Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hot Chip, The xx @ Kool Haus, Toronto (April 20, 2010)

Hot Chip: photo by Michael Ligon
  Hot Chip: photo by Michael Ligon

A super-hot bill touched down at Kool Haus last week with UK trio The xx and UK electro-dance-pop outfit Hot Chip entertaining the masses. Having recently headlined their own show at the Phoenix earlier this month, I've not much to add about The xx which I haven't already said. While the band's minimalist pop tendencies were still there, there seemed to be more emphasis on their grooveability especially in Oliver Sim's swaying bass lines and Jamie Smith's keen drum machine rhythms. Overall, they seemed more loose and less precise than they come off on record or compared to their show at the Phoenix earlier this month. After that, the crowd was fittingly warmed up for the Hot Chip dance party.

For the record, I'm late to the Hot Chip bandwagon. It was the band's nuanced cover of Joy Division's "Transmission" (including perhaps the most sublime use of steel drum I've ever heard) off the 2009 "War Child - Heroes" compilation which got me to take notice(having since sampled and or purchased their second and third albums respectively, "The Warning" and "Made In The Dark") and since then I've discovered the band's amalgam of organic and electronic instrumentation, creating pop music that is at once cerebral and danceable. The band's most recent album entitled "One Life Stand" had the band hitting the road once again, and fresh off an appearnce at this year's Coachella festival, the band took to the Kool Haus stage last Tuesday night.

It's hard to put it any more succintly than that Hot Chip put on one hell of a dance party. Vocalist Alexis Taylor dressed in a "Wham" band t-shirt, gold(?) trousers and wearing Wayfarer-looking glasses, sang with a certain level of restraint(as he does on record) but his vocal style seems to compliment their music well. It's none more apparent than on their infectious newest single "One Life Stand", a satisfying blend of rhythmic beats, sultry electro/organic instrumentation and singable lyrics. In addition to their several banks of keyboards, their programming setup, drums, and guitar, they added sultry bits of steel drum and french horn. The latter mentioned instruments only add to the band's music geekery and let's face it, even aesthetically, they aren't the hippest looking bunch. But man did they rock the house. While I'd got to the venue not exactly early, I managed to squeeze up front, albeit the right side of the stage(facing the stage) to bear witness to the dance party that proceeded for the next 80 minutes. Fantastic.

Photos: Hot Chip, The xx @ Kool Haus, Toronto (April 20, 2010)
MySpace: The xx
MySpace: Hot Chip

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sloan @ Sonic Boom, Toronto (April 17, 2010)

Sloan: photo by Michael Ligon
  Sloan @ Sonic Boom: photo by Michael Ligon

Last Saturday was Record Store Day and in celebration of that I took to the streets of Toronto with no real itinerary in mind other than to go to a few record stores and perhaps to take in an instore session or two. I made it out to Rotate This, Criminal Records and Soundscapes in that order picking up the alternate version of Pavement's "Quarantine The Past", the vinyl of the new Goldfrapp album "Head First" and the Ted Leo & the Pharmacists' 7-inch containing two unreleased tracks, "The Oldest House" b/w "North Coast". Subsequently, I'd also checked out BMV Books where I managed to snag a used copy of the vinyl of The Arcade Fire's "Funeral" as well as scoring a bunch of issues of comic "Optic Nerve" [btw, I only need the first issue to complete the series], and then went to Sunrise Records. For the rest of the afternoon, I ended up checking out a few other non-music-related stores and killing some time. Ultimately, a decision had to be made whether to head to Criminal Records for 7 pm for a surprise instore by The Tallest Man On Earth or go straight to Sonic Boom for Sloan who were headlining the store's Record Store Day festivities at 8 pm and in the end I chose the Canadian boys.

