Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recording: No Age

Artist: No Age

Song: Common Heat

Recorded at The Great Hall, November 18, 2010.

No Age - Common Heat

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: John Milner You're So Boss

Artist: John Milner You're So Boss

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Great Hall, November 18, 2010.

John Milner You're So Boss - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Henri Fabergé and his Naval Academy Marching Band

Artist: Henri Fabergé and his Naval Academy Marching Band

Song: Please Yourself*

Recorded at The Great Hall, November 18, 2010.

Henri Fabergé and his Naval Academy Marching Band - Please Yourself

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to a commenter for confirming this title.

Gig: No Age

No Age (Lucky Dragon / John Milner You're So Boss / Henri Fabergé and his Naval Academy Marching Band)

The Great Hall. Thursday, November 18, 2010.

Even though it might have been at odds with the tone of some of the music being presented, there was an enthusiastically celebratory vibe at The Great Hall on this night. As I entered, an actual DJ was playing actual dance music, and though there weren't too many takers, it helped to provide a relaxed vibe as the room began to fill.

Taking things even further into the realm of spectacle was Henri Fabergé and his Naval Academy Marching Band, whose name was wholly self-descriptive. Not being of a temperament to let his musical ambitions be constrained by the normal method of being a guy in a band — his self-titled album with the Adorables came out back in '06 and there's been nothing since in the way of conventional releases — Henri Fabergé (the nom de guerre of Henry Fletcher) has instead channelled his energies into such avenues as wildly extravagant pageants celebrating his fictional life story1. This particular project is an offshoot of that, as far as I can tell, and before the show, I didn't know how literal this name was — but I learned quickly.

Hanging out near the front of the room, I heard the roll of drums in the distance. Then, a shout of "make way!" as the head of the column entered from the doors at the back of the room. Armed with a bullhorn, the leader of the march issued a steady stream of shouted instructions and authoritarian asides ("Do not trust your instincts! Do not believe in your impulses! Society's rules and regulations have been put in place for a reason.") through a cacophony of horns and drums as the band marched a few circles around the edge of the room before settling in in front of the stage.

Introduced as the naval academy's most promising student, Fletcher manifested himself and quickly whipped up the crowd. Contradicting the authoritarian edicts of the bandleader, an electric guitar kicked in and the parade band was suddenly a large-format rock'n'roll combo as he sang a song about the virtues of pleasing oneself, all the horns and marching drums amping it up. And when the song was complete, the band marched back out the room — the whole thing here and gone in under ten minutes in a burst of, "wha'happened?"

Listen to the "song" part of this performance here.

That would be followed by another spasm of similarly short duration by John Milner You're So Boss, playing on the floor in front of the stage. Vocalist Danielle LeBlanc was a bit more archly amusing than I recalled, joking at the outset, "after this show we're gonna break up, because what else are you gonna do after playing with fucking No Age?" Having been previously exposed to the band's brand of noiseburst chaos, I was perhaps less taken aback this time round, so either I was getting used to what they were doing or the band was actually stretching out a little, leading off with an "extended" (read: two-minute long) burst of swirling noise before the songs began. Or at least I think so, going by when the drumming and shouting started.

It was sometimes hard to tell when the songs started and ended but they were quick. There was one discrete burst of shouting that was less than twenty seconds — but why devote thirty seconds to saying "fuck you!" when you can do it in fifteen? Some stretched out into slightly longer bursts of noise diddling. Topics included "weak dicks" (it was alleged that you have one) and taquitos (sample lyrics: "Taquitos! Taquitos! Taquitos! Taquitos! Taquitos!"). All told, not the sort of thing you want to analyze too deeply — but somewhat entertaining when compressed into such a quick burst.

Listen to a song from this set here.

After JMYSB cleared their gear from their space on the floor, people were quickly pushing forward, jockeying for position near the stage. Such linear thinking actually put them further away from Lucky Dragons, who were setting up right in the middle of the floor. A lot of people didn't even seem to notice the preparations, or even when the music began with quiet glittering oscillations. Normally a duo, the band was performing as a singular dragon on this night, with Luke Fischbeck on his own.

My first encounter with the band was quite truly memorable for the innovative way that the musicians got the crowd involved in the most literal way, using audience members as circuit paths to create ever-shifting musical patterns triggered by physical contact. Bringing a different bag of tricks, the interactive element this time involved a projector at floor level pointed toward the back of the room, casting a shifting light pattern. Fischbeck handed out old CD's for audience members to hold in front of the projector, creating reflected beams of light dancing across the ceiling while he used his laptop and thumb piano to guide the music's slow build. After ten minutes, a beat slowly rose up, as well as more glitchy noises at the fringes of the sound.

This felt like less of a phenomenon than that last time. It's harder to be as surprised the second time around, I suppose, but more crucially here the crowd was less into it. Far from being a unifying experience that pulled everyone in, this was very much just background noise for most of the audience. I was right up close, in about the second rank of people watching, and by the end, there were conversations going on on both sides of me — not just of the "what's going on?" variety, but mostly general chitchat. So this was nice enough, but there was a failure to engage compared to what I had seen before.

I also had pretty fond memories of the first time I had seen No Age, at Lee's almost exactly two years previous. I left that show impressed with the duo's entertaining physicality and ability to suggest an intense presence while still having fun. To their credit, I should think, the band has evolved in the interim, transforming themselves into something more forward-thinking than bashing out punkish songbursts, instead becoming more interested in Everything in Between (as their new album is called) — most notably the spaces between the songs, filled with ambient loops and samples. Fittingly, ensuring that that more elaborate sonic sensibility wasn't left at the door of their live show, they'd enlisted a third touring member (William Kai Strangeland-Menchaca, from what I could find online) who worked in front of a table of samplers and other electronic gear off to one side of the stage. That meant that guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt could focus on their instruments.

