Thursday, May 31, 2012

Recording: Cœur de Pirate

Artist: Cœur de Pirate

Song: Ensemble

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records, May 31, 2012.

Cœur de Pirate - Ensemble

Full review to follow. A jaunty solo set from Béatrice Martin filled Sonic Boom's space with a spirit that's easy to comprehend, regardless of language.

Recording: Doug Paisley

Artist: Doug Paisley

Song: Always Say Goodbye

Recorded at Soundscapes, May 31, 2011.

Doug Paisley - Always Say Goodbye

My notes from this set can be found here.

In-store: Doug Paisley

Doug Paisley

Soundscapes. Tuesday, May 31, 2011.

Though Constant Companion, the second album from local troubadour Doug Paisley had originally come out near the end of 2010 on Brooklyn-based imprint No Quarter, it had been picked up for a domestic re-issue by MapleMusic, leading to a charm offensive and PR blitz (about which, more anon). Although part of that was trying to break through to the broader public — the band looked mildly discombobulated, as their long day's promo work had started at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for a TV breakfast show appearance — it also made sense to celebrate the album at Soundscapes, who had been championing it for months.

Which isn't to say that Paisley wasn't a bit skeptical coming in: "I gotta say, I've only done one in-store in my life, and it was in Chicago at this apparently well-known record store. And it was the first time I ever toured in the States, so I was pretty excited to go to this big-deal in-store. And I went down there, and it was just me and the guy that set up my mic and this guy that was shopping for electronica records... and I was kinda in the way."

Happily, Paisley was buoyed up with the robust turnout on hand, and lead off, like the album, with "No One But You". And, like the album, Jen Castle was on hand to sing harmony. Besides her, Paisley was playing with a three-piece backing band, keyb/bass/drums.1 This was a bit less of a hony-tonk rockin' alignment than the last time I'd seen him play, but being a bit more stripped-down was a chance to really hear the fabulous timbre of Paisley's voice. He also revealed himself to be a nimble picker on his semi-acoustic.

His technical gifts, however, are just means to deliver his songs. The country/folk tunes are expertly-constructed, but never just feel like technical exercises when delivered with Paisley's soulful conviction. His personality was also quite present in his winning banter. Like the proverbial back-porch balladeer, Paisley isn't one to rush through things, taking a moment for random small-talk as he tuned — at one point taking comfort in the small dog that one attendee had brought to the store.

The setlist mostly stuck to the "new" album at hand, though he did dip back to his earlier, self-titled effort for "Broken in Two" and "What About Us?" and threw in the unrecorded "Song My Love Can Sing" — nine songs, all told, with Castle returning for a couple more before set's end.

"I'd like to say you guys have redeemed in-stores for me," he said before launching into the last song. "I'm one for two now." Finishing with the apropos "Always Say Goodbye", Paisley closed with a reminder for the accompanying "release party" full gig a few days ahead — about which, also more anon.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 The latter was filled out by the always-flexible Dan Gaucher, currently out on tour with Sandro Perri.

2 It should be noted that Paisley has already had another new release in the interim, with the Golden Embers EP arriving last month.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Recording: Planet Creature

Artist: Planet Creature

Song: Walk Like an Egyptian [The Bangles cover]

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Girls Rock Camp Fundraiser), May 29, 2012.

Planet Creature - Walk Like an Egyptian

Full review to follow. Part of a night dedicated to raising some funds for Girls Rock Camp Toronto.

Recording: DAS RAD

Artist: DAS RAD

Song: Tooth Fairy*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Girls Rock Camp Fundraiser), May 29, 2012.

DAS RAD - Tooth Fairy

Full review to follow. Part of a night dedicated to raising some funds for Girls Rock Camp Toronto.

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

Recording: the beverleys

Artist: the beverleys

Song: Memo*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (Girls Rock Camp Fundraiser), May 29, 2012.

the beverleys - Memo

Full review to follow. Part of a night dedicated to raising some funds for Girls Rock Camp Toronto, the first band up was a fantastic discovery — I hope to be catching the beverleys again soon.

* I believe that this was the title called out from the stage, but please correct me if I'm wrong!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Recording: Psychic Reality

Artist: Psychic Reality

Song: unknown*

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

Psychic Reality - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here. N.B. Please note that I normally present recordings "as is", but in this case, the warning noise from a dying generator was overpowering the music toward the end of this, so I trimmed down the end of the song.

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

Recording: Sex Worker

Artist: Sex Worker

Song: unknown*

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

Sex Worker - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Guy Dallas

Artist: Guy Dallas

Song: unknown*

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

Guy Dallas - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Event: Healing Power Picnic III (Part II)

Healing Power Picnic III – Part II (feat. Guy Dallas / Sex Worker / Psychic Reality / New Civilization)

South Humber Park. Saturday, May 28, 2010.

My rundown for the first half of this day-long event can be found here.

Helping with achieving quick turnovers (and maintaining precious generator power), nearly all of the day's acts were solo performers. That pattern continued with Guy Dallas, which is a nom du rock for Alex Janssen. Janssen can be seen around in a few other groups (formerly VOWLS, currently Cellphone) and didn't look entirely happy to be at the centre of attention. Armed with with laptop and MPD, Janssen's music was somewhat similar to Claudio's twisted disco from earlier in the afternoon, but the underpinning here was a bit more like "Atomic Dog" on crack.

The quick set was just four songs, running a couple minutes each, getting increasingly deconstructed as the set moved along — by the third, it sounded like something from a late 80's Celluloid comp on a slightly-mangled cassette. With a rather self-effacing vibe, Janssen almost looked like he'd rather not even be playing, but supportive friends in the crowd egged him on. During the last song, he actually just pressed play and wandered off, letting the track play out with less on-the-fly reconfiguring, which undermined the performative aspect a bit. But this was intriguing stuff.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The day's out-of-town guests came via connections with the Los Angeles-based Not Not Fun/100% Silk label, with Sex Worker (the solo project of Mi Ami's Daniel Martin-McCormick) first up. Seated on the ground, Martin-McCormick was surrounded with keybs, laptop, walkman and patchboard — tools to power his edgy, squelchy dance vibe. There were a lot of tweaks applied to his keening yowls — with enough stuff going on that Martin-McCormick was sometimes holding the mic in his mouth while his hands were busy twisting dials and manipulatin' sounds. Each of the four songs (that added up to almost a half-hour) took their time to build up and unfold.

