon Sinking like "Watching the Streetlights Grow" and "Don't Go". There was only "Song For Morrie" to represent 2006's debut The Sun And The Wind, and then one last dip into the new one to close out the main set with "Constellation".

The band came back out for the encore to play "Orphans" before getting some "woah-oh-oh" action from the crowd on "Country Road". All told, I would rate this more of a good performance than an outstanding one — perhaps with so much new material, the band was more worried about getting it right than elevating it to the next level. But as always, the band's open-heartedness pulled it through. One of Burns' best attributes as a performer is her totally unaffected guilelessness, making it hard not to get pulled in to the songs' warm centres.2

You can check out a couple tracks from this set – try here or here.

1 This duo alignment apparently has indeed gelled into a more formal band, now called Army Girls. They've recently posted a track on their bandcamp page, which is well-worth checking out.

2 Ultimately, of all the songs on Carriage, only "Believe Me" wouldn't be tackled.

3 And I shouldn't neglect to mention that as a record, Carriage is pretty fantastic and a step up for the band. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Recording: PS I Love You

Artist: PS I Love You

Song: Breadends

Recorded at the Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival), August 11, 2010.

PS I Love You - Breadends

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Diamond Rings

Artist: Diamond Rings

Song: Wait & See

Recorded at the Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival), August 11, 2010.

Diamond Rings - Wait & See

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Diamond Rings

Diamond Rings (PS I Love You)

The Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival). Wednesday, August 11, 2010.

An early, eager crowd waiting to get into this one, with two well-regarded artists on the cusp of releasing their debut albums. As the doors opened, the crowd swooped in to grab seats. I followed Av.'s admirable example, skipping to the chase and grabbing some floor right up front — this isn't a proper show for sittin'. Checking the setup, I noted that both bands' gear set up on stage, promising a quick turnover between sets — and the possibility of some collaboration.

Paul Saulnier (who puts the "PS" in PS I Love You) took the stage with sweatbands on his wrists, thick laces in his untied sneakers, cut-offs, and a shirt with its sleeves shorn off, looking like it was dropped off at a thrift store after Bruce Banner had a particularly stressful day. They lead off with "Subtle and Majestic"1 (from the band's self-titled EP) before moving into the songs from the then-still-forthcoming Meet Me at the Muster Station album, each one with its own tasty waves of guitar. "Breadends" and "Little Spoon" made especially strong impressions.

Although the songs are based around Saulnier's axework, he doesn't overdo it — these are quick songs, most lasting less than three minutes. The shred-y moments fold in well to the songs, and the crowd loved the guitar heroics, fingertapping and all. With the guitar and footpedals2 to attend to, Saulnier isn't the most voluble on stage, remaining hidden behind an unkempt fringe of hair like a lion's mane, and passing along just a few quick comments between songs. Drummer Benjamin Nelson was likewise also all-business, so the songs had to do most of the communicating here.

Over the half-hour set, the pair played pretty much everything that would be on Muster Station, and ended on a "brand new one", with all the familiar elements in place, and the guitar work perhaps even picked up a notch, a particularly Dinosaur Jr.-esque solo in the middle reflecting Saulnier's growing prowess and confidence.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, more of those people who'd grabbed seats at the outset took to the floor in preparation for Diamond Rings, who was, it would turn out, playing to an increasingly screamygirl demographic. Never one to show up underdressed to one of his own gigs, John O'Regan was in full back-to-back World Series glory, right down to a '92 championship ribbon. That went along with his cut-off shorts and golden leggings, plus fingerless leather gloves. The shortest descriptor for his hair/make-up combo would be "Grace Jones-esque". From show to show, O'Regan gets a little more confident and the stage set gets a bit more elaborate — this time out, there was a fog machine added to the stable.

As usual, the set started off with the keyboard-driven stuff ("Play By Heart", "On Our Own") before O'Regan picked up his guitar, which on this night was a special-occasion Flying V, complete with pink strap to match his nail polish. The big rock guitar added some extra oomph to "Wait & See" and a tearingly electric version of "Something Else". And then, back to the straighter synth-rock, activating the fog machine to try and recreate the vibe of the video for "Show Me Your Stuff" before closing out the main portion of his set with the delicious slow-jam "It's Not My Party".

