Tuesday, July 29, 2008


concert review: Dala @ Mississauga Library Square, July 25, 2008

Dala @ Mississauga Library Square: photo by Michael Ligon

Scarborough natives, Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther, aka Dala (taking the last two letters of each of their first names) brought their breezy acoustic folk pop to Mississauga's Library Square last Friday night. Their MySpace site hints at the duo's talents (most notably their vocal harmonies) though the polished sheen of their most recent album 2007 "Who Do You Think You Are" and 2005's "Angels and Thieves" wasn't necessarily a drawing point that was consistent with my usual indie tastes. But a free show in my hometown and nothing planned that night eventually drew me out to the show. I'd checked out shows at the Square in the past (like past years' Beating Heart concert series) only to be turned off by the all-ages (primarily teen) vibe of the events. Dala, on the other hand, drew a bit more of a varied audience, from seniors, to couples, families and others. A relatively small turnout considering the size of the Square, but thems the breaks when you're relatively unknown. I find it a bit surprising they haven't yet broke into the mainstream when they have several things working for them - talent (most notably vocally), an accessible (somewhat polished) sound, they're attractive, and they have a major label (Universal) behind them having released their last two albums. They've been gaining experience having done (and continuing to do) the folk-festival circuit and having completed opening slots for Tom Cochrane and Matthew Good most recently.

Though their MySpace presents the girls' music as performed with a band, they're apparently more likely to perform live as a duo as they did this time. Playing two set, they performed a mixture of covers (like Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now' and a medley of Buffalo Springfield's 'For What It's Worth' and Rolling Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want') and polished acoustic folk-pop originals. Though there was a safeness, sometimes wide-eyed innocence, to songs they performed like '20 Something' off of "Angels and Thieves" or 'Marilyn Monroe' off of "Who Do You Think You Are" they did also display a knack for introspective, melancholy with tunes like 'Fortress' (which most recently was featured in a scene in the pilot episode of television show "Flashpoint"), 'Hockey Sweater', and 'Sunday Dress'. I could have done without the cover songs for the most part - during their encore, I wasn't particularly feeling their jazzy accappella version of 'Hit The Road Jack' which segued back and forth with '(You Give Me) Fever' which they did an admirable job vocally though I'm not really fan of those songs). However, if one cover song counted it was their version of Neil Young's 'Ohio' (a version of which they contributed to the tribute album "Borrowed Tunes II: A Tribute To Neil Young") which they performed with just electric piano, acoustic guitar and their vocals. Overall, the gals definitely have things working for them, most notably their great vocal harmonies, and as displayed during their live set, charming and humorous banter. With a little musical fine-tuning (a little less polish, more lyrical abstraction) they could definitely be essentials on the music scene.

Photos: Dala @ Mississauga Library Square (July 25, 2008)

MySpace: Dala

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Great Plains

Halifax's Dog Day will be playing Dave Bookman of 102.1 THe Edge's Nu Music Nite at the Horseshoe at 9:10 pm on August 19. The Horseshoe Tavern site lists 'special guests' at 10:20 pm. Dog Day are currently tracking a new record which should be out in the new year. The band directs readers to Zune who recorded the band playing 'Great Pains'live at The Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax during the VICE ComingZune party.

Cuff The Duke's two night stint at the Horseshoe on Aug 22-23 has some interesting openers lined up including Bruce Peninsula at 10:30 on August 22 (plus Oshawa's The Stables rounding out that bill) and Fembots at 10:30 pm on August 23 (with Toronto's Steamboat rounding out that bill). Tickets for either show are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. Fembots are also playing a CD release show for their new album (anyone know the title?) at The Music Gallery on September 26.

UK's Goldfrapp are at The Danforth Music Hall on September 14 with the general onsale this Friday at 10 am. There was a presale (password 'seventhtree') starting yesterday at 10 am EST and will continue until 10 pm EST today. I bought a ticket through the presale at Ticketmaster.ca and it set me back about $42, but we all got to splurge once in a while.

