Friday, June 25, 2010

Toronto Island Concert w/ Pavement, Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses, Beach House (June 19, 2010)

  Stephen Malkmus of Pavement: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [June 29/2010, 11:27 pm]: My photos from the show have been up on my Flickr for a few days now but I just added the link below today. Sorry for the wait.

Traditionally the Saturday night of NXNE has always been my favourite night of the festival. Over the past several years at least it seems I'd been kicking off my music activities earlier in the day either by checking out afternoon sets at Yonge Dundas Square or seeing music film during the NXNE film festival. However, then news of seminal indie band Pavement's reunion tour coming to Olympic Island on June 19(the Saturday night of NXNE) was announced and I had to make a decision whether it'd be Pavement or NXNE for me. Adding to the difficulty of the decision was the fact that Iggy & The Stooges would be headlining a free show at Yonge Dundas Square on the 19th. As tempting as a free Igg & The Stooges show was, I chose the Pavement show as I'd kick myself if I missed that show. In addition to Pavement, also playing were Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses and Beach House, plus Timber Timbre and a Toronto Revue consisting of The Beauties, Flash Lightnin' and Zeus. Not originally part of NXNE, in a bit of musical comraderie, the Toronto Island Concert latched onto NXNE by offering free admission to the first 250 NxNE Bracelets/Badges at the Mainland Ferry Box Office on the day of the show. Hey, considering the capacity of the island, 250 free admittants might not seem much, but it was a start. In any case the show was sold out.

(4:00 PM @ Olympic Island) - Beach House (Baltimore, Maryland)
I got a late start to my day, missing by the Toronto Revue's and Timber Timbre's opening sets but arrived prior to Beach House's set. I manage to get a sweet spot on the left side of the stage virtually at the front of the stage and I'm glad I ate beforehand, did the bathroom thing, and had a full bottle of water with me because near the front was were I remained for the entire day and night. That's something I've never done at a festival and maybe won't do ever again, but it did guarantee me a sweet spot for all the bands I saw. With the midday sun beating down, it was the pale white duo of Beach House comprised of Victoria Legrand on vox/organ and Alex Scally on electric guitar, joined by a live drummer, to start the outdoor festival off for me. I saw them for the first time live in September 2007 at The Mod Club and while I appreciated the band's gauzy brand of subdued pop performed with guitar and organ, my genuine satisfaction remained elusive that night. To my surprise though this time around, there seemed to be more bounce in their step, whether that might be because of the live drummer or just because the songs off their most recent album "Teen Dream" are that much stronger. More satisfying than I expected and a nice way for me to start the day.

(5:15 PM @ Olympic Island) - Band of Horses (Seattle, Washington)
Band of Horses had already committed to playing the Toronto Island Concert back in January 2010 when show was announced so it was mighty nice of the band to play an intimate free show at the Horseshoe last month in advance of their major label debut Infinite Arms. Unfortunately I didn't get into the show at the Horseshoe. The first time I'd seen the band live was at the Phoenix in November 2007 although I wasn't in the best headspace at the time to enjoy that show at all. Considering these facts, I was looking forward to seeing Band of Horses this time. Led by Ben Bridwell, the band sauntered through tunes from all three of their albums, and while their were some delectable selections ("Is There a Ghost", "The Funeral", "The Great Salt Lake"), there seemed to be a bit of disconnect with the audience, perhaps to do with the minimal stage banter, and except for Ben and bassist Bill Reynolds, there was a lacklustre stage presence. Perhaps not what the kids were after, but the country-ish song "Older" with lead vocals sung by keyboardist Ryan Monroe was one of the highlights of the set for me. But such highlights couldn't detract from the fact that the band weren't owning the stage as I'd hope; they played decently but somehow I just didn't feel the passion.

