Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recording: The Rural Alberta Advantage

Artist: The Rural Alberta Advantage

Song: Tornado '87

Recorded at Lee's Palace, December 16, 2010.

The Rural Alberta Advantage - Tornado '87

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Rebekah Higgs

Artist: Rebekah Higgs

Song: Little Voice

Recorded at Lee's Palace, December 16, 2010.

Rebekah Higgs - Little Voice

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Gravity Wave

Artist: Gravity Wave

Song: Footprints

Recorded at Lee's Palace, December 16, 2010.

Gravity Wave - Footprints

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage (Rebekah Higgs / Gravity Wave)

Lee's Palace. Thursday, December 16, 2010.

A sort of in-between-things show for locals-made-good The Rural Alberta Advantage, this gig marked the end of their globetrotting trail promoting their first album and the start of a brief pause before the emergence of their sophomore release. A victory lap for the band, to be sure, and a reward for loyal fans who had waited for over a year for a hometown show — but also a chance to share the stage with some old friends.

Gravity Wave have been around for awhile, and no doubt played some shows with the RAA when they were just another of the dozens of unheralded local indie groups. And while this was now an intimate show for the RAA, it was pretty clear that even a gradually-filling-in Lee's was an anxiety-inducing step into the spotlight for the four-piece, as vocalist Ken Farrell owned up to when the band took the stage: "we're a little nervous, so... just talk amongst yourselves, and the band you came here to see will be on shortly. Have your fun, we'll have ours."

That unassuming attitude managed to find its way into the band's cerebral brand of DOR. The music was groovy, but not viscerally body-movingly so. More like the band was committed to a steady pulse, with the drummer, bassist and DJ1 all wearing earpieces to keep in time. Farrell didn't have an earpiece, but he was sporting a Chaplin-esque moustache and suspenders, which contributed to the band's slightly fusty, decidedly not down-and-dirty vibe. Still, Farrell did his best to get the crowd warmed up — quite literally so, as he led everyone in some practise arm bends and worked in some call-and-response RAA chants.

A couple songs toward the set's end featured a guest acoustic guitar player, which gave a different cast to the band's sound — in fact, the first vaguely brought Eddie Rabbitt's "Drivin' My Life Away" to mind. Overall, the band was fine, but a bit too genteel. Like Farrell's self-effacing banter ("We'll play one more — your night will get better from here, you gotta trust us."), this wasn't music that was going to force itself on anyone's consciousness.

Listen to a track from this set here.

If Gravity Wave has had a crowd that was perhaps robust by their standards, Rebekah Higgs had something close to a full house, with a packed floor of RAA fans holding down a spot for the headliner. Undoubtedly the sort of situation where an artist has a chance to make an impact and gain some new fans. Although her performance wasn't a knockout, Higgs confidently took more advantage than Gravity Wave had.

I'd first seen Higgs back in 2008 when she was still playing behind her debut full-length and that show was "nice" but not particularly memorable. I was more interested when I saw her playing with her dance-y side project Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, which had an engaging sense of fun to it. And here, her stage set up recalled that more than the stripped-down rock band I'd first seen her with, with Higgs having a table of electronics in front of her that occupied her as much as her guitar. Bringing these influences to her "name" project definitely added a spark, although sometimes it flickered more than exploded, such as on atmospheric opener "Lazy Morning".

But the steps forward that Higgs has taken were more plainly apparent with the excellent "Little Voice" (also the title track to her recent EP). A bouncy waltz with a chorus of floating bum-bah-bum backing vocalists (created via looping pedal), this could come across as a crass attempt at going pop, were it not so giddily spirited. That and the following "Gosh, Darn, Damn" announced that Higgs has indeed taken a big step forward.2

It wasn't all at that level. When the tempo slowed down for "Miserably Together" it didn't quite work in this environment, with people largely using it as a chat break. But on balance, this moved Higgs up in my esteem. Here's hoping her forthcoming second full-length can maintain the strides forward she's made here.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then, the floor in front of the stage managed to get pretty tightly crammed in. Given the star treatment that The Rural Alberta Advantage are accorded in their hometown, it felt momentarily jarring to see that they're still at the level where they're setting up their own gear before the set starts. After everyone sort of pretended not to notice that, they were greeted with wild cheers when they took the stage to play. Looking over the adoring, packed house, the band were visibly impressed and thankful. But once they were playing, they looked like the same band that not too long ago was playing to half-filled venues much smaller than this. As Paul Banwatt moved over from his drumkit to join Amy Cole pounding on her floor tom there was still the same goofy sense of friends having fun as there's always been.

This was a transitional show for the band. With their new album in the can but with just one track released to the public, the focus was more on the well-known first-album stuff, with some of the Departing material being slipped in. Which was of no concern to most of those assembled here. This was a crowd with lots of folks who knew every word on the album and were prepared to sing along to everything, even treating some of the lesser stuff like "Luciana" and "Rush Apart" (which opened the night) like anthems. And, in fact, the crowd's energy elevated them to the point where they almost felt as if they were.

So when "Don't Haunt This Place" — one of the band's standout tracks — came next, it felt, just for a moment, ridiculously good. That might also be because that one was particularly driven by the drums, thrusting in a way the recorded version isn't, and I was reminded once again what a fucking power Paul Banwatt is.4 Nils Edenloff's lyrics and unadorned, braying delivery — connoting the unvarnished "authenticity" that the kids seem to crave — is undoubtedly at the centre of the RAA's appeal. But it's that easy sense of comradeship that sells the band as a live enterprise, and Banwatt's drumming that truly marks them as something special.

