Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae, The Sadies @ Olympic Island, Toronto (August 14, 2010)

  Win and Regine of The Arcade Fire: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Aug 23/2010, 12:12 am]: Review now up.

I missed out on tickets for The Arcade Fire's two-night stint at Massey Hall in May 2007 and that was one of the few times I've regretted not being at a show. So when the band announced a surprise two-night stint at The Music Hall[on a tangent, which is at least closed for now due to unpaid back rent according to BlogTO] in Toronto this past June, I made a decision to buy a ticket. That show emphasized the sonically uplifting nature of The Arcade Fire's music, coming at a time[the recent passing of my mom] which turned out to be very much therapeutic. If that show was a warm-up, their large-scale proper show in Toronto at Olympic Island last Saturday nailed it.

With the absence of large-scale outdoor concert festivals from this year's summer Toronto concert calendar, Toronto promoters Collective Concerts stepped up to fill the void, first with the Pavement reunion show at Olympic Island earlier this summer which also featured Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses, Beach House, Timbre Timber, and The Toronto Revue(Zeus, Flash Lightnin' and The Beauties), and last week with The Arcade Fire show also at the Island, with openers Janelle Monae, and The Sadies. The Sadies, with Dallas and Travis Good in their sequined suits were probably happy that the clouds kept the sun at bay, but they still did their best to work up a sweat with their brand of twangy, surf-inflected, country tunes. The hour or so long set they performed seemed short by their standards, with their usual headlining exceeding the two hour mark. There were definitely a few fans in the audience, but it seemed that the majority of the young hipsters in the crowd were disinterested. As per what's been a usual part of their set at least the last few times I've seen The Sadies live, the Good brothers' mother came up to join the band on a few songs including, Sadies standards, their cover of the 60's r n' b song "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" and their smoking cover of the Traditional "Higher Power". I noticed the reaction of a few young female attendees who thought the whole concept of the brother's mom singing with them was cute.

Next up was Kansas City native, Janelle Monae. The Arcade Fire's Win came out to introduce her, this being her debut Canadian performance. While Win's subsequent walk off stage was a bit clumsy as he tripped over something, caught himself from falling, and sheepishly glanced to the crowd, there was nothing clumsy about Ms. Monae's performance, marked with precision, dexterity and soulfulness. Sporting her version of a pompadour, and decked out in a white ruffled shirt, tight-fitting black tuxedo pants, and two-toned oxfords, her band on keyboards, guitar and drums were similary garbed in their black and white attire. Janelle and her back up dancers came out onto the stage originally enveloped in black hooded garments but then Janelle started out into a a wicked rap before shedding the hood. Having only had some cursory listens of her music prior to the show, I had a slight impression of what to expect, but the live performance really converted me. Her music was a scintillating combination of rock, soul and r'n'b and her stage presence evoked the spirit of a few of the late greats like James Brown and Michael Jackson, oh and to me her music, or at least her approach to is, reminded me most of all of the still living(thankfully), Prince. Vocally, her soulful vocals were spot on, and even a passionate cover of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" only accompanied by the effective jazz-rock guitar arrangements of guitarist Kellindo Parker, did not expose any blemishes in her vocal technique. Aforementioned guitarist Kelindo Parker was 'sick' as the kids would say, and his stage presence was as if he was channelling the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. Towards the end of the set, the back up dancers threw out a bags of balloons to float and mingle through the crowd. Overall, it was a highly impressive set from the P. Diddy and OutKast protege.

It's come to the part of the review where I should talk about The Arcade Fire but in some ways it is almost difficult to put into words unless you were there. It wasn't the show to end all shows but it definitely propelled feelings of glee and euphoria for those in attendance. The seemingly appropriate, both in title and tone, new single "Ready To Start" kicked off the set and I could feel the excitement build up inside of me. The next song, the punky "Month Of May", also from the band's new album The Suburbs, kept up the crowd's adrenalin. Other highlights of the night included new songs like the restrained "Modern Man" which had the audience clapping, Win switching to piano for the alt-country swing of the new album title track "The Suburbs", Regine's lead vocals on the infectious, dance-pop of "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and the audience's vocal participation on "Rococo". While the new songs were for the most part new to me since I hadn't listened to the new album yet, they were so instantly memorable.

