Saturday, December 31, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 22, 2011)

  Peelander Z @ Public Assembly, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

Last day/night of my trip to New York City and CMJ back in October 2011. (Next year, if I do the NYC trip again, I think I'll just post updates on a daily basis - this is too much work after the fact.)

For my last day/night in The Big Apple I took it relatively easier than the other days:

- Starbucks near MOMA
- Radio City Music Hall
- General Electric Building
- Rockafeller Center Ice Rink
- Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
- Emmy The Great @ Spike Hill
- Born Gold & Peelander-Z @ Public Assembly (as part of Day 2 of the Brooklynvegan 'not a CMJ' party)
- Grand Central Terminal; while wandering around, a one Miss Rebecca Black (of "Friday" fame) was signing autographs and chatting with a few fans.
- back to MOMA only to find out that it closes earlier than I expected on Saturdays.
- raced on over to Central Park to check it out, especially Wollman Rink (although because the rink itself it was closed, I didn't get to renact the scene in the film Serendipity when John Cusack lies on the rink as snow flakes fall down. ;-)
- saw the Robert Indiana LOVE Sculpture
- raced across town to the World Financial Center for the Sonic Festival featuring the American Composers Orchestra with the headlining piece composed by The National's Bryce Dessner and featuring him as well as his brother Aaron on guitar [FREE things like this should so happen in Toronto more often].
- at this point, figuring what I'd do for the rest of the night, but nothing musically was really fancying me, nor was the prospect of traveling back to Brooklyn looking at all tempting on my last night in NYC.
- checked my Facebook on my iPhone using the free Wi-Fi @ Burger King (across the street from the Occupy Wall Street protest) and found that my cousin had just arrived in NYC for a week's stay for his birthday [too bad we could not get together since I was leaving the next morning].
- Starbucks, then Chinese Food near Canal St. and while I was in the area(near Lafayette St.) I saw that the show at Santos Party House (which I think was featuring a hardcore lineup) was just letting out; at that point I decided to call it a night.
- walked back down Broadway towards my hotel, to drop off my bag, and while waiting to get my key to the room, chatted with a cute Asian girl at the counter apparently having problems with her booking; wished her well and then left to explore the Bowery / Soho neighbourhood for the remainder of the night until a little after 1 am.
- pondered even going to one more CMJ set [Peelander-Z was in fact playing a set just down the street from my hotel at the Bowery Poetry Club] but since the band weren't set up yet when I passed by, I decided not to stick around; I did notice how busy the Bowery strip was on a Saturday night.
- called it a night.
- will it be a third year in a row for NYC / CMJ this October for me? We shall see.

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 22, 2011)

Friday, December 30, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 21, 2011)

  Emmy The Great @ Public Assembly, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

