Tuesday, November 28, 2006

My Children Be Joyful

concert review: As The Poets Affirm, Rock Plaza Central, Timber Timbre @ The Boat(Toronto, Ontario), November 24, 2006

Rock Plaza Central @ The Boat: photo by Michael Ligon

It was close to a year ago since I'd first downloaded a few mp3's from Toronto band Rock Plaza Central[it was December 10, 2005 to be exact according to the time signatures of the mp3's on my hard drive]. I think I was motivated to check 'em out, probably having seen a post or two about them on Stille Post(likely the band themselves posting their own show dates). I don't even remember listening to the mp3's although I'm sure I had but soon moved on to other music. So if it took Pitchfork-approved track and album reviews to get me to really take notice, well then so be it. I took the opportunity to finally see Rock Plaza Central live this past Friday night at The Boat in Toronto and it was a relevatory experience.

Rock Plaza Central were sandwiched between opener Timber Timbre from Toronto and headliner, Ottawa's As The Poets Affirm whose CD Release show it was. Timber Timbre's set of rustic, acoustic, dark country blues started off the night on a mellow tone, and aesthetically set the stage for Rock Plaza Central's vibrant, artier, country-ishness. Timber Timbre used some sort of looper to loop guitar arrangements within songs but more impressively on one song he looped a variety of percussive instruments, shakers and other sounds into an unbelievable collage of natural sounds. Finishing off the evening were As The Poets Affirm, who were the odd men out of the night given the two previous artists country leanings. I will get to Rock Plaza Central's set soon enough, but I must mention it was a shame that the crowd thinned out a bit for As The Poets Affirm's set. They displayed an admirable set of influences ranging from its scratchy post-punk guitar sound, to some avant-garde horn instrumentation, to more conventional indie-rock melodicism, with a touch of dance-punk groovability. It was a shame I didn't have more energy[was it just me, or are the floors at The Boat hard on your feet?] but I ended up having to sit on the floor like a few other people. If more people had stuck around, I think there would have been a more energetic vibe in the audience than what had actually surpassed. But As The Poets Affirm did their darndest to keep up the energy level by prompting a little handclapping. Also, their lanky, bespectacled drummer has an awesome fluid drumming style which was so fun to watch.

So if Timber Timbre and As The Poets Affirm were the slices of bread, well then Rock Plaza Central were the filling. It was quite obvious that most people were there to see their set. Performing songs mostly off their last two releases, this year's "Are We Not Horses?", and 2003's "The World Was Hell To Us", it was a set which possessed a dynamic quality, from hushed country-folkiness, to artier, noisier dissonance, to klezmer-like frenziedness, and one song(possibly "Gutterdance") that reminded me of an Arcade Fire-like pop epicness. The six member group which included members on violin, horns, guitar, banjo, accordion, and drums was rounded out with a friend on standup bass guitar. With lead vocalist Chris Eaton's distinctive vocals which sounded to me like it was always bordering on a warble, I thought his vocals fit nicely with the rustic quality of the music. At various points in the set, I think almost every band member had their musical moment in the spotlight, but I was particularly fond of the two-person(sometimes three-person) horn section, their female violinist's violin arrangements, and their guitarist's creative guitar work. I've been listening to "Are We Not Horses?" a lot lately, and while I think it isn't a perfect album it has it's share of great songs, probably not more better exemplified than the exhilirating "My Children Be Joyful", which was also one of my favourite songs of their set at The Boat. So yes, I wholeheartedly recommend you go see them.

Here are my photos.

Here's a copy of an e-mail the band received from a person whose four-year old daughter and nine-year old son are fans of their latest CD "Are We Not Horses"? This is one of the most precious things I've read in a long time.