French Kicks (in promotion of their most recent effort "Swimming") and The Whigs are at Horseshoe Tavern on September 17, tickets $10.50.

Australia's Cut Copy with Modular labelmates / fellow countrymen The Presets are at Sound Academy on September 19.

It's probably been something like 15 years since they last played Toronto, but Manchester, UK's James will probably draw out hardcore fans when they play Phoenix on September 23. They apparently released a new album "Hey Ma" earlier this year. Who knew?

Britain's Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs will inject some blues, soul, country and rockabilly into the Horseshoe when they come there on october 22. Holly and The Brokeoffs have an upcoming release entitled "Dirt Don't Hurt" coming out in October according to the MySpace.

Concert announcements courtesy of rootmeansquare: Dr. Dog (the band's new album "Fate" just came out) are at El Mocambo on October 3, tickets $10. Liam Finn is at El Mocambo on October 4, tickets $12. Born Ruffians play a headlining show at The Opera House on November 1, tickets $12.50. Iron and Wine will be at the Phoenix on November 13, tickets $25. M83 return to Toronto for a show at The Opera House on November 20, tickets $15.00.

As per the Scopitones mailing list, the openers for The Wedding Present's show at Lee's Palace on October 3 will be NYC's Dirty On Purpose. Also, just a reminder that The Wedding Present show at Lee's Palace will be an early show - the recent Scopitones e-mail newsletter says that TWP will be onstage at 9:30 pm. It seems that 102.1 The Edge will be taking over Lee's Palace every Friday at least as of August as the radio station will be broadcasting from the venue from 11:30 pm to 2:30 am, under the banner 'Radio Clash', playing ska, reggae, punk, and rock. The DJ will be Josee Dye and cover is $6 at the door or free with student ID. So at least for the next little while, Friday night shows at Lee's Palace will start early and be over by around 11 pm.

And just a heads up that I updated my review of Rogers Picnic with reviews of Cat Power's and City and Colour's sets.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rogers Picnic 2008

concert review: Rogers Picnic @ Historic Fort York (Toronto, Ontario), July 20, 2008

Dallas Green (of City and Colour) @ Rogers Picnic (Historic Fort York - July 20, 2008)
Dallas Green (of City and Colour) @ Rogers Picnic: photo by Michael Ligon

The good things about having missed the first three acts of Rogers Picnic this past Sunday at Historic Fort York - 1) I missed the worst of the torrential downpour of rain for the day, and 2) I have less to write up about! I wasn't terribly disappointed to miss the funky electro-rock of Scarborough duo The Carps. On the other hand I'm sorry I missed Born Ruffians who I've managed to still not see live up to this day. I was also looking forward to catch UK grime-rap artist Dizzee Rascal but unfortunately it wasn't meant to be.

I was fortunate enough to walk in to Historic Fort York problem-free and the rain temporarily on hold with NYC's Vampire Weekend already into their set of cheery-sounding indie pop. It's a shame that the weather couldn't be as sunny as Vampire Weekend's tunes were. The band had the crowd join in on the chorus chant of "Blake's Got A New Face". They seemed to go over well with the crowd overall - though for my tastes more pleasant-sounding than actually enticing. I'm assuming they performed "Mansard Roof" though apparently I missed it.

I'd sauntered over to the DJ tent to catch a bit of Let's Go To War's DJ set. Not necessarily my thing, but the beats were interesting enough and energetic.

Seemed like the clouds just got greyer by the time Animal Collective hit the stage, though only down to the duo of members Panda Bear and Avy Tare actually being present. Not having heard them before, they managed to impress me with one of the most musically interesting sets of the day - bits of percussion, guitar, keyboards and electronic sounds combined to give off a certain experimental vibe, though there were definitely melodies buried beneath the chaos. The vocals/melodies sounded a little Brian Wilson-esque at times which is always good in my books. Even if it was during their set that I actually had to pull out my rain poncho, it was all worth it.

