Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recording: Anagram

Artist: Anagram

Song: What a Mess

Recorded at The Silver Dollar, January 15, 2010.

Anagram - What a Mess

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Song: Working Man's Soul

Recorded at The Silver Dollar, January 15, 2010.

catl - Working Man's Soul

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: catl

catl (Anagram / John Borra & Sam Ferrara)

The Silver Dollar Room. Friday, January 15, 2009.

Diligent workers on the local live scene, this show was serving as catl's album release party — coming almost exactly a year after the one for their debut. In the interim, the band has gained a member and a pretty devoted local following, so certainly cause for them to bask in their accomplishments, surrounding themselves on the bill with a couple like-minded but radically different acts.

The evening started off with John Borra & Sam Ferrara. Singing and playing acoustic guitar, Borra, in a pinstriped jacket, presented as a refined and distinguished balladeer, light-years away from his youthful work in Queen Street punks A Neon Rome.1 These days he's more easily found working his his group Rattlesnake Choir, often at their home base at The Dakota Tavern.2 Here he was on his own alongside Sam Ferrara, who added backing vox and percussion via a series of interesting implements. His go-to device was a trio of slinky toys, attached together with rods on top and bottom, allowing him to unfurl them, almost accordion-like, to create a jangling swish sound. He'd also later use sandpaper on a cheese grater — surely something you'd want to undertake with caution — and some well-played singing saw on one song.

"We'd like to do a song now by one of Toronto's finest — the late, great Handsome Ned," Borra announced. I clapped in appreciation, looking around somewhat sheepishly when I realized no one else in the bar was joining me as the duo launched into "I've Come to Get My Baby Out of Jail".3 Borra's own compositions were in a similarly rootsy vein with a goes-down-easy taste. The pair showed their affinity for some of the same music influencing catl with a cover of Memphis Jug Band's "Stealin' Stealin'" and generally kept things moving along nicely for their thirty-five minutes on stage. Not earth shaking, but as a table-setter it had the right vibe.

"We were going to start things off with a slow blues number... then we just said, 'fuck that'," announced Jamie Fleming — also known as the namesake for his band catl — launching into the rapidly thudding lurch of "Grind it Down". With impressive quickness, the bar had gotten quite full. Credit that not just to that boost from making onto the cover of one of the local alt-weeklies, but also as the product of catl's rigourous and frequent gigging over the past year, patiently building up their fanbase. And the packed-in crowd was appreciating it right from the start as the band reeled off a series of songs from their new album With the Lord for cowards you will find no place4. The crowd's enthusiasm kept the energy level high, which added some momentum that might have otherwise been taken down a notch by less-than-stellar sound, with the guitar feeding back frequently during the first few songs. Not enough to spoil things, but it was a bit of accidental aural noise distracting from the blusey murk.

The set included a new one (called "Keep Believin'"?) with Sarah Kirkpatrick leading a gospel-y call-and-response back-and-forth with catl. And by the time a guitar change put paid to the feedback, the band was getting fully warmed up and down into their groove, things really hitting their stride after about twenty-five minutes. The second half featured more songs from their first album and some tear-the-roof off covers ("Thunderbird ESQ" by The Gories, Dylan's "Outlaw Blues") and the set was capped with a righteously ragged "Workin' Man's Soul". Called back up, the band closed it all out with "Pick-up Killed My Ford". Let's hope the band can keep up both this pace and consistent quality. To be safe, pencil in a note for next January to keep a night free for the next release party — though you'll have no excuse not to have seen them a few times by then.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, as is usual, more than half the crowd split from the joint, leaving lots of room as Anagram set up. I'd not seen the band before, though I do recall enjoying their '06 disc After Dark. Their real calling card, however, is their rep for an intense live show. Notorious for preferring to play in the later hours, it was a quarter past one by the time the band took the stage, which left more elbow room for the eager crowd setting up in front. Knowing this'd be a roiling, soft-contact kind of crowd, I stayed over to the side a bit as things got underway with the bass, drums and guitars launching into a lean, monochrome, PiL-popping groove. The three instrumentalists stayed pretty much rooted to the spot, leaving vocalist Matt Mason room to get frenetic-like. Like Ian Curtis as a mean drunk or an autistic child wandering blindfolded through a room, Mason spent a good chunk of the set down in the jostling crowd, lurching about and glancing off people like a bumper car — singing throughout and never missing a line. It was more passive-aggressive than menacing, though the same could not be said of the music, which was taut and razor-sharp — perhaps almost to a fault. Which is to say, I guess, that this is a band with their flag planted in a narrow sonic patch, and they're going to play the hell out of it — if you buy into the sound, then it probably doesn't matter that the songs are, if not interchangeable, then at least mutually reinforcing.5

Which works well in controlled bursts, and the half-hour that the band played was actually rather entrancing, bordering on excellent. Not something I'd want to hear every day — otherwise I'd probably be the one wandering down the sidewalk, head down, arms crossed and bouncing off people — but absolutely worth seeing if you can stay up that late.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Sticking it out meant a late finish to the night, and I was starting to wane on my way out. Did manage to stop long enough to pick up a copy of catl's new album — he shook my hand and thanked me for the purchase — and I tucked the platter under my arm as I headed across the street to wait for the streetcar.6 A satisfying night.

1 Borra's career seems to have followed a similar trajectory to his contemporary Scott Bradshaw, who I saw not too long ago opening for Grant Hart. The term "aging gracefully" has a back-handed complement sort of sound to it, so perhaps I should better say that I appreciate that these guys are still among us, perfecting their craft and having a good time up on stage.

2 The only time I've seen Rattlesnake Choir play was in an utterly ill-fitting circumstance to appreciate their music at all.

3 Note to local bands: more Handsome Ned covers!

4 The title comes from "Keep on the Firing Line", an old Carter Family tune.

5 "Is this as good as you remember?" a woman behind me asked to her companion a couple songs in. "I think so," he responded. "I was pretty drunk then, though."

6 Truth be told, the vinyl album isn't going to be a lot of use to me. My turntable has been in a closet for most of the last decade, and I don't miss it that much — in fact, I find this current vinyl romanticism hard to totally identify with. Fortunately, though, the band was wise enough to include a CD tucked in alongside the disc, so I'm well-satisfied.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Recording: The Dutchess and the Duke

Artist: The Dutchess and the Duke

Song: Scorpio

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, January 12, 2010.

The Dutchess and the Duke - Scorpio

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Medication

Artist: Medication

Song: Fog

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, January 12, 2010.

Medication - Fog

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: RatTail

Artist: RatTail

Song: Racecar

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, January 12, 2010.

RatTail - Racecar

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Dutchess and the Duke

The Dutchess and the Duke (Medication / RatTail)

Sneaky Dee's. Tuesday, January 12, 2009.

