Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Recording: Revolvers

Artist: Revolvers

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Rancho Relaxo, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

Revolvers - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

NXNE 2010: Friday (Part 2)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2010.

Friday, June 18, 2010. Featuring: The Soft Pack, Revolvers, The Schomberg Fair

Midnight: The Soft Pack @ The Garrison

Walked up to the The Garrison from Queen, and got there just a couple minutes past midnight. I'd been vaguely worried about capacity/lineup problems — this was another buzz-y band — but although the room was pretty full (and quite sauna-like), I still managed to get in and work my away up the far edge of the room to get a decent vantage point.

I'd been hearing good things about The Soft Pack, out of San Diego, for a couple years now, stretching back to when they were known as The Muslims, but in the band overload environment we're in, I'd never really investigated them. As I settled in, they were just starting up with opener "Pull Out", stand-up drummer Brian Hill's straightahead Mo Tucker beats driving things along. Added to those crazy rhythms were the Feelies-like textures of "More or Less", which was pressing all the right buttons for me. I'm a total sucker for anything third-handedly Velvetish — and, hell, this might even be genuinely second-handedly Velvetish. The band quickly settled into some propulsive, guitar-driven garage rock, more concerned with rhythmic interaction than flash or noise. One is tempted to call Matt Lamkin's vocal delivery a bit pedestrian, but I think that would miss the point, as the pleasure of the band's music is textural in a I-can-dance-to-this-some kinda way. Which also excuses a sound that some might find a bit too consistent.

There were, however, a few songs that mixed up the formula enough to keep things from getting too same-y, like the mid-tempo "Mexico", with slide guitar and a melodic bassline from David Lantzman, which felt like a ballad after the rollicking songs before it. And the highly satisfying "Bright Side" (from one of their early singles) had a big singalong hook, bringing to the fore an overt poppish side that is pushed aside in some of the other tunes. Otherwise, there was a lot from their self-titled debut album.1 With one song left, the band made the best of it, stretching out for a nine-minutes rave-up run through new single "Gagdad" (with a catchy refrain of "I Can Tell") that sent them out in style.2 Not a flashy band, but very worthy for those who like that steady rhythm sound and a beat you can dance to.

Listen to a track from this set here.

circa 1:25 a.m.: Revolvers @ Rancho Relaxo

And that took care of my list of "must sees" on the night. With no particular rush to get anywhere, walked up towards the College/Spadina nexus, figuring I'd make up my mind on the fly once I was closer to some options. Walked past the El Mo, where Golden Dogs were playing, and looking in from the street, it looked like a big crowd having a sweaty fun time, but I didn't feel like trying to squeeze in up front to catch the end of it. I kept moving and ended up at Rancho, where things must have been running a bit behind schedule, as I ended catching about twenty minutes from Revolvers. Unplanned, but a good result — I hadn't caught them since last summer when they were celebrating the release of Apocalypse Surfin', their promising debut album.3

As I came up the stairs to the venue, the band were playing "Break it Loose", the album's opening track and and possibly their best — a proper little Nugget of garage-psych goodness. Which might make them sound like just another band in a pretty crowded field, although Revolvers do have their own distinct niche. They play with a controlled restraint that some similar bands plow right past — even though their live attack is a bit rawer than the presentation on the album, these guys aren't kicking over microphone stands or bathing their songs in random feedback bursts. Plus, their rawk attack contains no small does of the blues. It works well when they get the balance right, such as on an extended ramble through "Cadillac 21", which fuses the Velvets' "Run Run Run" with something like a Chess sound. There were also a couple songs that aren't on the album, so it sounds like the band is still working on new twists to their sound.

Listen to a track from this set here.

2:10 a.m.: The Schomberg Fair @ Rancho Relaxo

Stuck around to catch another local act, one that I've been meaning to check out for awhile but had never crossed paths with. The Schomberg Fair, with a couple albums under their belts, are well-loved in some corners of this town and have a rep for a blistering live show. They're not the first to attack traditional song-forms (and traditional songs) with energy and velocity, but they do so with such zeal that the tag "speed gospel" has stuck with them. The songs operated like a cart careening down a steep hill — a giddy ride that feels dangerously fast at times.

Vocalist Matt Bahen (switching off between banjo and guitar) was backed by the bullfrog roar of bassist Nathan Sidon (his croak is one of the band's more distinctive elements, and might be a bit of a deal-breaker for some), with drummer Pete Garthside holding it all together. The switching off of lead instruments gave the songs different characters — "Poor Me" had some roaring guitar power. "Take Me to The Water" had a menacing throb that didn't offer any of the redemption promised in Nina Simone's song of the same name, but the the theme was continued with the following song, the traditional "Wade in the Water". Mixed in with their original tunes (including a new one called "Orphan Bones"), the band kept mixing in covers like Blind Willie Johnson's "Trouble Will Soon Be Over".

Sometimes the fast stuff was a bit too much of a clattering rush for my taste — I liked it better when they slowed down on "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down" (familiar to some from Uncle Tupelo's version), with stomping gospel intensity and howls of feedback. But the uptempo stuff was well-received by the heaving, sweaty crowd in front of the stage. Entertaining, but for a band that's so concerned with redemption (or its opposite), I felt somewhat agnostic — though not unwilling to wade back into the river on another occasion.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I subsequently picked this up on the strength of this set and have been enjoying it quite a lot. Recommended.

2 This one is available as a free download over at RCRD LBL.

3 Word on the street is that the album will soon be getting a vinyl re-up on Optical Sounds.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Album: The Space Between Things / self-titled

Artist: The Space Between Things

Album: self-titled

It's been — yikes — over a year since I ran an album review, which hasn't been out of a lack of interest or material. Obviously I can't even keep close to staying up-to-date on the live write-ups, so there's just no time on top of that for more. And, anyways, album reviews are plentiful and easy to find, and there's just not as much of a opinion void to fill there.