According to their MySpace, Rock Plaza Central have the following upcoming show dates:

Dec 19 2006 8:00P @ Tranzac(Toronto,ON) w/ The Carps, Cities in Dust and Shit la Merde
Jan 6 2007 8:00P @ Tranzac(Toronto, ON) RocknRoll Wedding 4 with Lullabye Arkestra, Mantler
Jan 13 2007 10:00P @ Zaphod's(Ottawa, ON) with As the Poets Affirm and My Dad vs Yours

Rock Plaza Central @ MySpace
As The Poets Affirm @ MySpace
Timber Timbre @ MySpace

Saturday, November 25, 2006

By Your Wandering Eyes

Angela Desveaux - 'Wandering Eyes'

I've mentioned several times this year that Montreal-by-way-of-Cape-Breton, Thrill Jockey artist Angela Desveaux is one of my favourite new musical artists of the year. If you're a fan of Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Sarah Harmer, and Kathleen Edwards, you need to check out Angela's songs. I think her debut album "Wandering Eyes" is excellent. If I could choose any of it's songs to be a single, it definitely would be "Bury Me Deeper". For the moment you can watch the music video for the title track of her debut album(or download it over at Thrill Jockey):

Video: Angela Desveaux - "Wandering Eyes" (YouTube)

via Teenage Dogs In Trouble

Or listen to a brief podcast of PRI's The World interviewing Angela about her Cape Breton roots, and the electrified sound that Angela brought to her debut album "Wandering Eyes".

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Piece Of Sunshine

concert review: Tahiti 80, Brookville @ Horseshoe Tavern(Toronto, Ontario), November 18, 2006

Tahiti 80 @ Horseshoe Tavern: photo by Michael Ligon

I've been looking forward to seeing France's Tahiti 80. Tahiti 80's lead vocalist mentioned during the show that it had been four years since their last visit to Toronto. They forgot to mention that they were suppose to have come over to Toronto for last year's Canadian Music Week as part of some sort of French Band showcase, but I never did find out why they didn't end up coming over. So finally I got to see them this past Saturday. I was slightly disappointed if only because they devoted almost half their set on tracks from the most recent, dance-pop oriented album "Fosbury" which I hadn't heard until the show. Maybe I have to hear the album but I wasn't feeling the new tracks as much as their older material. The rest of the set was filled out by tracks from "Puzzle", "A Piece of Sunshine" and "Wallpaper For The Soul". There was good energy from the band, in particular their vocalist Xavier Boyer and their bassist Pedro Resende[who at point donned a giant panda bear head garb and started to bash away at the cymbals along with the drummer]. The set and encore felt far too short in total[which I estimate was not more than an hour and fifteen minutes] and I could have thought of several songs they could have performed like "Don't Misunderstand" or "Easy Way Out" but otherwise it was a breezy set of hook-laden, pop music.

I don't much to say about openers Brookville. I got to the Horseshoe during the start of their set and initially thought it was only music being played over the PA. It turned out it was actually the band playing. I wasn't that impressed with them initially[I mean, they had the audacity to have sampled guitar sounds, even though there were at least two guitarists on stage - although the vocalist did mention that he wasn't that good of a guitar player anyway]. However, there were at least a few songs that had a breezy Cardigans/Ivy-esque pop feel to it which didn't make the set a total loss.

Here are my photos, including the setlist.

Tahiti 80 @ MySpace

The Montreal Mirror spoke to Tahiti 80's vocalist Xavier Boyer.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hooray X3

Toronto's Do Make Say Think were recently added to the lineup of All Tomorrow's Parties Vs The Fans 2007 event happening in the UK between May 18-20, 2007. The Runout Groove has a Do Make Say Think Peel Session from 2000 available for download.

Thanks to The Rock Snob for pointing me towards the news about Air's upcoming new album. According to NME the new album is entitled "Pocket Symphony" and is set for release March 5, 2007 - NME has a tracklisting. Now if only Air would update their website.

Gawker profiles the seven distinct categories of persons that can be found at your typical New York City indie rock show. [via CBC Radio 3 Blog]

Clinic will be at Lee's Palace on March 12, 2007 according to their booking agent, The Windish Agency.

Ring in the new year with Jon Rae and The River who'll be at Lee's Palace on December 31. The Lee's Palace website indicates that they'll be playing 2 sets, one at 11:30 pm and the second at 1:15 am. Tickets $20.00 - clarification: tickets $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

You Ain't No Picasso has an mp3 of Ted Leo covering Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross", plus as an added bonus a live version of Ted covering Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device".

