Monday, June 29, 2009

Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkin, Vic Chesnutt @ The Great Hall (June 25, 2009)

  Jonathan Richman @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
Jonathan Richman @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Bringing the disparate styles of Jonathan Richman and Vic Chesnutt might not seem like an obvious bill, with Mr. Chesnutt on the rootsy folkier side of things, and Mr. Richman more known for his playful, troubadourian pop stylings but apparently they'd toured previously together and have also more recently recorded an album together along with drummer Tommy Larkin set for release later this year.

I'd wished I'd arrived more promptly for Vic Chesnutt's set and while I didn't miss the longer suffering of the heat that engulfed the venue I regret missing a good bit of Mr. Chesnutt's desolate, languid rootsy folk set. With Jonathan's drummer Tommy Larkin helping out on drums and Vic on guitar, Vic's vunerable warble took centre stage with the instrumentation being quite spare and ultimately secondary. It was unfortunate that the most impolite chatter I think I've ever heard at a show continued throughout Mr. Chesnutt's set although I was glad to hear I wasn't the only one trying to pay attention to the show - some more vocal patrons took some initiative to yell out for other people to shut up. While Mr. Chesnutt seemed to take the chatter in stride, in response to some audience member's requests for others in the crowd to tone down the chatter, Vic said something along the lines of maybe "throwing a punch". Good to see he has a sense of humour. Vic got quite the enthusiastic response at the end of his set such that had he been headlining we'd have definitely earned an encore.

Had it really almost been 5 years since Jonathan Richman last played Toronto? That was approximately the length of time since the first and only time I'd seen Jojo play live at Lula Lounge in 2004. As with that show (and as I'd imagine most of his shows are), he kept things spontaneous and loose. Although perhaps he had an idea of what him and drummer Tommy Larkin would be performing, he didn't seem to play with an actual set list or (at least no written one that I'd actually'd seen). Technically difficulties plagued the start of the set with Jonathan communicating to the sound guy that the connections should have stayed as they'd been during sound check and after several minutes of trying to get the speaker connections right he said to the crowd that the show must go on and he and Tommy performed two songs unamplified to the delight of the crowd. At those songs conclusion, Jonathan said he and the sound guy would take another stab at fixing the speaker and mic connections, expressing to us to be patient which most people were more than happy to be, and finally with a burst of acoustic guitar intercepted by the mic and filtered through the speaker, the crowd roared as the amplified part of the set began.

Jonathan exuded a charisma that's so rare these days. He was eccentric, goofy and whimsical which was reflected naturally in songs like 'I Was Dancing In A Lesbian Bar' (prompting some enthusiastic singalong) and 'Egyptian Reggae' and in spontaneous outbursts of dancing and or speaking in foreign languages like Italian and French. He showed a romantic side in a tune that he sung in English then in Italian reciting the song's title(which I can recall at the moment) in Italian because he said it sounded so much better in Italian. He also expressed a poignant side with a song about a(his?) dying mother in a nursing home. Mr. Larkin on drums kept a steady beat to Jonathan's casual but energetic acoustic guitar strummings and Jonathan's vocals guided the melodies nicely. Mr. Richman complimented the acoustics of the venue but we needed no reminder of how lovely everything sounded. It was lovely enough that for the duration of the set I'd almost forgotten how hot it was in there.

Photos: Jonathan Richman and Tommy Larkin, Vic Chesnutt @ The Great Hall (June 25, 2009)

Eye Weekly also has a review of the show. monkey x has a more pointed rant concerning the chatty crowd during Vic Chesnutt's set.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

NXNE in Toronto (Saturday June 20, 2009)

  Woodpigeon @ Horseshoe: photo by Michael Ligon
Woodpigeon @ Horseshoe: photo by Michael Ligon

I didn't necessarily plan it but I ended up going hardcore for Day Three of NxNE this past Saturday. Specifically, I'd gone from 1 pm to 3 am straight and even at the end of it all I was surprisingly energetic. Perhaps the Timmies coffee, plus the Amp Energy drinks I'd sampled at Yonge Dundas Square earlier in the day had something to do with it.

The day started out on a rainy note but fortunately the first thing on my schedule was an indoor event. The only NXNE film I did check out was the documentary about Depeche Mode fans around the world entitled "The Posters Came From the Walls" which played at the National Film Board on John St. Compiling interviews and stories from fans around the world although focusing mostly on fans in Eastern Europe and Russia, it's an intriguing view of how deeply connected Depeche Mode fans are to the band. I've always been a casual fan myself, "Violator" being my favourite album of theirs, although the film does stir some interest in me to consider seeing them live when they stop in Toronto for a show at Molson Ampitheatre on July 24.

With the rain continuing to fall steady, I decided still to head to Yonge Dundas Square where I arrived to see Japan's The Zoobombs into their set playing for a small crowd of brave souls standing in the rain, most with umbrellas or rainwear at least. I was suprised that organizers scheduled them so early in the day because The Zoobombs rock n' roll which can span the spectrum from jammy, to funky, to soul and garage is enough to ignite a spark in any decent size crowd. Playing so early in the day, with the unfortunate element of rain, was a wasted opportunity. I'd skipped all their NXNE shows this time around(since I'd seen them several times in the past few years) but if anyone is still raring to catch a proper live set of theirs, they'll be back in Toronto for a show at Silver Dollar on June 30. They came all the way from Japan for NXNE; you didn't think they'd be going back home to Japan so quickly?

Almost like clockwork, the rain thankfully ended after the conclusion of The Zoobombs's set. The rest of the afternoon was padded out with a variety of young, American indie acts all possessing an energy and hipness although not quite up my alley. Brooklyn's Golden Triangle, a 6-piece consisting of equal parts guys and gals, specialized in a variety of garage pop stomp, led by double-lead female vocals. They similarities in sonics and simple but capable musicianship as fellow Brooklynites Crystal Stilts but perhaps with more stomp and less pop. Perhaps the best thing about them are the sassy vocals and emotiveness of the two female vocalists.

