Sunday, October 31, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 20, 2010)

  The Drums @ Santos Party House, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

If you look at my photoset for my second day in NYC, you'll see I had a fixation on one aspect of NYC, namely Times Square. As visually spectacular as it was, it's not so much what it was but what it represented for me, namely the diversity and energy that is New York City. I spent a good four hours in the area first taking in a late morning coffee & breakfast at Starbucks and using the free WI-FI there then sauntering around the Square taking photos and absorbing the vibe. Damn, there's a lot of tourists there. If people watching is your thing and your in NYC, you must go to Times Square. Back to the West Village for some exploring, then to the hotel for a late afternoon nap, and later off I was for my second night of CMJ.

One of my favourite new discoveries was Bologna, Italy band A Classic Education playing at Lower East Side venue The Delancey located just shy of the Williamsburg Bridge. Online research has revealed to me that lead vocalist Jonathan Clancy is Canadian born may explain to me why he didn't seem to have an Italian accent when he spoke or sung. There was a sparkling tone to their indie guitar-pop, reminding me a bit of a band like Echo and The Bunnymen. Unfortunatley, I'd only caught about three songs although it was enough for me to make my one and only purchase of the entire festival, their 5-song First EP, in a hand-made cloth CD sleeve.

After a short stop at Other Music, I headed just down the street to get to Ace of Clubs where Canadian electro-act New Look were just about to start. I was impressed by the duo when they played Canadian Musicfest in Toronto this past March, with the irresistibly cool vocals of Sarah Ruba, her subtly effective keyboard arrangements and her cohort Adam Pavao's sumptuous programming and beats. Playing against a white screen backdrop which showed a continual stream of colourful geometric patterns, it was a alot more satisfying visually though harder to photograph, but overall made it a more enjoyable experience. The strapped keyboard slung over Ruba's shoulder while she coyly sung, is one of the sexier things I've seen in a long time. Yes, sometimes music needs to be sexier.

As it turns out, I would spend the rest of the night a bit more Uptown at Santos Party House, a lot of it waiting in line trying to get in to the venue as it was at capacity. As it turns out, I was fortunate enough to get near the front of the CMJ badges line and though they were at that point making even badgeholders pay, I gladly forked over $5[as I'd RSVP before, or else I'd have to pay $10] and got it to catch a few songs of local indie notable Marnie Stern. She definitely had a garage vibe but more often than not expressed a willingness to experiment with vocal phrasing and dynamics. Yes, she is from New York but had I not known that I'd still have thought she felt very NYC - gritty, creative and bursting with energy.

During Marnie's set, she bantered jokingly along the lines about Wild Nothing being up next and hoping for the crowd that they were something rather than nothing. Well, Wild Nothing were definitely something; maybe they should change their name. An unknown entity to me prior, there seemed to be a good number of people in the audience looking forward to them. Wild Nothing, the project of a one Jack Tatum, turned out to be fairly entertaining. They sounded like they came from the same indiepop-school as Brooklynites Pains of Being Pure At Heart, though favouring a slighter cleaner guitar sound most of the time and displaying a slicker level of musicianship. For that latter factor, I sometimes wished the band would loosen up a bit, play rawer, but still they had some great melodies.

For the time I'd been in Santos Party House, I'd never even ventured to the second stage in the basement of the venue, instead sticking it out for the secret headliners of the mainstage who turned out to be buzzy locals The Drums. Caught up in a tremendous amount of press since the beginning of the year, the band had recently played The Mod Club in Toronto which I didn't make it to so to catch them in NYC was a real treat. I'd only previously heard their infectious, though polite-sounding single "Let's Go Surfing" so when the band proceed to turn up the notch during this live set several levels, I was pleasantly surprised. Melodies galore, and tantalizingly succinct guitar lines are the band's main strengths, the band oft compared to The Smiths and Joy Division. As I said, the band really turned it up, seemingly upping the tempos and infusing everything with a good dose of energy. I can't describe lead vocalist Jonathan Pierce's dancing as anything better than prancing; it had a fey quality and felt somewhat affected but hey if that's the way he felt like moving, how can I fault him. At the very least, it expressed how deeply in the moment he was and it really rubbed off on the audience who seemed as energetic as the band were. Excellent way to close off day two of CMJ.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 20, 2010)
MySpace: A Classic Education
MySpace: New Look
MySpace: Marnie Stern
MySpace: Wild Nothing
MySpace: The Drums

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 19, 2010)

  Surfer Blood @ The Studio at Webster Hall, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