Montreal electro-funk duo Chromeo were perhaps the most entertaing band of the day - musically their upbeat electro-funk, 80's influenced pop concoctions (including generous amounts of vocoder) had at least some of the crowd dancing and in between songs they kept the crowd smiling with humourous small-talk. The band's 80's influence was displayed quite overtly at times, like when they preceded one of their songs with the opening riffs of Dire Strait's "Money For Nothing". I think they were the only band (other than headliner City and Colour) to actually come back for an encore which they started out by performing an inspiring version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" - I doubt many of the younger crowd even knew the song though there was one guy, caught on the Jumbotron, singing the lyrics to the song enthusiastically. Good photo-op too, especially with each member's keyboards adorned in front with fake women's legs so that when they stood behind the keyboard it looked funny.

I had sauntered over to the DJ tent after Animal Collective's set at which point the rain (before it dissipated) was as strong as it was going to get for the rest of the day. Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan was spinning though with the rain unrelenting and many taking shelter under the tent, it was hard to get in. Fortunately, Jeremey was still spinning after Chromeo's set and I managed to get into the DJ tent and hear some of Jeremy's beats up close, as well as snap a few photos. Oh and just by showing my Rogers cellphone to the Rogers staff onhand, they gave me a Freezee. It doesn't necessarily take much to please me.

Tokyo Police Club kept the momentum (after Chromeo's set) going with an inspired set of their energetic, tuneful indie rock. This being only the second time I'd seen them live (the first being at Nathan Phillips Square in January of this year), there's not much more to add really. We clapped, we did a group 1-2-3-4 count-in to one song, and we (ok, some people) danced. But, boy do the kids sure love 'em. I haven't had much listening time with their music overall, and maybe I'm in the minority here (especially with the kids, who probably favour their earlier releases), but the relatively more mellow "Tessellate" off the new album is a great pop song.

If you'd closed your eyes during Cat Power 's set (backed by her Dirty Blues Band), you'd have heard some moments of sheer beauty(delivering a smokey cover of "Dark End Of The Street" for example). Of course, after having made it through a rainy, sometimes gruelling day, the last thing we wanted to do was not witness her presence. That being said, we had to bear witness to Chan pacing somewhat ackwardly from one side of the stage to the other, occasionally signalling to the sound guy about apparent sound problems (though I didn't necessarily notice anything of too discernible). From my initial presence in the press pit, I moved further back, though on the left side of the field to get a better view of the stage only to have Chan occassionally move so far to the left side of the stage to move out of my visual range. There was still the Jumbotron to look at thankfully. Chan's soulful mellow melodies eased the day into night capping off the daylight portion of the festival, making way for City and Colour's headlining evening set. Perhaps the last two spots of the day should have been switched as after Cat Power ended her set throwing flowers to the crowd and apologizing for her hoarseness, there was an exodus of people who didn't stick around for City and Colour.

On a scale of relativity, I'd rather listen to the acoustic strummings of City and Colour than the hardcore tendencies of Dallas Green's other band Alexisonfire. While I appreciate the aesthetics of City and Colour's music, I still don't count myself much of a fan though Dallas proved on occasion the emotional resonance of his songs. Call me a wuss, but his song "The Girl", which he dedicated to his girlfriend (Leah Miller?) backstage whose birthday it was, is one of the most tender love songs I've heard in a while. The song started off with Dallas performing it in folky, acoustic fashion before the rest of the band joined in to convert it to country-ish backporch, romp. The electrified band configuration of City and Colour is less interesting in my opinion and think City and Colour works best when Dallas performs solo or performs with band acoustically. Towards the end of the set, the Rogers staff brough out two giant balloons for the crowd to throw around. Each time the balloons bounced off the crowd it'd change colour. Dallas could only comment along the lines of when did the show turn into a Flaming Lips concert. It was all good fun. Though the crowd was thinner during City and Colour's set than it had been for Cat Power, the fans that stuck around were much more vocal, and it ended up being a fairly enjoyable set. It was a bit awkward at the end though that the encore was determined by a txt message poll being flashed across the Jumbotrons. The poll showed "Comin' Home" in the lead and with that I decided to make my home, although I could hear Dallas' emotive solo performance of the song in the distance as I walked away.