The Yonge Dundas Square sets during the afternoon were about half an hour each with about a half an hour intermission between set so things seemed to move fast. Next up were Crystal Antlers, all the way from Long Beach, California. Playing up a noisy pop racket with shouty vocals, guitar, organ, a tradional drumkit as well secondary more basic kit for additional effect, it's hard to convey in to words what they sound like more than that. The guy playing the secondary drumkit standing up was particularly energetic although the band in general exuded enthusiasm during their brief set.

Up next were drums and bass guitar duo Japanther, no strangers to Toronto but this was the first time for me seeing them. They apparently have some rabid fans in Toronto as at least indicated by an Asian girl near me who kept on screaming their name after every song. The duo played a raucous rock n' roll set taking turns with vocals and augmenting their sound at times with some prerecorded audio dialogue bits and such. Their mics were adorned with toy telephone receivers which made for an interesting visual effect when they sung into their mics. Basically, a fun rock
n' roll set with simple melodies and the most basic of instrumentation, no more no less.

Los Angelese punks Youth Brigade brought out the Toronto's punk rockers of all ages, even some old school punks, for what was for some a greatest hits set of punk classics. For most like myself, it was all new. At its core it was pure rock n' roll with simple but effective meloedies, generous amounts of fast guitar, bass guitar and drum playing, and equally energetic vocals. The punks in the audience were surprisingly mellow except for one fellow who decided to jump the barrier at one point(to do what I don't know) only to have security on his ass and get him back to the other side of the barrier pronto. Lead vocalist Shawn Stern mentioned the Amp Energy Rock Band contest which was to get going just after their set and expressed that he understands it's a contest to win money but perhaps people's time could better be used actually trying to learn a real instrument. Well said.

The main part of the evening's festivities for me began at the Horseshoe Tavern to finally check out Calgary indie-folk outfit led by Mark Hamilton. Like locals Ohbijou(who play there CD release for their new album "Beacons" at The Opera House tonight, btw), Woodpigeon's sonics are steeped in strings, keys, and subtle rock instrumentation with similarly subtle vocals. That might sound like a recipe for music that might float off into the stratosphere, but the tempos and the band's musicianship were performed effectively enough that that was never the case. Almost forgot to mention that the band was playing to a fairly packed house (although even though I got there just after the band started, I still manage to ease myself up close enough to the front to get a decent spot), all the better for the surprise occasion of CBC's 2009 NXNE Galaxie Rising Star Award which they presented to Mr. Hamilton at the end of the set which he humbly received then walked off the stage. A definitie must-see next time they come to town.

Woodpigeon's set unfortunately cut in to seminal American garage rock outfit The Sonics who were headlining a free show at Yonge Dundas Square. Woodpigeon's set ended about 20 minutes to 10 pm while The Sonics' set began at 9:30pm and with the Queen St East street car being diverted because of the preparations for Muchmusic Video Awards at John St I had to walk down to King St. to take a streetcar east before jumping onto the subway to get up to Yonge Dundas Square. (The whole transit confusion at Queen St was made somewhat easier with some random conversation with a equally confused TTC'r, coincidentally who'd also come from the Woodpigeon set and was heading to C'est What for another NXNE set - hope you had fun).) Eventually, I made it to the Square, to a hoppingly packed audience in time to catch about three songs, two of which were their classic "The Witch" and their captivating, slightly dirtier take on rock n' roll classic "Louie Louie". Older and greyer, and they weren't wearing the suits like I'd seen on some of their album covers but they still were terrific. They mentioned they're working on new material which should see the light sometime this year.

I was pretty much playing the night(well actually the whole day) by ear, although almost definite must-sees for me for the 11 pm timeslot were London, ON's Olenka & The Autumn Lovers playing the back room of Bread & Circus on Augusta in Kensington Market. Again, another venue which I'd never been in, Bread & Circus was a tiny space relatively full for Olenka's set. I was thoroughly happy to see a full room this time compared to the paltry attendance of their NXNE set at C'est What last year(which if you hadn't already known was my favourite set of NXNE last year, so I'd like to take a little credit for spreading the word about an awesome band, okay). The band's forays into gyspy-folk, roots and Eastern European waltzes were performed with the band's casual flair, though top-notch playing(strings, accordion, guitar), and newer tunes introduced a slightly heavier tone to their sound. Looking forward to the new material.

Sorry to Toronto's Ketch Harbour Wolves who'd I planned to see at the Rivoli at midnight, but as midnight rolled around I decided to stay within the Bathurst-Spadina neighbourhood near College St. and opted to check out Phillie act Cold Cave at Sneaky Dee's. Hey, the NXNE guide compared them to New Order, so how could I go wrong with that? The band is essentially a solo project for a one Wesley Eisold(on keys, vox) but he also had gent on a second set of synths(between which they switch from time to time) and the female on guitar(or was that bass? I can't remember). They sounded more like Ian Curtis fronting New Order, with vocalist Wesley Eisold having a similar deadpannedness though never broadening his emotive range much as Curtis was capable of doing. The icy synths and electronic rhythms and the guitar were performed dutifully but in general there was such a dour mood to their music and stage presence, that I'd almost wanted to tell them to lighten up a bit.

Filling my 1 am time slot was Nightwood at Rancho Relaxo (also allowing me to grab a pizza slice at Massimo's just next door before their set). The Montreal 3-piece(two girls on guitar and vox, and a guy on drums) played it simple with the drummer perhaps the most accomplished musician but the girls keep their guitar playing as uncomplicated as possible. Fortunately, they have some tunes to back it up. Their DIY ethic draws similarites in my opinion to the North-Western Olympia, WA, K Records scene, drawing influences from punk and playing pop music with an edge.