And meanwhile, as he played, a fabulous transformation unfolded behind him. Arriving via psychbike, the colourfully-decked-out Halo Halo crew proceeded to brighten up the pavilion in a guerrilla art transformation. Graffiti was covered up, screen-printed posters were hung, and coloured streamers were soon everywhere, not only dangling from the structure up above (transforming it from a UFO to a giant jellyfish), but also looped around the poles and through the many bicycles lying on the grass, as if illustrating the many strands connecting the friends and acquaintances in attendance. It was like the sun was suddenly shining, and all at once it felt like a happening — by set's end, it felt like we were sitting in a different place entirely.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Psychic Reality is the solo project of Leyna Noel, another Not Not Fun-ster and keyboardist in the final incarnation of Pocahaunted. Noel also offered a set constructed of expansively long songs, using the same gear as Martin-McCormick, but wringing a spookier sound — call it Bad Vibe/New Age music.

With Noel's strong voice, there was no need for vocal manipulations here. She did get some weird, unintentional decay effects on her voice during the second (and more dancefloor-friendly) number, when I started to suspect that the generator was starting to wind down and not quite powering everything. And suddenly, it confirmed that with its high-pitched, alarm-type noise that was suddenly competing with the music.

"Can you play in that key?" someone asked as a hastily-convened huddle considered the options at song's end. It turned out that Noel only had one more song to go, so she played over it, which worked effectively enough in injecting an extra note of mechanized worry behind the music.

Listen to a track from this set here.

The day closed out with a reggae set by New Civilization1, a true all-star band featuring Isla Craig backed by Colin Fisher (guit) and Scott Peterson (six-string bass), plus Brandon Valdivia and Eric Woolston switching back and forth between drums and percussion. With incense burning in front of the kickdrum (which was decorated with a picture of Christopher Walken) this was a conscious party, with Craig in facepaint all the musicians decked out in the Halo Halo-supplied colourful banners.

The band played all covers, but many of the selections went beyond the obvious, leading with Barrington Levy's "Wedding Ring" before Craig added some melodica for a lovely take on Yabby You's "Beyond the Hills". The band sounded great, though there were still some strange artifacts from the slowly-dying generator, with the bass amp barely getting by, reduced to blatting out distorted sonic farts before the set had progressed too far. The guitar amp was also quickly going downhill.

That couldn't squelch the joy in the deep cuts by Gregory Isaacs, Sizzla and Wayne Smith — plus a few more well-known sing-along anthems. After the break between sets, the generator lasted about three and a half songs before the low-battery warning started keening again, necessitating a series of adjustments to try and draw less and less power. The distortion fit fine with the rough-and-ready vibe, and the drop-outs weren't always intentional as the set went on, but it was still pretty awesome, and by the last couple songs things were down to mostly percussion and group sing-alongs which fit right into the afternoon's vibe. Ending with the band's eponymous song via Burning Spear, the cries of "New civilization, new civilization / All over this land, all over this land" acted as a sort of summing up of what the day was all about.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Summing up the day's chill communal vibe, there was an analogue "closing credits" sequence by Discolor Festooning (Vic Cheong & Anna Silverstein), whose hand-cranked paper roll gave everyone one last chance to cheer for all the people who had put the day together. These songs, these musicians, these artists, this community: they're all out there. There might not be banner ads and billboards telling you where to find this stuff, but if you sniff around for it, you can join up pretty easily.2

1 Perhaps unsurprisingly, the band remains a loose, informal collective. You can see many of these musicians working together in some other contexts: the bulk of them play in Prince Enoki's Insect Orchestra, led by Peterson. Fisher and Valdivia are known together as Not the Wind, Not the Flag and have also been known to back Craig. And Eric Woolston's reggae bona fides are bolstered with his membership in local roots-rockin' crew Friendlyness & The Human Rights. (Addendum: Friendlyness & The Human Rights have just been announced as one of the bands playing at this year's Open Roof Festival, playing June 21 — on, natch, an Open Roof — after a screening of Marley.)

2 if you want to find this sort of stuff, you should be keeping an eye on what's playing at spots like The Tranzac, Holy Oak Café and Double Double Land. Go check out a show or two put on by Burn Down the Capital. Keep an eye out for new stuff from places like Polyphasic Recordings. Follow recommendations from Mega Bonus. Dig some art by Mango Peeler. And grab yourself a copy of the still-defiantly offline newsletter Offerings.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Recording: Bruce Peninsula

Artist: Bruce Peninsula

Songs: 2nd 4th World War / Satisfied

Recorded at The Great Hall, May 24, 2012.

Bruce Peninsula - 2nd 4th World War / Satisfied

Full review to follow. No longer promoting the newness of last year's Open Flames, Bruce Peninsula (out in full force, eleven members deep for their first hometown show in quite a while) reached back to reclaim a few songs from their debut album.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Inside Out 2012: Reviews #3

Reviews of screenings from the 22nd Annual Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Boy Shorts 2 [shorts programme]

This collection of five short films was united by their comedic drive — varying payoffs, but no out-and-out duds.

Best of the lot was Dik (Dir: Christopher Stollery, Australia, 2010, 9 min.), where a six-year-old's picture has his parents asking if he might be gay. Consideration of the ramifications of this quickly spirals out of control for the parents, but the situation stays rooted in a deadpan, realistic mode. Top stuff.

Less worried with realism is the joyfully over-the-top Half-Share (Dir: Sean Hanley / Jesse Archer, USA, 2010, 30 min.). A paean to Fire Island's boystown, this plays like a pilot to a sitcom that is squeezing in as many gags as possible out of fear there'll never be a chance to tell 'em again. And, like a sitcom, the characterizations are paper thin and dealing in stock types, but the zingers come at a fast-enough pace to keep this moving along. Delighting in the uniqueness of its milieu (especially revelling in local slang), it's also a celebration of a space where the rules of the straight world don't apply.

