Friday, February 26, 2010

Recording: Those Darlins

Artist: Those Darlins

Song: Wild One

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, February 9, 2010.

Those Darlins - Wild One

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Hacienda

Artist: Hacienda

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, February 9, 2010.

Hacienda - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Two tracks here, I believe — an instrumental that segues into another one. Anyone know the titles of one or both of these? Please leave a comment!

Gig: Those Darlins

Those Darlins (Hacienda)

The Horseshoe Tavern, Tuesday, February 9, 2010.

Headed over to the 'Shoe for a free Tuesday show, my movie keeping me occupied a bit longer than I'd expected, meaning I missed almost the whole set from Meligrove Band. I meant to catch up with what they've been doing lately, but I just managed to hear the last two-three songs. Around for a decade now, the band are, to some extent, being overlooked in their own time, staying just active enough to be on the edge of the radar. Four years since their last album and a couple years since I've seen 'em, what I saw of their alt-power-pop was pleasant stuff but perhaps I wasn't there for enough for it to make that much of an impression on me, though they did have a decent crowd of enthusiasts out to catch their set.

Some sources had tipped Hacienda — three brothers and a cousin out of San Antonio that had gained notice while serving as Dan Auerbach’s backing band on his solo tour — as a band to check out. Leading off with an instrumental with a greasy bassline and farfisa-styled organ, the band was tearing it up from the get go. As for their sound, pick your southern-fried Tex-Mex antecedents — for a brief moment I was pegging 'em for a less peyote-addled Meat Puppets, until they flipped it up, slowing down for songs like "Hear Me Crying", bringing to mind the Sahm Dictum1 — a connection that keyb player Abraham Villanueva would underline with some Augie Meyers-like work. The band wasn't afraid to throw in some sunny pop curveballs, as in "She's Got a Hold on Me", indicating a pleasing range to their sound. But all of it was delivered with a welcome mix of high-calibre chops and white lightnin' intensity. Not life-changing stuff, but definitely life-affirming fun for the length of their twenty-five minute set. Or as K. shouted to me over the last fading strains of the last song, "now that's what's good about rock'n'roll!".

Listen to a track from this set here.

Hailing from from Murfreesboro, Tennessee and making their local debut, when I'd first head of Those Darlins the reductionist pitch was "the twangy Vivian Girls". Which, though kinda silly, did, admittedly, cause me to take note. And kept them enough on my radar, I guess, that I was out to see 'em. Playing two minute songs (although a few crept well past the three minute mark) there's certainly a rough and sloppy punkish undercurrent to the band's work, and their milieu is barn-burning country music, so take from that what you will.

Three women — all taking the rock'n'roll surname "Darlin" — plus a hired-hand drummer, the trio up front list themselves with their primary instruments (Bass/Guitar/Baritone Ukulele) but they passed them back and forth regularly and all took turns at the mic. With a sass-back, rebel attitude (evidenced on songs like "DUI or Die"), it was a good racket, and they were generally fun to watch, but I was surprised — even by halfway through the set — that I wasn't finding this as compelling as I was expecting.

But the band was working hard, pumping out songs from their EP and recent album — and even a couple newer ones than that. Plus, they tossed in a couple covers, including the Carter Family's "Cannonball Blues" that showed that they are consciously working within a tradition. Not a narrow tradition, but rather a proud Southern one of mixing different musics together. And if they're far from the first to fuse the kickin'-up-hell elements of country music with punk's raucous clamour, and if there were a couple songs that didn't connect, it was passably entertaining. They picked up steam at the close of the set, with "Red Light Love" leading into a cover of "Shakin' All Over", with which the band made their one extended freakout groove move, by the end crawling on the stage and letting things get generally chaotic. A solid forty-five minutes.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 "You just can't live in Texas / if you don't have lots of soul".

2 And proving that casual misogyny is alive and well, after a few juvenile comments here and there throughout the set, the dude behind me shouted "one more, bitches!" as the band left the stage. If only I hadn't've left by rusty castrating knife at home, I could have done some impromptu public service. Stupid menfolk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gig: Great Lake Swimmers

Great Lake Swimmers (Sharon Van Etten)

Trinity-St. Paul's Church. Saturday, February 6, 2010.

Of all the bands that I've come to love through seeing them in live performance, Great Lake Swimmers stands out a bit. Maybe because although I've seen them in two or three clubs, by and large the most memorable shows have been in less-standard environments: Toronto Reference Library, say, or The Church of the Redeemer. So it felt utterly natural that they'd be joining a pretty select list of bands that I've seen perform in more than one church.1 It helps that Trinity-St. Paul's is a pretty nice place to see a show — big enough to feel expansive but still with a folded-in sense of togetherness in the big u-shaped round.

But there are still better and worse spots inside, and the venue's unreserved seating generally leads to a calculus of how long one would want to wait outside versus how close one wants to be to the stage, a calculation that gained an extra dimension on a bone-chillingly frigid evening. I actually made better time heading down than I was expecting and was much closer to the door than I'd been counting on. By the time K. — also a veteran of many GLS gigs and well-able to join in on hair-splitting show comparisons — joined me, we were busily plotting where we should make a beeline for when the doors opened. We were close enough that we could have snagged decent floor seats, but we reckoned instead to be front and centre in the balcony, with no-one in front of us and in what should be the acoustic sweet spot. Which we executed when the doors opened — and it was so cold out, people further back in line were actually cheering as the front of the line was moving in. And then some time to hang out as the church filled in.

Singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten was tapped as the opener for this one, and emerged looking small and alone on the big stage. With a lovely voice, she played a solo set of quietly yearning material. She had an engagingly upbeat-yet-bashful presence, befitting her self-depreciating lyrics ("I sigh and then I frown / I write this moment down / 'Cause I cannot paint pictures with my tongue.") and connected well with her banter: "There's nothing like applause in a church — it sounds so huge. It's the only way I want to hear clapping from now on."2 With her songs about simple, relatable things3, Van Etten had the vibe of someone you'd like to hang out with over a cup of coffee, and that presence plus her voice made the set a success, even though a couple of her compositions had my attention drifting a bit. Best of the bunch was a spare and gorgeous cover (the lyrics "see me again / she wants to see me again" wouldn't normally sound that spine-meltingly melancholy) that turned out to be "Oooh Love" by Blaze Foley.4 An intriguing introduction.