Some nights it's tough. After thinking it over a bit, decided to forgo seeing local heroes Final Fantasy/Diamond Rings at the Mod Club for some out-of-town visitors, figuring I'd have more chances to see the former again.1 And also, last time they were in town, I walked into The Dutchess and the Duke's show not knowing who they were and left a convert, after a beautifully ragged set that was one of my favourite shows of the year. It's always a mug's game to hope that lightning will strike twice in unexpectedly transformative performances, but I reckoned at least to give the band a chance at it.

Early starters and local openers on this night were RatTail. Leading off with a new song that sounded not unlike Sonic Youth covering a track from the Shanghai Lounge Divas compilation, the band's unique mix of elements was immediately in effect. Guitarist Jasmyn Burke's vox, with a flattened monotone affect that veers off into yelps, are the most immediately arresting thing. They fit well against the lean post-punk groove of the music, with Ryan Mounsey's bass often seizing the melodic lead space against the slashing guitar lines. There were some technical difficulties as drummer Jesse Matthews kept dislodging his kick drum and had to adjust between songs until offered a cement block from the sound tech. Meanwhile, Mounsey passed the time by making a series of increasingly hyperbolic claims ("I'd just like to thank Molson Canadian... they recently voted us the greatest Canadian band of all time...") that nicely filled in the gaps. The band weren't taking themselves too seriously on stage, but that shouldn't be confused with excess casualness in their delivery — they were tight and talented players. Decent entertainers, too, including during the rather catchy "Polka Dots", when Burke put down the guitar to roam freely around the stage and the front of the dance floor, Minnie Mouse mask perched atop her head. I could well imagine that her vocals might be a deal-breaker for some, but on the whole, I was into it for the duration of the band's six song set.

Listen to a track from this set here.

After getting a level check on the guitars, soundtech Chantal asked, "any pedals?" "No pedals", was the response. And, leaning forward, I noted indeed that Medication were a band with about as basic a setup as you could imagine — drums plus two guitars, both plugged directly into their amps. And that serves as a pretty good base point for their sound — no frills rock'n'roll, in a slightly garage-punk vein. The guitar work was mostly uncomplicated stuff, chugging away with occasional bursts of riffing.

Although the band had a pretty straightforward sound, they do seem to like the idea of preserving a bit of rock'n'roll mystery about themselves, picking a moniker that seems to be shared with two or three other bands, for one thing.2 The members were certainly no showmen, playing without any gestural swagger and saying as little as possible. Letting their music do the talking for them did take them a fairly long way, as their material was definitely good stuff. Showing that their place on this bill arose from some sort of musical kinship, Jesse Loritz of the night's headliners was at the front of the crowd for most of the set enjoying himself.

After a steady burst of five songs, a broken string led to a momentum-killing guitar switch, with the show stopping dead for two minutes, with no sort of banter or acknowledgement from the stage. That sort of took me out of it a bit — I mean, an understated stage presence is one thing, but this was verging on cold-fish asceticism. Still — I guess I shouldn't complain about a complete absence of attitude from a band. Taking them just for their music, then, a pleasing set.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Playing as an acoustic duo, The Dutchess and the Duke had a slow start to the show. What might have seemed to be a very simple setup — two mics, two acoustic guitars — was causing all kinds of trouble. Something in Kimberly Morrison's signal chain was causing an audible buzz, and switching cables and the DI box didn't help. It actually sounded like a connection in the pickup was coming loose, and in the end, after about ten minutes of soundchecking and attempted fixes the show just went ahead, buzz and all. Starting with the wonderfully melancholy "Scorpio", from the recent Sunset/Sunrise, the pair were putting their best foot forward, working without a setlist and running off a series of top-notch songs from both of their albums.

The "campfire punk" sound was stripped down compared to the full band I had seen them play with in the summer. Just listening to the songs, both live and on their recordings, I've found it interesting thinking on the positioning the band has chosen. With these exact same players and the exact same songs, they could very well be playing the folk circuit, bringing their music to a different kind of audience. Obviously, though, through their choice of labels and touring partners and where they play they feel more at home in the indie rock realm. It does make one wonder how that changes their audience and how their music is received.

And in this case, I certainly was less than thrilled with the crowd that had come out to see 'em. Worse than the people to my left having a prolonged conversation throughout the set, a trio of Inconsiderate Types ended up in front of me — one a tall, toque-wearing guy who apparently hadn't showered for a few days settling right in front of me, his friend a Dancing Woman who seemed content to bounce around in all directions with no real consideration of other people's space. During "Reservoir Park"3 things almost boiled over, Dancing Woman bumping into a woman in front of her one time too often, causing her to turn around and shriek an oath at Dancing Woman — for a moment I thought there was going to be a fight.

The band, meanwhile, kept moving forward. "I have a favour t'ask," Loritz drawled between songs. "Would somebody buy me a whiskey on the rocks, please? With a little splash of soda. If you get a chance." And by the end of the next song, said drink did indeed materialize. Their performance was fine, with the delicate guitar parts and vocal harmonies meshing nicely, but there just wasn't that ineffable magic about it. Plus, when you add the buzzing guitar still in the speaker and the less-than-ideal crowd, it was a bit of a recipe for taking me out of the moment. When the set got to the climactic "I Am Just a Ghost", the lift that I'd seen last time just wasn't there. "Come on the stage if you know this one," Loritz invited — and no one was willing to take him up on that. The song did get some of that energy (and no small amount of sing-along help from the crowd) in the end, but it was just reasonable immanence and not ramshackle transcendence. But so it goes.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Maybe because I was keenly aware of the show foregone for this one, but I walked away less than fully satisfied, although that faded a bit after the fact. On reflection, it was a reasonable show. Though they weren't compelling as showmen, Medication's music stuck with me afterwards, and Loritz' rakish fur hat and mellowly cool demeanour made me smile. And those songs by The Dutchess and the Duke are winners no matter what context they're in, and that's what's gonna stick with me most.

1 And indeed, as it turns out, the next Final Fantasy show has already been announced, albeit in the far-less-cozy confines of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

2 Thankfully, they're most decidedly not the Medication that includes ex-members of Ugly Kid Joe. Of all the Medications, our lads' myspace can be found here. They also are cagey about names and so on, so I can't be much more specific in what I say about 'em.

3 "The supersonic jet plane taking people everywhere / Well, I wish that I could go there, I wish I could be somewhere / But I know I'm still right here / And I know here is still nowhere." — like the bulk of their songs we could hang the melancholy tag on this one, too.

Friday, January 22, 2010

2009 In review: Concerts, analysed more

This post involves some further breaking down the gigs I went to in 2009. For thoughts of an introductory nature, you can read the previous post here.