- started out the morning exploring the neighbourhood around my hotel (walked down Bowery and then turned on Prince; nice Ralph Lauren and Gant Rugger shops on Prince St, although both way too expensive for what I was willing to pay (I've slowly become a clothes horse over the last few years, although I never buy regular price)
- walked to Lafayette for coffee at Dean & Deluca then went window shopping (David Z, Converse, Ben Sherman store @ Mercer St.)
- random chat with older dude I passed walking down the street, as we both looked back at the same cute girl who just passed us. ;-)
- logged on to the free Wi-Fi @ a Starbucks to check a few things on my iPhone.
- browsed the shops on Canal st.
- spent some time @ the Occupy Wall Street protest at Liberty Plaza (now known as Zuccotti Park)
- checked out the site around Ground Zero
- that afternoon headed to Public Assembly in Brooklyn for the Brooklynvegan "not a CMJ day party" feauturing sets varying from interesting to terrific, including sets by Young Magic, Emmy The Great, Silver Swans, A Place To Bury Strangers, Chelsea Wolfe, Hospitality, Xeno & Oaklander, and J Mascis
- the whole afternoon, Public Assembly was serving free booze courtesy of Sailor Jerry as well as giving away free organic snacks!!!
- one thing that stood out from Emmy The Great's set was when she mentioned that she'd also be playing the day after at a venue in Brooklyn who's name she couldn't recall and so I yelled out "Spike Hill" which she then queried whether I was a Fleetwood Mac fan (I'm still not sure what the reference is there) at which I was left speechless at that point.
- J Mascis played a cover of Edie Brickell's "Circle of Friends" and also a song called "Several Shades of Why" the title track of his first solo album released earlier this year; he also played Dino Jr. classics, "The Wagon" and "Get Me", video which you can see here.
- after that full afternoon of CMJ day partying, decided to try to check out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) (which had free admission that night from 4 pm to 8 pm (as it does every Friday night) but in error I ended up going to Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMOA)
- I then hopped on the 5th avenue bus to head down to MOMA but got there just as it was closing.
- while I was in the vicinity, I went to check out the new Uniqlo Global Flagship store that just opened; it was effin' huge, and bright, and busy.
- hopped on the 5th avenue bus again to continue south to Madison Ave and East 23rd to go to, drumroll please...Shake Shack! Verdict? Not the tastiest burger I've ever had but it was pretty darn good, or perhaps I was just really hungry.
- for the night time portion of my CMJ festivities, I headed straight from Shake Shack to trek back down to Brooklyn to Glasslands Gallery where I checked out a terrific set from a new local act called Caveman (who are coming to Toronto in January!) and from our own Canadian act, Memoryhouse.
- however, it was such a cluster-fuck of people (who all seemed to be not over the age of 25) and it was too much for me to bear to stay for the rest of the bands on the bill (which was at least 2, maybe 3 more acts) and so I bailed.
- walked to Bedford and then down Bedford to the Bedford subway station, along the way picking up my only taco (from a Taco Truck) during my whole trip.
- it'd been a long day, and I was glad to call it a night relatively early (don't get me wrong it was still after midnight, I think closer to 1 am, by the time I got back to my hotel). Sleepy-time.

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 20, 2011)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 20, 2011)

  Givers @ Ace Hotel, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

So yes, I'm pretty late on posting this (and still have two more days from my CMJ/NYC trip in October to post, so bear with me). And so here it is, point form, with a link to the photoset below:

- swung by the CBGB's site again (noticed the etching in the concrete this time).
- saw the Joey Ramone Street sign
- @ Ace Hotel to catch tailend of Widowspeak's set, part of the 2nd CMJ day show sponsored by radio station KEXP.
- coffee had @ Stumptown Coffee Roasters (connected to Ace Hotel)
- still @ Ace Hotel, chatting with volunteer due at KEXP free swag table who told me that his daughter goes to York University in Toronto but comes homes to NYC in May; and then we chatted about the plethora of free music in the summer that NYC has to offer.
- headed to East Village on a successful quest to see the Joe Strummer mural up close
- hot dog had @ Papaya Dog; (not the same as Papaya King as once referenced in an episode of Seinfeld).
- Ace Hotel for Givers' set (good but not too excited about them).
- hopped on over to Times Square (failed quest to get to that Shake Shack location).
- back @ Ace Hotel for Dum Dum Girls' set (good).
- on my way over to Brooklyn, caught NYC subway soul singer sensation Danny Smalls AKA Geechee Dan busking on the subway platform!! If you don't know who Danny Smalls, check this video out.
- swung over to Brooklyn to catch the Pop Montreal / Smoked Beats CMJ day party at Public Assembly with Miracle Fortress (good), Pat Jordache (good).
- Pop Montreal brought in FREE smoked meat sandwiches from The Mile End deli, a Montreal Jewish delicatessen in Brooklyn
- ginormous pizza slice had @ Anna Maria Pizza & Pasta
- massive backup of people on the L Train subway platform due to subway delay.
- back in Manhattan, saw the Flaming Cactus street art installation near Astor Place subway station as well as the Alamo sculpture at the same location.
- headed over to Thompson LES Hotel for the free CMJ shows sponsored by; caught sets by Dum Dum Girls (well the singer and guitarist anyway) (great set), and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (wasn't paying too much attention as this point as it was pretty cramped); I won a free set of ear buds.
- also during the show, there were guest DJ's working the app(sorry, it is only available within the U.S. currently), with guest DJ's including Nancy Wang (LCD Soundsystem), Amrit Singh (Stereogum), and Ayad Al Adhamy (Passion Pit)
- my night time portion of CMJ for this day was spent at Littlefield in Brooklyn featuring Blues Control, Talk Normal, Widowspeak and Frankie Rose, a varied, interesting and satisfying night of indie music.