Friday, November 17, 2006


Jenn GrantEver since I saw Prince Edward Island native Jenn Grant perform last year in Hamilton, Ontario at The Casbah as vocalist of a trio configuration of The Heavy Blinkers, I've been smitten. She'd proved herself capable in the role of chanteuse against the backdrop of The 'Blinkers' pop sophistication. She came back to perform at the same venue this past summer to perform her own songs with a band and she showed a more casual, rootsier side of herself. Her debut independent EP billed as Jenn Grant and Goodbye Twentieth Century, released last year, is 6 songs of good honest songwriting, my favourites being the bouncy pop of "Don't Worry Baby", the rootsy pop of "The Last Waltz" and the languid Cowboy Junkies-sounding "Hawaii Song". Her first full length album, entitled "Orchestra For The Moon", is set for release in 2007, was produced by Jason MacIsaac and David Christensen of The Heavy Blinkers and features such guests as Ron Sexsmith, Jill Barber, Matt Mays, Tyler Messick, Dale Murray, and Rose Cousins. The two new tracks currently streaming at her MySpace are fantastic. With two recent Nova Scotia Music Awards - for New Artist as well as Female Artist of the Year - now under her belt, I'm hoping 2007 will be her breakout year. As much as I love Ruth Minnikin's vocals as part of the concoction that makes The Heavy Blinkers great, I hope that Jenn continues to sing with them also. Jenn was in Toronto back in May for Canadian Music Week performing at The Boat but unfortunately I missed that show because of a prior commitment. It's with great pleasure to read on her MySpace that she's coming back to Toronto in December for several shows[she'll also be in Guelph]. I've cut and paste below her upcoming Ontario dates:

Dec 10 2006 10:00P Holy Joe's w/ Reily Toronto
Dec 14 2006 9:00P The Supermarket Toronto
Dec 15 2006 10:00P Rancho Relaxo w/Down with the Butterfly, Hey Rosetta! Toronto
Dec 16 2006 10:00P Jimmy Jazz w/DWTB, Hey Rosetta! Guelph

Update: Jenn is also apparently performing in Hamilton, Ontario[info via Stille Post]:

Dec 06 2006 The Casbah(Lounge) w/ The Riptorns, guests
Dec 13 2006 The Casbah w/ Down With Butterfly, guests

Update: Check her MySpace for revised tour dates.

Jenn's New Music Canada is streaming several songs from her debut independent EP, "Jenn Grant and Goodbye Twentieth Century".

You can listen to a few new tracks from her upcoming debut full length "Orchestra For The Moon" over at her MySpace.

Amy McKie has a podcast of her interviewing Jenn earlier this year in March in Halifax during JUNOfest.

It's still online so why not check out Jenn's old official website.

Shop for Jenn Grant's music over at Maple Music.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sally Was A Legend

concert review: Robyn Hitchcock and The Venus 3, Mark Pickerel @ The Mod Club(Toronto, Ontario), November 10, 2006

Robyn Hitchcock @ The Mod Club: photo by Michael Ligon

Robyn Hitchcock's name has always loomed as one of pop music's eccentric fellows. He's been more of a figurehead to me, much like say Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart, artists who I haven't really listened to much of, if at all, but have more often read their names in print. Robyn's is a notch up on the listening scale since I've actually heard his music although I haven't listened to it often. If I made an effort, I'd probably be able to dig up at least five or more of his albums in some format(cassette, vinyl, CD) from my music collection. Of what I heard/recalled I was fond of Robyn's jangly pop melodies and enigmatic vocals. So in the interest of pop music academia, I decided I need to see Robyn live for myself.

Opening the show was Bloodshot Records, Seattle music veteran Mark Pickerel. He performed a cover of Lee Hazelwood's "Some Velvet Morning", a song that he said he'd hope that Toronto's hometown boy Dallas Good would be in town to perform with him[he mentioned that The Sadies were off on tour in Europe]. Mark performed an admirable brand of acoustic country-tinged tunes, accompanying himself on percussion with one foot on a tambourine and the other on a bass drum kick pedal. With varying degrees of melodic quality, there were a few songs that I thought were pretty good although without the benefit of a band, some of the songs just did not hold up. A good effort, but if the chatter was any indication, most of the audience(at least those towards the back) didn't seem interested.