Finally, although crazily I almost felt I could go on for another few hours, the last set of the night and the festival for me was Red Mass at Silver Dollar at 2 am. And wow what a way to end. Described as a "garage-psych avant-guardian rockestra" the multi-member band is led by King Khan/BBQ associate Roy Vucino who is also co-frontman of CPC Gangbangs. It's the energy of garage rock with experimental, psychedelic aspirations. They absolutely killed - cross-dressing band members, mask-wearing, face-paint, capes, smashing guitar and all. What rock n' roll is all about.

Another year NXNE has come and gone. It was a busy one again for me this year. I enjoyed most of what I saw although still I'm wishing for the day that NXNE gets some of the calibre of acts that it's sister festival SxSW gets. Yonge-Dundas Square stepped it up with nicely themed bills each night of the festival. As I mentioned above, I only caught one film but in general there seemed to be an interesting selection of films screening during the festival. The festival seemed much better organized this year, especially in the delegate pass pickup at the Hyatt Regency which I picked up late on the Thursday(June 18) in record time. The delegate tote bag is so terrific that I actually might use it. It was great to meet a few new faces and chat with older ones, and for those I didn't bump in to, I'm sure we shall in the future. Until next year.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (Saturday June 20, 2009)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NXNE in Toronto (Friday June 19, 2009)

  The Magic @ Reverb: photo by Michael Ligon
The Magic @ Reverb: photo by Michael Ligon

Last Friday night, the second day of my NXNE had it's share of successes, failures(well, more like disappointments) and spontaneity. As is the motto attending any music festival - always have a plan B (or C or D).

I was intent on catching Toronto-by-way-of-Brampton indie act Black Hat Brigade after spontaneously dropping in on their CMW set at Rancho Relaxo this past March and thoroughly enjoying their set of vibrant, Modest Mouse-inspired indie rock. While the vocals(shared between members RObert Haughey, Justin Myler and Adam Peterson) sometimes leans towards a yelp, a difference in vocal styles amongst the three keeps things fresh though perhaps a little schizophrenic. The band's strength lies with its musical prowess, in particular their melodic and punctuated guitar arrangements, subtle keyboards, and an urgency in tempo that keeps things for the most part exciting. Though having missed the first half of their 40-minute set, it wasn't too difficult to see that their daytime set at the Mill St. Brew Day Pub on the edge of Yonge Dundas Square wasn't the ideal setting to see the band. Of what I saw, the band seemed in good spirits although they didn't quite connect with the audience as they did back at Rancho Relaxo in March, with the audience response this time being some isolated 'woos' and polite if indifferent applause. Even an attempt to segue into a brief excursion into Television's "Marquee Moon" didn't get off the ground although they'd tried but apparently gave up. But then Yonge Dundas Square is just about the most distracting part of the city? How can you blame the band.

I ran into fellow blogger History Jen who'd been busy during the festival up to that point (as she was for most of the festival) recording interviews with luminaries, industry and others for the Zygiella podcast, and after rambling off a few of my own answers and NXNE highlights(Silverghost), we decided to grab a bite and afterward parted our separate ways for the evening. I'd decided on starting out the evening at the Dakota Tavern to see Montreal's hyped Coeur De Pirate at 8 pm and Toronto's own urban country darlings One Hundred Dollars but was floored when I got to in front of the venue at approximately 8 pm and found an unexpected lineup. I decided to wait it out for about an hour or so, speaking with and enjoying some conversation with random people in the lineup to pass the time, and finally gave up a little after 9 pm. Hey, but at least I know where the Dakota Tavern is now.

With my 8 and 9 pm timeslots ultimately failures in terms of getting into the venue, I was pretty sure my 10 pm choice of Los Angeles female punk act Mika Miko at Lee's Palace would be a sure thing. I got to Lee's and caught the tail end of Bobby Conn & Monica Boubou's set, a duo who displayed a glammy visual presence, performing a similarly glammy style of pop music which combined guitar, violin and exhuberant vocals. Mika Miko on the other hand went old school punk on us straddling the line between shouty, punk guitar blasts and punk-funk concoctions. There wasn't an all out slam-dance pit but there was definitely an enthusiasm brewing amongst the crowd on hand. I particularly liked the double-lead vocals and the minimal saxophone arrangement on one song was a cool change of pace. It was a busy night for the girls as they were also scheduled to play a midnight set at Sneaky Dee's where I'd imagine they probably killed.

As far as I recall, the NXNE guide used Tokyo Police Club as a descriptive reference point for only two of the participating NXNE acts, first Austin's Built by Snow who I'd seen the previous night, and Chicago's Love In October playing Holy Joe's who were next up on my schedule. Not nearly as new-wavey as Built By Snow, but Love In October had a similar musical and melodic urgency. Another reference point perhaps is Weezer circa Pinkerton, emulating their spiky guitar pop tunes. A quote on the NXNE site describes them as "Swedish indie dance rock with schizophrenic tendencies", 'Swedish' referring to vocalist Erik Widman and bassist Ken Widman being from Sweden though vocalist Erik sounds American(and I'd assume had grown up there) and 'schizophrenic tendencies' referring to a willingness to branch out with different musical styles such as a spacy, hypnotic number which had Erik shaking a skull adorned shaker/maraca. Erik exuded a confidence on vocals and guitar although perhaps showing a little a little constraint but only because of the confines of the small venue.

The remainder of the night's travels for me was minimized as the next few acts on my schedule were right downstairs from Holy Joe's at the Reverb with Toronto disco-pop outfit The Magic on at midnight and Toronto synth-pop act Parallel's on at 1 am. Both had been getting some hype lately and for the most part delivered. Of the two, The Magic defintely outshone delivering a refreshing take on disco, managing to express the genre's danceability and even singability but filtered through a DIY indie casualness. Vocalist Geordie Gordon crooned and falsettoed at times and co-vocalist Sylvie Smith added a female vocal element that complimented the dance grooves nicely. Although there was an air of hipness to them, they presented their version of disco with a total lack of irony - vocalist Geordie Gordon's glammy outfit, well there was a perhaps a tad bit of irony there but it worn all in good fun.