Listen to a track from this set here.

But that wasn't all. To celebrate the informal first anniversary of the split 7" that had started it all, PS I Love You returned to the stage to join O'Regan on both of the career-launching songs from that single, leading off with "Facelove". Seeing Saulnier standing next to O'Regan always provides a bit of an odd couple vibe, like seeing Frodo standing next to Gandalf, but the mutual support is quite tangible between the musicians. Meanwhile, "All Yr Songs", the first and most familiar of all these tunes, was renewed here as a rough and rangy guitar rocker including a totally sizzling solo from Saulnier.

And then to cap things off, for an encore the combo group debuted a brand new co-write called "Leftovers", featuring driving drums and plenty of room for dual-guitar action. Despite O'Regan taking lead vocals, it sounded much more like it might belong on a PS I Love You album. Regardless, even though both these artists are going to be busy for the next while touring those first albums, it's nice to get an early glimpse of them thinking beyond that already. A fun show.

Listen to a rockin' joint effort here.

1 Confidential to women: Any time a guy says, as this song's lyrics begin, "I'm not trying to be / romantic / but I made you this mixtape", he's probably not being entirely truthful.

2 The pedals were rather low in the mix for this set, leaving the band's sound thinner on the bottom end than would be optimal.

3 PS I Love You are playing tonight (Dec. 27th) at The Drake Underground, as part of the "Out of the Box" series — five bands a night for five bucks, which is quite hard to beat.

Recording: Bryan W. Bray & Chris Worden

Artist: Bryan W. Bray & Chris Worden

Song: Excerpt from an Improvisation

Recorded at Wavelength 512 — Boxing Day Special Food Drive and Festival, The Garrison, December 26, 2010.

Bryan W. Bray & Chris Worden - Excerpt from an Improvisation

Full review to follow My notes for this set can now be found here. What with the cold and general Boxing Day torpidity, I very nearly didn't bother heading out to this show, but I was glad that I did, as the mix of pop and un-pop sounds was quite enjoyable.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Song: Outlaw Blues (Bob Dylan cover)

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival, Toronto Island, August 8, 2010.

catl - Outlaw Blues

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Pants and Tie

Artist: Pants and Tie

Song: 7 x 7

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival, Toronto Island, August 8, 2010.

Pants and Tie - 7 x 7

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Mathemagic

Artist: Mathemagic

Song: Always Will Be

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival, Toronto Island, August 8, 2010.

Mathemagic - Always Will Be

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Magical Bunch

Artist: The Magical Bunch

Song: The Future

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival, Toronto Island, August 8, 2010.

The Magical Bunch - The Future

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Romo Roto

Artist: Romo Roto

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival, Toronto Island, August 8, 2010.

Romo Roto - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Festival: The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day Two)

Wavelength presents The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day Two) (feat. Mathemagic / The Magical Bunch / Buke and Gass / Romo Roto / Pants and Tie / catl)

Artscape Gibraltar Point. Sunday, August 8, 2010.

It was a fine day out, with the exception of some looming clouds threatening rain. Met up early with K., and we started the day off with a sidetrip to Taste of The Danforth, making a pass down through the strip and filling up on meats on sticks and in pitas and so forth. There was actually just a quick bit of rain, short enough that we ducked under a storefront to eat for a couple minutes and it passed.

As we made our way to the ferry docks and over to the Island, the sky was looking less and less like it might interfere with the day. Being in good time, we hopped the Centre Island ferry and ambled toward Gibraltar point from there, not needing to be in too much of a rush. And indeed, we got there before the crowd, having some time to wander around and investigate the building. Compared to the day before, there was a bit less of an all-out all-ages festive vibe on this day — no face-painting, fewer kids running around and playing while the show was on.

In fact, Sunday's vibe was a bit more grown-up and Wavelength-y, possibly in part because the day was being hosted by none other than Doc Pickles, leading off by speaking to an almost empty room on the topic of speaking to an empty room.