With abstract, melty visuals being projected behind the band, they took the stage with a hazy instrumental that segued into "Life Prowler", the first cut off the new one. That was followed by a shouty "Teen Creeps" (arguably as close as the band has gotten to a pop hit), "You're a Target" (from the Losing Feeling EP) and "Every Artist Needs a Tragedy" from 2007's Weirdo Rippers. That was all in one burst before the band paused to say hello to the crowd. The more extended gaps between songs (where Randall built up guitar loops) were filled in by segues of sample-based collage-y loops, and one got the notion that the band took those as seriously as the songs.

Mind you, tearing into "Fever Dreaming", the band showed they can still toss off something relatively catchy when they want to. And not beholden to the songs' recorded arrangements, there was a run through of "Common Heat" that was much more ripping and aggressive than the album presentation. "Valley Hump Crash" would also get a more snarling re-versioning later on.

This all worked out well enough, but for whatever reason, there wasn't the same lift as when I saw 'em before. Even beyond the success or not of particular songs — "Cappo" felt kind of flat, but it lurched into "Glitter" which was far more spirited — there were less fireworks here. Perhaps the band is just more invested in the newer, textured stuff — or even the very idea of textures. When Randall broke a guitar string and was out of action for a couple minutes, I thought the set might lose all momentum, but Spunt tossed off a couple "Night of the Living Rednecks" riffs while noodling on a little drum/loop improv to pass the time. And that pause actually led to a relatively energetic finale, including the still-fresh "Sleeper Hold", with Randall climbing up on the tall speakers at the edge of the stage to power things along.

"No encores," warned Spunt before "Miner", which the band closed with. Like most the of hour-long set, they thrashed away at it with vigour to but it didn't lift. Which I guess is an apt metaphor for the whole set. On the whole, not a bad night, but not pushed out of the realm of competent entertainment.

Listen to a song from this set here.

1The final monthly instalment of his Feint of Hart "serialization" will be running at Hart House on April 7. I've heard that these are quite the spectacle to behold.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Recording: Keir Neuringer

Artist: Keir Neuringer

Song: What We Have

Recorded at The Earth Ship, March 26, 2011.

Keir Neuringer - What We Have

Review to follow my notes for this set can now be found here — but I note that Keir Neuringer has one more show in town on Monday (March 28) at Somewhere There. If he was this captivating on his own — as a drum-pounding prophet of doom, keyboard-playing last poet and sax marathonist — then who knows how far he might reach while backed with a rhythm section. Do check it out!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Recording: Ethio Fidel

Artist: Ethio Fidel

Song: Behilem*

Recorded at The Music Gallery, March 25, 2011.

Ethio Fidel - Behilem

Full review to follow [My notes for this set can now be found here] but very strong performances by both bands at this event — plus a most graciously-served meal afterward!

* Thanks to James for tracking down the title to this one!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Recording: The Hoa Hoa's

Artist: The Hoa Hoa's

Song: All the Time

Recorded at St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Church, November 13, 2010.

The Hoa Hoa's - All the Time

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Pete Carmichael

Artist: Pete Carmichael

Song: unknown*

Recorded at St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Church, November 13, 2010.

Pete Carmichael - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Gig: Flowers Of Hell

Flowers Of Hell (The Hoa Hoas / Pete Carmichael)

St. Stephen-In-The-Fields Church. Saturday, November 13, 2010.

The best parties put together by local label Optical Sounds always take place in more interesting places than bars, and this would be no exception. I'd walked past St. Stephen-In-The-Fields at College and Bellevue hundreds of times but had never been inside. The Gothic Revival church, built when it was surrounded by the fields it is named for, was nicely striking inside. Renovations had halved the length of the nave, making the tall space feel both open and compact. On this night, the walls and ceiling were painted with the swirling lights of General Chaos' visuals, and the kitchen was staffed by various members of the Optical Sounds family serving a keg of beer. The space was perfect for a gig of this nature — the floor was open for anyone who wanted to stand and watch, while there was a large balcony offering steeply-stacked rows of seats who anyone looking to sit.

That's where I headed, grabbing myself a perch on the front row, feeling like I was floating over the action below. I sat back for a few minutes, relaxing to the light show floating across the walls and the strikingly tall pipes of the old organ.1 I was in a pretty relaxed mood as the night began, certainly moreso than Pete Carmichael, who appeared both a little nervous and fortified against that fact. A recent ex-Diablero, Carmichael was playing his first solo gig in quite a few years, now armed only with a new 12-string acoustic.

"Tonight is gonna break your heart," he sang, starting things off in familiar territory with "Broken Barns". There were a couple new ones after that, including "Thundercracker" (which had featured in some of the last Diablerlos shows) and the brand-new "Fairweather Fighter", a song with potential that was still sounding a little spare and suffering from a few tentative stabs at the guitar.

"I'm really grateful to get to play in this place," Carmichael said, and I was thinking the same thing as I put up my feet and stretched out on my balcony pew. The arched roof above me was lovely — even on looking more closely and seeing the cracks — and as I looked around and soaked in old bricks, the tall narrow windows, and even the bursts of dry ice shooting out behind Carmichael on stage, I was feeling rather serene.

There was another dip back into the past with "Left from the Movies", and the set closed out on one more new one. It appears that Carmichael is assembling some friends to flesh out these new songs, and hopefully once the weather is warmer we'll have a chance to hear how things are coming along.2

Listen to a song from this set here.