A decently quick break before Great Lake Swimmers took the stage. Showing how far they've come from merely providing perfunctory backdrops to Tony Dekker's lyrics, the band started by unleashing their inner Wilco, with an extended version of "Everything Is Moving So Fast" that stretched out into the instrumental break, building into a wall of echoing noise — well, restrained, mostly polite noise — generated by guitarist Erik Arnesen, bending over his pedals. Darcy Yates switched from double bass to his electric four-string mid-song, before the whole thing segued seamlessly into "Bodies and Minds". Julie Fader then joined the band on keybs and backing vox, and would in fact be on stage for the bulk of the set. A couple more Lost Channels cuts were followed by "Moving Pictures, Silent Films" and early highlight "I Could Be Nothing" (from 2005's Bodies and Minds and a bit of a catalogue dig.)

Then the band departed for a few songs, leaving just Dekker on stage, accompanied by Julie Fader's flute and vox for "New Light". And that whole thing where undifferentiated album cuts somehow take flight live? This would be an example of exactly that. After a couple more stripped-down numbers, everyone returned to the stage, and the second half was an opportunity to stretch out and wander a bit through the band's four albums — meaning that as extended as the previous night's in-store appearance was, now we got a chance to dig deeper and hear older favourites like "Changing Colours"5. Sharon Van Etten came out to add one more voice to the main set's final pair of songs, wrapping up with now-standard set-closer "I Am Part of a Large Family".

All well and good, and that all added up to a solidly enjoyable show. But then, unexpectedly, somehow the encore managed to lift the whole thing up to another realm entirely. Re-emerging after a couple minutes of applause, the band launched into a true rarity with a jaunty run through "See You On The Moon!", the cut that they provided to — and which gave the name to — the compilation of children's songs put out by Paper Bag Records in '05. It was filled with so much goofy exuberance that the song — which I hadn't really thought about for a couple years — had me grinning for days afterwards, muttering to myself, "Thank you, farmer!"6

And then, in a turnaround that shouldn't have worked, the band then switched effortlessly to "Various Stages", one of Dekker's darkest meditations ("I have seen you in various stages of undress / I have seen you through various states of madness") and it was equally thrilling. The band closed things out with "Concrete Heart" and departed the stage, leaving Dekker on his own to unplug and step out in front of the mic to sing the old Carter Family tune "Storms Are on the Ocean" — his voice carrying perfectly over the rapt crowd and the words ("I'm going away to leave you love / I'm going away for a while / But I'll return to see you sometime / If I go ten thousand miles") a perfect sendoff. From good to magical.

Thanks to K. for the proper looking photo at the top of the article.

1 Unique experiences notwithstanding, the real reason that the shows in all of these non-standard venues have created such an indelible stamp on me is probably that they are far better vehicles for Tony Dekker's voice than your standard bar. Wanting to get into the right physical space to hear Dekker sing is a sort of thing that veers into hard-to-speak-of areas of analysis, but Dekker's voice breaks a standard that is widely known but usually talked around: that women sing beautifully and men sing with character. It's a general rule of thumb that anyone who breaks this mold — think of the reaction to any female singer who sings with grain or mannered imperfections instead of light prettiness — is looked at with a bit of suspicion. Most probably because the very types who spend the most time putting thought into these kinds of things are men who feel uncomfortable — y'know — with the idea of finding a man's voice beautiful, twisting themselves into rhetorical knots to show how it's not — y'know — like, erotic. Guys are generally cultured to be uptight about this stuff, but I guess I'll dare to out myself as one who finds Tony Dekker's voice to be lovely.

2 Although she gave the impression that she wasn't totally used to resounding waves of applause, commenting later, "it's a relief when it's not quiet after a song".

3 "This next song is about moving into your parents' house when you're twenty and your trying to be all right with it," was offered as one introduction. General laughter, and the woman beside me woo-hooed sympathetically, to which a guy sitting a row behind commented, "try it at thirty."

4 This is actually so good that I insist that you watch this youtube video of Van Etten performing it.

5 Which may be the very song with which GLS "clicked" for me — I remember hanging out in the library system in November '06 and Dekker singing the then-unreleased track, the notes rising up among the tiers of the city's concrete literary heart.

6 "That song never stopped being fun to play", smiled Dekker at the end.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recording: Afrafranto

Artist: Afrafranto

Song: Angelina

Recorded at "Celebrating Africa’s First World Cup" party, Gladstone Hotel, February 5, 2010.

Afrafranto - Angelina

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Njacko Backo and the Toumkak Drummers

Artist: Njacko Backo and the Toumkak Drummers

Song: James Brown Style*

Recorded at "Celebrating Africa’s First World Cup" party, Gladstone Hotel, February 5, 2010.

Njacko Backo - James Brown Style

My notes for this set can be found here.

*This is an excerpt from a longer piece, and the title is descriptive rather than a proper name.

Gig: "Celebrating Africa’s First World Cup"

"Celebrating Africa’s First World Cup" (feat. Afrafranto, Njacko Backo and the Toumkak Drummers, Jacques Yams, CanAfric Theatre)

Gladstone Hotel Ballroom. Friday, February 5, 2010.

At the close of the Masaisai show, walked out the door and over to the ballroom to take in the second Music Africa event of the night, a special soccer-themed event celebrating South Africa's World Cup and the participating African teams. I'm not much for the footie, but I was easily pulled in by the musical talent on hand. Inside the ballroom sort of a relaxed rec-room vibe, with a smallish crowd in the early going as people slowly filtered in. There ended up being a respectable crowd, but there was certainly room for more.

Starting the evening off was the CanAfric Theatre led by the voice and powerful presence of Justine Gogoua (often seen of the Afrofest stage as one of the event's hosts). Starting with the drum — the root of it all, after all — Gogoua's accompanying trio did three pieces with percussion and voice as the framework for some enthusiastic dancing. With lots of room on the dancefloor, the performers jumped down from the stage to show off their moves, their energy a nice spark to the night.

And then a short set from Jacques Yams, decked out in the green jersey of his native Cameroon's Indomitable Lions and playing acoustic guitar and backed only by a single percussionist. I wasn't familiar with him, but was quickly impressed by his lightly skipping guitar work and plaintive french-language vocals. Playing just a very short three-song set, it was enough for me to file the name away for future reference. Hunting around a bit, it looks like he works with a couple bands, so keep your eyes open for a chance to see him.

And then genially earnest Music Africa president Michael Stohr (wearing a layered succession of African World Cup jerseys that he proceeded to pull off in turn throughout the evening) drew names from a hat for some soccer-themed giveaways as things were gearing up on the stage behind him for Njacko Backo and the Toumkak Drummers. Backo, who also performs solo and with his other group Kalimba Kalimba, is equally well-known and well-regarded as an entertainer and a teacher, and is a master thumb piano player and percussionist. Here he was backed by his five piece Toumkak Drummers, a mostly-percussion ensemble, with members rotating through a variety of drums and percussion instruments, plus kalimba, flute and ngoni.