A handful of people would filter in as Mathemagic began their set. I'm not sure whether it was just my mood or the laid-back summer-schoolhouse vibe, but the Guelph-based trio felt well-suited to the environs. They definitely looked a little looser while performing than the last time I saw 'em, which was a great improvement, although they're still not bantering or interacting with the room much yet. And they're still not, like, rockin' or anything — their sound is all treble and gauze. Not all of the songs connected with me, but it turns out that if you're listening to this band while sitting down and chillin' there's something there to appreciate. Even with guitars and layered voices on top of the laptop-provided beats1 it was still a little stiff and "canned", and there's still not a natural grace and flow in the band's performance. During "Reggae" (which asks the musical question "do you want truth or do you want your baby?") Evan (or perhaps Dylan) Euteneier sat to play a midi keyboard, but had to lean over awkwardly from time to time to actuate something on the laptop. But there's been progress made. And with the faint General Chaos swirling lights behind them, it was a pleasantly light summer day confection.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, after a very quick turnover2, The Magical Bunch, also from Guelph3 blasted into their set. Coming at the notion of an all-ages show from the opposite angle, the band was composed of siblings Christian, Christopher, Victoria and Vestine Ryangoma, who range from ten to sixteen years old. As such, one might cynically think that this was a "gimmick" band. But from the get-go, this was such solidly funky stuff — I was quickly thinking that this might be the most technically proficient band we'd see all day — that there was no thought of giving them a free pass on account of their youth.

The band started off, appropriately enough, with "The Future"4, one of a non-stop rush of original tunes sporting soulful influences, with occasional hints of reggae vibes and hip-hop spirit. Ten-year-old Vestine handled the bulk of the lead vocals, but eldest sibling Christian took over on a couple songs as well. Amazingly solid and great fun to listen to. The songwriting was maybe the least developed thing here — a couple of the songs had the air of generic genre studies, but that didn't distract from how fun this bunch were. "It just lets me know you're never too old to start a new band," Doc Pickles commented at the end of their set.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, following on some advance hype, came what looked to be the fullest room of the weekend, with an eagerly-sitting crowd for Buke and Gass. The Brooklyn duo of Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer play the homemade instruments (baritone ukulele and guitar/bass) from which they took their band name. They played sitting down — giving Sanchez an opportunity to add percussion via a kickdrum with a tambourine attached, while a shortwave radio tuned to the BBC World Service played in the background, adding a layer of chatter behind everything else.

The pair managed to wrangle quite a range of sounds from their instruments — the buke was almost piano-like at times, and a lot of the time there were two or three sonic levels unfolding at once. Perhaps it was because of that I couldn't really find my way into the songs. The music was "busy" and at times threatening to tumble into tunelessness. I think that radio playing in the background was a bit of a hint what they were going for — sometimes it sounded like they were stuck between stations, though at others it came back down to something more grounded.

Even live, this sounded like a crazy-quilt of home-recorded, pitch-shifted loops — the closest thing musically that it brought to mind for me was Tune-Yards. I found it technically interesting more than musically compelling, but it certainly went over big with the crowd. There's been enough response that the band has already made a couple return trips to town, so there's certainly a receptive audience for what they're doing.

Listen to a track from this set here.

It had been over a year since I'd seen Romo Roto, who'd left me with mixed feelings on first exposure. As they begun, things sounded a bit more arranged than I'd remembered. Still very much a clamourous caterwauling, to be sure, once it built up in intensity, but I think Alexandra Mackenzie and Tomas Del Balso were playing with a bit more focus. And a sense of fun as well — Del Balso gave a charmingly goofy demonstration of what he explained was the official dance of Toronto Island, sort of running in place with arms flying about. Buke and Gass, now hanging out in the crowd, shared in the delighted laughter over that and, like most of those present, seemed to be digging the band.

Pounding away at their minimal drumkits, they were backed on many of the songs with sound-loops played on an old cassette player. Both the drumming and the vocals would switch instantly from being in close unison to offsetting, opposing lines. And like those shifts, I went back and forth on how much I was digging it. But say what you will about the band, they bring a ferocious kineticism, evidenced on the superfast final song with co-ordinated crossover drumming between the two kits. Musically, I think this is always going to be sort of hit and miss for me, but I totally admire the spirit and energy that the band bring with them. While they're playing, I can get into the fun of it, even if it doesn't quite inspire me to do the island dance.

Listen to a track from this set here.