A few years back I watched Robyn's live performance DVD "Storefront Hitchcock" which gave a glimpse into what I could expect from Robyn in a live setting. An archetypal troubadour he illustrates an almost congruent balance between banter and musical performance much like Billy Bragg, but where Billy is coherent and political, Robyn seemed much more obtuse. Even if Robyn's banter seemed like the ramblings of a mad man, it was entertaining in and of itself and it built up anticipation for the pop songs that followed. I could only actually recognize two songs of the entire set list, the jangly "Madonna Of The Wasps" of his 1990 album "Queen Elvis" and the beat-pop-esque "Sally Was A Legend" off his 1999 album "Jewels For Sophia", but it was of no matter since much of the set was entirely infectious. Chromewaves witnessed the show as well(and even has a photo of the setlist) and mentions that much of the set drew from the new album "Ole Tarantula" plus some classic Soft Boys material from "Underwater Moonlight"[which reminds me that several years back, I actually picked this up on vinyl for $3 and never listened to it!].

Robyn's backup band, The Venus 3 as they were referred to, were actually Peter Buck of R.E.M., Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and more recently The Minus 5 and Bill Rieflin who's apparently drummed for Ministry(!) but most recently as part of R.E.M.'s touring band. Much of Peter Buck's jangly guitar pop goodness shone through during the set and his oh-so-unique body movements and posturing were so identifiable. I mean, if I never get around to see R.E.M. live, this was the next best thing. Scott had his turn in the spotlight when Robyn and the band returned for the first of their two encores, because as Scott expressed they'd usually perform a Minus 5 song but instead reached back to perform a Young Fresh Fellows song instead, to the delight of some old-school YFF fans as it was audible. I had the unfortunate experience of almost blacking out(I think due to a bad reaction of the beer I had to some cough medicince I took earlier in the evening) during the show which put a damper on my overall enjoyment of the show, but after I recovered I think I was even more exhilirated as Robyn and band finished the show in fine fashion, through two encores.

Update: Here are my photos.

We Saw A Chicken uploaded audio[lossless format] of the show to Dimeadozen[registration required] and also has a link to the show in mp3 format!

Bury Me Not brings us this quote from Robyn from the show at The Mod Club. Word, indeed.
In other news, Pollstar indicates Snow Patrol, Silversun Pickups and Ok Go have a show at Ricoh Coliseum on Saturday March 31, 2007.

Ottawa music blog faves, The Acorn, will be at Lee's Palace on December 15 for their CD release(for their album "Tinfist") opening for Toronto's Elliott Brood.

I'm looking forward to the confirmed lineup for next February's Brampton Indie Arts Festival(to take place at Brampton, Ontario's new Rose Theatre), but it's exciting to see(according to their MySpace) that The Diableros will be playing the festival on February 14, 2007. A list of other bands apparently confirmed for the festival were recently posted on Stille Post.

Billboard reports on the the alt-country guests lineup to be featured on country legend Charlie Louvin's new album in more than a decade, a self-titled effort to be released February 20 next year. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Mr. Louvin but the alt-country guests lineup alone has me looking forward to this.

Sunday, November 12, 2006



How excited was I today to come across the music video for "Not Happy" by 90's Halifax alt-pop band Jale, a band who'll always have a soft spot in my heart. I miss them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Having Fun Again

concert review: Oakley Hall, Micah P. Hinson, Bry Webb @ Lee's Palace(Toronto, Ontario), November 7, 2006

Oakley Hall @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

For a what was a disappointing turnout this past Tuesday at Lee's Palace, it didn't seem to phase the artists one bit. It was a nicely matched bill from the acoustic Bob Dylan-esque troudbadorian stylings of Bry Webb(of The Constantines), the brashy country-folk of Texan, Micah P. Hinson, and the piece de resistance, the psychedelic, folk-rock[ok, I stole that description from their MySpace page] of Brooklyn's Oakley Hall. It's a shame there were barely thirty people in the audience and that's including the artists themselves who I saw at various times floating around. Regardless of the turnout, the artists performed as if they were oblivious to this fact.

I'd first seen Bry Webb perform solo last year at the Tranzac club in Toronto[for whatever reason, I forgot to write up Bry's set for that post] during the 5th anniversary/farewell show celebrations of indie label Three Gut Records. Comparing that show to this most recent one, it seems that there's more nuance in the rumble of Bry's vocals. I remember his Tranzac performance being vocally subtle as if he was trying to distinguish his solo effort from his more sweat-inducing role as The Constantines frontman. At the show, this past Tuesday he seemed more vocally confident and showed a little more dynamic range which balanced nicely with his meaty, mostly finger-picked guitar arrangements. A few of his Constantines pals and their friends were in the audience to lend their support. Bry performed a great solo rendition of The Constantines song "Young Lions" but what I wouldn't have given for the band to have jumped in on this.