Couples Therapy: Twitter (Dir: Mike Rose, USA, 2011, 10 min) also played like a sitcom — so much so that director/actor Rose has already won a pilot deal as a result. One member of a couple has a joke that he loves to tell everyone that he meets, driving his boyfriend to such distraction that it needs to be hashed out in front of a councillor. Superficial but breezy enough to entertain. Plus, this came with the value-added moment of director Rose proposing to his real-life bf on stage while introducing the film.

Rounding out the programme, Fuckbuddies (Dir: Juanma Carrillo, Spain 2011 6 min.) brings a low-key realism to a daytime car sex hookup, focusing on the awkwardness of both finding the right position from the back seat of a compact and the small talk afterwards. And Slut: The Musical (Dir: Tonnette Stanford, Australia, 2010, 16 min) plays, I am guessing, off some of the recent popcult highschool glee club fascinations. Set in the chastity-endorsing hallways of a Catholic school, one prefect decides he can no longer hide his love for his boyfriend — and shows it with dance, proving, in the end, that sluts do have more fun. It follows a pretty predictable path and the dialogue is fairly cornball (self-consciously so, I think). Make-or-break is the songs, and I found them about 50-50 — "He a Slut" is a winner, but there's also some mushy misfires. Your appreciation will probably depend on how high that batting average is for you.

Keep The Lights On (Dir: Ira Sachs, USA, 2012, 101 min)

The festival's centrepiece gala will probably have tongues wagging amongst a certain gossip-seeking set. An admittedly autobiographical feature from director Sachs, the film tracks the love affair of his on-screen alter ego, pampered documentarian Erik (Thure Lindhardt) with Paul (Zachary Booth). The latter is a fictionalized version of literary agent Bill Clegg, who has given his own version of some of these events in his own well-received memoirs.

But putting such things aside, this is simply a love story that asks a complicated question: what happens if you fall in love with a person with self-destructive habits? How far down the spiral will you go with them — and at what point does unconditional love blend into enabling? Presenting vignettes from over a ten-year relationship, this shows both the good and bad in such a relationship, with moments of tenderness interrupted by the agony of repeated relapses.

Set within the rarefied world of privileged New York culturati, Paul and Erik's relationship is accepted from all sides without a shrug, so the dramatic tension here arises from the conundrums of sharing a life with an addict. In that respect, one problem with the film is that I was left wondering: no matter how good the good parts of this relationship are, who's going to stick with this? When the early stages of a relationship include someone smoking crack, how is that not a big red flag? In the post-film Q&A session, Sachs touched on this, discussing how some gay men have an affinity for damaged partners as a means of giving them an avoidance mechanism for their own problems. The film hints at this with some of Erik's personality traits, but outside the intimate context of a relationship it's hard to really see how it could be worth it.

But on the whole, though not riveting, the film is a success, offering a realistic slice of life with some finely-observed details that do a nice job of conveying its time and place, focusing on human-scale events like phone sex cruising and AIDS test angst. The sense of place is certainly aided by a score incorporating the beautiful music of Arthur Russell, which really added a dramatic punch to several scenes. The movie is worth seeing — and hopefully it gets a few people to head out and grab one of Russell's albums as well.

Facing Mirrors (Aynehaye Rooberoo) (Dir: Negar Azarbayjani, Iran, 2011, 102 min)

When Rana (Ghazal Shakeri), a female Terhani cab driver, picks up Adineh (Sheyesteh Irani) as she flees from possible vicimizers the stage is set for a literal voyage of discovery as Rana is convinced to take on a fare heading well outside her usual boundaries. Transgendered Adineh prefers to be called Eddie, and is preparing to flee from her wealthy family — and the country — to undertake sex reassignment surgery. Rana has plenty of troubles on her own, forced into cab driving as a means to try and save her husband from debtor's prison.

On learning that Eddie is trans, Rana is initially repulsed, but a twist of fate forces her to see the good person underneath the "sin" as Rana slowly transforms into a friend willing to make a sacrifice for Eddie's happiness.

The film is modest at every level, allowing the characters to unfold themselves to reach quiet payoffs rather than aiming for explosive revelations. Shot simply with lots of closeups, a lot of the film takes place in Rana's trundling taxi (Kiarostami's Ten may come to mind for some). Along the way, there's a chance to see not only fascinating little details of daily life in Iran, but also to see how people of different backgrounds interact (class distinctions are in evidence throughout) and how people just get along while living under a misogynist, theocratic dictatorship.

Interestingly, one presumes that the film made it past Iran's censors owing to the nation's official tolerance towards transgendered persons — although holding to an official line might also explain a slight credibility gap at the film's closing, when Eddie manages to leave Iran free on any of the informal interferences that a wealthy man like her father could surely bring to bear. A low-key film that builds up nicely to earn the emotional response at the close.

Technical aside: I don't know if it was inherent to the source, if there was a conversion problem or something in the projection system, but this film looked inelegant on the big screen. Any camera movement against a background had a subtle-but-unpleasant rippling effect that had the image calling attention to itself as a malfunctioning technological artifact, distracting the audience from drinking in the story.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Inside Out 2012: Reviews #2

Reviews of screenings from the 22nd Annual Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Madame X (Dir: Lucky Kuswandi, Indonesia, 2010, 100 min)

When I saw this transsexual superhero "over-the-top extravaganza" in the program guide, I honestly wasn't sure if it was going to be any good. With comedy, and especially comedies from different cultural contexts, there's just so much that can go wrong. I'm entirely glad I went to check this out, as it turned out to be stupendous, fabulous fun. The film takes the now-clichéd superhero origin story, drive-in movie kitsch and dayglo-coloured camp and twists the stands together into a riotous laugh-out-loud extravaganza that plows ahead with giddy momentum.