Playing to the night's theme, Backo advocated a pan-African solution to winning the World Cup ("Cameroon doesn't have to win — Africa has to win. We're going to get all the juju men together..."), invoking everyone to stand up and devising an impromptu clap-along chant for all of the African World Cup teams — and then stopping the beat when not enough people were shaking along to inveigh against the non-participators, only to resume the beat in double time. Never afraid to ham it up when required, to make faces and shout at the crowd, Backo donned the hand-made makarapa that was on display to whip up the crowd. Even after that he was still not satisfied with the amount of dancing, and said to his band, "let's make it funky — James Brown!" Which I thought, as the percussion kicked back in, was a sort of a figure of speech. But soon, ngoni player Chip Yarwood was kicking out some "Sex Machine"-like riffs to a woodblock-tapping rhythm and it was James Brown. A fabulous, high-energy end to a set that was a lot of fun to watch and move to.

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

Next up was the biggest reason that I was out for this show — to have another chance to check out Afrafranto. When I saw them last summer, they were playing an opening set for Vieux Farka Touré, and despite being totally off my radar, proceeded to totally impress me. Though they seem to keep a fairly low profile, internet wise, I've been keeping an eye out for them since. Sadly, it seems that their rep isn't as sizable as their talents, as by the time they took the stage, the already-smallish crowd had withered away some more. Those who remained, however, were in for a treat, and pretty much everyone was dancing from the get go to their palmwine rhythms. Palmwine — the forerunner of the more widely known highlife genre — has a hint of calypso rhythm added to its West African shuffle, adding that extra zing of jump up to the music's insistent groove.

The band played for nearly forty-five minutes, stopping for breath only once in the middle — otherwise the band, led by vocalist Theo Yaa Boakye, segued continuously from one song to the next. A few minutes in, I was thinking to myself, "this isn't just a good band — this is a fabulously good band." It's mildly disorienting to think that this top-shelf band doesn't have a webpage or even a myspace, but they're not complete unknowns. As shocking as it seems in the musical headspace I usually inhabit, not everything unfolds on the net. Plus, these musicians are well known for their other pursuits — Boakye as well as guitar hero Pa Joe are associated with the African Guitar Summit. And speaking of that, there might have been others out in the crowd who were there to watch Pa Joe play guitar, but I think I was the only one gawping, slack-jawed, at the delicious sounds generated by his astoundingly gentle touch, the notes lifting off like the butterfly that the band is named for. Put simply: this is one the best bands in Toronto that you know nothing about, and now that you do, you don't have an excuse.

Listen to a song from this set here.

And speaking of African music and the World Cup, I note that this year's Afrofest will be taking place at Queen's Park on July 10th and 11th, the latter of which is the same day as the final game of this year's World Cup. Whether you're looking for a place to celebrate the outcome or just someplace to go and dance and ignore the final, write the dates down in your calendar now and plan to attend — Afrofest is one of this city's best summer events and not to be missed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recording: Masaisai

Artist: Masaisai

Song: Masaisai

Recorded at Gladstone Hotel Melody Bar, February 5, 2010.

Masaisai - Masaisai

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Masaisai


Gladstone Hotel (Melody Bar). Friday, February 5, 2010.

Dashed over to The Gladstone to check out the first of a series of free Friday night shows in the Melody Bar put together by folks from Music Africa in celebration of Black History Month. I'd seen Masaisai before, at the same venue no less, last August and had been keeping my eye out for another chance to catch 'em. Playing a soulful, highly danceable variety of Zimbabwean chimurenga music, based around the mbira1, the group managed to fit eight people on the tiny Melody Bar stage — although that left the marimba on the floor in front of everyone. I arrived a bit past eight, in time to catch about a half-hour of the show's first half. Last time I'd seen 'em, they'd been confined to a relatively short showcase-style set, so it was illuminating to see them with a chance to stretch out a bit more. Besides their first-class rockin' party tunes, we got to hear some different angles on the ingredients of their music. Vocalist Tich Maredza, for example, played a couple songs solo with acoustic guitar before the break, including, I believe, a cover of a Tuku song.

The second set started by leaning more towards the traditional end of the band's repertoire, with a couple more rootsy mbira-based numbers, the first with a simmering hypnotic groove, the second a prayer with intertwining vocal parts from Makuri and Evelyn Mukwedeya (who we got to hear singing more during the longer set) and a slowly building backbeat. But after that, as the full band got going again, there was a good-sized crowd of people dancing in front of the stage, which is how it would stay for the rest of the set. From time to time, even members of the band would jump down to join in.

Solid musicianship all around, including from a guest drummer playing, we were told, with only five minutes' practice with the band.2 A full hour's worth for the second set, and the band definitely raised the temperature in the room — enough that the cold blast of winter air that blew in whenever anyone passed through the door beside the stage was a bit of a relief. A good time — worth seeing again for sure.

Listen to a track from this show here.

1 The thumb piano, close cousin of the kalimba.

2 I didn't quite manage to catch his name — it might have been Winston Mapeka — but unfortunately I can't credit him properly. We were told he has "played with every popular chimurenga musician in Zimbabwe", and that showed in his technique — I love those little fills takka-takka-bam-bam-bam that come on top of the regular beat.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recording: Great Lake Swimmers

Artist: Great Lake Swimmers

Song: Moving Pictures, Silent Films

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records, February 5, 2010.

Great Lake Swimmers - Moving Pictures, Silent Films

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store: Great Lake Swimmers

Great Lake Swimmers

Sonic Boom Records. Friday, February 5, 2010.

Well situated en route to the gig I was headed to, stopped in at Sonic Boom for this in-store, feeling like it would be worth it to spend some time with Great Lake Swimmers, despite the fact that I'd be going to their proper show the next night. Got there just early enough to beat the crowd and picked a spot behind some young gentlemen who had a camera/laptop setup to stream the show on the internet. It quickly filled in behind me, a nicely robust crowd on hand by the time the five-piece band hit the stage. The band was in full-on 'great to be home' mode, playing to a very mixed crowd — with their relatively early start times and friendly atmosphere, the Sonic Boom in-stores seem to be an increasingly popular destination for parents who miss going to see bands, as there's been a steady increase in the number of small children in attendance at these shows.

Working mostly from the year-old Lost Channels, the set started with "Everything Is Moving So Fast" and included a nicely punchy version of "She Comes to Me in Dreams". There was a bit of older material mixed in after a few songs — I was particularly affected by the always-beautiful "Moving Pictures, Silent Films", with newest member Miranda Mulholland's understated violin and backing vox adding just the right sympathetic note. No talkers on hand, at least in my vicinity, making for a pleasing listening experience.1 Though attentive, the crowd did step up when called upon for a clap-along to "Your Rocky Spine", where the bulk of the audience stuck with it, quite unexpectedly, for the length of the song.