Photos: Rogers Picnic @ Historic Fort York (July 20, 2008)

MySpace: The Carps
MySpace: Born Ruffians
MySpace: Dizzee Rascal
MySpace: Vampire Weekend
MySpace: Animal Collective
MySpace: Chromeo
MySpace: Tokyo Police Club
MySpace: Cat Power
MySpace: City and Colour

Monday, July 21, 2008

Loud Cloud Crowd

Stephen Malkmus at Phoenix Concert Theatre (July 16, 2008)
Stephen Malkmus at Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon

It's taking me a little longer than expected to get up a review of the Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks show at Phoenix on July 16 (and I might just abandon it altogether). But having attended a wedding/reception on Saturday and Rogers Picnic on Sunday, I am pooped.

Photos from the show over at Flickr.

MySpace: Still Life Still
MySpace: Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lies On The Prize

If you didn't already know, the schedule for this year's Hillside Festival in Guelph is now up. Only Sunday evening tickets remain at $45 a pop, which would give you the opportunity to see Broken Social Scene, Hayden, Bell Orchestre, and The Acorn, among others so decide quickly and act fast.

Only a handful of tour dates remain in the coming months for Snailhouse in promotion for his current album "Lies On The Prize" (and me having missed his recent Toronto show). Chartattack speaks briefly with him about his impressions of his own songs.

Black Rebel Motorcycle are at The Mod Club on August 11 - didn't they play Kool Haus last time they were in Toronto? - while 90's Britpop survivors The Charlatans play the same venue on October 10. [via Chromewaves]

A Sub Pop / Brooklyn-ite double-bill with Love As Laughter and Oxford Collapse who'll be at Sneaky Dee's on September 20. [via Inland Empire Touring]

I'd seriously consider going to see Burt Bacharach live on October 2 if the venue were not Casino Rama in Orillia.

Pitchfork reports that Wire have confirmed more tour dates including a stop in Toronto(!) at Lee's Palace on October 7.

Julie Doiron/Fred Squire fans can check out their collaboration with Anacortes, Washington's Mount Eerie on the latter's new album "Lost Wisdom" out October 7. [via Force Field]

Saddle Creek just scooped up Canuck Sebastian Grainger recently and can now add Montreal's Land of Talk to their roster. They'll be releasing the band's 10-track debut full-length "Some Are Lakes" on October 8.

In support of his new album "Soft Airplane" on September 9, Calgarian Chad VanGaalen has a handful of dates around October including a date at The Mod Club on October 4. Check out a track from the new album at the link below (not a direct download link to the mp3):

MP3: Chad VanGaalen - 'Willow Tree'

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Heard Them Stirring

Fleet Foxes: photo by David BelisleWell I was looking forward to seeing five-piece Sub Pop outfit Fleet Foxes tonight at the Phoenix (opening for Stephen Malkmus) but it appears they've cancelled due to 'exhaustion'. Oh well. No sense in complaining about it, I guess. I picked up their debut full-length over the weekend in anticipation of their show and have grown really fond of it. It's a great blend of vocal harmonies, melancholy melodies and modest folk-rock instrumentation. The Beach Boys influence jumped right out at me with Fleet Foxes' delectable vocal harmonies as on 'White Winter Hymnal', though they manage to prevent their own songs from being mere fascimiles (though 'Heard Them Stirring' does remind me, in a good way, of a long lost Beach Boys "Smile"-era vocal-harmony, instrumental outtake). There's a sombreness at times like on 'Meadowlarks' but overall their album's more melancholy than gloomy. On more straight-ahead-vocal-sung (ie. less harmony-laden) tracks like 'Ragged Wood' and 'Tiger Mountain Peasant Song' vocalist Robin Pecknold comes off sounding a bit like My Morning Jacket's Jim James, which is not a bad thing necessarily, but when the band's so strong out of the gates with their harmony-laden songs, the straight-ahead-vocal-sung tracks come off slightly disappointing. When a lot of indie rock these days is (or has been) about the instrumentation and or casually slack vocals (and this is not meant as a knock against you Mr. Malkmus), it's refreshing to see the emphasis that Fleet Foxes put towards vocal harmonies. And that distinction sets them apart. [photo by David Belisle)