Adam lives a quiet life as a glamourous/trashy hairdresser amongst a surrogate family that accepts him as a "trannie" until a visionary stranger with a murky agenda shows up on his birthday. Giving him a "fortune" meant to deter him from following his destiny might have worked if the efforts of a rising purity + morals faction didn't throw his life out of skew. Ending up at a dance studio in a remote village, Adam's true potential is slowly revealed as he accepts his role as crime-fighting Madame X.

Along the way, queer and trans stereotypes are embraced and joyfully skewered while "rising superhero" tropes are winked at one by one. Cartoonish villains, helpful mentors and mute butlers all have hidden backstories that the semi-oblivious Adam slowly unfolds as the story shifts with self-aware temporal leaps — when asked why he is staring off into the distance at one point, Adam curtly responds, "I'm having a flashback!" before the frame dissolves into his memory.

Sight gags abound, but the snappy dialogue keeps up, even with subtitles. It ain't highbrow, but it's sure as hell hilarious. And I haven't even mentioned the shadowy nemeses in neon-coloured burqas or the weaponized hairdressing implements. Completely recommended, and if you come to this with the right sensibility you'll also be tantalized by the requisite sequel-baiting loose threads that are left dangling at the conclusion.

How to Survive a Plague (Dir: David France, USA, 2011, 109 min)

The topped-up reserves of positivity were probably helpful in getting through this documentary, receiving its International Première at the festival — a thoroughly excellent work that is, nevertheless, rather emotionally draining. An immersive history of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) covering the years of fear and confusion in the late 80's/early 90's when AIDS was at its deadliest, and despair was setting in. The passion with which cadres of newly-minted activists applied themselves to the cause reflects the fact that they were aware that they were fighting for their lives, often against smug indifference — if not outright hostility.

Rather than trying to tackle the whole of the AIDS crisis and the response to it, this film slices it down to focus on the original New York City-based chapter of ACT UP, and from there to tell the story of a handful of individuals. Peter Staley, Garance Franke-Ruta, Mark Harrington, Iris Long, Larry Kramer and Bob Rafsky are among those followed, tracing them through their roles in the various direct actions as well as their own individual journeys in the face of personal extinction.

The layers here are manifold. At one level, this is a case study in a highly effective civil rights campaign, and the direct democracy structure that sustained it. Footage from the free-ranging general assemblies that were ACT UP's main organizational forum look prescient for today's Occupy-ers, and testify to the potential of messy, rambling direct democracy. And there's copious footage of the group's protests, undertaken with immense media savvy to get the message out to the general public that the government was failing in the face of a crisis.

And beyond that, it's a presentation of the persuasive power of the right individual with the right words. Showing the organization's penchant for inside/outside engagement, footage of Peter Staley, invited to address the 1990 International AIDS Conference in San Francisco, is astonishing rhetoric — Staley finds common ground with the academics, leads them in a chant, and tells them they are also activists: "You are now members of ACT UP."

And as the inevitable tactical and strategic divisions begin to appear amongst the activists, there's also a starkly stirring clarion call from Kramer, like an old-testament prophet, cutting through the bickering with shouts of "Plague!" The splits and messiness within the organization aren't papered over, though there's perspective gained from all sides in more recent interviews.

All of this is undercut with a gut-punch emotional undertone. No matter how much there was to celebrate in the end, when procedures and programs pioneered by the activist community started to bear fruit, this is also a lament for those lost along the way. And though with the new combination therapies the worst of the crisis has passed, the film ends with the stark reminder that two million people are dying from AIDS every year. The struggle continues.

Act up! / Fight back! / Fight AIDS!

Our Paradise (Notre paradis) (Dir: Gaël Morel, France, 2011, 100 min)

I guess there's just a meanness in this world. A hustler on the wrong side of thirty, Vassili is finding his clients to be less enticed by his charms, opening an existential chasm that he attempts to plug with their murdered bodies. Showing no remorse for the violence he exacts, Vassili is nevertheless capable of great tenderness, which is revealed when he rescues a badly-beaten younger hustler and quickly falls in love.

The younger man is also smitten, claiming to be reborn in Vassili's arms and casting off everything about his former life, including his name. Re-christened Angelo, the pair begin an unconventional courtship, flirting while turning tricks. The bodies continue to pile up, and when Angelo realizes this in the aftermath of a protective-yet-murderous gesture from Vassili, he is discomforted but unshaken in his commitment.

When things take the inevitable bad turn, the pair begin a Starkweather-like cross-country ramble, meeting up with Vassili's former lover Anna as well as Victor, his wealthy sugar daddy with a gorgeous, remote mountain cottage. The outcome feels inevitable following the pair's trajectory — do not expect a surprise twist to provide anyone's redemption.

Which is to say: whatever value this movie has doesn't arise from the progression of the plot. Its aim seems more to act as a psychological profile of Vassili, although there's only suggestions and shadows to hint at his motivations — mostly a nihilism arising from his collapsing narcissism as his youthful looks fade. (One problem with that is that Stéphane Rideau is still movie-star buff and handsome, so it takes a mild leap of faith to see him as a fading beauty.) There's also an undertone of moralistic class warfare, with Vassili and Angelo simply punishing the rich perverts who would procure their services, although the movie doesn't push too hard with this idea.

Although it is well-filmed and decently acted (and Dimitri Durdaine's Angelo probably serves as eye candy enough to make this satisfying for some), it ultimately feels a little airless. For me, the most interesting notion was how much sympathy the film aroused for Vassili, despite the brutal acts we see him perform. It's not until the final act that I began to feel a sense of complicit shame for tagging along while he got his kicks. All told, not a major work, but an entertaining flick.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Recording: Keir Neuringer

Artist: Keir Neuringer

Song: Fear

Recorded at Danny Green's (Feast in the East 14.1), May 20, 2012.