Between sets, I was studying the walls again, looking beside the organ pipes to the cross hanging under the arch. The congregation was probably at its peak when this was a working-class neighbourhood, and the words of Matthew 11:28 emblazoned there ("Come Unto Me All Ye That Labour and are Heavily Laden and I Will Give You Rest") were surely succour (or captivating propaganda) for weary workers on a Sunday morning. The rafters above the chancel, looking like the skeleton of some elaborate clockwork machine, glowed with soft light as "Love is the Drug" played on the PA. I wandered around, nodding at some familiar faces. Except for a suboptimal bathroom allocation that is incompatible with draft beer (one stall apiece for women and men) this place is ideal, especially for the night's headliners.

Pretty much everything here was different compared to the last time I saw Flowers Of Hell. Then, enclosed in a dank bar, the band was playing something quite recognizable as "rock", even if it took it in a much more ornate direction. Not so much this time 'round. "Tonight we've got one number and one number only, but it's rather long," said founder/visionary Greg Jarvis, introducing "O", also the sole piece on his newly-released album. On this night, Jarvis wasn't playing anything in his mutable combo, but instead conducting a dozen musicians in an ensemble that included guitar, flute, harp, grand piano, drum kit, kettle drum, double bass, cello, violin, sax and trumpet.

As if to ease the audience into the notion of a symphonic experience, the first note was like the orchestra's tuning A, the instruments all joining in. But instead of falling silent after that, they kept drifting — and such was the way of the piece. Some of the reviews I've seen of "O"'s album incarnation seemed confused, and quick to condemn it for not falling into the post-rock build-and-release template, But I think that fundamentally misunderstands what Jarvis is aiming for — with "O" he isn't interested in the narrative resolution we expect from a "song". Rather that describing an event, it maps a terrain.

Ten minutes in, the music is langourous and floaty. Previously, the strings had vibrated with the warmth of a Nick Drake arrangement; now, with the trumpet picking up a bit of melody it momentarily felt... if not precisely like "In a Silent Way", then something akin to it, linearity and throughline subsumed to a sort of bestilled coming-to-be. Twenty minutes along, a piano-led movement leads to a general ramping up — but not so much like a wave as a tide mounting and abating.

Letting my eyes close, I leaned back to just absorb this. And later, instead of watching the band, I watched General Chaos' projections on the roof above me, the drifting colours shifting and melting into each other just like the the individual components of the music.3 The tempo did build again at the end, but instead of any sort of climactic finality, the music simply seemed to find a resolution that followed from its inner logic.

The performance lasted forty minutes — though when I was inside it, it felt stripped from temporality. Neither too long nor too short, to put it less prosaically. Fittingly, there was no encore afterward — to follow that with something like a mere "song" would have felt wrong. All told, this was pretty excellent stuff — an inspired mix of vibe, space, and performance.4

Listen to an excerpt from this performance here.

Of course, I shouldn't castigate "mere songs" too much, as after that, the stage was turned over to The Hoa Hoa's, who had some pretty fabulous ones. And all the acoustic elements that had been in place for the Flowers of Hell set were in play here, but now in the service of the band's psych-garage nuggets. In fact, as the set started with "Looking For the Sun" and "Modern Men", this was perhaps as good I'd ever heard the band — the music filling the space without anything sounding forced in the mix. The vocals were a little more up front than usual, and the big space of the room added some natural reverb. Plus, the band had a full setup, including keyboards and the becaped Cameron Jingles joining in on vox and tambourine. Behind it all, drummer Calvin Brown was looking fashionable as ever in shades and snakeskin boots.

This was a no time for sitting in the balcony, and I took advantage of that floor space to groove a little to the band's newest stuff, which sounded pretty brilliant. Not only the radio on! trip of "Falling in Love" but also would-be chartbuster "All the Time", which had fairly knocked me out when I'd first heard it.

"Postcards" led straight into a superb run through the building wall of noise that is "Blue Acid Gumball". Normally the closer, the band stayed on stage to finish off with the quick burst of "Intensity", here even more of a description than a title than usual. Having seen my share of sets by the Hoa Hoa's, I'd have to place this right near the top of the heap, one of those happy occasions where performance and venue and vibe all are clicking just right.5

Listen to a song from this set here.

Looking back, this may have been my favourite show of the year. I don't know a lot about the situation, but St. Stephen's is a gem of a space in a sweetly central location. It would be a shame if it wasn't preserved and maintained.

1 There's a history, thrillingly detailed-unto-incomprehensibility, of the organ here, which also contains some general background on the church.

2 You should keep an eye out here so you'll know when Carmichael's new thing is ready for the world.

3 And here, I suppose, comes the occasion to make the obligatory reference to Jarvis' synesthesia. The notion that the bandleader perceives sounds as shapes and colours seems intimately and intuitively connected to this music.

4 Some of the credit for making this sound so good is also due to Steve Shoe, who was running the soundboard at this show, doing an excellent job on a more-complicated-than-usual setup.

5 The Hoa Hoa's have been busy recording over the winter, but are emerging from a gap in live performance for a show on Friday, April 29, 2011 at The Boat. With The Asteroid #4 and Ostrich Tuning (well-loved in these parts) on the bill, it stands to be a helluva night.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recording: Hooded Fang

Artist: Hooded Fang

Song: Almost Done

Recorded at Sonic Boom, November 13, 2010.

Hooded Fang - Almost Done

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store: Hooded Fang

Hooded Fang

Sonic Boom. Saturday, November 13, 2010.