Final act of the night for me was Toronto synth-pop act Parallels. Not nearly as enticing or threatening as I'd hoped, but for the most part they entertained me and the crowd with their dark, cool synth arrangements(courtesy of Joey Kehoe), propulsive live dance drum rhythms(courtesy of drummer Cameron Findlay), occasional vocoder utilization and lead vocalist Holly Dodson's dance-pop vocals. If anything, they're a nostalgic reminder of the eighties when synths reigned supremed and I was all over it. Fans of Ladytron and Cut Copy will want to take notice of Parallels.

At this point in the night it was near 2 am when I decided to head over to the Silver Dollar to check out These Are Powers. Apparently they were amazing according to History Jen, although I'd only poked in my head long enough to see that it was packed, I was tired and hungry at which point I bolted and headed down the street to Massimo's for a slice of pizza. Sorry, These Are Powers that you lost out to a slice of pizza.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (Friday June 19, 2009)

Monday, June 22, 2009

NXNE in Toronto (Thursday June 18, 2009)

Marcie Bolen of Silverghost @ Neutral:photo by Michael Ligon
Marcie Bolen of Silverghost @ Neutral:photo by Michael Ligon

Forgoing the NXNE festivities of last Wednesday night(eg. The Courthouse, The Drake) I started out the festival the following night with a full night of shows planned although it was a last minute decision on my part to check out my first band of the night, Silverghost.

Well, actually the first band I saw was an in-store set at Sunrise Records on Yonge St. by Toronto's The Coast. Small-ish crowd on hand, the band played a brief set of songs mostly from "Expatriate" as well as a new song or two. It was all worth it just to hear them perform 'Killing Off Our Friends' with it's soaring guitar interludes and rootsy verses, in my opinion a classic. So where was everybody? Maybe at Yonge Dundas Square perhaps? After their set, it was off to the Hyatt Regency to pick up my media pass, then to decide where to go next.

Silverghost is a Detroit male-female duo consist of ex-Von Bondie guitarist/vocalist Marcie Bolen and keyboardist/vocalist Deleano Acevedo and were a terrific start to my NXNE. A last-minute decision based on the band's description in the NXNE guide and off I was to see them at Neutral, a venue I'd never been to before. A dark, dank venue, it was as good a venue to experience the duo's garage-y, fuzz-pop-rock tunes. Marcie, wearing a red 70's inspired polyester outfit, displayed some some well-versed guitar chops and some subtle rock attitude in her vocals while Deleano, in his Rolling Stones logo t-shirt, held his own with his melodic keyboard arrangments and vocals, and simple electronic rhythms. Really, the duo exemplified that all you really need to be a good band is a solid set of tunes. Drummer & bassist need not apply.

Next up for me was Parisian four-piece outfit Film Noir who were playing down the street and around the corner on the second floor of the El Mocambo. There seemed to be a decent-sized crowd on hand though the band never seemed to connect with the audience. Musically, their music is of the jaunty Libertines/Strokes-inspired pop-rock variety, perhaps a little too reminiscent of their influences but overall well-executed. Though the band's from France, lead vocalist/keyboardist Oan Kim sung in English, a selling-point that I'd have thought would have helped connect to the audience. The rest of the band, guitarist Alex Choiselat, drummer Assen Tzankov, and bassist Erwan Jaffre were all more than competent on their instruments. Though not for lack of trying, their stage presenced seemed a little forced at times, like Oan's spastic gestures at his keyboard, his attempt at dancing, or bassist Erwan's feeble effort at trying to jump off the the bass drum rock n' roll style at the end. Though not necessarily unconfortable on stage, they just seemed a little awkward at times, with their music getting lost in the translation.

It was a hop, skip and a jump relatively-speaking as I headed to The Boat to catch Austin quartet Built By Snow. The young outfit, each wearing a t-shirt in a different colour, impressed the crowd onhand with their peppy, new-wavey pop-rock tunes performed energetically with guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, following a musical lineage from current brethren Tokyo Police Club to The Rentals and back to Devo. Bespectacled lead vocalist JP kept the yelp factor in the vocals to a mininum and had some energetic fist-pumping action going on as if he were hyped up on caffeine. Impossible not to have enjoyed them.

After having spent the last three timeslots within the Bathurst-Spadina neighbourhood, it was off for me to C'est What down near the south end of downtown east of Yonge, although with a little bit of luck with transit and a brisk walk to the venue I got there just after Angela Desveaux's midnight set had started. Like last year's NXNE set at the same venue with Olenka and The Autumns Lovers, Angela's set only had a sparse crowd on hand which I'm more prone to blame on the venue's isolated location than anything else. Backing her was her band The Mighty Ship featuring Mike Feurstack(aka Snailhouse) on guitar/vocals, Eric Digras on bass and Gilles Castilloux on drums. Playing songs off her most recent album "Angela Desveaux & The Mighty Ship", plus a Townes Van Zandt cover and a new song written by Mike, it was a soothing set of pop music, countrified at times, and overall filled with beautiful melodies, Angela's comforting vocals and intoxicating harmonies(courtesy of Mike). It's a shame more people didn't come out for her set. Consistently under the radar for too long, I can only hope more people'll take the time to give her music a chance.