Of course the old songs weren't about to be overshadowed, so not to speak about them ad nauseum, we got favourites like "No Cars Go", "Haiti", and the usual double-shot of "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" and "Rebellion (Lies)" which ended off the main set in fine fashion and had me on more than one occasion unable to restrain myself from jumping up and down. In perhaps a once and a lifetime moment, the crowd[or at least the front part of the crowd] continue to sing/hum the outro melody of "Rebellion(Lies)" long after the band left the stage, and continued to do so for several minutes, until the band finally made it back to the stage for their encore which was comprised of "Keep The Car Running" and "Wake Up", a mightly fine conclusion to the night. It was an earlier moment in the night that solidified the greatness of the night for me as Win reiterated that one dollar from the sale of each ticket went to the Partners in Health charity to continue the relief efforts in Haiti, where member Regine Chassagne was born. But rather than segue into the appropriately-titled "Haiti", it was the grand presence of "Intervention" and it's pipe organ that graced our ears. I felt, breathed and tasted the greatness of that very moment. But whatever the true song's meaning, when Win sung "I can taste the fear, Gonna lift me up and take me out of here", it gave me a lump in my throat.

Photos: The Arcade Fire, Janelle Monae, The Sadies @ Olympic Island, Toronto (August 14, 2010)
MySpace: The Sadies
MySpace: Janelle Monae
MySpace: The Arcade Fire

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Polvo, Versus @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (August 13, 2010)

  Richard Baluyut of Versus: photo by Michael Ligon

It was a 90's Merge Records comeback as Chapel Hill's Polvo and Brooklyn's Versus took over Lee's Palace last Friday night. The 1990's was my coming of age period in terms of indie rock, and Versus(along with Seam, Aminiature, and Toronto's own Venus Cures All) was one of the the first real indie bands I saw live when they played the El Mocambo in 1995. During that period I started to discover indie record labels such as Merge Records who offered a roster of acts that were extremely exciting, if not musically but also for their D.I.Y. ethic towards touring and recording, and the associated culture of zines that helped to build the indie rock scene one fan at a time. It was a really special period. While Polvo also sprung from that same period, it's not too surprising that I never latched onto them given their tendencies towards math rock(a term I've read they don't like) a genre I was never particular towards, but having seen them live for the first time last week, their musical quality was more than evident.

Lately, I've had a bad habit of missing opening acts, and this time it was Toronto's Soft Copy. One of these days I will catch them. Fortunately I made it in time for Versus who were up next. Taking the stage were core members Fontaine Toups and Richard Baluyut with touring member Margaret White on violin and keyboards. It was was that setup, with Richard and Fontaine on guitar and bass respectively and both on vocals, along with Margaret that performed the first few songs drumless, the songs obviously leaning towards a sparer version of the band than I'm used to hearing.

Richard let it be known to the crowd (which at this point was no where near full as it should have been) that his brother and the band's drummer Edward Baluyut could not make it because he had to go back home as his wife was giving birth to their baby. Fortunately, the opening band Soft Copy's drummer Paul Boddum took over on the spot, having not even rehearsed with the band, and did an admirable job filling in, occassionally at the beginning of a few songs having a quiet discussion with Richard as to what sort of rhythms to play. The band's newest album entitled On the Ones and Threes released this year on Merge is their first record in ten years since their last LP Hurrah, the new LP providing the impetus for touring again and providing much of the setlist. Having not heard the new songs until that show, it sounded like classic Versus - alternating lead vocals between Richard and Fontaine, nice melodies, a little muscle balanced with some finesse in the guitar arrangements, and a good sense of dynamics showing the band are just as adept at subtlety as they are at turning it up. It was the old favourites that I was most excited to hear such as "River", "Blades of Grass" and "Fallow" off of their debut 1993 debut full-length The Stars Are Insane. Obviously there were some people in the crowd that were excited to see the band live again(some who I'd imagine might have been at that same Versus show I was at at the El Mo in 1995) but it was a generally disappointing turnout. Of course they were never the biggest band around even back then and taking a ten year gap between albums doesn't necessarily help either.