By popular demand, I decided to do a bit more number-crunching with my list of 2009 shows.1 Obviously all of this only reflects my own pattern of show-going, so it's probably ill-advised to try too hard to draw too much out of this. That said, it's fun to extrapolate. Let's start with a thought as to how broad my concert-going is. (For all of these, you can click through to the full-sized versions):

This of course, is a halfway jape. "Indie rock" is all-encompassing and means nothing. But, like many insidious things, I know what ain't indie rock when I see it. Usually.

Packed in Like Sardines

It seems self-evident to me that all things being equal, a show in a smaller venue is better than a show in a bigger one.2 So it should follow that there would be a mathematical relationship between venue size and how enjoyable a show is. To test this, I did some checking around to match the venues I'd been to with their capacities (and some educated guesswork here and there), and also did a very quick ranking of the gigs:

Interestingly, there's a far lower correlation there than I was expecting, which begs some explanation. The first thing that came to mind for me is that because I'm wary of larger shows, I'm more careful to "pick my spots". In other words, I'm generally only going to go to the Phoenix for someone I really like anyway.

Boys on stage

Just to test against my hunches, I also wanted to get a more empirical breakdown of how the girl/boy thing is working out on stage:

This involves some subjective rankings, of course. For the most part, solo performers fall easily into the binary columns at the left and right; bands are trickier.2 Regardless of how you assign things, though, it's striking: shows by solo male performers or all-male groups outnumber all other columns combined. It's still a man's man's man's world. Does this matter? Setting aside how idiosyncratic this breakdown is to the gigs I attended (and we don't have anyone else to act as a control there), I'm curious — is this a big deal? Does this mean that women are being shut out — or, given the numbers on post-secondary education, say, does it mean the women are doing something useful while the unemployable mopes are forming bands to whine to other boys? I honestly don't know, and I'm open to persuasion if I'm blowing this out of proportion, but my inner second waver gets grumpy when something this systemic and persistent is pointed out. Sometimes, the sausage factor up on stage just kinda makes itself apparent, and I wonder what we're missing out on — I look around at who's not up on stage and I think to myself, to appropriate a line from Virginia Woolf, "she should have had a microphone put in her hand!".


Meanwhile, where are the acts that I'm seeing coming from?

This probably ties together a lot of overlapping things: local bands are plentiful and cheap to see, so if you're going to see a lot of bands, you almost have to take an interest in what's cheap and close at hand unless you've got the resources to pay a premium.

Thinking about proximity in another way, one wonders what the environmental impact is of seeing local bands. What if there were one of those online footprint calculators — "seeing xx local bands instead of touring bands is the equivalent of taking yy cars off the road and saves zz tonnes of CO2." (Of course, I wouldn't want to push that too far — having people come from far away and share their music with us is one of the highest achievements of a civilization, and does good in all kinds of ways.)

Where we go when we see gigs, and where we do not go

Geographic distribution of where I saw shows in 2009. Reddish pins are locations of intense concert-going, blue indicates multiple trips, and yellow single trips:

This map would be no surprise to anyone who goes to a lot of shows: gigs and venues are clustered downtown. That one outlier way out east is kind of handy, as it keeps me from being able to zoom in more, and just demonstrate how much city there is, and how little of it exists for this part of my life. But looking at that brought another famous map to mind:

This map, from J.D. Hulchanski's widely-discussed "The Three Cities Within Toronto: Income polarization, 1970–2000", illustrates how the city is becoming increasingly split between areas getting richer (mostly downtown and up the Yonge subway) and places getting poorer (most notably the northwest and northeast quadrants of the city).

If you happen to believe that gig-attendance is, amongst other things, an effort at active citizenship, what does it mean that where we practice our citizenship is so narrowly proscribed? What does it mean when the maps we draw for ourselves of our city have vast swaths of terra incognita? What does it mean for the care in our hearts that we carry for others?

I probably have no persuasive answers to any question raised here, and I know it's possibly overwrought to push any metaphor too far. But, shouldn't people who spend a serious amount of time going to shows think about the broader consequences, even a little?

If not, at least putting the graphs together was fun.

1 One piece of information that I now wish I'd recorded was the ticket price for each of these shows — it would have been enlightening to graph the costs against some of these other factors. And just to do some reckoning as to how much it costs for a "typical" show, and map my average cost against, say, the average of a stadium show, etc. etc. On the whole, for ticket cost v. number of gigs, I think I spent less per show as I went to more and more of them, a relationship described by what we might dub the Polk Axiom of Gig Costs: The amount a person spends per concert is inversely proportional to the number of shows they attend.

2 Although, to finesse this some, I'm also of the opinion that any venue is better with the right sized crowd. Too empty, of course, is often kinda awkward. But a tightly-packed full house can pull down a sublime moment down by fettering it with physical awkwardness — who wants their toes trod upon, or someone's big head blocking your view? Most places feel right at about seventy-fice per cent capacity, when you are amongst people, but still have some elbow room.

3 How would you evaluate, say, a male singer-songwriter with an three-piece female backing band? Is that "predominantly female"? probably not. By and large, I'd weight things by the "controlling mind" of the group, something that is, admittedly, really perilous for an external observer to guess at sometimes.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Recording: Julie Doiron

Artist: Julie Doiron featuring Gentleman Reg

Song: Will You Still Love Me In December

Recorded at The Cobourg, January 9, 2010.

Julie Doiron - Will You Still Love Me In December

My notes for this gig can be found here.

Recording: Julie Doiron

Artist: Julie Doiron

Song: So Fast

Recorded at The Cobourg, January 9, 2010.

Julie Doiron - So Fast

My notes for this gig can be found here.

Gig: Julie Doiron

Julie Doiron (Will Kidman)

The Cobourg. Saturday, January 9, 2010.

This was an unexpected Saturday night destination — it was only mid-week that word went out in a Facebook message that Julie Doiron would be playing this free show. Equally unexpected was the venue, unusually far east for a gig, which turned out to be a thin sliver of a pub in Cabbagetown. The Cobourg had a bit of the vibe of an upscale local, more yuppie wine bar than blue collar hangout, but was an attractive spot, with a couch-filled salon in the back and the main room dominated by the large, long bar opposite some large-scale paintings. Clearly not used to large crowds like this, the powers-that-be waited a fair while before instituting any sort of door control, the place filling up beyond a substantial crush by the time the show started. Having guessed it was going to be a bit of a zoo, I showed up pretty early, but fortunately there were some familiar faces about to join for a chat as the place filled up.

Leading off was Will Kidman, most noted as the keyb player for the Constantines, who had previously performed his solo material as Woolly Leaves.1 He played a twenty minute set to the general indifference of the packed room. I was, at this point, about five yards from the "stage", which was just a small patch of floor in front of the street-facing window at the front of the room. Even from my spot, the chatter was about as loud as the PA, so I can't imagine the back of the room was getting much of the show, which probably just increased the amount that people were talking. Kidman's quiet, unforced performance probably didn't help in that regard — he seemed rather content to just play on through as if he were at a quiet coffeehouse. Even a closing cover of "Head On" didn't attract the crowd's attention, which actually surprised me a bit, even when Kidman interrupted himself to break into a few bars of Hank Williams Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down".2 It also seemed that Kidman was suffering amp problems — his guit was very low throughout the set — so maybe that's why the set had less oomph than would have served in this situation.