I didn't realize that my trip to New York City and CMJ last week would have taken such a toll on me this week because outside of work I've been downright pooped so apologies for the delayed NYC / CMJ content. New York City has been on my travel destination list for the last decade but somehow I didn't pull it together until now. It's a spectacular city, full of diversity, culture and history and for the five day and nights that I was there I was intent on absorbing as much as I could, not that it was ever possible to take in everything. But I tried. Day One, NYC started out relatively easy, navigating the transit system (both bus and subway), checking into my hotel, wandering around the West Village, going to pick up my press badge, and strolling through the Washington Square / NYU area of the city. My first CMJ stop wasn't even one that required the press badge or a ticket as it was a FREE CMJ party hosted by MTV and MTVU featuring a four-artist bill down at The Studio @ Webster Hall, an intimate, underground venue.

Opening the night was young Floridian outfit Fake Problems with their spunky brand of power pop. The intimate-sized venue had yet to fill up by then but the band energetically performed nonetheless and the small crowd on hand were appreciative. They sounded like a band that's still in the process of working out their songwriting chops; yes there were melodies, but nothing that ever really stood out as exceptional. And their sonic influences sometimes veered a little too close to punk-pop for my tastes. Not my cup of tea, but with the crowd leaning more towards the young 'uns at least they were liking it.

Up next was the genre-hopping, electro-hip hop diva Dominique Young Unique from Tampa, Florida. With a duo of gents manning keyboard and programming duties, Dominique traversed the small stage from side to side, displaying some decent rapping technique over the disco-y, electro beats that propelled the songs. To Torontonians the best comparison I could make would be to Toronto's Thunderheist. It was a fun set although not entirely unfamiliar given my past concert experiences with Thunderheist (who in my opinion are better, and not because they're the hometown team.) In any case, Dominque and her keyboard / programming pals did work up up sweat onstage and wonders will never cease how more people weren't dancing [at the very least I had the head-bobbing, leg-shaking thing going on). It's not just Torontonians after all.

At this point, it was an interesting trio, local act Francis and The Lights that were up next. With lead vocalist Francis Farewell Starlite looking a little like Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli and acting every bit as soulful and suave onstage, the band have an interesting minimalist approach to funk and soul. There was a restraint on the instrumental side with the approach of the guitarist and a keyboardist who also handled the programmed beats. Beats were simple but effective and even though the guitarist did display some decent guitar work he did it with a Kraftwerk-ian stage presence that left the spotlight firmly on vocalist Starlite who sung and danced and worked up the crowd. Starlite came off vocally sounding like he was trying to emulate Prince and to my surprise rather than sounding awkward or like a joke it sounded good. A very nice surprise.

Rounding out my first evening of CMJ was West Palm Beach buzz band Surfer Blood. Having not played NYC in a long time [I believe they said the last time was at last year's CMJ), the capacity crowd was fully pumped, and the band delivered. I'd been quite taken with their debut single "Swim" a reverb-filled, exhilirating surf-pop tune and their set just confirmed that they do definitely have more than just that first single. To my ear, they're of the alt-pop school, but most definitely sounding like a reverbed-drenched Weezer, influenced by the Beach Boys. I'd read reviews of their past shows being a little lacklustre and I don't totally disagree that this show wasn't exactly visually spectacular but there was something about lead vocalist John Paul Pitts' whole preppy, somewhat geeky garb and his slightly fey stage presence(especially when he was guitarless) that drew out a bit of his personality. "Swim" didn't make an appearance until after the band concluded their set then came back and apologized to the crowd that they forgot to play one more song, the aforementioned one of course. For my first night in NYC, let's say it was just a bit magical, and even moreso when the bubble machine was started up during "Swim".

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 19, 2010)
MySpace: Fake Problems
MySpace: Dominique Young Unique
MySpace: Francis and The Lights
MySpace: Surfer Blood

Monday, October 18, 2010

CMJ Music Marathon - Official and Unofficial Parties

NYC-bound tomorrow and still in the midst of packing but I am looking forward to CMJ immensely. I'm a bit overwhelmed going through the CMJ schedule and deciding what to pick but fortunately I came across My Free Concert which has JUST ABOUT ALL the skinny on both official and unofficial parties happening during the CMJ Music Marathon this week. And not only that but My Free Concert have partnered with No Pulp Music to host their own 2-night [Tues Oct 19 & Fri Oct 22] shindig at Arlene's Grocery with a total of 16 bands over the two nights and My Free Concert is giving away goodie bags. I haven't even perused My Free Concert's CMJ links in depth - I have me some reading and RSVP'ing to do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CMJ Artist Preview - Younge Empires