After that came the first foray into the new songs. "Muscle Relaxants" fit in just fine, giving a hint of the stylistic continuities that would define Departures. Edenloff spent a couple songs battling technical gremlins, switching guitars mid-song during "Frank, AB" but still pulled the song off. As it turned out, when it got to the end, no instruments were needed, with the crowd's singing carrying it home.

The old stuff was often played at blinding speed — "The Ballad of the RAA" flew by amid thundering drums. That velocity plus the chance for the audience to join in made the middle of the set a blur — "Stamp" had the audience doing just that, and "Drain the Blood" seemed to be there mostly as a chance to sing along and clap. To some extent, the new (and unfamiliar) material gave the audience a chance to rest, and could be enjoyed more as a musical artifact rather than an immersive experience. "Barnes' Yard" — one of the new album's best tracks — registered strongly in that regard.

There was only the most perfunctory of breaks before the encore — "even Paul's booing me," Edenloff commented on calling "The Deadroads" as the last song. Ducking back onto the stage, there was a seasonal nod with an amped-up version of "The Little Drummer Boy".5 A couple more blasts and the band was done, making for an hour-long performance.

Though I woulda loved to have had more new stuff in the mix, I figured it'd be prudent to get to this show rather than the next one, which would focus a bit more squarely on the new album. And given that that next show was at the much-larger Phoenix, that turned out to be the right notion. It makes me think that if they can maintain their velocity, it's going to be hard for me to see the RAA in a palatable venue any time soon. On the other hand, the care that the band takes in remaining connected to their roots — and here I mean in the T.O. indie scene rather than Alberta — gives hope that they'll be around in a more accessible way no matter what.

A couple selections from this set — you can listen to a seasonal classic here or one from the new album here.

1 In the grand acceleration of all things we're living through, seeing a band like this with a DJ seemed faintly retro.

2 It also helped that the band was supplemented by the magic fingers of Randy Lee — or, Randy Lee! as he's known around these parts — filling out the sound with his violin.

3 Higgs will be playing at The Piston on June 14, 2011.

4 One wonders whether other drummers on the same bill as the RAA simply feel outclassed. Because they should.

5 This is kinda a weird song when you think about it. Though I dig the shout-out to class solidarity, what sort of mother would think, "yes, the thing my newborn could really use right now is some drumming"?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Preview: CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF)

A few years ago, there was a lot of talk how "new delivery platforms" would be a key factor in bring short film to a wider audience. But now — notwithstanding the fact that the technologically-adept can watch youtube videos on their smartphones — shorts are still the runt of the cinematic litter, mostly thought about only as the weird spoiler in the annual Oscar pool. An annual sign that spring is turning to summer, the Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF) does its best to remedy that, with a week of well-curated screenings.

As local film festivals go, this is one that's easy to take part in. Tickets are generally easy enough to get a hold of, and if you end up at something you don't like, you know it'll be over sooner rather than later. Most previews for the festival start with the big hook of the Celebrity Shorts programmes, and I guess that's fine for people who are impressed by — ugh — celebrities. Truth be told, there's more puff pieces there than elsewhere in the festival, stuff that mostly has a big name going for it. The real gems will come to those who dig deeper.

Some music fans will probably be eager to check out Scenes From The Suburbs (playing in the Choose Your Own Adventure programme) but those not particularly taken with Arcade Fire would have a better time at Scene Not Herd, a selection of innovative music videos. If that just sounds like something you could just watch on youtube, do take note that seeing it on the big screen in the company of an engaged audience makes these even better.

Genre fans are decently served at the festival, and the Midnight Mania selections are now so numerous that they are split over two programmes, "Creepy" and "Freaky". The Sci-Fi programme also has consistently good stuff — a chance for film-makers to sketch out ideas of the fantastic without having to bloat them (or stretch out a limited budget).

Other specialty selections include two programmes in the festival's "Spotlight on Italy" as well the family-friendly "Shorts for Shorties". Me, I'm of the disposition to just pick out something of other from the thematically-grouped Official Selections that I can fit into my schedule, and would recommend you do the same.

The festival runs may 31 to June 5 with most screenings at the Varsity, ROM and Bloor cinemas. The whole schedule can he found here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Recording: New Civilization

Artist: New Civilization

Song: Beyond The Hills (Yabby You cover)

Recorded at Healing Power Picnic III, South Humber Park, May 28, 2011.

New Civilization - Beyond The Hills

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

Recording: Jennifer Castle

Artist: Jennifer Castle

Song: Get It While You Can (Janis Joplin cover)

Recorded at Healing Power Picnic III, South Humber Park, May 28, 2011.

Jennifer Castle - Get It While You Can

A few imperfections in this field recording, but an amazing performance. And birds! Review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Recording: The Davey Parker Radio Sound

Artist: The Davey Parker Radio Sound

Song: Gypsy Ring

Recorded at The Garrison, May 27, 2011.