A quick exception, then, for this release, passed along by friend-of-MFS Chris Hobson, who I first encountered on stage last year. This rigourously solo project has a different feel to it, but it's good stuff. Opener "Solitary Man" hints at Guided by Voices (without the free-association lyrical drift) and may be the jauntiest thing here. "Ginger Snap" brings Sebadoh to mind while "Don't Care That Much" has hints of Yo La Tengo — which is pretty good company to aspire to. Those names should provide a sense of the sonic terrain here — a low-slung, slightly spare sound with fuzzy bass and whispery guitar, recorded in appealing mid-fi — a classic bedroom four-track sound, intimate like a demo but with plenty of intriguing sonic details around the edges. It's not a masterpiece ("New Years Ever" gets a little yelpy for me, and the drum machine is a bit harshly tinny in some spots) and it's not one for every day and every mood, but recommended for those times when you feel a withdrawn solipsism descend upon you.

If I were going to paint a word picture of the emotions that this album suggests to me, it'd be something like this: imagine a winter morning. You have to get up early and go to work and it's still dark outside. Yesterday's coffee is still on the table, creamcongealed into an unpleasant browngrey smear. A silent house where even your own breath seems absent and you don't want to think about the past and you don't want to think about regret and you don't want to step out into the cold. The space between things takes up a good chunk of most anyone's life. We'd like to imagine there isn't so much of it, but at the quantum level, that's what most of everything is, right? Some days you go to lean on a table and just hope that it's going to be solid by the time your arm hits it.

Chris Hobson has spent some time thinking about how to share his music in these times, and has decided, for the time being, to give this album away as a free download, which you can grab here. It's more than worth it.

Track Picks: "Solitary Man", "Ginger Snap", "Twins"

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Recording: Secretary City

Artist: Secretary City

Song: Rock the Shitty

Recorded at Wavelength 507, The Garrison, September 24, 2010.

Secretary City - Rock the Shitty

My notes for this set can be found here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Recording: John Doe and Exene Cervenka

Artist: John Doe and Exene Cervenka

Song: Poor Old Heartsick Me (Carter Family cover)

Recorded at The Great Hall, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

John Doe and Exene Cervenka - Poor Old Heartsick Me

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Trust

Artist: Trust

Song: F.T.F.*

Recorded at Wrongbar, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

Trust - F.T.F.

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: A.A. Bondy

Artist: A.A. Bondy

Song: When The Devil's Loose

Recorded at The Great Hall, June 18, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

A.A. Bondy - When The Devil's Loose

My notes for this set can be found here.

NXNE 2010: Friday (Part 1)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2010.

Friday, June 18, 2010. Featuring: Mathemagic, Trust, A.A. Bondy, John Doe and Exene Cervenka

8 P.M.: Mathemagic @ The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom

Mostly out of geographic considerations — my plans for the first part of the night had me jutting back and worth on the Queen West axis — the Gladstone seemed like the best of the slim pickings in this timeslot. So, into a pretty empty room to check out local-via-Guelph crew Mathemagic, who had parlayed a decent amount of online hype into a deal with local indie Paper Bag. For what would later be a busy night, the room was disquietingly empty as things got started, a mere handful of people lining the walls as the band took the stage.

Originating as something of a bedroom pop project for Evan and Dylan Euteneier, the band had only recently become a live performance unit, which, um, sort of showed here.1

People toss the term "shoegaze" around a lot these days — including for this band — but to me what I was hearing reminded me of wispy 4AD-styled pop, all echo and fluffy clouds. Pleasant, swirled-up pop, in other words. Musically, this was fine. As a "live rock experience", it was a bit of a failure, with awkward stretches of dead silence between songs, and not a lot of energy in the presentation. The band spent a lot of the set watching their computer screens, as if they were, like, doing karaoke to songs that they themselves hadn't written. "This is hard to watch," commented a friend.

With the bright evening daylight pouring through the windows, the environment wasn't exactly, y'know, chillwave. Which is what I'm informed in the current term for this kind of stuff. The focus was on two laptops on stage, augmented by a midi keyb plus electric and acoustic guitars. There were no amps on stage, and the DI'ed guitars sounded rather trebly and bloodless.2 The mix was also a bit off, too, with the live guitars up too much and overwhelming the rest of the music. To the good, the band was sporting new member Karen Jacobs on vox and a bit of guitar — a very good move by the group. Having her vocals layered into the songs did add to the atmospheric sounds.

The trio played seven songs, the bulk of which were from their self-titled EP, although there were a couple were newer numbers. The last one had the descriptive tentative title "Reggae". For me, given the genre of music they're playing, it's simply tough to make this into an exciting live experience. Add the learning-on-the-job inexperience and we can feel some sympathy for Mathemagic, even while we write this off as a rather lacklustre set.3

9:15 P.M.: Trust @ Wrongbar

It would be a minor kind of festival hell to to hit only places that were just getting going for the night, seeing sets with the thinnest of crowds on hand, waiting while musicians hang around, chatting, waiting for people to show up. Inside Parkdale's Wrongbar, there was pretty much nuthin' going down just after the hour, things looking like they weren't about to get going right away. There was even a stepladder still standing in front of the stage, and, fairly incongruously in a venue that was host to a night of electronic-based music, Mermaid Avenue was playing over the house system as the lights dimmed and the band stepped on stage to soundcheck.

Actually, there would turn out to be a not-bad crowd for locals Trust once things got going. For a relatively new project, this looks to have a built-in fanbase, perhaps of folks familiar with drummer Maya Postepski's solo work on her Princess Century project, or overlap with folks coming in to see Katie Stelmanis (who was up in the next timeslot, and whose band includes Postepski). Self-described as "gothic" on their myspace page4, the collaboration between Postepski and vocalist/keyboardist Robert Alfons specializes in doom-y synthpunk, Suicide-in-a-black-leather-jacket style.5

Alfons handled most of the vocals, and Postepski spent most of the set behind the drum kit. Like the band I'd just come from, these guys are playing to backing tracks, too, but it's funny how much more rock'n'roll it is just by having no laptop in sight. Plus, even if it's minimalist brooding on a dark stage, this band is performing. Oh, and of course, the presence of Postepski's live drumming makes a giant difference. Enough to make this an enjoyable set that felt "live". It helps that you can also get distracted by dancing to it. The band weren't banterers, but that kinda fits the vibe. Most of the music came with a steady, pulsing beat, but a slowed-down one near the end of their seven-song set was quite effective, too. A band to watch.

Listen to a track from this set here.