Next up was young Texan Micah P. Hinson. Along with him was another young gentleman who provided additional instrumentation such as drums and additional guitar, although at the music's core was Micah's troubadour with a guitar setup. I had a chance to listen to Micah's album "The Baby and The Satellite" recently and I was struck by the simplicity of it's dark country melodies and stark barebones instrumentation combined with Micah's world-weary vocals. To see his youthfulness in person, dressed in a baseball cap, wearing eyeglasses, an argyle sweater, jeans, with a set of keys hanging from a belt loophole, it's almost hard to picture this music coming from him. During his set, there was much more of a dynamic range in Micah's vocals, and well as the music in general compared to the hushed atmosphere of his album "The Baby and The Satellite". It seemed that during his set there was more of an affectation in Micah's vocals like he was conjuring up the ghost of some long-gone Texan troubadour. Things got noisier as Micah's companion joined on drums and Micah's vocals on one song reached a blood-curdling screech. It was a little out of left field considering that there was barely twenty of us in the audience to get excited about it. As a point of reference for Torontonians/Canadians, his music reminded a little of Jon Rae Fletcher so if that's a selling point, I suggest you check Micah out. Being There has an interview with Micah.

Six-piece Brooklyn outfit Oakley Hall finally took the stage. There were a little more signs of life from the audience thankfully, to the point that people came on to the lower floor of Lee's Palace to watch Oakley Hall. Coincidentally, I'd seen a couple of Oakley Hall members performing as a duo live at the Three Gut Records celebrations at the Tranzac last year, the same one I'd seen Bry Webb live for the first time. However, rounded out as a six-piece, they're spectacular. The music was full of meaty guitar, bass guitar and drumming, with added shots of violin, keyboards and lap steel, combined with the two-pronged male/female vocals. The music is a mixture of all things rock n' roll in it's academic sense, with hints of psychedelia, folk rock, country and just maybe a little soul. Blonde female vocalist Rachel Cox was a joy to watch as she was in constant motion throughout the set dancing to the groove of the music but I also fell in love with her passionate vocals. It was exhilirating to hear all the members join in at times in a chorus of vocals. Really, I must give the band props for performing as enthusiastically as if the place were packed. The band were even encouraged back for an encore by the enthusiastic response we gave them. I encourage you to check them out when they come back to town - I have no doubt they'll come back since they've performed in Toronto this year no less than three times. And thanks to Chromewaves for pointing out that they've just signed to Merge Records - bigger and brighter things to come for them for sure.

MySpace: Oakley Hall
MySpace: Micah P. Hinson
MySpace: The Constantines

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Come and See

concert review: The Decemberists @ Kool Haus(Toronto, Ontario), November 6, 2006

I hadn't planned on going to see The Decemberists at Kool Haus but winning a guest list spot(courtesy of Chromewaves) changed my mind. Just last year The Decememberists were on an indie label and were performing at the Phoenix(which btw, was a wonderful show). They've since graduated to a major label, releasing their excellent new album "The Crane Wife". Earlier in the year I'd seen them perform on the west coast on the mainstage at the Sasquatch Festival and it was a thoroughly entertaining performance. I was still a little surprised that The Decemberists would be playing at the cavernous Kool Haus in Toronto, but if they could work the mainstage at the Sasquatch Festival, why couldn't they work a large venue like Kool Haus? Chromewaves gives a thoroughly positive front-row account of The Decemberists show at Kool Haus, and I don't doubt for a second that the show was great for all the reasons he's stated. Unfortunately, I was towards the back having showed up late to the venue[I also missed opener Alasdair Roberts].