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 20, 2011)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ Air Canada Centre, December 8, 2011

  The National @ Air Canada Centre: photo by Michael Ligon

Just taking a moment to post a link to my photos from the fantastic triple bill of The National, Neko Case, and Wye Oak which happened down at Air Canada Centre near the beginning of the month. By all accounts, it was a fantastic show. Part of me was dreading having to see the show at Air Canada Centre, but the "theatre" configuration that the venue was transformed into, combined with my fantastic seat which was just about dead centre in the 100's section, gave me a terrific view for the show. First openers, Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak, did a fair job entertaining the sparse audience on hand with their moody, melodic, indie rock. For a duo, their sound sounded quite full, making a lasting impression on the audience. Vocalist Jenn Wasner, gave thanks for being on this great bill with The National and Neko Case, and humorously expressed that the all thing bad about playing these shows was getting drunk too early in the evening.

The last times I'd seen Miss Neko Case live was back in 2009, having seen her twice, first at Trinity St. Paul Church in April of that year, then later that summer making her debut at Massey Hall. For various reasons, both shows weren't in my opinion the best I'd ever seen Miss Case, surprising when given those venues, one would hope those shows would have knocked me off my feet. Even more surprising is that Neko's most recent local show, this time at Air Canada Centre, ranks as one of the best sets of hers I've ever seen. Paced well, many of the set's songs were taken from her last few albums (Middle Cyclone and Fox Confessor Brings The Flood) with a couple of new songs sprinkled in. Neko kept her humourous banter flowing throughout the set between songs, seeming giddier, and well naughtier than ever. Joining her on this tour was guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and for this tour specially, John Convertino of Calexico on drums. Musically tight as I've ever heard Neko, highlights included the pristine "Vengeance Is Sleeping" with Kelly on background vocals and Paul on guitar as well as the raucous "Red Tide" with particularly fiery background vocals from Kelly. As always when they're in town, a shout was given to our own The Sadies (who wrote the song "Hold On, Hold On" for Neko). Fantastic set all around. Hope I won't have to wait two years until I see her live again.

As 'indie' bands make the natural progression from the small stage to bigger stages when they tour Toronto, The National have been one of the few bands that has just gotten better. I'd not have guessed that The National could have outdone the last show I'd seen of them in Toronto when they played a fantastic show at Massey Hall (one show of a two-night stint) back in June 2010 but by all accounts, The National reached even greater heights. What The National accomplished was making the night an experience on a variety of factors - such as visually interesting and colourful screen projections, humorous banter from vocalist Matt Berninger throughout the night, and encouragement from the band to keep the audience engrossed and participating. On that last factor, the Dessner brothers at one point got the crowd clapping leading to a natural transition to most everyone in the audience to stand up. From there on, the show just got better and better. Matt would later on invite fans onto the floor which would soon lead to a virtual onslaught of many more fans to invite themselves onto the floor (leading security to cut off the access to the floor, and Matt sheepishly pondering his original idea and whether it was such a good one). But perhaps the icing on the cake in terms of Matt's efforts was when he ran into the stands singing and proceeded to navigate himself through the seats (literally crossing near me a couple of rows up from me) from one end of the stands to the other and then back onto the stage. Man, that was one long-ass mic cord. Local musical hero Owen Pallett was a surprise guest joining in with the band on violin for a few songs including a new one. Things had just about reached their peak as the main set drew to a close but reached even higher with the encore, featuring a non-amplified rendition of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", with the entire band and including Wye Oak making their way to the edge of the stage, performing acoustically and singing without mics. Singing with passion to the audience, which in turn drew the audience to sing along as well, the performance, transformed the environment into a very intimate setting. It's such a rare thing to experience in a venue as big as that, and I am truly thankful.