MySpace: Fleet Foxes
Video: Fleet Foxes - 'White Winter Hymnal' (music video)
Video: Fleet Foxes - 'Crayon Angels' (Judee Sill cover - Black Cab Sessions)
Coming up soon, Calgary's Jane Vane and The Dark Matter, plus Toronto's The Coast (on a bill rounded out by The Salingers and Adam Bell) will be at the Horseshoe Tavern on July 26, tickets $6.00. Chartattack points out the tour itinerary of Jane Vain and The Dark Matter (who will also be playing an early set 9:10 pm set at the Horseshoe on July 29 as I pointed out in my previous post.)

Halifax's Dog Day will be at the Silver Dollar on August 19.

San Francisco's The Dodos and Portland's Au will be at the Horseshoe Tavern on October 6.

Henry Rollins has a show (I'm assuming a spoken-word show) at Queen Elizabeth Theatre on October 27.

I wonder when the next set of acts will be announced for this year's Virgin Festival in Toronto but if it's any consolation, the DJ 'B-Live' tent is shaping up with Switch, Sebastian, Flosstradamus, Drop The Lime, Thunderheist, Let's Go To War, Mario J and Nasty Nav scheduled for September 6 and Moby, Deadmau5, Lee Burridge, Doman and Pettigrew, Sydney Blu, Evan G and Harmonik Rage scheduled for September 7.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

American Names

I'm not quite up on the musical efforts of ex-Death From Above 1979 drummer Sebastian Grainger except that he has his own solo project with his band The Mountains, but he just got signed to Saddle Creek Records in the US. Saddle Creek just released his digital EP "American Names", which you can stream here. Or check out his MySpace.

Adding more twang to the proceedings, Chicago's Freakwater will be opening for Merge's She & Him at The Opera House on July 23. (via Ground Control Touring)

If you aren't already going (or even if you are going) to one and or both of the King Khan and The Shrines shows at the Horseshoe on July 23-24, you'll be glad to know they'll also be bringing the rock to Sonic Boom for an instore performance at 7 pm on July 24.

Winnipeg Calgary's hotly-tipped Jane Vain and The Dark Matter take part on Nu Music Nite at the Horseshoe Tavern on July 29 playing an early set at 9:10 pm.

The Phoenix will feature the poppy, folk sounds of Matt Costa and the country-folk of Sub Pop's Sera Cahoone on August 6. (via Inland Empire Touring)

90's indie rock stalwarts, Shellac, will be at Horseshoe Tavern on September 16, tickets $18 onsale July 17. (via Stille Post)

NYC's A Place To Bury Strangers' sonic guitar assault comes to Lee's Palace on September 19 with newcomers-to-me UK's Sian Alice Group. There's something quite nice about Sian Alice Group in particular - at least based on their MySpace tunes, they have a nice 4AD-ish quality encompassing pretty(though not quite ethereal) vocals with nicely varied instrumentation and good atmospherics. (tour info via Pollstar)

The psych-rock experience of Black Mountain (whose album "In The Future" was just shortlisted for this year's Polaris Music Prize) and the gentle psychedelia of Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Here After take over The Opera House on September 27. Tickets $18.50, onsale now.

Props to Chromewaves for pointing out (well, it's on his sidebar) that The Wedding Present will indeed be in Toronto for a show on October 3 at Lee's Palace. Thanks, thanks, thanks!

I am so psyched for the bizarre and scary events lined up for this year's Nuit Blanche ('Toronto’s free, all-night contemporary art thing') happening/starting the evening of October 4.

The Notwist come to Lee's Palace on October 10, tickets $18.