Last on the agenda for me was Ottawa's that's the spirit [yes with small case 't'] also playing C'est What. that's the spirit is the project of Ben Wilson, and joining him was bandmate Tom Thompson on pedal steel and guitar. It's ironic that that a band who play music of such subtle and quiet melodicism call themselves that's the spirit, although in keeping with the band's modesty maybe that's why the band name in print is spelled with a lower case 't'. Ben's vocals were sung with a subtle effort, with simply strummed or picked electric guitar while Tom added some ambient lap steel effects or second guitar. In this duo setting, the music had the effect of being reminiscent of say Red House Painters although a sampling of Ben's band efforts on their MySpace does show a fuller side to his musical compositions. As with Ms. Desveaux's set, that's the spirit's set was so baron in terms of patrons that at one point I think it was only me, a bartender, an NXNE volunteer and Ms. Desveaux and band who made up the audience. Such a shame as that's the spirit performed an intriguing set of quiet, beautiful, melodic songs that really deserve a bigger audience.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (Thursday June 18, 2009)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

2009 NXNE Picks!

With NXNE kicking into full gear today, it's been a daunting task narrowing down my long-list of about 62 selections(covering today until Sunday) to a more manageable number. I've opted, as I have in the past few years, to try to check out bands/artists unknown to me prior(especially out-of-towners) rather than the local acts. I've come across some interesting stuff through various bands'/artists' MySpaces and would hope that they'd be able to translate it live. Strange enough, there are a bunch of local acts participating this year that I've yet to see live(eg. Entire Cities, Whale Tooth, Evening Hymns, Everything All The Time) and I may not catch during the festival, but hopefully they'll be playing around town in the future. So without further ado here are my picks and the places/times where I most likely will be (hope to see some of you out there!):

Thursday June 18, 2009

06 pm - The Coast @ Sunrise Records
07 pm - picking up media delegate pass @ Hyatt Regency Toronto
8-9pm - haven't decided on anything so far; perhaps Melissa Auf De Mar @ Yonge Dundas Square
10 pm - Film Noir @ El Mocambo (up); alternate choices - Ume @ Neutral Lounge, Whale Tooth @ The Boat, Yellow Wood @ Rancho Relaxo
11 pm - Built By Snow @ The Boat; alternate choices - Rah Rah @ Rancho Relaxo, Experimental Dental School @ Sneaky Dee's, Poorfolk @ Mitzi's Sister, Kittens Ablaze @ Rivoli
12 am - Angela Desveaux @ C'est What; alternate choices - The Zoobombs @ Silver Dollar, Solarists @ The Painted Lady
01 am - that's the spirit @ C'est What

Friday June 19, 2009

05 pm - Black Hat Brigade @ Mill St. Brewpun Daystage
08 pm - Coeur de Pirate @ Dakota Tavern; alternate choice In-Flight Safety @ Yonge Dundas Square at 7:45 pm
09 pm - One Hundred Dollars @ Dakota Tavern; alternate choice - Wintersleep at Yonge Dundas Square at 9:45 pm
10 pm - Mika Miko @ Lee's Palace; alternat choices - The Ghost Is Dancing @ Velvet Underground, Kill Krinkle Club @ Holy Joe's, The Superstitions @ Reverb
11 pm - Valleys @ Rancho Relaxo; alternate choices - Hooded Fang @ Dakota Tavern, Love In October @ Holy Joe's
12 am - The Magic @ Reverb; alternate choices - Change of Heart @ Horseshoe Tavern, No Age @ Lee's Palace, The Coast @ Dakota Tavern
01 am - Parallels @ Reverb; alternate choices - The Sadies @ El Mocambo (down), Special Guest @ Lee's Palace, The Homosexuals @ Sneaky Dee's, Fox Jaws @ Supermarket
02 am - Experimental Dental School @ Rancho Relaxo

Saturday June 20, 2009

2:30 pm - The Zoobombs @ Yonge Dundas Square
3:30 pm - Golden Triangle @ Yonge Dundas Square
5:30 pm - Japanther @ Yonge Dundas Square
09 pm - Woodpigeon @ Horseshoe Tavern; the blank tapes @ Cadillac Lounge, Caet Mecija & Evening Hymns @ Whippersnapper Gallery, Everything All The Time @ The Drake Underground
10 pm - awkward i @ Holy Joes; alternate choice - Will Currie and The Country French @ Reverb (at least it's right downstairs from Holy Joe's)
11 pm - Olenka and the Autumn Lovers @ Bread and Circus; alternate choices - Young Galaxy @ The Drake Underground, The Zoobombs @ Velvet Underground
12 am - Ketch Harbour Wolves @ Rivoli
01 am - Nightwood @ Rancho Relaxo; alternate choices - Ghost Bees @ Bread and Circus, Entire Cities @ Mitzi's Sister

Sunday June 21, 2009

08 pm - GZA @ Yonge Dundas Square
09 pm - Rah Rah @ El Mocambo (down); alternate choice - The Cool Kids @ Yonge Dundas Square
10 pm - The Gertrudes @ Rivoli

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Phoenix, Amazing Baby @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (June 15, 2009)

  Phoenix' Thomas Mars @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon
Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars @ Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon

With French pop band Phoenix having played venues in Toronto like The Opera House(in 2005) and The Mod Club(in 2006), not to mention Olympic Island (as part of the 2006 Toronto Virgin Festival), it was only a matter of time, for the novelty of it all, that they'd eventually play the Phoenix, which they did yesterday evening. I mean how perfect is that? On the heels of their most recent album "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix", the band played to a sold out show. As I'd posted recently regarding Phoenix at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona I thought they were perhaps the most fun act of Day One, a not necessarily easy task considering the size of the audience they were playing to, but playing within the relatively more intimate confines of the Phoenix, they virtually brought down the house.

Opening the show was Brooklyn's Amazing Baby, who mostly based on album reviews like this recent NOW review, didn't entirely motivate me to show up early. Most descriptions of the band I've read seem to thrown around terms like glam, psychedelic and shoegaze but for the few brief songs I did actually catch them perform, I wasn't particularly engrossed, although not because of a lack of musicianship. Had I not been so impatient to see Phoenix, perhaps I'd have paid more attention, but it was not to be that day.