Keir Neuringer - Fear

Full review to follow. "Do you really believe fear is the light?" Installing revolutionary art and declaiming in double time from the stage, it was nice to see Keir Neuringer passing through town, celebrating a Feast in the East show at Danny Green's, a venue that's not normally on the gig-going grid. Do note that the Feast continues, with a couple more shows there on the next couple Fridays, May 25 and June 9, 2012.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Inside Out 2012: Reviews #1

Reviews of screenings from the 22nd Annual Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Jobriath A.D. (Dir: Kieran Turner, USA, 2011, 107 min)

If you're the least bit interested in cult rocker Jobriath, you'll probably be going to see this movie. It's biographically comprehensive and gets facetime from nearly all the right people. That said, it is a talking-heads doc that runs a little long, and its attempts to break out of the format's limitations mostly fall flat.

But still, this is a compelling story. Coming to prominence in the original west-coast production of Hair, Jobriath headed to New York City and met Jerry Brandt, a huckster whose claim to fame was discovering Carly Simon. The two outsized egos combined to create an ahead-of-its-time pre-spectacle, a hype-first assertion of fame (a big-budget, non-underground application of a strategy that General Idea were working with in the same era).

Pushing past the sexual fluidity of glam, Jobriath was openly and defiantly gay ("Asking me if I'm homosexual is like asking James Brown if he's black.") — something the mainstream wasn't ready for yet. Despite that unprecedented PR campaign, the album flopped, setting Jobriath on a spiral towards obscurity. In one sense, it's nearly a queer Gatsby story, with child prodigy Bruce Wayne Campbell ditching his birth identity to reinvent himself as the flamboyant Jobriath and never quite reaching the brass ring.

Jobiath let his songs speak for him, so there's not much of him presenting himself in his own words. We do, however, get a lot of testimony from friends and contemporaries, including such notables as Jac Holzman, Eddie Kramer and Tony Zanetta. Plus there's extensive interviews with Brandt, who in turn receives a generous treatment. There's also praise from some contemporary artists who have picked up of various strands of Jobriath's work, including Jake Shears, Stephin Merritt and Will Sheff — although hipsters might be sad to learn that it's Def Leppard's Joe Elliott who is most articulate and entertaining of the lot.

Along the way, we get an interesting snapshot of the interaction between queerness and pop culture in the 70's, observing how the critical consensus of the time wasn't yet ready to move past its implicit straight machismo. By that token, the gay culture of that time — then in a very butch, leather-daddy phase — wasn't ready to embrace or champion a sissy self-declared fairy. From there, it was just a step down to the crash and subsequent landing on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel, lean hustler years with Jobriath giving way to Cole Berlin — a promising cabaret reinvention cut short by the emergence of AIDS.

So, yes — lots of interesting strands here, but the film is not without its flaws. It's unsurprising that there's no interview with Morrissey, a big fan who oversaw a Jobriath reissue campaign and reintroduced him to a new generation of fans in the internet age. But I think the film's biggest mis-step was a series of animated sequences, meant to bring to life a few moments in Jobriath's career. Like the artist's grand plans for a tour of Europe's opera houses that ended up as a tour of backwater bars, the animation's reach exceeds its grasp and looked a little shabby. It also contributed to the film feeling a little over-long by the end.

But this will be a valuable resource down the line, and hopefully there will be a DVD that's jam-packed with full performances (something missing from the doc) and the like.

Screens Saturday May 26, 4:30 PM @ TIFF Lightbox 1

Call Me Kuchu (Dir: Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright, USA, 2012, 87 min.)

It might seem distant from the day-to-day rhythm of things in Toronto, but there are places in the world where being gay is still a crime, punishable by the death penalty from inflamed vigilantes. This excellent documentary takes us to Uganda, where intense open discrimination has culminated in the proposal of a draconian new Anti-Homosexual Bill which would threaten to imprison not only gays and lesbians but also anyone failing to "report" on their friends, lovers, children or students. At a time when gutter newspapers are "outing" gays — under headlines like "HANG THEM", no less — it takes an incredible act of bravery for any "kuchu" to be out.

And yet, there are a small number who are standing up, organizing and trying to assert their most fundamental human rights. They know the stakes — when one references Jefferson's famous claim that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots", you know this isn't a distant theoretical worry. Foremost among the dedicated activists that we meet is David Kato, a brave and dignified former teacher who we meet while he helps collect the data needed to demonstrate to the world what's happening on the ground in Uganda. It's sadly not-shocking that we witness, a year into the film's production, the aftermath of his murder.

We also see some of those on the other side, including one of the anti-gay reporters who repeats his homophobic cant with the ease of someone who genuinely cannot see gays as fellow humans and cannot feel any empathy toward their pain. And in the larger picture, we see the religious zealots whipping up the frenzy, fake Christians who cling to Old Testament vengeance instead of turning the other cheek. They are encouraged by North American evangelicals who call this a beacon of virtuousness — and it's a chilling reminder of what these fundamentalists would say in North Carolina (or Alberta or Toronto) if they didn't have to couch their language in a cloak of tolerance.

Given the dangers, the bravery required to not shy away, to not return to the closet, to not become refugees is immense. The forbearance and grace under pressure that we see in the movie's subjects is almost unimaginable — considering this reality for a couple hours left me nearly immobilized with sadness and rage. Perhaps, then, one of the movie's few flaws is that at the end there was no concrete call for action, no information given for how we could help. But still, this is excellent work, and though an uncomfortable experience is a must-see.

The Crown Jewels (Kronjuvelerna) (Dir: Ella Lemhagen, 2011, Sweden, 120 min)

Director Ella Lemhagen's Patrik 1.5 (which screened at Inside Out back in 2009) presented us with a modern, urbane Sweden that felt lifted from the pages of an Ikea ad. Kronjuvelerna, every bit as gorgeously shot, takes us instead to the quaint countryside, and blurs the here-and-now feeling into something hazier by giving us a fairytale sensibility in a story imbued with a light gloss of magic realism. That tone might require a bit of a buy-in from the viewer, and what you get from this film probably depends on how much you can suspend cynicism and literalness and embrace its belief in the impossible.

