Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do You Remember Rock N' Roll Radio? (It's The End, The End of The Century)

The Ramones: photo by David Godlis
photo credit: David Godlis

Here's a kick-ass song by The Ramones called "Do You Remember Rock N' Roll Radio?" to ring in the new year and decade! Lyrical content aside, the song lyrics "It's the end, the end of the 70's, It's the end, the end of the century" seemed quite an appropriate sentiment as we transition from the Noughties to the next decade. Oh, and did I mention it's a kick-ass song? Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!

Video: The Ramones - "Do You Remember Rock N' Roll Radio?" (music video)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Favourite Concerts of 2009

Phoenix' Thomas Mars @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael LigonLike my favourite concerts of the year list last year, this year I've posted each of my choices with a little blurb from my original review as well of course a link to the full review. Unlike last year, I've decided to rank my list. Number one and two of my list were easily no questions, although after that it was a little harder to rank the rest of the list. For the purpose of my list below I limited my choices to shows in Toronto of course, leaving my out-of-town concert experiences(mainly the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain and Osheaga Music and Arts in Montreal) out of the running (although Primavera and Osheaga were awesome experiences in themselves). So without further ado:

11. Bat For Lashes @ The Mod Club (Apr 25, 2009) (full review)

"It was a nicely varied sounding set ranging from the invading pop of "Horse and I", the danceable "What's A Girl Got To Do", the scintillating electro-pop of "Daniel"(included twice in the set in both a quiet and 'bigger' version), and the tribal-stomp dance-pop of "Sleep Alone". Sensitive, sultry, emotional and charistmatic, as well as being one heck of a songwriter, Ms. Khan has all the makings of success. For sure, next time she won't be playing The Mod Club."

10. Lily Allen @ Sound Academy (Apr 22, 2009) (full review)

"However, two and half years later with the release of her sophomore album "It's Not Me It's You" seems like a long time and I'd doubted whether Sound Academy was too large of a venue for Lily but witnessing the nearly sold-out crowd and many in attendance (mostly young ladies) singing along to the new songs was ample evidence that Lily's more popular than ever....Maybe it was because Toronto was the last stop of her current North American stop that Lily Allen seemed in such high spirits. Or maybe it was she'd had a little to drink but whatever it was she was happy."

09. Wilco @ Massey Hall (Oct 15, 2009) (full review)

"Undoubtedly it was the next song "You and I" featuring a guest appearance from hometown girl Leslie Feist that had everyone in rapture as audibly could be heard as Feist walked onto the stage, performed the song dutifully then left the stage. Such a treat it was for us to see her since she hadn't made an appearance the previous night. The show could have perhaps ended on that high note but as if to expend us of all our new-found energy entirely, the band ran through the next three uptempo songs, "Casino Queen", "Kingpin" and "I'm A Wheel" forcefully before bidding goodnight and promising to return for a cross-country Canadian tour in the new year."

08. Dan Auerbach @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (Nov 7, 2009) (full review)

"Listening to the album["Keep It Hid"] didn't necessarily prepare me nor the audience for the volume that would hit us during Auerbach's live set. It felt as if Auerbach decided to crank up the amps to ten, the effect being ever more brutal to the eardrums (and thank God for earplugs). As loud as it was, it still seemed tolerable, and the added crunch was more than appreciated."

07. Glasvegas @ The Mod Club (Apr 3, 2009) (full review)

"Even in a venue as intimate as The Mod Club, at the end of the show James proceeded to play up to the audience applause and cheers, and as if he were looking out at a stadium-sized sea of people, he proceeded to point to every part of the venue including the balcony as if he were thanking us one by one for giving them the best show of their life."

06. The Airborne Toxic Event @ The Mod Club (Mar 4, 2009) (full review)

"Maybe it was with a little serendipity that I heard their magnificent single 'Sometime Around Midnight' on The Edge a few months back and actually enjoyed it immensely - it's a song that builds from quietly sung vocals and guitar strums to a swell of instrumentation and strings with the urgency and sonic similarities of Arcade Fire. And I here I thought that mainstream alternative rock radio had gone down the shithole."

05. Franz Ferdinand @ Kool Haus (May 4, 2009) (full review)

"While lead vocalist Alex Kapranos and band are one of the most dapper-looking bands today, they created an intensely exciting vibe on stage (something that's perhaps a little muted on record)."