The Davey Parker Radio Sound - Gypsy Ring

A good night celebrating the release of The DPRS' first album, In A Land Of Wolves And Thieves. This song is too new to be on it, but you can check out the whole thing or download it for free at their bandcamp. Full review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Recording: Jennifer Castle

Artist: Jennifer Castle

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Jason Collett's Basement Revue, The Dakota Tavern, December 14, 2010.

Jennifer Castle - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Jason Collett

Artist: Jason Collett

Song: Song of the Silver-Haired Hippie

Recorded at Jason Collett's Basement Revue, The Dakota Tavern, December 14, 2010.

Jason Collett - Song of the Silver-Haired Hippie

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Jason Collett's Basement Revue (week two)

Jason Collett's Basement Revue (feat. Matt Barber / David McGimpsey (poetry) / Jennifer Castle / Michael Helm (fiction) / Carl Wilson (music criticism) / Nathan Lawr / Doug Paisley)

The Dakota Tavern. Tuesday, December 14, 2010.

It's an indulgence to go to the Basement Revue two weeks in a row, but I didn't let that stop me. Given the amount of goodwill and good word-of-mouth these shows generate, who knows for how much longer it'll be relatively easy to get tickets at all? So, back down to the Dakota on a snowy night that didn't deter the crowd too much. Getting a little closer to xmas, the stage was now decked out with extra lights and festive cowboy hats.

As usual, Jason Collett lead off with a short solo set, including "Long May You Love" (from his most recent long-player Rat A Tat Tat) and "Henry's Song" (from Here's To Being Here — the Henry in question is Henry Miller, for whose who hadn't dug too deeply into the lyrics). Further exploring the "in-between space between musicians and writers", Collett sprung a new song that he'd cribbed from Damian Rogers' poem "Song of the Silver-Haired Hippie". Sitting in the crowd, Rogers uttered a surprised "what?" to the room when Collett announced the song's existence. It turned out to be a nice bit of work, the words matched to a nimble little slide move — the song even garnered an appreciative "thank you" from the poet at the end. Collett finished off by reaching back to 2003's Motor Motel Love Songs for "Blue Sky".

Listen to a track from this set here.

The first musical guest of the night was Matthew Barber, engaging in another sort of musical cross-fertilization. Instead of playing anything from his own albums, he presented the audience with some songs that he was working on for a stage adaptation of Derek McCormack's The Haunted Hillbilly.1 The book is an amped-up, ultra-heightened retelling of Hank Williams' story, with Satan — in the guise of Nudie Cohn — bestowing on Hank Williams the songwriters' gift while crippling him with drugs. It's a tall order — and a rather unenviable job — to have to come up with some new Hank Williams songs, but "Got That Lonesome Feeling on my Mind" had the flavour. It's even more difficult to do that while giving the songs a narrative thrust to fit in a story's arc, and the songs that Barber presented in that vein was a bit more wobbly when stripped of their context.

There was also a lot of pop culture to decode in the poems of David McGimpsey, who read "Invitation" (to a 39th birthday party) from his collection Sitcom. The poem's punchlines ("There'll be a piñata made up to look like an old college professor who said I'd go far... I can hardly wait to give that thing a whack.") were a delivery system for examining mixed feelings on getting older. He followed that with a song played on Collett's guitar (it managed to reference both Milli Vanilli and Penthouse Forum) before closing out with "Montreal", a tribute to his home town ("O the poutine! O the bagels! O bagels stuffed full of poutine!"). This worked for me — the poetry at the Basement Revue always seems to go down easier when it's couched in the low-brow jumble of everyday life.

In introducing Jennifer Castle, Collett had scant biographical details to relate, befitting an artist whose work is more in the realm of instinct and half-revealed mysteries. Playing solo, her jaunty Christmas sweater clashed with the pessimistic sentiments of "For My Friends". That'd be the first of several songs that segued freely from one to the next — a method I've seen her employ in the past. After "You Don't Have to Be" her set looked forward more to her new songs, now available on her excellent new Castlemusic album.

Listen to a track from this set here.

To round out the first half, novelist Michael Helm read from Cities of Refuge. Set in Toronto, this has been rather enthusiastically received, but in giving us a self-contained sketch of one of the characters, I didn't get too much of a feel for what the whole work might be like.

A different kind of reading after the break from music critic Carl Wilson, who instead of pulling out something from Let's Talk About Love (his examination of the construction of taste in the guise of an analysis of Céline Dion), read a piece that came from Back to the World — his shared blog that's an essential venue for thoughtful writing on culture — about seeing Mary Margaret O'Hara perform. An articulate musing on the problem of bodies having minds (or possibly vice-versa) and the relationship between music and bodies, it was interesting to watch Wilson reading, his right hand twitching a little while he held his sheets of paper with the other, trying to make out his words in the dim light.

After seeing the full-on Minotaurs groove machine several times over the past months, it felt a bit strange to see Nathan Lawr in this stripped-down format, playing acoustic and backed only by Ryan Levecque. Levecque's electric guitar had a dying pedal or loose connection somewhere, and "Runaway Lane" ended with an unexpected "static solo", but otherwise this was far more genteel that what Lawr's been up to lately. Of course, though, Lawr has been a singer-songwriter for longer than he's been an Afrobeat/folk bandleader, so this wasn't any sort of unique arrangement for him. Still, the mini-set didn't have the spark his band adds, even when attempting a slightly-sloppy cover of "Canary in a Coalmine", which was dedicated to Rob Ford.