With the formal release party for their debut album (descriptively titled Album) a couple weeks away, Hooded Fang decided to mark the occasion a bit closer to the day with a visit to Sonic Boom's basement. A nice chance to drop in for an early-ish set in the relaxed space. There'd be a more event-like vibe at the release party proper, but here there was a chance to focus on the songs with a smaller, more attentive crowd.

With some rock'n'roll parents parents bringing small fry along, the band was delighted to play to the youngest members of the crowd — especially bassist April Aliermo, who made a special dedication to "anybody who's a twirlybird, a wandering hamster, a cycling giant, a pouncing puma, or if you're ten years old and under."

Launching with "Laughing", there was a little bit of feedback in the first couple songs that couldn't mask the smooth sounds underneath. Plus, it was good to hear Lorna Wright's voice — which can sometimes get lost in the mix — right up front from the outset. The band played "Land of Giants" from their earlier EP (descriptively titled EP), but otherwise it was all Album material, including an nicely bouncy take of "Sleep Song".

Playing somewhere less raucous than a crowded bar room gave the band a chance to do some of their relatively quieter material without having to play over a layer of drunken chatter, and "Almost Done" really stood out here. Finishing off with "Highway Steam" and "Love Song", the band played ten songs over nearly forty minutes, pretty much a full set. Definitely enough to hold one over until the proper album release show.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recording: Clinic

Artist: Clinic

Song: Children of Kellogg

Recorded at Lee's Palace, November 10, 2010.

Clinic - Children of Kellogg

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Fresh & Onlys

Artist: The Fresh & Onlys

Song: Feelings In My Heart

Recorded at Lee's Palace, November 10, 2010.

The Fresh & Onlys - Feelings In My Heart

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Clinic

Clinic (The Fresh & Onlys)

Lee's Palace. Wednesday, November 10, 2011.

Early doors for a Wednesday night show, thank goodness. When I strolled in just a tick before the nine o'clock starting time, there was a pretty thin crowd on hand. There didn't seem to be a lot of folk out early for San Francisco's The Fresh & Onlys. This was a band that I was curious to see — I'd actually went to look up if they'd be passing through town, only to discover that they would be playing at this show that I already had a ticket to. Result!

But otherwise, perhaps the headliner's crowd didn't overlap with this bunch, who came with a scrappier sort of provenance. Mentioning that they've had releases on Woodsist, Captured Tracks and In the Red might best give a notion of where they're coming from musically — a slowed-down, psychedelic take on the contemporary noisy reverb-rock thing. Less abrasive and chaotic than many bands of this ilk, as if their lineage branched from The Doors and Nuggets rather than punk.

The quartet played a lot of songs from their just-released Play It Strange, but mixed in a smattering of others too, such as opener "Feelings In My Heart" from their first album. That one clicked — it might have left the strongest impression of the set — and "Invisible Forces" was pretty tasty. The songs had their share of hooks, with enough weirdness tossed in to keep things interestingly off-kilter, and yet I came away less than convinced.

Frontman Tim Cohen was generally engaging, trying to chat a bit and get people to break into the invisible "forcefield" in front of the stage. And though there was decent applause, there was not a huge reaction from the reserved crowd. And that might have been one thing that kept the band holding back.1 There were a fair number of quick-hitting songs, but they also stretched out with the longer "Tropical Island Suite", which juxtaposed an opening pop bit, a raveup and an extended outro groove. So even if their name is not, perhaps, truth in advertising, these guys aren't working to mere formula. In the end, this was an enjoyable set, but not a strongly compelling one.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Clinic is a band that I've sort of backed into liking — one whose every album always came with reviews saying the exact sort of things to scintillate me. But it wasn't until I grabbed one at a used store that I really started listening, and after that I found myself filling in more of the back catalogue. Bubblegum, their latest album, was the first that I actually grabbed at the record shop as a new release. So though I hadn't seen 'em before, I knew enough not to be surprised with the band's mix of exposure and anonymity or the tension on stage between control and release.

The band aren't anonymous, but have a long history of wearing surgical masks on stage — which is both an explicit jape on their name and an implicit critique of ego-driven rock'n'roll stage personas. Here, the masks were accompanied by brightly coloured poncho-like shirts and matching toques. And yet, they were, in a sense, hiding in plain sight, playing on a relatively brightly-lit stage.

They lead off with the new one's title track. "Bubblegum" is wry but not undescriptive — although the band hasn't sharply reinvented themselves, this album reveals a more considered sound replete with baroque touches — sounding in spots like Left Banke with a wah-wah pedal and more volume. But the fairly excellent "Lion Tamer" (also from the new one) still has a fair amount of early Wire in its DNA.

Unsurprisingly, without the albums' production effects, the live versions pulled all the songs toward a sonic middle ground, even as the band pulled material from all corners of their considerable catalogue: "Memories" and "Shopping Bag" (from 2008's Do It!), "Welcome" (from '02's Walking with Thee), all the way back to "T.K." and "Distortions" (from 2000's first full-length Internal Wrangler) while slipping in some relative obscurities, like "Gentle Lady", a more recent b-side.

Nominal frontman Ade Blackburn moved from guitar to keyboards and wasn't unfriendly on stage, but the band was definitely reserved and distant, which is about what one would expect. So too their music, which had, natch, a clinical, exacting edge. These guys aren't going to jam it out or anything like that. A few songs were played to additional laptop backing tracks but they came out about as precise and rigourous as the rest of the set. The best stuff came with a loud, steady thrum, and that's basically what I came for.