10:00 P.M.: A.A. Bondy @ The Great Hall

Leaving The Gladstone to check out Trust turned out to be well-worth it, but the decision came with a cost. My first pick for this timeslot was Timber Timbre, back in the same Gladstone Ballroom I'd left an hour previously. But what had been a near-empty room when I left was now crammed beyond capacity, with a significant line outside. I'd more-or-less expected this, and given my strict never-stand-in-line NXNE policy, I had a backup, which happened to be not only just down the street, but also on the same venue I'd want to be at an hour later for my night's most anticipated set. And thus by default, I was checking out Birmingham, Alabama roots singer/songwriter A.A. Bondy. With a bandaged hand and rolled-up sleeves on his white t-shirt, he looked perfectly cast as the sensitive bad-boy delinquent/poet type — all he was lacking was a pack of smokes tucked up his sleeve.

Opener "I Can See The Pines Are Dancing" featured some some nice pedal steel from the drummer. The band would basically have two configurations — the quieter songs featured pedal steel while the bassist added keyb parts when some atmosphere required it. The set opened and closed with the quiet stuff, and then kicked up its heels in the middle. "When The Devil's Loose" had a nice pulse to it6, while "Mightiest Of Guns" showed off the quieter side effectively.

This was enjoyable, though I did find Bondy's look to be a little contrived, in a I-live-my-miserable-lyrics sort of way. Holding up a tangled guitar cord between songs, he commented, "this is my life, right here."7. He was a good enough songwriter, but as is often the case, unless his words latch themselves onto you in some specific way, the overall effect is kind of generic. It left me with the sense that this was fungible stuff that is done as well by, say, a handful of our own local rootsy bands. Of course, I could be wrong in this, as I saw several members of one of those bands clustered right up front, taking this in like they were picking up tips.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:00 P.M.: John Doe and Exene Cervenka @ The Great Hall

After that set, the place cleared out pretty thoroughly, which was surprising to me, as we were coming up to something that I was genuinely anticipating. But in a festival filled with the buzz of the next big thing, perhaps legends take second place. Or, maybe, some that would have been interested in John Doe and Exene Cervenka had already seen them the night before when they played on the free stage at Yonge-Dundas Square with their seminal Los Angeles band X.

X were never punk purists or reductivists — from the rockabilly leanings at their outset to the rootsy folk and country sounds they'd later move towards, it's not in the least an affectation for the band's main songwriters to strip down to two voices and an acoustic guitar. Thus, the selections from the X catalogue, like opener "Burning House Of Love" felt just right. Some needed more re-arrangement than others — "This is a punk song", Doe said, launching into "Because I Do" from 1982's classic Under the Big Black Sun. But here it was slowed down, the original's breakneck fury replaced by regret, as if positing that country music equals punk plus time. Some, like "Skin Deep Town" (which the pair still seem to have a lot of fun playing) didn't require much re-arrangement at all.

But of course, in one sense, this is all old hat to the pair. Rather than a career deathbed conversion to Unplugged-style stripped-down re-arrangements8, these guys have been doing this for a quarter century, and several of the selections in their set were songs they'd played in their country alter-ego band The Knitters. Covers and traditionals were the theme for these, including "Give Me Flowers While I'm Living" (a Flatt And Scruggs cover)9, "Little Margaret" (a variation of the Child Ballad "Fair Margaret and Sweet William") and the old Carter Family chestnut "Poor Old Heartsick Me" ("Take it, Dave!" Doe shouted as it headed into the solo, a call out to absent guitarist Dave Alvin).

Playing acoustically, the stripped-down songs were coming quickly, including more covers like "Rank Strangers" (performed by many, perhaps most famously by the Stanley Brothers) and "Something To Brag About" (a great duet piece for the pair penned by Charlie Louvin, with Cervenka taking Melba Montgomery's part). Cervenka just sang for the first couple songs of the set, but then picked up her guitar to play on "Lonesome War" (from Sev7en, her 2006 album with the Original Sinners). Doe responded with "The Losing Kind" from one of his own solo albums. The pair, who were married and divorced during X's early 80's heyday, still bicker fondly with each other on stage like an old couple, and were pretty charming throughout the set, which stretched to about forty-five minutes.

The early peak might have come with the title track from 1987's See How We Are, which, topically, sounds like it could have been written last week, its earnest sadness befitting the restrained and dignified-looking elders, its recession-ready laments of "this bottom rung ain't no fun at all" feeling resignedly earned. Similarly, closer "The New World", an anthem to America's lost industrial heartland ("it was better before they voted for what's-his-name") still has a ripped-from-the-headlines feeling. A worthy retrospective on a pair of rich and unfinished careers, I'm glad to have had a chance to give them their flowers while they're living, as it were.

Listen to the pair tackle an X song here, and something older than that here.

1 "Are you having fun tonight?" asked Evan (or possibly Dylan) Euteneier after one song, before pausing to sort of wince at himself. "What a cheesy thing to say at a concert. Sorry — we're new at this."

2 "Bloodless" might describe the band's look as well. They didn't present as a bunch that you'd be afraid of if you came across them in a dark alley late at night.

3 Afterthought: I should note that this is all to be taken very much as a snapshot of the band as they were at this show, and not necessarily prescriptive of a band that's playing more gigs and learning more about being a live band. I've already seen them play again, and some of the roughest of these rough edges are already being smoothed out, of which I shall say more anon.

4 Which is here, and might be difficult to find if you just google "Trust".

5 Since then, the pair has been supplemented on stage by Susan Gale, adding more percussion and generally creating more space for the other musicians. I've subsequently seen them again and they have expanded their scope a good bit, making a good thing better.

6 It also had a guitar tone that might go some way to justifying Bondy's presence on a bill with The Walkmen, whom he will be opening for when they hit town October 9th at The Phoenix.

7 Further courting pathos, he would also offhandedly comment, "I'd like to take this time to tell everybody here that I'm going deaf."

8 Which the band poked some fun at with their own stripped-down album Unclogged.


John Doe: "Here's a song about death."

audience: "Woo!"

John Doe: "No! No death!"

Exene Cervenka: "Actually, it's a song about bein' here now..."

John Doe: "... it's about life, that's right."

Recording: Not The Wind, Not the Flag

Artist: Not The Wind, Not the Flag

Song: We Acknowledge The Moon [Part I]*

Recorded at Korova Milk Bar, September 23, 2010.