After stepping up to sing one more song, Jason Collett invited David McGimpsey to recite a poem backed by Doug Paisley's band. McGimpsey read what appeared to be a string of several poems (including "Scrubland" and "The Streets of Laredo") amalgamated into what came across as a Texas-set prose-poem travelogue, a sun-scorched journey of regret filled with conversational asides. Given the disjointed origins, there wasn't a stong narrative throughline, and the band's music, with more drift than drive, fit well, though both felt like they were drifting a bit too much by the end. But that's okay in an improvised experiment like this.

That led right into Doug Paisley's set. Though I had brushed across his music a couple times, Paisley was mostly unknown to me until his Constant Companion album started to garner some serious accolades. This set turned out to be just the opportunity I'd been needing to really get a feel for his work.

Paisley accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and was backed by bass, drums (Matt Barber, sitting in) and piano. he turned out to be a fine entertainer, bantering and cracking jokes between songs. The set starting with a mini-medley of songs from John Wesley Harding ("is two songs a medley?" Paisley asked at the end) before moving into his own material, including the expertly crafted "What I Saw", one of the gems from the new album. After that, he focused on older stuff like "Digging in the Ground", and "Broken in Two". There was also "Make it a Double", introduced as a new song ("it's new, and I think it's country, so does that make it New Country?") and "Take Me" (a Leon Payne song, most famously played by George Jones) — and it was telling that the excellent "If I Wanted To" fit right in alongside it.

Jennifer Castle sings on several tracks on the new album, so Paisley took advantage of her presence to close the set with the three songs she'd appeared on, including the ace "No One But You" and the lullaby-like "Come Here My Love". The clock pushing one, the night wrapped up with the topically correct "End of the Day".2

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 In another connection, McCormack had read from his book at last year's Basement Revue, so this almost felt like a progress update on how this one piece of art was getting along out in the big wide world.

2 I don't think Paisley has been playing a lot in town lately, so you should hasten down to Soundscapes next Tuesday (May 31, 2011) to catch him doing an in-store set.

Recording: CCMC

Artist: CCMC

Song: My Favourite Part [excerpt from an improvisation]

Recorded at The Boat, May 26, 2011.

CCMC - My Favourite Part

My notes for this set can be found here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Recording: Amor de Días

Artist: Amor de Días

Song: Dream (Dead Hands)

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, May 25, 2011.

Amor de Días - Dream (Dead Hands)

"Only about thirty-five people showed up for this set, but every single one of them was later found wand'ring through a leafy glade." Review to follow — My notes for this set can now be found here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Recording: METZ

Artist: METZ

Song: Headache

Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour, December 11, 2010.

METZ - Headache

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Young Mother

Artist: Young Mother

Song: Modern Design

Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour, December 11, 2010.

Young Mother - Modern Design

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Brides

Brides (METZ / Tropics / Actual Water / Young Mother)

The Shop under Parts & Labour. Saturday, December 11, 2010.

A bit of an event down in Parkdale, with local No Wave noisters Brides playing their final show together. Although their recorded legacy is thin, they were well-beloved as a live unit, and went out in style by bringing no less than four like-minded bands to play with them. I was more of an admirer than a fanatic, but I felt like I should be on hand for this.

Knowing this was going to get jammed, I took care to get to The Shop in good time. My feelings for the venue continue to be a bit up and down — I rather like it when there's about fifty people in the long, low-ceilinged bomb shelter-like space; but when there's a couple hundred people on hand, it feels like a claustrophobic sweatbox and it gets hard to see and hear the bands. Weighing my options for the night, I decided to forgo my usual spot right up front (where at least you can see who's playing) and park myself on the back of the tiered gym benches along the long wall opposite the bar. From there, I was as elevated as could be over the crowd, so I could make out some of what was going on up front — though not a good spot for a bad photographer like me. It takes you out of the action a bit, but at least it generally sounded good and kept me out of harm's way.

I was also eager to be there early to catch Young Mother, who had impressed me when I'd seen 'em before. And though their first song was titled "No Straight Lines", I think that they were a bit less single-mindedly monochromatic in their presentation than when I'd seen them before — the songs were a little shorter and punchier this time 'round, and singer Jesse James Laderoute even cracked a joke, telling the crowd, "I promise I didn't match my guitar to my turtleneck intentionally." Still, underneath all that, the band was still manufacturing a calculated squalor with occasional bursts of rapidly babbled sing-speak lyrics breaking out into howls and no-wave sax bursts1. After four relatively concise songs — a couple in the two-minute range — the band closed with the relatively expansive "The Well-Tempered Male". Impressive once more, it was nice to bookend a show demarking one band's denouement with another really on the cusp.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Meanwhile, the night's between-sets entertainment was handled by Doldrums, with Airick Woodhead doing something in the slippery zone between conventional DJing and his standard one-man-band chop/copy/loop routine. Perhaps best to say that he "Doldrumized" the music he was playing in the same manner he creates his own, tweaking sounds in real time, dropping in treated samples of the music from just-completed sets all while bopping away as if he were there primarily to entertain himself. Later on in the night, Woodhead would test the goodwill of the crowd by playing some of the most diametrically opposed tunes imaginable to the evening's bands, including dropping Cher's "Believe" — and then deconstructing it in real-time, talking over the music to ponder on the lyrics and ask the crowd if, in fact, they really do believe in life after love.