Given that the songs were all so compact and delivered without pause, the band managed to stuff an unexpected number of 'em — no less than fifteen in the main set before returning for a couple more. Blackburn brought out an acoustic guitar for a "folk song", which turned out to be the the new album's "Linda". But a loose connection was giving off some loud crackles, and the song was abandoned — a rare moment of indeterminacy during the show, and the audience applauded that in a knowing way. With quiet mode not working, the band went in the other direction for early single "Evil Bill", and after the stomping throb of "Children Of Kellogg", left the stage almost exactly an hour after they emerged — precise and efficient right up to the end.

A worthy live experience, though I suppose I'm not sure if I found this a little too bloodless or exactly as bloodless as I should have expected.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 The band will almost certainly be getting more energy from the crowd when they return to town for a more in-your-face gig at The Shop under Parts & Labour on Thursday, April 21, 2011.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Playlist #11

Sunday Playlist #11: Save Afrofest!

Rough news this week as word got out that the city has denied a permit to the organizers of Afrofest for the use of Queen's Park. It seems shoddy, to say the least, to treat one of the city's cultural jewels like this. There's still time to have this overturned — please consider adding your voice to the petition being circulated by the organizers and spread the word.

Music Africa keeps the spirit going by holding events throughout the year, but Afrofest is the peak of it all. To serve as a reminder of what we would miss, here's a couple songs from each of the previous Afrofests.

Madagascar Slim - Boribory

Menwar - Sannzale

Afrafranto - Angelina

Muna Mingole - Makossa Ma Kwan

Dramane Kone - unknown

You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Recording: The Wooden Sky

Artist: The Wooden Sky

Song: Something Hiding For Us in the Night

Recorded at Lee's Palace, November 6, 2010.

The Wooden Sky - Something Hiding For Us in the Night

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Yukon Blonde

Artist: Yukon Blonde

Song: Babies Don't Like Blue Anymore

Recorded at Lee's Palace, November 6, 2010.

Yukon Blonde - Babies Don't Like Blue Anymore

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: These United States

Artist: These United States

Song: Life & Death, She & I

Recorded at Lee's Palace, November 6, 2010.

These United States - Life & Death, She & I

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Wooden Sky

The Wooden Sky (Yukon Blonde / These United States

Lee's Palace. Saturday, November 6, 2010.

A homecoming show, the last night of the tour, and a Saturday night — one could guess going in that these were the ingredients for a rambunctious time. There was an upbeat, energetic vibe in the room, even in the early going. The stage was backdropped with bedsheets that looked like they came from someone's parents' place, covered with boy's-own scenes of cowboy adventures and big honking cars sweeping through uncitified vistas. Treat that as symbolism.

I'd never heard of These United States ("We're from Kentucky, and Washington D.C. and from a few other places," explained vocalist Jesse Elliott) but right from the start this felt like a good fit for the bill and most definitely like Saturday night music — amped-up rock'n'roll with rootsy touches. The band mostly had that end-of-tour scruffy look down pat, especially Elliott, who had a multitude of backstage-access wristbands running up his left arm, like a prisoner's scratches on a cell wall to remind him how long he's been in stir.1

The band managed to get more interesting from song to song, and I was forced to keep nudging up my estimation of 'em — at the outset I was feeling a sort of sub-Georgia Satellites vibe, soon upgraded to a respectable Stones-y country-honk swagger. And when Tom Hnatow's pedal steel kicked in for "Honor Amongst Thieves" I was nodding along to their sloppy, unshaven charms. So too with the lyrics — at first I was just catching signifiers like "drunk", "new Cadillac", "just a momma's boy aching for affection" which I thought triangulated the band's simple sort of concerns, but closer listening revealed more of a literary sensibility hiding behind it all.

"Life & Death, She & I" was a highlight as was closer "I Want You To Keep Everything" , which juxtaposed pedal steel licks with new wave-y guitar stabs. But the populist highlight might have been a version "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" played with Who-esque power chords, where Gavin Gardiner (of the night's headliners) and members of Yukon Blonde came out to add their voices. As would happen again throughout the night, there was the impression that these bands had had a good time on tour together, and Elliott was full of effusive praise for his new-found friends. Having just released their fourth album What Lasts, the band had a lot of material to draw from and had no problem filling a forty-minute set. Not an audacious band, but it left as pleasant an aftertaste as the 50's the band were quaffing.

Listen to a song from this set here.

So, I have a history with Yukon Blonde, and I must admit I came in mildly biased against 'em. I'd seen them, back in '08 when they were still known as Alphababy, opening for Jon-Rae Fletcher and turning in a really unmemorable bar-band-worthy set.2 Still, with a new name and a generally-praised album under their belts, I figured to try and give them the benefit of the doubt. It seemed like I was the only one who was unconvinced, though, as the mostly-younger crowd around me was very appreciative of the band's meat-and-potatoes rock, mixing some guitar crunch with CSNY-esque harmonies and poppy song constructions.

The band stepped out and plowed right in, running through "Rather Be With You" and "Brides Song" before greeting the crowd, inviting them to sing along to "Blood Cops" — an offer that a lot of people around me took them up on. But not nearly as many as for "Wind Blows", when the band simply dropped out altogether in the last chorus and let the crowd carry the song. After that early highlight, they changed direction a bit by performing a new song ("this water is coming 'round") before some members of The Wooden Sky came out for another non-album track ("they're setting fire to the ocean").

