Saturday, December 25, 2010

Favourite Songs of 2010

  still from Young Empires' "White Doves" music video

First of all, Merry Christmas to everyone. So before all the presents hoopla and face-stuffing-with-food begins, perhaps you might fancy some light reading.

This may be my one and only 2010 list this year. These are my favourite songs (most of them being actual singles) of the year, at least the ones I could remember with at least half amount of effort put into it. On the whole, I'd had neither the time nor patience to sit through many new albums this year and as each year goes by it seems I find I'm either spending more time dusting off my vinyl collection (much of it of that late 70's punk / early 80's post-punk period) to listen or get reacquainted with albums I had never spent much time with or catching up with more recent albums such as last year's Reservoir by Fanfarlo, Lungs by Florence & The Machine, or this year's Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons. Yes, every year brings it's own crop of good to outstanding music, but it seems that the enormous attention given to whatever is currently hot is fleeting then everyone is on to something else. The beauty of the single or individual song is that if the time and mood is right, a song can absolutely knock you off your feet or one might find oneself humming the tune for days. These were the ones that fell into that category:

"White Doves" - Young Empires (video)

It's hard to pick my favourite track of the year above all else, but this track by Toronto's Young Empires very well may be it. With a solid drum beat, subtle guitar and keys and soaring vocals and melodies, this anthemic, world-class number never ceases to amaze me.

"Hey Boy" - Magic Kids (video)

Shamelessly pilfers Brian Wilson / Beach Boys influences but with vocals (lead & choral) so charmingly reminiscent of a high school glee club.

"Society" - DVAS (video)

I came across this track only last month but this song, merging an 80's influence with some Daft Punk-isms, by Toronto electro-dance pop DVAS quickly became a favourite. This makes me long for summer.

"Fuck You" - Cee Lo Green (video)

It's funny that I never heard the original of this song until after hearing Gwyneth Patrol's decent though censored version of the song featured in a episode of Glee. Cee Lo Green's version is a stone cold soul classic.

"The Cave" - Mumford and Sons (video)

I was teetering between including either Mumford and Son's "The Cave" or "Little Lion Man". The latter is the obvious single, a consistently urgent bluegrass pop number, but in the end I chose "The Cave". I feel this song in my heart, and have bordered on shedding a tear at times.

"Something Else" - Diamond Rings (video)

Casio beats, electric guitar and vocals combined with one of the most infectious melodies in recent memory make for one of the best songs of the year.

"I Didn't See It Coming" - Belle & Sebastian (video)

With Sarah Martin's delicate vocals guiding this song along, it's pop songs like this that remind me why I loved Belle & Sebastian in the first place.

"Rocket" - Goldfrapp (video)

This unabashedly 80's influenced infectious dance pop track from Goldfrapp is so drastically different from the band's previous material it should qualify as a guilty pleasure.

"Scissor Runner" - Jenny & Johnny (video)

I get all giddy inside every time I hear this song. Lovebirds Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice duet nicely on this track, a country-ish rocker that never fails to get me tapping my foot.

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" - The Arcade Fire (video)

My favourite song of the summer. The Arcade Fire get funky, so to speak.

"Faster" - Janelle Monae (video)

"Tightrope" is the single but "Faster" is the song that made me take notice. Living up to it's song title, it's like a sped-up, Motown number.

"Down In Your Valley" - Dead Letter Chorus (video)

I'd first caught on to this Aussie band when they played Canadian Music Fest in Toronto earlier this year. Their debut full-length "The August Magnificent" came out in Canada in March through Bumstead Record and the song above was the first single. This mid-tempo folk-rock number is nicely sung by vocalist Lee Carey and was one of the most charming singles of the year.

"One Life Stand" - Hot Chip (video)

At its core, it's a pop song but it's made doubly more intriguing and fun by Hot Chip's uncanny ability to intricately weave an array of instrumental sounds both electronic and organic into this fully knit electro pop beauty.

"The East Wind" - Gord Downie and The Country of Miracles (video)

From this year's album "The Grand Bounce", the first single "The East Wind" is melodically and lyrically simplistic but gathers momentum as it goes along. I was first drawn in by the comforting vocals of Mr. Downie and the opening pensive acoustic guitar strains, but then with a "1,2,3,4", the drums, bass and electric guitar kick in to push the song into a higher gear.

"Dancing On My Own" - Robyn (video)

As hummable, electro-dance pop numbers go this was one of the best ones of the year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Young Empires @ Steamwhistle Brewery, Toronto (November 19, 2010)

  Robert Aaron Ellingson of Young Empires: photo by Michael Ligon

I went to check out Toronto electro-rock outfit Young Empires several weeks back at the Steamwhistle Brewery part of the venue's UNSIGNED Indie Music Series. My interest had been piqued by the band's song "White Doves" and after missing multiple opportunities to catch them live when I was in New York City in October for CMJ I vowed to drag myself out on a blistery Friday night down to the Steamwhistle Brewery.

I caught the tail-end of opener DVAS's set and missed the headliner Rich Aucoin, mistakenly thinking that Young Empires were the headliner, so it was a short and sweet night for me. After seeing the band live, what I wrote back in October about my impressions of the band still stood true - "White Doves" remains their piece de resistance, "a fully realized slice of melodic electro post-punk" as I put it, and that makes it one of the best singles/songs of 2010. As a band they did exude a certain amount of energy onstage, with exhuberant guitar playing and keyboard noodling from member Matthew Vlahovich being most notable. While singer Robert Aaron Ellingson made a valiant effort to maintain the urgency of the performance, it seemed he lost track of his vocals because he seemed out off-key at times. I'm interested in seeing what this young band may bring and if they tighten up the loose ends they may just live up to the hype.

Eye Weekly and Lithium Magazine have reviews of the show.

Untold City has uploaded a video clip from the show.

Photos: Young Empires @ Steamwhistle Brewery, Toronto (November 19, 2010)
MySpace: Young Empires

Sunday, December 05, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 23-24, 2010)

  School of Seven Bells @ Santos Party House, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

For the record, let's wrap up my fifth and final day in NYC and CMJ, which took place over a month ago. Perusing some of the notes I jotted down in my iPhone, time and datestamped 2 am on October 24, I wrote:

"Today it was Broadway and back to Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Vegan day party and wandering, the back to the Lower East Side to the Cake Shop, a walk on the QueensWilliamsburg Bridge at sunset, picking up dinner at Tiny's Giant Sandwiches ( ) then night time at Santos Party House. NYC and CMJ it's been swell."

While the previous four days all had it's high points, the fifth day/night was a near perfect experience to end off my trip. The Brooklyn Vegan day party at Public Assembly in Williamsburg began for me with a satisfying solo set from Ted Leo, with the added bonus of Ted asking me to hand him his drink part way through which I did successfully without dropping it and making a fool of myself. I stayed at Public Assembly for a few more set including a satisying though energetically muted set from Australian indiepop group The Crayon Fields with lead vocalist Geoff O'Connor mentioning that their setlist was written up on napkins then made a humourous remark (in his slightly fey, dry tone) that the set would be 'very clean' (or something along those lines). Injecting the festivities with a good dose of energy was Nashville's Heavy Cream featuring a 3/4 female membership who played a thoroughly enjoyable set of old school punk rock and a snarling female lead vocalist. Met a girl who worked at Criminal Records in Atlanta who I chatted with in between sets and then I headed out to the main room which was packed to catch what I could of Titus Andronicus' set. Back to the Lower East Side and Cake Shop I went to try to catch an afternoon set from A Classic Education who's set I either missed or never happened so I grabbed a beer before heading out to wander the neighbourhood. I took a relaxing walk to the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge as the sun went down, then grabbed a delicious pulled pork sandwich at Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop part of which I'd scarf down as I waited for the first band to come on at Santos Party House, for The Windish Agency CMJ showcase.