Photos: The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ Air Canada Centre, December 8, 2011
MySpace: Wye Oak
MySpace: Neko Case
MySpace: The National

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sloan, Rural Alberta Advantage, Ohbijou, Bonjay @ The Great Hall, Toronto (December 21, 2011)

  Sloan @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [December 25/2011, 1:38 am]: Review now up. Merry Christmas! Now have to wrap some presents

Thinking back to 1995 when Sloan headlined CFNY 102.1 FM's Edgefest 3 festival at Molson Ampitheatre, billed as their farewell performance, Sloan had called it quits. Their most recent album at the time had been their second full-length Twice Removed, released a year prior in 1994, and arguably to the some was the band's finest album. But a year after Edgefest 3, the band reunited to release their third full-length, 1996's Once Chord To Another, and as they say the rest is history, with the band continuing to this day as one of Canada's most respected musical outfits. It was "Once Chord To Another" which Sloan chose to play front-to-back for Toronto charity COUNTERfit (an Ontario Ministry of Health and City of Toronto funded injection drug harm reduction program) at a show at The Great Hall organized by Toronto band Fucked Up. The promise of such a performance was more than a tantalizing factor for many who snapped up tickets for the sold out event. And as a bonus, the opening bands lineup was none too shabby itself, with an all Toronto supporting acts lineup featuring Bonjay, Ohbijou, and The Rural Alberta Advantage.

Electro-dancehall duo Bonjay featuring dynamite vocalist Alanna Stuart and programmer extraordinaire Ian “Pho” Swain were definitely the odd man out on the bill and did their best to warm up the small yet devoted early attendees. I'd caught about half the set as I myself had been running late. I chose to hang back during the remainder of their set which may have worked to my advantage as the beats and vocals sounded superb from where I was standing. As soon as their set was over, I made my way to the merch table and ended up purchasing one of the limited edition show posters and then I ducked out of the venue to put said poster in my car before returning about 20 minutes later.

It's been a number of years since I've seen live nor paid attention to Toronto's Ohbijou. I was always a fan of the band's melancholy, string-laden, indie-pop sound but as a live entity had usually been disappointed with their laid-back stage presence. Now on album number three with this year's released Metal Meets, which I still have yet to hear although I'm assuming they were playing songs off of at The Great Hall, it seems the band is flexing a little more muscle these days. With the Mecija sisters, vocalist Casey and violinst Jenny, both wearing black (Casey wearing a black hooded cloak even), I'd swear the band had gone goth, and even they haven't they're definitely heavier, hence the album title Metal Meets perhaps. The band seems to strike their instruments harder, and play louder, Casey even going-into guitar-face and strumming her guitar furiously at times. Ohbijou still maintain their recognizable melancholy pop sound but this time with more oomph, and it's working wonders for them.

Since the release of their first full-length "Hometowns" in 2008, Toronto's The Rural Alberta Advantage have gradually been achieving a most fervent fanbase within Toronto, Canada and beyond. RAA were a band who'd in their early days regularly played shows at the tiny Embassy in Toronto but more recently have been headlining at midsized Toronto venue, Phoenix Concert Theatre. It'd been a few years since I'd seen RAA live when they played the third stage at 2009's Virgin Festival Toronto, the same year that American indie label rereleased their debut album Hometowns. Earlier this year, the band released their second album Departing which by my own procrastination had never gotten around to picking up. Given this gap in my RAA experience, it was nice to again see the band live. If you're familiar with the band's propulsive acoustic sound based around drums, keys, and acoustic guitar, then yes, not much has changed but that is a good thing. The band played a bit more ragged than usual ["Edmonton" in particular, seemed a bit more sped up and less rigid than on record] but overall reminded me why they're one of the best current bands in Toronto.