Rather than play in the basement of Sonic Boom were the instore performances were usually held, a stage had been set up on the main floor about half way back into the store. For some reason, I'd manage not to notice the stage on the main floor and instead headed downstairs where it was surprisingly sparse. It was only because of applause that I'd heard from the main floor that something indeed was happening upstairs, and then it occurred to me that maybe I should head upstairs. And indeed that's where Sloan would be playing. First, though MC of the day Pink Eyes from Fucked Up (with I believe his baby boy in a sling on his stomach) concluded his duties of the day by handing out a few more raffle prizes and then Sonic Boom owner Jeff Barber said a few thank-you's and introduced Sloan.

Over the last several years I've seen Sloan in venues big and small, having seen the band live three times in 2009 including at Mississauga's Library Square, the main stage at Virgin Festival at Molson Ampitheatre, and an Argos tail-gate party stage setup outside of Air Canada Centre. Going back to 2007 they played a stage at Nathan Phillips Square as part of Toronto's WinterCity Festival. Sonic Boom was the most intimate setting yet and the guys used the opportunity to play songs that they rarely and or had never played live. The set list was culled entirely from a few of their recent digital-only releases including 2010's "B Sides Win: extras, bonus tracks and b-sides 1992-2008" and 2009's "Hit and Run" EP. Except for set-opener "Laying Blame", I didn't recognize anything else but it was obvious that some of their rarities were just as strong as their singles or album cuts. The analogy that Jay Ferguson drew of the band's rarities setlist, some of which the band had never played live, was like the band had studied for an exam and were about to take the test was a humourous comment but then listening to the band subsquentently play, one could tell how tight of band they still are compared to the slacker, indie-rock band they began as almost twenty years ago. It's understandeable that the band is in retrospective mode at the moment, but I'm looking forward to whatever their next album brings.

Don't fret if you missed Sloan this time as they'll be back in June to play Yonge Dundas Square, on a date TBD, as part of this year's NxNE.

Photos: Sloan @ Sonic Boom, Toronto (April 17, 2010)
MySpace: Sloan

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Florence + The Machine, Holy Hail @ Kool Haus, Toronto (April 10, 2010)

Florence Welch: photo by Michael Ligon
  Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine): photo by Michael Ligon

Update[April 20/2010, 12:16 am]: Review now up and sorry for the delay, but I've have had other things take priority recently.

Back in January I made it known that UK's Florence + The Machine's debut album "Lungs" was quite possibly the best pop album of 2009 and should have been on my Favourite Albums of 2009 list. The only thing is that I didn't get around to listening to her until the beginning of this year. The exhaustion of keeping up with new artists was the only reason I'd ignored her for so long even given the buzz she garnered locally, culminating in her sold-out debut Toronto appearance at The Mod Club a the beginning of November of last year. Originally her followup Toronto appearance was slated for the Phoenix, a natural progression for international up-and-comers who come through Toronto, but apparently she's much more popular than that as the show ended up being moved to the larger Kool Haus and sold out. And how good was the show considering the 2500-capacity venue it was in and known for it's less than desirable acoustics? Couldn't pay enough attention to the acoustics to notice, especially wearing earplugs, but lead singer Florence Welch displayed a confident and energetic stage presence that complimented her thoroughly engaging, full-throated vocals.

Hailing out of Brooklyn were opener Holy Hail. The four-piece split equally between male and female members played a set of DIY pop music merging garage rock amateurism with at times electro-beat embellishments. Initially seeming to hip for its own good, focusing more on textures than melody, that did eventually change as melodies, simplistic as they were, eventually revealed themselves. The charming, indie-rock casual vocals of lead vocalist Cat Hartwell were also a highlight. The band ended their set with a quirky double dose of Perry Farrell, first with Porno For Pyros' "Pets" which then segued into Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says". They didn't necessarily own the stage and are more suited for a smaller venue but for those who did pay attention, the band seemed to go over well.