The setlist obviously leaned heavily on the band's most recent album, stepping back to their previous album for several audience favourites, as well as reaching back to older favourites like 'Run, Run, Run'(from their second album "Alphabetical") and 'Too Young'(from their debut "United"). While I've only been spinning the new album only for a few days now, it's surprising how quickly the new songs have sunk in, matching if not surpassing the quality of their past work in melding pop melodicism and danceability. Just about every song they performed sounded like it could be a hit, buoyant pop songs led by bouncy rhythms, sprightly played guitar and keyboards and lead vocalist Thomas Mars bright vocals. The sonic aside of instrumental piece 'Love Like A Sunset' with its ambient introduction which gradually built up till the guitar and drums settled into a sultry rhythmic groove made it a sort-of an intermissive piece if anyone was tiring of the their vocal-based pop songs. But that was far from the case for the crowd who to me felt like the band could have played for another hour longer than they did and not tire of them one bit. In fact, the audience repsonse after one song was so overwhelming that Thomas Mars seemed genuinely almost choked up, his only response was to stand up there, soak it up and grin. The made-for-singalong '1901' is perhaps the best song on the new album, and a-not-too-surprising choice to close out the encore and the show, prompting the audience to shout out "hey-hey-hey-hey-hey-hey" and repeat "falling, falling, falling, falling" at the appropriate times, with raised hands and pumping fists to only emphasize the euphoric point. But as that song drew to a close, it seemed that out of spontaneity, the band decided to play on and Thomas jumped down to the floor to frolic amongst the audience before jumping back onto the stage as the audience cheered on. It might sound cliched but it was the best show of the year so far and whereas I'd expected NXNE to be my unofficial start to my summer good times, Phoenix's show stepped in and kicked it off with a bang.

Photos: Phoenix @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (June 15, 2009)
MySpace: Phoenix

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bell Orchestre @ Harbourfront (part of Luminato) - June 13, 2009

  Bell Orchestre @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon
Bell Orchestre @ Harbourfront: photo by Michael Ligon

Montreal's Bell Orchestre took to the Harbourfront Centre Sirius Stage this past Saturday night as part of the Luminato festitivities. A supergroup of sorts, the band consists of Pietro Amato(french horn, member of the Luyas and Torngat), Stefan Schneider(drums & percussion, member of the Luyas), Kaveh Nabatian(trumpet), Richard Parry(bass, member of Arcade Fire), Sarah Neufeld(violin, member of Arcade Fire), and Mike Feuerstack(lap steel guitar, aka Snailhouse). I'm unsure of whether he's a full-time member, but saxophonist Colin Stetson also joined them. Their most recent effort is "As Seen Through Windows" released through Arts & Crafts. Obvious baroque influences, intermingle with rythmic and slight rock influences to create instrumental music that's intriguing as well as accessible. Defacto centrepiece Sarah Neufeld, if only because she's the lone female, does manage to live up to the attention with her energetic violin playing, with her violin arrangements often in conjunction with the horns guiding the pieces along. Although, a short percussive piece like 'Stripes' found Mike, Sarah and Pietro kneeling down at centre stage with the rest of the band around them as they tapped out rhythms on the floor with drumsticks. A polite call and response dominated the evening with each song prompting a courteous response from the audience but later in the evening things livened up first with the group singalong of 'Happy Birthday' for Pietro and lastly when the group pulled out a couple of livelier dance songs(which prompted a few to get up and dance) to end the set. An appreciative audience response even prompted the group to play an encore, and as that concluded the band expressed their polite(although appreciative) thank-you's, as politely as I'm sure they'd begun the evening.

Photos: Bell Orchestre @ Harbourfront (part of Luminato) - June 13, 2009
MySpace: Bell Orchestre

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wilco @ L'Auditori (Barcelona, Spain) - June 4, 2009

  Wilco @ L'Auditori (Barcelona, June 4 2009): photo by Michael Ligon
Wilco @ L'Auditori (Barcelona, June 4 2009): photo by Michael Ligon

I was fortunate enough, on the last night of my recent trip to Barcelona to see Wilco at a the city's beautiful opera house L'Auditori. The set list was picked by keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen whose birthday it was that night (and who the band had given him a cake with trick candles and got the audience to sing 'Happy Birthday' to) and Mikael picked some great tracks spanning many of their albums wiyh highlights including 'Kingpin'(off "Being There"), 'A Shot In The Arm' & 'Via Chicago'(from "Summerteeth"), 'Heavy Metal Drummer', 'Kamera' & 'Jesus, Etc' (from "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", 'Hummingbird' & 'At Least That's What You Said"(from "A Ghost Is Born"), and 'Impossible Germany' (from "Sky Blue Sky", with Nels Clines' guitarwork during the latter half of the song really getting the crowd going). Though the majority of the attendance seemed to be locals, Americans apparently punctuated the crowd, with one person declaring "I miss Chicago". But it was the Spaniards who showed some local flair at times with much of the crowd chanting at times the soccer "Ole, Ole" song, with Jeff Tweedy even challenging Americans in the crowd to bring that chant back to America. The enthusiasm of the Spaniards was contagious and made for a very enjoyable show, satisfying my Wilco fix for the moment (since my last time seeing them was late last year at the cavernous Air Canada Centre from the nosebleed section and I doubt I'll be making the trip to Lewiston, NY when the band play ArtPark on July 19). At various times, there were duelling guitars with Nels and Pat, drummer Glenn Kotche standing over his drumkit, and Jeff running in one place and swinging his mic incessantly (during 'Hummingbird'), a very active show all around. The band's new album "Wilco (the album)" is out June 30 through Nonesuch and you can stream the album here.