04. Echo and The Bunnymen @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Oct 20, 2009) (full review)

"But man those strings, oh those glorious strings. It was pure heaven."

03. The Hold Steady @ Lee's Palace (Sept 27, 2009) (full review)

"I know it's a good show when the energy of both the band and the audience drives me to pogo, which I rarely do. I must say it's transcendental."

02. Broken Social Scene @ Harbourfront Centre, Sirius Satellite Radio Stage (July 11, 2009) (full review)

"For all intentions, this seemed like the band's last song as Kevin thanked the crowd and the band walked off but to the audience chant of "one more song", they came back for an ecstatic rendition of "Major Label Debut". A stunning conclusion to a stunning evening. The memories of the evening may likely fade away but it's the good feelings which will remain."

01. Phoenix @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (June 15, 2009) (full review)

"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."

Further reference -- outdoor music festivals I attended in 2009:

- Primavera Sound Festival, Barcelona, Spain (May 28-31, 2009) --- review
- Osheaga Music & Arts, Montreal, Quebec (Aug 1-2, 2009) --- review
- Virgin Festival, Toronto, Ontario (Aug 29-30, 2009) --- review - day one, review - day two

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Favourite Albums of 2009

In choosing my favourite albums of 2009, I stuck mostly with the familiar. I've been pretty selective in purchasing new albums and perhaps have grown out of touch with what's new and hip, but until I reach a moment of catharthis that compels me to check out new artists with any sort of gusto, I'm perfectly satisfied to be behind the curve. So in no particular order, and without further ado, here are my favourite albums of 2009 [ps. the Glasvegas album technically came out first in 2008, but it was released in North America in 2009 so that's why I've included it]:

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2)

MySpace: Phoenix
Video: Phoenix - "1901" (live on Letterman, 18/06/2009)
Video: Phoenix - "1901" (live on MPR's The Current)
Video: Phoenix - "Lisztomania" (live on MPR's The Current)
Video: Phoenix - "1901" (live at Spin Sessions)
Video: Phoenix - "Lisztomania" (live at Spin Sessions)
Video: Phoenix - "Lisztomania" (music video)
Video: Phoenix - "1901" (music video)

Junior Boys - Begone Dull Care (Domino)

MySpace: Junior Boys
Video: Junior Boys - "Bits and Pieces" (music video)

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (Merge)

MySpace: Camera Obscura
Video: Camera Obscura - "Forest and Sands" (live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, 12/06/2009)
Video: Camera Obscura - "French Navy" (music video)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Slumberland)

MySpace: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Video: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Young Adult Friction" (music video)

Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid (Nonesuch)

MySpace: Dan Auerbach
Video: Dan Auerbach - "Trouble Weighs A Ton" (live on Sirius XMU)

The Hidden Cameras - Origin: Orphan (Arts & Crafts)

MySpace: The Hidden Cameras
Video: The Hidden Cameras - "In The NA" (music video)
Video: The Hidden Cameras - "He Falls To Me" (live)

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone (ANTI-)

MySpace: Neko Case
Video: Neko Case - "This Tornado Loves You" (live on Letterman)
Video: Neko Case - "People Got A Lotta Nerve" (live on Qtv)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (Interscope)

MySpace: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero" (music video)
Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Heads Will Roll" (music video)
Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero" (live on Letterman)

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns (Parlophone)

MySpace: Bat For Lashes
Video: Bat For Lashes - "Daniel" (live on Letterman, 01/05/2009)
Video: Bat For Lashes - "Daniel" (live on MPR's The Current)
Video: Bat For Lashes - "Daniel" (live on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic)

Glasvegas - Glasvegas (Columbia)

MySpace: Glasvegas
Video: Glasvegas - "Daddy's Gone" (music video)
Video: Glasvegas - "Geraldine" (music video)
Video: Glasvegas - "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry" (music video)

Jenn Grant - Echoes (Six Shooter)

MySpace: Jenn Grant
Video: Jenn Grant - "Heartbreaker" (live at Glenn Gould Theatre)
Video: Jenn Grant - "Heartbreaker" (music video)
Video: Jenn Grant - "You'll Go Far" (music video)

Metric - Fantasies (Last Gang)

