Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Lemonheads, The Shining Twins @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (October 17, 2011)

Evan Dando @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

After a steady diet of The Smiths, New Order, The Cure and and The Jesus and Mary Chain in the late 80's, the 90's were to usher in a shift in my musical tastes. discovered the Pixies and their eclectic musical stew of surf, garage, punk and pop just prior to their breakup and their last album, 1991's "Trompe Le Monde". The musical axis of 1991 and 1992 of course was dominated for me and many others by Seattle's Nirvana and their 1991 major label debut "Nevermind", a vibrant combination of grungy guitars and pop melodies. On the other end of the Atlantic, Scottish power-pop outfit Teenage Fanclub also released their major label debut album in 1991 entitled "Bandwagonesque". But of that time period, I would say the album that has most stuck with me was The Lemonheads' 1992 alt-pop classic "It's A Shame About Ray". Led by singer songwriter Evan Dando, up until that point, the band had gone through a few configurations and had released 3 indie albums and one major label album. But with the release of "It's A Shame About Ray", the band became bona-fide alt-rock stars, and Evan Dando a musical pin-up poster boy for many female musical fans(and I imagine some male music fans). For me, "It's A Shame About Ray" was a logical extension of my alternative pop tastes in the 80's and it was a voluptuously hummable album from start to finish. On another level, the album was important to me because while they were already on a major label at the time, my musical research into the band at the time, opened me up to their indie history and well of course the burgeoning American indie rock scene. With Nirvana's "Nevermind", 1991 may have been the year that punk broke, and Nirvana the voice of a new generation but The Lemonheads' "It's A Shame About Ray" was a far more influential album for me.

I'd seen The Lemonheads (well Evan Dando and whomever his touring band was) play Toronto in 2006 at Lee's Palace and more recently had the pleasure of seeing Dando and his dear musical friend Juliana Hatfield perform a set of Lemonheads and Hatfield songs acoustically earlier this year. When I heard that in honour of the 20th anniversary of "It's A Shame About Ray", Dando was going to tour as The Lemonheads and perform the entire album, I was super excited. It'd have been cool for consistency sake if the album's original lineup was touring, with Juliana Hatfield on bass/vocals and David Ryan on drums, but for this tour Dando brought in some replacements, bassist Josh Lattanzi(The Candles) and drummer Brian Nolan (American Hi-Fi). Hey, I'll take what I can get.

Opening the show was New York City punk duo The Shining Twins, consisting of Alex Weiss and Marisa Kreiss. My own superficial research into the band reveals that it was only within the last few years that the duo learned to play their instruments, that being drums and bass guitar, and it does show. And while the band may have rudimentary musicianship it does in no way detract from the gals musicality, with nods to old school punk and their sound also reminding me of the DIY ethics of the American West Coast K Records scene of the 90's. Perhaps to relive some of the old punk rock energy of The Lemonheads' earlier albums, Evan Dando joined them on guitar and some vocals for the gals' last song.

Given the brevity of "It's A Shame About A Ray", running approximately a half hour, had the show been confined just to the album itself, it'd have been a short show so thankfully Evan included a number of other Lemonheads' goodies. The band first ran through the entire album minus the cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Mrs. Robinson' which Evan chose not to perform and wasn't on the original pressings of the album anyway. Compared to the record, the performance felt grittier, especially in the guitar sound making everything that much better in my opinion. It was quite apparent that on songs like 'My Drug Buddy' and 'Bit Part', Juliana Hatfield's vocals were missed. Looking up at Dando on stage, it's almost like he'd never aged with his stringy hair and sleepy look staring down upon us like most of us remembered him 20 years ago and that sense of nostalgia that many of us in the crowd had was exhilarating.

As good as the first part of the show was, the remainder of the set felt equally as good. Dando's bandmates would leave the stage to let Dando perform a bunch of songs solo before returning later to play out the rest of the set. During this portion I wasn't entirely familiar with everything, although their were a number of songs included from "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" and "Car Button Cloth" which were exhilarating, in particular 'The Great Big No', 'Into Your Arms', 'Big Gay Heart' and 'If I Could Talk I'd Tell You'. Even back during the band's heyday, I had a tendency to underestimate the talent's of Dando because the music while really enjoyable was also deceptively simple. But therein lies the answer to why Dando is so talented - it's Dando's simple, straight-forward directness in his melodies, chord changes, and even sometimes his lyrics eg. 'Being Around', that really ARE the marks of a good pop song. I imagine writing a naturally-sounding good pop song can be a difficult task, even for the best songwriters, but Dando's rounded out a 20-plus year career of making it seem easy.