Fernandez Fernandez, a shoe factory stock clerk (and alchemist on the side) is the chief promoter of that viewpoint. His daughter — and our protagonist — Fragancia, strives to believe in such magical possibilities, but has a rough time of it, which is unsurprising, given the tragedies that unfold around her. The film is told in a series of flashbacks — at the beginning, Richard Persson (a neighbour from a wealthy family born on the same day as her) is shot, and Fragancia's prison interrogation becomes the framework for the whole story. Along the way, we meet both her family and the quirky townsfolk she has grown up with, including the world's greatest hockey player, a pacifist that makes Ned Braden look like the Hanson Brothers.

The film is meticulously structured — at times almost airlessly so. A bit elusive at the start (especially given the presence of a secondary framing device featuring a narrator speaking from beyond the grave), we soon start to see a set of almost mathematically-exact setups — and by about the two-thirds mark we start to see the patterns of the resolutions emerge. That reduces some elements that at first seemed like charming quirks to wait-for-the-payoff placeholders. There's also an interesting tension in the way that the movie maintains a consistently sweet tone in the face of a series of grim tragedies, a juxtaposition that only works if you can accept the fairy-tale spirit at the heart of it all.

In the end, I'd call this a modestly successful movie — certainly well shot and nicely acted. I did find the neatly-tied bow of the resolution to be a bit too metaphysically trite, but I didn't mind the journey. And, in a local note, I'm sure there are some gnashings-of-teeth over at Telefilm Canada, with a certain jealous resentment that it was the Swedes who were first to market with a hockey subplot that effortlessly incorporates a queer storyline. Score one for the Tre Kronor!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Recording: Hoover Party

Artist: Hoover Party

Song: Ocarina Magic*

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

Hoover Party - Ocarina Magic

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Claudio

Artist: Claudio

Song: unknown*

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

Claudio - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Allison Peacock & Alia O'Brien

Artist: Allison Peacock & Alia O'Brien

Song: unknown*

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

Allison Peacock & Alia O'Brien - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Does anyone know the title to this — or if this had a title at all? Please leave a comment!

Event: Healing Power Picnic III (Part I)

Healing Power Picnic III – Part I (feat. Allison Peacock & Alia O'Brien / ADR / Claudio / Hoover Party / Jennifer Castle)

South Humber Park. Saturday, May 28, 2011.

What are the boundaries between a public and private event? If a bunch of friends all show up in a park and start playing music, does that count as a concert? What if someone brought along a generator to amplify them?

This wasn't the first year that the Healing Power Picnic was on my radar, but it was the first one that I made it out for. By its very nature, it's not a heavily-promoted event, but it's the sort of thing you'd hear about if you go to a certain kind of show, or are plugged into a certain community on facebook. So, on the one hand it's an open event — defiantly so, in one sense, as anyone passing by on bike or foot was welcome to stop by and take it in. But if you chose, you could also cast it as a bit of a private club, or even a clique-y thing.

There's a fluid insider/outsider sort of boundary to events like this that I think the musicians and organizers are pretty aware of. Of course a musician generally wants to play to as big a crowd as possible, for ego-driven and financial reasons. But, especially when it's "weird" or experimental music, if you hype it up too much to the public at large you'll simply get uncultivated boors who denounce anything that reaches beyond the dull and obvious. How do you make it feel like something you don't need a secret handshake to get into while keeping a bit of mystery and secrecy around things? Because mystery and secrecy are kinda fun, too.

None of this was a burning issue at this show, but all of these issues were on my mind as I took the very pleasant walk down from Old Mill (surely the city's most beautiful subway station) to the Humber Valley trail and found the 70's vintage picnic structure that looked a bit like a UFO.

Cool, breezy and slightly damp out, I added some victuals to the overflowing share-and-share-alike picnic zone and nodded at some familiar faces while people trickled in, mostly on bikes that were soon casually laying around on the grass.

The "event" got started shortly before two o'clock, with Allison Peacock & Alia O'Brien (also billed as "Double A") providing a dance/music piece to start the day. Soon, O'Brien's synths were emitting a whum-whum-whum-whum undertone wowing against a trebly figure. The music shifted every couple minutes to something slightly different, winding up for awhile at something like old-fashioned ooky-spooky horror music before upgrading to a more cold-edged John Carpenter-type sound.

All of which was the backdrop for Peacock's choreography. Dressed in shiny copper-y lamé and a veil, she began with slow tai chi-like motions, then ramped up past "Walk Like an Egyptian" to sudden bursts of physicality — a coming-to-life that felt right at home in the ravine, trees swaying in the breeze, birds singing in the background.

Listen to an excerpt of the musical portion of this performance here.

That closeness to nature got even more intense with an "improvised dance" piece by ADR (as Aimée Dawn Robinson is often billed). Moving from the picnic structure to a bog just off the bike path, the audience was gathering on the shore as Robinson, fully clothed, wandered into the water. Hip deep, she doubled over, peering down as if trying to find something lost in the mud below — and then, as if finding it, collapsed into the water.

When she emerged, she began her dance, concentric circles radiating outward from her across the water's surface. Across the pond — Etobicoke! — the faint, suggestive whispers of cars; closer in, birds calling out; underfoot, red ants — causing some uneasy shifting amongst those who had too-casually sat down in the underbrush. And in the water, Robinson sinking... sinking, so that soon only her head was visible.

Consumed by the pond? Drowning? Melting into something larger and more amorphous? No answers were given as she finished, swimming off out of the audience's field of vision. Just behind where she had been sinking, a mallard landed on the water's surface. Explaining it all, or at least accounting for the possibility of magic, Jonathan Adjemian (who would be playing later on in the afternoon) exclaimed, "she turned into a duck!"

Back at the picnic structure, a turn toward modernity and technology with Claudio, whose name is suggestive of the serious/cheeseball italo-disco groove at its heart. Composed of Randy Gagne (Man Made Hill, Toddler Body) and Jacob Horwood (Gastric Female Reflex, Bennifer Editions), the pair make a sort of instrumental zworgy disco, bent and melted by Gagne's keyb and Horwood's electronics.

