Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Canadian Music Week - Day 3

I See Rowboats at Rivoli: photo by Michael Ligon

This past Saturday was more or less the conclusion of this year's Canadian Music Week for most people and what better way to prove how hardcore a festival-goer you are than with a blizzard. Okay, so maybe it wasn't anything near what the Prairies or the Maritimes would get, but some of us Southern Ontarians are wimps. Not me though.

Flash Lightnin' (6:30 pm at Phoenix): In a way, I think the blizzard actually helped me. I was able to get into The Breeders show at the Phoenix with my media pass only 45 minutes before The Breeders show began. Maybe people didn't make it to the show(or showed up late) because of the weather but in any I strolled in with my media pass with no problem. I caught the tail-end of openers Toronto bluesy, heavy-rock trio Flash Lightnin'. Their music's chock full of riffs and guitar solos, melding the influences of old blues and more modern sensibilities like ZZ Top(listen to "Coming on Strong" and tell me if ZZ Top weren't the first thing that popped into your head). The lead guitarist in particular was doing his darndest with his solos to get the crowd excited, and maybe a few at the front were, but the majority seemed only slightly interested. Me included. We were an indie rock crowd for the most part and we came to see The Breeders. Speaking for myself, it's not that I could get into Flash Lightnin on a different occasion[I mean, I like Led Zepplin, at least in small doses], but that night it wasn't the blues I was after.

The Breeders (7:30 pm at Phoenix): Dayton, Ohio's The Breeders, on the other hand, were one of my initial forays into indie guitar-rock[if you want to call 4AD indie] back in the early 90's with their "Last Splash" album and are as relevant today regarding my current music tastes as they were back last decade. On Saturday night, it was not The Breeders of yore[of either the "Pod" or "Last Splash" eras]. It was the Deal sisters, Kim and Kelley, along with a new supporting crew in tow - Mando Lopez on bass guitar, Jose Medelez on drums and Carrie Bradley on guitar/background vox. I'd read about past Breeders forays through town which could have been more miss than hit depending on whose account you paid attention to but their set over the weekend was a capable performance over all. Either sobriety is the in thing now, or people finally growing up but in The Breeders case, it seems they finally got it right in Toronto. Several new songs were introduced none of which I can actually remember except for the impression that I liked them and that they were a rational extension of the slices of weird pop nuggets that The Breeders have always specialized in. Instrumentally, I think their biggest asset right now is Jose's succinct drumming but otherwise the Deal sisters and the rest of the band were competent. In between the new songs, the set unfolded like a greatest hits album spanning their career from "Pod"(Beatles cover "Happiness Is A Warm Gun", "Iris"), one of personal faves "Safari"(from the EP of the same name), and "Last Splash"("Cannonball", No Aloha", "Divine Hammer", "Saints"). They also did a wicked cover of Guided By Voices' "Shocker In Gloomtown" which they originally released on their "Head To Toe" 7-inch. With the Toronto date only being their second show on their current tour, the smiles on band member's faces, and on the Deal sister's faces in particular were quite genuine. I wish them luck this time around and am looking forward to hearing the new album "Mountain Battles" being released through 4AD on April 7. Of course, old habits die hard - when a fan yelled out for them to play at his house, I swear Kelly asked(with a chuckle) if there were any good drugs there.

Jenn Grant (10 pm @ Rivoli): With the snowy weather and all and great Breeders show, I should have just went home but I decided to head down to the Rivoli to check out one of my current faves Jenn Grant. The whole night was part of a Nova Scotia showcase. With her band the Night Painters(Kinley on violin, Sean on bass guitar, and Glen on drums), Jenn played some current songs, and also introduced some new material as well. She continues to hover that rootsy, folky, pop territory she does so well and is as down-home modest as she's ever been. A shame that the crowd, at least those at the back were so chatty when Jenn began the her set solo but as the material got louder and more uptempo at least it drowned out chatter or otherwise people were starting to pay attention. Prior to "Dreamer", Sean handed out to the audience homemade egg maracas for which Jenn insisted that everyone particpate during the song and really that was one of the most fun things I took part in, and was one of the more memorable things of what was otherwise an all-too-brief set.

Dog Day (11 pm @ Rivoli): Next up were Dog Day who I'd already seen two days prior at the Horseshoe. Not much more I could add except that the set gave me a second chance to soak in their music's infectious melodies. One thing that was better this time was that I could hear the keyboard much better. Oh, and also Dog Day covered The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog". Interesting. However, if they're going to cover that song in the future, they'll need to work on their stage presence. It's after all, a punk rock song.

I See Rowboats (12 am @ Rivoli): I'm glad I stuck around for the five-member strong I See Rowboats, more than half of which could have qualified as a string chamber trio if they lost the drummer and guitarist/vocalist. With two members on violins and one on cello, it's obvious how strong the strings component is to the band's sound. I'd liken I See Rowboat's sound less to the chamber-pop sounds of bands like Ohbijou or even Belle and Sebastian but more to a dramatic, edgier art-rock sound. At their most accessible, "In Cars", they displayed a melodic sensibility that I wished they extended to all their songs. In any case, even if other songs weren't as immediately melodic, they were still intriguing in terms of it's textures - song that could on one end of the spectrum sound like a lament and on the other end, celebratory. Half the time you'd think they were an instrumental band but some songs did feature vocals from one of its two leading men, guitarist William Robinson and violinst Luke Fisher. Of the two, I liked Williams' better which reminded me of less - baritoned - but - just - as - suave Stephen Merritt. The crowd seemed to be either family, friends, or fellow Nova Scotians with a few of us locals thrown in but whatever the mix, there was an enthusiastic response. Although, no amount of begging will get you an encore during CMW.

And that's it for this year's edition of CMW. With a little research and a little luck on my side, my batting avg(in terms of good bands I saw) this year was quite good. I'm glad I got a media pass this year. Too bad about the weather, but if anything it separates the hardcore from those who aren't. Ha.

Check out my photos from the night over at my Flickr.

MySpace: Flash Lightnin'
MySpace: The Breeders
MySpace: Jenn Grant
MySpace: Dog Day
MySpace: I See Rowboats

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