Beginning with Fucked Up's Damian Abraham announcing Sloan on to the stage, a la the beginning of One Chord To Another ("Will you please… welcome to the stage… SLOAN!"), the band erupted into lead off track "The Good In Everyone" and proceeded to play the entire album front to back. Second track "Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay", never a single but which should have been in my opinion, remains one of my favourite tracks on the album and I was singing along to much of it. You could feel the crowd energy surge on the punky "G Turns to D" and later on the urgent "Anyone Who's Anyone" (whose lyrics "Everyone who's played a part, We're all together now, Everyone who's played a part, stand and take a bow" sounded so appropriate that night). Other highlights included the three person horn section on "Everything You've Dong Wrong" and "Take The Bench", the former also benefiting from the crowd singalong. The Jay Ferguson-sung "The Lines You Amend" also garnered a favourable reaction from the crowd and a further crowd singalong. I cannot remember if I'd ever heard "Can't Face Up" live but regardless of guitar flub during the Patrick's solo which he freely admitted, hearing it that night was like listening to if for the first time, and when Patrick belted out the chorus it was sublime.

While the occasion of the night was to play One Chord To Another, the encore was a treat unto itself. Kicking off with one of my faves from Twice Removed, "Snowsuit Sound", then Fucked Up's Damian come on to stage perform a punky / hardcore number which I did not recognize which had Damian and Chris vocally playing one another then lead to some physical horseplay between the two. The next song "500 Up"(from their debut Smeared) was a pure joy to hear regardless of the mic problems that plagued drummer Andrew Scott's vocal parts. The piece de resistance to the encore and the night was the surprise appearance by Toronto's own Leslie Feist, who played added guitar for what was an energetic rendition of the band's song "She Means What She Says". Wow. What started out as Sloan agreeing to play a special charity show turned out for me in coming full circle with the band; the show revived, at least temporarily, the pure euphoric rush I once had for them. I guess that is what we call nostaligia but damn it sure feels good. After all, they are a band that has a song called "If It Feels Good Do It". Thanking the crowd at the end, Chris remarked that they came to Toronto as a Halifax band, but more and more are feeling like a Toronto one. And this another reason why Toronto is one of the best cities in the world.

Photos: Sloan, Rural Alberta Advantage, Ohbijou, Bonjay @ The Great Hall, Toronto (December 21, 2011)
MySpace: Bonjay
MySpace: Ohbijou
MySpace: Rural Alberta Advantage
MySpace: Sloan

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bon Iver, Lianne La Havas @ Massey Hall, Toronto (December 6, 2011)

  Bon Iver @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

The second show I'd gone to this month was the first show of a two-night stint put on by Bon Iver at Massey Hall on December 6. As it seems with me over the last several years, I've not put too much effort into exploring much new music. I haven't totally ignored new music but rather have been really selective. As a result, I've caught on to some artists a little late. I'd only given Bon Iver's debut album Forever Emma Forever Ago cursory listens in the past and I'd liked what I'd heard but still hadn't been compelled to listen to it too often. I'll admit, my choice to buy a ticket to the Bon Iver show was purely on the current popularity of the group and perhaps I should see what all the fuss is about. I am glad to say that Bon Iver did make an indellible mark on me that night.

Opening the show was a young new UK artist named Lianne La Havas [even spelling out her name in full], a slender, petite young thing wearing dark boots, tights, a white skirt, and a glittery black top, who strolled onto stage to her mic with her guitar. Thanking the crowd profusely throughout the night in her thick British accent, toasting the crowd with tea, and singing songs about love, breakups, and old boyfriends, her jazz-inflected pop songs sounded like a mix between the soulfulness of Adele and the starkness of Tracey Thorn. La Havas displayed a competent grasp of the guitar that complemented her soulful, melodic songs well. I will be a monkey's uncle if she does not hit it bigger in the music scene next year. She's set to release her debut album early next year.