The latter were somewhat inadequately shielded from the outdoor light by an improvised cardboard screen, rendered slightly more bad-ass by the red-coloured torn cardboard cross taped on it. Despite a quavering underlying weirdness, this was slinky and groovy stuff. The tracks segued pretty cleanly from one thing to the next, with four groovers in a row before winding down after about twenty minutes into a slower haze, like a walkman with dying batteries.

Listen to a song from this set here.

I don't know if there's a conceptual difference between Hoover Party shows and those where Jonathan Adjemian is billed under his own name. This time out, he was without the keyboards I'd seen on some other occasions, and was simply seated cross-legged in front of his laptop, which he used to manipulate sounds, some of which were generated by a small blown instrument that he played into the laptop's microphone.

Perhaps befitting the plaintive droning drift of the music, the wind picked up during this, scattering a few paper cups around the area. After a few minutes of the music breezing along, Adjemian — looking ashram-ready in a flowing white garment — added some wordless vocals, leaning forward to howl into the mic for a quick interlude. After that, the noises were turned all the way up to "squiggly", for an effect somewhere between a kazoo and a shehnai, cut with glitchy realtime manipulations. And then it receded back into the drone it had risen from.1

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

"Move up," said Jennifer Castle as she finished getting ready to play. And seeing as she was playing without a microphone for her voice, I figured why not, and was among the front row of the people who ended up setting just a couple feet away from her. Her guitar was plugged into a speaker a few metres over, giving it a slightly disembodied feeling when she began to strum. "It's almost like my guitar wasn't being played by me," she commented, peering over almost as if she expected to see another guitarist on the other side of the concrete pad.

It almost doesn't get any better than this: being close up to a beautiful voice with a pleasing breeze drifting past as the sun burst through the clouds. As birds commented in the background, Castle played an ineffably gorgeous rendition of "Way of the Crow" — such a beautiful moment, enough to give a reminder that this is why you get out of bed and go outside.

Castle was in a good mood, joking with friends in the crowd that she could hear ruffling through the food while she decided what to play next. Of course, such small shufflings are only audible when the crowd is quiet and totally devoted to listening to a performance. Castle closed with the downer-ish "Misguided" ("I tried to hold on / and died trying") but the vibe of this glorious, affirming set was more accurately captured by an impromptu performance of Janis Joplin's "Get It While You Can".

When you're loving somebody, baby,

You're taking a gamble against some sorrow.

But who knows, baby,

'Cause we may not be here tomorrow.

Listen to a song from this set here.

You can read about the rest of the day's events here.

1 And in a serendipitous dispatch, I note that Adjemian — who notes that his shows are billed between himself and Hoover Party interchangeably — has just gotten a bunch of recordings posted on his new bandcamp page, so go check out his devotional grooves.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Inside Out 2012: Preview

Preview of the 22nd Annual Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Another reliable sign of spring turning into summer always comes around the May long weekend when Inside Out sashays into local theatres, now for the second year based at the TIFF Lightbox. The journey from Beauty to Sodom (or from Cherry to Stud Life) unfolds over the next week and change, so there's probably something on offer for everyone, whether you want a sober documentary or something more, um, thrust-y. Reviews will be running soon, but in the meantime, here's some things worth checking out:

First and foremost, I saw She Said Boom!: The Story of Fifth Column a couple weeks ago at Hot Docs and it comes highly recommended to anyone with an interest in postpunk/DIY music and/or local history. Lots to like here on how a group of strong feminists subverted rock'n'roll norms, being amongst the first to queer the aesthetic while still producing some kick-ass music. (my full review can be found here). [Sunday, May 20, 5:00 PM, TIFF Lightbox 2]

For more music there's also Hit So Hard (about former Hole drummer Patty Schemel) and Jobriath A.D., telling the story of the too-gay-for-glam '70's cult hero.

And speaking of documentaries, most noteworthy is Call Me Kuchu, which just nabbed the Best International Feature award at Hot Docs. Telling the story of Ugandan activist David Kato, this is a strong reminder that there are many parts of the world where being out is still a death sentence. [Saturday, May 19, 4:45 PM, TIFF Lightbox 2]

Director Ella Lemhagen brought the delightful Patrik 1.5 to the festival in 2009, so I'm enthused to check out her follow-up, The Crown Jewels. It promises "mystery, romance, fantasy and a soupçon of gay hockey stardom", delivered, I will presume, with dry Swedish wit. [Saturday, May 19, 9:30 PM, TIFF Lightbox 1] (The festival is also screening her earlier Immediate Boarding as a free family screening, so check that out as well. [Sun May 27, 2:00 PM, TIFF Lightbox 2]

Inside Out is always good for a blast or two of campy fun, and this year Madame X looks like a promising candidate. Equal parts superhero flick and fashion spectacle, it tells the story of "a pre-op transsexual superhero who fights intolerance, all the while looking fierce and fabulous". This sounds like all sorts of awesome — come out and celebrate that grand old queen with this matinée on Victoria Day. [Mon May 21, 2:15 PM, TIFF Lightbox 2]

And for those looking for quicker bursts of satisfaction, there's a solid series of shorts programmes — excellent for those who want to check something out without making a long-term commitment. I saw The Man That Got Away at Hot Docs and still have a couple of the songs in my head, so I can recommend this unique doc/musical hybrid that's playing as part of the Mixed Shorts screening. [Sunday, May 27, 2:15 PM, TIFF Lightbox 1] And looking top-to-bottom, I reckon that Boy Shorts 2 should be a whole bunch of fun: twitter jokes, Fire Island and something called Slut: The Musical. Oh, my. [Tueday, May 22, 2012, 7:15 PM, TIFF Lightbox 2]

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Recording: The Davey Parker Radio Sound

Artist: The Davey Parker Radio Sound

Song: The Living City

Recorded at The Garrison, May 27, 2011.

The Davey Parker Radio Sound - The Living City

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Revolvers

Artist: Revolvers

Song: Apocalypse Surfin'

Recorded at The Garrison, May 27, 2011.