The minor media attention given to Toronto electro-dance pop trio Young Empires and their apparently fantastic NXNE show at the Dakota Tavern back in June some how evaded me but now I'm noticing. Actually to be more truthful, music blogger friend Ryan O'shaughnessy (of music site Tunes in T.O.) had mentioned to me back at the end of August that British music publication NME had contacted him for permission to use one of his photos of the band for an upcoming issue, and that was actually the first time the band's name was on my radar. And since their set at NXNE the press on the band has been heating up. More recently having seen that the band is slated to open up for Parisian act Jamaica at Wrongbar in Toronto on October 19 but then also realizing that both acts will be in New York City during the time I'm down there for CMJ, motivated me to sample some of Young Empires' wares. And the verdict? Great stuff. The trio consisting of Matthew Vlahovich, Robert Aaron Ellingson, and Jake Palahnuk, concoct a satisfying mix of guitar, bass, synths, and sampled beats, displaying their best in my opinion on their song "White Doves" a fully realized slice of melodic electro post-punk. Currently, the band remains unsigned but I'm fully impressed by the demos that are currently up on their MySpace site, even if none of the other songs quite match the brilliance of "White Doves". I'm also really impressed with the quality of their music videos which are conceptually interesting and well-shot. I don't forsee this band remaining unsigned for very long and it's quite likely I'll try to check them out during CMJ, sooner rather than later.

For those who'll be in New York City this week for CMJ, Young Empires will be playing a few shows[info from their MySpace]:

23 Oct 2010 - Arlenes /// CMJ
23 Oct 2010 - HypeM Afterhours /// CMJ PureVolume House

And for those of you back in Toronto here's where you can catch them[info from their MySpace]:

19 Oct 2010 - Wrongbar /// with Jamaica
19 Nov 2010 - Steamwhistle Brewery /// Unsigned Concert Series

MySpace: Young Empires
Video: Young Empires - "White Doves" (performance video)
Video: Young Empires - "White Doves" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Against The Wall" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Diamond Rings" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Glory Of The Night" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Rain Of Gold" (music video)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

CMJ Artist Preview - No Joy

No Joy

Of all the Canadian acts that are playing CMJ, I may actually make an effort to see Montreal duo No Joy. Made up of members Jasmine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd the duo have already released a 7" through hip Brooklyn-based upstart Mexican Summer. The label is set to release the duo's debut full-length Ghost Blonde on November 16. With a bio that makes references about the band's sound to My Bloody Valentine and Lush, the first influence is particularly strong and as a lover of all things shoegaze-y, No Joy strongly establish themselves as the genuine article. There's an impending presence to first single "Heedless" as the song kicks off with a squall of guitar feedback, before fuzzy guitar strums chug along like a freight train, all the while the girls' vocals remaining buried in the mix almost fighting to get out.

Preorder the group's debut album here.

As an alternative you can also head over to Gorilla Vs. Bear to download the same song as well as an additional song("No Summer") by the group.

According to their MySpace, No Joy will be playing select North American dates through October and November and will be in Toronto on November 17 for show at Parts and Labor with Metz also on the bill. Don't forget your earplugs.

Update: Oops, I should have posted No Joy's CMJ dates the first time so here they are[swiped from their MySpace]:

20 Oct 2010 - CMJ (unofficial party) @ Shea Stadium(Brooklyn) set: 11:45pm
21 Oct 2010 - CO-OP 87 instore performance (Brooklyn), set: 3:00pm
21 Oct 2010 - CMJ x Mexican Summer showcase @ Knitting Factory (Brooklyn)
22 Oct 2010 - CMJ x KXSC, KVRX, CHUO + LA RECORD showcase @ Bruar Falls. set: 4:30pm
23 Oct 2010 - Brooklyn Vegan Daytime show @ Public Assembly (Brooklyn) w/Marnie Stern, Wild Nothing, Heavy Cream, more!!
23 Oct 2010 - CMJ x Gorilla vs. Bear @ 7 Extra Place FREE w/ RSVP set: 7:30pm
23 Oct 2010 - CMJ x Impose Magazine afterparty (open bar!) @ Don Pedro's (Brooklyn) set: 2:00am

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 13, 2010)

Sufjan Stevens @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
  Sufjan Stevens @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Update: Review now up.

With the memories of a thoroughly entertaining Belle and Sebastian show at Massey Hall the night before, it was Sufjan Stevens, promoting his latest album The Age Of Adz which brought me back to The Grand Old Lady Of Shuter for the the second night in a row this past Wednesday. And I could have sworn that the crowd was exactly the same for both shows. 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, I pounced on the presale when tickets went onsale for this show back in August. Presale success was achieved and I snagged a balcony seat, row B and almost smack dab centre to take in Sufjan's show which on it's own terms was as good as the Belle and Sebastian show the night before.

