Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Favourite Concerts of 2008

Here are my favourite of shows of the year in sequential order. For ease sake, I've chose to quote portions of my original reviews for each show. There were a few shows I hadn't originally wrote up reviews for (not at all an indication of the worthiness of the show but rather just a matter of writer' block/laziness), so I've provided some commentary for those shows. It seems my concert-going has gone down even compare to three years ago but I'm striving for quality over quantity and I'm trying not to wear myself too thin. Let's see what 2009 brings.

Lightspeed Champion @ Horseshoe Tavern (Mar 4, 2008) (original review)
"Nary a lap-steel in sight(as I'd heard on a song or two from his debut album "Falling Off The Lavender Bridge", Dev brought his songs to life(playing a set without a set list) with his solid but respectable guitar work, the complimentary violin arrangements of violinist Mike Siddell(played with the similar casual sonics of say Final Fantasy) and Dev's melodic vocals. Stripped down to the duo, the music was less pastoral/folk-rock from what I'd heard from the album and had a much more raw feel to it. The whole set musically was sublime."

My Morning Jacket @ Berkeley Church (Mar 31, 2008) (original review)
"With the stage drenched in hues of blue and green and probably many other colours, the band was most dynamic during their anthemic rock numbers, at one point vocalist Jim James covering his sweat-soaked head in what seemed to be a towel or t-shirt as he continued to sing to the audience with blissful passion. The band were also adept at performing quieter, desolate numbers and the ironic thing is that, given now that I was finally able to see the band, I almost felt like closing my eyes and soaking it all in."

Jens Lekman, Final Fantasy, Katie Stelmanis @ The Great Hall (Apr 8, 2008) (original review)
"Unfortunately the show didn't meet the blissful levels of his last show at The Music Gallery in 2005, but considering the almost 3-year gap between shows, I'll consider myself fortunate for seeing him at all."

British Sea Power @ Lee's Palace (May 16, 2008) (original review)
"Energy spent by the end of the more than hour long set and drenched in sweat, Hamilton and the band continued their tradition of no encores, and left the stage with the audience wanting more although thoroughly satisfied with what we'd already got. Overall, their set ranks as one of the most exhilirating I've seen this year."

R.E.M. @ Molson Ampitheatre (Jun 8, 2008) (original review)
"It may have been somewhat egoistic for R.E.M. to devote much of their set this past Saturday to tunes off their most recent album "Accelerate" and latter-era obscure album tracks. On the other hand such confidence did pay off as some (well actually a lot of) the newer material had its moments, resonating with a melodicism and energy that's on par with R.E.M.'s decent songs."

The Hidden Cameras @ Pride Toronto (Jun 28, 2008) (original blog post)
Ok, I didn't review this show but I'll just say that when The Hidden Cameras make a sort of homecoming during Pride Toronto you know the show's going to bristle with energy. Rather than their vocal choir decked out in prep school garb as I'd seen them in a past performance, this time the choir adorned themselves in golden sheets looking like ghosts. Yes, I believe Berlin has had an influence on the group.

Steve Earle, Allison Moorer @ Gage Park [Hamilton,ON] (Aug 08, 2008) (original review)
"Continuing the evening's lineup of great solo performances, a gruff, bearded Steve Earle took the stage to an enthusiastic response. I'm not really up on my Steve Earle but he seemed to play a mix of his country-rockers, love songs, experimental folk-beat tunes(including a DJ to provide the beats) and some political stuff. Steve had an arsenal of guitars, plus a banjo and mandolin which he continued to switch between throughout the evening. The crowd at this point had swelled to fill the festival grounds in front of the stage and with the family crowd onhand it didn't hold back Steve from throwing out a 'fuck' when he needed to..."

Silver Jews @ Lee's Palace (Sep 2, 2008) (original blog post)
This is another show I didn't get around to reviewing, but believe me it was one of the best shows I'd seen all year, which is saying something for a Silver Jews newbie such as myself. Silver Jews's David Berman is one of the most idiosyncratic artists I've seen live, with a stage persona that's a crosspoint between a lounge singer and a poet. He was quite beloved by his fans in the audience to a point that I deeply regretted not being more familiar with his music as they were, although my ignorance didn't prevent me from enjoying his tuneful, storytelling songs.

Goldfrapp @ Danforth Music Hall (Sep 14, 2008) (original review)
"Musically, I loved every song in the set, though perhaps too painstakingly did they reproduce the studio versions in this live setting. It didn't matter much with the audience who were rapturous(especially this one girl who took it upon herself to dance alone) with every song performed, especially so when 'Ooh La La' was performed, prompting the entire audience including myself to finally get out of our seats and dance."

My Bloody Valentine @ Kool Haus (Sep 25, 2008) (original review)
"As last remnants of the feedback subsided and the house lights came on, there was a jubilation in the faces over everyone around me, including myself. It felt like I'd gone to war, won, and was going home in one piece."

Neil Young @ Air Canada Centre (Dec 4, 2008) (original review)
"I'm reminded of a day back in my youth(man, do I feel old) when my family and I were at the Canadian National Exhibition and I could hear Bruce Springsteen playing live from within Exhibition Stadium, the enormity of the experience as The Boss' vocals echoed through the grounds, but on the other hand the music was deeply invigorating and personal. Really, that was exactly the same experience I had seeing(for the first time) Neil Young play live and one I won't soon forget."

Love Is All @ Horseshoe Tavern (Dec 11, 2008) (original review)
"As loose and carefree as they sound on record, there was an even more ramshackle quality to their live set as pixie-ish vocalist Josephine Olausson's child-like vocal exhuberance collided with shout-out backup vocals, elastic guitar arrangements, rubbery bass lines, urgent drumming, scintillating keyboards, and skronky saxophone. It was sometimes a bit too ramshackle at times, arrangements maybe even a little bit off beat, and I sometimes missed the precision of the guitar arrangements I'd heard on record, but overall I couldn't deny the thrillingness of their live performance."
The Show I Wish I'd Been At In Person:

Portishead @ Coachella (April 26, 2008)
I remember watching their set live on-line and feeling so connected to the music even as I sat thousands of kilometres away. I even wrote a blog post about it. It was that good. As Adrian Utley mentioned to the BBC back in July, they had no more plans for touring in 2008 and were focusing their efforts on preparing for a new album. As to what the status of the new recordings remains to be seen, but I can only cross my fingers that they'll bring their next tour jaunt to Toronto.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Favourite Albums of 2008

I didn't actually purchase nor listen to many albums released in 2008 so making a 'best-of' list seemed a little silly. However, everyone's done it so I thought I'd throw my fave albums of the year list out there for everybody to gawk at. It seems that I was listening to more older music than current this year - I can't count the number of times that I'd listened(on my iPod or Zune) to Love Is All's "Nine Times That Same Song", Echo and The Bunnymen's "Ocean Rain", Morrissey's "Your Arsenal", Jesus and Mary Chain's "Psychocandy" and "Darklands". When I wasn't listening to this music, I was probably scooping up the recent New Order and Pavement reissues, or JAMC boxset. Though nostalgia's partially to blame for my lack of attention towards 2008-released albums, I'm also trying to hold myself back (as well as save a few dollars) from accumulating more music than I really know what to do with [I'm in the midst of a purge of CD's that for the moment have gone in to purgatory storage]. What follows are those albums released in 2008 which bore repeat listens for me:

Goldfrapp - Seventh TreeGoldfrapp - Seventh Tree (Mute)

MySpace: Goldfrapp
Video: Goldfrapp - "Happiness" (music video)
Video: Goldfrapp - "A&E" (music video)

Grand ArchivesGrand Archives - Grand Archives (Sub Pop)

MySpace: Grand Archives
Video: Grand Archives - "Torn Blue Foam Couch" (live on Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson)

Sons and Daughters - This GiftSons and Daughters - This Gift (Domino)

MySpace: Sons and Daughters
Video: Sons and Daughters - "Gilt Complex" (music video)
Video: Sons and Daughters - "Darling" (music video)
Video: Sons and Daughters - "This Gift" (music video)

Portishead - ThirdPortishead - Third (Mercury)

MySpace: Portishead
Video: Portishead - "Machine Gun" (music video)
Video: Portishead - "The Rip" (live on Later with Jools Holland - April 18, 2008)

Crystal Stilts - Alight of NightCrystal Stilts - Alight of Night (Slumberland)

MySpace: Crystal Stilts
Video: Crystal Stilts - "Prismatic Room" (music video)

Vivian GirlsVivian Girls - Vivian Girls (In The Red)

MySpace: Vivian Girls
Video: Vivian Girls - "Tell The World" (music video)

Fleet FoxesFleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

MySpace: Fleet Foxes
Video: Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal" (music video)
Video: Fleet Foxes - "White Winter Hymnal" (live on Later with Jools Holland)
Video: Fleet Foxes - "English House" (live on Late Night With Conan O'Brien)

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age of the UnderstatementThe Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of The Understatement (Domino)

MySpace: The Last Shadow Puppets
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets - "Standing Next To Me" (music video)
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets - "The Age Of The Understatement" (music video)
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets - "My Mistakes Were Made For You" (music video)
Video: The Last Shadow Puppets - "Meeting Place" (live acoustic @ Avatar Studios, New York City - March 4, 2008)

The Coast - ExpatriateThe Coast - Expatriate (Aporia)

MySpace: The Coast
Video: The Coast - "Killing Off Our Friends" (live on MTV Live)
Video: The Coast - "No Secret Why" (live on MTV Live)

Cadence Weapon - Afterparty BabiesCadence Weapon - Afterparty Babies (ANTI-)

MySpace: Cadence Weapon
Video: Cadence Weapon - "Real Estate" (music video)

Lightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender BridgeLightspeed Champion - Falling Off The Lavender Bridge (Domino)

MySpace: Lightspeed Champion
Video: Lightspeed Champion - "Midnight Surprise" (music video)
Video: Lightspeed Champion - "Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk (music video)

Love Is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At NightLove Is All - A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night (What's Your Rupture?)

MySpace: Love Is All
Video: Love Is All - "Wishing Well" (music video)
Video: Love Is All - "Wishing Well" (live on HandHeld Shows, Majorstua Subwaystation, Oslo 2008)

Albums I wish I spent more time with:

Bloc Party - "Intimacy"
British Sea Power - "Do You Like Rock Music?"
Jenny Lewis - "Acid Tongue"
Stereolab - "Chemical Chords"
Beck - "Modern Guilt" (ok, I just bought this on Boxing Day)

Albums I bought (and haven't even opened):

Sigur Ros - "Meo Suo I Eyrum Vio Spilum End"
The Hold Steady - "Stay Positive"
Wolf Parade - "At Mount Zoomer"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And So This Is Christmas

Looking for some last minute presents for that indie music fan? Here's some great deals that you should be able to find at your local HMV, Futureshop and or Sunrise Records stores. I guess this only applies to Canadians and or Southern Ontarians (sorry to the rest of you). I'd be more giddy if I didn't already have most of these:

Pavement - "Brighten The Corners" deluxe reissue - $18.99 @ HMV

New Order - "Movement", "Power, Corruption and Lies", "Brotherhood", "Low Life", "Technique" deluxe reissues - $19.99 each @ HMV

New Order - "Live In Glasgow" DVD - $16.99 @ Futureshop [might only be able to find quantities at some locations]

Belle and Sebastian - "BBC Sessions" (2-disc edition) - $19.99 @ HMV

Belle and Sebastian - "Dear Catastrophe Waitress", "Tigermilk", "Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant", "The Life Pursuit", "If Youre Feeling Sinister, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds : 2cd" - 2 for $25 @ HMV

Fleet Foxes - "Fleet Foxes" - $10 @ HMV

Bloc Party - "Intimacy" - $10 @ HMV

Jenny Lewis - "Acid Tongue" - $10 @ HMV

The Dears - "Missiles" - $10 @ HMV

Feist - "The Reminder" (2 disc edition) - $14.99 @ Sunrise Records

I'm off from work starting today until January 2 but I'll probably be posting sparingly - a best-of 2008, some other randomness perhaps, mayeb turn this into a photo blog for the next week and a half - but otherwise everyone please have a safe and happy holiday. Merry Christmas!

Here's Ms. Darlene Love performing her classic holiday track on Late Show With David Letterman yesterday night:

Video: Darlene Love - "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" (live on Letterman, 23-12-2008)

Friday, December 19, 2008

The NewMusic

The NewMusicWith Christmas shopping, snow-mageddon and other various things on my mind, I totally missed the news that the long-running television program The NewMusic got cancelled recently. An article in the recent issue of Eye Weekly discusses the evolution of our "Nation's Music Station" Muchmusic, whose direction seems to be a shift from actual music to pop cultural programming, and in it's wake it seems The NewMusic got the axe. I hardly remember The NewMusic prior to '96 (although I know I watched it), but from 96' and onward I watched it fairly regulary except over the last few years as life got busier. As I expressed over at Stillepost, from '96 and onward with hosts Avi Lewis, Byron Wong, George Stroumboulopoulos, Hannah Sung and Hannah Simone, it was of consistently good quality in my opinion. Yes over the last few years they may have interviewed an inordinate amount of Emo bands but hey, who am I to be a music snob. As someone who doesn't choose to watch MuchMusic very much nowadays, it was cool to have The NewMusic as one of the last bastions of the old days of MuchMusic and something that was informative and entertaining to watch within the sea of dreck that MuchMusic is nowadays (although kiddies, I'm sure you'll grow up and realize the err of your youth musical tastes). Sorry to see The NewMusic go. Let's hope The Wedge and Going Coastal stick around.

I'm surprised I haven't read anyone mention this but, the Canadian Music Week website has a list of the artists so far confirmed for the festival taking place March 12-14/09.

I've decided to round up some of the recent concert announcments just for the record (though Chromewaves has mentioned many of these during the past week or so if you've been keeping up with him):

Don't call them The Jayhawks, just call them by their first names, Gary Louris and Mark Olson who'll be coming to The Mod Club for a show on February 4/09. The duo will be releasing an album "Ready For The Flood" in January 2009 according to their MySpace.

Jenn Grant (who was here recently supporting Danny Michel for some local dates) returns with new album "Echoes" in the new year and has also recently announced a string of CD release shows, included a date in Toronto at The Mod club on February 12. Apparently it's an early show. Via Six Shooter Records

Ben Folds will come to town for a show at Kool Haus on February 17/09 and has also announced recently on his MySpace that they're giving away a 2-disc set entitled "Way To Normal: Stems and Seeds" to all current members of his fanclub and anyone who joins the fan club before Feb 15th. Check out the MySpace link above for more details.