The music, as I'd expected was awesome, from the pseudo-funky "The Perfect Crime"(during which Colin sung some lyrics of The Smiths' "The Queen Is Dead" and Colin prompted the audience to start a dance competition), to new member-in-tow Lisa Molinaro's pretty vocals on "Yankee Bayonet", and the wonderful set opener "The Crane Wife 3". "Picaresque" was represented by favourites like "Engine Driver", "We Both Go Down Together" and "16 Military Wives"(during which Colin divided the audience down the middle and had each side spouting out the song's 'La de da de da' and waving fists in the air in rebuttal to each other as if this were some sort of lunatic Congressional session). With such a good set of music offered, I still felt detached. Of course, Colin efforts to project his energy were noble, although my impression was that if you weren't up front(say, 20 persons deep from the stage), the effect of some of Colin's antics would be lost. If those giant orange spherical lanterns onstage were meant as visual enticement, well they didn't do anything for me. Maybe a light show might have drawn me more into the show. If not the most polite band I can think of right now, The Decemberists showed that they could rock out when they want to, and in particular during their encore closer they pulled out all stops as the last song broke down into a Snnic Youth-like noisy chaos. A little gimmicky perhaps[a few comments at Chromewaves' review of the show speak out about The Decemberists' gimmickery] but in my opinion it's all in good fun. I sort of wish Colin made the audience act out "The Mariner's Revenge Song" like he did at their show at the Phoenix last year, but I guess that gimmick's been put to bed. And I guess that's the point: all good gimmicks have a certain lifespan. Whatever Colin has up his sleeve for the audience whenever The Decemberists come back to town, I will be waiting in anticipation - I'm just going to make an effort to get a front-row spot for that show.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pictures Of A Night Scene

concert review: Pretty Girls Make Graves, Moonrats, Night Canopy @ El Mocambo(Toronto, Ontario), November 4, 2006

Pretty Girls Make Graves @ El Mocambo: photo by Michael LigonThis past Saturday night, I caught an early show at the El Mocambo featuring headliners Pretty Girls Make Graves from Seattle Washington and openers Moonrats from Los Angeles, California and as well fellow Seattlites, Night Canopy. According to the gig poster there was suppose to have also been special guests but if there was I missed them. It was an early show with doors at 5 and I'd read somewhere that PGMG were to come on around 7:45 pm. I got to the venue around 6:30 pm and they seemed to behind schedule because because Night Canopy didn't come on until close to 7 pm. I sort of dread showing up early for opening bands(especially when there are multiple ones) because I think I'm losing my patience and don't want to be disappointed but I'll say that despite the thin crowd onhand, Night Canopy and Moonrats were decent.

Night Canopy are a three-piece featuring two young ladies and a young gentleman. They performed a really enjoyable set of indiepop varying from hushed pop of the 50's reminiscent "Seasick Casanova" to more uptempo songs that at times utilized modest electronic flourishes such as programmed beats and subtle sound effects like waves. At its core the music was all guitar, drums and keyboards, at times adding nice touches of glockenspiel and melodica. The vocals of the two young ladies were lovely and complimented each other nicely as one took lead and the other backup and then vice versa. Their set was a great start to the evening. They were selling some CDR's of their music after their set but unfortunately I couldn't get my hands on one because the band member I spoke to could only find two at the time, at which time a few people had already beaten me to it. So for now just check out their MySpace site.

I wasn't sure what to expect with the following band, Moonrats. In my opinion it's a terrible name considering they are not some snotty nosed punk band. Rather, they were actually quite decent. They performed a thoroughly modern, melodic brand of guitar-driven indie rock. They're a trio featuring two young gents on guitar and drums and a Japanese-American young lady on keyboards. There was a nice balance between guitar and keyboards, combined with the propulsive energy of the drummer that complimented the sugary melodies nicely. When the guitarist's vocals screeched, I was reminded a little bit of the Pixies and as noisy guitar entered the equation, I couldn't help but think of Sonic Youth. Above all the layers of noise, there were the melodies that held everything together. Good set. Check out their MySpace.

Thankfully, for PGMG's set, the venue started to fill in. As I was right up front, I couldn't tell how far the audience extended back but I had a feeling that the place wasn't quite as packed as it should have been. And it's not like the venue is the biggest one in town either. Be it the venue(which isn't one of my favourites), the less-than-capacity crowd, and or it being an early show but I somehow felt slightly disappointed overall. It's not that PGMG didn't try - and I'd least I have to give 'em credit for making it to Toronto, border troubles notwithstanding. Performing songs mostly from their last two releases "Elan Vital" and "The New Romance" I thought there were a lot of great songs which were energetically performed. If the crowd was in to the show, it didn't feel like it. Even the audience clamor for an encore felt half-assed although the band did come back for one.