Between sets, I managed to insinuate myself forward a little, and I ended up in about the third row of spectators. More importantly, I was just out of arm's reach from the right PA speaker, so I was hopeful that I'd be able to at least hear the goings-on. Tuning as the crowd chattered loudly, Julie Doiron launched into the attention-grabbing lungburst of "The Wrong Guy" without any introduction or announcement, prompting a furious round of shushing around the room. As she'd done at October's gig at Lee's, the song segued into "No More" and back. And then into the haphazard herky-jerk that characterizes her shows. "He Will Forget", for example, was begun, then lurched to a stop as Julie adjusted a cable, and then picked up again. It's shambolic at times, yes, but this is Julie Doiron — some people will be put off by this sort of thing, and some will find it charming.

Playing on her "writing guitar" rather than her usual stage Hagstrom, Julie was eager to try out some new songs but was willing to mix them in between the stuff the crowd knew. Which was arguably a good move, as the new material contained some harrowing stuff, full of booze and regret. "Maybe the gambler, he don't need no one / maybe the drinker, he don't need no one / and maybe the fighter, he don't need no one / then again, maybe he does" ran one. Another, set to the picking style and changes similar to "House of the Rising Sun" was about "reckless drinking and foolishness" — and that wasn't as dark as one she introduced as her newest song, written earlier in the week. "Maybe it's corny, I dunno," Julie commented, before starting it, at this point just a fragment a little over a minute long:

I thought I could do it

thought that I could do it

Thought that I could be free

but I need somebody

someone to love me

but there is no one to love me.

Night time makes it hard

hard to feel but alone

stay awake for hours

dreaming of flowers

no one will ever bring.

Meanwhile, shilling t-shirts on stage, Julie revealed the reason for this hastily-organized gig: "We need to rent a car on Monday to start a month-long tour, so if anyone could contribute to that... you wouldn't even be able to understand how much you'd be helping."3 And in sing-for-your-supper mode, Doiron played a wide range of songs, alternating with her usual self-deprecating comments in between — after a run through "Tailor" that included a few bum notes, Julie commented, "I'm sorry — the only time I've even been able to properly play that on guitar was like twice during CSI Miami, on my couch." But as usual, songs were pulled off despite stumbling close to falling down. Part of this, of course, arises from Doiron's willingness to tackle pretty much anything on stage — not just any request from the audience, no matter how obscure, but also Doiron's own impulsive notions arising on the spot, like a cover of a Fred Squire tune, introduced with "I'll try this song — I don't know if I know the lyrics... in face I don't think I ever played it on guitar".

There were also a couple soulful covers, such as "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" (though practised in the shower before the show, Doiron commented, "I don't even think this is a good idea. But it's that kind of night, where we can try anything") and "Bring It On Home to Me". Will Kidman joined in on the latter, staying on the stage area after playing guitar for "Broken Minivans". And in a bonus unplanned guest appearance, Gentleman Reg was pulled from the crowd to add some harmonies to "Will You Still Love Me In December".

It wasn't 'til after that, more than an hour into the set, that Doiron began to lose the crowd at the back of the bar. Pretty impressive, actually, given how little they could see and possibly hear. But the chatter detracted a bit from "Snow Falls in November". A run of louder songs to close things out covered up the noise a bit, and the show ended with a powerful run through "The Songwriter", the set going just shy of ninety minutes.

As the crowd streamed out, I made it to the back to retrieve my stashed parka, and by the time I hit the exit, Julie was out on the sidewalk for a post-gig smoke, chatting with fans. Ran into V., waiting at the bus stop, and managed to pass the time in the cold before we got on our way to the subway. Extra intimate and ramshackle, this might not have had the ragged grandeur of the "proper" gigs I'd seen Doiron give in the last year, but it was still a fine night out. And while I was packed in there, sardine-like, I was mumbling to myself about "L'enfer c'est les autres" and so on, that's just something you have to put up with — it's not what you remember after.

There's a bit of chatter in the background, but you can get up close to Julie and check out a couple songs here and here.

1 In fact, Kidman would note that despite having been playing shows for fifteen years, "it's the first time my actual name has been on the poster". Whether he's been doing his reading on the death of the bandonym wasn't mentioned.

2 Earlier in the set, Kidman had also essayed Dillard And Clark's sublime "Why Not Your Baby" to no perceivable acknowledgement from the crowd.

3 And I must say, it made me feel a little sad for a moment to consider that an artist of this stature was basically throwing the rock equivalent of a rent party just to be able to raise a stake to go on tour. In an ideal world, musicians would have to worry less about that kind of thing, but one really has to wonder if and how that's going to happen. Meanwhile, a champagne bucket was passed around the crowd, clinking coins and some bills being tossed in.

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 In Review: Concert Reflections

This is a sort of extended footnote to my list of memorable concerts from 2009. You can read Part I here and Part II here.

By the numbers

So, as it turns out, I went to my share of shows in 2009. As I noted before, I went to one hundred and thirty shows, give or take, as long you consider anything from a three-song acoustic in-store set to an all-day mini-festival to be one "show". Breaking that down a little more (because, um, I like keeping lists and counting things), I reckon I saw 404 sets over the year, by 309 unique artists.1 And I figure I saw shows at sixty-two different venues, though again, there's room for argument over how you count some of those. But starting there, here's a visual breakdown of where I went to see shows — click to see it full sized:

And while I have the spreadsheet open, let's check on who I saw the most — in this case, bands that I saw three or more times last year:

ArtistTimes Seen
Gentleman Reg6
Kids on TV6
Hooded Fang5
The Hoa Hoa's5
Still Life Still4
The Disraelis4
Alex Lukashevsky3
Diamond Rings3
Dinosaur Bones3
Great Bloomers3
Jon-Rae Fletcher3
Laura Barrett3
Lullabye Arkestra3
Spiral Beach3
The Phonemes3

This actually gave me some mild surprises. The $100 shows were more clustered earlier in the year, so it had escaped me that I'd seen them that many times. And though that mostly includes bands that I liked seeing again and again, Still Life Still, for example, were a group that I went to see again just to see if I was missing something and maybe their appeal would all of a sudden "click in" with me. (It didn't, more or less.)