Sub Pop's country-folk rockers Blitzen Trapper return to Toronto for a show at Horseshoe Tavern on February 21/09 with openers Alela Diane. Via Sub Pop

Detroit garage rock outfit The Von Bondies will come to town for a show at the Horseshoe on February 20. Their new record "Love, Hate, and Then There's You" is out February 3/09.

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit and Deer Tick will be at Horseshoe Tavern on March 4/09. Jason's new album is out February 17/09.

New Pornographer frontman A.C. Newman takes his solo project on the road with a stop at Lee's Palace on March 11/09. His 2nd solo album, "Get Guilty" hits the street on January 20/09.

There are return trips to Toronto for Bloc Party who'll play Kool Haus on March 14/09 while Eagles of Death Metal (who were just here recently for a show at The Mod Club) will play the larger Phoenix Concert Theatre on February 20.

I don't remember if/when UK's Primal Scream played Toronto so perhaps that should be enough motivation to check them out when they come to town for a show at the Phoenix on March 24/09.

A new album (as yet untitled, and no official release date confirmed) from Depeche Mode will come this spring, while NME reports that U2 will do the same when they release their new album 'No Line On The Horizon' on March 2/09.

Fleet Foxes performed on Late Night With Conan O'Brien a few days ago. Check it out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Make Out Fall Out Make Up

concert review: Love Is All, Crystal Stilts, Tropics @ Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, Ontario) - December 11, 2008

Josephine Olausson of Love Is All @ Horseshoe Tavern: photo by Michael Ligon
Josephine Olausson of Love Is All at Horseshoe: photo by Michael Ligon

One of the better indie bills this year took over the Horseshoe Tavern last Thursday night, and while it was chillly outside, by the time Swedish headliners Love Is All hit the stage, the nearly packed crowded were heating things up inside. About 20 minutes off their 9 pm set time, Toronto guitar/drums duo took the stage and quickly dove into their off-kilter punkabilly, concoctions. Vocalist Slim Twig's sing-speak took a backseat for the most part to the instrumentation which felt almost like a battle between who could create the most intensity - Simone TB with her thoroughly propulsive and succinct drumming or Slim Twig with his incendiary electric guitar riffing and arrangements. They're in general a lot less accessible than other guitar/drums duos such as The White Stripes, a little more art punk, but overall were interesting to me in doses.

Brooklyn's Crystal Stilts have been getting some rotation in my CD player and as their debut album "Alight The Night" evokes the strong spirit of The Velvet Underground, their live set only did more to further that comparison. Lone female member Frankie Thomas took on the role of VU drummer Moe Tucker manning the bare bones drumkit which was but two drums, with no cymbals although I believe a tambourine was attached to one drum. Like VU, Crystal Stilts minimal stage presence (coupled with lead vocalists almost comatose vocals) could either be perceived as an exudation of cool or just disappointed boring. My perception is somewhat in the middle but only because the invigorating reverb-drenched melodies were enough IMO to keep the songs from sinking and enough of a distraction to keep me focused on the music rather than the band on stage.

As I'd expressed a few months ago, Love Is All's debut album "Nine Times That Same Song" which I picked up this past summer became my most listened to if not my favourite album this year and a little regret does eat at me that I hadn't known about the band and the album back in 2006 when the album came out and during that year when the band had passed through town at least a couple of times. 2008 brought the Swedes back to Toronto on the heels of their sophomore album "A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night". I hadn't listened to the new album save for a song or two prior to the show last Thursday, but it seems as if the band have continued their stream of spastic, skronky pop music. As loose and carefree as they sound on record, there was an even more ramshackle quality to their live set as pixie-ish vocalist Josephine Olausson's child-like vocal exhuberance collided with shout-out backup vocals, elastic guitar arrangements, rubbery bass lines, urgent drumming, scintillating keyboards, and skronky saxophone. It was sometimes a bit too ramshackle at times, arrangements maybe even a little bit off beat, and I sometimes missed the precision of the guitar arrangements I'd heard on record, but overall I couldn't deny the thrillingness of their live performance.

The set list was a mix of songs between the first and second albums with a cover of Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" thrown in for good measure. They best hit the mark(for me at least) on first album rave-ups like "Talk, Talk, Talk", "Busy Doing Nothing" and perhaps the best moment of the night on "Make Out Fall Out Make Up" as the coda of the song had vocalist Josephine and the audience (or at least some of them) chanting the title phrase with glee. But really there was nothing better to look at than petite vocalist Josephine Olausson breaking all expectations as what one might have perceived as a modest demeanour in Josephine suddenly chang as Josephine shifted into her frontperson role with purpose, grasping her mic, walking around the stage, assaulting her keyboards and playing the meanest cowbell you ever did have the pleasure of witnessing. Please come back soon.

Photos: Love Is All, Crystal Stilts, Tropics @ Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, Ontario) - December 11, 2008

MySpace: Tropics
MySpace: Crystal Stilts
MySpace: Love Is All

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shattered Shine

Crystal Stilts (photo credit: Lauren Bilanko)
Crystal Stilts: photo credit: Lauren BilankoIt's obviously Sweden's Love Is All's night at the Horseshoe Tavern tonight but I do strongly encourage attendees to get there for Brooklyn's Crystal Stilts' set. With the release of their debut full-length "Alight of Night" freshly released through Slumberland Records (though some of the songs have been kicking around for a bit, having been released independently earlier this year on their self-titled EP), the band delivers a hazey, reverb-drenched album of both major and minor chord pop songs. My first impressions garner comparisons to obvious influences like The Velvet Underground with a hint of The Jesus and Mary Chain, while lead vocalist sounds like a more woozy take on The Magnetic Fields' Stephen Merritt's debonair baritone at times with a little deadpannedness of Joy Division 's Ian Curtis, siphoned through a haze of reverb. The minimalist rock n' roll instrumentation of The Velvet Underground is a large part of the sound, and depending on one's appreciation for such aesthetics(which I do), that'd probably determine whether you'd like Crystal Stilts. Yes, they do at times have strong melodies, but other times they're less obvious and buried beneath the din or more simplistic to the point I wondered whether the band could pull off some of these songs acoustically. The answer to that question I would say would be 'no', the biggest culprit perhaps being "Verdant Gaze" that seems to plod a long with without any discernible melody. At their best, as on "Shattered Shine" they most obviously adhere to my comparisons to Stephen Merritt and The Velvet Underground though with an added touch of the most gloriously melodic ringing guitar arrangement guiding the song along. The overall strength of the album lays in the band's ability to maintain a consistent sound but apply variations in instrumentation and music genres to keep things interesting. There's the minor-key garage stomp of "Bright Night", the JAMC surf stomp of "Crystal Stilts", the poppy, organ-ified "Prismatic Room", the noir-country twang of "Graveyard Orbit", the cinematic 60's-ish pop sounding "Spiral Thought"(a garage-y take on The Last Shadow Puppets IMO) and the sun-kissed Beach Boys pop of album closer "The City In The Sea". Thoroughly entertaining.