There was obviously a reason why Polvo was headlining the night as after Versus' set, the venue quickly filled up comfortably. Having broken up in 1998 and then quietly reuniting in 2008, I presume there were some in the audience who didn't think Polvo would come to Toronto, so for them this show was a special treat. For me, having not really listened to the band at length, it was a history lesson. Not nearly as harsh or dissonant as I expected, while there was not a vocal melody within earshot at least from what I recall, the guitar, bass and drums were presented with mathematic precision that gave the songs somewhat of an accessibility. At times, the instrumentation was less angular, giving the impression of the band on the brink of playing a more conventional rock tune, although for the most part staying the course, and perhaps all the better for it. Whereas crowd reaction during Versus' set seemed sporadic due to the lighter crowd, Polvo induced a generally more enthusiastic response, prompting the band to come back for an encore. The band released their newest album In Prism through Merge Records in September 2009, and like Versus with their newly released album, it looks like they're both here to stay. Polvo and Versus fans are rejoicing everywhere.

Photos: Polvo, Versus @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (August 13, 2010)
MySpace: Versus
MySpace: Polvo

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Ready To Start" / The Arcade Fire @ Olympic Island Today!

Local promoters Collective Concerts sent out a Facebook message today that they'll be selling tickets at the door for The Arcade Fire show today at Olympic Island so if you haven't yet picked up a ticket, get yourself down there fast. Doors are at 4:00 pm and tickets at the door will set you back $64.00.

Support for today's show are Kansas City sensation Janelle MonĂ¡e and Toronto's always dependable The Sadies. Wow, I'm just listening to some samples of Janelle for the first time on her MySpace, and it's good stuff. I want to hear her sing "Faster":

Janelle Monae - Faster - HD Live at La Maroquinerie, Paris (July 5th, 2010)

And not to forget The Sadies:

The Sadies - "Flash"

I just picked up the vinyl of The Arcade Fire's new album The Suburbs yesteday and have only gotten around to spinning side one but I just completed uploading the album to my phone so I'll give it a listen when I head down to the Toronto Islands.

The Arcade Fire - "Ready to Start" (Unstaged) @ Madison Square Gardens, NYC (Aug 5/2010)

So again doors are at 4:00 pm, with The Sadies on at 6:00 pm, followed by Ms. Monae at 7:15 pm and The Arcade Fire bringing it home at 8:45 pm. See you down there!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sufjan Steven Touring This Fall / Playing Massey Hall on October 13

  photo credit Denny Renshaw
Many hearts are a flutter with the news that the one Sufjan Stevens is touring this fall and taking his show to historic theatres and venues across North America, and yes including a few Canadian dates. He will be in Toronto for a show at the grand old lady of Shuter Street, Massey Hall on October 13. A special presale for fans will take place today(August 10) with a limited number of tickets going onsale and expected to sell out quickly, but otherwise tickets will go onsale through the venues later with some theatres selling tickets on Friday August 13 and others later. To avoid scalping, there is a 4 person ticket limit, and the first 20 rows of seats are WILL CALL ONLY. The first and only time I'd see Sufjan live was back on September 10, 2005 at Trinity St. Paul's in Toronto and having missed out on tickets when he played an intimate, extremely sold-out show at Lee's Palace on October 1 of last year, let's say I'm highly anticipating on getting tickets to his show at Massey Hall this coming October.