MySpace: Metric
Video: Metric - "Help, I'm Alive" (live on Letterman, 17/07/2009)
Video: Metric - "Gimme Sympathy" (music video)
Video: Metric - "Sick Muse" (music video)

Jarvis Cocker - Further Complications (Rough Trade)

MySpace: Jarvis Cocker
Video: Jarvis Cocker - "Angela" (music video)
Video: Jarvis Cocker - "Further Complications" (music video)
Video: Jarvis Cocker - "Slush" (Galerie Chappe, Paris, France, 09/05/2009)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Together In Our Holiday Sweaters

Moz Ugly X'mas SweaterI'm just about to wrap Christmas presents (yes I always leave wrapping to the last minute) but I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Too late to order it now (and it's also sold out) but Viva Moz' interpretation of the ugly Christmas sweater with Morrissey's mug smack dab on the chest is something to behold. I think I'd actually wear it, at least during Christmas, if I had it. A conversation piece, for sure. [via Retro To Go]

While running some errands and picking up some last minute items, I popped on the ol' iPod and came across a Yuletide offering from The Raveonettes entitled 'Come On Santa' which I'd realized I'd never got around to hearing until today. Vice made the MP3 available for download earlier this year, and it's still up for grabs:

MP3: The Raveonettes - "Come On Santa"

Zunior's offering up a free mp3 sampler of holiday tunes performed by Canadian indie artists.

Largehearted Boy's been collecting some holiday-related downloadable audio links over the last week or so and of those I've checked out I really like the following. I especially like the track from San Francisco's My First Earthquake and I definitely recommend checking out the video - fun track, and vocalist Rebecca Bortman has awesome energy:

MP3: My First Earthquake - "Together In Our Holiday Sweaters"
Video: My First Earthquake - "Together In Our Holiday Sweaters" (music video)
MP3: Adam and Sara - "Wonderful Christmastime"

Finally, here's Little Boots performing an ol' Christmas classic:

Video: Little Boots - "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fairytale of New York

The Pogues - 'Fairytale of New York'

The Pogues' Spider Stacy tells NME how their Christmas classic 'Fairytale of New York' came to be.

Video: The Pogues - 'Fairytale Of New York'

And as a bonus, here's Billy Bragg and Florence & The Machine covering the track as well for BBC Radio One:

Video: Billy Bragg and Florence & The Machine - 'Fairytale of New York' (live on BBC Radio One, December 2009)

NME brings a new track(and a holiday-themed one at that) from the upcoming Magnetic Fields album "Realism" out January 25 in the new year:

MP3: The Magnetic Fields - 'Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree'

A preliminary list of artists has been announced for Canadian Music Week 2010 taking place March 10 to 14 in Toronto. So far I'm excited most to see Plants & Animals!

Video: Plants & Animals - 'Fairie Dance' (live @ Blacksheep Inn, Wakefield, QC, Sept 6/09)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wavelength 500 (February 10-14, 2010)

The lineups for the upcoming Wavelength 500 shows were announced yesterday evening and are as follows:

Feb 10, 2010 >>> Bruce Peninsula, Evening Hymns, Pony Da Look, Deep Dark United, Canaille @ Music Gallery (7pm • $12 adv)

Feb 11, 2010 >>> Holy Fuck, Russian Futurists, Fembots, Diamond Rings, Professor Fingers @ Steamwhistle Brewery (8pm • $18 adv)

Feb 12, 2010 >>> From Fiction, Bicycles, Laura Barrett, Magic Cheezies, Young Mother @ Sneaky Dee’s (9pm • $12 adv)

Feb 13, 2010 >>> Constantines, Rockets Red Glare, Donne Roberts, Picastro, Danger Bay @ Polish Combatants Hall (8pm • $20 adv)

Feb 14, 2010 >>> Kids On TV, The Barcelona Pavilion, Mean Red Spiders, Neck a.k.a. Christiana, Boars @ The Garrison (9pm • PWYC (door only))

Passes and single-night advance tickets (except for Feb. 14, door only) will be for sale at Soundscapes, Rotate This and starting January 7, 2010. A Festival Pass is $50, which is a deal if you want to go to everything, and I might just do that (although I think I might be dead at the end of it). The Wavelength 500 festivites have something for just about every indie rock fan, culling its lineup from buzzed-about acts from today like Bruce Peninsula, Evening Hymns, and Laura Barrett and those from earlier in the decade, including a few reunions, like From Fiction, The Bicycles, and Rockets Red Glare.