That final night, while featuring some more than decent acts, also included some sporadic socializing and I guess when one's in a strange city all by one's self, it does somehow motivate one to come out of one's shell. So yes, I did get to talking briefly with a cute Asian local girl with a camera and then a lengthier conversation with a bubbly Chicagoan lovely who I was standing beside near the front of the stage. The music was almost an afterthought, but overall the band lineup made for a musically varied and satisfying evening. Although the first band Los Angeles' Superhumanoids I thought had a terrible name, they did prove to be a satisfying musical act with boy-girl vocals and a dreamy pop sound to boot. Knoxville, Tennessee trio Royal Bangs seemed hell-bent on bringing the rock after the first band, and somehow live seemed a little less interesting than what I'd heard on their MySpace. Local up and comers Cults were the first band I was interested (and as it seemed so were many others in the audience also eagerly awaiting them) this night in seeing live and their stripped down brand of Motown-ish indie pop did impress in the end.

Rounding out the night were two Brooklyn acts that really need no introduction to most of you, first with dream-pop shoegazers Asobi Seksu who played a blistering set with the stage enguled in purplish and reddish hues, then rounding out the night was School of Seven Bells(the duo of Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis, with touring drummer Zachary Saginaw) with their sultry, rhythmic, electro-fied, guitar driven dream pop, who could very well be my new favourite current band if only I ever get around to buying their most recent album, this year's Disconnect From Desires. The occasion was made even more special as the band's drummer Zachary Saginaw announced to the audience that he had something important to ask his girlfriend, and after several tense minutes of waiting for his girlfriend(who was apparently backstage somewhere) to come on to the stage, everyone knew what was about to happen and he asked her to marry him to which she did say yes. The band continued on with an encore, and then it was over. I decided to end things off on that high note, so no late night sets for me since I had to get up the next morning to pack and get to the airport. Much thanks to the random people I met, to all the bands I saw during the festival who put on great sets, and to well the New York City for being it's wonderful, diverse and spectacular self. We shall meet again.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 23-24, 2010)
MySpace: Ted Leo
MySpace: The Crayon Fields
MySpace: Heavy Cream
MySpace: Superhumanoids
MySpace: Royal Bangs
MySpace: Asobi Seksu
MySpace: School of Seven Bells

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 22, 2010)

  Braids @ Cake Shop, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

Ok it's been about a month since coming back from my 5-day long stay in New York City and I still have a couple of days to cover, so I do apologize if these next few posts seem rushed, because well they are. Day four started out with me packing as I unfortunately I had to check out of the Jane Hotel as I was unable to book it for the next few nights, but before checking out I took it as an opportunity to stroll and bike around area which later I'd find out is called the Meatpacking District given its origins at the beginning of last century as home to 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants and nowadays gentrified with boutiques, restaurants, lounges and even an Apple Store. I also got to stroll through the High Line. Other areas of NYC explored this day included Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village, the Kimmel Center at NYU, the Broadway shopping district including the Strand Bookstore (which bills itself as "Home of 18 miles of New, Used, Rare and Out of Print Books"), Union Square (which itself has a history as a site of political activism and on this day the site of the "October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation") and then it was back to Brooklyn to take in part of the day show at the Knitting Factory. Later I'd trek back to the Jane Hotel to pick up my luggage, head over to the Chinatown hotel where I'd been staying for the next few nights, grab some Chinatown eats and then head out for night four of CMJ. And I stil had one more day/night of NYC/CMJ to do.

And at this point I guess I should run down my CMJ happenings on this day but I'll keep it brief since I really I don't have the strength to do do an in depth review. Back in Brooklyn late afternoon, my first stop was Knitting Factory to catch Diamond Rings' set, this being the second time I'd catch Jon live during CMJ. Without the technical difficulties which plagued him during his set at Cake Shop a few days earlier, it was a much more fluid but still brief set. Sporting a Toronto Blue Jay Cap this time around, Jon alternated between keyboards, and guitar, and occasionally busted some enthusiatic, spastic dance moves. Although, the response was appreciative in the spacious(compared to Cake Shop), though only partially filled venue, I still wished the crowd had shown a little more energy.

I decided to stick around for a few more acts, with local Knitting Factory roster band Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers up next. The least 'indie rock' of the bands / artists I saw during the festival, while there were signs of some fans in the crowd, they didn't seem to correct with much of the crowd. I'll admit they do possess some musical merits, especially in the full-throttled vocals of Ms. Shilpa Ray. Instrumentally, Ms. Ray's harmonium playing lays a foundation for the rest of the band who competently contributed guitar, drums and bass. Elements of blues, folk and rock weaved their way through the band's songs so I'm hard-pressed to really categorize them. They weren't really up my alley but if it means anything to you, Nick Cave is a fan, so much so that he invited her and her band to join his band Grinderman for a few recent tour dates. Toronto wasn't one of them, but Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers will be in Toronto in the new year for a set at El Mocambo on April 8 according to The Windish Agency.

With still a little light out this early evening in Brooklyn, I decided to stay for one more act at Knitting Factory which was Wisconsin's Cotton Jones. Forming the core of the band is Page France alum Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw. Nau's and McGraw's vocals melded nicely, with the latter's sweet vocals adding a nice contrast to the former's laidback drawl. The band did have a nice, rustic, indie-folk quality, embellishing their tunes with, instruments like banjo and glockenspiel. The band's current album "Tall Hours in the Glowstream" is out through Suicide Squeeze and the band will be in Toronto for a show at the Horseshoe Tavern on February 26 opening for Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea.

With the day's light now dissipating, I headed back into Manhattan to check in to my hotel in Chinatown, grab a quick bite and then head out again for the night portion of CMJ, which I kept decidely low-key (ie. no club hopping this night. I planted myself at Cake Shop for the night (which was hosting a showcase for local Williamsburg, Brooklyn indie record label Kanine Records), getting there before 10 pm and catching only a bit of Pepper Rabbit's set and would catch only two full sets for the rest of the night before calling it quits. Having multiple opportunities during the festival to catch Montreal's Braids and with nothing else that night really interesting me at that time, seeing Braids was a no-brainer. I hadn't heard a note of them prior to that show, but I was quite aware of how keen some of you are of them, so that was my primary motivation to check them out. Combining an experimental approach with more conventional pop and anthemic qualities, think a marriage between Bjork and Arcade Fire. Definitely on the artier side of my musical tastes - if they ever play The Music Gallery in Toronto, I am there. A video of one of the band's performances at Cake Shop during CMJ surfaced on YouTube - really good stuff. They will be playing Toronto in the new year at El Mocambo on February 19 and I very possibly will be there.

And rounding out the night for me was a shoegaze band from San Francisco called Young Prisms. A genre band to the hilt, as shoegaze bands (or bands for that matter) go, they weren't particularly innovative, but their dreaminess was effective nonetheless. Immersed onstage in light and shadow with a video projection playing out against the band for most of the show, these were particularly fitting visuals for the band's hazy, shoegazey, guitar-drenched, pop music. Similarly, the band's vocals, alternating usualy between band member Stefanie Hodapp bassist Giovanni Betteo, were buried beneath the sonic mix, contributing to the overall dreamy, hazy quality of the music. The perfect soundtrack to play in my head as I left the venue to wander the streets of NYC before heading back to my hotel for a good night's sleep.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 22, 2010)
MySpace: Diamond Rings
MySpace: Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers
MySpace: Cotton Jones
MySpace: Pepper Rabbit
MySpace: Braids
MySpace: Young Prisms

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Vaselines, Schwervon! @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (October 30, 2010)

  The Vaselines @ Horseshoe Tavern: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Nov 8/2010, 11:23 pm]: Review now up.

Connotations of sex dominated the Horseshoe Tavern last Saturday Night with ahem, The Vaselines, the night's headliners, and openers Schwervon! whose band name I'm not aware of its meaning but for all I know could mean something totally dirty. Scottish indiepoppers The Vaselines were in town promoting their new Sub Pop full-length Sex With An X, an album title already keeping consistent with the night's theme.

To be more accurate, it wasn't so much the night's music that was sexually charged as it was the humourous banter from both acts. Due to a family emergency of Dum Dum Girls' frontwoman Dee Dee her band had to cancel some dates including their opening slot for this show, so this is where New York band Schwervon! stepped in. Not as lovey-dovey onstage as the only other husband-and-wife indie rock duo I can think of, Mates of State, Schwervon!'s Nan Turner on drums/vocals and Major Matt on guitar/vocals there was still a cuteness factor to it, especially when Turner stated that her and Major were a couple, as if it was something we should know. It was Nan that kept up the spontaneous banter, with a bit of a nervousness behind it but ultimately endearing, and sometimes funny when she mentioned that they slept with openers The Vaselines the night before. Schwervon! played a decent brand of garage pop with harmonized vocals, for the most part not so serious especially lyrically such as when they sang a song about love and food/cooking. They're definitely of the ilk of indie rock as I remembered it in the 90's ... very D.I.Y., not necessarily instrumentally accomplished but with definitely, or at least occasionally knack for some good songs. Not that indie rock these days is bad, in fact it's very good at times, but it seems today's indie rock is so much more serious.