After a half-dozen songs, Tony Dekker stopped to introduce the band, and I thought that might signal things winding down. But the band kept rolling along, ultimately playing a generous twelve songs in fifty-five minutes.2 The second half mixed in a few more Ongiara tracks, closing with "I Am Part of a Large Family". Perhaps the crowd generally was impressed with the length of the set, as after the last song, there was warm applause, but not a sustained demand for an encore, as if the consensus was that this was a good place to stop.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Though if I were to make one slight complaint, the sound tech could have tweaked the trebles down a touch, as Dekker's guitar stings were ringing a bit too prominently in the mix. But hard to complain too much when the room was quiet enough, and the mix clear enough, to be able to hear such an imperfection.

2 It's always a bonus when the in-store isn't on the same night as a gig for the band, and they aren't otherwise rushing to move along. I would never complain when a freebie in-store set is short or stripped down, so it seems like an especially generous gesture on the band's part to play what is essentially a full set for a non-paying crowd.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Recording: Gentleman Reg

Artist: Gentleman Reg

Song: It's True

Recorded at the Drake Underground – "Heavy Hands Residency", Week 1. February 3, 2010.

Gentleman Reg - It's True

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Hooded Fang

Artist: Hooded Fang

Song: Laughing

Recorded at the Drake Underground – "Heavy Hands Residency", Week 1. February 3, 2010.

Hooded Fang - Laughing

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Kite Hill

Artist: Kite Hill

Song: Clouds of Living Things

Recorded at the Drake Underground – "Heavy Hands Residency", Week 1. February 3, 2010.

Kite Hill - Clouds of Living Things

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: "Heavy Head Residency", Week 1

"Heavy Head Residency", Week 1. (Gentleman Reg / Hooded Fang / Kite Hill)

Drake Underground. Wednesday, February 3, 2010.

Do I ever get tired of being wrong? Reflecting on New Year's Eve upon the last of a fruitful string of local dates for Gentleman Reg, I noted, "I imagine we might hear a bit less of him next year." I was proven a liar within a few weeks when it was announced that Reg was taking a page from his label-mate Jason Collett and hosting a weekly residency every Wednesday in February downstairs at the Drake Hotel. Appealing lineups and a reasonable ten dollar cover were enough to get me out on a dreaded Wednesday night and check out the first installment of the "Regidency".

Opening things up was a short set from Kite Hill, with Ohbijou's Ryan Carley stepping into the spotlight, leading the band with piano and vox. Perhaps most widely heard on last year's Friends in Bellwoods 2 comp1, the five piece — including Steve Lappano (drums), Mika Posen (from Forest City Lovers, violin), Anissa Hart (from Ohbijou, cello) and Tyler Belluz (double bass) — specialize in introverted orch-pop. Playing eight songs over twenty-five minutes2, the band sounded excellent in presenting some songs from their forthcoming album, with a hoped-for June release date. Top-notch performances all around, such as on "Terns", presented with elegant pizzicato precision from the string players. Of special note was Posen's violin work, essentially taking the space of a lead guitarist with some nice flowing lines on "Gathering" and "Clouds of Living Things". This music is good enough that Carley could afford to exude a bit more righteous ego on stage, although his slightly defensive, closed-in body language and self-depreciating manner do accord well with the softness he's expressing with his voice and in his songs.

A word-picture: imagine a broken-hearted boy looking out a window at a grey forest on a rainy evening, feeling a wordless sense of loss at the ghost of a waltz in his head. That boy is a Kite Hill song.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Next up, the redoubtable pop prowess of Hooded Fang, taking a few extra minutes to get started with some keyboard cable gremlins on the loose. Once ready to go, the band launched into "Sleep Song", and then "Promiseland", which sounded like it had been switched into a higher gear, moving quickly on a tasty bed of rhythm guit. In fact, over all, the band was in a sprightly mood, playing with an energizing jauntiness. The band has certainly smoothed over some of their rough edges that they had a year ago, with less pace-slowing instrument swaparounds, and so forth. The setlist continues to more forward, as well, with only one song ("Land of Giants") from their EP making the cut on this night. That left the bulk of the set comprising of familiar, though as-yet-unreleased songs ("Straight Up" and "Younger Days" for example, plus "Highway Steam" from Friends in Bellwoods 2) though there was some 'new-new' material, such as "Mutant Bear". The only downside to the band's increased focus is that it seems to mean less of an opportunity for Lorna Wright to step into the spotlight, with Daniel Lee now singing pretty much all the leads. But a really fine set overall.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Taking the stage on his own, Gentleman Reg greeted the crowd and began his set with a stripped-down cover of Sam Phillips' "I Need Love", delivered with yearning intensity to a nearly pin-drop quiet crowd.3 He was then joined by the band — Jon Hynes, Kelly McMichael and Dana Snell — who launched into "Coastline". Reg was in high spirits throughout the night, celebrating the anniversary of Jet Black's release: "it was a good year — sold millions and millions of copies... we're all loaded. We almost didn't have time to be here because we're so busy and rich! But we made the time."

Besides the standard setlist fare, there was a smattering of new material, including a pair of songs getting their public debut. One was an upbeat rocker (leading off with the scenario-setting lyric "There was this one time I went into a bar") that gave Reg a chance to rock out on the guitar. Plus the sublime "It's True" (which we'll use as an unofficial title pending any further news) that proves how much backing vocals can add to a song — in this case, inducing delicious shivers. The band was joined by Shaun Brodie (trumpet) and Jessica Tollefsen of Green Go (keyb and backing vox) on "How We Exit". It was nice to see Tollefsen — who has probably been at more Gentleman Reg shows in the past year than I've been to — get called up to the stage. She also added some nice sounds to a version of "We're in a Thunderstorm" that saw Reg take to the floor and dance among the crowd to close out the set.

"We never headline shows — we're always opening for people," Reg commented after being called back to the stage. "We never get encores." Playing solo again, Reg debuted one more song, this one a lovelorn paean to a boy from Winnipeg that Reg met on tour ("Not to get too specific," Reg commented while introducing it). Then the band returned for a final blast through "The Boyfriend Song" to close it out. A full hour of Reg, and a rather good time. All told, a well-put-together night. There's still a couple weeks left in the Regidency, so it'd be worth your getting down there, Thursday morning be damned.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 The band played a fine set at the compilation's release party

2 It's worth noting that the songs clock in at very economical lengths, with several right around the two-minute mark. Yet there's no stinting on the arrangements, as all sound fully-fleshed out. It seems more that Carley is smart enough as a songwriter to use less lyrics and let the music carry the emotional message. It helps, too, that the songs don't work as much on the verse-chorus-repeat kind of mode, each coming as more of a single developed image.