Opening the show was Asthmatic Kitty roster-mate DM Stith. Tall and slim, the young gentleman took up his position at his mic and chair surrounded by the musical gear that Sufjan and band would be using later that evening. Playing a mere four songs that would span about twenty minutes total, Stith adhered to a similar indie-folk sensibility as his roster-mate Sufjan performing the songs with acoustic guitar with smooth fingerpicking technique, but injected his songs with some experimental and electronic creativity using a looper to add some sweeping vocal and guitar effects. Sombre and passionate were Stith's vocals throughout the set. Taking a swig of water from a vessel which he jokingly contained hair spray, he declared that he'd play a song that was easier on his voice, then launching into the autumnal "Thanksgiving Moon". His impassioned vocals combined with the subtle acoustic and electronic instrumentation kept the crowd entranced for the entirety of his brief set. It's sets like these that were made for the acoustics of Massey Hall. His last song was entitled "My Impatience" with Stith at one point during the song singing "tell me when it's over" - no knock on Stith who I and in fact most of the audience thought was fantastic if the audience response at the end of the set was any indication, but there was perhaps a little truth in that song title as I couldn't wait till Sufjan came on.

The stated set time for Sufjan to come on was 9:15 pm so when the lights dimmed at 9 pm I was a little taken back but then suddenly overcome with anticipation. With Sufjan taking centre stage, flanked by two female back-up vocalist/dancers, they were joined by two drummers on drumkits on either side of the stage, plus a guitarist, bassist, a keyboardist, two trombonists and DM Stith on piano and back-up vocals. Adding to the aesthetics was a backdrop that showed various artistic projections[some of which were the paintings of one eccentric American artist named Royal Robertson whom he'd speak about later] throughout the night. The night's setlist was culled almost exclusively from his new album The Age of Adz, the first two songs being fairly dramatic pop-rock exercises, the drumkits on either side of the stage being used to great effect. In response to that Sufjan jokingly promised us a song to lift up our "...spirits after all that drama...", then launching into a song, the far more subtle "Heirloom" which featured the vocal phrase "I'll never let it push your arms no more". This was the night's strength - the ease with which Sufjan could transition between subtle acoustic folk songs and his dramatic, ambitious band compositions. In other terms, jokingly as Sufjan may have put it, the new album deals with his confusion between love and the apocalypse, no more clearly illustrated than with a song like "Vesuvius" where Sufjan namechecks himself in the lyrics, "Sufjan, follow your heart, Follow the flame, or fall on the floor".

Continuing his love vs apocalpyse meme, the end of the set featured a "3 song cyle about love and the apocalypse", ending with the spectacularly infectious and danceable "Impossible Souls" as Sufjan, at times singing with a vocoder, and his back-up singers donned hipster sunglasses and danced gleefully as the backdrop displayed images of Sufjan that wouldn't look out of place in Vice Magazine or a Urban Outfitters catalogue. "Impossible Souls" being the last song of the new album would have been a dynamite ending to the main set, with the deep optimism of the back-up singers singing "boy we can do much more together better get a life get a life get a life" as Sufjan responed with "it's not so impossible". But then Sufjan and band came back to end the main set for real by surprising us with Illinoise favourite "Chicago". That damn near knocked me off my seat but then after a much coaxing from the crowd, Sufjan eventually returned to the stage by himself to give us one more Illinoise tracks, "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois" before ending the night with the serene beauty of fan-favourite "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.". My only criticim of the show really is that the audience remained seated for the entire set. I'd have expected that at least the floors would have gotten up for the danceable "Impossible Souls" but I didn't notice anyone try and that was a shame because Sufjan was certainly getting his dance on, as ironic as his hipster glasses might have been. Overall, I think I like this version of Sufjan over the pep squad leader of the last show at Trinity St. Paul Church five years ago. And hopefully it won't be another five years before I get to see Sufjan in a venue like Massey Hall again.