The first and only time I'd previously seen The Vaselines live was at last year's Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona. Playing a set that was primarily focused on their 'classic' material but also touching on the new album, I remember it being infectious and fun, and full of witty banter. In retrospect also, thinking of The Vaselines also just reminds me the dynamite city of Barcelona that I was in for over a week last year. Last year's set at Barcelona had The Vaselines' original members Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee but was also made extra special as their hired guns for the show were Sons and Daughters' drummer David Gow and Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson and Bobby Kildea on lead and rhythm guitar(or was it bass?) respectively. For last week's set at the Horseshoe, Eugene and Frances were joined by two unknown indivudals to me on bass and lead guitar. Having only been casually aware of their 'classic' material, my impressions of the new material are that they don't differ too much sonically though I will say that live the band come off far more livelier and punchier than on record. I'm one of those fans that want to hear the recognizable material, although I won't necessarily vocalize it unless it feels appropriate, but I was glad to hear tracks like "Molly's Lips", "Son of a Gun", and "Jesus Don't Want Me For a Sunbeam".

Like last year's set at Primavera, one of the most memorable things about last week's show was The Vaselines' Frances McKee totally hilarious and at-times, sexually charged banter. She reminded me of actress Alyson Hannigan's character in American Pie...someone ordinary looking although cute enough but surprisingly a total horndog. If you were a first-timer to a Vaselines show, I'd imagine you'd never guess that Frances' banter would have included topics such as erections or sperm as skin care(yes, you read that last one correctly, even if Frances did not state in so many words)...those two topics should pull in some unsuspecting and ultimately disappointed Google'rs to my site. Ha. Playing off a comment made by Schwervon's Nan Turner earlier who said she and husband had slept with The Vaselines the night before, The Vaselines Frances McKee innocently expressed that yes they love them, then devilishly and cheekily added something along the lines that the bed's was gonna get moist that night. Elton John wrote "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" but if The Vaselines were to rewrite it they'd probably change the word 'fighting' to 'fucking'. And on that note, I'll just end this and say it was a good show for a Saturday night.

Photos: The Vaselines, Schwervon! @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (October 30, 2010)
MySpace: Schwervon!
MySpace: The Vaselines

Music Vice has a review and photos from the show as well as the set list.

Also here's some video from the show courtesy of afternoonsnacks.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 21, 2010)

  No Joy @ Knitting Factory, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Nov 5/2010, 12:18 am]: Review now up for day 3 of my NYC and CMJ trip. Day 4 and 5 still to come and apologies for the delay.

Day three of five in NYC started out on a bit of a goose chase with me planning on checking out the the vinyl records overflowing thrift store The Thing. The only problem was that after googling its Manhattan Ave address I inadvertently pulled up the Manhattan Ave address in Harlem just south of 125th Ave not realizing that the Manhattan Ave I wanted was actually in Brooklyn. So while in Harlem I strolled along 125th Ave taking in some of the sights like Apollo Theater, and the Adam Clayton Powell State Building Plaza, checking out H & M, buying counterfeit Casio G-Shock watch on the street for $10, and stumbling upon some street art just south of 125th Ave which looked like a Banksy but apparently isn't. Subsequently I did venture out into Brooklyn and found The Thing and while there is a tremendous amount of vinyl in it, a lot of it was inaccessible, dusty and or damaged, nothing was in order, and much of it was garbage - still worth it just to see that much vinyl in one thrift store. Quaint part of town Manhattan Ave was as I hopped on the bus to explore the street by transit rather than foot and ended up getting off at a stop near McCarren Park[I didn't see the pool though] before getting back to the subway to catch the L train back to Manhattan. Time to hit a day show.

While I was running a bit late, I was fortunate that the NYCTaper CMJ Day Party at Cake Shop in the Lower East Side was running a little off schedule and therefore I was able to get to the venue before Toronto's own Diamond Rings started his set. On the other hand, because things were running late, apparently due to some technical difficulties with Mr. O'Regan setting up his equipment, he only got to perform four songs[which NYCTaper recorded the set and is offering for download]. A surprisingly full crown was on-hand for the day set and the all-too brief set went over well, but it would not be the last time I saw him during CMJ.

Cake Shop is located on Ludlow St. in Lower East Side, with a variely of restaurants, shops, bars and venues nestled in this hip neighbourhood and as such, another venue Pianos which I wanted to visit was only steps down the street from Cake Shop. Next up on the agenda was to catch Silver Lake, California pysch pop trio Pepper Rabbit at Pianos playing the second floor stage of the I Guess I'm Floating CMJ Day Party. Half the time I hear the term 'psych-pop' and I'm hoping it's not too dated-sounding, but thankfully Pepper Rabbit weren't of that ilk, instead reminding of a band like The Shins who play pop music that's at least subtlely infused with psychedlic or folkier elements. Pepper Rabbit utilized drums, keyboards, and bass and at times used ukelele and clarinet. The band had apparently played Toronto at The Drake Underground earlier in October so I hope to catch them if and when they come back to town.

It was time to start the evening portion of the evening which meant back to Brooklyn for me to catch No Joy at the Knitting Factory where the band would be kicking off the Brooklyn indie record label, Mexican Summer, showcase. This 200-person capacity venue at once felt spacious and intimate. Spacious it was prior to No Joy kicking off their set because there weren't that many people there yet, but it filled up just a tad by the time the band quickly strolled onto the stage and launched into their setlist. Bathed in blue light, No Joy's Jasmine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd were joined by two guys on drums and bass respectively, and proceeded into a set of tunes which have been described as 'doomgaze', merging the hazey, melodic sensibilities of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine with perhaps a tad sludgier touch. The vocals were virtually buried beyond recognition and while I could discern the vocals enough I wished they'd push the vocals higher up into the mix. It was a set made for earplugs which I thankfully had and I'm looking forward to catching them live another time, the soonest opportunity which will be November 17 in Toronto at Parts & Labor. I haven't been to that venue yet but I've heard it's small.

The walk from Knitting Factory to my next stop Music Hall of Williamsburg(for a CMJ Brooklyn Vegan showcase) turned out not to be too bad nor long, and although I'd been on my feet for much of the last few days, I soldiered on and got to the venue as Montreal outfit Suuns were already a little into their set. Previously known as Zeroes, a band I'd first seen live at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in January 2009, I honestly don't remember what they sounded like back then although I'm reminded after reading my old review that the band reminded me of Clinic. That's probably not an accurate comparison but in any case Suuns do seems to have a somewhat proggrish approach to their indie rock, with melodies not quite so obvious, occasionally droning keyboards, a rhythmic quality, and a bit of discordance at times. The band's most recent album "Zeroes QC" was released through Secretly Canadian.

Jersey's Screaming Females were up next and seemed to be the first act that the crowd were really interested in seeing. The band name is somewhat of a misnomer given that the trio only features one female but at least that female is the frontperson, the pint-sized Marissa Paternoster on guitar and vocals. Marissa was a double threat proving the band's name in spades as her somewhat Janis Joplin-esque vocals assaulted the audience while at the same time Marissa shredded licks on her guitar. Musically, there was a little bit of a riot-grrl influence mixed with some garage-y punk attitude but there were also poppier moments as well. Of all the bands of the night they(well Marissa) definitely gave the best photo opps with her expressive, explosive vocals.

The Blow were up next. Previously a duo but now only featuring vocalist Khaela Maricich, I'd heard very little of this project's music in the past but was quickly won over by the minimalist beats and girlpop vocals. With a good arsenal of playful tunes, several which were as Khaela described were about her experience with a one unnamed lesbian Hollywood celebrity (which many of us had guessed was Lindsay Lohan although Khaela confirmed it with us), khaela danced around somewhat ironically, bantered humourously with the audience and ultimately won us over with her songs. I was particularly fond of the lilting "Come On Petunia" and the way she integrated part of The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" into it. A very entertaining set in deed, if not for the music, but at least for her humourous, storytelling. The Blow will be in Toronto for a show at the Horseshoe on November 17 so check it out, which I may just do again.