I'd been curious for a while about Actual Water, who'd originally had a rep for noisy squalor. But that's been torqued with the release of The Paisley Orchard, their third album, which promised something else entirely. Apparently a core duo of Tony Price (guit/vox) and G.P. (drums), they were rounded out with bass and second guitarist. Laying down a loud rock racket crossed with twelve-string jangle could go wrong, and when the first song kinda muddled along, I wondered if this was going to be any good. But suddenly it all clicked together gloriously and all at once the band's sound was in focus — flower punk with no lack of heaviosity.

As others would throughout the evening, Price mused on their connection to the night's headliner: "The first show we ever played was with Brides," he noted. And, as if eager to get to their set, the band kept things concise, cramming in seven songs in just over twenty minutes. Intriguing stuff, and a band worth checking out.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

From there, the rest of the bands were more familiar to me, including Tropics. "I want to welcome you to the Battle of the Bands, 2010," joked singer/guitarist Slim Twig after leading off with one that might be called "Holy Water", which worked in the basic Tropics template of hammering drums from Simone TB countering Slim's slashing guitar and slurred screeches. But their sound is evolving a little, I think. The guitar is a bit less thin/harsh than is used to be, mediating the abrasiveness of the sound. That's relative, of course — the music is still way more Alan Vega than Buddy Holly, and still feels like a cauterizing wallop in the band's usual quick bursts.

Joking about the quick twenty minute sets the bands were playing, Slim Twig noted, "most bands have to shorten their sets — we're lengthening ours." In fact, they still came in as the shortest burst of the night, but there was some definite gems in there, including "Pale Trash", now out on a 7".

With METZ taking the stage, the room seemed as full as before, but now there were twice as many people trying to cram themselves right up against the band, making the back half of the room look quite empty by comparison. As loud as it was, people obviously wanted to get face-to-face with the band's riff-y ferocity. As usual, the stage area was dark, the illuminated bass drum the only source of light. Once the band's spazz-grunge attack was underway, I couldn't see much of anything going on past the pulsating crowd, but there must have been some bodies bouncing off the gear, as the microphones kept getting unplugged every once in a while.

Still in the process of recording their debut long-player, for this set unreleased material would outweigh the stuff from their singles — I recognized "Dry Up" and "Negative Space", and there were a couple familiar from past shows. There were also a couple brand new songs, including one with a snappier-than-usual tempo: "this is the only song that we can honestly say is a dance song," commented bassist Chris Slorach. I've now seen the band enough to be past that initial shocked-and-awed stage, but I still found it to be a bracing experience.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

The hour growing late, some of the crowd slipped away after that. It would be about ten to two when the last set began. Overall, from the outset Brides went about their business without sentimentality — this was more like a one last mad rush into battle than a victory lap. And despite the finality of the occasion and the reverence paid to them by all of the earlier bands, they didn't play for very much longer than anyone else, preferring to lay out their final testament in a concentrated blast that was done in under half an hour. That didn't mean they were rushing it — the set began with a few minutes of instrumental build. This might be a sign that the band had grown some since I'd last seen 'em — or perhaps my mind tended to remember the blasts of skronk more. Still, all the main elements I remembered were here, with saxophone blats butting up against the thrum of the music, all a backdrop for Elliott Jones' panicked-sounding vocals.

Even if the band seemed relatively reserved, there was certainly more palpable emotion coming from the crowd, and even when the music was syrupy slow, the audience was still seething and slipping around on the beer that had been sprayed around at the set's beginning. I wasn't close enough to really be able to catch what was going on, but there was some antipathy towards the audience from Jones — whether that was part of the band's antagonistic pose or the crowd was getting a bit too aggressive I cannot say. But when Jones commented, "that's it man, I'm not doing any more... everybody's bleeding too much playin' up here," he wasn't speaking metaphorically. Afterward, I spotted guitarist Michael Pytlik washing a bleeding gash in his hand clean. How that came to pass, I couldn't see from my vantage, but it probably explained the "fuck all y'all" that the band closed with. Maybe not the best way to go out, but rather apt, metaphorically speaking, given the band's abrasive vibe. Thus passeth Brides, though some members can already be seen around town in new bands, perpetuating the rock'n'roll circle of life.4

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 I noted that the band had a new sax player in tow, but I have no information on who he was. Apparently savouring the mystery, there's still not a lot of information online about the band and who's in it, but they do have a generous assortment of music to check out on their soundcloud, which is the most important thing.

2 Tropics and Actual Water (plus out-of-town guests White Suede) will be playing June 17, 2011 at the Feast In The East II show at the Dickens Street Theatre.

3 During NXNE, METZ will be playing a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square (June 16, 2011) along such distinguished company as Fucked Up, Descendents and OFF!

4 Though I haven't caught 'em yet, Elliott Jones' new project Ell V Gore — which also features Tropics' Simone TB on drums — has been hotly tipped.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Recording: Crystal Stilts

Artist: Crystal Stilts

Song: Shake the Shackles

Recorded at Sneaky Dee's, May 22, 2011.

Crystal Stilts - Shake the Shackles

Yow! I got much more than I expected as Crystal Stilts brought a shakin' dance/doom party to town — as if they were welcoming the end of the world one day too late. Full review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Recording: The Pining

Artist: The Pining

Song: Back Again

Recorded at The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), December 10, 2010.