As night fell, Romo Roto's gusto was replaced by electro-soulfunkers Pants and Tie, who are unquestionably dancey but veer more towards restraint. This was another band I'd seen a while back, but the same elements I remembered were in place, mostly the lignite of frantic desperation compressed into disco diamonds. Coming off like the world's most anxious funk band, the most distinctive element was persistently-jittery vocalist Mark Colborne, who walked around in front of the band with the broken cadence of a Fremen soldier as he delineated sexual dysfunctions in "7 x 7" and "Mr. Pickton"

It could be my memory playing tricks on me — or just going in with a notion of what to expect — but I found the music to be a bit more free and funky, a bit more naturally easy to groove along to, a counterpoint to the vocals that made the whole thing less claustrophobic without ruining the delicious tension that underlies the songs. A good time.5

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, to close things out, it was out to the yard for some back-porch blues from catl, playing at one edge of the lawn with a minimal PA setup. One of the General Chaos projectors was aimed out of the Fireplace Lounge's window onto the trees behind the band as they wrapped up the festival like a woozy heavyweight who'd spent the weekend downing whiskey sours. Leading off with an extended ramble through "5 Miles", the sound had just the right amount of rawness to it — elegantly rough enough for the band to credibly tackle a back-to-back pair of Hasil Adkins covers. Though it never looked like a sure thing, the rain had held off after all — and being outside for this was a perfectly awesome ending to the day.

And then after a rip-roaring run through Dylan's "Outlaw Blues" it got better, with the band closing out with a quite literally explosive finale as fireworks shot up into the sky behind them as they rocked out "Workin' Man's Soul". Simple elements, but at the right moment it all came together and felt like a special occasion.

Listen to a track from this set here.

All things told, a rather excellent event. Even if I didn't lovelovelove each and every one of the acts, it was a well-chosen lineup, and this is the sort of event that is way more then the sum of its parts — I didn't come for any one band so much as the experience, and it was one of the year's best shows.6

Sunday night on the Island was quieter than Saturday, with the moorings less-lined with partying boaters. That made for an even murkier walk back to the ferry dock, but it was still rather pleasant. (At least up to the very end, when, in sight of the dock, K. found a stray pothole that led to a scary-looking tumble. Not too much damage done, however.) Back on the mainland, I had the weird/surreal experience of being on a high from this bit of independent, local culture when I ran into the ACC crowd dispersing from the Paul McCartney concert and suddenly felt rather outnumbered and out of place. Well, they can have their expensive arena shows — I'd take something up-close and personally engaging like ALL CAPS any day.

1 This band featured two Macbooks right next to each other — is this the dreampop equivalent of a macho double-necked guitar?

2 The band were so efficient in getting set up that Duncan didn't even have time to make it to the stage for a verbally dexterous intro — they were too young and eager to realize they should be prepared to hang back for a few minutes.

3 I don't know what's in the water out there, but after seeing the first two bands on this bill I was a little sad that The Magic, also from Guelph, weren't playing this show as well.

4 The Magical Bunch's take on the future was much more optimistic than the similarly-named Leonard Cohen song — or the also similarly-named Prince song, too. (Highly tangential thought: has anyone even done a Prince/LC "Future" mashup?)

5 If you need to blast away some post-holiday tension, Pants and Tie will be playing next week (Dec. 30) at The Garrison's Boxing Week Festival & Food Drive.

6 And hopefully, this is going to continue and become a tradition. Word from the Wavelength camp is to keep August 13 and 14 free on your 2011 calendar.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Recording: Bocce

Artist: Bocce

Song: Mr. X

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One), Artscape Gibraltar Point, August 7, 2010.

Bocce - Mr. X

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Dog Day

Artist: Dog Day

Song: Eurozone

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One), Artscape Gibraltar Point, August 7, 2010.

Dog Day - Eurozone

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Krista L.L. Muir

Artist: Krista L.L. Muir

Song: Fruit Belt

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One), Artscape Gibraltar Point, August 7, 2010.

Krista L.L. Muir - Fruit Belt

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Huelepega Sound System

Artist: Huelepega Sound System

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One), Artscape Gibraltar Point, August 7, 2010.

Huelepega Sound System - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: The Soupcans

Artist: The Soupcans

Song: I Don't Wanna be a Soupcan

Recorded at The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One), Artscape Gibraltar Point, August 7, 2010.