Not The Wind, Not the Flag - We Acknowledge The Moon [Part I]

My notes for this set can be found here.

* This is not a formal title, but it follows from some of the band's banter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Recording: Fanshaw

Artist: Fanshaw

Song: Paperboy

Recorded at Criminal Records, June 18, 2010.

Fanshaw - Paperboy

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store: Fanshaw


Criminal Records. Friday, June 18, 2010.

In-store performances at Criminal Records seem to go to extremes of attendance: the ones I've been to have either been tightly packed or rather thinly attended.1 This early evening with Fanshaw — an early-evening solo spot before a full NXNE set with her backing group later that night — was one of the latter. Olivia Fetherstonhaugh, who formed the band to deliver her voice and words, was alone on the stage at the back of the store, her snazzy red Jaguar plugged right into the board, playing her songs to a crowd in the single digits. Though sporting a lovely voice and some well-crafted songs that had gained Dark Eyes, her debut album, a release from Mint Records2, Fetherstonhaugh was still a bit tentative and self-deprecating on stage, leading off by commenting, "I'm going to play an easy one first — I guess they're all easy."

The songs might be melodically straightforward, but Fetherstonhaugh had some well-hewn lyrics, including a penchant for daydreamy observations, such as on "O Sailor". And even moreso on lucid dream-ramble "Paperboy", which did a nice job of sliding in and out of different realities. I was enjoying it all, but that one sold me on the whole enterprise. The set, six quick songs, ended with one non-album selection — a precursor to "Strong Hips" that was raw and quite directly introspective, examining her self-doubts — "I'm not even a real musician / Well, I play guitar, but it's my drummer who tunes it / Did I drop out for this?" It was emotionally affecting but less sharply-crafted than the newer stuff from her album — a sign of how far she has advanced.

There were only a handful of people listening, but if you believe in the old saw about making fans one-at-a-time, it was a success.3 I left with a copy of her album — and more notably, at the end of the set a trio of teenaged girls came up to talk to her, moved by it despite having come across the performance by chance while they were browsing in the store.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Either way, the folks at Criminal deserve big praise for hosting these events on a regular basis. Especially during NXNE, when its nice to have extra chances to catch bands in the overloaded crush of stuff going on.

2 Fetherstonhaugh is also a member of Vancouver's The Choir Practice, which has also released an album on Mint.

3 You're also welcome, I suppose, to view that as untenably romantic, considering the economic realities involved in having a band come out from Vancouver. Hopefully they made some more fans at their formal NXNE set, too.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Recording: CoCoComa

Artist: CoCoComa

Song: Water Into Wine

Recorded at The Great Hall, June 17, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

CoCoComa - Water Into Wine

My notes for this set can be found here.

NXNE 2010: Thursday (Part 2)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2010.

Thursday, June 17, 2010. Featuring: Best Coast, CoCoComa, Thee Oh Sees

11 P.M.: Best Coast @ The Great Hall

Heading out of the Mod Club, caught a ridiculously stinky bus crawling down Ossington behind the garbage truck picking up everyone's green bins and made my way down to The Great Hall. It's a nice-looking room to be in for a gig, but a bit of a cavernous space that had never featured top-notch live sound. Apparently chasing live bookings after a couple years' hiatus, word was that there was a new sound system and lighting rig. The latter was immediately in evidence, a large metal railing running high over the stage from the venue's u-shaped balcony. The sound, it turned out, was better than I remember, too, but I'd still suggest a closer up spot up front for anyone concerned about audio quality, otherwise it can get a little echo-y.

Coming in to a half-filled room, I managed to catch the end of the set from Calgary's Women, who seemed more agreeable than when I'd last saw 'em a couple years ago. Reverb-y two-guit yelpy pop. Possibly bumped back to "re-investigate" status, so a nice bonus from a band I wasn't planning on catching.

I was actually there to catch the buzz, as it were, and check out one of the more hyped out-of-town acts at the fest, who took the stage right at the top of the hour. "Hello, we're Best Coast, we're from L.A. — does anyone know the score of the Lakers/Celtics game?" Game seven of the NBA finals would end up being a central concern of the band's founder, singer/guitarist Bethany Cosentino, during the set.1 Launching into "This is Real" (the b-side to the "When I'm With You" 7"), the set was split between tracks from the band's pile of singles and EP's and the then-forthcoming Crazy for You album. The band's sound is uncomplicated, relying on classic pop chord changes with a bit of sloppy feedback thrown in — an evergreen combination that's been a go-to for bands for the past few decades.

Before "Each and Everyday", Cosentino, who was sporting a slight sore-throat rasp, commented, "there's a lot of words I have to sing, and obviously, you can tell I sound like Lindsay Lohan right now." I don't really know who that is2 but what her voice, along with the song's galloping surf-y rhythms, actually put in my mind was a more sugary version of "Tipp City" by Kim Deal's side-project The Amps.3 The slightly-slower "Our Deal" had a sweet note of sadness to it, but most of the songs were upbeat essays about simple sentiments (love, not-love, getting high) lasting a couple minutes. Between-song banter involved a lot of shouting back and forth with Cosentino trying to hear people in the crowd yelling basketball updates, and eventually giving up: "you guys don't care about the Lakers!"

I came to this having sampled a couple tracks, but not knowing much about the band, but I instantly found myself enjoying it. The band's sound isn't particularly innovative by any means — but a controlled guitar roar and instantly catchy tunes go a long way with me. As long as you're not going to get too caught up in the lazy/crazy rudimentary lyrics, there are ample charms here.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:50 P.M.: CoCoComa @ The Great Hall

Chicago's CoCoComa must have been eager to get to the rock'n'roll, as what I thought was still some soundchecking at ten minutes before the hour abruptly became the start of their set. I was basically sticking around for this set because I was at the venue for the band before and the band after, but it turned out that this was another band doing the sort of thing I'm generically in favour of, namely rip-roaring Nuggets-y garage rock.