The Pining - Back Again

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: $100

Artist: $100

Song: Not For Me

Recorded at The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), December 10, 2010.

$100 - Not For Me

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: One Hundred Dollars

One Hundred Dollars Trio (Kathleen Phillips / The Pining)

The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge). Friday, December 10, 2010.

Another fundraising show for The Tranzac, with a chance to hear some songs from one of my favourite bands in a stripped-down setting. The comfy Southern Cross room was set up theatre-style, with the tables moved out, leaving more room for chairs. With some people sitting cross-legged right in front of the band and a few standing back at the bar, there were about fifty people squeezed in to watch $100 playing in a trio format, with Simone Schmidt1 and Ian Russell joined by Stew Crookes on pedal steel.

Having Crookes on hand meant that while the sound was still spare, there was no shortage of atmosphere. Which was a good way to present a set packed with newer material, like the lead-off "If It Weren't For the Carnations". In fact, there was so much focus on the new stuff that, a few songs in, Schmidt was actually momentarily flustered in trying to remember the lyrics to the older "Forest of Tears", the title track of their first album. Once she was on track, though, she stepped right into the character of the song's angry protagonist, pacing the floor and stabbing her finger bitterly toward the forest.

The band had played that song in order to set up "Fires of Regret", a brand new one introduced as the sequel — a response from the point of view of the man who had abandoned the narrator in "Forest of Tears". It says something about the writerly investment that Schmidt makes in the characters in her songs that she feels compelled to go back and re-visit them, approaching their stories from different angles — that might explain why $100 have more "sequel songs" than most bands.2

Meanwhile, this was also a noteworthy occasion, as Schmidt made her guitar-playing debut, sporting a credible finger-picking style that will now stand as one more element for the band to draw on. "That was super weird," she laughed afterward, thanking the crowd for helping her along. That was followed by another brand-new song, "I Hate That Highway", Schmidt commenting, "we always say we don't write songs about the country, but this song's about the country" — or more specifically, the roads that lure the young generation away to the cities: "it's taken the best and brought the bad to town".

As usually happens at these events, there was warm appreciation given for the Tranzac, no surprise as Russell and Schmidt had played their formative gigs in this very room, a place where "you can masquerade a spoken word performance as a country concert and play to people that will listen to you". The set closed with a fine version of "Not For Me" that required a re-start, Schmidt admonishing herself for missing a line as well as the crowd for missing their cue to join in on the refrain of "don't lock me, don't lock me away". Once it got rolling again it all worked pretty magically.

A couple selections from this set: you can check out something brand new here or sing along to an old favourite here.

The night had been set up to begin with the headliner — all the better, we had been told, to get the heavy stuff out of the way first. There was still a dark undercurrent in a comedy set from Kathleen Phillips, but now in the service of a different sort of storytelling. Lacking a Christmas story of her own, Phillips borrowed the voice of Stuart McLean to tell a tale definitely not heard on the Vinyl Café. Taking on the "undead voice of Jimmy Stewart" — an exaggeration of her own slightly laconic speaking style — Phillips got McLean's tone and cadences and folksy asides just right in relating the tale of a rather macabre road-trip. Anyone who gets that slightly-queasy bizarro world feeling on hearing McLean's stories would find this to be a perfect corrective — and indeed, I thought it was rather brilliant. And, for an extra bit of disorienting frisson, after a few minutes, a weird organ drone drifted over from whatever show was going on over in the Main Hall, and it fit right in.

Closing things out was The Pining, a group I'd been meaning to see for awhile. There were a couple familiar faces in the lineup — I had seen Julie Faught, one of the main voices and songwriters here, as a frequent guest vocalist with Kids on TV, and I had seen violinist Mika Posen with Timbre Timber and Forest City Lovers (as well as collaborating with a whole bunch of other artists). But there was lots of talent to go around (and plenty of cowboy boots!) in a band a half-dozen deep. Despite the numbers, the sound was relatively uncluttered, leaving lots of room for some fabulous harmonies as the main element of their back-porch folk/country sound.

The members were joking back and forth with each other and clearly having a fun time, despite — or possibly because of — the sad songs they were playing. The set started with "Seed of Doubt" and didn't get much brighter from there. "Here's another upbeat number for you," was the introduction to "Cold Hearted Man". It was introduced as a cover and played as a spare, spooky lament, three singers trading off verses. It was only after the fact when I looked it up that I realized vocalist Emma Moss wasn't kidding when she shouted, "AC/DC!" at the end.

The tempo picked up with the sprightlier "Back Again", with drummer Dani Nash (who was playing with an stripped-down kit, with snares and no cymbals) took to the spoons for a song. Beyond that, there was more good stuff like "She's Gone", showing that the band could pull off both the slower songs and the more upbeat numbers with panache. After the closing pair of "Better Life" and "Call it Quits", the crowd was calling for one more, so the band invited everyone to sing along on a run through The Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line" that was a little ramshackle but managed to stay on the rails.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Schmidt appears to have reverted back to using her government name from her previous alias of "Simone Fornow".

2 The first time I heard "Courting My Heartache", it was introduced as a sequel to "Black Gold".

Recording: Jennifer Castle

Artist: Jennifer Castle

Song: Poor as Him

Recorded at The Horseshoe, May 19, 2011.