Photos: Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 13, 2010)
MySpace: DM Stith
MySpace: Sufjan Stevens

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh Canada - Canadian Acts To See During CMJ Music Marathon in NYC (October 19-23, 2010)

  Diamond Rings: photo by Michael Ligon

Having had a splendid week already with both Belle and Sebastian and Sufjan Stevens playing terrific shows at Massey Hall in Toronto, under normal circumstances that'd keep me content for a while. However, the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City is taking place next week from October 19 to the 23 and guess who'll be covering it? Yes, me! Covering it for this blog anyway. I'm not sure yet whether I'll be posting any updates from the front - it'll all depend on what sort of internet access I have available - but hopefully I'll drop a few comments or photos along the way. At any rate, this is my first time to The Big Apple and I am looking forward to some urban exploration, record shopping(The Thing), good eats and whatever nice little surprises might come my way. As a public service to mostly the non-Canadians out there who are attending this year's CMJ Music Marathon here is a sampling of some of the Canadian acts / showcases to check out at this year's festival:

If you are a CMJ Delegate or Badge Holder you could check out the Canadian Blast showcase at Arelene's Grocery (95 Stanton / Les NYC) on October 20 with the opening set kicking off at 8 pm. The showcase will feature pop experimentalist Rich Aucoin, hip hop / soul act Art of Fresh, alt-country outfit The Beauties, folk-rock band Yukon Blonde, and garage pop act Young Rival.

Via The Audio Perv, Toronto 102.1 FM The Edge DJ Alan Cross will host a free Oh Canada CMJ showcase at Fontana's on October 19 and FREE BLOODY CAESARS AND BEER are promised along with a lineup that includes In-Flight Safety, Whale Tooth, Freedom or Death, Gobble Gobble, and Kidstreet.

Not limited to just one showcase, Canadian Blast have a comprehensive list of Canadian acts they are showcasing during this year's festival, and so in addition to the acts above playing the Oh Canada showcase at Fontana's on the 19th, other Canadian acts playing include Spirits, Leeroy Stagger, Parallels, Priestess, New Look, Hot Panda, Quest For Fire, The Rest, No Joy, Red Mass, Suuns, The Pack A.D., Carolyn Mark, Radio Radio, Kate Rogers, Black Feelings, Parlovr, Priestess, Stef Lang, Egyptrixx, Keys N Krates, Two Hours Traffic, the High Dials, Woodhands, and AIDS Wolf. Check out the the individual show details here.

Canadian 'it' boy John O'Regan's alter ego Diamond Rings will be playing an CMJ unofficial day party at Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Ave) on Thursday 21 October, with doors at 12:30 pm with The Secret History, Takka Takka, Summer People and Submarine Bells also playing. It's a free show and it's all ages. Event info here.

Diamond Rings will ALSO play:
- Oct 20 CMJ (Stereo Gun Party) @ Santos Party House
- Oct 21 CMJ (Knitting Factory Day Party) @ Knitting Factory
- Oct 21 CMJ (NYC Taper Day Party) @ Cake Shop
- Oct 22 CMJ (Distiller Day Party) @ The Knitting Factory
- Oct 23 CMJ (Bowery Presents Day Party) @ Piano's
- Oct 23 CMJ (Pitchfork #Offline) @ Brooklyn Bowl

MTV Iggy names Montreal's Braids as one of the top ten bands with buzz to see during CMJ while fellow Montrealers the Luyas make's top ten list to watch out for during the festival. Both acts play the M for Montreal showcase at Arlene's Grocery on October 21 along with fellow Montrealer Uncle Bad Touch and Kingston, Ontario's PS I Love You.

Braids will ALSO play:
- Oct 21 PIANOS - Birddog Unofficial CMJ Party w/ Gobble Gobble, Tiny Victories, Computer Magic
- Oct 22 CAKE SHOP - Kanine / Music Slut CMJ Party
- Oct 23 SOUTHPAW - Flavorpill and Pop Mondial CMJ Party w/ Lower Dens, Gold Panda, and Ladies of Storybook Burlesque
- Oct 23 BOWERY BALLROOM - VFW Showcase
- Oct 23 CAMEO GALLERY - CMJ w/ Buke and Gass, Gobble Gobble...

PS I Love You will ALSO play:
- 20 Oct 2010 20:00 Union Hall @ 8:15 (CMJ) [Union Hall Presents...]
- 20 Oct 2010 22:00 Webster Hall - The Marlin Room @ 10:30 (CMJ) [The Orchard Presents]
- 23 Oct 2010 13:00 Cameo Gallery @ 1:00 (CMJ) [twosyllable presents]
- 23 Oct 2010 23:00 Glasslands @ 11:00 (CMJ) [PopGun Presents]

2010 Polaris Prize nominee Dan Mangan plays a bunch of CMJ dates:
- Oct 21. The Mercury Lounge w/ John Vanderslice | 7pm
- Oct 22. Fontana's (Pirate Promotion Showcase) | 2pm
- Oct 22. Brooklyn Vegan / Daytrotter Loft Party
- Oct 23. Piano's (Bowery Presents Party) | 2pm

There's no guarantees I'll make it to most of these[since I'll probably be checking out mostly non-Canadian acts], but it doesn't mean you shouldn't. Although, the free beer and bloody caesars at Fontana's on October 19 is tempting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Belle & Sebastian, Zeus @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 12, 2010)

  Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Oct 14/2010, 1:02 AM]: Review now up.