3 Strangely enough, given the quality of talent on hand, the show wasn't sold out — Wednesday night, I guess — but the room was just full enough to nail that sweet spot where there's some but not too much elbow room.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Recording: Everything All the Time

Artist: Everything All the Time

Song: Take Stock

Recorded at The Horseshoe, January 30, 2010.

Everything All the Time - Take Stock

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Lioness

Artist: Lioness

Song: You're My Heart

Recorded at The Horseshoe, January 30, 2010.

Lioness - You're My Heart

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Rich Aucoin

Artist: Rich Aucoin

Song: It

Recorded at The Horseshoe, January 30, 2010.

Rich Aucoin - It

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Everything All The Time

Everything All The Time (Lioness / Rich Aucoin)

The Horseshoe. Saturday, January 30, 2010.

On a frigid Saturday night, I tried warming myself up with the strange flaming sculptures in Nathan Phillips Square, but to no avail. Needing something generating a more powerful heat, I walked down the street to this dance-y evening at the 'Shoe, another smartly-concocted No Shame event. Once again, Lauren Schreiber had gotten a nice crowd out — and an early one, too, with more bodies on hand than you might normally see when the first act started.1 That might be because it was, as one of the performers would later put it, almost like a triple-headliner kind of show — in fact, it was mildly unusual in that the night's sets went from longest to shortest.

You could tell that something interesting was coming with Rich Aucoin2, who, as I arrived, was busily hanging a blanket across the front of the stage-right area. Soon, balloons were being passed around to members of the crowd to be blown up and deposited behind the screen. When everything was ready to go, Aucoin started his set by calling everyone closer to the stage, and forming into a big circle around him on the floor. Now, artists do this all the time, but this was done with such persuasive "we're all in this show together" earnestness that he indeed soon had an impressively-sized group around him. Aucoin was fully committed to creating an interactive experience: "at some points during the show, expressing yourself through song and dance isn't enough and confetti is the only way to get your point across. So if you'd like to step forward, I will distribute these packets of to anyone who wants to express themselves through confetti."

Beyond the props were the video projections, with the songs designed to sync up, of all things, with scenes from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, cut with stock footage and with pop-up sing-along lyrics. None of these extras would matter much if the songs didn't measure up, but Aucoin brought a pleasing batch of well-delivered DOR confections. With "here's how to sing the chorus of this one" intros and groove-pleasing centres, the songs stretched out like dancefloor-friendly 12" mixes, most stretching out to six or seven minutes.3 Aucoin's voice brought Win Butler to mind a little, nowhere more than on the anthemic "It". All the way along, he was helped along by the rhythm section, backstopped by Taylor Knox (of The Golden Dogs, plus his own band) on drums, that brought live energy to what could have been a stiffer kind of sequencer rock. On the final song, all of those balloons were sent out to the crowd and were soon ping-ponging back and forth in imitation of the brownian motion below them on the dancefloor. If there's any knock to be made on this stuff, it's that with it so tightly integrated to the backing tracks and the videos, it might feel less fresh a second time around, but Aucoin has undoubtedly come up with something seeing once.4

Listen to a track from this set here.

In picking this gig, perhaps the biggest appeal of the night for me was a chance to catch up with Lioness, who I hadn't seen since October '08, when they were releasing their self-titled EP. The trio is fronted by Vanessa Fischer (ex-No Dynamics) along with the ex-controller.controller rhythm section of Jeff Scheven and Ronnie Morris. The band's sound is an aggressively soulful death disco laced with bass-heavy maximalist reverberations that work like subliminal dancefloor invocations. Or as Fischer put it, on coming out after the arms-raising optimism of the previous set, "sorry, we're a little darker — it's in our hearts".

The early peak was an ace version of "You're My Heart", featuring Joseph Shabason (of the night's headliners) on saxophone, but the rest of the material was right up there as well. The set included a "really new song" that shows the band extending themselves towards a slightly more subtle place, slower and with less bass and more keybs played with pulsing intensity. Another new one, "Fire Walk With You", featured Shabason's sax matched to a "Personal Jesus"-indebted rhythm stomp. The band went forth into the night after closing with "The Night", bringing the forty minute set to a satisfying close. Good stuff, and it sounds like the band is working on new material that'll dispel any rumours that they're mere one-dimensional hi-hat rocking one-trick-ponies.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Although I had heard the name Everything All the Time being tossed around, I hadn't made any effort to seek them out before seeing some nice pieces online in the leadup to this show. As promised, the six-piece appeared on stage in a flying V formation, with no less than four keyboards radiating outward from Kieran Adams' drum kit. And in the centre of it all, striding onto the stage with fierce confidence, was vocalist Alanna Stuart. The band's stock-in-trade is soulful 80's-style dance pop — if these tunes were sent through a timewarp to a typical episode of Video Hits, they'd fit in without anyone batting an eye.

As with fellow local revivalists The Magic, this kind of music sometimes makes me feel vaguely suspicious, setting off all kinds of associations with the vapid mersh music of my youth. Because I worked hard to get past all this stuff, now I have to work a little to be able to just enjoy the pure pop pleasures of a song like "Telephone Conversation", which sounds like it mighta been a chart topper for Whitney Houston in some alternate universe. Or to not be looking for the irony in a statement like "that was our tribute to Boney M," as Stuart said after "Those Eyes". But, both of those are fine songs, and the charismatic presence that Stuart brings to the stage sells the band extremely well. As I was getting onto the streetcar after the show, the women behind me were also discussing her virtues: "She can dance without looking silly, she knows what to do with her hands," one said, adding, "and she's got a good voice." So, yeah — good songs, an entertaining time and you can dance to it, so go and check 'em out.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 There is also a sort of built-in crowd that just seems to go to the 'Shoe by default, to hang out there regardless of who's playing. For a good while, I was standing behind this knot of vaguely biker-y middle-aged dudes pounding back the Buds, holding down a patch of space near the front of the crowd — like just in case all this dance-rock folderol was a put-on and maybe Blue Cheer would be making a surprise appearance or something.

2 For those like me with a partial recall for names, I will note that Rich Aucoin is not to be confused with his older brother Paul, leader of The Hylozoists and seen on the stage with many other local bands — including this one, where he was playing bass.

3 Only a stab at Daft Punk's "Human After All" clocked in at under four minutes.

4 Or, apparently, more than once. A comment from Rich, below, brings up the fact that he's thinking two steps ahead of me here, and is making new "mixes and videos every month so that it's a different show for the folks who come back to see it again [...] trying to do everything i can to make it a new experience each time." So you can see (and hear) something different when he makes his way back into town again over the next couple months. I would especially draw your attention to his show with Japanther at the Whippersnapper Gallery on March 11th — I'm guessing that this might be one of the last shows put on there before that space shuts down.