Photos: The Lemonheads, The Shining Twins @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (October 17, 2011)
MySpace: The Lemonheads

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Portishead @ Sound Academy, Toronto (October 10, 2011)

Beth Gibbons of Portishead @ Sound Academy: photo by Michael Ligon

There are bands I wish to see live who I have accepted will probably never reunite (The Smiths, New Order) and then there are the bands that I think I will never get to see live but then miraculously the band comes out of hiatus or retirement and goes on tour. Of the latter category, I've seen The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, and most recently, as well as more dear to my heart, Portishead. Along with fellow Bristolians Massive Attack, Portishead ignited the 'trip-hop' genre in 1990's propelling what was once an underground musical style towards the mainstream. Prior to their most recent full-length "Third" in 2008, they'd only released two albums, their seminal full-length debut "Dummy" in 1994 and their sinister self-titled follow-up in 1997. And for whatever reasons I'd not been motivated not check out the band live during the few times the band toured to promote their first two album, it was the band's 1998 live album / DVD "Pnyc Live" (a recording of the band's one-off show at NYC's Roseland Ballroom at which the band performed with an orchestra)which cemented my need to see this band live. At the time I could have not forseen the band going on hiatus from touring or recording a follow-up full-length until a decade later. When the band finally released their third album, entitled "Third", in 2008 I was ecstatic and was even more ecstatic that the band started to play live again, my hopes that the band would come back to Toronto. The band's first show in North America in 2008 was at the Coachella music festival and I remember being glued to my computer screen as I watched the live webcast of Portishead's phenomenal set. I'd never have guessed that it would have been more than three years later that Portishead would embark on a proper North American tour. Toronto made the cut fortunately, and even more fortunately the band booked two shows here for October 9 and 10. Too bad it had to be at the ghastly Sound Academy. But beggars can't be choosers, and as the dates grew closer, so did my excitement for the show. I was even more excited that within days of the show, I found out I got approved for a photo pass.

I was going to the second show of the two, which also was the same day as Thanksgiving here in Canada. After spending the day with family, I made my way down to the venue. It was just as well that I got there when I did because my arrival was only minutes before Portishead were to start. By the time I got my photo pass, then squeezed my way through the crowd to the front, then was let into the photo pit by Security, the stage lights dimmed and Portishead came on to the stage as I was still fumbling with my bag trying to get my camera and lenses out. Sweating profusely at this point, partly due to my excitement for the band and partly due to some nervous energy realizing I was almost late, I finally settled in for the three songs I'd be up there. When I wasn't snapping away, I stopped for a moment to realize I was mere feet away from the one and only Beth Gibbons!

Portishead's holy trinity of Geoff Barrows (drums, turntables), Beth Gibbons (vocals), and Adrian Utley (guitar) were joined onstage and for this tour by Jim Barr (bass), Clive Deamer(drums), and John Baggott (keyboards). The set kicked off with the rhythmically propulsive, pre-millenial tension of 'Silence', then one-eighty'd into the solemn quietness of 'Hunter' before working up the audience with the cinematic crowd-favourite 'Mysterons'. I felt fortunate to experience the band front-row centre for those three songs, to feel the immediacy of the band's different sensibilities. My three songs in the photo pit were over and I made my way back into the crowd when the band sunk into the desolate-sounding 'The Rip'(my personal favourite off "Third"), Beth Gibbons' voice trembling with every note. My view of the stage from stage left may have been less satisfying but with the remainder of the set just getting better and better, the visual element almost didn't matter.

The remainder of the main set had it's share of highlights. 'Wandering Star' was stripped down to a bare bones version with Beth and Geoff seated in the middle of the stage, Beth on vocals and Geoff on bass guitar. Audience sing-alongs could be heard on favourites like on 'Sour Times' and 'Glory Box'. It was on the latter that I realized how deeply connected I was to Beth's presence as even with such gender-specific lyrics like "Just give me a reason to love you, Give me a reason to be a woman, I just wanna be a woman", I felt like I was experiencing the female point-of-view without it being awkward. The descriptively titled 'Machine Gun' sliced it's propulsive rhythms through the air, Barrow's metallic drum sounds synched with the video projections behind them. The band's self-titled second album got the least representation during the show but thankfully included a few stunners, 'Over' featuring Barrow's exemplary turntablist skills and the sinister 'Cowboys'. I didn't realize it until they played it, but the band's Amnesty International charity single 'Chase The Tear' a song gussied up in electro-rhythms but grounded with simple drums and guitar, reminded me of Radiohead. By far the most eye-opening (or maybe that should be ear-opening) point of the night was the set-closer, the metal-ish 'Threads' on which three-quarters of the way through Gibbons' normally subdued vocals went through a transformation as the thrust and volume of her vocals achieved a level I was not entirely acquainted with. And it was exhilirating.