While Pretty Girls Make Graves' previous disc "The New Romance" seemed sort of like a mixture of riot-grrl agression, and British melodic underpinnings(just listen to the vocals on "This Is Our Emergency"), as I listened to the new songs from the new album "Elan Vital" during the show, I noticed a lean towards a more straightforward melodicism. Overall I found some of the new songs to be mellower - but that's my impression from only hearing a few of the new tracks. I'll reserve my final judgement when I listen to the whole album. Sample some of the "Elan Vital" tracks over at the band's MySpace.

ps. I cheated on the posting time; it's actually 1:19 AM(Nov 8/06) but I actually meant to post this earlier this evening. So sue me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Perfect Ten

concert review: The Beautiful South, Birds Of Wales @ Phoenix Concert Theatre(Toronto, Ontario), November 1, 2006

The Beautiful South @ Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon

I'd always been more of a fan of The Housemartins than it's offshoot The Beautiful South. The Housemartins wrote pop songs about pop and politics that always maintained a youthful exhuberance in it's sound. I was in highschool when The Housemartins were around and were one of my favourite bands of those years. Maybe I was't ready for The Housemartins to end nor for the more mature sound provided by The Beautiful South. Really, while The Beautiful South had it's share of sublime pure pop moments, by the end of their 3rd album I'd lost interest. It's with an ounce of regret I'd wish I'd kept up with The Beautiful South all these years. At their show at the Phoenix this past Wednesday they performed a greatest-hits set that spanned most of their catalogue, displaying their mature, smart songwriting. I wasn't even disappointed that they didn't resurrect any Housemartins tunes during the show. The Beautiful South have been fairly prolific throughout the last 15 years and are apparently big stars in their native UK. It's a shame they never caught on in North America. But you've never have known it given the thunderous response to the band as they took the stage at the Phoenix last Wednesday.

Opening the show were locals Birds Of Wales. I was all prepared to hate their set upon hearing them play as I entered the Phoenix - middle of the road, pop-rock that just did not appeal to me at all. However, they redeemed themselves which at least several mildly interesting tracks later on in their set, pulling off some energetic power-pop, a tune that bordered on alt-country, and as well as some atmospheric guitar arrangements. Check 'em out for yourself, although you'll probably have to wait a little because the vocalist mentioned the band would soon be going to the UK.

The Beautiful South performed a fabulous set all around and it was as much great for the music as for its enthusiastic reception from the audience. The crowd was downright euphoric. The vibrant pop melodies, confident and mature, centered around the vocals of the group's three vocalists, Paul Heaton and his distinct nasal vocals, Dave Hemingway's smooth as butter vocals that strived for a crooner-esque tone, and Alison Wheeler's soulful, feminine vocals that hit all the right spots. Paul, the most recognizable vocals of the bunch, was great on tracks like "Old Red Eyes Is Back", while Dave pulled out a great vocal performance on "36D". Alison Wheeler particularly shined on "Don't Marry Her" while her vocal turns on the awesome "A Little Time" drew an enrapturous response from the audience. The set list drew heavily from the older material[a whopping 5 songs from their debut "Welcome To The Beautiful South" alone], choosing to include much of their more well-known tracks and ignoring some of their later albums all together. This was fine by me since I was much more familiar with the earlier material anyway. The band do have a new album to promote called "Superbi" and the band performed several tracks from the album. With eleven people in total on stage, the music was a awesome mixture of spright guitar work, keyboard melodies and percussive elements(yay to the bongos!) with at times, the soulful one-two punch of the three-person horn section which was in tow.