Myspace: Crystal Stilts
Video: Crystal Stilts - "Prismatic Room" (music video)

Bell Orchestre have joined the Arts & Crafts roster who will release their sophomore full-length in early 2009, with touring to follow.

Soulstress Bettye Lavette will be at The Diesel Playhouse on June 3, 2009. Update: Commenter Kate C. informs that The Diesel Playhouse is closing so it appears Ms. Lavette will have to look for a new venue.

The Soundscapes staff have posted their best-of lists of 2008.

Herohill posts his fave Canadian EP's of 2008, and I realize I have some catching up to do.

Sara Bareilles will be at Church of the Redeemer on February 28, 2009 according to Pollstar.

Andrew Bird has confirmed a bunch more North American tour dates including a return to Toronto for a show at Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 3.

As Chartattack and Chromewaves pointed out, The Weakerthans and The Constantines join forces again for their Rolling Tundra Revue cross-Canada tour, with a stop at the Phoenix confirmed for March 31. It seems bets are that it'll probably be moved to a larger venue(or possibly multiple dates at the Phoenix), but if you really want to go I'd suggest buying your tickets right away.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ragged Glory

concert review: Neil Young, Wilco, Everest @ Air Canada Centre (Toronto, Ontario), December 4, 2008

Neil Young @ Air Canada Centre (December 4, 2008)
Neil Young @ Air Canada Centre (December 4, 2008)

The large arena/stadium concert is something I haven't experienced very often in my years of going to shows. I can only two large arena shows I've gone to - The Cult at Skydome in the late 80's(my 1st concert ever), and U2 at Exhibition Stadium during their Zoo TV tour in the early 90's. (I guess you can also count Sloan at Varsity Arena in the mid-90's in promotion of "One Chord To Another" but that was a smaller arena from what I recall.) I guess I was only waiting for the right artist to come along before I'd venture back to hockey arena or stadium for a concert and that artist was Neil Young. Who better else.

Whether there was any sort of egoistic element in picking the openers remains to be proven, but it's hard to deny Neil Young's influence in the music of Californian Americana outfit Everest nor his sonic influence that runs through at least some of the music of Wilco. In the end, both bands were deeply happy to be playing with one of their musical heroes. Although Everest were completely unknown to me except for the fact that their debut album "Ghost Notes" was released earlier this year through Mr. Young's boutique label "Vapor Records, that managed to convince me of their talent wit their lovely, robust folk rock melodies, jammy at times, but completely enjoyable. It's a shame they only played to only a 1/3 full arena. In the excitement of the anticipation of getting to see Neil Young for the first time, it was easy to forget that one of my faves Wilco were also on the bill. My previous times see Wilco were at the much more intimate(and hence better) venue Massey Hall and it was a discombulating experience to see Wilco play an arena with me sitting in the nosebleed section. Of coure there was a little bit of a disconnect, added to the fact that Wilco weren't playing a full set. However with Wilco's setlist leaning towards some of their most soothing songs("Via Chicago", "Jesus, Etc", "California Stars", "Impossible Germany"), in some respect, sitting in the 300 section was an ideal way to experience some of Wilco's loveliest melodies as they wafted through the arena. I don't mean to give you the impression they were slick as say The Eagles(no we don't want that)....guitarist Nels Cline tore up the guitar solos with fiery skill and the sudden noisy collapse of instruments that occured during points in "Via Chicago" (like Neil's excursions into feedback) showed that Wilco have an edgier side to them.

I've had an on and off relationship with Neil Young's music over the last 20 years, my earliest introduction probably being a cover of Neil Young song by another artist but through the years, as a music fan, it was almost impossible to ignore his influence on popular culture nor let his songs seep into my musical concsciousness. Whether as a forebearer of grunge and alternative music (going so far as to tour with the likes of Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam in the 1990's), or bringing his acoustic folk to a new generation with his appearance on MTV's Unplugged, or bridging the gap between music fans(particularly youth) and noteworthy social or political issues with his songwriting and involvement with causes like The Bridge School and Farm Aid, his influence is far-reaching. But now seems like the time where Neil has nothing else to prove and he feels comfortable looking back his career as his two shows at the Air Canada Centre last week (the first of which I attended) in Toronto showed him to be.

With his wife peggy and his Electric Band, the Mr. Young played a setlist stacked with many of his most well known songs, coming off like a rough and tumble aging rocker who hasn't lost an ounce of grit since his younger days. Though all my previous times at the Air Canda Centre have been for Raptors games, and in better seats, it wasn't until I ventured to my seat in the 300 section, row 16 (practically near the ceiling), that I realized how large Air Canada Centre is. Looking down upon the mass of people that had filled the venue for Neil, when Neil and company finally filed onto the stage, it was a jubilant response that greeted them, not only as a sign of respect but also of appreciation for his contribution to popular music over the years. Granted there was almost no possibility of the 300 section feeling the electricity that the crowd on the floor must have been feeling during Neil's set, but a few rounds of handclapping and pockets of people standing at times kept the spirits up in the nosebleed sections. Taking the 'greatest hits'(with a few detours) approach he touched on various aspects of his career playing electric ("Powderfinger', "Hey Hey My My", "Cortez The Killer")), acoustic ("The Needle And The Damage Done") and almost bordering on accappella(if not for the sombre pipe organ accompaniement) with a serene reading of "Mother Earth"(off of "Ragged Glory"). I'm reminded of a day back in my youth(man, do I feel old) when my family and I were at the Canadian National Exhibition and I could hear Bruce Springsteen playing live from within Exhibition Stadium, the enormity of the experience as The Boss' vocals echoed through the grounds, but on the other hand the music was deeply invigorating and personal. Really, that was exactly the same experience I had seeing(for the first time) Neil Young play live and one I won't soon forget.

Photos: Neil Young, Wilco, Everest @ Air Canada Centre (December 4, 2008)

MySpace: Everest
MySpace: Wilco
MySpace: Neil Young

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Heavy Hands

The Diableros - photo by Holly ThomasAs The Diableros mentioned over at their MySpace the other day, they've recorded a few demos 'motown-style' (ie. live-off-the-floor, 1 mic for the drums, 1 mic for all the other instruments, with the vocals added later) which they've made available for listening on their MySpace - the songs are entitled 'When The Water Rises' and 'Heavy Hands', the latter of which is available for download currently at their official website. The band play a show at The Boat on December 19. Both are great tracks btw, full of ringing guitars and invigorating melodies - and is that a baritone sax during 'Heavy Hands' I hear? [photo by Holly Thomas]

Merry Christmas from Vice Records and The Raveonettes with a reverb drenched bit of holiday melancholy(and if you're thinking of including the song on your next Christmas mix playlist, you may want to clip the Vice advert at the end of the song):

MP3: The Raveonettes - "Come On Santa"

Muchmusic MuchOnDemand's Tim Deegan interviewed Franz Ferdinand (well two of 'em anyway) while they were in town, the guys speaking about the record 'Tonight' and having wanted to make a dance record, but in a different way.

NME brings news that Two-Tone Ska revivalists The Specials will reunite in 2009 to celebrate their 30th anniversary, though for the moment with gigs scheduled only for the UK.

Muchmusic Blog reports that Quebec outfit Malajube will release their new album "Labyrinthes", on February 10, 2009.