Frankly, I missed out on many a Wavelength show (yes, mostly wimping out because it's on a Sunday night) but I've caught a few of those Sunday night shows as well a few of the Wavelength anniversary shows over the years. At the time, the Sunday night shows probably felt to me like your typical indie-rock get-togethers featuring bands you may or may not have heard of. In retrospect, it WAS something special, epecially for the artists I'd never saw very early on in their careers like The Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and Broken Social Scene. And I still kind of regret not going to the see Swedish indiepop crooner Jens Lekman when he played one Sunday night back several years ago. But if anything reading the Wavelength listings in the Toronto weeklies were always somewhat of a dropkick to my cranium to check out some of the local acts if they were to play around town on a more convenient night for me. The one thing I do have to applaud is that Wavelength was successful in it's original mandate to "...breathe some life into some of the darker corners of Toronto's perpetually overlooked indie music scene." I'd say mission was accomplished.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Heavy Blinkers Return With New Holiday Tune / Other Holiday Audio Goodies


The last time I'd seen The Heavy Blinkers live was back in September 2005 at the Casbah in Hamilton, a trio configuration including the band's leader Jason MacIsaac, multi-instrumentalist Dave Christiansen and at-the-time new hired vocalist Jenn Grant (who of course, went on to have her own successful solo career). I'd had the opportunity to chat briefly with Jason (who was really a nice guy, btw) who'd mention working on a new album, but 4 years later and I'd lost hope on whether it'd ever see the light of day. A glimmer of hope is now on the horizon as chartattack reports that the band's highly anticipated double-album "Health" is still planned for release and according to a press release I received through e-mail it should be out this March. However with founding members Andrew Watt and Ruth Minnikin leaving the band in 2008, I wonder if Jenn Grant will continue to sing with the band in the future. She did however sing on the band's newly released holiday tune "Silence Your Drum", exhibiting that sparkle I'd seen/heard when I'd seen her with the 'Blinkers four years ago:

MP3: The Heavy Blinkers - "Silence Your Drum"
Video: The Heavy Blinkers - "Silence Your Drum"

And to go off on a Christmas tangent, here's some other holiday audio goodies:

The Line Of Best Fit has an intriguing indie Christmas mix for download featuring many of Canada's top indie acts. This one is one I need to hear.

Viola-playing vocalist Anni Rossi has a free Christmas EP for download for the price of your e-mail address. Via The Independent Ear.

Stereogum collects a batch of new indie rock Christmas mp3's for 2009 for download. Sweet.

Music Under Fire has some new and some older indie rock Christmas mp3's for download.

Up for grabs still at Saddle Creek is Bright Eye's hurtin' version of "Blue Christmas".

NME has a collection of indie Christmas mp3's from the likes of Lucky Soul, Slow Club, The Hush, and The Crookes. NME also presents "An Alternative Christmas Playlist" and although only YouTube clips, there's some interesting choices there to seek out in MP3 form.

Get in the holiday spirit with The Anti-Hit List's holiday edition. As usual, Mr. Sakamoto has an intriguing selection.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Constantines, Attack In Black, John K. Samson @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (December 11, 2009)

The Constantines @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon
  The Constantines @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Dec 17/09, 12:22 am]: Review now posted below.

Last Friday at Lee's Palace was the first of a three night Toronto stint(the second night being on December 11 and the third to be this Saturday December 19) for Guelph's The Constantines who are touring in support of their 10th anniversary. And of course it was sold-out as ot deserved to be. All I can say is that while I've seen my share of Constantines shows(the first time being on May 8, 2003, my birthday, at the Phoenix Concert Theatre at Exclaim's 10th anniversary party), 10 years, 3 record labels and 4 albums into their career and they're still as strong as ever.

The Weakerthans have had strong ties to The Constantines over the years, especially with both bands having toured together a few times under the banner of "The Rolling Tundra Revue". It seemed quite an obvious choice that The Weakerthans John K. Samson take part in The Cons festivities as he did with his admirable solo opening set. I'm not terribly familiar with John's works either with The Weakerthans or as a solo artist but apparently he did perform both solo[especially tracks from his new solo e.p. "City Route 85"] and Weakerthans tracks with just vocals and acoustic guitar. Effortlessly tuneful songs, simple guitar strumming and John's laid back vocals made for a decent set, at least what I'd caught of it given I'd shown up about half way through. An incessantly chatty audience didn't detract from the enjoyment of those towards the front of the stage who were listening quite attentively, especially when John at one point pushed the mic aside and performed a song unamplified which had some in the audience singing along enthusiastically.