Girl Talk and The Death Set come to Kool Haus (really?) for a show on November 12, tickets $20. (last couple items via rootmeansquare)

A venue I've yet to experience, Queen Elizabeth Theatre will have Of Montreal playing a show on October 28, tickets $25.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Beats, Breaks and Culture @ Harbourfront

concert review: Beats, Breaks and Culture @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), July 4-5, 2008

Ladytron @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael LigonIf this past weekend's fifth annual Beats, Breaks and Culture festival down at Harbourfront proved only one thing it was that its main stage (Sirius Stage) is the antithesis of the physical environment that it really requires. In other words, dance(able) music requires floor space to dance which meant that the Sirius Stage seating was mostly a hinderance to our compulsion to move. But it seems people made due somehow, shuffling their feet within the rows, standing on the seats, or breaking out into anarchy (like during the Crystal Castles show) at the floor space at the left side of the venue. I made it out to the first two days of the festival to catch headliners Ladytron (July 4) and Crystal Castles (July 5) and that calibre of those artists drew the most massive crowds I believe I've ever seen for free Harbourfront shows. If the festival continues to book headliners of that calibre, it'll ensure the festival's success in the future, but it also makes me wonder whether the festival may just outgrow the facilities.

The massive crowds for both Ladytron and Crystal Castles created an atmosphere that was positively electric during both show. With their cool synths, sultry guitar, robust beats, and dead pan yet melodic vocals, Ladytron's show was accompanied by what was likely the biggest stage production I've ever seen at Harbourfront, with the back drop of the stage set up with big neon lights. Even from my vantage point near the back of the crowd, there was still a visceral quality to the whole production. Ending off their encore with "Destroy Everything You Touch" was as fantastic a conclusion to a show than anything I've ever seen. Musically, Toronto duo Crystal Castles (who were backed for the live show by a drummer) had a punkier quality, adding keyboard squelches, blips, and faster beats with the engaging vocal presence of Alice Glass who frequently confronted / immersed herself into the audience at the front of the stage. The stage effects which included disorieting flashing lights at times, added to the glorious ecstasy-pill experience that the Crystal Castles' live experience turned out to be, consistent with what I'd read about past Crystal Castle shows. Alice Glass took occasion it seems to stand on top of the drumkit, including it seems a fall off the drumkit and the drumkit toppling over which brought the set to a abrupt conclusion. But wow what a way to end.

Other acts I caught during the weekend included turntablist duo iNSiDEaMiND, and the social commentary downtempo groove of Lal at the Lakeside Terrace on July 4 as part of Public Transit Recordings 10th anniversary showcase. iNSiDEaMiND put on more of a playful showcase for their turntablist's skills, adding comedic and acting bits[they did a kung fu battle with turntables] to add to the experience. Though I was hoping Toronto's Laura Barrett would be there in person to add her ethereal vocals to the duo's recent track "The Tiniest Spy", it was still interesting to hear her recorded vocals during the band's live performance of the song. I highly regard their downtempo performance at The Music Gallery[complete with psychedelic visual projections on the ceiling] during last year's Nuit Blanche as one of the trippiest performances I've ever seen. But the scene at this year's Beats, Breaks and Culture was more about having fun, and that iNSiDEaMiND and the crowd did.

Lal straddled the line betwen downtempo electronic beats and organic instrumentation balanced nicely with the soulful vocals of vocalist Rosina Kazi. The live performance itself had a no frills visual element so it was thankful that Rosina kept things interesting between songs with some banter including insight into one of their songs touching on the group's South Asianheritage, and if I recall correctly, that South Asians should not be viewed as terrorists. Later on a b-girl came on to the stage to show off some fantastic dance moves.

Prior to Crystal Castles set at the Sirius Stage on July 5, opening the show was Toronto electro-rap duo Thunderheist. Don't let the electrobeats nor the skinny jeans fool you - the rapping is totally old school. A group of female dancers came out onstage a few times to add some flavour to the proceedings, an added bonus which turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining set. Even more fun to see a young dude try to rush the stage only to have security take his ass down forcefully.