The new Neko Case album entitled "Middle Cyclone" is out March 3, 2009 through ANTI-. ANTI- has the tracklisting up and Pitchfork has the kick-ass cover art.

Ohbijou's Casey Mecija posts over at the band's MySpace about the air getting colder, the band's road weary travels over the last few months with The Acorn, and planning over the next couple of months on rehearsing, writing and recording their new album entitled "Beacons" which they plan on releasing in April 2009.

The January/09 schedule for Wavelength at Sneaky Dee's is now up at Stille Post.

Brooklyn's Bishop Allen will bring their chirpy indie pop to the El Mocambo on January 17, tickets $10.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sugar Mountain

On the heels of their recently released "Another World" EP, and leading up to the new album "The Crying Light in 2009", Antony and The Johnsons are touring and will make a stop in Toronto for an all-ages show at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre on February 17 of '09. Tickets onsale Dec 4th at 10 a.m. for $35.00. There's a Facebook page you can join to keep updated about the show. [via Stille Post & rootmeansquare]

Via Emerge comes new that the December 15 show at The Opera House with CSS and Ssion has been cancelled. Tickets can be refunded at point of purchase.

January 23 of the new year will bring to the Horseshoe a bill with Fembots and Harbourcoats ( a new project apparently by Bry Webb of The Constantines), tickets $8.00.

Franz Ferdinand will be playing a special all-ages show at The Masonic Temple on Friday, December 5 at 3:30 PM and the only way to get tickets is through 102.1 The Edge, so break your no-Edge listening habits just this one time. And if you by chance do win tickets, think of an excuse to get out of work. More details about the show here.

I caught the opening of the Cavalcade of Lights [photos] down at Nathan Phillips Square over the weekend and as Mayor David Miller expressed, each Saturday in December (up til the 20th) Nathan Phillips Square will feature free fireworks, a Skating Party with DJ, and concerts with a few of the highlights (well for some of you) being Dragonette on December 13 and Serena Ryder on December 20. Concerts start around 7 pm each night. Info here.

Gawk at Pitchfork's 2008 Reader's Poll. I tried yesterday, but it wasn't loading for me. I'll try again today - I'm sure it'll be entertaining. Perhaps, I shouldn't have assumed that Pitchfork's Readers' Poll was actually up....no they're just requesting readers take part in the poll. So go make yourself feel important and participate. I'd have hope for sarcastic commentary from readers but alas, at least according to the first question in the survey, a commentary dialog box isn't provided.

Out today, the CD/DVD release of Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain - Live at Canterbury House 1968". Yay!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

When Was The Last Time You Discovered Something New?

I'm not sure how well this video works as an advertisement - it hasn't compelled me to sign up for Sirius Satellite Radio - but it does have an emotional resonance that I enjoyed on its merit as a short music video. It's a breathtaking combination of music and images. It's a series of images that focus on the joy of discovery such as a newborn's birth into the world, browsing through records in a records store, and a junior high pair's first dance. The music is an instrumental snippet of a song entitled 'A Blueprint' by now defunct UK band Fear of Music. The instrumental snippet of the song in the commercial does give an impression of Coldplay though their MySpace samples speak otherwise as their music has more of a British rock swagger overall.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

The Constantines new 7" single, "Our Age" b/w "Fuckin' Up" (Neil Young cover) is out through Arts & Crafts today. It's also been confirmed that the band's appearance on the Beautiful Noise television program will air on SunTV on Christmas Eve(December 24).

Also available (digitally) through Arts & Crafts today is Feist's The Reminder: Bonus Content which features remixes and duets with Mocky and Constantines. The physical edition (ie. the original album packaged with the bonus content) will be out December 2.

Continuing the Art & Crafts theme, CHARTattack reminds us that Los Campesinos release their sophomore album, "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" today and taking it one step further are offering a free MP3 download of the title track.

Via Stille Post comes the news that Slim Twig and The Acorn's Rolf Klausener will take part in "View Points: Inside The Musicians Studio" at Harbourfront on Wednesday December 3, 2008 at 7 pm. It's a discussion series folks. It will be hosted by Toronto journalist and DJ, Denise Benson. Tickets are $5 at the door or available in advance online.

The following day of their intimate gig at Lee's Palace on December 4, Franz Ferdinand will drop by Edge 102.1 FM studios for a chat on December 5, time TBA.

Mark your calendars as Dan Burke's annual Jesus and Mary Chain tribute show is scheduled for December 17 at The Velvet Underground. Interested bands please check out contact details over at Stille Post. I went to this a few years back and it was fun.

According to Pollstar, Beastie Boys DJ, Mix Master Mike will be at Brant House (522 King Street West, Toronto) on January 9.

Land of Talk have announced a three-week run of dates starting January 14 in Powell’s hometown of Guelph, Ontario, and running through February 7 in Vancouver, British Columbia. They'll be in Toronto for a show at Horseshoe Tavern on January 15 with openers Zeroes and Little Scream.

Glass Candy return to Toronto at Wrongbar on January 23, tickets $15.00. Via Soundscapes. Show or DJ gig? Anyone?

NME ponders why there are so few good Strokes cover version, although are own Basia Bulat (and her rendition of "Someday") does make their shortlist.

If I do ever make it to Halifax, I won't have a chance to visit The Marquee Club as The Coast reports that it is closing for good. A sad day for Haligonians I'm sure. I wonder if Sloan will make it back before then. As a nod to the venue, check out the following:

Video: Sloan - The Marquee And The Moon - Live @ The Troubadour, Los Angeles (Oct 1, 2008)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Everything's Gone Green

New Order - MovementOdds ands ends for this Sunday afternoon - I've been under the weather as of late and haven't felt much like going to shows in any case but that'll change in December.

So I got all excited about the recent New Order Factory-era double-disc reissues and picked up 4 of the 5 albums (with "Technique" the only one I haven't decided on) but it does come as a surprise about the print errors and audio glitches that diehard fans have found throughout them. There's a message board thread that details the 300 errors and counting fans have so far found and while I've only had a chance to listen to the bonus disc of "Movement" (I love the 7" mix of 'Temptation' btw) I haven't perceived the audio pops that the message board thread indicates on some songs (but then I'm listening to the CD through crappy computer speakers). Pitchfork reports that that the grievances have reached back to the New Order camp, both the band and the record labels (Rhino and Warner Bros. UK), and that they're now in the process of correcting the problems, so for the moment hold on to those CD's until that time that a replacement procedure is in effect. Or as the Pitchfork writer writes, perhaps these inferior versions might become ultra-rare and be worth something someday.

Matt Pond PA has been MIA recently but recently have announced they'll be releasing a free EP(digital?) next week cheekily entitled "The Freeep". They've also recorded a song for the Guilt By Association Vol. 2 Compilation - it's a cover of My Chemical Romance's 'I'm Not Okay' - the song is available now on iTunes and the physical CD will be released February 17; you can also stream the song here. Via Alternative Press.

Grab a free digital 7-song sampler of Mint Records artists over at eMusic (registration required). Via Mint Records.

Good-bye to Hannah Simone (as she leaves for greener pastures), probably my favourite of all the MuchMusic on-air personalities right now if only because she hosted The NewMusic.