The Reverse Heisenberg Effect

One thing that definitely changed how I went to shows — and was an impetus for going to more — came at the end of April when I got my rig together and started recording shows. In that light, Chain and The Gang at the Whippersnapper Gallery was a memorable night, as that was my first field test. I felt a vague twinge of nervousness and I set myself up for the first time, as if stern authority figures were going to suddenly loom over me and toss me from the joint. As it turned out, by and large people don't particularly take notice of what I'm up to, which is fine by me. But having a document of the show is strangely exciting, obviously gratifying not just on a musical level, but also appealing to, y'know, a certain love I have for accumulating stuff, sorting it, organizing it and so on. And the very idea that I was building up this archive of stuff certainly helped spur me on to head out when I might have otherwise stayed home, a mild kind of noblesse oblige to preserve all this good stuff somehow.

It probably also accented my completest sort of sensibility at shows, where I tend to want to get there at the start, pay attention to the whole thing, and stick to the end. Which certainly has its downside. There were certainly moments where I was less than fully engaged with whatever was going on on stage, and could just as well have wandered off, or gone for a drink, or whatever that I instead stuck through. But maybe it's not bad to have some enforced focus, causing me to think a bit more on why something doesn't work for me and so on. And showing up for the start also pays off some times, say when you discover an opening act that puts on a much better show than the headliner they're supporting.

Doin' it All Day Long

Slightly stoic stick-to-it-iveness was also an asset on heading out to a few marathon, all-day shows, which turned out to be some of the coolest shows that I went to all year.

The Friends in Bellwoods 2 release, taking up a full Saturday at the Tranzac not only had some unique and nearly one-off sets, but had a pleasant sense of the community-minded ethos that led to that project's existence. Owen Pallett's birthday was a sweet gift from the celebrant, putting up an almost non-stop succession of acts across two stages, and giving us a sense of the co-operative spirit that had inspired our local-lad-made-good. The ALL CAPS Island show had the benefit of being nestled away in one of the city's most beautiful spots, and had the adventurous feeling of a grand day out.

Although such quantity can lead to a bit of shellshock, a showcase of short sets is also a great way to be exposed to new bands. Although I can appreciate a hour-and-a-half long, deep-catalogue-trolling marathon from time to time, twenty or thirty minutes for a band to put their best foot forward can do wonders in getting artist and audience to sharpen their focus. Massive praise is due to the folks who undertake what must be a logistical tightrope walk to throw together these kinds of affairs.

Things Fall Apart

Being there and paying attention sometimes also pays off when you get to see well-laid plans go awry. Sometimes you can even catch a genuine WTF moment — perhaps the most memorably vaguely awkward thing of the sort I had this year was seeing The Homosexuals play a NXNE set at Sneaky Dee's, where it wasn't entirely clear how much of singer Bruno Wizard's eccentric stage presence was a grand punk gesture of challenging the audience, and how much he was just out of his tree. Sometimes, the artists can be firing on all cylinders, but the elements refuse to co-operate, such as during the Wavelength showcase during P.S. Kensington, when an intense cloudburst wouldn't keep Mindbender from his appointed rhymes, and nearly led to the untimely demise of Lullabye Arkestra's Justin Small, as a sagging tent roof looked like an electrocution waiting to happen. Even indoors, concerts are complicated things with unique set-ups, making it inevitable that every once in a while, something is going to fizzle out, as happened to Faust, playing at the Polish Combatants Hall. Just as the group was starting to really hit a groove, something tripped, and most of the stage was suddenly without power. The band rallied, playing an impromptu unplugged segment, but once things were back up, they couldn't quite recover. When things conked out for the second or third time, the band basically gave up, cutting their set short. Would I have remembered these shows so well if everything had gone smoothly?

Justified nostalgia

Like those oft-trotted-out-for-metaphors sharks, music-nerds tend to be moving ever forward, keeping an eye out for that next new thing that might somehow rekindle the magic that makes everything feel new. Some folks like to go to a show to hear a band play the songs they love, more or less the same way that they're used to hearing it on record. In fact, it turns out there's a big market for this kind of thing, though those are the kind of show that I usually try to avoid. Nevertheless, there were a few bands that I went to see out of loyalty to my younger self — someone has to look out for that misguided doofus, I guess — and some managed to even please the older, more discerning me. Nomeansno were a band that were hugely important as I was widening my horizons to a whole rock'n'roll universe that didn't have anything to do with the the music industry canon. But they weren't exactly the sort of thing that I'd spent much time listening to in the past decade, and had even fallen off a fair bit in the standard of the stuff they've been releasing. But finally seeing them — now in their guise of enraged old farts — was a validating experience. Equally so were The Vaselines, who delighted with their presence and cheerful banter even more than their music. Nostalgia shows usually have a couple strikes against them, being not just re-hashes, but re-hashes with a premium ticket price, so I was glad that these ones managed to get it right.

Soylent green

Bands form and break up, venues open and close, and there's always many little dramas rippling below the surface of the music. But the one constant is that there's always the crowd that you're a part of — for better or worse, show-going is an inextricably social activity. And ultimately, no matter how much one tries to write things up as a story about what happened on stage, it's also a story about a shared experience. And when you go to enough shows, you start to realize that there's a pool of people, semi-familiar faces who are also there at gig after gig. As a recovering don't-talk-to-strangers type, I think I was rather lucky this year that some pretty cool people took it upon themselves to introduce themselves to me, and some more that I managed to start up a conversation with on my own initiative. There's even been a few of the people that I've recorded and written about who have stopped for a kind word and pleasant chat. There is, as yet, some of those familiar faces who seem too-cool-for-school to chat with the likes of me, but who knows, maybe I'm just arbitrarily imposing a patina of unapproachability on them.

In the end, I think, as cornball as it is to say — and I don't mean to get all Ich und Du or anything on y'all — I'm sure the best part of it all isn't seeing more bands than the next person (or having a "I saw them back before they were big" story to impress people with) so much as it is seeing the undifferentiated darkened crowd become familiar faces, and familiar faces become nodding acquaintances — and maybe even some nodding acquaintances become friends.


At some base level of excitability, it's pretty easy to comb through the listings and see something going on near every night that would be pretty compelling. But there are diminishing returns, especially when you have to get up the next morning and deal with that Everything Else going on in your life. I certainly didn't set out at the start of last year to see anywhere near the number of shows I saw — y'know, it just sort of turned out like one thing after another. And I couldn't even guess how many I'd go to this year. If it's less, is it that big a deal? I'm not setting any targets, or even raising/lowering my expectations. On the other hand, I've had far worse years than the last one, so something's going right. And anyways, what else are you gonna do, sit around and watch TV? Nah, going to gigs at least beats pickin' cotton and waiting to be forgotten. So: this.

My apologies for getting ponderous. Notes from 2010 will start tomorrow or so.

1 Although that last number is subject to some interpretation when you think of almost-not-quite-the-same realignments of artists. For example, I saw Gentleman Reg a lot, but I counted the set I saw him do with Dan Werb as a separate entity. Similarly, I counted Feuermusik, Canaille and the Canaille Electric Trio as separate entities, but I could have just subsumed them all into a category called "Jeremy Strachan".