Welland four-piece Attack In Black were up soon after playing a set of insightful and well-exected rock n' roll tunes, owing as much a debt to The Constantines as it did to Neil Young. The Cons aren't of course yet ready to pass any torches quite yet but Attack in Black more than hold their own. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed them, their main attraction being their knack for combining tuneful melodies and crunchy instrumentation. I was also really impressed with vocalist Daniel Romano effortlessly, sinewy guitar playing. And just to reemphasize their Neil Young admiration, they ended the set with Romano on lead vocals and guitar with the other band members as well as John K. Samson and members of The Constantines providing back up vocals for a version of Neil's 'Natural Anthem'. It was definitely an off-the-cuff performance as various individuals made an effort to sing a long by reading the lyrics taped to the back of Attack In Black's Ian Daniel Kehoe's bass guitar.

The minimalist decorative wall design, merely the number ten expressed in two sets of five dashes, spoke volumes. The Constantines have always been a no-frills band, instead letting their music speak for itself. Drawing on four albums, the band performed a good cross-section of material, faves like 'Young Offender', 'Young Lions', 'Hotline Operator' and 'Nighttime Anytime' drawing the biggest audience response. As someone who's gone to my share of Cons show, The Constantines delivered it live as usual, with no surprises but also no letdowns. The one surprise of the night was John K. Samson's turn at vocals, at one point stage-diving into the audience for a brief spell before being returned to the stage by the audience. Otherwise, it was business as usual as The Cons performed their brand of gritty rock n' roll, their most adrenaline-rushed tunes provoking a spirited and physical response from the crowd. There was the typical audience call-and-response moments (like on 'Nighttime Anytime') and a certain amount of pogoing and or approaching-on slam dancing, all very predictable to a multiple Cons show-goer like myself but it's always enjoyable to witness/participate. Ten years into their career and seven years after I'd first seen them live and The Cons appear and sound as vital as ever. The cliched thing to say right now would be "here's to another 10 years", but then really the band's first 10 years was a lifetime, and it's somewhat rare that any band reaches that pinnacle. All I can really hope for now is that the band continues as long as they feel it's right for them. In the meantime, the fans will always be there.

BlogTO also has a review and photos from the same show.

Eye's Sarah Liss talks ten years with The Constantines' Bry Webb.

Photos: The Constantines, Attack In Black, John K. Samson @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (December 11, 2009)
MySpace: The Weakerthans
MySpace: Attack In Black
MySpace: The Constantines

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thrush Hermit to reunite in 2010 for live dates

Thrush Hermit
  photo via Exclaim

Although still not officially confirmed, a Pollstar listing from late last week has Thrush Hermit fans excited:

Wed 03/24/10 Peterborough, ON The Historic Red Dog
Thu 03/25/10 Ottawa, ON New Capital Music Hall
Fri 03/26/10 Toronto, ON Lee's Palace
Sat 03/27/10 Toronto, ON Lee's Palace

chartattack reports it a little differently that the band are also expected to play gigs in Moncton, N.B., Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa and that they will be doing two-night stints in most of these cities. Update: As Chromewaves points out, Joel Plaskett confirms the reunion in an interview with Exclaim.

I recall someone on Facebook commenting that for the Toronto shows, the band would play their album "Sweet Homewrecker" in its entirety on March 26 and "Clayton Park" on March 27, interspersing songs from their EP's on both nights. So far that's just all hearsay, but it sounds plausible.

In googling the band recently, I found out that Thrush Hermit's last show in Toronto was a decade ago at the Reverb on December 6, 1999, a somewhat bittersweet revelation with the recent news that The Big Bop venue (which includes the Reverb, Holy Joe's, & Kathedral) is closing in January in the new year.