"Babies Don't Like Blue Anymore", which probably impressed me more than anything else in the set, was a bit more muscular than on the album, but still gave an opportunity for big woah-oh's from the crowd. The band closed it out giving special praise to Jason Haberman (of local smooth rockers The Paint Movement) who was filling in on bass for the tour. By the set's end, I certainly had some more respect for the band, though I'll probably never be a fan. But from the headliner-sized reaction they received, I'm sure they'll do fine without me.3

Listen to a song from this set here.

As the floor got more tightly-packed between sets, I again got the notion that I might have been the only one who had come out undecided to what extent The Wooden Sky did it for them. Although I had been impressed on seeing them perform in a quieter, stripped-down format, their album had also left me with a "merely pleasant" sort of vibe. As things got ready to go, though, there was a palpable sense of excitement around me. Those sheets at the back of the stage were pulled down to reveal three large paintings with the band's name (THE/WOODEN/SKY) cut out and illuminated from behind.

"This is quite all right!" grinned vocalist/guitarist Gavin Gardiner, looking over the packed house after leading off with the title track from 2007's When Lost At Sea. Showing the confidence of a band doing more that just pushing their breakthrough album, they led off with two of the set's first three songs from the older one before turning to '09's If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone. Gardiner's vox were a little more quavery than usual, perhaps a bit worn from two months on the road. But even if they might have been a little weary and ragged, the band played like they knew they didn't need to hold anything in reserve for the next night.

After "Call If You Need Me", there were even a couple brand new songs — "Angelina" and "Lay Your Body Down" (as the internet has 'em), the latter of which was quite interesting, with atmospheric keys and a melody edging up to The Beatles' "Long Long Long". Pity that the new ones were almost drowned out — the downside with this kind of crowd was that if it wasn't something they could sing along to, most of the people around me were content to blather away to each other. "The Late King Henry" flipped things back into audience singalong mode, and the young crowd also went unaccountably apeshit for a run through Tom Petty's "American Girl", with guitarist Simon Walker getting to rip out a big rock solo.

Just as we'd seen in the other sets, some friends from the other bands came out to finish things off with a big version of "Something Hiding For Us in the Night", though there was still ample time for a few more. That turned out to be not quite as expected, however. On returning for the encore, Gardiner announced: "what we're gonna do here, we're going to play one song up here on stage... we're going to take a break, and then we're gonna go out on the sidewalk out in the alleyway and play some more songs if you guys are into that." The band played "North Dakota", then, as promised, departed the stage with a "see ya outside in fifteen minutes".

Listen to a song from this set here.

Well, then. Nothing to do but head outside and duck down the alley towards the back door. The crowd back there was growing quickly and milling around a bit uncertainly on a cool early November night. I spotted trumpeter/bartender Michael Louis Johnson — no stranger to performing in reclaimed public space — in the crowd and wasn't surprised when he took his place alongside the band when they emerged.

I managed to end up pretty much right behind the stripped-down band (here rocking acoustic guitar, banjo and harmonica) but even being fairly close, they were hardly audible compared to the people around me singing along to "Oh My God". But that's kind of the point, right? Regardless, people managed to generally shush each other down enough so that Gardiner could be heard singing "Oslo", before asking, "you guys wanna get arrested?"

To a massive cheer, the band struck up "You Ain't Going Nowhere", and rather unlike a tree with roots, the band started marching out of the alley and right into the middle of Bloor Street. Within seconds the group vocals — and good on the kids, a lot of 'em knew the words to this one — were joined by a chorus of taxis honking in the background. Cue that elevating feeling of slight transgression, a lift from positing that the street was a worthy spot for an impromptu singalong. And as the song ended and the crowd cleared off the road, I ended up on the north sidewalk. I could see people across the street still clapping and the trumpet still playing the chorus as the night ended in a most unexpected festival. An exciting ending that most definitely closed out the night on a high.

1 Elliott was also sporting a blue hanky dangling from his back right pocket, which might mean something different where he's from.

2 The flipside of that was that the band did a more-than-capable job backing Fletcher during a set that would be highly memorable for the singer shrugging off his own material to do a whole series of Annie Lennox covers.

3 Yukon Blonde will be back in town to play the Horseshoe on April 8, 2011.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recording: Forest City Lovers

Artist: Forest City Lovers

Song: Castles

Recorded at The Horseshoe, November 5, 2010.

Forest City Lovers - Castles

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Hooded Fang

Artist: Hooded Fang

Song: Highway Steam

Recorded at The Horseshoe, November 5, 2010.

Hooded Fang - Highway Steam

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Golden Ghost

Artist: Golden Ghost

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Horseshoe, November 5, 2010.

Golden Ghost - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Allie Hughes

Artist: Allie Hughes

Song: Elevator*

Recorded at The Horseshoe, November 5, 2010.

Allie Hughes - Elevator

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Gig: Forest City Lovers

Forest City Lovers (Hooded Fang / Golden Ghost / Allie Hughes)

The Horseshoe. Friday, November 5, 2010.

It was nice to see the Horseshoe's stage brightened up with some banners strung across the stage and a giant donut (or, more likely, some sort of pool flotation device) hanging from the rear wall. And if that weren't enough, further illumination would come from Allie Hughes, starting things off with a Broadway-style overture/instrumental medley of snippets of the set's songs. The elements of what would become her "wedding shows" — Hughes' wedding veil, the thematic arc of the songs — looked to be falling into place here, just not quite amped up or explicitly calling attention to themselves.

Her distinguished band included Randy Lee (violin), Bram Gielen (keyb) and Thomas Gill (guit) as well as a pair of mannequin heads on her keyboard. Cue the dramatics. As she asked her man why he'd wanna break her heart, Hughes dropped to her knees, pounding the floor — but at the same time, breaking character and laughing at the over-the-topness of it all.