Counting yesterday evening at Massey Hall, I've now seen live Glasgow's Belle & Sebastian five times - Kool Haus in 2002, the Coachella festival in 2004 plus a sidetrip that same week to San Diego to see them at the spectacular Spreckels Theatre, and lastly in Toronto at Sound Academy in February 2006. The previous(and only?) time that the group played the wonderful Massey Hall in Toronto was in 2004 but having already seen the group twice that year I decided to bypass the Toronto stop later that year. An err in judgement that was because had I known it would have been another six years before they'd play Massey Hall, I'd have gone to their Massey Hall show in 2004. And so to draw an analogy about airplane travel and the difference of seeing Belle & Sebastian perform in Massey Hall as opposed to the god-awful Sound Academy which they played back in 2006, it was like the difference between travelling first class and economy. The comfort of seeing B & S perform in Massey Hall where just about every seat is a good seat(especially might just off centre, ROW G seat!) was infinitessimally better than the crowded, cramped, uncomfortable, shitty sight-lines experience of seeing them perform at Sound Academy. Comforts aside, this most recent show was the best yet performance-wise.

Opening the show was Toronto's very own Zeus. They expressed their pride for playing the renowned venue as do most band's of their relative obscurity do. I'd somehow never got around to seeing them live, not that there were not a multitude of opportunites so if there had to be a first time to see them, why not Massey Hall? With drums, guitar, bass and electric piano in the mix the four-piece's 70's classic rock influences are definitely apparently, but they also add generous amounts of pop melodies and vocal harmonies. Instrumentally, they performed loose and ragged, especially in the guitar arrangements, and while I've always associated 70's classic rock with not much emphasis in the drumming and usually boring, drummer Rob Baker's playing was punchy and interesting. Keeping things democratic, members Neil Quin, Mike O'brien and Carlin Nicholson all took swipes at lead vocals and switching between guitar and keyboards. The band played a new song that had sort of a 50's doowop melody that fared well with the audience, although prior to the song a lone audience member vocalized their appreciation, before bassist Carlin Nicholson humourously responded it was a new song. The opening slot any time one plays Massey Hall is always a difficult slot to fill as most people are primarily there for the headliners but spending time with Zeus wasn't a shabby experience at all.

As I'd imagined I knew there would be a rush of people towards the front of the stage, but in actuality it was more of a polite and gradual "rush". The politeness has perhaps to do with being Canadian or that's just the trait of Belle & Sebastian fans, but the 'rush' to the front of the stage first started out with only a couple of front-row fans dancing, then a group of young girls congregated off to the left side of the stage, and then after that pockets of individuals seemed to gravitate towards the front. Still there were a good number of people still sitting, myself included, and that was fine. The band's new album Write About Love was released in Canada that very day [I myself snapping up a copy of the vinyl at the merch table just prior to the sho]), and of course the band played several cuts from the album, consigning most of those tracks I believe to the first part of the show. Those are still sinking in, but I did enjoy the track that guitarist Stevie Jackson had the audience participate and sing / "ooh" back-up on. Now that I have the album, I will have to thrown it on to the turntable and give it a listen.

But it's the classic cuts that I think most people wanted to hear. With a 4-member string section in tow, the band performing tracks spanning many of their albums including faves like "Dylan In The Movies", "I'm A Cuckoo" [during which if I recall correctly was when vocalist Stuart Murdoch pulled up a female fan onstage to dance with], my personal favourite "The Boy With An Arab Strap" [during which the band had even more fan participants onstage including the most adorable pigtailed young red-headed girl you ever saw, after which Murdoch gave each an Olympic-style medal], and "Sukie In The Grave Yard". There were also sublime versions of deep album cuts like Dear Catastrophe Waitress's "Piazza, New york Catcher" and one of my faves of the night, an achingly beautiful "Lord Anthony". We also got a cool rendition of the Stevie-sung 2004 b-side "I Believe In Travellin' Light". The main set ended climatically with "Sleep Around The Clock".