Tickets just in at Soundscapes for the two-night D'Urbervilles stint at Tiger Bar on December 12 and 13, tickets $8. Rounding off the bill the first night will be Katie Stelmanis and Mantler with Bocce and Slow Hand Motem rounding off the second night.

A little Broken Social Scene-ster action takes over The Dakota Tavern in December with Jason Collett setting up a residency(dubbed a Basement Revue) on December 2, 16, 23, and 30. Kevin Drew takes his turn once(lazy bum) on December 9. Tickets for each show are $15, via Soundscapes.

Opening for many of Lykke Li's upcoming dates (including the Feb 6/09 date at the Phoenix in Toronto) will be fellow Swedes Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Via The Windish Agency.

And just a few words regarding the print format - anyone know why the winter edition of Magnet Magazine isn't out yet? Also the most recent print issue(Dec 2008) of Spin has a good interview and history of Echo and The Bunnymen that does indicate the band's working on a new album. I've been delving into their back catalogue with more interest and am wondering if their later output is any good ("Evergreen" & "Siberia" I've read are decent).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Lakes Of Alberta

Who knew that Tokyo Police Club keyboardist Graham Wright had his own solo material? Ok I didn't, and maybe you did. Chartattack reports that Mr. Wright's released his solo debut "The Lakes Of Alberta" EP today; you can stream it or download a lower quality MP3 version of the album for free over at his website - for $5 you can also download a higher quality version of the album in various audio formats. TPC fans might be taken back by the acoustic folkiness of his solo material but I like it enough; if TPC's US label Saddle Creek releases this I won't be surprised. TPC play some Canadian dates in December including the Jingle Bell Rock tour at Sound Academy on December 12 and 13.

Hopefully, those of you going to one or both of the Broken Social Scene [oh, I just noticed their new URL not-to-mention their revamped website] shows at Sound Academy November 27 and 28 stop off at that Loblaw's on Queen Quay on the way to the show as the band will be accepting non-perishable food donations on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank. [via Pitchfork]

According to Pollstar it seems like Thornley is one of the bands playing the Horseshoe Tavern on December 5 as part of venue's 61st Birthday. Oh, way to burst my bubble.

Femi Kuti brings Afro-beat to The Opera House on January 15.

Annuals with Jessica Lea Mayfield and What Laura Says Thinks and Feels play the El Mocambo on January 24.

The red-hot Lykke Li will be back in Toronto for a show at Phoenix Concert Theatre on February 2.

Thievery Corporation move on up from their usual Toronto digs at The Opera House for a show at Kool Haus on February 21. They will be promoting their recently released 5th album "Radio Retaliation". Via Beggars Group Canada

As I've been reeling about the recent New Order reissues (I picked up "Movement", "Power Corruption, and Lies", and "Brotherhood" last week), it's also exciting to hear about the Factory Records 30th Anniversary boxset coming out. Rhino Records will be releasing this 4-disc / 63-tracks set and it's suppose to come out January 12 in the UK. Domestic release? Full details over at Pitchfork

Belle and Sebastian's "The BBC Sessions" (single and double-disc versions) is out today - full CD listening party over at Spinner this week. Hear a brief interview with Steve and Chris reminiscing about their trips to Manchester and London. No forseeable new album so "The BBC Sessions" will have to tide us over for now. Perhaps they'll release a surprise Christmas single like they did last year?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Human Giant

Toronto's Blue Peter play their last show ever November 27 at Tattoo Rock Parlour, tickets $15. Openers are Slave To The Square.

An unknown entity to me until a day or two ago, Niagara-On-The-Lake roots band The Done Me Wrongs will be opening for Stars at Queen Elizabeth Theatre on December 13.

Human Highway (Jim Guthrie and Nick Thorburn) take to the stage at Tranzac on December 16 to promote their debut album "Moody Motorcycle" out on Suicide Squeeze, advance tickets onsale now for $10, $12 at the door. Further info at Stille Post. Also on the bill are The Magic (couldn't find a hyperlink for them). Look forward for a music video for the band's first single "The Sound" by the end of the year.

According to Brooklyn Vegan , MTV "Human Giant" comedian Aziz Ansari is taking his "Glow In The Dark" comedy tour on the road making what I presume is a rare stop in Toronto for a date at The Mod Club on January 30 in the new year.

Cut Copy are back in T.O. for a show a Circa on March 20 of '09 with openers Matt & Kim and is also suppose to feature a "special surprise DJ". Via Pitchfork.

Courtesy of Stereogum, for a limited time only, you can purchase Guided By Voices' "Bee Thousand" in MP3 format for only $3.99 US through Amazon.com. Essential. PS. President Elect Barack Obama posts a comment at the Stereogum link above about 8 or 9 comments down. ...Ok, it's not Obama, but it was funny reading it. Update: Ok, MP3 downloads through Amazon.com only available to US residents apparently(according to J.S. in the comments). Everyone else can go screw themselves...well that's how I interpret it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The 500

The Pitchfork 500 (book)Out today in book stores is "The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present" which compiles Pitchfork staff's 500 favorite songs from 1977-2006. I'm looking forward to reading the individual commentaries although if you'd like to take a gander at the list From Closer To Near has it up [via It's Not The Band I Hate...]. Along this line I'd also highly recommend a few books by Garry Mulholland - "This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco" and it's follow-up "Fear Of Music: The Greatest 261 Albums Since Punk And Disco", both interesting reads. I've barely scraped the surface of both books actually but what I've read is great. I just found a used hardcover mint copy of "Fear Of Music" recently and I picked up a copy of "This Is Uncool" earlier this year at Chapters for about $6.99 (I think Chapters might still have it but otherwise keep your eyes out for it anyway).

I got an e-mail that Eagles of Death Metal poster boys Jesse “Boots Electric” Hughes and Joshua “Babyduck” Homme will be at The Bovine this Wednesday night for a DJ set. No cover charge, although I won't guarantee no line-up.

A reminder that the first annual Toronto Nu Jazz Festival goes down November 13 to 15 with shows at Revival, Supermarket and The Opera House. Check out the promo video. It kicks off with UK's The Herbaliser at Revival on November 13, tickets $18 in advance or $25 at the door. Check out the rest of the schedule and ticket info at the link above.

If the temperature isn't already an indication that winter is just about upon us, then well there's no going back now that the City of Toronto's confirmed a couple of their winter Special Events schedules. The Calvacade Of Lights takes place November 29 to December 31 with it going city-wide this year with lighting displays in twenty neighbourhoods and tourist attractions. The Opening Celebration takes place November 29 at Nathan Phillips with a holiday concert that features several performers including Serena Ryder. In the new year from January 30 to February 12 is the annual WinterCity Festival, music-wise which will feature a few free concerts at Nathan Phillips Square - Thunderheist and Shad on January 31 and The Stills on February 7.

Gentlemen Reg will be opening for Stars on December 12 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Parkdale troubadour Justin Rutledge will embark on his "Incredible Shrinking Tour in promotion of his new album "Man Descending". He'll be touring opener Jenn Grant for a few Ontario dates (Waterloo, Hamilton, Kingston) before heading west, then will swing back to Ontario at the end of the month for shows in Guelph and and Peterborough before ending this second Ontario leg with 5 dates in Toronto at "...decreasing capacity venues across the city, starting at the Horseshoe Tavern, then moving to Hugh’s Room, the Dakota Tavern, the Cameron House, and culminating in a final night at the diminutive Not My Dog..." in Parkdale. Toronto dates take place from November 28 to December 2 respectively. Full details including openers for each night at Six Shooter Records.