Bill Roe provided a sense of urgency both with his vocals and drumming. To accommodate a singing drummer, the riser the kit was set up on was dragged up quite close to the front of the stage, putting him right up amongst his three band mates, including Anthony Cozzi, whose slightly scuzzy organ added the right vibe. The band didn't cover a lot of ground musically, but they never let a catchy pop sense escape their grasp, even with the frenzy they were kicking up. To the band's delight, a small group right in front of the stage spent most of the set dancing away. A good sign that while the band might not be breaking any new ground, it was fun stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

12:45 A.M.: Thee Oh Sees @ The Great Hall

The crowd had waned visibly after Best Coast's set, but the place was soon filling up again in anticipation of Thee Oh Sees — a San Francisco-based band with a steadily-evolving name and possibly the world's shortest guitar straps. That something different was at hand was made evident by the fact that while the band finished setting up, people were getting audibly excited. By which I mean one guy seemed to be inhabited by the spirit of a howler monkey, spending a couple minutes just shouting "whoooooooooooooooah! whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooa! Whuh-wuh-wuh-wuh-wuh! Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" I'm glad I was on the opposite side of the room from that one.

Once the setup was done, singer/guitarist John Dwyer said a few words which, like everything on stage, was cloaked in an fuzzy haze of echo. I managed to catch, "We'reverygladtobehere," as the band hit it. The music was a noisy thrum of crude rhythms, saturated with distortion. The crowd was immediately jostling and leaping about, the floor bouncing beneath my feet. After a couple songs, I had to move back to a slightly calmer zone.

The band's vibe was somehow... evil, like Swell Maps possessed with some Charlie Manson swagger. Some of the songs were just a couple minutes long, though they stretched out more as the set went on, leading to some of the best moments of one-chord grooves careening along. The music engendered bad hoodoo, tension and feelings of paranoia — if you replayed this set to the ending of Apocalypse Now I suspect it would correspond in some sort of eerie way. And though I'm generically against evil and paranoia, it has to be pointed out that they can make for some pretty great rock'n'roll — and indeed, this set was some pretty great stuff. Although this is, looked at objectively as music, kinda nothing special, it's the sort of thing that really casts a spell when experienced live — a somehow-compelling bad trip vibe that I would totally go to see again. What do you get if you combine "ominous" and "awesome" into one word?

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 She was backed by Fleetwood Mac t-shirt wearing guitarist Bobb Bruno (who handled some of the lower-end parts in the absence of a bassist) and what I'm guessing was the last of a series of revolving-door drummers prior to the ex-Vivian Girl Ali Koehler's ascension to the kit.

2 She was in that Altman film, right?

3 "I Want To" also had a particularly Deal-ish vibe to it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Recording: Planet Creature

Artist: Planet Creature

Song: Ramona

Recorded at The Piston, September 17, 2010.

Planet Creature - Ramona

Review to follow My notes for this set can be found here. — but I think I'm willing to assert that Planet Creature have stepped it up a notch.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recording: Young Galaxy

Artist: Young Galaxy

Song: Queen Drum

Recorded at The Mod Club, June 17, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

Young Galaxy - Queen Drum

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Imaginary Cities

Artist: Imaginary Cities

Song: Temporary Resident

Recorded at The Mod Club, June 17, 2010. (NXNE 2010)

Imaginary Cities - Temporary Resident

My notes for this set can be found here.

NXNE 2010: Thursday (Part 1)

NXNE — North by Northeast Festival, Toronto, 2010.

Thursday, June 17, 2010. Featuring: Imaginary Cities, Young Galaxy, The Besnard Lakes

7 P.M.: Imaginary Cities @ The Mod Club

Into the Mod Club just a tick before seven o'clock. Pretty quiet inside for the early show.1 I wasn't here to see Imaginary Cities so much as because there weren't a lot of other options at this hour. And anyways, this was where I wanted to be later on.

Imaginary Cities, taking the stage at seven sharp, turned out to have a familiar face in Rusty Matyas (of Winnipeg rockers The Waking Eyes, and recently passing through town as a touring member of The Weakerthans), who had formed the band in partnership with singer Marti Sarbit. Some supplemental reading informs that the band came together after the pair bonded over some classic soul covers, and that influence comes out strongly in Sarbit's vocals. But the band isn't merely some sort of Motown revival vehicle — the sound was generally soulful, but without resorting to over-the-top signifiers. Maybe call it "trucker hat soul", after the most popular headgear on stage. They did take from their R&B influences a likable penchant for quick, punchy songs — the band packed eight in their half-hour set — but there were also a lot of other things in the mix. "Calm Before the Storm", for example, simmered nicely in almost a trip-hop way, featuring Matyas' agreeable trumpet at the end.

Sarbit was more than a capable vocalist, animating the songs without overdoing it. And the band — still a fairly new unit — were competent, growing towards the end of the set towards more of a big guitar rock sound.2 Given the vox and musical performance, it felt like the material was the weakest link, as the songs didn't really stick with me. There's a solid base here, so let's propose that there's still room for growth. And in the meantime, they were fun enough to listen to.3

Listen to a song from this set here.

8 P.M.: Young Galaxy @ The Mod Club

Things were now filling in pretty well for what would be an extraordinarily loud set from Young Galaxy.4

Besides the volume, the band also had some Electric Company-ish animated projections behind them. All of which is suitable, as this is a band whose musical vision implies some spectacle. Singer/keyb player Catherine McCandless certainly knows this, and brought a sequin-y dress and some dramatic, back-lit gestures to accompany her vocals, which have arguably become the best thing about the Montréal-based band.

The set started off with "Invisible Republic" which segued into "Sister", one of the highlights from last year's top-notch Invisible Republic.5 "Come and See" was dedicated to The Besnard Lakes6 — that and set-closer "The Alchemy Between Us" would be the only selections in the set from the band's self-titled debut. "Long Live the Fallen World" ended with a lively raveup while the band also debuted a new song, "We Have Everything", a mid-tempo number with lead vox from McCandless that would fall more towards the "pop" end of the band's spectrum. An interesting number, but it felt like it was building towards a chorus that wasn't there.