Rounding out the showcase was Brooklyn's own Pains of Being Pure At Heart. It's been almost 14 months since I'd last seen them live when they played the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on September 7, 2009. Simply, the band excel in what they do which is sublime guy/girl sung indie pop such as the most excellent "Young Adult Friction" which is very well the best indiepop song of the last 10 years. Outside of that, the band don't have much presence although as a guy I must comment that lone female member keyboardist Peggy Wang has an infectious smile and is cute as a button. As difficult it might have been to get anyone to dance, I must say that Pains Of Being Pure At Heart definitely got the audience to at least crack a smile.

Brooklyn Vegan covered its own showcase and has two photosets to share.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 21, 2010)
MySpace: Diamond Rings
MySpace: Pepper Rabbit
MySpace: No Joy
MySpace: Suuns
MySpace: Screaming Females
MySpace: The Blow
MySpace: Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 20, 2010)

  The Drums @ Santos Party House, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

If you look at my photoset for my second day in NYC, you'll see I had a fixation on one aspect of NYC, namely Times Square. As visually spectacular as it was, it's not so much what it was but what it represented for me, namely the diversity and energy that is New York City. I spent a good four hours in the area first taking in a late morning coffee & breakfast at Starbucks and using the free WI-FI there then sauntering around the Square taking photos and absorbing the vibe. Damn, there's a lot of tourists there. If people watching is your thing and your in NYC, you must go to Times Square. Back to the West Village for some exploring, then to the hotel for a late afternoon nap, and later off I was for my second night of CMJ.

One of my favourite new discoveries was Bologna, Italy band A Classic Education playing at Lower East Side venue The Delancey located just shy of the Williamsburg Bridge. Online research has revealed to me that lead vocalist Jonathan Clancy is Canadian born may explain to me why he didn't seem to have an Italian accent when he spoke or sung. There was a sparkling tone to their indie guitar-pop, reminding me a bit of a band like Echo and The Bunnymen. Unfortunatley, I'd only caught about three songs although it was enough for me to make my one and only purchase of the entire festival, their 5-song First EP, in a hand-made cloth CD sleeve.

After a short stop at Other Music, I headed just down the street to get to Ace of Clubs where Canadian electro-act New Look were just about to start. I was impressed by the duo when they played Canadian Musicfest in Toronto this past March, with the irresistibly cool vocals of Sarah Ruba, her subtly effective keyboard arrangements and her cohort Adam Pavao's sumptuous programming and beats. Playing against a white screen backdrop which showed a continual stream of colourful geometric patterns, it was a alot more satisfying visually though harder to photograph, but overall made it a more enjoyable experience. The strapped keyboard slung over Ruba's shoulder while she coyly sung, is one of the sexier things I've seen in a long time. Yes, sometimes music needs to be sexier.

As it turns out, I would spend the rest of the night a bit more Uptown at Santos Party House, a lot of it waiting in line trying to get in to the venue as it was at capacity. As it turns out, I was fortunate enough to get near the front of the CMJ badges line and though they were at that point making even badgeholders pay, I gladly forked over $5[as I'd RSVP before, or else I'd have to pay $10] and got it to catch a few songs of local indie notable Marnie Stern. She definitely had a garage vibe but more often than not expressed a willingness to experiment with vocal phrasing and dynamics. Yes, she is from New York but had I not known that I'd still have thought she felt very NYC - gritty, creative and bursting with energy.

During Marnie's set, she bantered jokingly along the lines about Wild Nothing being up next and hoping for the crowd that they were something rather than nothing. Well, Wild Nothing were definitely something; maybe they should change their name. An unknown entity to me prior, there seemed to be a good number of people in the audience looking forward to them. Wild Nothing, the project of a one Jack Tatum, turned out to be fairly entertaining. They sounded like they came from the same indiepop-school as Brooklynites Pains of Being Pure At Heart, though favouring a slighter cleaner guitar sound most of the time and displaying a slicker level of musicianship. For that latter factor, I sometimes wished the band would loosen up a bit, play rawer, but still they had some great melodies.

For the time I'd been in Santos Party House, I'd never even ventured to the second stage in the basement of the venue, instead sticking it out for the secret headliners of the mainstage who turned out to be buzzy locals The Drums. Caught up in a tremendous amount of press since the beginning of the year, the band had recently played The Mod Club in Toronto which I didn't make it to so to catch them in NYC was a real treat. I'd only previously heard their infectious, though polite-sounding single "Let's Go Surfing" so when the band proceed to turn up the notch during this live set several levels, I was pleasantly surprised. Melodies galore, and tantalizingly succinct guitar lines are the band's main strengths, the band oft compared to The Smiths and Joy Division. As I said, the band really turned it up, seemingly upping the tempos and infusing everything with a good dose of energy. I can't describe lead vocalist Jonathan Pierce's dancing as anything better than prancing; it had a fey quality and felt somewhat affected but hey if that's the way he felt like moving, how can I fault him. At the very least, it expressed how deeply in the moment he was and it really rubbed off on the audience who seemed as energetic as the band were. Excellent way to close off day two of CMJ.

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 20, 2010)
MySpace: A Classic Education
MySpace: New Look
MySpace: Marnie Stern
MySpace: Wild Nothing
MySpace: The Drums

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NYC & CMJ (October 19, 2010)

  Surfer Blood @ The Studio at Webster Hall, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

I didn't realize that my trip to New York City and CMJ last week would have taken such a toll on me this week because outside of work I've been downright pooped so apologies for the delayed NYC / CMJ content. New York City has been on my travel destination list for the last decade but somehow I didn't pull it together until now. It's a spectacular city, full of diversity, culture and history and for the five day and nights that I was there I was intent on absorbing as much as I could, not that it was ever possible to take in everything. But I tried. Day One, NYC started out relatively easy, navigating the transit system (both bus and subway), checking into my hotel, wandering around the West Village, going to pick up my press badge, and strolling through the Washington Square / NYU area of the city. My first CMJ stop wasn't even one that required the press badge or a ticket as it was a FREE CMJ party hosted by MTV and MTVU featuring a four-artist bill down at The Studio @ Webster Hall, an intimate, underground venue.

Opening the night was young Floridian outfit Fake Problems with their spunky brand of power pop. The intimate-sized venue had yet to fill up by then but the band energetically performed nonetheless and the small crowd on hand were appreciative. They sounded like a band that's still in the process of working out their songwriting chops; yes there were melodies, but nothing that ever really stood out as exceptional. And their sonic influences sometimes veered a little too close to punk-pop for my tastes. Not my cup of tea, but with the crowd leaning more towards the young 'uns at least they were liking it.

Up next was the genre-hopping, electro-hip hop diva Dominique Young Unique from Tampa, Florida. With a duo of gents manning keyboard and programming duties, Dominique traversed the small stage from side to side, displaying some decent rapping technique over the disco-y, electro beats that propelled the songs. To Torontonians the best comparison I could make would be to Toronto's Thunderheist. It was a fun set although not entirely unfamiliar given my past concert experiences with Thunderheist (who in my opinion are better, and not because they're the hometown team.) In any case, Dominque and her keyboard / programming pals did work up up sweat onstage and wonders will never cease how more people weren't dancing [at the very least I had the head-bobbing, leg-shaking thing going on). It's not just Torontonians after all.

At this point, it was an interesting trio, local act Francis and The Lights that were up next. With lead vocalist Francis Farewell Starlite looking a little like Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli and acting every bit as soulful and suave onstage, the band have an interesting minimalist approach to funk and soul. There was a restraint on the instrumental side with the approach of the guitarist and a keyboardist who also handled the programmed beats. Beats were simple but effective and even though the guitarist did display some decent guitar work he did it with a Kraftwerk-ian stage presence that left the spotlight firmly on vocalist Starlite who sung and danced and worked up the crowd. Starlite came off vocally sounding like he was trying to emulate Prince and to my surprise rather than sounding awkward or like a joke it sounded good. A very nice surprise.