There was quite a loyal audience at hand and older than most shows I've gone too recently. I'm in my thirties so I usually feel a little old when I go to certain shows, but damn if I wasn't near the lower end of the age spectrum at The Beautiful South's show cause I'd estimate the average age was around mid-to-late thirties. There were people singing along to almost every note and the crowd didn't leave the band hanging when say, Paul Heaton pointed the mic to the audience to sing a line or two of lyrics. Paul was the most animated of the bunch, busting some funky dance moves to the delight of the crowd. It was also great to see towards the end, the horn section step out to the front of the stage as the atmosphere grew more festive. Paul and Dave started out the night wearing caps but later shed those to reveal their boy-ish, if a little greyer, hair cuts. Paul and Dave are a little older, a little wiser, but still look pretty much as I remembered them back in highschool. So yes, maybe the show was a little bit of nostalgia trip. I'd never figured I'd enjoy the show this much and that's a really testament to the band. Back in the early 90's, I thought they were a little too mature sounding and I hadn't gotten over the demise of The Housemartins. I'd like to think I've matured since then, and The Beautiful South are just such a perfect fit now.

Here are my photos.

Here is a photo of a setlist which I got.

More photos from other people, here and here(this person appears to have met the band after the show).

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Lily Allen in AOL Music's studios

Watch some live clips of my girl(ok our girl) Lily Allen performing in AOL Music's studios.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Top 10 Hottest Canadian Bands/Artists of 2006

I(Heart)Music's second annual poll of hottest bands/artists in Canada is now up. While 2006's poll featured some carry-overs from 2005's poll, this year's poll was a relatively different list. The picks were somewhat predictable - not meant as a complaint, by any means - but aren't we all a bunch of indie-music-lovin' kids anyway? My picks were based on a combination of my musical tastes(ie. what I liked) and my perception of the band's overall exposure. So while I thought newcomer Angela Desveaux's record("Wandering Eyes") was one of the best Canadian releases of the year, I thought she was too under-the-radar to be included in my top 10. Alternately, while I like(but don't love) Toronto's pop-music-loving The Bicycles, I thought they had a considerable amount of exposure(what with the release of their debut CD("The Good, The Bad, and The Cuddly", and their constant touring in Toronto and across the country) that they deserved to be recognized; I'm surprised they didn't make it into the top 33. My only other pick not to make it into the top 33 was The Hylozoists; whatevs, I like them. Thanks again to I(Heart)Music for including me in the poll.

ps. Had I known that I(Heart)Music was going to quote my commentary for my picks, I'd have made spiced up my commentary - so what follows is the commentary I provided for my picks, unedited(well apart from fixing grammatical errors).

My Top 10 Hottest Bands in Canada of 2006:

1. The Dears - It's the year of The Dears. I caught them live on Canada Day at Harbourfront, at the Toronto Virgin Festival at Olympic Island, and at an intimate gig at The Mod Club as part of Edge 102.1 FM's Next Big Thing Concert Series. And they released a confident rock record with their new album "Gang Of Losers".

2. Junior Boys - They released their new album "So This Is Goodbye" a scintillating followup to their 2004 debut "Last Exit". The new album's the most 'human' electronic record I've heard all year and it's one of my favourites of the year as well.

3. Final Fantasy - I admire, if not genuinely like, some of Mr. Pallett's music, but he wouldn't have been this high on my list had it not been for him winning this year's Polaris Music Prize.

4. The Hidden Cameras - Like The Dears above, The 'Cameras stayed in the spotlight(at least in the Toronto area) with appearances at both Harbourfront and the Toronto Virgin Festival. Their new album "Awoo" is a grower.

5. Destroyer - Other than his work with The New Pornographers, I was a newbie to Mr. Bejar's solo work until I heard Destroyer's most recent album "Destroyers Rubies". But yes, it was a fantastic pop record.

6. Ladyhawk - They released one of the best rock records of the year with their self-titled debut.

7. The Hylozoists - They've managed to breathe fresh air into instrumental music with their vibraphone-heavy orch-pop sound.

8. The Bicycles - T-dot represent. They're sometimes a little too fey for my pop music tastes but I can't deny their enthusiasm as a live act.

9. Broken Social Scene - The touring machine that they are, I think the general consensus is that we're all sick of 'em now but at the core, still love 'em to death. Go away, but come back and our love for you will be ten times stronger. And thanks for stepping up to the plate to close the Toronto Virgin Festival(in the wake of Massive Attack being forced to cancel).

10. Amy Millan - Her debut solo effort "Honey From The Tombs" was great showcase for her country-tinged pop songs. Her delicate vocals will make your heart ache.

Honourable Mentions:

Angela Desveaux, The Coast, Barzin, The Diableros, The Meligrove Band, Jon Rae And The River, The New P0rnographers, The Deadly Snakes