Jennifer Castle - Poor as Him

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

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Recording: The Ex and Brass Unbound

Artist: The Ex and Brass Unbound

Song: Cold Weather Is Back

Recorded at Lee's Palace, May 18, 2011.

The Ex and Brass Unbound - Cold Weather Is Back

Full review to follow — my notes for this set can now be found here, but it should be noted that the was certainly the best gig I've seen so far this year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Recording: Action Makes

Artist: Action Makes

Song: I Get Up

Recorded at The Silver Dollar, December 10, 2010.

Action Makes - I Get Up

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store / Gig: Action Makes

Action Makes

Sonic Boom Records/The Silver Dollar. Friday, December 10, 2010.

As garage rock aggravators with as much Stones-y mojo in their DNA as Stooge-y coiled aggression, Action Makes are a natural fit for the local Optical Sounds label. And with the label issuing their long-gestating debut album, the band was ready to celebrate. In fact, they had a double-shot lined up, with an evening in-store appearance in the basement at Sonic Boom as an appetizer for their main set later on at The Silver Dollar.

Not the sorts to play a mellow, stripped-down set for their in-store appearance, the band brought a more concise version of their regular set, leading off with "Buddies", one of the album's best tracks. It's a good attention-grabber, designed to slash like a set of jaws to the throat, with an attacking bassline from the above-replacement level Andrew Stoeten1 and stabs of harmonica from vocalist Clint Rodgerson. And even if the band was not quite at their most feral — Action Makes seem to thrive on dark bars and late nights, getting energy from a rowdy crowd — it was rather interesting to see them in this environment. Here, there wasn't that kind of atmosphere to draw on, so it took a few songs for them to get worked up. The band played a couple non-album cuts before the bracing "Let Them Go", where it felt like they were getting up to full speed. To the good, though, if this wasn't as bracingly electric as I've seen the band before, it might have featured the most sonic clarity I'd ever hear 'em playing with.

By the time they hit "Berlin", it felt like a poke in the eye with a near-sighted hurricane. That energy ended the twenty-five minute, seven-song burst on a good note of anticipation for the night's main set.

Listen to a track from this set here.

With the taste of that on my tongue, I had to hustle down the street to another gig, so sadly I'd missed The Two Koreas and Owl Farm who'd started things up at The Silver Dollar. But in a sweet bit of timing, I stepped in to the sweaty room just as the band were getting ready to start their set. It was pretty full, but not uncomfortably cramped as the band led off again with "Buddies". And this time, there was no need to warm up — it felt pretty electric from the get-go.

A few songs later, after "No Matter", there was a birthday celebration for Silver Dollar booker Dan Burke, who got a rendition of "Happy Birthday" and was called up on state to blow out the candles on a cake. Not surprising that the band would make this fond gesture, as Burke has put Action Makes — exemplars of the sort of no-bullshit, high-octane rock'n'roll that Burke champions — on his stages many times.

From there, the band tore into the heart of the set, with album highlights "Berlin" and "Let Them Go". Then a couple non-album tracks, the raging "I Get Up" and "Little White Rooster", which led with a bit of a new wave edge thanks to Jay Lemak's keybs. It was also a little bit rougher than some of the others, lurching over the finish line, with Rodgerson commenting, "that was not supposed to end that way," as drummer Ryan Rothwell had to catch his breath and fix a kickdrum that kept coming loose. The set ended with the entertainingly profane "Pleasant Hymn Pt. II" (what happens at the cemetery stays at the cemetery), a frequent closer that the band can stretch out into a frenzified rave-up, pulling the song home just before the cables get forcefully torn loose and the drum kit gets knocked over.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 When not rock'n'rolling, Stoeten also muses on baseball at Drunk Jays Fans, which is much more smartly analytical and well-written than the name might at first indicate.

2 Date and venue aren't set yet, but Action Makes will be playing NXNE, so in a sea of questionable buzz-bands and sanitized mediocrity, keep them in your plans as a corrective tonic to restore your faith in rock'n'roll.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Playlist #15

Sunday Playlist #15

Gowns - Marked

Erika M. Andersen has re-recorded this song for the just-released album by her EMA project.

Murder Ford Monument - Black Moon Lake

Pony Da Look - Wishstick

Baby Dee - The Song of Self Acceptance

The Homosexuals - Bruno Speaks / Unknown

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

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Recording: Sloan

Artist: Sloan

Song: Unkind

Recorded at Sonic Boom, May 14, 2011.

Sloan - Unkind

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

Friday, May 13, 2011

Recording: Santa Guerrilla

Artist: Santa Guerrilla

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Drake Underground, December 9, 2010.

Santa Guerrilla - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Gig: Hooded Fang

Hooded Fang (Santa Guerrilla / Doldrums)

The Drake Underground. Thursday, December 9, 2010.

Sometimes the smaller details can be the most telling. As advocates of a hands-on DIY approach to art, it wasn't too surprising to note that the ticket for Hooded Fang's album release show wasn't your standard ducat. Instead, the band had used old baseball cards1, with an attached sticker giving the usual details. Clearly, the band was making an effort to create a special night.