Rounding out my first evening of CMJ was West Palm Beach buzz band Surfer Blood. Having not played NYC in a long time [I believe they said the last time was at last year's CMJ), the capacity crowd was fully pumped, and the band delivered. I'd been quite taken with their debut single "Swim" a reverb-filled, exhilirating surf-pop tune and their set just confirmed that they do definitely have more than just that first single. To my ear, they're of the alt-pop school, but most definitely sounding like a reverbed-drenched Weezer, influenced by the Beach Boys. I'd read reviews of their past shows being a little lacklustre and I don't totally disagree that this show wasn't exactly visually spectacular but there was something about lead vocalist John Paul Pitts' whole preppy, somewhat geeky garb and his slightly fey stage presence(especially when he was guitarless) that drew out a bit of his personality. "Swim" didn't make an appearance until after the band concluded their set then came back and apologized to the crowd that they forgot to play one more song, the aforementioned one of course. For my first night in NYC, let's say it was just a bit magical, and even moreso when the bubble machine was started up during "Swim".

Photos: NYC & CMJ (October 19, 2010)
MySpace: Fake Problems
MySpace: Dominique Young Unique
MySpace: Francis and The Lights
MySpace: Surfer Blood

Monday, October 18, 2010

CMJ Music Marathon - Official and Unofficial Parties

NYC-bound tomorrow and still in the midst of packing but I am looking forward to CMJ immensely. I'm a bit overwhelmed going through the CMJ schedule and deciding what to pick but fortunately I came across My Free Concert which has JUST ABOUT ALL the skinny on both official and unofficial parties happening during the CMJ Music Marathon this week. And not only that but My Free Concert have partnered with No Pulp Music to host their own 2-night [Tues Oct 19 & Fri Oct 22] shindig at Arlene's Grocery with a total of 16 bands over the two nights and My Free Concert is giving away goodie bags. I haven't even perused My Free Concert's CMJ links in depth - I have me some reading and RSVP'ing to do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CMJ Artist Preview - Younge Empires

The minor media attention given to Toronto electro-dance pop trio Young Empires and their apparently fantastic NXNE show at the Dakota Tavern back in June some how evaded me but now I'm noticing. Actually to be more truthful, music blogger friend Ryan O'shaughnessy (of music site Tunes in T.O.) had mentioned to me back at the end of August that British music publication NME had contacted him for permission to use one of his photos of the band for an upcoming issue, and that was actually the first time the band's name was on my radar. And since their set at NXNE the press on the band has been heating up. More recently having seen that the band is slated to open up for Parisian act Jamaica at Wrongbar in Toronto on October 19 but then also realizing that both acts will be in New York City during the time I'm down there for CMJ, motivated me to sample some of Young Empires' wares. And the verdict? Great stuff. The trio consisting of Matthew Vlahovich, Robert Aaron Ellingson, and Jake Palahnuk, concoct a satisfying mix of guitar, bass, synths, and sampled beats, displaying their best in my opinion on their song "White Doves" a fully realized slice of melodic electro post-punk. Currently, the band remains unsigned but I'm fully impressed by the demos that are currently up on their MySpace site, even if none of the other songs quite match the brilliance of "White Doves". I'm also really impressed with the quality of their music videos which are conceptually interesting and well-shot. I don't forsee this band remaining unsigned for very long and it's quite likely I'll try to check them out during CMJ, sooner rather than later.

For those who'll be in New York City this week for CMJ, Young Empires will be playing a few shows[info from their MySpace]:

23 Oct 2010 - Arlenes /// CMJ
23 Oct 2010 - HypeM Afterhours /// CMJ PureVolume House

And for those of you back in Toronto here's where you can catch them[info from their MySpace]:

19 Oct 2010 - Wrongbar /// with Jamaica
19 Nov 2010 - Steamwhistle Brewery /// Unsigned Concert Series

MySpace: Young Empires
Video: Young Empires - "White Doves" (performance video)
Video: Young Empires - "White Doves" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Against The Wall" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Diamond Rings" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Glory Of The Night" (music video)
Video: Young Empires - "Rain Of Gold" (music video)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

CMJ Artist Preview - No Joy

No Joy

Of all the Canadian acts that are playing CMJ, I may actually make an effort to see Montreal duo No Joy. Made up of members Jasmine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd the duo have already released a 7" through hip Brooklyn-based upstart Mexican Summer. The label is set to release the duo's debut full-length Ghost Blonde on November 16. With a bio that makes references about the band's sound to My Bloody Valentine and Lush, the first influence is particularly strong and as a lover of all things shoegaze-y, No Joy strongly establish themselves as the genuine article. There's an impending presence to first single "Heedless" as the song kicks off with a squall of guitar feedback, before fuzzy guitar strums chug along like a freight train, all the while the girls' vocals remaining buried in the mix almost fighting to get out.

Preorder the group's debut album here.

As an alternative you can also head over to Gorilla Vs. Bear to download the same song as well as an additional song("No Summer") by the group.

According to their MySpace, No Joy will be playing select North American dates through October and November and will be in Toronto on November 17 for show at Parts and Labor with Metz also on the bill. Don't forget your earplugs.

Update: Oops, I should have posted No Joy's CMJ dates the first time so here they are[swiped from their MySpace]:

20 Oct 2010 - CMJ (unofficial party) @ Shea Stadium(Brooklyn) set: 11:45pm
21 Oct 2010 - CO-OP 87 instore performance (Brooklyn), set: 3:00pm
21 Oct 2010 - CMJ x Mexican Summer showcase @ Knitting Factory (Brooklyn)
22 Oct 2010 - CMJ x KXSC, KVRX, CHUO + LA RECORD showcase @ Bruar Falls. set: 4:30pm
23 Oct 2010 - Brooklyn Vegan Daytime show @ Public Assembly (Brooklyn) w/Marnie Stern, Wild Nothing, Heavy Cream, more!!
23 Oct 2010 - CMJ x Gorilla vs. Bear @ 7 Extra Place FREE w/ RSVP set: 7:30pm
23 Oct 2010 - CMJ x Impose Magazine afterparty (open bar!) @ Don Pedro's (Brooklyn) set: 2:00am

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 13, 2010)

Sufjan Stevens @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
  Sufjan Stevens @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Update: Review now up.

With the memories of a thoroughly entertaining Belle and Sebastian show at Massey Hall the night before, it was Sufjan Stevens, promoting his latest album The Age Of Adz which brought me back to The Grand Old Lady Of Shuter for the the second night in a row this past Wednesday. And I could have sworn that the crowd was exactly the same for both shows. The first and only time I'd see Sufjan live was back on September 10, 2005 at Trinity St. Paul's in Toronto and having missed out on tickets when he played an intimate, extremely sold-out show at Lee's Palace on October 1 of last year, I pounced on the presale when tickets went onsale for this show back in August. Presale success was achieved and I snagged a balcony seat, row B and almost smack dab centre to take in Sufjan's show which on it's own terms was as good as the Belle and Sebastian show the night before.

Opening the show was Asthmatic Kitty roster-mate DM Stith. Tall and slim, the young gentleman took up his position at his mic and chair surrounded by the musical gear that Sufjan and band would be using later that evening. Playing a mere four songs that would span about twenty minutes total, Stith adhered to a similar indie-folk sensibility as his roster-mate Sufjan performing the songs with acoustic guitar with smooth fingerpicking technique, but injected his songs with some experimental and electronic creativity using a looper to add some sweeping vocal and guitar effects. Sombre and passionate were Stith's vocals throughout the set. Taking a swig of water from a vessel which he jokingly contained hair spray, he declared that he'd play a song that was easier on his voice, then launching into the autumnal "Thanksgiving Moon". His impassioned vocals combined with the subtle acoustic and electronic instrumentation kept the crowd entranced for the entirety of his brief set. It's sets like these that were made for the acoustics of Massey Hall. His last song was entitled "My Impatience" with Stith at one point during the song singing "tell me when it's over" - no knock on Stith who I and in fact most of the audience thought was fantastic if the audience response at the end of the set was any indication, but there was perhaps a little truth in that song title as I couldn't wait till Sufjan came on.