Murdoch was in fine form providing humourous banter throughout the evening with Stevie chiming in occasionally. At one point, Murdoch asked if anyone in the audience had been having a bad day prior to the show and one guy chimed in. Murdoch asked the guy if there was anything the band could play, and presumably he'd asked for The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" so after Stevie worked out the chords the band leapt into a totally off-the-cuff rendition of the song, only getting about a minute of two into the song before calling it quits. In any case, it was deeply appreciated by the fans.

A sublime version of "Judy and The Dream of Horses" started off the encore before ending on fan favourite "Me and The Major". With the band's now-deep catalogue of songs, there could have been any number of setlist choices, and part of me is a little disappointed in not getting to hear tracks like "The State I'm In", "Fox In The Snow" and "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love", but the setlist WE DID GET, was deeply satisfying. The pacing of the show picked up as the show progressed with Stuart increasingly in dance mode. I could have gone another hour if the band had the luxury but of course all good things must come to and end. With the last album and tour being around the time of 2006's The Life Pursuit it's felt way too long for the band to be away, but I like many others are so glad they are back.

For more reviews of the show check out The Panic Manual, Exclaim, chartattack, The Globe and Mail, NOW, and Eye Weekly. Update: Chromewaves has a stellar review and photos.

Photos: Belle & Sebastian, Zeus @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 12, 2010)
MySpace: Zeus
MySpace: Belle & Sebastian

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Walkmen, AA Bondy, Blood Feathers @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 9, 2010)

  The Walkmen: photo by Michael Ligon

The various spectrums of rock n' roll were on display this past Saturday night with a trio of acts that were bound to please everyone. It would only take one look at the MySpace URL of first opener Blood Feathers to guess what they specialized in. The Philly outfit were indeed a rock n' roll band of the highest degree, pumping out hard-rocking, r n' b, rockabilly-tinged numbers. Taking a reverse take on The Ramones whose members each took on Ramone as their last name, Blood Feathers' members utilize their each individual last names but take Feather as their first name. Greaser-quaffed lead vocalist Feather Mills did a fine job on lead vocals, but the instrumentation was where it was as the band excelled with with effective drumming, crunchy guitars and the occasional grimy tenor sax. I could have imagined a good rock n' roll dance party going on but the sparse crowd onhand was a little too insecure to break out of their shells.

Next up were Alabama artist AA Bondy (born Auguste Arthur Bondy), one of the buzz acts of this year's NXNE. Buzz-worthy he may have been, but I'd never even attempted to sample their wares before the show, which really is my bad. With two albums already to his name and aprior history with a previous band(Verbena) back in the 1990's according to Wikipedia, I'm way behind the curve, but feel quite fortunate to have caught this set. In stark contrast to the sparse crowd onhand for Blood Feathers, the crowd was decidely more focused on crowding the front of the stage for AA Bondy's set. Unaware that Bondy himself and his two band members(drummer & bassist) were actually setting up their own gear onstage, I was surprised when the trio subtly took to their instruments, the lights dimmed as it would remain for the entirety of the set(frustrating photographers I'm sure) and went on to knock my socks off. There was a Southern strain to Bondy's supple melodies and vocals, while the band churned out the instrumentation in a decidely easy tempo, giving much of the material a dark tone. On the other hand, the band also dabblesd in a bit of dissonant experimentation, reminding me a bit of Sonic Youth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco, as Bondy at times held up his guitar to the amp as it resonated with harsher tones. But in the end it was the song's that really connected and I'll be looking forward to seeing Mr. Bondy either in solo or band form whenever he comes back to town.

The last time NYC's The Walkmen played in town was in July 2009 at Lee's Palace, not the first time I'd seen the band live but it was a show I don't have any specific memories of but generally remember it being satisfying but no more no less. For a band who in my opinion had released one of the finest rock n' roll singles("The Rat") of the last decade, of the few times I've seen them live I don't recall their live sets being consistently scintillating, although I would say that this most current set was their most successful set to me yet. On the tour jaunt for their most recent album Lisbon, there was obvious excitement for the group. The band dressed in dark slacks and white button-up shirts, with a member or two wearing a jacket or blazer, oozed NYC cool without looking ridicously hipster-ish, but the visual aesthetics aside, the focus was really on the music.