Friday, January 15, 2010

2009 In Review: Best Concerts (Part II)

Part I of this retrospective can be found here. As with the first part, clicking on the headers will take you to my full review from the show.

The D'Urbervilles / Forest City Lovers

The Theatre Centre (Summerworks Festival Music Series). 2009-08-13 (Thursday)

An extra-long wait out on the sidewalk before getting into the stuffy basement space of The Theatre Centre did nothing to diminish the joy of this unique gig. A short set from Forest City Lovers melded seamlessly into The D'Urbs storming the stage, West Side Story style and playing a few songs before the bands took a break and emerged, seven players wide, in a combined joint force to play a collaborative set. "I wondered to myself whether FCL's more delicate edges might get overwhelmed by the D'Urbs' rollicking energy. As it shook out, the bands'd put enough thought into this to avoid that pitfall, and managed to put the extra hands into more texture rather than more volume. [...] The bands, though dripping in sweat, were clearly having a ball." The sort of thing that you go back and forth on after the fact — it'd be so cool to see that happen again, but as a unique singularity it's all the more precious.

Sometimes, stepping back to find that sweet spot in the venue's sound-field takes a back seat to just, like, being right there up front, so my recordings from the night aren't immaculate, but they get something of it across.

The Dutchess & The Duke

Bicycle Film Festival afterparty, Studio Gallery. 2009-08-22 (Saturday)

Another sweaty night, in a show at a ramshackle semi-venue, had an enjoyable undercard1, but then I was taken by surprise by the headliners, a band I knew pretty much nothing about: "not long into the set, I realize I'm being completely fucking blown away. R&B in the sense that early Stones or Them or The Animals were R&B, the band had a batch of excellently-written songs, delivered here with off-the-cuff casualness blearily sagging into exhausted raggedness. It really felt like there was zero distance between performer and audience: shakers and tambourines were shared around, we sweated like they sweated, and the drummer's bottle of Johnny Walker Red got passed around so everyone could get a swig. By the end of the set, the walls were dripping with condensation and guitars were well nigh impossible to keep in tune. A singalong of 'I Am Just a Ghost' capped the set — one of the best shows of the year."

Check out recordings from The Dutchess and The Duke, as well as the night's other bands, here.

Wyrd Visions

Bite Your Tongue 1, The Guild 2009-09-06 (Saturday)

This entire show — sending the downtown-bound concert crowd through Scarborough to the beautiful bluffs at the Guild Inn — was a pretty special time, but this transporting set was the most affecting: "Playing on a double-necked guitar, 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 songs 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."2

If I dare say so myself, I think my recording from Wyrd Visions' set is rather good. My other recordings from the evening are pretty nice, too.

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Guests

SPK Polish Combatants Hall 2009-09-12 (Saturday)

An Ethiopian New Year's special, with a mish-mash crowd merging folks from the Ethiopian community with grizzled old leather-jacket punks and younger Wavelength types, all drinking strong Polish beer and getting funky to a Dutch punk band backing a musical legend. "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. 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."

I got a decent, not great, recording of that set, but it's still plenty groovy.

The Vic Chesnutt Band

Lee's Palace. 2009-11-07 (Saturday)

Damn damn damn. This show should have been memorable for different reasons. For pairing a gifted and unique songwriter with a powerful band, including members of the Silver Mt. Zion & Tra-La-La Band and guitar hero Guy Picciotto, adding depth and widescreen sweep to his songs for an intense ninety minutes. Or for the laconic, deadpan wit that Vic Chesnutt exhibited on stage. But now, all I mostly think about is "Flirted With You All My Life", when he sang, "O Death, clearly I'm not ready yet." And then, not so many weeks later, changed his mind about that.

R.I.P. Vic Chesnutt, 1964-2009. His music will be remembered; my recording is here.

The Hidden Cameras

The Opera House. 2009-12-05 (Saturday)

In my older, crankier years, I'm becoming increasingly resistant to large-venue shows, so that this show at the not-well-loved Opera House was one of my favourites speaks to the band's talent for scaling their spectacle to the size of the room and showing all challengers how to attain collective glee. Let's see: choir, dancers, banners, audience participation, the band in the crowd and the crowd on the stage. Add to that a delicious opening set from Gentleman Reg3, who'd be one of the many extras on hand for the main act, and this was an excellent night out, that made me feel, upon leaving the venue, optimistic somehow.

This was a treat for more than just the ears, but you can check out a track here.

1 Including fine sets from The Bitters and now-already-defunct local shoegazers Heaven, as well as Austin spazz-punks Mutating Meltdown, the band that I was actually sorta there to see.

2 An honourable mention should be made here to this concert's sequel, Bite Your Tongue 2, held in November at circus training school Centre of Gravity, which was also an excellent time. Especially memorable was Corpusse's maximally-committed electro-metal. Note to the folks at Bite Yr Tongue: more, please.

3 Gentleman Reg's live work as a whole throughout the year merits him a special citation on this list as well — I can't pick one set, but his many local shows throughout the year, with his band building up steam from month to month, were a definite highlight.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

2009 In Review: Best Concerts (Part I)

So, in 2009, I went to one hundred and thirty shows, give or take, as long you consider anything from a three-song acoustic in-store set to an all-day mini-festival to be one "show". And looking over my list of gigs for the year, I can say there's not much that I regret going to. Which means, of course, that everything falls on that big ol' sliding scale of liked it some/liked it some more. To come up with the best of the bunch, I went with that unscientific method of scrolling down the list and stopping at those things that elicited that little internal smile and nod. There were a lot of other shows that were really good, but these — presented mostly in chronological order — stood out. To, y'know, save effort, I'll shamelessly quote myself as much as possible here, but links are provided should you want my whole view from at the time.

CMW Saturday Night

Lee's Palace / The Horseshoe / The Silver Dollar. Saturday, March 14, 2009.

A busy night of venue hopping not only served to re-establish the bona fides of some old faves (Jon-Rae Fletcher, Young Galaxy), but ending the night hanging out at the Silver Dollar proved to be prophetic — not only would I end up spending a lot more time than previous here in 2009, but I'd be introduced to a couple of my fave live acts of the year, in The Disraelis and The Hoa Hoa's. Of the latter, I noted "they managed to press the exact buttons to excite me," though I don't think I realized then how devoted I was going to become. Like anything you fall for, I guess, it's not always the one you were expecting.

I don't have any audio from that show, but I ended up posting a lot of live Hoa Hoa's.