A solid set, which might sound like faint praise, save for the fact that I was underwhelmed the last time I saw 'em and was glad to see a stronger spark here. Once again I kinda had that sense that there wasn't that same on-stage excellence that had first won me over to the band. On the other hand, if Young Galaxy have reached the point where they're more impressive in the studio than on the stage, I'd take that, given the high level that they're at there. Word is the band is striking while the iron is hot, with their third album slated for release early next year, and I am looking forward to that.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9 P.M.: The Besnard Lakes @ The Mod Club

After that chest-shaking set, I was wondering how loud The Besnard Lakes — a band known to like their volume — was going to be. The band, just by virtue of their milieu, tend to get labelled "indie rock", but sonically they're pure stadium-sized classic rock, more suited to an FM station playing full album sides than to a playlist. Singer/guitarist Jace Lasek certainly courts these kinds of associations, rocking a look that falls somewhere between Ian Hunter in 1973 and Chicago pitcher Steve Trout.7 There's also a certain Devil's Boogaloo Ball vibe that the band likes to invoke, including the use of a rather large amount of dry ice, which filled the stage to the intoning voice of Carl Sagan's Cosmos as the band took the stage. They started with an unrushed Floyd-ian intro to "Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent" (the leadoff track to this year's ... Are the Roaring Night) which segued into "Devastation", with Olga Goreas — who had emerged onto the stage wearing devil horns — on lead vocals.

The set was pretty focused on the new album, only reaching back for "Disaster" and the tasty "And You Lied To Me" (from 2007's breakthrough ...Are the Dark Horse) nearly an hour into the set. In fact, we might not have even gotten those, save for the fact that the headliners weren't getting the regular showcase half-hour-ish NXNE set. This seemed to surprise Lasek as much as anyone else, as he asked between songs "we don't have to stop at 9:40?" Told they could keep going, Lasek promptly promised a three-hour set, and the band celebrated by playing "Chicago Train", which wasn't in their setlist. Lush and downtempo over its first half, one could see why this might not make it into the compact set, but it was a nice change of pace here. The best one-two punch came with single "Albatross" followed up by "And This Is What We Call Progress", which had a pleasingly evil undertow to its groove. All told, the band actually played seventy minutes, and that included a one-song encore of "Land of Living Skies".

A satisfying set, and a nice reminder. It had been quite awhile since I'd paid any attention to the band, their new one slipping past me for one reason or another, so there was a sense of rediscovery. It didn't make me fall in love with them or anything — I'm still more of a casual admirer than a fan. I can dig the powerful volume and the bombast, but that's not something I'm looking for all the time. Jace Lasek's falsetto even less so. But still, the band do what they do exceedingly well, and deserve all the success that they're finding.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Although as the opening band, Imaginary Cities didn't get as much of an audience to impress, the uncrowded area in front of the stage and the venue's bazillion-watt lighting rig meant that it was open season for photographers, who were out in force for this set. So if nothing else, this should be a particularly well-documented show for the band.

2 Although the keybs could have been notched up higher in the mix.

3 For those who would like to check 'em out for themselves, the band has a couple local dates coming up: October 5 at The Dakota (with Peter Elkas) and October 7 at The Horseshoe.

4 Seriously — when the The Mod Club start getting so loud? There comes a point of diminishing returns for so much volume — and, frankly, something of a public health risk, even for patrons wearing ear plugs, which, fortunately at this show, I noticed many were.

5 The would-be title track, it should be noted, is not from the album, but rather from the follow-up digital No Art EP.

6 The two bands are frequent touring partners, and Besnard Lakes frontman Jace Lasek has done production work on both of Young Galaxy's albums.

7 Not, however, that the band aren't any sort of devout recreationists of past sounds. Lasek also had a laptop close at hand to run some sound manipulations, to give one example.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Recording: Tune-Yards

Artist: Tune-Yards

Song: Gangsta

Recorded at The Horseshoe, June 13, 2010.

Tune-Yards - Gangsta

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Katie Stelmanis

Artist: Katie Stelmanis

Song: The Villian*

Recorded at The Horseshoe, June 13, 2010.

Katie Stelmanis - The Villian

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Bonjay

Artist: Bonjay

Song: Gimmee Gimmee

Recorded at The Horseshoe, June 13, 2010.

Bonjay - Gimmee Gimmee

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Tune-Yards

Tune-Yards (Katie Stelmanis / Bonjay)

The Horseshoe Tavern. Sunday, June 13, 2010.

On arriving at The 'Shoe a little bit past the 8:30 start time, I headed downstairs to hit the bathroom before the show started. Walking past me were Bonjay, vocalist Alanna Stuart commenting to beat provider/laptop guy Pho, "I think this is the earliest we've ever played." Onstage, though, she made lemonade of that, incorporating a series of observations about the difference between early and late crowds.1 There wasn't much of any sort of crowd on hand at the get go, though people were consistently trickling in.

The band's rep is as a beat-intensive, high-energy party act, so one could see why Stewart might worry how the tunes would translate to a Sunday night, early-in-the-bar type crowd. But the setlist was well-designed to deal with this, with material like "Creepin'", a new song with more of a slow-burning groove, seemingly more designed for this kind of environment than the dancefloor. Also working in the their favour is that Stuart is a pretty magnetic performer2 with a strong voice. She's got smarts on display, too — giving some astute self-descriptions on stage, she almost obviates the need for third-party analysis, commenting at one point, "we're moving away from the dancehall electro into some more nuanced music." (This is probably more correct and concise than anything I could have come up with.)

Besides a lot of material from their forthcoming EP Broughtupsy3 that explored their more tuneful direction, there was also a live mashup/remix/cover of a pair of Feist songs ("Honey Honey" and "How My Heart Behaves"), those two songs melding into one another, as did most of the rest of the set thanks to some seamless transitions.