There was a balanced approach to the setlist overall. The vibe of the night ranged from skeletal rhythmic numbers like "Blue As Your Blood", to churning rockers like "Victory" and "In The New Year", crooning atmospheric numbers like "Donde Esta La Playa" and "Canadian Girl", and perhaps the band's bread and butter, explosive numbers like "Angela Surf City" and "The Rat". So the organ-fueled and guitar drenched numbers were augmented by drummer Matt Barrick who was particularly solid, occasionally embellishing his rhythms with a shaker or triangle. I still thought pockets of the crowd were frustratingly tame. However, there was definitely some energy dispersed through the crowd and the crowd was indeed vocal for their want for an encore which the band granted first with mellower tune "New Country" performed with just lead guitarist Paul Maroon and Hamilton on vocals, then launching into the explosive "The Rat" which could have satisfyingly ended the night there, but the band ended the night on one more tune. LIke the female concert attendee vocally shouting out her song request, I was hoping they'd also play the mariachi-influenced "Louisiana" [an influence that I noticed more subtly on a few of their other songs] but no dice. The song's probably their next big 'hit' next to "The Rat" so I only thought they'd have played it. All I can say is that like the band's varied sounding ouvre, The Walkmen are full of surprises.

Photos: The Walkmen, AA Bondy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 9, 2010)
MySpace: Blood Feathers
MySpace: AA Bondy

MySpace: The Walkmen

Friday, October 08, 2010

Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto (October 6, 2010)

Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square
  Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square: photo by Michael Ligon

So as the photo above attests to even the pigeons couldn't resist checking out Calgarian indie folk outfit Woodpigeon who stopped in at Yonge Dundas Square for a free noon hour show. It was during last year's NXNE that was the first and only time I'd seen Woodpigeon live, so the free show at the Square this past week was a good chance to get reacquainted with them, even if I couldn't catch everything since I had to get back to work. Coincidentally, with both Sufjan Stevens and Belle and Sebastian coming to town for shows next week, it was those two artists that I was reminded of during what I'd caught of Woodpigeon's set. In particular, their cover of the Paul McCartney / Michael Jackson duet of "Say Say Say" prodded my imagination of what the song would sound like if Belle and Sebastian were to cover it, with spare instrumentation, trumpet and a level of restraint in the vocals[B&S never really do rock out, and yet we still love 'em], but overall performed with a sense of playfulness. But Sufjan Stevens was the one artist I was reminded of more, especially during the band's quieter numbers. Vocalist/songwriter Mark Hamilton mentioned The National Parks Project, a collaboration that happened with him, fellow Calgarian, rapper Cadence Weapon, and Toronto indie-folk artist Laura Barrett which Hamilton described as the trio going camping and writing songs together at which point the band played the song he wrote, a melancholy ukelele number with trumpet, backup vocals, bass and drums. Having to go back to work, I was able to catch the penultimate song of the set which was a nautically themed number about "drowing to death", with mentions of "capsized" and "your ship has come at last", ending in a improvised cacophonous instrumental coda. Yonge Dundas Square is a wholly inappropriate venue to showcase the band, but hopefully there were a few new converts in the audience. And as chartattack reports, the band have released a new album Balladeer/To All The Guys I've Loved Before and a new digital EP, Our Love Is As Tall As The Calgary Tower the latter which you can preview at the band's website.

Photos: Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto (October 6, 2010)
MySpace: Woodpigeon

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 3, 2010)

  Nuit Blanche in Toronto: photo by Michael Ligon

This past Saturday night was the Toronto's fifth annual Nuit Blanche, an all-night contemporary arts festival. I've made it out to every Nuit Blanche except for the inaugural one back in 2006, and this year's one just about the chilliest, but at least the rain held off. I made a conscious effort to try to avoid the crowds as much as possible so I started out in Zone C in Liberty Village and Parkdale before heading west to Downtown Toronto to check out the multitude of installations in Zone B. I've read much criticsm that the quality of this year's installations was not as good as past years and I do agree but at the same time I still felt there was much to be appreciated this year given you went in with an open mind. I read criticisms from people that they thought the multitude of projection-based installations were not 'art' but that whole notion is silly because I think most if not everything I saw during the night was art. I don't pretend to be an expert but my understanding of art is that through whatever medium the artist chooses, he or she is attempting to express some meaning. I guess what people/critics really meant to say was that they'd have preferred less projection-based installations and more of whatever else they may have been expecting and that's a valid preference. Perhaps, the organizers of the event will take that in to consideration for next year's edition. I myself would prefer even more sound installation as the one's I took in this year were interesting. But aside from the quality of the actual installtions, what continues to excite me is the whole concept of seeing these installations in public spaces that are more often than not mundane, presenting the city in a different light as well as providing me an opportunity to see parts of the city I'd never seen up close. So whatever your opinions were of the event, well they're your opinions. I don't see Nuit Blanche escaping its polarizing effect in the future, but in my opinion, Nuit Blanche's ability to provoke discussion, good or bad, is one of the things which is going to draw crowds to the event for years to come.

Photos: Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 3, 2010)