The band was joined by Rouge's Jess Tollefson and Kelly McMichael on "O Chad", but the numbers slimmed down to just a pair on "Headmaster", considerably stripped down from the last time I'd heard it — here with just Hughes' keys and some violin from Lee, everyone else exiting the stage for a much more contained version of the song. That exploded into a screaming, swirling vortex of sound1 that segued into "Damaged Nail". In this context, the jarring shiftiness of the song works better than in its recorded incarnation, where the mildly schizo bounding feels unearned. From an insane cabaret spurned bride, it makes more sense.

Shifting tone once again, the brisk twenty-five minute set closed with "Not the Stars", the "pop hit" once again amped up over the top with goofy gusto. I remain fascinated with the fact that there's so much in Hughes' sets that shouldn't work on me, and yet I'm fully entertained every time.

Listen to a track from this set here.

On a busy bill with three local acts I knew well, the unknown quantity on the night was Golden Ghost, a duo out of Endicott, New York with Laura Goetz on guit and most vox backed by Brendon Massei's drums. The music was unassuming folksy rock driven by Goetz's gently-picked guitar and ambling lyrics. The pair give off a charming vibe — looking like they fell out of the pages of an Adrian Tomine sketchbook, Massei actually said "gosh" while whipping up enthusiasm for Forest City Lovers ("Who's getting excited for Forest City Lovers tonight, besides ourselves? Gosh... it's gonna be good.") It all made me want to like them, but the songs didn't cast much of a spell on me.

It probably didn't help that their quieter, less direct sort of music was sort of just being played toward a semi-indifferent void — without a crowd of friends to cheer along, there weren't too many people attentively checking it out. April Aliermo from Hooded Fang was right up front and centre, though, getting into it.

When they picked up the pace, it got more engaging, but I found the slower stuff to drag along — and the longer that went, the more it was up against the chatter from the crowd. Mixed results, overall. Credit Goetz for having faith in her meandering sensibility, but there wasn't a lot here that engaged me.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Leaving the crowd with something catchy stuck in their heads wouldn't be a problem for Hooded Fang. With their album on the cusp of being released, the band had plenty of shows lined up to get the word out. But even with that release a few weeks away, there were plenty of patrons on hand who knew most of the new material well, such as the one-two punch of "Laughing" and "Sleep Song". Except for an appearance from the earlier EP's "Land of Giants", the Album material would fill out the set.

The band seemed eager to get as much music in their timeslot as possible, zipping through songs without stopping to chat much. Which isn't to say they were rushing through the set list — "Green River" stretched out a bit, and soon the dancefloor pretty full with people moving along, especially during "Highway Steam". Finishing with the poptimistic bounce of "Love Song", there were some calls for one more from the crowd, but the band cleared off to make room for the night's headliner.

Listen to a track from this set here.

As Forest City Lovers eased into "Phodilus & Tyto", it took the chatty crowd a few minutes to settle down. As it would turn out, FCL had an eager audience, but more in a "we want to party with you" sense than in being conservatory quiet.

The band featured a slightly shuffled roster as compared to their album release show, with Randy Lee sitting in on violin for the absent Mika Posen plus Kelly McMichael on keybs. There were plenty of friends in the crowd as well — besides several members of Ohbijou dancing in the front row there was also a handful of older friends from younger days in the crowd, shouting out school slogans between songs. "Durham region represent," commented Kat Burns, acknowledging them between songs.

The set was front-loaded with material from new album Carriage, with a half-dozen tracks showcasing its ample virtues before the band reached back for "Pirates". "Pocketful of Rocks" and "Minneapolis" shined here. Then the band reached all the way back to the first Forest City Lovers album (2006's Haunting Moon Sinking) for "Castles", which was dedicated to Ohbijou's Casey Mecija, who was celebrating a birthday.

That opened the door for more old favourites which dominated the rest of the set, including "Don't Go", "Song For Morrie" and "Country Road" as the big finale, the band stripping back for these to the core four-piece, with Kyle Donnelly, Christian Ingelevics and Timothy Bruton behind Burns.

Perhaps all those suburban highschool friends in the audience were the trigger in the encore for a big singalong run through Green Day's "Longview", a chance for drummer Ingelevics to hammer enthusiastically. Burns struggled to remember most of the words, laughing all the way through before closing things out with the quieter "Orphans" and a chance for a last few singalong woah-ohs.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 "I think it's supposed to symbolize her descent into madness," as Lisa said.

2 Kat Burns will be playing a solo set to open up for Basia Bulat at The Great Hall on Saturday, March 26 and the whole band will be playing The Garrison on Friday April 1.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Recording: Ty Segall

Artist: Ty Segall

Song: Standing at the Station + Girlfriend

Recorded at Wrongbar (CMW 2011), March 12, 2011.

Ty Segall - Standing at the Station + Girlfriend

Full review of this show to follow, but you can check out some quick notes here. My full notes for this set can now be found here.

Recording: Fred Penner

Artist: Fred Penner

Song: Sandwiches

Recorded at the Drake Underground (CMW 2011), March 12, 2011.

Fred Penner - Sandwiches

Full review of this show to follow, but you can check out some quick notes here. My full notes for this set can now be found here.

Currente calamo: CMW 2011 (Saturday)

CMW 2011 (Saturday)*

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so there'll be a fuller accounting of the night by and by.