Revolvers - Apocalypse Surfin'

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Broken Bricks

Artist: Broken Bricks

Songs: Pop Song + Imaginary Mary K

Recorded at The Garrison, May 27, 2011.

Broken Bricks - Pop Song + Imaginary Mary K

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: The Davey Parker Radio Sound

The Davey Parker Radio Sound (Revolvers / Broken Bricks)

The Garrison. Friday, May 27, 2011.

Classic rock skirts in and out of style to some degree. As the 60's and 70's recede further into the past, I think that younger bands can appropriate this stuff with a lot less baggage than there would have been fifteen or twenty years ago. So what's the difference he he classic rock-referencing bands playing, say, The Garrison and the ones playing at the Hard Rock Café? Well, it's unjust, but who your friends are and where you play are themselves have a lot to do with how bands are perceived. Plus, I think bands like the ones at this show are going a little deeper than just the most obvious rehashing — the night's headliners, for one, are indebted to the psych and blues traditions, but also exist in a universe where Nuggets is equally influential.

And while Broken Bricks wear their influences on the sleeves of their Mod jackets, the youthful energy they infuse in their music lets you know that they know that punk has happened. It was that energy that marked them as a band I'd been meaning to check up on again for awhile. And I was glad to see it was still in place, co-existing nicely with a rehearsed professionalism.

On the stage, an elaborately striped stand for Luke Kuplowsky's keyboard drew the eye. He fronts the band with guitarist Marlon Chaplin, and the pair switch pretty freely back and forth on vocals. They've had a rotating rhythm section behind them, though right now drummer Matt Duncan is listed as the third permanent member.

The started out bang-bang-bang with three quick songs, leading with statement-of-purpose "Pop Song" before letting things stretch out a little with a little bit of excitability and wheeling around that ended with a mic stand getting knocked down. (In my notepad: "good finish!") From there, focusing on songs from their Little Fugitives EP1, they mixed spiky rockers with more laidback balladry on tunes like "Jigsaw". They also threw in a couple from their previous Pasquale and even a couple new ones.

Everything was delivered with that energetic kick, and there's quite a lot here to like. Not every song of theirs nails it for me, but they come off as such an accomplished young band it's hard not to want to project where they'll be if they can maintain their development. The set finished with a rollicking combo run through "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Within You Without You", which they tore into with even more gusto then they showed for their own stuff. They also showed a bit more of a penchant for psychedelic skew in these that hopefully will rub off on their songs.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

I suppose it's continuing a trajectory that I've noted before (and maybe the sheer volume of The Garrison's sound system helped), but Revolvers hit with the most muscular wallop I'd ever heard from the band. The fact that the music's increased crunch is being carefully integrated so as to not flatten out the band's attention to sonic detail is a testament to drummer Lavien Lee, who alongside bassist Gabi Mezzetti keep a litheness underneath the guitars up front.

Revolvers' second full-length is getting closer — a recent dispatch indicates it's been sent off for mastering — and there was a lot of that newer material being played here. Of eight songs, there were only a couple from Apocalypse Surfin', including a nice take of the title track that nicely illustrated how they've toughened up their sound without undercutting what is, at its heart, an earnest little ballad. There were a couple songs that were brand new to me, but some of this second-album material has been kicking around their setlists for awhile.

Another sign of a a band that'd clearly stepped it up: some of the songs that I'd thought were a little trite and undercooked before — like closer "I Love You" — now got over on virtue of a slide and a swagger. That's a useful tool for a rock'n'roll band to have at hand, and I'm looking forward to see how things are sounding when that new album comes out.2

Listen to a track from this set here.

I have a pet theory that states that album release shows are often not the bands' best gigs. Celebrating the culmination of a lot of hard work, they're an "event" and often saddle the band with having to deal with a lot of tangential issues, from (hopefully) dealing with a little more press than usual to making sure parents are on the guest list. And while this was a noteworthy occasion for The Davey Parker Radio Sound, celebrating the release of their first full-length In A Land Of Wolves And Thieves3, it was an un-glam sort of night — well-befitting a band with a blue-collar, no-frills approach.

At first, it looked like some of those tangential complications might undermine their release show, with Ben Quinn fighting a balky bass amp for the first couple songs. But once that was sorted out, the band was in a good groove, pumping out a series quick songs — and in fine album-celebratin' fashion, they started off by reeling off Wolves' first half-dozen songs in order.

That gave a chance for the quartet to show off their main elements: the sound features guitar lines and vocals bouncing back and forth between Jason Fitzpatrick and Graeme Jonez, powering their old-school garage rock with a hint of nugget-y psychedelia and a taste of the blues. Separating them from a lot of similar bands, they also have a hard rockin' undertone that suggests they come from a lineage that includes, say, Steppenwolf and Deep Purple more than some more fashionable antecedents. Those classic rock tropes are especially up front when they stretch out a bit on the likes of "Downtown Night Owl", but there's still a fuzzy stomp that drives the songs forward.

The band broke from the track-by-track presentation of album to introduce the brand-new "Gypsy Ring", which was one of the best of the set — a good sign they've got songs aplenty in 'em yet. The endgame was a little muddled, and for a moment it looked like the set was sort of just going to stumble to a halt with the band suddenly declaring they were done — mostly out a egalitarian desire to get final band Speaking Tongues up on the stage. But the crowd made sure they stayed up for a couple more and that allowed them the shot at the Big Rock Finish, concluding with a triumphant take of "The Living City".4

I had previously posted a track from this set here, but you can also check out another one here.

1 It was recorded with John Critchley — and it makes me feel particularly superannuated these days when I see him identified with reference to a bunch of production credits instead of merely saying "... of 13 Engines".

2 Revolvers will be playing with Two Green Cats at The Piston on Thursday May 24th. No word yet on when that album will be coming out.

3 "We released an album," the band announced from the stage. "It's for sale and it's for free." And, indeed, it's still available as a free download on their bandcamp — but I'm sure it'd be appreciated if you could kick something in to support the band's DIY efforts.

4 The DPRS will be playing a Pop with Brains showcase on July 20 at The Rivoli.