The stated set time for Sufjan to come on was 9:15 pm so when the lights dimmed at 9 pm I was a little taken back but then suddenly overcome with anticipation. With Sufjan taking centre stage, flanked by two female back-up vocalist/dancers, they were joined by two drummers on drumkits on either side of the stage, plus a guitarist, bassist, a keyboardist, two trombonists and DM Stith on piano and back-up vocals. Adding to the aesthetics was a backdrop that showed various artistic projections[some of which were the paintings of one eccentric American artist named Royal Robertson whom he'd speak about later] throughout the night. The night's setlist was culled almost exclusively from his new album The Age of Adz, the first two songs being fairly dramatic pop-rock exercises, the drumkits on either side of the stage being used to great effect. In response to that Sufjan jokingly promised us a song to lift up our "...spirits after all that drama...", then launching into a song, the far more subtle "Heirloom" which featured the vocal phrase "I'll never let it push your arms no more". This was the night's strength - the ease with which Sufjan could transition between subtle acoustic folk songs and his dramatic, ambitious band compositions. In other terms, jokingly as Sufjan may have put it, the new album deals with his confusion between love and the apocalypse, no more clearly illustrated than with a song like "Vesuvius" where Sufjan namechecks himself in the lyrics, "Sufjan, follow your heart, Follow the flame, or fall on the floor".

Continuing his love vs apocalpyse meme, the end of the set featured a "3 song cyle about love and the apocalypse", ending with the spectacularly infectious and danceable "Impossible Souls" as Sufjan, at times singing with a vocoder, and his back-up singers donned hipster sunglasses and danced gleefully as the backdrop displayed images of Sufjan that wouldn't look out of place in Vice Magazine or a Urban Outfitters catalogue. "Impossible Souls" being the last song of the new album would have been a dynamite ending to the main set, with the deep optimism of the back-up singers singing "boy we can do much more together better get a life get a life get a life" as Sufjan responed with "it's not so impossible". But then Sufjan and band came back to end the main set for real by surprising us with Illinoise favourite "Chicago". That damn near knocked me off my seat but then after a much coaxing from the crowd, Sufjan eventually returned to the stage by himself to give us one more Illinoise tracks, "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois" before ending the night with the serene beauty of fan-favourite "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.". My only criticim of the show really is that the audience remained seated for the entire set. I'd have expected that at least the floors would have gotten up for the danceable "Impossible Souls" but I didn't notice anyone try and that was a shame because Sufjan was certainly getting his dance on, as ironic as his hipster glasses might have been. Overall, I think I like this version of Sufjan over the pep squad leader of the last show at Trinity St. Paul Church five years ago. And hopefully it won't be another five years before I get to see Sufjan in a venue like Massey Hall again.

Photos: Sufjan Stevens, DM Stith @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 13, 2010)
MySpace: DM Stith
MySpace: Sufjan Stevens

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh Canada - Canadian Acts To See During CMJ Music Marathon in NYC (October 19-23, 2010)

  Diamond Rings: photo by Michael Ligon

Having had a splendid week already with both Belle and Sebastian and Sufjan Stevens playing terrific shows at Massey Hall in Toronto, under normal circumstances that'd keep me content for a while. However, the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City is taking place next week from October 19 to the 23 and guess who'll be covering it? Yes, me! Covering it for this blog anyway. I'm not sure yet whether I'll be posting any updates from the front - it'll all depend on what sort of internet access I have available - but hopefully I'll drop a few comments or photos along the way. At any rate, this is my first time to The Big Apple and I am looking forward to some urban exploration, record shopping(The Thing), good eats and whatever nice little surprises might come my way. As a public service to mostly the non-Canadians out there who are attending this year's CMJ Music Marathon here is a sampling of some of the Canadian acts / showcases to check out at this year's festival:

If you are a CMJ Delegate or Badge Holder you could check out the Canadian Blast showcase at Arelene's Grocery (95 Stanton / Les NYC) on October 20 with the opening set kicking off at 8 pm. The showcase will feature pop experimentalist Rich Aucoin, hip hop / soul act Art of Fresh, alt-country outfit The Beauties, folk-rock band Yukon Blonde, and garage pop act Young Rival.

Via The Audio Perv, Toronto 102.1 FM The Edge DJ Alan Cross will host a free Oh Canada CMJ showcase at Fontana's on October 19 and FREE BLOODY CAESARS AND BEER are promised along with a lineup that includes In-Flight Safety, Whale Tooth, Freedom or Death, Gobble Gobble, and Kidstreet.

Not limited to just one showcase, Canadian Blast have a comprehensive list of Canadian acts they are showcasing during this year's festival, and so in addition to the acts above playing the Oh Canada showcase at Fontana's on the 19th, other Canadian acts playing include Spirits, Leeroy Stagger, Parallels, Priestess, New Look, Hot Panda, Quest For Fire, The Rest, No Joy, Red Mass, Suuns, The Pack A.D., Carolyn Mark, Radio Radio, Kate Rogers, Black Feelings, Parlovr, Priestess, Stef Lang, Egyptrixx, Keys N Krates, Two Hours Traffic, the High Dials, Woodhands, and AIDS Wolf. Check out the the individual show details here.

Canadian 'it' boy John O'Regan's alter ego Diamond Rings will be playing an CMJ unofficial day party at Knitting Factory (361 Metropolitan Ave) on Thursday 21 October, with doors at 12:30 pm with The Secret History, Takka Takka, Summer People and Submarine Bells also playing. It's a free show and it's all ages. Event info here.

Diamond Rings will ALSO play:
- Oct 20 CMJ (Stereo Gun Party) @ Santos Party House
- Oct 21 CMJ (Knitting Factory Day Party) @ Knitting Factory
- Oct 21 CMJ (NYC Taper Day Party) @ Cake Shop
- Oct 22 CMJ (Distiller Day Party) @ The Knitting Factory
- Oct 23 CMJ (Bowery Presents Day Party) @ Piano's
- Oct 23 CMJ (Pitchfork #Offline) @ Brooklyn Bowl

MTV Iggy names Montreal's Braids as one of the top ten bands with buzz to see during CMJ while fellow Montrealers the Luyas make's top ten list to watch out for during the festival. Both acts play the M for Montreal showcase at Arlene's Grocery on October 21 along with fellow Montrealer Uncle Bad Touch and Kingston, Ontario's PS I Love You.

Braids will ALSO play:
- Oct 21 PIANOS - Birddog Unofficial CMJ Party w/ Gobble Gobble, Tiny Victories, Computer Magic
- Oct 22 CAKE SHOP - Kanine / Music Slut CMJ Party
- Oct 23 SOUTHPAW - Flavorpill and Pop Mondial CMJ Party w/ Lower Dens, Gold Panda, and Ladies of Storybook Burlesque
- Oct 23 BOWERY BALLROOM - VFW Showcase
- Oct 23 CAMEO GALLERY - CMJ w/ Buke and Gass, Gobble Gobble...

PS I Love You will ALSO play:
- 20 Oct 2010 20:00 Union Hall @ 8:15 (CMJ) [Union Hall Presents...]
- 20 Oct 2010 22:00 Webster Hall - The Marlin Room @ 10:30 (CMJ) [The Orchard Presents]
- 23 Oct 2010 13:00 Cameo Gallery @ 1:00 (CMJ) [twosyllable presents]
- 23 Oct 2010 23:00 Glasslands @ 11:00 (CMJ) [PopGun Presents]

2010 Polaris Prize nominee Dan Mangan plays a bunch of CMJ dates:
- Oct 21. The Mercury Lounge w/ John Vanderslice | 7pm
- Oct 22. Fontana's (Pirate Promotion Showcase) | 2pm
- Oct 22. Brooklyn Vegan / Daytrotter Loft Party
- Oct 23. Piano's (Bowery Presents Party) | 2pm

There's no guarantees I'll make it to most of these[since I'll probably be checking out mostly non-Canadian acts], but it doesn't mean you shouldn't. Although, the free beer and bloody caesars at Fontana's on October 19 is tempting.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Belle & Sebastian, Zeus @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 12, 2010)

  Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Oct 14/2010, 1:02 AM]: Review now up.