Julie Doiron

($100 / Rick White) The Horseshoe. 2009-03-26 (Thursday)


Julie Doiron (Herman Dune / Shotgun Jimmie)

Lee's Palace 2009-10-27 (Tuesday)

Through whatever combination of circumstances, I had never been to a Julie Doiron show, so this was quite an immersion. The Horseshoe gig floored me. Going to shows involves an unspoken kind of social contract, where we all agree to shut and listen to various degrees. But it's rare and precious when a whole room of people seem to really get that, and are held, rapt, by an artist's fragile sounds: "Leading off with an a capella number, there was almost unimaginable silence in the room — the only other sound to be heard was the dishwasher at the bar. This sort of became a mutually reinforcing spell, as the crowd realized that Julie (happy throughout, though visibly fighting a cold) was quite into the moment and kept working to prolong it, coming up on the spot with the idea for more songs to play solo before bringing the band out." The rocking part of the show was nearly as good, close to falling apart in the most delightful way.

And then, her October show was almost its equal, even in a bigger room with a totally different band and heaps of expectation on my part. Incredible work.

No audio from the February show, but I do have a couple tracks posted from October.

Ray Price

(opening for Willie Nelson)

Massey Hall. 2009-04-08 (Wednesday)

Setting aside the comic weirdness of the whole Billy Bob Thornton imbroglio — I missed the real escapades by a night — the most memorable part of this show was a wonderful set by an 83 year old titan: "cast your mind over that for a moment — I saw a guy on stage who was a roommate with Hank Williams, and who inherited his band after Hank's death. It staggers the mind to think that history and legend are still that close to us!" No longer the swingin' honky-tonker he was in the '50's, Price instead used his rich voice to unleash a torrent of hits in a more countrypolitan vein, and it was time-stoppingly sublime. That Willie Nelson, no spring chicken or slouch himself, was the icing on the cake only underlines how wonderful this was.

King Sunny Adé

(appearing with Femi Kuti)

Harbourfront Centre. 2009-07-04 (Saturday)

There was music and dancing and I was in just such a mood and the sun was coming down just so. But —— sometimes words can't do it, and sometimes recordings can't capture it. But whatever it was, I was lifted up and rocked by the jùjú master's set: "In retrospect, I'm mildly at a loss to explain as to why I was so into this — but that's one of the reasons to go to concerts, isn't it? For those rare moments where your self can get past itself and just feel the music in an unmediated way. Which, despite the intoxicating tools that can help it along, usually just has to come over you of itself. There was simply a presence to the show that transformed itself into one of those ineffably sublime moments."

My recording from the show is nice enough, but this was one of those times it didn't capture the whole vibrant spark of the show.

Kemer Yousuf

Afrofest, Queen's Park. 2009-07-12 (Sunday)

One of the most magnetic showmen I saw all year — how many local indie artists are beloved enough that people would scramble over one another to stick twenty dollar bills to their sweaty foreheads? "...danceable stuff, and fronted by a man who had a Mr. Please Please Please level of dedication to entertaining — moving around the stage, dropping to his knees, pumping up the crowd." The keystone of a rather fine day at Queen's Park, including Mauritian mystic Menwar and the conscious party grooves of superstar Oumou Sangaré.

Get in on Kemer Yousuf's rockin' party here.

catl / The Disraelis

Mitzi's Sister. 2009-07-31 (Friday)

On a night that I could have just gone home after seeing a movie, I figured I might as well check out a gig as well, and ended up in Parkdale in a decidedly-less-than-packed joint. And sometimes you're just in the right mood, and the bands nail it and it's all fantastic. Local blues-scuzzers catl worked their always-reliable drunk dancin' delirium, but on this night it was their guests' set that turned me into a disciple: "...enjoyable despite — because of? — the small group of mostly friends out to see them. At any rate, the space felt ideal for the band's sound, which connotes a slightly regretful dreamy lassitude."

I also got a really nice capture of the sound that night that you can check out here.

Part II can be found here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Recording: Mantler

Artist: Mantler

Song: Shadows and Counterparts

Recorded at The Tranzac Club, December 31, 2009.

Mantler - Shadows and Counterparts

My notes for this set are here.

Recording: The Magic

Artist: The Magic

Song: Call Me Up

Recorded at The Tranzac Club, December 31, 2009.

The Magic - Call Me Up

My notes for this set are here.

Thanks to Jordan for confirming the title of this one.

Recording: The Magic

Artist: The Magic

Song: Downtown Line*

Recorded at The Tranzac Club, December 31, 2009.

The Magic - Downtown Line

My notes for this set are here.

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

Recording: Jim Guthrie

Artist: Jim Guthrie

Song: Lovers Do

Recorded at The Tranzac Club, December 31, 2009.

Jim Guthrie - Lovers Do

My notes for this set are here.

Gig: Tranzac New Year's Eve

Tranzac New Year's Eve (feat. Diamond Rings, Jim Guthrie, Gentleman Reg, The Magic, Mantler)

The Tranzac. Thursday, December 31, 2009.

You could make a big deal out of New Year's Eve, I guess. Some people do. Having tried the various options, these days I mostly prefer to find a gig to go to and generally treat it like a usual night. Kudos to the Tranzac, then, for throwing together some sweet New Years' shows, that basically feature a likable selection of local artists and draw a nice crowd with some familiar, friendly faces. Having had a good time at last year's event (featuring The Bicycles ushering in the new year) I knew there wasn't anywhere else I'd want to be.1

An abundance of choices in the early going, with appealing acts going down in both the main hall and the Southern Cross lounge. But I decided to stick it out in the more spacious room with Diamond Rings — just to have one last rendezvous with the single of the year and John O'Regan's other tasty pop confections, even if it meant missing the much-talked-about debut of Sheezer2 — and even if that meant I'd have the too-damn-catchy Cure-like piano line of "On Our Own" stuck in my head for a few more days. Wearing a tunic covered with a constellation of glittering stars — as if he'd been taking a costuming class with Robin Starveling — O'Regan sashayed from guit to keyb with grace, even if his on-stage persona remains humbly anti-diva. Can't wait to hear more companions to the fine half dozen songs in his set right now. This was one of the sounds of 2009 for me, so it felt proper to have this set as part of the year's send-off.

Next up, a rare occasion indeed. With folks looking back over the past ten years, perhaps a very timely re-emergence for Jim Guthrie, whose work at the other end of the decade was no small part of the groundwork of T.O.'s indie explosion.3 As things were getting set up, I was getting excited, as it looked like he'd put together an all-star backing band for the occasion.4 "It's been awhile, so please go easy on us," Guthrie said as the seven-member crew began creating a lush backdrop for his songs.