(6:45 PM @ Olympic Island) - Broken Social Scene (Toronto, Ontario)
It seems that a BSS show can either be full of surprises or terribly predictable and for the most part I think last Saturday's set was unfortunately the latter. Of course, if this had been you're first time seeing BSS live, you might have found it extremely satisfying. However, when you've seen BSS live as many times as I have, it's the unpredictable moments that I'm usually hoping for. Last year's BSS show at Harbourfront was full of surprises and was generally regarded by most people (including myself) as one of, if not their best show ever. That said, this current BSS set had it's share of good moments. It's always kind of fun to guess which of the three ladies (Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, Amy Millan) of BSS renaissance period will show up, and while I guessed Emily might, I was totally surprised that Leslie also did. With Stars getting ready to tour and to promote their new album The Five Ghosts I just assumed Amy wouldn't make it and that I guessed correct. It was totally cool to hear Leslie and Emily trade off vocals on "7/4 Shoreline". The live set did warm me up to the new album Forgiveness Rock Record with cuts like "Forced To Love" and the delicate vocals of Lisa Lobsinger on the electro-pop goodness of "All To All". Other guests included Mr. Sebastian Grainger singing back-up on a few tracks as well as Pavement's Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg joining in on guitar near the end. The band did come back for an encore and of course, in honour of the occasion, and if I recall correctly Kevin Drew saying that he'd be an idiot if they did not play it, BSS performed a balls-out rendition of "Ibi Dreams Of Pavement (Better Day)". So overall, a mix of the familiar with a few surprises, and even if it 's not near the best I've ever seen, it was still pretty good.

(9:00 PM @ Olympic Island) - Pavement (Stockton, California)
I wish there was some sort of Pavement gigography but surfin the net I came across info that Pavement played the Palladium in 1994, the Phoenix in '97 and the Guvernment in 1999. During their Olympic Island set, Stephen Malkmus mentioned that in the early nineties, they played Lee's Palace. I know Pavement played Lollapalooza in 1995 when the roaming festival stopped in Barrie at Molson Park. And somehow I missed all of these shows. Like many, their 1994 major label debut full-length Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was my introduction to the band and since then I've liked the band a lot. I'll admit it's never been a 'love'; I've been on-again-off-again in listening them and their noisier bits were things I tended to skip over, but after they disbanded in 199 and more recently with the deluxe reissues of their albums over the last several years I've grown fonder of them. Maybe it's just that they remind me of the 90's when life wasn't as complicated or stressful. Or maybe it's the old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Now 2010, Pavement have decided that a decade is a an appropriate length of time that they've been away and so reuniting for fans (and maybe moreso for the money), I finally got to cross them off my concert wishlist and it was everything I'd hoped for.

I'd read in the past that when Pavement toured in their heyday they were quite sloppy musically, but for their set at Olympic Island last Saturday night, they were much tighter than I expected, for the most part resembling their recorded material, and that was just fine with me. The setlist (which you can view over at Brooklyn Vegan) leaned towards the familiar, meaning the band's singles as well as a heavy dose of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, with various nifty album cuts interspersed. They wasted no time to pump out the 'hits' as they dove head first into "Cut Your Hair" to the delight of the fans, then segued next into "Trigger Cut". Other favourites of mine included "Grounded", "Gold Soundz", "Range Life" and main set closer "Summer Babe". The band came back for a three song encore and I practically collapsed when they ended off with "Stop Breathin". I was never bored for a moment and was satisfied with the pacing of the set which contained one great song after another. Member Bob Nastanovich was one to behold with his idiosyncratic approach to back-up singing and his hard-core-ish screams. Spiral Stairs played the guitar arrangements with vigor. It was fascinating to watch Stephen as vocalist sing these songs again as I'd always imagined he never ever wanted to, but it seemed he was geuninely enjoying the experience. And Last but not least, you have Steve West on drums and Mark Ibold on bass holding down the rhythm section quietly but solidly. These are all just random thoughts of mine but all those fuzzy good feelings of a great show will remain. When it was over, Malkmus said with a combination of cheekiness and perhaps a little sentimentality, "Don't Forget The 90's".

Photos: Toronto Island Concert w/ Pavement, Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses, Beach House (June 19, 2010)

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