American Laundromat Records drops an indie feast of Cure-loving goodness with a 16-track CD titled "JUST LIKE HEAVEN - A TRIBUTE TO THE CURE!" being released in the new year on January 27. You can preview tracks over at the label website by launching their radio player. Participating artists' comments can be read here.

And please take a moment of silence at 11 am to recognize our armed forces and fallen soldiers this Remembrance Day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lucid Dreams

Franz FerdinandBy now common knowledge to most (I posted the news at Stille Post over the weekend), Franz Ferdinand will be playing an intimate show at Lee's Palace on December 4. Tickets are onsale November 13 at 10 am through Ticketmaster only, tickets $25. I'll be at the Neil Young and Wilco show at the Air Canada Centre that night. As Chromewaves hypothesizes there should hopefully be some 'proper' North American tour dates in the not-too-distant future - 'proper' meaning the band likely playing a big-ass venue like Kool Haus or God-forbid Sound Academy or Ricoh Coliseum. Shudder. The band's new single "Lucid Dreams", to appear on their forthcoming album "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand" can be heard/downloaded over at the band's website.

Coming up quickly, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone will be playing a show in Toronto on November 15 at 6 Nassau (a venue in Kensington Market). Via Stille Post]

As part of the 2K Sports Presents The Bounce Tour, Q-Tip and The Cool Kids will be at the Phoenix on December 5. Tickets $24.50. [via REMG]

The Russian Futurists have been confirmed to open for Stars for their December 11 show at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Tropics have been added to the bill at the Horseshoe Tavern on December 11 with the previously announced Love Is All and Crystal Stilts(man, I swoon every time I hear "Shattered Shine"). [via Against The Grain] On a side note, as Brooklyn Vegan points out, Love Is All 's new album "A Hundred Things Keep me Up At Night" will be released November 18 (no longer November 11) through What's Your Rupture and you can listen to the new Love Is All album plus watch Halloween-themed videos for each song over at What's Your Rupture's YouTube Page.

Though still unconfirmed there's a few dates at the Horseshoe Tavern I'll be keeping my eye on. November 25 will be the 15th Anniversary of The Edge 102.1 Dave Bookman's Nu Music Nite. December 5 and 6 will celebrate the venue's 61st birthday - details are to be announced this Friday November 14. The venue website promises a few 'special guests' on November 25 while if last year's celebrations were any indication, hopefully the venue's birthday celebrations this year will be decent if not outstanding.

What has recently been confirmed for the Horseshoe include a visit from German-Danish indie rockers 18th Dye on December 2(part of the no-cover Nu Music Nite) - I remember reading about them a while back with their Matador-released "A Tribute To A Bus" though I never really got around listening to them much but I like the alternately spacious and crunchy guitar indie rock I hear over at their MySpace. The Skydiggers bring their down-home country rock to the Horseshoe for their annual Christmas shows on December 19 and 20, tickets $25.00 onsale today. As usual, The Sadies ring in the new year on December 31 with their annual New Year's Eve show at the Horseshoe, tickets $20.00.

Up the street from the Horseshoe, Elliott Brood will ring in the new year on December 31 at Lee's Palace.

Everyone's favourite hardcore-concertgoing / indie-listing / music blogger Jennifer Polk is profiled over at BlogTO.

Finally some Neko Case news as her most recent Travelogue update was on the night of the election (just prior to Obama's win) as she comments on the goodwill expressed by Canadians in the studio she was recording in cheering on Obama that night. On a purely musical note she mentions being at the end of the recording process, which means a new album sometime in the future!

Tomorrow, the double CD reissue's of New Order's "Movement", "Power, Corruption and Lies", "Low Life", "Brotherhood", and "Technique" will be in stores! Pitchfork goes to the task of reviewing them.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Yes We Can

Barack ObamaIt's been a few days now since Barack Obama became President Elect of the USA and I couldn't be happier. It's beginning to sink in and it'll be interesting to see how thinks play out over the next four years. I noticed during the broadcast of Obama's rally at Grant Park in Chicago the night of the election, after the national anthem was sung, they showed an Obama promotional video on a video screen set to The National's "Fake Empire". By and large it was only the instrumental portion of the song playing and there's no denying the hopeful and uplifting sound of the instrumentation. As I found out, the promotional video was out prior to the election, and The National played an Obama rally recently in Cincinatti. However, on another level, with the song's various meanings (in particular, it's political interpretations), lyrically it's an appropo choice when viewing the song as a denouncement of the state of the union (in the US under George W. Bush), especially the lyric "We're half-awake in a fake empire".

Video: Barack Obama rally @ Grant Park in Chicago (Nov 4, 2008) (ffwd to 2 min 10 sec)
Video: "Signs of Hope and Change" (Obama promotional video)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fucked Up Weekend

concert review: Fucked Up, Final Fantasy, $100, Vivian Girls @ Sneaky Dee's (Toronto, Ontario), October 30, 2008

Final Fantasy @ Sneaky Dee's: photo by Michael Ligon

One of the most stacked indie rock bills took over Sneaky Dee's last Thursday night kicking off a 'Fucked Up Weekend', as you may well know was a series of shows local hardcore act Fucked Up were playing at Sneaky Dee's and a few other venues over Halloween weekend to celebrate the release of their new album "The Chemistry of Common Life" out on Matador Records. The Thursday night show at Sneaky Dee's was dubbed by some as 'indie night' to the distaste of others, but it was right up my alley. Ok, I'm an indie rock wuss. After a bit of confusion at the door trying to find my name on the prepaid list I finally got in.

While I'd already been running a little late, the confusion at the door only guaranteed that I'd missed first opener, Toronto's Katie Stelmanis' set in its entirety. There was a bit of a delay it seemed as Brooklyn's Vivian Girls worked out the kinks during their soundcheck - they would later reveal they had border troubles, I believe they didn't have their own instruments with them and were borrowing someone's instruments. Finally getting things worked out, the female trio donned their witches hats in honour of Halloween, hats which they'd picked up at Walmart, and sped through a set of garagey indiepop tunes. Reminiscent of bands like The Aislers Set (yes!), and Black Tambourine (a band whose music I've been indulging in recently), the noisy thrashy mix of bass guitar, guitar and drums was sometimes a little overwhelming, but when the ladies' pretty vocal melodies rose above the din, it was all worth it. Breaking a few guitar strings(without time to restring) could have perhaps ended the set early but the girls continued onward.

Local urban country outfit $100 kept the Halloween festivities going as they came out in face makeup made out to look like heard wounds. Playing a robust, twangy country sound perhaps the best part was vocalist/lyricist Simone Fornow. Wearing an old Van Halen band shirt, I really enjoyed Simone's twangy vocal delivery that had a particular zeal in my opinion, and although she never necessarily belted out like say Neko Case, her vocals felt very comfortable. As she'd gaze across the audience with the mic in one hand and a foot resting up on the monitor, at that moment that her eyes seemed to affix to you, you could feel her connection. The band themselves were tight and overall they were an invigorating jolt to my country music tastes which for the past year or so had been somewhat dormant.