What's so particularly interesting about 23-year-old vocalist/songwriter Florence Welch is how much confidence she oozes both in her songwriting and as a live performer, and the latter was on display at the Kool Haus a week ago. Dressed in black short shorts and a sheer black top, at times wearing a black-rimmed hat which she later rested on her mic stand, and also at times draped with a veil-like shawl/cloak around her shoulders and or head, she at once oozed mysticism and sensuality. Similarly, her vocals ranged from a Kate Bush-like semi-ethereal quality to throaty blue-eyed[ok she has green eyes in reality] soul and such versatility kept the crowd engaged for a good 80 minutes. Keyboardist Isabella Summers provided enchanting background vocals. From my vantage point from the right side of the stage(facing the stage) it was hard to see and or pay attention to the rest of the band except to recall they were a tight outfit. Nevertheless, at the centre of attention was Ms. Florence Welch as she danced and swayed during most songs, as well as engaging the audience with heart-felt thank-you's and occasional humourous banter. While the setlist on paper seems a little paltry, it(including the encore) was in fact a satisfying 80-minute show, leaving some of the best songs for last. The main set ended on a delirious high note with the energetic "Dog Days Are Over" with Welch motivating the audience to jump up and down on cue during the song's energetic second half - my jumping up and down at shoes have been limited but during this song it just felt so good and so right. The encore featured the soulful "You've Got The Love" before Florence + The Machine ended the night with a stirring "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)", again with Welch's encouragement towards audience participation for the crowd to raise their hands on cue when she'd pointed to different parts of the audience. Definitely one of the best shows of the year so far. Raise it up she did.

Photos: Florence + The Machine, Holy Hail @ Kool Haus, Toronto (April 10, 2010)
MySpace: Holy Hail
MySpace: Florence + The Machine

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fanfarlo, Lawrence Arabia @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (April 9, 2010)

Fanfarlo: photo by Michael Ligon
  Fanfarlo: photo by Michael Ligon

Update[April 15/2010, 11:15 pm]: Review now up.

When Fanfarlo had to cancel their debut Toronto appearance(due to Simon of Fanfarlo having his passport stolen) which was originally to take place back on December 15 at the El Mocambo, I'm sure some people were bummed. Although I'd heard of them even before that, I'd been slow to catch on but the cancellation did give me an opportunity to catch up. After picking their 2009 debut "Reservoir", I was immediately smitten and made a beeline to pick up a ticket to their show which had eventually been rescheduled for the larger Lee's Palace on April 15. Comparisons to The Arcade Fire aside, Fanfarlo do create a satisfying blend of string-laden and sometimes horn-augmented, indie-folk rock. As if we really needed another one of those bands, but in this case they are essential because they write the most tuneful melodies.

I must work on being less cynical about opening bands I don't know as nowadays more often than not I don't make enough of an effort to show up early enough for them. Having sampled Los Angeles Robert Francis rootsy, folk-rock on his MySpace, it's hardly innovative but possesses a sincere passion and is well-executed.

My arrival to the venue was just prior to second openers, New Zealanders Lawrence Arabia. Perhaps it was my cynicism of openings bands I'd never heard of, but at first I didn't find Lawrence Arabia that compelling. What I did appreciate about the band immediately was their musical influences, one foot continuing in the rootsy, folk-rock direction of first opener Robert Francis, but the other foot squarely within the rich New Zealand/Flying Nun quirky pop influences. While the beginning of the set seemed less essential, the band soon found their stride having saved their better songs for remainder of the set, with a good melodic alt-country tune or two and more quirky, yet tuneful pop-oriented material.

These days some bands don't look like bands. Case in point, Vampire Weekend whose collegiate, preppy wardrobe doesn't exactly scream rock-star although perhaps is more equated, at least currently, with hip indie fashion. Similarly, when Fanfarlo walked out onto the stage in their khakis and pastel-coloured oxford shirts, with vocalist Simon Balthazar wearing boat shoes and multi-instrumentalist Cathy Lucas wearing sensible tassled shoes, it was hard to tell if there was an element of irony in their wardrobe. On the other hand, I didn't mind it at all - I myself have added a couple pairs of boat shoes to my wardrobe recently. Still, if the preppy wardrobe had put you off at least you'd be pleased to know that bassit Jusin Finch was rockin' a substantial tatoo on his forearm - and he also had a rockin' moustache, if that's you're thing. With drummer Amos Memon's bass drum emblazoned with their band name and the back wall of the stage adorned with illuminated multi-coloured vertically-hung rectangular strips of fabric, the audience was clearly adulated for the band's arrival.