Counting yesterday evening at Massey Hall, I've now seen live Glasgow's Belle & Sebastian five times - Kool Haus in 2002, the Coachella festival in 2004 plus a sidetrip that same week to San Diego to see them at the spectacular Spreckels Theatre, and lastly in Toronto at Sound Academy in February 2006. The previous(and only?) time that the group played the wonderful Massey Hall in Toronto was in 2004 but having already seen the group twice that year I decided to bypass the Toronto stop later that year. An err in judgement that was because had I known it would have been another six years before they'd play Massey Hall, I'd have gone to their Massey Hall show in 2004. And so to draw an analogy about airplane travel and the difference of seeing Belle & Sebastian perform in Massey Hall as opposed to the god-awful Sound Academy which they played back in 2006, it was like the difference between travelling first class and economy. The comfort of seeing B & S perform in Massey Hall where just about every seat is a good seat(especially might just off centre, ROW G seat!) was infinitessimally better than the crowded, cramped, uncomfortable, shitty sight-lines experience of seeing them perform at Sound Academy. Comforts aside, this most recent show was the best yet performance-wise.

Opening the show was Toronto's very own Zeus. They expressed their pride for playing the renowned venue as do most band's of their relative obscurity do. I'd somehow never got around to seeing them live, not that there were not a multitude of opportunites so if there had to be a first time to see them, why not Massey Hall? With drums, guitar, bass and electric piano in the mix the four-piece's 70's classic rock influences are definitely apparently, but they also add generous amounts of pop melodies and vocal harmonies. Instrumentally, they performed loose and ragged, especially in the guitar arrangements, and while I've always associated 70's classic rock with not much emphasis in the drumming and usually boring, drummer Rob Baker's playing was punchy and interesting. Keeping things democratic, members Neil Quin, Mike O'brien and Carlin Nicholson all took swipes at lead vocals and switching between guitar and keyboards. The band played a new song that had sort of a 50's doowop melody that fared well with the audience, although prior to the song a lone audience member vocalized their appreciation, before bassist Carlin Nicholson humourously responded it was a new song. The opening slot any time one plays Massey Hall is always a difficult slot to fill as most people are primarily there for the headliners but spending time with Zeus wasn't a shabby experience at all.

As I'd imagined I knew there would be a rush of people towards the front of the stage, but in actuality it was more of a polite and gradual "rush". The politeness has perhaps to do with being Canadian or that's just the trait of Belle & Sebastian fans, but the 'rush' to the front of the stage first started out with only a couple of front-row fans dancing, then a group of young girls congregated off to the left side of the stage, and then after that pockets of individuals seemed to gravitate towards the front. Still there were a good number of people still sitting, myself included, and that was fine. The band's new album Write About Love was released in Canada that very day [I myself snapping up a copy of the vinyl at the merch table just prior to the sho]), and of course the band played several cuts from the album, consigning most of those tracks I believe to the first part of the show. Those are still sinking in, but I did enjoy the track that guitarist Stevie Jackson had the audience participate and sing / "ooh" back-up on. Now that I have the album, I will have to thrown it on to the turntable and give it a listen.

But it's the classic cuts that I think most people wanted to hear. With a 4-member string section in tow, the band performing tracks spanning many of their albums including faves like "Dylan In The Movies", "I'm A Cuckoo" [during which if I recall correctly was when vocalist Stuart Murdoch pulled up a female fan onstage to dance with], my personal favourite "The Boy With An Arab Strap" [during which the band had even more fan participants onstage including the most adorable pigtailed young red-headed girl you ever saw, after which Murdoch gave each an Olympic-style medal], and "Sukie In The Grave Yard". There were also sublime versions of deep album cuts like Dear Catastrophe Waitress's "Piazza, New york Catcher" and one of my faves of the night, an achingly beautiful "Lord Anthony". We also got a cool rendition of the Stevie-sung 2004 b-side "I Believe In Travellin' Light". The main set ended climatically with "Sleep Around The Clock".

Murdoch was in fine form providing humourous banter throughout the evening with Stevie chiming in occasionally. At one point, Murdoch asked if anyone in the audience had been having a bad day prior to the show and one guy chimed in. Murdoch asked the guy if there was anything the band could play, and presumably he'd asked for The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" so after Stevie worked out the chords the band leapt into a totally off-the-cuff rendition of the song, only getting about a minute of two into the song before calling it quits. In any case, it was deeply appreciated by the fans.

A sublime version of "Judy and The Dream of Horses" started off the encore before ending on fan favourite "Me and The Major". With the band's now-deep catalogue of songs, there could have been any number of setlist choices, and part of me is a little disappointed in not getting to hear tracks like "The State I'm In", "Fox In The Snow" and "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love", but the setlist WE DID GET, was deeply satisfying. The pacing of the show picked up as the show progressed with Stuart increasingly in dance mode. I could have gone another hour if the band had the luxury but of course all good things must come to and end. With the last album and tour being around the time of 2006's The Life Pursuit it's felt way too long for the band to be away, but I like many others are so glad they are back.

For more reviews of the show check out The Panic Manual, Exclaim, chartattack, The Globe and Mail, NOW, and Eye Weekly. Update: Chromewaves has a stellar review and photos.

Photos: Belle & Sebastian, Zeus @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 12, 2010)
MySpace: Zeus
MySpace: Belle & Sebastian

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Walkmen, AA Bondy, Blood Feathers @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 9, 2010)

  The Walkmen: photo by Michael Ligon

The various spectrums of rock n' roll were on display this past Saturday night with a trio of acts that were bound to please everyone. It would only take one look at the MySpace URL of first opener Blood Feathers to guess what they specialized in. The Philly outfit were indeed a rock n' roll band of the highest degree, pumping out hard-rocking, r n' b, rockabilly-tinged numbers. Taking a reverse take on The Ramones whose members each took on Ramone as their last name, Blood Feathers' members utilize their each individual last names but take Feather as their first name. Greaser-quaffed lead vocalist Feather Mills did a fine job on lead vocals, but the instrumentation was where it was as the band excelled with with effective drumming, crunchy guitars and the occasional grimy tenor sax. I could have imagined a good rock n' roll dance party going on but the sparse crowd onhand was a little too insecure to break out of their shells.

Next up were Alabama artist AA Bondy (born Auguste Arthur Bondy), one of the buzz acts of this year's NXNE. Buzz-worthy he may have been, but I'd never even attempted to sample their wares before the show, which really is my bad. With two albums already to his name and aprior history with a previous band(Verbena) back in the 1990's according to Wikipedia, I'm way behind the curve, but feel quite fortunate to have caught this set. In stark contrast to the sparse crowd onhand for Blood Feathers, the crowd was decidely more focused on crowding the front of the stage for AA Bondy's set. Unaware that Bondy himself and his two band members(drummer & bassist) were actually setting up their own gear onstage, I was surprised when the trio subtly took to their instruments, the lights dimmed as it would remain for the entirety of the set(frustrating photographers I'm sure) and went on to knock my socks off. There was a Southern strain to Bondy's supple melodies and vocals, while the band churned out the instrumentation in a decidely easy tempo, giving much of the material a dark tone. On the other hand, the band also dabblesd in a bit of dissonant experimentation, reminding me a bit of Sonic Youth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco, as Bondy at times held up his guitar to the amp as it resonated with harsher tones. But in the end it was the song's that really connected and I'll be looking forward to seeing Mr. Bondy either in solo or band form whenever he comes back to town.

The last time NYC's The Walkmen played in town was in July 2009 at Lee's Palace, not the first time I'd seen the band live but it was a show I don't have any specific memories of but generally remember it being satisfying but no more no less. For a band who in my opinion had released one of the finest rock n' roll singles("The Rat") of the last decade, of the few times I've seen them live I don't recall their live sets being consistently scintillating, although I would say that this most current set was their most successful set to me yet. On the tour jaunt for their most recent album Lisbon, there was obvious excitement for the group. The band dressed in dark slacks and white button-up shirts, with a member or two wearing a jacket or blazer, oozed NYC cool without looking ridicously hipster-ish, but the visual aesthetics aside, the focus was really on the music.