Photos: Wilco @ L'Auditori (Barcelona, Spain) - June 4, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Purely Self-Indulgent & Rambolic Review of Primavera Sound Festival (Barcelona, May 28-31, 2009)

Primavera Sound Festival

Just to warn you, the following is a purely self-indulgent and rambolic review of my time at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona - I justed wanted to write down my recollections officially for posterity so if you're interested continue reading or else jump down to the bottom of the post and check out my photos (for brevity's sake, I only chose one photo for each act I saw, plus some scenery & miscellaneous shots). Although attendance had to have numbered in the tens of thousands and the main festival at Parc Del Forum was spread over 5 general stages (stages sponsored by Estrella Damm, Rockdelux, ATP, Pitchfork & Ray-Ban Vice), through some good scheduling by organizers, it was a fairly manageable experience in terms of catching a good selection of acts across stages. Crystal Stilts' keyboardist Kyle Forrester encapsulated the other main draw of the festival(besides the lineup) when he expressed his wonderment to the crowd about being able to see the ocean in the distance, although jokingly he remarked that it was the Pacific Ocean [it's the Mediterranean Sea]. With the sunny and warm weather, and fairly comfortably warm well into the night, it was near perfect conditions to experience the enthusiastic and friendly festival vibe. Of course the downside of most festivals is the hours of standing and trekking between stages, but in the end it was all worth it.

Day One featured the dense, though angular indie rock of Calgarian four-piece Women at the Pitchfork stage. I next sauntered over to the Rockdelux stage and caught indiepop Elefant Records Spanish act La Bien Querida. Over at the Ray-Ban Vice stage I caught and immensely enjoyed seminal New Zealand jangle-pop act The Bats. It was then back to the Rockdelux stage to catch Glasgow's The Vaselines [who I'd missed in Toronto recently only because I was too cheap to spring for the $30 ticket], another thoroughly enjoyable set of indiepop - the lineup featured founding members Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee (who punctuated the set with her comedic banter and barbs) plus hired guns, Sons and Daughters' drummer David Gow and Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson [who coincidentally will be in Toronto this Thursday at Imperial Pub] and Bobby Kildea. I'd also realized that it was indeed The Vaselines that I'd passed on the street earlier that day when they checked into their hotel across the street from Parc Del Forum. As night finally arrived, Yo La Tengo took to the Estrella Damm stage to a rapturous reception playing a varied musical set encompassing pop melodies, noisy experimentalism and rhythmic jams. Phoenix perhaps were the most fun act of the night, playing a delectable set of their danceable pop music back over at the Rockdelux stage. I scooted back over to the Estrella Damm stage to catch part of My Bloody Valentine 's set even managing to make it somehow front row, albeit in front of the speakers but of course coming prepared with earplugs. I enjoyed a bunch MBV's songs but when they segued into the "Holocaust" part of their set, I bolted out of there - even with earplugs, I didn't think I was prepared to experience it again. My early exit from MBV's set afforded me the opportunity to get up close for The Horrors' set at the Ray-Ban Vice stage, a set straddling the band's earlier thrashy punk sounds and more current post-punk fixations. Horrors' frontman Faris Badwan was obviously not happy with the feedback he was getting in his monitor everytime he approached it with his mic, the soundman only shrugging his shoulders expressing was fine on his end, but Faris' displeasure did add a pissed-off vibe to his stage presence as he thrashed around on stage with abandon. UK's Ebony Bones next rocked the same stage adding a colourful presence and turning the late-night atmosphere into a dance party. With the time nearing 4 am, Squarepusher with live drummer and and a setup of pixelated video screens rocked the weary and it was one of the few sets that I really enjoyed seeing from way in the back, not to mention being able to sit down.

Day Two started for me with two Spanish pop acts, first the rythmic, melodic pop of Extraperlo at the Pitchfork stage, then Zahara and her intimate acoustic folk pop set at the MySpace lounge. Although daylight doesn't seem like the most appropriate atmosphere for Crystal Stilts' VU-ish garage pop, they still put on a good set back over at the Pitchfork stage. As Crystal Stilts launched into their last song I scooted over to the Estrella Damm stage to position myself up close for Bat For Lashes who incidentally thoroughly impressed the crowd with her emotive vocals and earthy pop melodies and acoustic / electronic instrumentation. I had the pleasure of seeing Spiritualized's extended set over at the Rockdelux stage bringing things to an awesome conclusion with "Come Together". A jog over to the Ray-Ban Vice stage it was for me to position myself for Jason Lytle's set, for me the sleeper set of the festival, impressing the crowd with his melodies and playful band instrumentation. I'd never really explored Throwing Muses catalog prior to their Primavera set (at the Rockdelux stage) but the trio's visceral pop-rock performance (most of lall Kristin Hersh's vocals) did make a strong argument that maybe I should. Jarvis Cocker at the Estrella Damm stage, bearded and bespectacled, performing songs from his debut and his recently released sophomore effort "Further Complications", was giddy to the bone, constantly dancing and posing. Saint Etienne 's dance-pop set(over at the Rockdelux stage) took a few songs to warm up the crowd before they hit their stride and had a good portion of the crowd, or at least those in front, moving incessantly. I bypassed Bloc Party to sample Joy Division contemporaries A Certain Ratio who were playing the Ray-Ban Vice stage, in the end quite rhythmic and danceable. Sauntering towards the direction of Bloc Party, I caught the tailend of their performance from a distance as their set concluded and my day two of the festival ended.