Although there's been signs here and there — a much-talked-about commercial jingle; sideman duties with Islands; the Human Highway album; some soundtrack work, including local doc When We Were Boys — it's hard to believe that it's been so long since 2003's Now, More Than Ever. Whether because it's the most temporally proximate or it was more amenable to live band arrangements, it formed the backbone of the setlist, including the first three tracks. Then the band reached back to 2002's Morning Noon Night for "Trouble", the carefully modulated live textures adding a different dimension to the song than is in its somewhat tinny original recording."We're just playin' oldies tonight, all oldies," Guthrie commented, although the as-yet-unrecorded "Difference A Day Makes" (which appears to be bouncing around the net in demo format) got an airing. Going out on a mellow note, Guthrie grabbed his ukulele, ending with the existential love song "You are Far (Do You Exist?)". A welcome return, the significance understood by some in the room, even if he was playing to the chattiest crowd of the evening.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Not wanting to get stuck around more chatterboxes, as the crowd shifted during the set break I moved pretty much front and centre. And why not? Given that this had become, just sorta by accident, a full year of Gentleman Reg, it seemed quite befitting to have him right there for the last set I'd see before the turning of the year. And, indeed, it turned out sounding pretty good, even if I was blasted a little from Reg's guitar amp directly in front of me. And so, a fine forty-five minute set with all the usual highlights, including again the very fine new song ("what they said is true") heard at the Opera House show.5 By the time he hit the home stretch of "We're in a Thunderstorm" (again featuring Laura Barrett guesting on extra keybs) and "The Boyfriend Song" a different and, um, drunker crowd had pushed their way up to the front to engage in their own crazy dance party, one enthusiastic fellow even hopping up on stage to shake a leg. It's probably sort of the end of a cycle for Reg, and I imagine we might hear a bit less of him next year, recharging and building up some more new material, but I dearly hope he can maintain some of the momentum he's built up over the past while.

After the set, A. was headed outside for a smoke, and I joined him, just to get a breath of revivifying outside air. Which is how, with typical panache, I managed to miss all the excitement of midnight and the new year, heralded only by an unruly howl drifting over from the Brunswick House. Perhaps underwhelming, but I'm not one to set too much store on these kinds of celebration anyways. Better to just head back inside in anticipation of the next set.

"It's like Guelph invaded Toronto," Reg had noted from the stage — indeed true, considering that the Royal City provided us not only with himself and Jim Guthrie but also The Magic. Last time I saw 'em, I was admittedly feeling pretty punchy, as it was at the end of a day-long music-watching marathon, and I knew I'd need to have another go 'round to really suss 'em out. On this occasion, with a full set to fill, the band started a bit more on the soft side, with "Never Lock the Door" — a song which helps to tip their hand that their real genre is a revisitation of 70's smoothness filtered through 80's pop. But as soon as Geordie Gordon hit the falsetto part at the end ("I'll nevah lock the door!") he had the crowd onside and most such hair-splitting became redundant.

"I get stabbed in the heart every time I look at you," Gordon informed the audience — but that wasn't so much a statement of angsty songwriterly anguish but the result of sartorial insistence, a pin for his scarf being the culprit. Most of the other bandmembers were no less elegant — Sylvie Smith was in a sophisticated shimmery dress, but managed to not be the shiniest thing on stage when Evan Gordon's gold lamé cape was accounted for. Still, Smith is a key factor here, adding excellent backing vox throughout (especially, say, wrapping her part around Gordon's lead on "No Sound") and taking lead for showstopper "Call Me Up".6

The sophisticated, slick sound that the band is aiming for — especially in their big-band, horn-section-enabled live configuration — was demonstrated on a cover of Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years", wherein the guitarists did a respectable job of reproducing the snake-y lead lines, but Gordon couldn't quite nail the smoothness of Donald Fagen's vocal. A couple of the songs misfired, but given that one or two of those are holdovers from their earlier, less-expansive EP that's soon to be supplanted by a full-length, it may well be that some songwriting growth has already taken place. But the lesser material was outweighed by the good stuff, and the band has really nailed their own sound. Plus, their party-startin', dance-inducing devotion to the pleasure principle is pretty winning, even if I'm not entirely amenable to that kind of thing.7 A fine time, leaving no doubt why a lot of folks are calling this group one to watch in the coming months.

You can listen to the most fabulous thing in the set here, but then, so as to not give short shrift to the hard workin' Geordie Gordon, you can also check out some more here.

After that energy blast, nothing would make more sense than something mellow to ensure a gentle landing. Nothing better, then, than Mantler, master of melancholy and electric-piano soul. Playing in the cozier Southern Cross lounge, the room was pretty full (with many fellow musicians in attendance) and sweltering. Admirably backed by Matt McLaren's warm bass and Jay Anderson's loose-limbed drumming, the Steamboat duo provided just enough restrained colour to fill in the songs without distracting focus from the tuxedo'ed singer. Leading off with the counter-thematic "I Guarantee You a Good Time" ("you are talkin' to a guy who's never had a sad day in his life"), might seem strange coming from a guy whose between-song banter includes segues like, "continuing the theme of inner pain..." — but maybe nothing soothes an ache and makes you feel good like a sad song and someone else's misery.

Riffing on the change of year, Mantler strongly urged the audience to call it twenty-ten and not two-thousand and ten ("they didn't call it 'nineteen hundred and ten', did they?"), before taking an opportunity to riff on the film 2010.8 The trio grew stronger as the set moved along, essaying such fine tunes as "Shadows and Counterparts" and "Uphill Battle". Sadly, as they were starting to really cook, I was fading just as quickly. Still, when Steamboat guitarist Nick Taylor joined them for a couple numbers (including a funky run through The Spinners' "I'll Be Around") to close the set, I got enough of a boost to last it out.

I thought that might be it, but the crowd called out for an encore, and the band came back to send the crowd home with the cheery combo of "Lately I'm Sad" and Gil Scott-Heron's "Home is Where the Hatred is". I was beat as I dragged myself over to the extra-late-running subway, but a good way to ring in the new year.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 The only mild criticism that I could offer at this well-organized event is the absence of any female-fronted acts on the main stage.

2 "I don't know why you guys aren't watching them," O'Regan commented, after asking if Gentleman Reg was in the room to join in on a song, before concluding he'd be in the other room. Sheezer, for thems sans ears to the ground, is the new all-star Weezer tribute band, whose ranks include Dana Snell, Laura Barrett, Alysha Haugen, Magali Meagher and Robin Hatch — a tremendously talented lot who would be worth listening to regardless of the circumstance. It looks like there's some murky video from what I was missing here.

3 His first album, 1999's A Thousand Songs, was the first release on the seminal Three Gut label, of which he was the very namesake.

4 The members of the band were:

Jordan Howard - guit

Samir Khan - bass

Shaw-Han Liem - keyb

Nathan Lawr - drums

Randy Lee - violin

Jeremy Strachan - reeds

Nick Buligan - brass

5 Didactic Reg-trackers should note that Jon Hynes was handling the bass this time round.

6 It was presented with all-star backing vox from Kelly McMichael (Gentleman Reg), Jess Tollefsen (Green Go), and Jonas Bonnetta (Evening Hymns).

7 If only there were some time of the year where it'd be appropriate to resolve to change that sort of thing about oneself.

8 "What the hell happened to Jupiter?" someone in the audience shouted at mention of the movie. "I know!" Mantler replied, as if astonished.