Photos from the show: July 4/08 | July 5/08

MySpace: Ladytron
MySpace: iNSiDEaMiND
MySpace: Lal
MySpace: Public Transit Recordings
MySpace: Crystal Castles
MySpace: Thunderheist

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ca C'est Vrais

concert review: Orchestra Baobab @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), July 3, 2008

Orchestra Baobab at Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon

Whether planned or not, a pair of Harbourfront shows this past week, Sean Kuti and Fela's Egypt 80 (from Lagos, Nigeria), and collective Orchestra Baobab (from Senegal) nicely coincide with Toronto's Afrofest happening this weekend down at Queen's Park. I didn't make it to the Sean kuti show afterall (though by all accounts it was a fantastic show), but I did make it to the Orchestra Baobab show this past Thursday and it was a great display of musicianship which was highly entertaining. My only musical point of reference is that they reminded me a lot of Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club, though with an Afrobeat flavour. Orchestra Baobab played a great set that was an intoxicating mix of guitar melodies and arrangements, horns, percussion, and lead vocals with different members taking turns at it, contributing their own unique vocal styles. It's a shame my understanding of French is so poor because I couldn't understand most of their banter which apparently some of the audience picked up on. However, the lyric "Ca C'est Vrais" ["This is true"] came through loud and clear, and the band got the audience to participate and chant it gleefully. The member of the group in baggy pants who played saxophone was obviouly the jester of the group playing bursts of jazzy saxophone licks, and playing up near the front of the stage, and during the band introductions raising his arms in victory, then happily jumping off stage to the crowd's level to shake hands with the fans. The gentleman on lead guitar, was introduced if I recall as the chief/leader of the Orchestra and honestly he was one of the best guitarists I've seen live ever. Fantastic show.

More of my photos over at Flickr.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

This Life

concert review: Martha Wainwright, Basia Bulat @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), July 1, 2008

Martha Wainwright @ Harbourfront (Canada Day 2008)
Martha Wainwright @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon

It was a more low-key Canada Day party down at Harbourfront this year, and not just because it fell on a Tuesday. With past Canada Day Festivities at Harbourfront featuring such exciting headliners as Final Fantasy, The Dears and Feist, the excitement for this year's lineup seemed less palpable overall, though that's not at all meant as a insult to the quality of the lineup. Actually, the lineup of Martha Wainwright and Basia Bulat was as good a representation of the talent of Canadian music as one could ask for, but when you have two acts treading similar folk, pop-rock territory, the audience didn't so much rock in Canada's birthday as much as greet it politely. True Canadian fashion guess. You know if this were the US, there'd be some major fireworks and explosions (and ironically some fireworks in the nearby harbour were hardly spectacular, which Martha jokingly commented on).

I arrived a little late for opener Basia Bulat and her band whose string-embellished, vocal-harmony laden, folk-pop tunes never seemed to achieve more than a polite response from most of the crowd[who I assumed were passerbys], except for pockets of enthusiasm who I assumed were actual fans of Basia. It didn't necessarily help that the sun was still shining and that the low rumble of a chatty audience was audible. Musically, they were as tight as ever but an audience dead set on sitting throught the entire performance even during the faster tempo numbers doesn't exactly inspire excitement. The chattiness of the audience (at least those towards the back of the seating) spoiled the experience of the quieter numbers for those of us making an effort to devote our attention. Overall a pleasant experience. Perhaps, under the blanket of night it would have been better show such as experienced, in my opinion, during headliner Martha Wainwright's set.