Being a party-humpin', laptop-powered unit brought a few of the usual limitations — like a lot of canned backing vocals and so forth, but for a dance-inducing sort of band, Bonjay has no shortage of well-written songs to go with the electric delivery and this never felt like a just-press-play dance mix. Having built up the energy level, the last couple songs gave a taste of their more straightup electro-dancehall side. Stewart even coaxed some hand-waving from the crowd, who were getting into it. Closing out with "Gimmee Gimmee", the band left a most favourable impression. They've been tipped for awhile as ones to watch, and live, they gave a hint as to why.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Though there had been a steady building trickle of a crowd, the place was suddenly filled up as Katie Stelmanis hit the stage — there was obviously a contingent who had come to this show to see her. No surprise as she's been building a local audience for a while now with her mix of arresting vocals and synth-y dirgepop. She dared to start on the slower side, with a lumbering iceberg of a number (a new one I think — it began "on the morning I was born again") before picking up the pulse, with a booming beat from Maya Postepski and icy (or, perhaps, "Walking on Thin Ice"-y) guitar licks from Carmen Elle, who also added superb backing vocals. Bassist Dorian Wolf rounded out the band.4 So although Stelmanis' synth work and operatic vox are at the centre of the picture, this is very much a group sound.5

The songs are ornate and orchestral, and they get by more on their atmosphere than on a lot of overt hooks. This is a mode that is less immediately satisfying to me, so should I report that a couple of songs didn't really work, consider the source. Even still, I can readily acknowledge that these are all tightly-crafted, generally concise tunes, and live, this mostly worked, thanks to the strength of the band.

The stuff that didn't work for me might grow with repetition as well, seeing as the band was playing mostly new material from, we can assume, both a promised 12" on One Big Silence as well as the pending full-length follow-up to 2007's Join Us. Stelmanis seemed eager to focus on the new material, though she did close with crowd-pleaser single "Believe Me". I've seen Stelmanis play with a couple different set-ups supporting that album and I can say that this highly-talented band is definitely the most compelling live formation I've her with yet.6

Listen to a track from this set here.

Such a solid undercard for the show meant I was going to have a good time no matter how things went with the headliner. Which is good because, truth be told, I went in not really sure how much I liked Tune-Yards. On record, Tune-Yards is a solo project for Oakland's Merrill Garbus, who received top-mark accolades in some quarters last year for her BiRd-BrAiNs album, which I found admirable for its DIY spirit, but also tinny and cheap-sounding as hell — and ultimately, more a chore than a pleasure to listen to. There were good moments there, but also nearly as many over-mannered annoying bits, but I wanted to see her play live to see where I really stand on this.

Taking the stage alone, Garbus was greeted with cheers as she played a drum into a looping pedal, creating the percussive bed to launch into the first of several songs not from the album. As the song proceeded, she was joined by her three-piece backing band adding guitar and bass and percussion all around.7 Following that was another new one, which asked the musical question "What's a boy to do if he'll never be a gangsta?". The song was sprightly and catchy as all heck, but also featured a spastic breakdown in the middle. So again, there's a mix of the easily compelling with a more fractured sensibility.

Looking over the audience, she declared it a wonderful turnout, adding, "may I also complement you on your wonderful energy", because, yeah, the crowd was really into this. She then turned to her album, running through "Real Live Flesh", "Sunlight" and "Fiya". The latter would be an example of a song that particularly came to life in a live setting. Filled with a buzz from the crowd, Garbus played another new song, this one going in a different, quieter direction — in fact, it was a lullaby, complete with "go to sleep, little baby" lyrics and all. When the song hit a rough spot in the middle, the crowd's encouragement patched things over and Garbus kept going, the song stretching out for more than five lulling minutes before the band kicked things back awake with "Hatari" — perhaps her signature tune. The song includes wordless wordless singing in a pay-attention-to-the-scarequotes "African" mode — though a cynic might also attempt to place it in an appropriative lineage coming down from "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Regardless, it is a song that demands attention.

The main set ended with another new one — possibly called "Don't Take My Life Away", which got as much applause as any off the tracks that the audience already knew. the band encored with more non-album tracks, starting with "You Yes You" (from a limited-edition 4AD Record Store Day 12") which won approval for having a part of the song dedicated especially to jumping up and down. That was followed up by the rocking "Party Can", with Garbus asking the crowd "Do you want to live?" (Answer: "yeah!").

That would have been the end, but the sustained applause brought her back out again, somewhat to her surprise, as she walked out on stage and asked the crowd, "Really?" as if she hadn't anticipated such approval. After canvassing the crowd for suggestions, she closed out the night with "Jumping Jack".

If nothing else, hearing her live gives an argument for Garbus as a singer of notable merit, with range, powerful lungs, and a willingness to garble things up a bit when she feels a need to. And as I'd surmised, hearing the songs in higher fidelity than the album offers gave a chance to really consider their virtues. I wouldn't say the show converted me to an avid fan, but it did enough to make me want to keep paying attention to where Garbus goes with this next.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 "Another good thing about 8:30 shows is that we can actually say, 'we have CD's for sale' and you guys aren't too drunk to remember."

2 Which I noted when I saw her with her other band.

3 Which will be getting sent out into the world with a release party at The Garrison on Thursday, October 7, 2010.

4 For those tracking who-does-what outside this band: Maya Postepski is also in the intriguing new Trust, Carmen Elle plays with Donlands & Mortimer plus her own fine solo work and Dorian Wolf is ex-Spiral Beach.

5 A plan to acknowledge this by switching to a band moniker was put on hold when Stelmanis' first choice, Private Life, turned out to be already spoken for. A new band name is still pending.

6 Afterthought: In light of What We Know Now, I wanted to revisit this set, as I was curious to see just how close this "proto-Austra" phase was to the finished product.

"The Beast" might be the fulcrum between Stelmanis' past "solo" work and Austra, both as a piano-driven piece, and something that relies on guitar textures instead of synths. At this show, "The Villian" sounded closer to something by much-missed mope-rockers The Organ, and included little death-disco guitar stabs from Carmen Elle. This one epecially hints at another direction that Stelmanis might have chosen to push these songs.

Overall, with just Stelmanis on the keybs (and less of a willingness to work with backing tracks at this point) the sound is understandably thinner — "Darken Her Horse" sounds particularly anemic here compared to the ultimate album version, and at this point "Beat and the Pulse" doesn't have nearly as much of either of those things. Not fully evolved, then, but with eight of nine tracks at this show coming from what would become Feel It Break it's striking to note how much of the framework was in place. Added 2011-07-21

7 I'm not sure if this is her normal touring arrangement, as Garbus would later comment, "it's not every day we play with so many people on stage, and it makes me feel like very song is an encore."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Recording: Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba

Artist: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

Song: Ngoni Fola

Recorded at Luminato (Queen's Park), June 12, 2010.

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba - Ngoni Fola

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Béla Fleck

Artist: Béla Fleck

Song: unknown [solo banjo]*

Recorded at Luminato (Queen's Park), June 12, 2010.