4 p.m.: Zoobombs @ Bait Shop

This daytime show was at a skateboard shop, a very cool old warehouse-y space with the band set up on a platform above a half-pipe. The crowd was both below them in the flat bottom of the half-pipe and above in the overlooking loft. A good environment for the gonzo apeshit rock'n'roll that Japan's Zoobombs bring. Trapped half a world away at a time of grave crisis in their homeland, the band rocked to ease their broken hearts. It'd been a couple years since I'd seen 'em and I'd forgotten a little how much energy and craziness singer/guitarist Don Matsuo puts into it, spinning his guitar around, climbing the walls, mugging for the cameras, all while unleashing a nonstop heavy attack. Absolute fun.

5 p.m.: Dinosaur Bones @ Bait Shop

"Fuck you for making us play after the Zoobombs," joked Dino Bones vocalist Ben Fox, knowing there was no way they could duplicate the intensity that had come before them. Instead, the competed on their own terms with their more anthemic approach. It had been nearly a couple years since I'd seen these guys, too. They were touted as being on the cusp of bigger things even back then, and now, with a new album just out, it looks like their moment may be here. One can see why, with Fox's reach-the-rafters projection and a musical approach that might be summed up as "active brooding". Not entirely my thing, though they do have a couple winning songs. And bassist Branko Scekic is still no slouch in the climb-up-stuff department wither.

8:30 p.m.: Fred Penner @ Drake Underground

Taking the stage to his old show's theme music (of course), this one was — to put it mildly — a bit of a departure. And one for beloved children's entertainer Penner, too, playing to anything but his usual sort of audience. Accompanied by a guitarist and two of his daughters on backing vocals, Penner packed in a mini variety show in his half-hour, with the songs broken up with a storytime break and a couple skit-like interludes. It was shticky as hell, natch, but as adults we're conditioned to treat anything this completely direct as mere corn. So what? This was also kind of awesome, filled with audience singalongs and ending with his most requested song — I think you could guess what that is.

Listen to a track from this set here.

9:30 p.m.: Mockingbird Wish Me Luck @ Wrongbar

Thought that would occupy me long enough to get to Wrongbar, where I was planning to settle in for the night, before the crowds but after the night's first act. It turned out, however, that the sets were running on the bottom of the hour so I got there as this Kitchener quartet was starting instead of ending. I'm sure there's nothing at all wrong with this combo — musically, they brought to mind, say, a harder-edged Buffalo Tom — but they still rubbed me the wrong way. Chalk that up to a pair of gravel-voiced singers, who invested every syllable with a shouted/growled huurgh hurrgh hurgh. Just not my thing.

10:30 p.m.: The Pack a.d. @ Wrongbar

I've been passingly familiar with this Vancouver-based duo for awhile, but I'd never seen them live. That is, according to multiple sources, where Maya Miller (drums) and Becky Black (guit/vox) really shine. And, in short, that's correct. Bringing their own punk-infused approach to the blues, the best moments here were great fun. Miller is an action hero, with hair flying and sticks ablur, as well as a bit of a ham while posing and chatting between songs. There were a couple spots where if felt like they were restraining themselves a little, but it can't all be white-hot intensity. If it were, the one woman dancing like a maniac right up front might have inflicted more property damage than just drop-kicking and hurling a barstool around.

11:30 p.m.: Heavy Cream @ Wrongbar

I'd done no research on this band, figuring I was going to be here to see 'em regardless, so they turned out to be the pleasant surprise of the night. Even while fighting some massive sound issues, this Nashville crew sent out a salvo of fireball punk bursts. Poppy fun throughout their short set, I'd definitely like to see 'em again when the sound wasn't being sucked into a dull low roar.

12:20 a.m.: Ty Segall @ Wrongbar

I also didn't know a lot about San Francisco's Ty Segall, but the reports of his past visits to the city were pretty glowing. The recorded material that I've heard has more of a psychedelic-pop tinge to it, but live it was all filtered through a punkrock roar and came out all like one intense blast. At least I think it was like that — truth be told, my recall of the music is pretty spotty, as it was all subsumed to the intensity of the experience. By this point, the venue was rammed-beyond-rammed, and the crowd up front was moshing so intently that it would have been dangerous if people weren't packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, making it more like a sort of violent brownian motion. I lasted about two-thirds of the set at the edge of it before fleeing to a mildly less crammed spot. As Av. put it afterward, "a Ty Segall show is a good time you don't remember having."

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

1:30 a.m.: Teenanger @ Wrongbar

The crowd thinned out after that, but those who remained just had more room to knock into each other for locals Teenanger. Projecting their throbbing bad vibes out to the crowd with maximum intensity, this again falls somewhat into the realm of "you'll remember the experience more than the songs", but it's a pretty fun ride.

2:30 a.m.: White Wires @ Wrongbar

Wrapping things up to a thinner crowd was Ottawa's White Wires, who play good old-fashioned rock'n'roll with pogo-til-you-puke velocity. Vocalist/guitarist Ian Manhire does a good line in catchy choruses, and this was a satisfyingly bouncy way to end the night, giving me a burst of energy to mask my last-night exhaustion.

* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of a couple years ago, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW — although there was a part of me that also considered using the slightly cumbersome "Canadian Music Festival presented by Canadian Music Week" throughout.

Recording: Eons

Artist: Eons

Song: Arctic Radio

Recorded at 918 Bathurst Arts Centre (Wavelength 516), March 13, 2011.

Eons - Arctic Radio

Full review to follow. My notes for this set can now be found here. An auspicious debut for Matt Cully's new project. Backed by Misha Bower and Andrew Barker, the trio filled up the beautiful church-like space with equally lovely sounds.