Recording: The Barcelona Pavilion

Artist: The Barcelona Pavilion

Song: How Are You People Going To Have Fun If None Of You People Ever Participate?

Recorded at The Garrison (Wavelength 500 – Night 5), Sunday, February 14, 2010.

The Barcelona Pavilion - How Are You People Going To Have Fun If None Of You People Ever Participate?

My notes for this gig can be found here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Recording: Rockets Red Glare

Artist: Rockets Red Glare

Song: A Mutation*

Recorded at Wavelength 500 (night 4), SPK, Saturday, February 13, 2010.

Rockets Red Glare - A Mutation

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Recording: The Bicycles

Artist: The Bicycles

Song: I Know We Have to Be Apart

Recorded at Wavelength 500 (night 3), Sneaky Dee's, Friday, February 12, 2010.

The Bicycles - I Know We Have to Be Apart

My notes for this set can be read here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rehearsal: Otello

Canada Opera Company (Paolo Olmi, conductor) Otello — working rehearsal

F--- S------ Centre. Tuesday, January 26, 2010.

And now for something completely different.

Opera is usually off my radar. Not even primarily for aesthetic reasons, but as something to go out and do, it's a pricey proposition, and in that that sort of "big night out" fancy dress mentality that's outside my usual terms of reference. But a season-subscribing acquaintance passed along to me one of the "extras" they couldn't use — a pass to a "working rehearsal" of Verdi's Otello.

So a nice chance to get inside the new opera house1 and hear some music. I'd actually been inside during Doors Open last year, but it was a treat to go down to hear something there, and not just wander around the building. Although somewhat maligned for presenting three bland walls to the streetscape (especially if you're on York or Richmond — or on Queen, where it looks like a car dealership), it is quite lovely inside, and standing along the glass wall overlooking University, it's a warm and urban-feeling space, with streetcars trundling by and the city going about its business. On the stair-seats of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, we gathered for a pre-opera chat, getting a nice roundup on the opera, its background and relationship to Shakespeare's play. Also a chance to peek around at the opera crowd, which was about what you'd expect: older, well-heeled, mostly nicely-turned out.

And then in to our seats. For the rehearsal, the floor was closed off and being used by the production staff, the audience up in the overlooking rings. In fact, the whole working rehearsal format made the evening feel very much like two shows, with the performance on stage being framed by the "behind the curtain" elements. Although director Paul Curran was present, he was mostly an observer, while conductor Paolo Olmi was running the show. The backstage drama is a well-worn dramatic device on stage and screen, so it felt somewhat familiar and not unnatural to see stagehands bustling around, actors sitting down on stage during gaps in the performance, and, most entertainingly, Olmi actually stopping the action from time to time to offer a comment. At one point early on, he stopped the orchesta and pointed to a wind player, telling them something along the lines of "yes, this note is a C-sharp, but it's a C-sharp like hmmmmmmmmmmmm."2 Meanwhile, the actors on stage would relax, take a seat, chat amongst themselves.3 I suppose it being opera and all, that I half-expected everyone to be full-bore, y'know, operatic, maybe sing-shouting their comments at each other, but I suppose these are professionals after all.

For this rehearsal, we were being presented with the second two acts of the opera only, so I'm glad I was at one where I knew the story going in.4 So we cut to the chase with the handkerchief scam already set up, and Otello losing his shit. The staging at the outset was sparse, with just a mound of boulders on the stage, all the better for hiding behind to listen in on other people's conversations. But then, at the conclusion of the third act, with the dignitaries from Venice arriving and the big presentation, it suddenly turned into a lavish and courtly production number with a (spoiler alert?) big-assed golden lion rolling onto the stage as the backdrop pulled up and suddenly opened the space. What had hitherto been a closed-in three-hander psychodrama was suddenly widescreen, with the chorus onstage and a big close to the act with Otello publicly denouncing his wife.

And then an intermission, some more time to wander around. When we got back in, it tuned out that Olmi must not have been happy with how things had worked out as the company did the whole grand finale over again. One spot proved especially troublesome, being stopped twice and the action reset before he was satisfied.5 And then the fourth act with that tragic inevitability, Desdemona praying that she doesn't get killed — and then getting killed. Movingly done, but I suppose I'd really prefer some sort of Angela Carter/riot-grrrl rewrite where she stops praying and spends her time sharpening her dagger. But, y'know, a nice score. Classy.

All told, a very pleasing way to spend an evening. I don't imagine that a full-out production is going to be within my means anytime soon, but regardless, I think all of the rough edges and extra-textural goings-on added to the experience for me. As I always say, it's a little bit of grit in the oyster that gives us the pearl. Heading down to the subway after — and why is it that the posh venue has direct, no-need-to-go-outside-like-the-plebes subway access? — I was feeling that heightened sensibility, almost feeling like I should sing out every mundane event ("here comes the traaaaaaaaaaain!") so I guess it rubbed off on me some.

1 The opera house has a third party corporate name, but we needn't acknowledge or remember what it is.

2 Given the dead-sheet-music, rigid kind of rep that rock'n'rollers tend to ascribe to orchestrated music, it's nice to remember that it's not just what notes are there, it's how you hit the notes.

3 The programme that we were given noted that the cast might not be singing full out during the rehearsal to save their voices for the actual performances, but I didn't find any of them wanting. Though, to be sure, my ability to distinguish good-enough operatic singing from very good operatic singing is underdeveloped. Technically, so far as I could tell, all three leads did a fine job singing. Their acting was, however, pleasantly relaxed — especially Clifton Forbis as Othello, who would tend to wander towards his marks and then drift around a bit, making for an amusing sight during the scenes where he was supposed to be hiding and spying on the conversations Iago was staging with Cassio.

4 I've always found — or at least I did when I put some more thought into these things — that Othello was one of the less compelling tragic heroes, kinda dull and one-dimensional, and when the jealousy kicks in, he kinda just falls apart in a hurry. And Desdemona, besides piety and her unrecognized faithfulness, kinda needs some more sass-back in her attitude. Truth be told, I always tend to remember the play as a lot of Iago standing up in the foreground, and going over in detail to the audience the mechanics of his schemes, and then stepping back into the action and doing all the stuff he just said. But I think my perception is also coloured by the '81 BBC production with Bob Hoskins as Iago, where he did a lot of that with wonderfully hammy, oily vigour.

5 Props are due to the surtitle people, who generally did a really good job at keeping up with all the lapses and re-starts on stage.

Recording: Holy Fuck

Artist: Holy Fuck

Song: Red Lights*

Recorded at Wavelength 500 (night 2), Steam Whistle Brewery, Thursday, February 11, 2010.

Holy Fuck - Red Lights

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recording: Bruce Peninsula

Artist: Bruce Peninsula

Song: Crabapples

Recorded at Wavelength 500 (night 1), The Music Gallery, February 10, 2010.