Béla Fleck - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Tony Allen

Artist: Tony Allen

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Luminato (Queen's Park), June 12, 2010.

Tony Allen - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Festival: An African Prom

An African Prom (feat. Béla Fleck and The Africa Project featuring Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba / Tony Allen)

Queen's Park (Luminato Festival). Saturday, June 12, 2010.

The time gap between the afternoon and evening programmes was theoretically shrunk by the rain-induced late starting time for the afternoon acts. Doing what they could to keep things on schedule, the organizers scotched an appearance by local afrobeat-funksters Mr. Something Something. There were still behind-the-scenes problems a-plenty, though, as the soundcheck for the later acts stretched out to marathon lengths. That delay, added to incomprehensibly cold unseasonable weather on an entirely grey evening, meant for a bit of a dead zone between things. Luckily, though, I was joined by H., who wanted to see something both dance-worthy and not-indie-rock-ish. So the company filled in the time nicely, the disheartening cold tempered by promises of the banjo yet to come.

Once we eventually made our way over to the stage, there was still a lot of distressed sound-checking and gear-wrangling going on as the crowd began to get a bit eager for things to get going. As with the afternoon, the weather presumably cut into what would have been a more robust turnout, but the net effect was a pleasantly full-but-uncrowded area in front of the stage with a little bit of elbow room intact. After a "support the arts" talking-to from a city councillor, the music finally got underway with a wah-wah guitar, that beat, a fanfare of horns and then a mess of rhythm guitars. Ah.

Tony Allen had an eight-piece band behind him. Or beside him, as the case would be — he was perched over stage right. Not up front like most "name" performers, but not stashed at the back like most drummers, either. Just like his drumming, the seventy-year-old Nigerian master (most famed for his pioneering work with Fela's Africa 70) was a presence, but an unforced one. Allen's expression was semi-inscrutable throughout — he looked mildly grumpy at the late start time and compressed set length, but never griped. Didn't say much, either, besides noting that with so little time, he wasn't going to spend much of it talking.

The set led off with "Elewon po", the closer from his recent Secret Agent album. With Fela-esque political lyrics ("Too many prisoners / Too many prisoners / Too many, far too many") this had the feel of classic afrobeat and a helluva funky groove. Allen sang some deadpan lead vocals, but ceded most of the singing to the rest of his ensemble. He was certainly something to watch, in a "how does he do it?" sense. His drumming style is so economical, relaxed and unhurried and his gestures completely unforced. So much so that you might not pick up on how good it is.

Despite the delays, the band was never happy with the sound on stage during the set. Fortunately, they were in top form regardless and it all sounded pretty good in the crowd, and it was, more or less, nonstop dancing fun. There was a delicate mix of a full pot not quite simmering over, where suddenly keyboards would bubble up to the forefront, then the horns, boosting the whole thing up but without upsetting the unified groove. I couldn't pick out too many of the songs, but that seems a bit besides the point. I did dig the punchy "Ijo", with lead vox by Orobiyi Adunni, who wrote the lyrics as well.

All told, with the stage manager signalling for the band to wrap things up we got just under fifty minutes of music, but there wasn't a second wasted. More would have been welcome, but it might also have been exhausting — suffice it to say after this set I was not feeling cold any more. This was apparently Allen's first time in T.O. as a leader and a return trip would certainly be welcomed.

Listen to a track from this set here.

There was a quicker turnover after that, but by now it was past ten, and I was feeling antsy as Béla Fleck took the stage, worried about that eleven o'clock curfew that tends to stop T.O. outdoor events dead in their tracks. Fleck, widely considered to be one of the world's most proficient banjo players and known for his work with his group The Flecktones, started off playing solo. Seated on a stool, he unspooled a simple tune that quickly got dexterously complicated.

Everything he played in his solo set was sheer virtuoso stuff, including one track that sped up to a dizzyingly unimaginable pace, like a clockwork toy amped up nearly to the point of breaking a spring, but knowing what was yet to come I must admit after the first couple songs I was looking at my watch and worrying about how everything was going to get fit in before the curfew. Perhaps most interesting was when Fleck blew past the inherent bluegrassiness of his métier to play a song that he learned on one of his trips to Africa, where he'd ventured to learn about the origins of his instrument, as documented in the film Throw Down Your Heart.

Listen to one of Fleck's solo selections here.

After four tunes, Fleck gave way to Malian master Bassekou Kouyate — as much of a virtuoso of the ngoni as Fleck is of the banjo — who took the stage playing solo, as if returning tribute to Fleck. Meanwhile the members of his band Ngoni Ba took the stage and quickly kicked into a full-fledged groove. There were some sound problems at the outset, and once again, the bandmembers weren't entirely happy with the monitors, but this was another fabulous set.

The band was powered by four ngonis (including a large ngoni bass) plus percussion and the vocals of his wife, Ami Sacko. The music was powered by the interweaving ngoni lines, with runs of notes whirling out at blinding speed. While introducing "Ngoni Fola", Kouyate — who radiated a sort of serene beneficence throughout — was delighted to learn he could get away with speaking to the crowd in French1. The song turned out to be an eleven-minute tour de force, about the same length as the following barnburner, which included a chance for each of the players to step forward and solo as well as for some showy co-ordinated dance moves. And, in case it hadn't been mentioned, it was all as groovy as heck.

Béla Fleck then returned, adding one more set of strings to the interlocking lines weaving around each other on stage. The American banjo meshed well with its older cousins, Fleck watching the ngonis carefully and generally playing as another part of the ensemble until called upon to solo. Cue another storming number before the band brought it down for an ancient griot number, the mournful song giving everyone a chance to catch their breath. At first, the slower pace felt like a bit of a deflation after the previous cookers, but it turned out to be as engaging as the rest of the set with Sacko's showstopping vocals over the stately ngoni line. After introducing the band, the set then closed out with "Musow (For Our Women)", wrapping up at 11:30, well past curfew, but so very worth it. Rather a fabulous show, weather notwithstanding, so kudos to Luminato for putting a world-class concert like this for free.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Besides the large contingent of French speakers from Mali and neighbouring countries in attendance, Torontonians tend to play along with a sort of noblesse oblige when visitors act as if this is truly a bilingual country.