I wonder if all Martha Wainwright's introductions by an MC involve them mentioning her more famous musical family members - Louden Wainwright III [her father], Kate and Anna McGarrigle [her mother and aunt], and Rufus Wainwright [her brother]. With such a pedigree as that, it's no wonder that Martha's just as talented, though perhaps is it a disservice to her that they be mentioned at all, as if she needs to ride their coattails. Martha proved her talent quickly alternating her vocals between a caress and a swoop, and proving that she's adept at many different styles of music including folk, pop, and cabaret. I remember a few years back that she used to do a residency at some bar in New York City performing her songs in stripped down fashion, and to me her set resonated most during her stripped down performances such as the cabaret pop number she sang en francais with the accompaniement of a keyboardist during her encore. The band numbers were performed compentently (including the help of her husband/producer Brad Albetta on bass) and while the instrumentation was somewhat a little polished for my tastes, the songs and melodies really lended themselves well to it. (And reading my review of Martha's show at The Mod Club in June 2005, it seems my compliments/criticisms of her live show have remained fairly consistent).

Martha maintained her charming and witty personality throughout her set. She said something along the lines that she wanted to write depressing songs like Leonard and Neil and that maybe she should produce a vignette for the CBC and the NFB. You know she could only get away with these Canadian references here. She also admitted to having her period backstage but fortunately she was wearing a red dress, though she continued that perhaps the 'period' could be become a way for women to express their Canadian patriotism. Forget what I said about about Canadian politeness above - we're as edgy as the rest of them.

More of my photos are over at my Flickr.

MySpace: Martha Wainwright

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Upsetter

concert review: Lee 'Scratch' Perry @ Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, Ontario), June 30, 2008

Lee 'Scratch' Perry @ Harbourfront (June 30, 2008)
Lee Scratch Perry @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon

It seems like all of Toronto was out at Harbourfront yesterday evening to see a free show by legendary Jamaican dub reggae master Lee 'Scratch' Perry. It's possible that the large crowd was partially due to it being a holiday(Canada Day) the next day but I'm sure a large contingent was there to see a legendary reggae artist who is perhaps second only to Bob Marley in name recognition(well, maybe to North American music fans). It was a mixed crowd overall which seemed to feature a high percentage of younger people. In my own personal music listening upbringing, I'd come to him indirectly through his influence in particular on Bristol trip-hop group Massive Attack - that dub reggae influence of deep bass lines, echoey, reverberating guitar and spittering drum patterns. Spacey stuff.

In a surprising turn, Mr. Perry's band was comprised of a group young gentleman, three caucasian guys and one asian guy. They started out with an extended instrumental dub reggae groove before Mr. Perry finally strolled onto the stage to the throngs of applause and cheers. Dressed in baggy hip hop garb seemingly inspired by current colourful hip hop fashions, he had what seemed like smoking joints sticking out of his baseball cap and he pulled a wheeled carry-on luggage with him(I'm not sure why he had it though.) During the hour plus set, it alternated between extended dub reggae excursions and lighter, poppy reggae tunes, with Mr. Perry keeping things in check with his casual, laid-back vocals. I overheard someone standing near me say the band sucked which I don't agree with, but the young band did feel like an overarching attempt to reach out to a younger audience. That concern aside, I was more disappointed with the pace of set and the overall feel of the experience. Songs seemed to go on for longer than I hoped to the point one song almost blended into the next. Mr. Perry did make attempts to reach out to the audience, by getting us to clap or chant lyrics, but those attempts seemed few and far between in my opinion. At the end of the show, I had this nagging feeling of, "and that's it?". Perhaps I'm in the minority with my (slight) disappointment with the show - circumstances of high expectations not materializing. But if the throngs of applause and cheers at the end of the show was any indication (it was so loud and persistent that we couldn't even hear the MC's closing remarks - and we didn't end up getting an encore), I was probably in the minority with my (slight) disappointment.

Photos from the show over at my Flickr.

More coverage of the show over at The Pop Vine.

Eye Weekly profiles Mr. Perry as he launches another phase in his career with a worldwide tour, a new album and a documentary. The documentary on him entitled "The Upsetter: The Music and Genius of Lee “Scratch” Perry" will screen during Harbourfront's Beats, Breaks and Culture festival, first on Saturday July 5 at 2:30 pm, then on Sunday July 6 at 5:00 pm. Both showings are at Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West).