I'm looking forward to the Thrush Hermit reunion tour and hope this is not all a cruel joke. I even loaded up the iPod yesterday with all my Thrush Hermit releases. Although "Clayton Park" includes my favourite Thrush Hermit song ever, that being 'The Day We Hit The Coast', damn I forgot how much I liked "Sweet Homewrecker". But back to 'The Day We Hit The Coast', I also loved the video, especially the part of the band dressed up as mountain men roaming the mountain winter wilderness, then stopping to take a breather at a park bench. Classic:

Video: Thrush Hermit - "The Day We Hit The Coast" (music video)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Last Christmas"

Just in time for the holidays! Ohbijou cover Wham's 'Last Christmas':

MP3: Ohbijou - "Last Christmas" (Wham cover)


UK pop artist Little Boots did an impromptu cover of this song as well:

Video: Little Boots - "Last Christmas"

Artic Monkeys' Matt Helder sang the song at one of their recent live shows in NYC (the audience sings along too!):

Video: Arctic Monkeys' Matt Helders - "Last Christmas" (live in NYC, December 2009)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Hidden Cameras, Gentleman Reg @ The Opera House, Toronto (December 5, 2009)

The Hidden Cameras @ The Opera House: photo by Michael Ligon
  The Hidden Cameras @ The Opera House: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Dec 12/09, 3:27 pm]: Review posted below.

With transplanted Hidden Cameras frontman Joel Gibb now living in Berlin, any chance to see The Hidden Cameras play live in Toronto is an occasion. Fortunately, the band's found the time over the last year and a half or so to get together to play in their hometown including the Pride Festival in 2008 and more recently an intimate record release show at Goodhandy's in Toronto in September, both of which I was fortunate to go to. Last Saturday, they ended a recent North American tour jaunt in support of their new album "Origin: Orphan" with a spectacularly fun show at The Opera House with their cohort Reg Vermue aka Gentleman Reg opening the show.

At one point during the set, Reg mentions the current tour then expresses that Winnipeg was "fun" with a chuckle prompting a fan to ask with a grin "what kind of fun?". Such was an indication of the looseness Reg exuded on stage in between performances of songs from his most recent album "Jet Black" and other past audience faves. Reg took sips of alcohol from a cup admitting he hadn't drank alcohol in about a three months, then expressed he was feeling a little drunk but in the end Reg and the band got the job done. The incestuous relationship that Reg has with his friends The Hidden Cameras (who he used to perform live with more regularly) resulted in The Hidden Cameras' Joel Gibb, Maggie Macdonald and Laura Barrett joining Reg for a few songs with some added instrumentation and vocals. Ex of The Organ, special guest Katie Sketch also came on stage to provide vocals. Continuing his giddiness, Reg introduced the band members then prompted the audience to clap more for himself. The set ended with members of The Hidden Cameras and other assorted friends lining up near the back of the stage on either side of drummer Dana Snell for a group dance-a-thon. I'll admit my newbie status to Reg's music [at the show, I picked up a copy of his album "Jet Black", as well as his CD compilation of his Three Gut recordings entitled "Little Buildings"], but under the radar for me, he no longer is.

It's not been too long since I've last seen The Hidden Cameras live, that being in September at Goodhandy's where the band performed their new album in it's entirety. Even in those cramped confines, they managed to squeeze in both a vocal choir and small horn section, although both relegated to that venue's balcony which was a interesting setup but a little physically awkward to spectators. Last Saturday, the band brought pretty much the same setup to The Opera House onto one stage, and when all components were actually on stage at one time, it was a pretty spectacular sight. As they did at their last show, The Hidden Cameras donned black hoods as they strolled slowly onstage in the dark during the ominous keyboard drone of 'Ratify The New', it's cacophonic climax leading nicely into the steadied rhythm and melody of "Awoo" track 'Follow These Eyes". Obviously the set focused heavily on the new album but the band squeezed a good selection of older tunes even reaching back to "The Smell Of Our Own" for the crystalline 'A Miracle'. As such it turns out, the ambitiousness of some of the newer material provided somewhat of a counterpoint to some of their older more stripped down indie pop, but in the end it was Gibb's vocals and melodic sensibility that truly tied it altogether.

It seems like the audience were split, even in the literal sense, about their enthusiasm for the band, with Gibb at one point pointing out that the right half of the audience[the left side of the audience from the band's perspective] were much more enthusiastic than other half. I myself was about centre and somewhat expressive about my appreciation. Given that I was close to the front of the stage, I never visually saw how the crowd behind me was acting, but I couldn't help feel like there could have been a little more enthusiasm at times. I remember past Camera shows when the crowd at the front of the stage would turn into an all-out dance party. Such a vibe didn't pervade the entire show this time, but with a little coaxing from Gibb at times and just seeing the collective party atmosphere onstage seemed to coax more of the audience to come out of their shells.