The Soupcans - I Don't Wanna be a Soupcan

My notes for this set can be found here.

Festival: The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One)

Wavelength presents The ALL CAPS! Island Festival (Day One) (feat. The Soupcans / Huelepega Sound System/ Krista L.L. Muir / Rick White / Dog Day / Bocce)

Artscape Gibraltar Point. Saturday, August 7, 2010.

Last year's Wavelength-abetted ALL CAPS! island show was amongst the year's best, so when it was announced that this year's version was going to be a two-day affair, I was doubly delighted. Not in the least because spreading the goodness over two days meant that the day would be less of a marathon, starting more toward the evening instead of the afternoon. And with getting back to the mainland a top concern, island shows always wrap up nice and early as well. And so, on a fairly delightful day, took the ferry out to Hanlan's and had a most pleasant stroll over to Artscape Gibraltar Point, the artists' live/work space that still feels very much like the old schoolhouse it used to be.

Working hard to keep things entertaining for patrons of all ages, there were a variety of ancillary activities besides the music, including games and a tarot card reader outside. Inside, besides open artists' studios to visit, and a room dedicated to some spoken word material, there was a pile of sports equipment available to borrow at the merch table, along with earplugs to protect young ears. And face-painting!1 Even amongst the thin early turnout, it was nice to see some familiar faces on site, and more throughout the day as things filled in. It was a likable, easy-going sort of crowd, as if being on the island gave everyone a chance to unclench a little bit.

Well, maybe for everyone except local punkrockarollers The Soupcans, leading the day off loudfastrules style. With guitar and bass and a two-piece stand-up drum kit that almost managed to overwhelm everything else, the band were out to make a snotty/tuneful racket. The vox were in the yowl and hurgh zone and way down in the mix, though I reckon they like it that way.

If these guys were the cast of a movie, they'd be space-miners in an escape pod fleeing a dying asteroid, slowly going mad, eyeing each other with unshaven, paranoid suspicion. Their feedback-y, shout-y songs were filled with a sorta jokey, almost overly-affected will to cartoon-punk nihilism and rock'n'roll rebellion — though with a knowing edge of how goofy that stance is.2 On being told they had time for one more song they "rebelled" and played two — not such a massive transgression when the songs are all under two minutes. If you like howling feedback filling the gaps between songs, this is the band for you — not reinventing any wheels, but a bracing bit of fun.

Listen to a track from this set here.

A change of direction following that, with Huelepega Sound System setting up. "Originally from Columbia and... El Salvador?" host Georgia Webber asked, looking over at the band.

"Mississauga," one said back casually.

"Well, that just got less interesting," she trailed off, though that perhaps underlines how any of us assume that mutant culture couldn't arise out of someplace we tend to think of as spectacularly unexotic. Self-described as "doombia", or more precisely, "chopped and screwed Colombia-via-Mexican cumbia", with some slowed-down vocal samples and other bits worked in with a sort of dub methodology. Here, the music started with a groovy beat, the trio working laptops and other electronics enhanced by live percussion. In keeping with the idea of being a "sound system" rather than a band, one got the idea that they were versioning existing music more than "playing", pushing them into that grey area where music is being mixed and remixed so radically that it becomes something new. The finer points of what this music "is" is mostly left to worried trainspotters — for the most part it exists to get people moving.

By which standard, this wasn't a runaway success. In this space, with bright evening daylight streaming in through the windows and a thin assortment of people paying close attention, there wasn't a dance breakout or anything. On the other hand, as another element in the environment, serving as a sonic backdrop for the folks choosing to sit out on the back lawn and wandering in and out, it fit well. I don't know anything about cumbia — or pretty much any contemporary Latin American music, really — so this was a chance to listen to something that I probably wouldn't have checked out of my own volition. Interesting stuff, and I'm glad the show included something that was really outside my normal range.

Listen to a track from this set here.

After some time to wander around and take in the surroundings — there's a particularly nice bit of beach right nearby — came back in time to hear Georgia Webber, herself a former student in this building, re-tell the story of ghostly lighthousekeeper J.P. Rademuller before turning things over to Krista L.L. Muir. The "L.L." is the remnant of the time Muir spent under the nom de guerre Lederhosen Lucil and that moniker, along with the fact that her chosen instrument is the ukulele, gives a hint of the gung-ho vaudevillian persona that she brings to stage. Her bouncy onstage demeanour would be a good framing device to keep attention on her low-key but pleasing vocals.