Day Three started out for me with afternoon performances from Bowerbirds, Crystal Stilts, and Sleepy Sun at Parc Joan Miro, a relaxed vibe with two stages set amongst the park's palm trees. Jumping onto the Metro and then transferring the tram, I head back over to Parc Del Forum for the evening portion of the festival, starting off with Shearwater at the Pitchfork Stage. With a song or two still to play, I rushed over to the Estrella Damm stage to set myself up for The Jayhawks, and while I've only ever been a casual fan of them, honestly they have some really meaty pop hooks within their country-rock presentation. Curiousity drew me to the ATP stage to catch 90's Too Pure act Th' Faith Healers, part of me appreciating the relatively demure female vocals against the more abrasive, experimental guitar punk sounds, but on the other hand it'd not be something I'd be drawn to on a regular basis. I practically ran back over to the Estrella Damm stage for Neil Young's set only to find it quite packed, and only to get more packed. I managed to find a relatively decent spot, and I quite enjoyed Neil's greatest hits set. And yes, the Spaniards really liked him. Back over to the ATP stage, again based more on curiosity than anything else, to see Liars - they reside in dance-punk territory with perhaps more experimental leanings than most in the genre, but as with my comments with Th' Faith Healers, they aren't really my cup of tea, although Liars vocalist Angus Andrew is a spirited frontman and a joy to watch. Closing out my night was Sonic Youth(joining them was Pavement's Mark Ibold) at the Estrella Damm stage, performing mainly an up-tempo rock set, and with the crowd getting a little too rambunctious around me(me with my camera and messenger bag which I was holding on) I had to retreat back just a tad. I'd hope for at least a sampling of their more ambient textures (actually, I think they played one slower song) but hey whatever. Officially, the end of the festival for me and an awesome one at that.

The following day a supplementary festival program happened over at Parc Joan Miro with an afternoon into early evening set of bands ranging from the B & S-ish Spanish act Sedaois, Spanish acoustic-electro pop act Klaus & Kinski, a K-records triple bill of Angelo Spencer, Karl Blau and Kimya Dawson(who ended the day and her set with a spiriteda, and not-at-all-vocally-perfect cover of Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love Of All") and a surprisingly enjoyable set from Montreal's Plants and Animals - I wasn't too keen on them previously, and maybe it was just the relaxed vibe of the park setting but the new songs they performed especially showed a succintness that really has me looking forward to checking out their new material and perhaps going back to their old songs.

Photos: Primavera Sound Festival (Barcelona, May 28-31, 2009)

Monday, June 01, 2009

2009 Primavera Sound Festival @ Barcelona, Spain - May 28-31, 2009

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth at Primavera Sound Festival 2009: photo by Michael Ligon
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth at Primavera Sound Festival 2009: photo by Michael Ligon

Perhaps festival headliners Sonic Youth of day 3 and the final night of the the 2009 edition of the Primavera Sound Festival summed up the feeling of this year´s festival with their main set closer "Express Way To Yr Skull". Yes it was. It was a lineup that I could only dream about(and know that it´d never happen) at any Canadian music festival, so I had to to go all the way to Barcelona, but with Spain being a destination I´d always wanted to go to, why not kill two birds with one stone.

The festival took place down at Barcelona´s waterfront Parc Del Forum that´s set nicely against the water but with too few greenery and way too much concrete for my liking. But as a space it does handle the festival atmosphere well. Like all music festivals it had corporate sponsorship, the main ones being Estrella Damm [a tasty beer at that], and Ray Ban. Tickets for drinks could be bought from electronic ticket machines and if you got there early you could beat the line and buy all your drink tickets for the night. There was also a good variety of food concessions [the thin crust pizza was delicious]. As for the music fans, it seemed mostly comprised of Barcelonians, other Spaniards, Italians, and Brits. If there were any North Americans like myself, then they / we were definitely in the minority. I´d underestimated music fans in Spain in terms of indie and alternative rock [although I knew there was a small loyal group of indiepop fans eg. Elefant Records], but Spanish music fans were as enthusiastic fans of indie and alternative rock than anyone I´ve ever seen. Disappointing that I know little to no Spanish [I said ´ola´ and ´gracias´ a lot] but Spanish music fans were quite vocal. They´re also quite fashionable.

Yes, I´m taking time out of my vacation to blog. It´s just after noon Monday and it´s been a physically demanding past four days [including yesterday during which I caught an afternoon full of bands at Parc Joan Miro and then roamed the Barri Gottic for the rest of the night, bypassing the closing party at Sala Apolo as it was all DJ´s and I was pooped] so don´t expect a long detailed festival review right now [maybe not ever] but here are the artists / bands I got to see and hear mostly full sets from [photos to come AFTER I get back from vacation]:

Day One [Parc Del Forum]:
Women, La Bien Querida, The Bats, The Vaselines, Yo Lo Tengo, Phoenix, My Bloody Valentine, The Horrors, Ebony Bones, Squarepusher

Day Two [Parc Del Forum]:
Extraperlo, Zahara, Crystal Stilts, Bat For Lashes, Spiritualized, Jason Lytle, Throwing Muses, Jarvis Cocker, Saint Etienne, A Certain Ratio, (a bit of) Bloc Party

Day Three [Parc Joan Miro]:
Bowerbirds, Crystal Stilts, Sleepy Sun

Day Three [Parc Del Forum]:
Shearwater, The Jayhawks, Th´ Faith Healers, Neil Young, Liars, Sonic Youth

Day Four [Parc Joan Miro]:
Sedaios, Angelo Spencer, Klaus & Kinski, Karl Blau, Plants & Animals, Kimya Dawson

I´ve hyperlinked to the Spanish bands above in particular. As I mentioned above, the Spaniards do like their pop music. Klaus & Kinski were my favourite of the Spanish acts I saw, merging electronic rhythm tracks with guitar, bass, keyboards and female vocals for a sound that alternated between shoegaze and a cleaner rock sound. Elefant Records outfit La Bien Querida, lead by the enchanting vocals of Ana Fern├índez-Villaverde were a close second, performing hazey, breezy pop music. Extraperlo draw comparisons to bands like Orange Juice, filtering their British musical pop influences through a more rhythmic approach, in their case touching on their Spanish routes with danceable guitar licks and Latin rhythms. Sedaios are thoroughly influenced by Belle and Sebastian, playing pop music with horns, guitar, bass, keyboards, and alternating male / female vocals with the added bonus of saxophone. Zahara performed an enjoyable acoustic guitar pop set at the MySpace Lounge on the second day of the festival as the sun beat down on. So yes, I didn´t go all the way to Barcelona JUST to see bands I already´ve seen. Check ´em out. If the Spanish acts are any indication, they do have a vibrant indie scene.