That impression would be bolstered on seeing the elaborate stage backdrop the band had put together, playing further on the album's Honest Ed's-styled Doug Kerr artwork and adding several figures by graffiti artist Elicser. As the room filled up, the DJ's pumped out a mix of 90's vintage boom-bap. I smiled to myself — how often do I hear a hip-hop mix where I know all the songs? All told, it was a livelier vibe than the last time I had seen Hooded Fang in these digs.

There was an interesting line-up for the show, too. Rather than worrying about finding bands with a complementary sound, the openers were kindred DIY spirits. And, more directly, one could trace the origins of this bill back to the DAPS All Ages shows that HF members April Aliermo and Daniel Lee have been putting together, where both openers had previously appeared.

The first of those was Airick Woodhead's Doldrums project, a swirling one-man mix of knob-twisting experimental pop. Having crossed paths with Doldrums a few times already, I sort of knew what to expect — but also figured that this set would run counter to my expectations, as Woodhead's vision tends to become subject to new tangents every time it seems to be coming into focus. Here, as he took the stage, I wasn't sure when the looped and layered vocals — the main ingredient in the mix here — actually coalesced into a "song". And once it did, it was hard to tell where one thing ended and the next began, with a constantly morphing sonic backdrop that would segue from one vibe to the next. Whispy layers of gauzy vox would suddenly give way to beatz and zworping synths.

I have no doubt that this chopped-pop is a little bit self-indulgent, and certainly some of the "songs" didn't quite gel. And on this night, Woodhead seemed a bit more interested the slo-jamz, which can be less engaging than some his more animated stuff. But having seen this develop over the course of the year, I'm stuck with the notion that there is a vision behind it all. There are a few places where it doesn't quite work, but I think of Woodhead as aiming for a higher slugging percentage instead of a safe batting average.

Though Woodhead's hazy pop deconstructions were received with polite-but-restrained applause, there was at least the sense that it was on the same general wavelength of the crowd at hand. That wasn't as much the case for Santa Guerrilla, whose ultimate sonic destination is a hip-hop informed funky flow, even if it gets there by less-familiar means. The most immediately striking thing about the band is their use of kulintang gongs, native to the Philippines.2 Most of the eight members rotated around, taking on different percussive roles to go along with the drums and Alexander The (also of Times Neue Roman) on keyb.

His gear was a bit balky at the start of the set, and while he tested his connections, the rest of the band to eased into the set, vamping until it got fixed. Better than just standing around staring at the crowd, but it was less attention-grabbing than a bold, kick-ass opening would have been. That gave the semi-curious in the crowd a bit more licence to lose focus, and it never really felt like the band "had" the room as much as they could have.

That said, once they got rolling, I was enjoying this a lot. Although the music all comes from one place, they're exploring a nice range within it, from some more atmospheric stuff to tasty pop. Plus, the quick set ended with "Ang Musica", which remains pretty damn fantastic. Perhaps because it was at a bit of an angle to Hooded Fang's more straight-ahead fare, some of the crowd seemed unsure of how to take this, but I remain convinced that this crew are really on to something.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

Hooded Fang's music has its share of intriguing tensions — not only between the restrained nature of the lead vocals from Daniel Lee (and sometimes Lorna Wright) and the bouncy rhythms of the music, but also in how the lyrics are often far less sunny than the upbeat musical settings would suggest. But of course, with the immediate appeal to sing along and/or dance, you never have to think about any of this. And on this night, the band was doing all the could to bolster their zazz, with all seven members wearing silver trim. And in addition to their striking stage decoration (which could have passed as a backdrop for one of the musical theatre productions that member Nick Hune writes tunes for) there were also 8mm projections by Craig Orrett.

Lots going on for an enthusiastic, hooting crowd out to celebrate the album. Unfortunately, it was also a rather yappy crowd as well, but the chatterers couldn't overpower the songs, starting with "Laughing". The band was busily celebrating the album, but also dipped back to their debut EP for the catchy "Circles n Blocks".

There were extra strings from Mika Posen (of Timber Timbre) and Anissa Hart (of Ohbijou) for an excellent "Mutant Bear", which was a slow-dance partner with "The Pageant". That was a mid-set breather before things got even more extravagent. During an extended "Green River" three space aliens in funky toxic waste suits appeared at the back of the room to bust some moves. They shimmied up through the crowd, tossing glitter along the way, to make their way up to the stage. As the song ended, one crowd-surfed back to the far end of the room. Quite the spectacle!

The band closed out the main set with "Love Song", but quickly returned for an encore, playing the newer "Almost Done" before going out with a couple of their oldest songs ("Land of Giants" and "Fall Leaves"). On the home stretch the band got pretty loose and celebratory, going out with a big clapalong. That would make for an hour-long set, consisting of almost everything in the band's catalogue — and indeed, the whole of the album save one song would get an airing.

So a good night all around, and a worthy celebration to send Hooded Fang's Album into the world.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 My ticket was a '91 Craig Grebeck card. Though best remembered in these parts as a respectable utility infielder with the late '90's Blue Jays, on the card the youthful Grebek, in White Sox duds, seems to be looking forward to a bright future, on the cusp of a rookie season where he'd put up a 136 OPS+ in part-time action.

2 I was amused to note that the large gongs were hanging from what was, in fact, a portable coat rack — a tidy home-made solution to the problem of getting them on and off the stage expeditiously.

3 For those that would like to investigate further, the band now has a mixtape for sale in their bandcamp page.