Playing only with the accompaniment of a bassist, Muir confessed that she was using this audience as guinea pigs as she incorporated some laptop-provided backing tracks into her set. The results were mixed. Still learning the ropes of incorporating the laptop on stage was making her slightly discombobulated — later in the set she'd confess, "I'm not used to karaoke! I'm used to real bodies."

There were some subtle charmers here, like "Concrete Love Song", but when the file with the beats for "Fruit Belt" wouldn't open, the resulting low-tech clapalong jaunt was the most fun of the set, showing that Muir was at her best when relying on her own abilities as an entertainer, engaging the audience and even throwing in some rockin' leg kicks at the end of "Drugging the Drain". The laptop problems came again at the end of the set, forcing a re-start of "Between Atoms"3 before they just gave up on the song and went out on another human-powered clapalong, this one en français. All things considered, I probably enjoyed the set more when realworld indeterminacy supplanted the carefully constructed laptop stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And from there, the action moved outside to the foot of the possibly-haunted Gibraltar Point lighthouse. There was still a mellow, lighthearted vibe in the air — something that's helped along upon seeing some of the folks that one normally sees in darkened bars walking around in full facepaint, their inner dragon or butterfly nature on display for all to see. And as sunset approached, the amiable Rick White played while some hastily-moved projection machines from General Chaos lit the masonry behind him. Working without a setlist, White flipped through his notebook ("this is my memory") to find songs to play. He spent a good chunk of his set in the area filled with songs from 2009's 137, including the catchy "Perception", but also stopped on the lovely "Why Be So Curious?" which he wrote for The Sadies4 and had an appropriately pastoral vibe. And speaking of seeing the forest for the trees, White pulled out a couple covers, including Linda Ronstadt's "Different Drum" and Syd Barrett's "Flaming". Ruefully flipping past a bunch of Beau Brummels, White commented that once he got started he just wanted to keep playing covers. Instead, he covered himself, dipping back to Elevator for "The Change".

It was still quite light as the set started, but it quickly drained away as the sun went down, giving the lighthouse a spookier vibe. Once White got going, it looked like he could have kept playing for quite a spell, but with pressure to keep things on schedule, he sent the crowd back in to the schoolhouse to check out a band that he had recently produced.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That would be Halifax's Dog Day, now playing as a stripped-down two-piece of core members Seth Smith and Nancy Urich. It would a sort of return to the garage for the pair, whose music recalls but doesn't imitate the low-slung guitar-based glory of classic college rock from the 80's and 90's. I was a bit late in coming to the band, but they won me over when I saw them playing last year, and even moreso with their Concentration album, so I was curious to see if they'd managed to achieve addition through subtraction — one can see the economic sense of this alignment, but rock'n'roll-wise, two heads is usually less good than four.

All told, this setup was a bit more limiting than the old quartet. Urich's drumming was sometimes a bit of a work in progress, but it got the job done. The strength of of songs was the main thing, and most of new material the band played was pretty good. I especially dug "Eurozone" — I'd've used the adjective "moody" to describe it, but that kinda applies to them all. The first few songs were with Smith on guitar and Urich on drums; midway, they'd switch off for a couple songs, and that worked well, too. On the last song of the set, it did seem to come all together, the music well-arranged enough that it didn't feel like there was anything missing. So if, as it looks like, the band is sticking with this lineup, it sounds like they have the potential to grow into it.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The crowd thinned after that set, with some opting to grab an early ferry back to the mainland, but there was one band left to go. Waterloo's Bocce led with "Transmission", which began with a more deliberate build than I remembered the band bringing to the table — or perhaps I just mentally edited that part out since the last time I saw 'em, since what I mostly remember about that set was dance-y craziness. That would come, but I had the impression that the band has learned something about pacing themselves.

Perhaps appropriate to the venue, at the start it felt rather like a school dance, with almost everyone standing against the walls until the boogie imperative took over and people started moving along to the vocoder-heavy dance beats. By the time the band kicked up "Disco Juan" ("it's a sham! / Damn!") things were moving pretty good. The band even threw in a verse from Woodhands' "Can't See Straight" for good measure.