This being the first night of a two night stint, it's easy to overlook that Bon Iver had just played Toronto at the dreaded Sound Academy this past August to promote the self-titled 2nd album which came out this past June. Regardless of how well that show went, I'd imagine that many a Bon Iver fan breathed a sigh of relief when the Massey Hall shows were announced. It was an ecstatic audience response that great Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and his 9-piece band as they strolled on to the stage. What I found apparent of the set overall was, although they've frequently been categorized as indie-folk by the music press, Bon Iver do come across much more musically ambitious. Like Vernon jokingly said on stage, "Stop calling us an acoustic rock band." Added to the usual drums, guitar, bass on stage was other instrumentation like violin, baritone saxophone, and trombone. Bon Iver may start from a basis in folk-rock, Appalachian and American influences, but also showed a willingness towards sonic experimentation which reminded me of Wilco. What was almost more interesting to me was Mr. Vernon's vocal range which could go from a falsetto-toned vocal on one song, then to a bluesy, ragged drawl on the next. The man[ie. Justin Vernon] I'd read about who'd apparently for the first album had sequestered himself in a log cabin in the woods after a broken-up relationship to write the songs for the first album, turned out to be quite chipper during this show, infusing bits of humorous banter between songs throughout the night.

Musically, highlights included the solo-performed, desolate-sounding "re: Stacks", and the group sing-a-long- and hand-clapping on main set closer "Skinny Love". But for me the I just about shed a tear on the encore closer "The Wolves (Act I and II)" on which Mr. Vernon encouraged the audience to sing-a-long repetively with the lyrics "what might have been lost". Such a beautiful conclusion to a wonderful show.

Photos: Bon Iver, Lianne La Havas @ Massey Hall, Toronto (December 6, 2011)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Austra, Young Galaxy, Tasseomancy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 1, 2011)

  Austra: photo by Michael Ligon

Kicking off a busier month of concert-going than usual for me these days was Toronto's Austra at the Phoenix Concert Theatre at the beginning of the month. The bigger ticket that night was Feist at Massey Hall but there seemed to be a full-house (if not a sold out one) for the homecoming show for Austra who'd been making waves and touring all year.

Doing double-duty that night were twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman aka Tasseomancy who to me were better known as Austra's dynamite backup vocalists / all-around foxy side women. It was only more recently that I found out that the sisters use to be Haligonian indie folk duo Ghost Bees. Joined by male musicians on keys and drums, the gals stark vocals complimented the lilting folk melodies and subtle instrumentation nicely. Haunting at times, and sonically interesting throughout, they aren't your average folk band.

Since the release of their self-titled debut full-length in 2007, Montreal's Young Galaxy were a band I'd suspected would have hit it big by now, which if they had, it'd have been deserved. The band's soaring, dream-pop melodies were never really the mainstream, as mainstream pop has gone over the last five years, but in my opinion could have crossed over easily if only the fickle music buyer had taken notice. With the release of their third album Shapeshifting released earlier this year, it seems that band has discovered dance music, as was obviously displayed by the band during their set preceding Austra. With the entire band dressed in white, including female lead vocalist Catherine McCandless in a flowing white top, it was a visually attractive presentation. Musically, it was quite apparent that the band's recent forays into dance-inflected pop is what's floating their boat these days. A part of me misses their earlier dream-pop sound, but the band seem like a more stimulating live band this time around, especially Mccandless' vibrant movements and tambourine-shaking onstage.

Austra's debut album Feel It Break released this past May I will have to say is my favourite Canadian album of the year. Featuring vocalist Katie Stelmanis' stark operatic vocals against a backdrop of pulsating rhythms and synth, along with a bevy of great melodic tunes, it's just such a fantastic listen. Stelmanis greeted the crowd and told us that just a year ago they'd play their first headline show at the Bovine Sex Club and now they were playing their biggest show yet in Toronto, this time at the Phoenix. I was fortunate to catch them live at the sweaty and intimately confining Wrongbar earlier this year during Canadian Musicfest so it's a shame to say that this show at the Phoenix just did not reach those euphoric levels I'd experienced at Wrongbar. I wished the crowd had shown more energy, like the pulsating, dance-infused crowd that greeted Austra earlier this year. The crowd at the Phoenix was wholly appreciative for sure, but definitely lacked the energy that they should have had. given the band's exemplary musicianship. Perhaps the post-midnight set was frustrating for some that Thursday night for those who had to work the next day, but hey, you're only young once.

Photos: Austra, Young Galaxy, Tasseomancy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 1, 2011)