There was a balanced approach to the setlist overall. The vibe of the night ranged from skeletal rhythmic numbers like "Blue As Your Blood", to churning rockers like "Victory" and "In The New Year", crooning atmospheric numbers like "Donde Esta La Playa" and "Canadian Girl", and perhaps the band's bread and butter, explosive numbers like "Angela Surf City" and "The Rat". So the organ-fueled and guitar drenched numbers were augmented by drummer Matt Barrick who was particularly solid, occasionally embellishing his rhythms with a shaker or triangle. I still thought pockets of the crowd were frustratingly tame. However, there was definitely some energy dispersed through the crowd and the crowd was indeed vocal for their want for an encore which the band granted first with mellower tune "New Country" performed with just lead guitarist Paul Maroon and Hamilton on vocals, then launching into the explosive "The Rat" which could have satisfyingly ended the night there, but the band ended the night on one more tune. LIke the female concert attendee vocally shouting out her song request, I was hoping they'd also play the mariachi-influenced "Louisiana" [an influence that I noticed more subtly on a few of their other songs] but no dice. The song's probably their next big 'hit' next to "The Rat" so I only thought they'd have played it. All I can say is that like the band's varied sounding ouvre, The Walkmen are full of surprises.

Photos: The Walkmen, AA Bondy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 9, 2010)
MySpace: Blood Feathers
MySpace: AA Bondy

MySpace: The Walkmen

Friday, October 08, 2010

Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto (October 6, 2010)

Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square
  Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square: photo by Michael Ligon

So as the photo above attests to even the pigeons couldn't resist checking out Calgarian indie folk outfit Woodpigeon who stopped in at Yonge Dundas Square for a free noon hour show. It was during last year's NXNE that was the first and only time I'd seen Woodpigeon live, so the free show at the Square this past week was a good chance to get reacquainted with them, even if I couldn't catch everything since I had to get back to work. Coincidentally, with both Sufjan Stevens and Belle and Sebastian coming to town for shows next week, it was those two artists that I was reminded of during what I'd caught of Woodpigeon's set. In particular, their cover of the Paul McCartney / Michael Jackson duet of "Say Say Say" prodded my imagination of what the song would sound like if Belle and Sebastian were to cover it, with spare instrumentation, trumpet and a level of restraint in the vocals[B&S never really do rock out, and yet we still love 'em], but overall performed with a sense of playfulness. But Sufjan Stevens was the one artist I was reminded of more, especially during the band's quieter numbers. Vocalist/songwriter Mark Hamilton mentioned The National Parks Project, a collaboration that happened with him, fellow Calgarian, rapper Cadence Weapon, and Toronto indie-folk artist Laura Barrett which Hamilton described as the trio going camping and writing songs together at which point the band played the song he wrote, a melancholy ukelele number with trumpet, backup vocals, bass and drums. Having to go back to work, I was able to catch the penultimate song of the set which was a nautically themed number about "drowing to death", with mentions of "capsized" and "your ship has come at last", ending in a improvised cacophonous instrumental coda. Yonge Dundas Square is a wholly inappropriate venue to showcase the band, but hopefully there were a few new converts in the audience. And as chartattack reports, the band have released a new album Balladeer/To All The Guys I've Loved Before and a new digital EP, Our Love Is As Tall As The Calgary Tower the latter which you can preview at the band's website.

Photos: Woodpigeon @ Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto (October 6, 2010)
MySpace: Woodpigeon

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 3, 2010)

  Nuit Blanche in Toronto: photo by Michael Ligon

This past Saturday night was the Toronto's fifth annual Nuit Blanche, an all-night contemporary arts festival. I've made it out to every Nuit Blanche except for the inaugural one back in 2006, and this year's one just about the chilliest, but at least the rain held off. I made a conscious effort to try to avoid the crowds as much as possible so I started out in Zone C in Liberty Village and Parkdale before heading west to Downtown Toronto to check out the multitude of installations in Zone B. I've read much criticsm that the quality of this year's installations was not as good as past years and I do agree but at the same time I still felt there was much to be appreciated this year given you went in with an open mind. I read criticisms from people that they thought the multitude of projection-based installations were not 'art' but that whole notion is silly because I think most if not everything I saw during the night was art. I don't pretend to be an expert but my understanding of art is that through whatever medium the artist chooses, he or she is attempting to express some meaning. I guess what people/critics really meant to say was that they'd have preferred less projection-based installations and more of whatever else they may have been expecting and that's a valid preference. Perhaps, the organizers of the event will take that in to consideration for next year's edition. I myself would prefer even more sound installation as the one's I took in this year were interesting. But aside from the quality of the actual installtions, what continues to excite me is the whole concept of seeing these installations in public spaces that are more often than not mundane, presenting the city in a different light as well as providing me an opportunity to see parts of the city I'd never seen up close. So whatever your opinions were of the event, well they're your opinions. I don't see Nuit Blanche escaping its polarizing effect in the future, but in my opinion, Nuit Blanche's ability to provoke discussion, good or bad, is one of the things which is going to draw crowds to the event for years to come.

Photos: Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 3, 2010)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Teenage Fanclub, Elephant Stone @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (September 23, 2010)

  Norman Blake & Gerard Love of Teenage Fanclub: photo by Michael Ligon

It's been a good five years since Scottich power popsters Teenage Fanclub last played Toronto touring their last album Man Made but with a new album to promote entitled Shadows, the band have once again hit the road, last week stopping in for a two-night stint at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. I was fortunate enough to take in the second night.

Opening the show were Montreal's Elephant Stone. Brainchild of Rishi Dhir, a founding member of Montreal psych-pop veterans The High Dials, Elephant Stone mined similar pysch-pop territory with the usual bass, keys, guitar, and drums but infusing their sound at times with sitar. With Dhir on sitar sitting on a raised platform onstage was somewhat of an odd spectacle in the Horseshoe Tavern of all places, and while Dhir's sitar licks were admirable, I found the instrument a bit at odds with the band's instrumentation at times - on a decent track like "Savage Soul", for me the sitar sticks out like a sore thumb. It was actually the sitar-less songs that made the stronger impact on me. It's probably no coincidence that given the band's name, they reminded me a lot of The Stone Roses circa their debut album and ultimately that provided me a level of satisfaction. But on the other hand, given the choice, I'd still rather listen to The Stone Roses.

Rereading my review of Teenage Fanclub's last show in Toronto at The Mod Club on July 25, 2005 I was reminded of my observations of the band at the time having grown older are far different from the scruffy long-haired lads I'd seen when they appeared on Saturday Night Live back in the early 90's. Five years later and that hasn't change; and in the case of vocalist Norman Blake, he's postively looking Dad-ish. On the other hand, Gerard Love looks as boy-ish as ever, while lead guitarist Raymond McGinley has cropped his hair from the last time he was in town and looking somewhat more dapper these days. Filling out the band was drummer Francis MacDonald and a touring keyboardist/guitarist.

After kicking off the set with a nice rendition of "It's All In My Mind" from Man-Made, the band played a song off the new album Shadows entitled "Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything" which I'd not heard previously but did maintain my belief that The Fannies are as relevant and vital as they ever were. Then the band cranked up the guitars for Bandwagonesque favourites "Alcoholiday" and "Star Sign". It's no doubt that the band has mellowed over the years especially on new album set inclusions like "The Fall" and "Baby Lee" and encore inclusion "Sweet Days Waiting" but it's something I'm willing to accept so long as their setlist(like last week) still includes more upbeat and or harmony-laden favourites like "Don't Look Back"(one of my personal faves of the night), "I Need Direction", "Ain't That Enough", set closer "Everything Flows", and encore closer "The Concept". A deeply satisfying evening from one of the best bands ever. With lead vocalist Norman Blake now residing in Kitchener, Ontario with his wife who is Canadian, I still don't expect The Fannies to be playing Toronto that often given the rest of the band is still based in Glasgow, Scotland, but perhaps we'll get some solo shows from Mr. Blake every now and then. You know, I'm starting to see a trend. Norman marries a Canadian and moves to Canada. Mr. Joe Pernice (of The Pernice Brothers) did the same thing(ie. marry a Canada and move to Canada) a few years back. Not that I'm condoning all our good Canadian women being swept up by non-Canadians but hey if it means bringing up a few good musical artists up our way, that might be worth it.

Photos: Teenage Fanclub, Elephant Stone @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (September 23, 2010)
MySpace: Elephant Stone
MySpace: Teenage Fanclub