The best thing about Bocce, though, is that no matter how robotic their sounds might be, they're always very "live" in their execution — this is not one of those "just press play" sort of groups. This is thanks in no small part to the bouncy kineticism of vocalist Tony Salomone, who likes to get active during a show — here he ran over to the merch table to grab a skipping rope to try and get the crowd hopping. Good fun.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That would be the end of the first day's activities, and as most of the remaining crowd hopped on their bikes to cruise back to the ferry docks, I had a nice stroll back with AA, as we made our way back though the uncitylike nightdarkness to grab that last ferry back to the non-island part of the world.

1 The latter was undertaken, to awesome effect, by Maria Bui, who probably also deserves a medal or hug or some form of recognition for her work with Fuzzy Logic Recordings.

2 Surfing that line, one song was introduced with the angry shout of "this is about a sandwich!"

3 That one would be the title track of Muir's next album, which is slated for a spring '11 release.

4 The Sadies recorded it on 2004's Favourite Colours. White also performed "Anna Leigh", another one he gave to The Sadies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recording: The Hidden Cameras

Artist: The Hidden Cameras

Song: Kingdom Come

Recorded at The Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival), August 6, 2010.

The Hidden Cameras - Kingdom Come

My notes for this show can be found here.

Gig: The Hidden Cameras

The Hidden Cameras

Lower Ossington Theatre (SummerWorks Festival). Friday, August 6, 2010.

For the third year of musical programming at the SummerWorks Festival, there were a few changes afoot. Most notably, the action was shifted from The Theatre Centre (underneath The Great Hall), a spot that was not especially well-loved as a music venue, where slow turnovers from plays running there seemed to lead to perpetually late-starting shows. This year, things were shifted to The Lower Ossington Theatre, which was unknown to me, but turned out to be a generally sympathetic space. Several rows of tiered seating allowed space for those inclined to sit, and the floor in front of a good-sized stage could be set up with chairs, or not, depending on the vibe of each show. The facility also had more room for some other ancillary events, including some installation-y stuff in a room dubbed "the Playground" as well as cabaret-styled shows with a host of musical guests in the lower "Performance Bar". Also notably, the Music Coordinator for this year's series was Kevin Parnell — known for his work with Wavelength — who curated a very strong lineup of local talent. There were no shows in the music series that I was totally uninterested in, though with one thing or another, there were a couple I couldn't make it to.1

Leading the whole thing off was an extra-special event, featuring a melding of music and dance and theatricality from a name that could easily sell out a much larger space. When word went out that The Hidden Cameras were undertaking a "dramatic retelling" of last year's Origin: Orphan it seemed to make sense. The band has had a longstanding interest in finding different ways to perform, and in mixing it up with different artforms, including dance. The word also came with the proviso that this was more of a "workshop" kind of performance, more presenting a sketch of where leader Joel Gibb wanted to take this than any kind of finished product.

Even still, it was the Hidden Cameras, and more than enough of an event to merit a two-night run to lead off the music series. I was there with A. for the second runthrough, and one piece of advice that had trickled down from those who had been there the night before was to arrive early to get a seat. As things turned out, we ended up not getting down there as punctually as I was hoping for, and indeed all the the seats were taken as we entered the theatre. We did manage to grab spots on the first step up of the risers, so there was a little bit of legroom — more than those who arrived after us who were relegated to some tightly-packed zones on the floor in front of the stage.

The space on the floor was mostly being held open — before the show for a booth selling beer, and then as as the main spot for the dancers. The stage was filled with the band — eight in all on this night, including viola player Lief Mosbaugh, who had been missed in the band's last few local shows. It quickly became apparent that this wasn't going to be just a song-by-song run-through (like the album's release party) with some interpretive dancing, but a purposeful dramatic arc. As the band started the slow, stately march of the title track, the dancers emerged in front of them, with Gibb amongst their number, singing from the floor. Their urchin costumes and ragamuffin makeup would indicate that these were the Orphans, and the songs of the first set basically served as an account of the various travails they had to deal with, mostly at the hands of a malicious Authority Figure, portrayed by Keith Cole.