As Mr. Owen Pallett aka Final Fantasy's last few hometown gigs have been in venues larger than Sneaky Dee's like the The Music Hall and The Great Hall, it was a real treat to catch him in the intimate confines of Sneaky Dee's. No fancy visual projections, nor band accompaniement this time, it was just Owen (wearing a Lakers jersey) on vocals, violin and looper. Playing mostly new songs from his EP "Spectrum, 14th Century" and some others, Owen's choirboy vocals and melodic, almost percussive violin arrangements were both in top form. A few minor glitches apparently and Owen did acknowledge a slip at the end of his last song with the timing of the looping track ending perhaps being a bit off. But such imperfections just added to the charm of the performance.

Maybe I should apologize now because I wasn't necessarily going to stick around for Fucked Up, although I did end up staying for their whole set. I've already established my indie-rock wussness above. I like my loud rock n' roll as much as the next person, but I'm not that keen on hardcore in particular, part of it being that the youth culture associated with it(ie. slam dancing, moshing, whatever kids are doing these days) is just something I just feel out of touch with me being in my, ahem, thirties. I was pleasantly surprised that Fucked Up! surpassed my preconceived notions of hardcore being all gutteral vocals and primitive guitar work, by adding melodies, thrilling guitar riffs and drum fills, and at times approaching an early-Clash sonic influence. Within such a sonic stew of musical mayhem, the gutteral vocals were like a punch in the face, feeling like an assault on all your senses. An intense mosh pit formed at the front of the stage at times with only a select group of brave souls choosing to infiltrate that circle while the rest of us chose to take safer ground. Did I mention I'm an indie rock wuss?

Stuart Berman has review of the show over at Eye Weekly.

MySpace: Vivian Girls
MySpace: $100
MySpace: Final Fantasy
MySpace: Fucked Up

Sunday, November 02, 2008

My Top 10 Hottest Canadian Bands/Artists of 2008

    Shad @ Virgin Festival 2008
Shad @ Virgin Festival 2008: photo by Michael LigonOnce again Matthew at I(Heart)Music has conducted his annual poll of Canadian bloggers for their top ten hottest artist/bands of the year and again I've happily participated. I found it more difficult this year to compile a list although not because of a lack of Canadian talent - on the contrary there's an abundance of talent to choose from. My definition of 'hottest' is not merely a barometer of artists' success/achievements(e.g touring, new release, record label signing) this year but also factors the connection I made to the music whether that be seeing them live or listening to their music. For example, I've been a long-time fan of Feist and there's no doubt she was probably more successful than ever this year(what with her Juno Awards sweep and appearance on Sesame Street just to name a couple of things) but overall I had more of a distant connection to her music this year. With my definition of 'hottest' established the only thing that made it difficult to compile my list was that I've been a little negligent this year in keeping up with Canadian music either in seeing live shows or checking out new releases. I could have forseen having included bands like Holy Fuck and Bruce Peninsula on my list but I'm not too familiar with either nor have I seen either of them live. In the end, I came up with ten artists that I connected to on some level this year, some already on the path to success and a few who I hope to see on next year's top ten list. My top 10 below, including commentary:

1) Shad (Myspace)
I'd been impressed with this talented London, Ontario MC since seeing him perform in 2006 at the Brigantine Room at Harbourfront, bringing the house down with his lyrical flow and freestyle. I haven't yet listened to his 2008 Polaris Music Prize-nominated album "The Old Prince", although I'm assuming it's every bit as good as his song "The Old Prince Still Lives At Home", whose Fresh Prince-inspired music video is one of the best music videos of the year. A dynamite side-stage set at this year's Virgin Festival only adds to his musical hotness this year.

2) Cadence Weapon (Myspace)
His 2008 release "Afterparty Babies" has been winning me over with each listen, an entertaining pastiche of samples, beats and Rollie's playful lyrics. Signing with US label ANTI- this past year, it's just another disappointing reminder that talented Canadian artists seem to have to be acknowledged elsewhere before their home country takes notice.

3) Katie Stelmanis (Myspace)
To quote myself regarding Katie's performance at The Great Hall in Toronto back in April (opening for Jens Lekman), "The performance was equal parts stark, dramatic vocals, approaching-on-threatening drum arrangements, and somber minor-key melodies." I also saw her perform with a full band back in April March during Canadian Music Week and likened it to a theatrical experience - full of drama and atmosphere. One of the more unique musical experiences of the year.

4) Two Hours Traffic (Myspace)
The next generation in east coast hook-filled power pop and maybe the best band to ever come out of Charlottetown, PEI. I haven't yet listened to their Polaris Music Prize-nominated album "Little Jabs" although I did pick up one of their old EP's but I was immediately hooked when they played an infectious instore set at Sonic Boom Records in Toronto during NXNE.

5) Land of Talk (Myspace)
All respect to fellow newly-signed Saddle Creek roster-mates Tokyo Police Club and Sebastian Grainger, but Land of Talk are the best of that bunch. With a new album "Some Are Lakes" finally released and vocalist Elizabeth Powell's new part-time gig as part of Broken Social Scene, things are heating up for them.

6) Final Fantasy (MySpace)
The go-to guy this year having conducted/arranged the string arrangements on the debut album of UK duo The Last Shadow Puppets, and teaming up with Swedish crooner Jens Lekman and UK psychedelic outfit The Flowers of Hell for live performances, this was in addition to his own hectic touring schedule. As a lead up to his next full-length "Heartland", he also released a couple of EP's, one ["Spectrum, 14th Century" EP] which I've heard and have found to be a worthy addition to his catalogue.

7) Great Lake Swimmers (MySpace)
They deserve a spot in the top 10 if only for the fact that they've toured like madmen throughout 2008, in Toronto alone since the summer having opened up for Robert Plant/Allison Kraus at Molson Ampitheatre, played a TIFF-related event at Yonge Dundas Square, opening for Goldfrapp at The Music Hall, and playing an intimate show at Lee's Palace just recently. A concert special they filmed last year at the Phoenix will be screening at selected Cineplex Odeon theatres starting November 5. 2008 was a good year for them.

8) Laura Barrett
Toronto kalimba-playing, whimisical-voiced musical artist Laura Barrett released her debut full-length "Victory Garden" this past September but also collobarated with Toronto turntablists iNSiDEaMiND (offering her ethereal vocals on their track "The Tiniest Spy") and continued to perform live with The Hidden Cameras (as she did during the band's homecoming performance at this year's Pride). A true underdog winning fans with every performance.

9) The Coast (MySpace)
Once purveyors of anthemic pop rock music, they've loosed the reigns with their most recent album "Expatriate" toning the atmospherics down and sounding more natural in the process. Still those melodies remain. It seems like it's been non-stop touring on this continent this year for the guys and the new year'll bring them to the UK for more tour dates and hopefully greater success.

10) Olenka and The Autumn Lovers
Barely out of the gates in terms of buzz within the indie scene, I anticipate things picking up with the release of their debut full-length coming out soon. My favourite discovery of this year's NXNE, lead vocalist Alexandra Krakus exudes a natural charm and exquisite vocal style(not to mention an interesting foray into her native Polish), breathing life into her band's gypsy-folk creations.

Update[Nov 3/08]: The rest of the vote-getters.