Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review -- Canadian Musicfest (Friday March 23, 2012)

Spoek Mathambo @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
  Spoek Mathambo @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

As it turned it out, the third day of Canadian Musicfest was purely spontaneous on my part. I had made picks for the night but really hadn't thought out an itinerary for the day, although with having the day off from work I made somewhat of an effort to check out some of the day shows.

The daytime lineup over at The Toronto Institute For The Enjoyment of Music was somewhat up my alley but I got downtown later than expected and so instead chose to take in some daytime sessions, where else but the Eaton Centre. Clothing Store French Connection in conjunction with local band promoters Audio Blood Media were hosting a few artists playing acoustic sets as part of the festival. An interesting choice of venue but ultimately it didn't seem like many people were interested given the low turnout. Toronto pop outfit Hands & Teeth, ignored the light crowd (which was really just me and a few others) and began their set. Playing acoustically (guitar, percussion, Charles Pump Organ), they were quite a bit different sounding than their electric version, with a folky quality emphasized through the band's penchant for vocal harmonies. As things went on, the band were successful in drawing some shoppers / passersby to come in to the store and check them out. The band's Jeff Pinto on the Charles Pump Organ [I asked a member of the band what the name of the instrument was] took a swipe at lead vocals sounding a bit like Bob Dylan, but it was the songs sung by lone female member Natasha Pasternak that were more successful. Call me a sucker for attractive tuneful female vocals. The band has several releases available, the most recent being 2012's Hunting Season, all of which are available through the band's BandCamp site.

Next up to perform on the same stage [well actually the same space on French Connection's floor] were Toronto band The Archives. Again, because they were playing acoustically (just the vocals of Will Gooch plus bassist Anthony Menecola and guitarist Crispin Day) they sounded much more stripped down than their usual plugged-in electric, melodic rock sound. If the crowd was virtually non-existent at this point, except for me, a few band-related persons, the store staff, and a few other stragglers, the band did an admirable job of ignoring that and performing well. The stripped-down nature of the set illustrated they have musical chops and solid songs even if for the most part it wasn't my thing. Good job, nonetheless.

Still early with a whole night a head of me, I decided I was ready for another instore and so headed over to Sonic Boom to check out The Inbreds. I arrived as the duo [bassist/vocalist Mike O'Neill and drummer Dave Ullrich] were already a song or two into their set, with a good-sized crowd in attendance. This was a warm-up for their proper Canadian Musicfest / comeback show which was the next night at Lee's Palace so the set was understandably brief but they of course couldn't leave without playing their biggest 'hit' "Any Sense of Time" which they saved for last. What a jolt of nostalgia that was. It was 1996 all over again - those were the days.

I'd originally headed to the Horseshoe Tavern to catch Snowblink's 8 pm set but getting into the venue and then waiting around for a few minutes, then realizing that they were already half an hour behind schedule [it was already 8:30 pm at this point] with no sign they'd be coming on soon, I decided to bail and instead headed to Lee's Palace for the 9 pm set of Australian duo's Big Scary. I arrived to the venue after 9 pm with the band already into their set playing to a sparse but appreciative audience. Far more versatile than I expected, they were neither just the poppy indie duo I'd heard ["The Apple Song"] nor a garage-rock act a la The White Stripes that you might imagine, but over the course of the three or four songs I heard, they displayed these various influences generally through their guitar-drums (sometimes keyboards-drums) instrumentation. One of my more interesting discoveries of this year's festival.

The evening portion of the night was centered on me checking out South African hip-hop / r n b artist Spoek Mathambo who was playing The Great Hall at 11 pm and as it turned out I decided to make things easy for myself and just plant myself at The Great Hall for the whole night. It'd been several years since I'd seen Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon perform live and not much has changed. His combination of old-school rap flow and what I could only described as fucked-up beats is still omnipresent. Assisting him with the beats was a dude who looked like a blonde version of The Cure's Robert Smith. The set was filled with mostly new songs. Making a shout out to the 1059! crew (so-named for the Toronto address 1059 Bathurst where many a secret show was hosted and of which Cadence Weapon had performed on occasion), performed a song called "Loft Party". There was a good energy in the room throughout the set and it seems many are looking forward to his new album Hope in Dirt City which'll drop soon.

The most anticipated act for me this night was South African afro-hip-hop artist, the colourfully-named Spoek Mathambo fresh from his appearance at this year's SXSW. Samples I'd heard of his on YouTube gave me the impression of an artist who fused old-school (hip-hop) / old-world (African) influences with a modern sensibility, similar to the approach of an artist such as M.I.A. With his mostly South African band plus one gentleman(on sax) who I believe was from San Francisco, that old-school/new-school fusion was definitely present (especially in their twitchy cover of Joy Division's "Control" which they played near the end) but the live set in general seemed to emphasize the organic approach(drum, guitar, bass, horns) much like The Roots brand of hip hop when they play live. While Mathambo's elder musical stateman Saul Williams was the headliner of the night, Mathambo and could easily have headlined had there been a need for him to. It was a fully-charged set from Mathambo and crew, with the crowd very much into as well. A successful outing all around, which should do him well if and when he returns to Toronto.

I'd considered ducking out to check another set at another venue {I think it was Toronto's Badbadnotgood @ Wrongbar) but then reconsidered because I realized I'll have more opportunities to see Badbadnotgood live but although I wasn't at all familiar with Saul Williams, what I'd read of him intrigued me, and this perhaps might be the only opportunity I'd get to see him live. Just a little background, but according to the first sentence from the Wikipedia entry on him, Saul Williams is " American poet, writer, actor and musician known for his blend of poetry and alternative hip hop and for his leading role in the 1998 independent film Slam." Prior to his emergence onstage, a colourful-looking gentleman who I think was his DJ hyped up the crowd with an old-school mix of hip-hop blaring from the PA system. From the onset, Mr. Williams was hyped up and determined to hype up the crowd, beating away on a percussive instrument with what I believe was a mallet. The R n B, soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and rock influences that all contributed to his music was really just the basis for Mr. Williams himself, as confident and capable as soulful vocalist as he was with his spoken-word, def poetry jam contributions. What was so impressive especially about his def poetry jam capabilities was the amount of words that went into those compositions and even more impressive that Williams was able to memorize it all. It was quite apparent from the performance why Saul Williams is held up in such high regard with many artists and musicians, even though he is not nearly as well-known with the general public. Quite the experience, and one I highly recommend.

PHOTOS: Canadian Musicfest (Friday March 23, 2012)
MySpace: Hands & Teeth
MySpace: The Archives
MySpace: The Inbreds
MySpace: Big Scary
MySpace: Cadence Weapon
MySpace: Spoek Mathambo
MySpace: Saul Williams

No comments:

Post a Comment