Although the performance of the new album's wasn't entirely sequential it did come to that for the main set's final three songs with the band's dance-oriented 'Underage', their brassy/choral 'The Little Bit' and their melancholy 'Silence Can Be A Headline'. When the band came back for a fantastic cover of Rihanna's 'Umbrella' (which actually had the audience singing along!) and the spirited 'Music Is My Boyfriend' (which ended up with a few of the band on the floor with the audience) it was just icing on the cake. A ghostly choir clad in gold sheets, a horn section, the female members of Reg's band in blond wigs and waving flags and a general giddiness amongst other things combined for a homecoming show that one should not take for granted. Come back soon 'Cams and let's do this again.

Photos: The Hidden Cameras, Gentleman Reg @ The Opera House, Toronto (December 5, 2009)
MySpace: Gentleman Reg
MySpace: The Hidden Cameras

Monday, December 07, 2009

Zero 7, Body Language @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 3, 2009)

Zero 7 @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon
  Zero 7 @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Dec 8/09, 11:45 pm]: Review now posted below.

Last Thursday marked UK's Zero 7's return to Toronto having last played here in 2006 for that year's Virgin Festival. Along on their current tour were Brookly dance trio Body Language.

Body Language were a trio of young indie types (Matthew Young & Grant Wheeler both on keys/vocals and Angelica Bess on vocals/glockenspiel) who played surprisingly effective synth dance pop. The music was reminiscnet of say Junior Boys although perhaps sunnier, based in song and melody but fleshed out with synthetic elements like synths, vocoder and beats and some natural elements like glockenspiel. They had good stage presence, moving and dancing along to their own beats and encouraging the crowd to do the same, although the Toronto audience was typically introverted never really dancing as they could have, although you could sense some people almost wanted to. However, the crowd did show appreciation with their applause.

Prior to this show, I'd seen Zero 7 twice before, the first time back in May 2004 at The Opera House, a truly stunning and enjoyable live set and then in September 2006 at Olympic Island as part of Virgin Festival, a generally disappointing set plagued with delays and technical difficulties. Zero 7's strength for me laid not merely with their sultry downtempo electronic grooves melded with natural and acoustic instrumentation but also with a capable group of vocalists including Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico, although by the time their third album, 2006's "The Garden" rolled around, only Sia was left from the original three. Zero 7's seemingly been a reboot for the trio of vocalists' respective solo careers although with varying degrees of success (Sia seemingly the most successful of the bunch), but the new album, this year's "Yeah Ghost", includes none of the original three female vocalists, and having read some mixed reviews for the new album, made me quite apprehensive about how relevant and or essential they still were. Although for the record, technically, I lost touch with Zero 7 after 2004 album "When It Falls".

While the downtempo aspects of Zero 7's sound are perhaps a little dated in 2009, the live set was quite a melange of musical influences from soul, r n' b, electronica, and folkier, pastoral elements. The vocals were handled more than dutifully, incorporating the soulful, jazzy vocals of vocalist Eska Mtungwazi and the versatile, earthy vocals of folk-artist Olivia Chaney and even Zero 7's Henry Binn. I especially liked Olivia's vocals which while displaying a certain technical prowess still sounded very much natural and inviting - I enjoyed her vocals on 'Pop Art Blue'. While the musicianship itself was impeccable, there was a casual, effortless vibe over the whole set and oft-times expressing a playfulness at least in body language. Focussing heavily on new album "Yeah Ghost" the band also jumped backwards to play select songs from their previous three efforts. If like me, you hadn't bothered to familiarize yourself with anything after their 2004 effort, it turned out to be a generally unfamiliar set(I think the only song I really recognized was their debut's 'Destiny' although which they spiked with a bit more energy than the original's sultrier vibe), but still managed to convey Zero 7's strength adequately. Sultry downtempo grooves, gave way to extended instrumental jams, which gave way to pastoral, folky acoustic, then led to intimate soulful vocal numbers, and finally at the end of the show to a soulful, funky collective dance vibe. The crowd was indeed quite enraptured at times, and the show definitely made up for their disappointing 2006 Virgin Festival set. While the studio may been Zero 7's foray into the music industry(as remixers), over the years and as displayed with this most recent Toronto gig, with a capable group of vocalists, Zero 7 has developed into a highly effective and enjoyable live act.