Bruce Peninsula - Crabapples

My notes for this set can be found here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recording: The Necks

Artist: The Necks

Song: excerpt from an improvisation (second set)

Recorded at The Music Gallery, January 23, 2010.

The Necks - excerpt from an improvisation (second set)

My notes for this gig can be found here.

Recording: The Necks

Artist: The Necks

Song: excerpt from an improvisation (first set)

Recorded at The Music Gallery, January 23, 2010.

The Necks - excerpt from an improvisation (first set)

My notes for this gig can be found here.

Gig: The Necks

The Necks

The Music Gallery. Saturday, January 23, 2010.

On a Saturday night with several plausible rock'n'roll options, I made a last-minute choice of none of the above and headed over to the Music Gallery. Not having previously heard of The Necks before the announcement for this show, I was intrigued by what I gleaned from some quick research into the Australian trio, who are generally described as being subject to a Description Problem, not easily slotted into jazz or minimalism or the widely-defined avant-garde.

Strolling in about five minutes before the eight o'clock starting time, I found a nice spot and settled in. It was a fairly full house, but not packed, and mostly an older, "serious music" kind of audience. After a few minutes Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (double bass) took the stage and took a moment to adjust their instruments. Looking like a trio that could have been pulled out of a sales meeting or teachers' lounge, they paused for a moment of contemplative silence.

The first set started with a quiet piano figure for a couple minutes before Swanton joined in on a one-string bass line. Very slowly, the piano riff and the bassline expand, as Buck began a gentle hi-hat tapping. The bassline becomes a movement like a wave, sweeping in and out. The tone is melancholy, but lovely. Ten minutes have passed. Buck gently rattles a string of shells and the bassline speeds up. Abrahams begins playing just a single low bass note bong-bong-bong-bong sounding like a looped sample on repeat, a fading echo. In fact, for a couple minutes, the bass and piano sound eerily like a pair of Buddha Machines left running on a counter before Abrahams begins a slightly queasy figure on the high keys.

And so on, through what we might call the twenty-five minute first phase of the piece. But to slice it up into such a play-by-play does the music an injustice, committing Zeno's old mistake of breaking the great flow of time into discrete moments. Rather, much like life, The Necks' music goes so slowly from being one thing to being another thing with the individual changes coming so incrementally that they are almost un-noticed. I am a child; I am an old man —— and how the hell did that happen?

Although all of that is ex post facto. Perhaps the performance's greatest virtue, and the true mark of the musicians' talent is that it pulled me completely into its own timesense and brought out a spectacular sense of attention to the present moment. It flowed, I flowed. Meanwhile, the music began what could be a familiar trope, the slow build. But here the build came over twenty-five minutes or more, and wasn't a tool to some sort of cheap climax, all players blazing away, but rather simply built to a point where the musicians felt the need to unpack the sound they'd built up until it unwound like a ball of elastic bands and then slowly build back up again in a new way. Hearing the natural reverb he was getting in the church-y space, Swanton started playing to it, sending out gentle pulsations that echoed and made it sound as if there were a fourth player on stage. Abrahams shifted into a continuously gliding figure while Buck explored, for the first time in the performance, a backbeat-driven rhythm, driving the first set to its conclusion. Amazing.

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

And then an intermission. Still in a pretty dreamy state, I wandered outside for a few minutes. An unseasonably warm night between cold snaps, I was quite comfortable in my shirtsleeves, pacing back and forth across the courtyard like a cheap, dime-store Heathcliff, the near-full moon hovering beside the old church tower behind a thin gauze of clouds. Headed in and saw some familiar faces to chat with before returning to my seat.

On the whole, the second set engaged in a different manner — instead of that pull-you-in and float along sensation, this encouraged a more active engagement, and I found myself leaning forward, trying to see when the soundscape shifted. Having done quiet and quiet-to-loud, the band now explored more in the middle ground, with Swanton starting things off and Abrahams playing off him. A rolling, chiming piano part was accompanied by an nearly straight jazzy bassline and then a succession of interchanging parts: the drums picking a consistent tappa-tappa rhythm, the bass shifting to something life a reggae riddim. Buck maintained his steadiness, hitting a a sort of Mo Tucker motorik plateau, while the bottom fell out of Abrahams' piano part, and he suddenly started playing like someone who had found a folded-over half-page of a Satie score, and was playing the bars he could see over and over, trying to work out the missing bits. And then a shift to clusters of piano notes signalled a meticulous rise in intensity. And then a lull and another rise, but not reprising what they'd just done any more than a memory reprises an event. The second set, going about fifty minutes, was a little more busy in its construction — still very good, but not quite so encapturing.

Listen to an excerpt from the second set here.

The band took a few minutes to cool off, then came back out and sat for a short Q & A with the remaining members of the audience. Improvisation being by its nature somewhat beyond the realm of description, it's interesting to hear articulate thoughts from those so deeply involved in it. Having been at it as a unit for over two decades, the three members of the band work with each other at such a deeply instinctual level that some of the specific questions couldn't be answered except with reference to the familiarity beyond words that such a long partnership brings about. But there was no shortage of interesting observations. Asked if there was a sort of overarching method to the band's works, Swanton attributed it to "slowing down the rate of change so that we and the audience can examine things more closely". And from there they talked about how the playing environment affects the sound, the relationship between performance and recording, and generally about how they incorporate their own responses and new influences back into the music. A nice chaser to the performance.

Left the church not long past eleven. Going in, I'd figured that I'd be out in time to wander over somewhere else and catch another band or two, but I felt fully satisfied, and not quite in the mood for any of my usual yowl-and-bash options, so I just walked over to the subway and headed home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Recording: OOTS Family Band

Artist: OOTS Family Band (feat. Jenny Omnichord)

Song: unknown*

Recorded at the Out of This Spark 3rd Anniversary Party, The Garrison, January 22, 2010.

OOTS Family Band (feat. Jenny Omnichord)- unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: The D'Urbervilles

Artist: The D'Urbervilles

Song: Cito G/Boys To Men*

Recorded at the Out of This Spark 3rd Anniversary Party, The Garrison, January 22, 2010.

The D'Urbervilles - Cito G/Boys To Men

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to Colin for the titles.

Recording: Forest City Lovers

Artist: Forest City Lovers

Song: Song For Morrie

Recorded at the Out of This Spark 3rd Anniversary Party, The Garrison, January 22, 2010.

Forest City Lovers - Song For Morrie

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Evening Hymns

Artist: Evening Hymns

Song: Dead Deer

Recorded at the Out of This Spark 3rd Anniversary Party, The Garrison, January 22, 2010.