Although the narrative thrust of the story was pretty vague at times, there was enough going on that it didn't seem like too big a deal. The band — quite unusually for a Hidden Cameras show — were mostly seated and not drawing attention to themselves, but the screen behind them featured a series of visuals acting as a backdrop to the dancers. The "story" increasingly came to revolve around the youngest of the group, a kid who appeared to be Gibb's alter ego — or at least that's what I one would guess when dancing goblins2 raised up and devoured The Kid at the end of "He Falls to Me", only for Joel to emerge as the band struck up "In the NA". The first half, with all Heavy Themes and Confusing Elements ran a half hour, before a theatre-style intermission.3

The end of the break was signified by Keith Cole, wandering around ringing a bell with gusto to call people back into the theatre space for the second half. This part began with the slow, stately build of "Ratify the New", which here was an anthem to painful catharsis — there was a lot of anguished screaming from the orphans. One main theme that seemed easy to draw out from all of this was the idea that all the trauma a person goes through is the stuff from which Self is built — and eventually, even if there's no higher transcendence, there's still Art.

During "Do I Belong?", the band beckoned Gibb up to the stage, who shyly accepted and then, gaining confidence, called up the rest of the Orphans, who became singers. The outcasts have formed a band! At song's end, Gibb addressed the audience for the first time — but in character, saying, "this is our first show – we've never played before. It's so good to be in a band. We're going to make a CD soon and we hope you guys come and see us again." And they performed a song that sounded something very much something by the nascent Hidden Cameras.4 You could use this to "read" the whole story as being autobiographical in a sense, but I don't know how far you'd want to push it. Anyways, there was a sense of joyous overcoming and of everything being all right — a grown-up equilibrium of getting over all the childhood traumas and building something of yourself out of it.

But that left a loose end — Keith Cole, the old Authority Figure, who dashed out at the end, distraught, screaming "no more!", driven to the end of his own tether. And then, to the gentle sashay of "Colour of a Man" — a beautiful version of the song, thanks to those strings — we learned that the victimizer was driven to hate by his own demons, which he overcame through his transformation into a "bee-yoo-tee-ful lay-dee", in one of the more whimsical and visually pleasing sequences, where the ex-Orphans helped him in an Instant Makeover. The lesson being, I guess, that the people who victimized us need to be healed, too.

And things after that were far jauntier on the whole, with the next songs being more about celebrating and finding love. The night's most notable musical re-version was an upbeat reprise of "Origin:Orphan", with a rolling disco-fied bassline and pulsing trumpet stabs, signifying how much had changed since the dour opening.

And then "Silence Can Be a Headline", the gorgeous dénouement. As the song started, the Orphans came and sat amongst the crowd. As the slow-dance majesty of the song unfurled, they chose partners from the audience and pulled them up to dance. A few couples in the crowd took the initiative to join in as a giant disco ball appeared on the screen. This was a sweet and satisfying wall-breaking ending. As the song faded and the band left the stage, the crowd called for an encore, but had to be satisfied with a curtain call.

It was good stuff, though certainly not a runaway success. That this started from the album's songs was the show's blessing and curse — rough in that it sometimes seemed that the narrative was roughly sketched in on a napkin to string together what was there in the songs. On the other hand, I'd rather have a weak narrative and good songs than the reverse at something like this, as there was always the strong music and performance to fall back on when the other elements seemed a little dodgy. And the fact the band are pushing themselves in doing something like this is surely to be appreciated. An interesting one-off and a good start to the Music Series.

You can check out a couple tracks from this show here and here.

1 There was also a series of "Musical Works" alternating with the more regular gigs, featuring a glimpse at the musical side of some in-development theatre projects. A bit outside my sweet spot, but an admirable idea.

2 Or, um, "presumed dancing goblins"? In the fever-dream rush of allegorical imagery, my grasp of what-was-what can be read as being tentative at best.

3 The whole night proceeded in a way that surfed back and forth between "concert" and "theatrical event" — people sat and listened attentively like a theatre show, but clapped after each song, concert-style. Interestingly, without anyone making a big deal of it, the "how to behave" element just sort of intuitively took care of itself.

4 This song rang familiar, but I couldn't place it. I'm not sure if it was one of those very old early/unrecorded tracks from the band's repertoire, or a new one made to evoke that. Does anyone have a more firm opinion of this one?