Photos: Zero 7, Body Language @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 3, 2009)
MySpace: Body Language
MySpace: Zero 7

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Phoenix / A Take Away Show / Paris, France (October 9, 2009)

When it comes to Toronto's oft-hated Sound Academy, there aren't many acts I'd tolerate the hassle and experience of going there but I may have given in for Phoenix if the show hadn't sold out. Still, I had the pleasure of seeing them back in June at the Phoenix Concert Theatres, which was just about the best show of the year. The band were filmed for a Take Away Show for La Blogtheque, riding around on an double-decker tour bus and performing around town in their hometown of Paris, France back on October 9 and the clips were just released to the web a few days ago. Sublime:

Phoenix - Lizstomania / One time too many - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Phoenix - Long distance call - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Phoenix - 1901 - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Camera Obscura, The Papercuts @ Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto (November 26, 2009)

  Camera Obscura @ Phoenix: photo by Michael Ligon
Camera Obscura @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

Throwing around descriptors like 'indie' and 'pop' (and especially when they're conjoined) can sometimes be to the detriment of bands they're applied to. Certainly, they are overused terms but as well they're also wholly inadequate on they're own. Scottish indiepop band Camera Obscura and San Franciscan indiepop band The Papercuts played the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto this past Thursday, but in my opinion could have none been more different.

Opening the show were San Francisco four-piece The Papercuts. Closest point of reference for me was Luna as The Papercuts share a similar woozy, pop-rock sensibility. But whereas Luna's pop takes it's cue from the muted energy of The Velvet Undergound, The Papercuts express their melodicism with a more spacious, dreamy quality. Lead vocalist Jason Quever had the sort of vocals that soothed it's way into your cerebelum, a nice match to the equally soothing pop-rock instrumentation. Despite a few guitar cord mishaps, which eventually seemed to be resolved, it was a good set. As first impression go, they made a good one.

At this point in their career, Scotland's Camera Obscura really need no introduction, especially with their last show in Toronto at Lee's Palace back in June being still fresh in some of our memories. I've had a little more time since then to familiarize myself with their most recent album "My Maudlin Career" and have come to like it a lot. My initial impressions were that it was 'more of the same' - as good though not better than their last album "Let's Get Out Of This Country" which in my opinion was front-to-back a fantastic pop classic. However, with each successive listen of "My Maudlin Career" it reveals itself to be downright fantastic in it's own right. And on that point alone I appreciated the new album's songs more this time than at their last show. Balancing the exhilirating uptempo numbers with melancholy slower material the band touched on their last few albums, reaching back to their debut, "Biggest Blue Hi Fi", for a sentimental rendition of 'Eighties Fan'. But what I could tell from the new material especially was that lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell is singing with ever so slight strength and confidence, certainly not the vulnerable crackle of the recorded version of 'Eighties Fan'.

The one-two punch of 'Lloyd...' followed by 'Looks Could Kill' now seems predictable but still sounded as good as ever. The melancholy slower material almost seemed the most effective such as the new album's 'James', but even moreso the country-ish balladry of 'Forest and Sands' (with the added Toronto-centric lyric of "like a river in Toronto") which popped up during the encore sandwiched between 'Let's Get Out Of This Country' and encore closer 'Razzle Dazzle Rose' stood out for me as the highlight of the night. Unless, perhaps they bring a real string section along next time, there was not much of a visual element to Camera Obscura's stage presence except for handclaps, a shy smile, a tilted head bob from keyboardist Lindsay BoydCarey Lander, and Tracyanne's thick Scottish-accented banter (which there was precious little of this time). It didn't otherwise matter for me or the relatively packed house. It's a treat to see Camera Obscura live when the opportunity arises and am thankful that Toronto continues to be one of the band's regular stopovers.

ps. Thanks for the well-stocked merch table. My new band t-shirt is looking fine and their Christmas single 'The Blizzard' b/w 'Swans', which I picked up on vinyl is fantastic.

Photos: Camera Obscura, The Papercuts @ Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto (November 26, 2009)
MySpace: The Papercuts
MySpace: Camera Obscura