The encore, while only two songs, was near perfect with the Rhodes-accompanied 'Roads' which enthralled the crowd from its very first keyboard note and then with the urgent, industrial-sounding 'We Carry On' during which Gibbons, normally the introverted type, lept down to the floor to seemingly shake the hands and greet the entire front row of the crowd. Cameras and camera phones lept in to action before Gibbons jumped back onto the stage where she stood towards the right side of the stage sipping her beer as her band mates steamrolled to a conclusion.A concert on Thanksgiving could not get any better than this.

Photos: Portishead @ Sound Academy, Toronto (October 10, 2011)
MySpace: Portishead

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Weeknd - "Initiation" (new song)

Toronto's Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd is blowing up, quietly. He's been propped by Drake after he quoted a line from the track "Wicked Games" via Twitter and then linked to The Weeknd's website. He's released a few free mixtapes through his website, first "House of Ballons" and more recently "Thursday", the former which had garnered him a Polaris Music Prize nomination. He's only performed a few live shows so far including The Mod Club in Toronto, opening for Drake at Molson Ampitheatre this past summer, and more recently at the Guelph Concert Theatre at the beginning of October. The Weeknd's chill, heady brand of r'n'b is as much about his vocals as about it's production, the latter of which I'm actually more drawn to. And until he releases his next mixtape, or perhaps a proper album, to whet our appetites he's recently released a new song entitled "Initiation" - best experienced through headphones:

The Weeknd - "Initiation"

MP3: The Weeknd - "Initiation"

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Portishead and Doldrums Collaborate On New Single For Charity

As of the time of this posting, Bristol UK's Portishead are in the midst of their first show of a two-night stint at Sound Academy in Toronto. I'm super excited to see the group live tomorrow night, and even scored a photo pass for the show! And for Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow, that photo pass will be one of those things I give thanks for, along with of course the important things like family and health.

Portishead stopped in recently with "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to perform a few songs including their new Amnesty International benefit track "Chase the Tear" for television broadcast as well as their classic "Mysterons" as a web exclusive:

"Chase The Tear"


In recent news from XL Recordings, it was announced that "Chase the Tear" will be released on vinyl for the first time through XL on November 14. And if you thought there wasn't any Canadian content in this post well then you're wrong as the b-side of the vinyl will be a remix of "Chase The Tear" done by Toronto experimentalist eccentric Doldrums.

Check out Doldrums' cover of the Portishead track below. Doldrums posted this on YouTube back in December 2009 and it's definitely a cover. At this point I'm not sure of the track below will actually be the b-side of the new Portishead vinyl as the info from XL lists Doldrums' contribution to the vinyl as a remix. I guess we'll have to wait and hear:

Doldrums - "Chase The Tear" (Portishead Cover)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 1, 2011)

Another edition of Nuit Blanche, Toronto's "...sixth annual sunset-to-sunrise celebration of contemporary art" happened this past Saturday night. And aside from the night's chilly temperatures, I wasn't feeling thrilled in the quality of the installations and projects as I'd had in past years. Much of what I saw was visual which may make for interesting visual stimulation for a moment but didn't provide much in the way of a lasting impression. On the other hand, installations like "Soon" at Commerce Court, with spotlights situated atop buildings surrounding the area shone down on the crowd while an immersive, audio-warped soundtrack filled the square, in my opinion made for a cool experience. With my brother, cousin and his girlfriend in tow, we hit Zone's B and C and never made it to Zone A. But as the night wore on, there were a few installations(like the aforementioned "Soon") that stood out and provided good photo ops, making the night not a total loss. I'm a strong supporter of the annual event in general and I will be surely out for the next edition.

"Soon" @ Commerce Court: photo by Michael Ligon

"Je t'aime Alouette" @ Design Exchange: photo by Michael Ligon

"Barricades" @ Yonge & Queen: photo by Michael Ligon

"I just know that something good is going to happen" @ Dundee Place: photo by Michael Ligon

Check out my entire photo set of the night below:

Photos: Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 1, 2011)