So again, the presale is TODAY[Tuesday August 10th,] starting at 1 pm EST. You can see details, dates, and (as of Tuesday 1pm EST) links to purchase tickets here

Video: Sufjan Stevens - "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." (live @ Lee's Palace, Toronto, 1 October 2009)
MySpace: Sufjan Stevens

Monday, August 09, 2010

(VIDEO) The Arcade Fire @ Rivoli, Toronto, 2003

Many of us are looking forward to The Arcade Fire's show at Olympic Island this weekend. They just played a show at Madison Square Gardens in NYC with a Terry Gilliam-directed live stream to YouTube - some good quality video has surfaced over at Vimeo. But just prior to that, one of the band's earliest performances caught to video filmed by a friend of the The Arcade Fire's Richard Parry surfaced on Vimeo. It was filmed at the Rivoli in Toronto in 2003; I'm not sure which month in 2003 the performance is from but according to Us Kids Know, they played the Rivoli in 2003 twice, first in July and then in September. What's so intriguing for me about the video is that it captures the band at a stage in their career that's not wholly different from how they are now, except for maybe their haircuts. It's cool to see the video also because, it was also 2003 that I'd first saw The Arcade Fire live when a few friends and I went to Pop Montreal and saw them play Club Soda. If not blown away, I was deeply impressed by them and they were the opening band that night. So check out their performance at the Rivoli in 2003, with the band performing "Wake Up", "No Cars Go" and "Old Flame":

ARCADE FIRE Live 2003 from Bennett on Vimeo.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Calexico, Elliott Brood @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 22, 2010)

Joey Burns of Calexico: photo by Michael Ligon
  Joey Burns of Calexico: photo by Michael Ligon

More often than not bands tour to promote a new release but sometimes they tour for touring's sake such as the case with Tucson's Calexico who stopped in Toronto for a show at the Phoenix Concert Theatre on July 22. Similarly, openers Toronto trio Elliott Brood aren't promoting a new release either but came out to open the show before working out their performance legs on their own tour jaunt.

It's surprising it took me so long to catch Toronto's Elliott Brood live, a career two albums in already, a band who's kicked around since releasing their first release, an EP, in 2004. The band consists of Casey Laforet on guitar / vocals, Stephen Pitkin on drums, and Mark Sasso on guitar / banjo / ukelele / vocals. For a Thursday night at the Phoenix there was a decent crowd yet still plenty of elbow space for both Elliott Brood's and Calexico's sets, providing some foot-stomping room for a few extroverted souls to cut loose, the rest of the crowd seemingly content to stand back and watch. It was a fairly satisfying set of roots-tinged songs, songs rooted in steady percussion and embellished with guitar, banjo and ukele and enthusiastic vocals. It's perhaps a formula destined for mundaneness but the Brood do experiment a bit with sonics in their guitar sound at times, but above all have a great catalogue of melodic tunes they're working with. It's these songs in a live setting which call for handclapping, foot stomping and singalongs such as their fantastic set closer "Miss You" which had the band repeating "I Miss You Now" accompanied along by a jaunty rhythm.

Tucson's Calexico have been one of those acts I've been meaning to catch live for some time now. I'd barely scratched the surface in even listening to them on record but they were always one of those bands that in theory I thought I might like a lot, having coloured their indie rock with a variety of influences including jazz, Americana, and mariachi. With horns, pedal steel guitar, vibraphone, and hand percussion making their way amidst the more conventional rock instrumentation, the band performed a varied sounding set from mariachi-influenced songs, to rootsy numbers and a few straight-ahead, guitar-driven indie rock blasts. It was the latter that I most identified with although it was the former[the mariachi/rootsy numbers] where the band really distinguishes themselves. With the press having described them as "desert noir" in the past, I always imagined a mystique surrounding the band but on the contrary they were quite ordinary guys and lead singer Joey Burns was open and friendly with crowd.

They thanked the crowd, who in my opinion seemed enthusiastic on the contrary to what chartattack said, with a couple of encores, the first with the band which included a Zorba-The-Greek-esque instrumental interlude joined onstage with Elliott Brood which segued into a poignant, twang-inflected cover of Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer". The 2nd encore seemed unplanned but given the sustained efforts from the crowd who remained, Joey and pedal steel guitarist Paul Niehaus came back onstage to perform the quieter, folky Bisbee Blue".

Here's the setlist.

Photos: Calexico, Elliott Brood @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 22, 2010)
MySpace: Elliott Brood
MySpace: Calexico
Video: Calexico - "Sunken Waltz" (live @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (July 22, 2010)