Evening Hymns - Dead Deer

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Out of this Spark 3rd Anniversary Party

Out of this Spark 3rd Anniversary Party (feat. The D’Urbervilles, Forest City Lovers, Evening Hymns)

The Garrison. Saturday, January 22, 2010.

The anniversary celebrations for local label Out of This Spark have been a warm spot in January's cold for the past couple years, and this time around the party had moved from the Tranzac over to The Garrison. Looks like they coulda picked an even bigger room yet, as the ticketless were being turned away at the door when I arrived, a bit late, missing Jenny Omnichord's opening set. At least that meant a most pleasant lack of dead time as Evening Hymns were just taking the stage and strapping on their instruments as I was finding a spot on the pool table to store my parka.1

Now a five piece, James Bonetta's band has slimmed down from when I'd seen them previously, with Tim Bruton on extra guitar plus Sylvie Smith adding bass duties to her vocal role. On the stage, a swirling, ambient instrumental introduction built up for a couple minutes, textures of keyb and guit with multitalented/man-of-many-bands Shaun Brodie laying down some trumpet licks on top. That opening build led into "Lanterns", rising up to a climax with more trumpet underneath Bonetta's treated and looped vocals, before collapsing into the regret-tinged "Dead Deer", with Smith doubling the lead vocal, and Brodie switching over to accordion. For my money, these robust arrangements to start the set were the sweetest fruit in the band's basket. Launching into "Cedars", Bonnetta commented, "this is a quiet song. Do what you gotta do." Given the less-than-stellar time I'd had with chatty people at the Garrison the night before, I was worried that that might mean general talking and ignoring the band, but it wasn't so bad on this night.

Then the band exited the stage, leaving Bonnetta alone as he launched into "Mtn. Song" — a surprising choice for a solo spot, given that this was previously a big, roiling band production with extra percussion. Turns out, though, that Bonnetta had some tricks up his sleeve, and the song was turned into something else entirely. Starting off slow and quiet, it slowly went from a coffeehouse folk song into an extended coda, recreating the album version's almost psychedelic ending, with Bonnetta adding layers of vocals via looping pedal à la Nif-D or Jamie Lidell. Stretching out past nine minutes, I don't know that I preferred this to the previous arrangement, but I surely do appreciate Bonnetta's willingness to tinker with his songs a bit and find different ways to present them. After that, the band — who had come around up front to watch that happening, not just holing up backstage to pound back some beers or anything — returned for a rollicking take through "Broken Rifle". The set ended with a new one whose name I didn't catch ("Cabin in the" something — "Cabin in the Burn", maybe?) that the band clearly enjoyed rocking out to. I've found Evening Hymns is sort of on the cusp for me, in terms of how much it engages me, but the fact that the live incarnation is ever-changing and treating the songs as malleable processes and not Songs Fixed In Place For All Time gives me cause to stay on their side.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Keeping one step (or several, preferably) ahead of the talkers, I decided to be proactive and moved right up to the front to see Forest City Lovers, settling in pretty much under the stage right speaker. Which turned out to be the right move for the half-hour set, as it sounded pretty good up there.

Although the band is and shall ever be most closely shaped by vocalist/songwriter Kat Burns, the D'Urbervilification2 of FCL continues apace — in addition to Kyle Donnelly on bass, Tim Bruton (who we've seen joining the band on stage in the past) is now listed as a full-time member.3 Over the past couple years, there's been a slow and steadily evolution of the band's live sound into something a bit meatier and more "rock", which is totally to my liking. On this night, the band sounded close to excellent, with perhaps only Donnelly's bass a bit high in the mix early on.

The set started with "Don't Go", sounding better than I've ever heard it, and the band was playing with a pleasing self-assuredness from the outset. FCL is now building up enough of a catalogue that it faces us with that happy dilemma of having too many good songs, and with the influx of new material, we're not going to get to hear all the old favourites every time. Fortunately, the new stuff is pretty good. The band played both sides of their recent 7", with Sylvie Smith coming out to add some backing vox to "If I Were a Tree", a slightly-dendrophiliac romantic sketch all the sweeter for sly double entendres like "if I were a tree / I'd give you wood". We also got what were told was a brand new song (opening lines "clear winter morning / we walk by the lake") and another one that I believe is new, ending with the refrain "we are what we believe in".4 I wouldn't have minded another song or two, but a very fine set overall, and Burns left the stage saying, "there'll be a special surprise after the D'Urbervilles, so stick around".

Listen to a track from this set here.

High energy as always, The D'Urbervilles started their set with a blast of new material — although we've been hearing some it if for long enough that some, like "Get In or Get Out", is already familiar, while "Spin the Bottle" can not be certifiably introduced by John O'Regan (now a blond, and possibly having more fun) as "an oldie". In fact, the bulk of the set was satisfyingly devoted to new stuff, which is, at turns, harder hitting and slinkier than previous. Completely entertaining but unassuming on stage as always, O'Regan and co. were rather fabulous, taut and energetic throughout. The set started off with a two-guit attack, though most of the songs involved O'Regan or Tim Bruton on keyb. The half-hour went by in a whir, again leaving the crowd wanting more. In case I haven't been adequately clear: solidly in the top tier of this city's acts.

Check out the band's set-opening salvo here.

And then, re-emerging, O'Regan said, "I guess we'll do some more... we'll all do some more." Members from all the evening's bands were assembling on stage for something of a re-enactment of the beloved joint performance at last year's Summerworks Festival. Let's dub them the OOTS Family Band after the performers' propensity to refer to their label in that rhymes-with-boots way. A raucous three song effort, leading off with the D'Urbs' "Dragnet", featuring Jenny Omnichord on bass. Following which, she sat down and plugged in her omnichord to lead one of her own songs, the full band sound (and Mika Posen's violin in particular) adding some lovely flesh to the song's bones. And then closing with a brisk and urgent take of FCL's "Country Road". Certainly in keeping with the shared spirit of the evening and Out of This Spark as a whole.

Listen to a track from this set here.

A very fine evening, and a tantalizing glimpse of what we can only hope is increased success for the label and these bands. With D'Urbs and FCL both headed towards new releases, I think OOTS will be staying on our radar in a big way for the rest of the year, and we can only hope their biggest problem will be finding a place big enough to hold their anniversary party next year.

1 Reading back over this, it never occurred to me until just now that it's mildly odd that the folks at The Garrison have kept the pool table opposite the bar pushed up against the wall. Given that it functions well enough as a leaning place and communal coat pile, it seems functional and all, I guess. Maybe they push it out to the middle of the floor during the day and hustle folks just in from the countryside.

2 This is my new favourite word, and is offered free of charge to anyone who wants to use it as the name of their D'Urbs cover band.

3 I'm slow on the uptake — when did this happen?

4 If true, then that's cause for concern for me about eighty per cent of the time.