To bring up Arcade Fire again, Fanfarlo clearly resembled them most on "Drowning Men" right down to the collective percussion and spirited tempo, and the song's general texture which reminded me a lot of Arcade Fire's "Rebellion". However, as the band did show, they clearly aren't copyists - for example, Simon's vocals are clearly swoonier than Win Butler's. While elements of the band's sound may be similar to Arcade Fire at times or to other bands. Fanfarlo do have an album's worth of stellar material that stands up on its own, combining standard rock instrumentation with trumpet, violin, and keys, and utilizing group vocals, although more often than not, the focus alternating between Simon's swoon and Cathy's enchanting timbre. The band's physicality on stage showed a bit of restraint, a bit disappointing when you expect the band to really let loose on their most urgent songs. On the other hand, with songs as good as "I'm A Pilot", "Drowning Men", "Ghosts", and "The Walls Are Coming Down" staying true to the recorded versions was almost more than enough.

Photos: Fanfarlo, Lawrence Arabia @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (April 9, 2010)
MySpace: Robert Francis
MySpace: Lawrence Arabia
MySpace: Fanfarlo

Monday, April 12, 2010

Land of Talk, Adam and The Amethysts @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (April 8, 2010)

Land Of Talk: photo by Michael Ligon
  Land Of Talk: photo by Michael Ligon

Update[April 13/2010, 11:45 pm]: Review now up; photos now up also.

When Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell lost her voice in September 2008, the band was forced to cancel a few tour dates including a date at Lee's Palace on September 27. They made up that cancelled show when they played the Horseshoe Tavern in early 2009 on January 15, at the time promoting the release of their debut full-length album "Some Are Lakes". From that show, I recall noticing Powell's vocal difficulties but the trooper that she was she held back if only slightly but still sang a fine show. Soonafter the band took a break from touring and the band evenutally released a new EP entitled"Fun and Laughter" at thed end of October 2009. It's been well over a year since I'd last seen them live and for their most recent show at Lee's Palace last week, it was good for the band to promote their new EP. God knows I hadn't been paying attention and didn't even know they had a new EP. Now I know - and it's a good one.

I was a little surprised but at the same time not surprised, if that makes any sense, that the Thursday turnout for the Land of Talk show last week was so good. As far as I recall, I don't think advance tickets at any of the local record stores sold out. There was a healthy attendance for fellow Montrealers Adam & The Amethysts and by the time Land of Talk hit the stage it felt like like a sold out crowd, at least from my near-the-stage vantage point looking back. But then given that it'd been over a year since the band played in Toronto, I presume there was many a fan looking forward to this show. My one and only time seeing Adam & THe Amethysts live was at the Silver Dollar back in June of 2008 during NXNE and had featured a full band, but this time around it was just Adam and one Amethyst with Rebecca Lessard on cello accompanying Adam Waito on guitar and vox. I have a little regret showing up to their set barely catching their last two songs. Down to a duo for this show, there was a nice minimalist chamber-pop quality to Adam's tuneful, casual pop songs. I would have liked to heard more but from the crowd reaction at the end of the set it seems for those who caught more of the set than me, the duo went over well. At least the wait for Land of Talk wouldn't be long.

For all the vocal problems Elizath Powell's gone through, there was virtually no hint of them at their show last week. With Powell's raspy vocals as strong as ever, and with the band's now established current rhythm section of drummer Andrew Barr and guitarist Joseph Yarmush playing with a renewed sense of vigor(and also joined at times by Adam Waito on guitar), the audience's warm reception to the band's first show in Toronto in over a year was more than deserved. Hitting just about every song expected from their two EP's (2006's "Applause Cheer Boo Hiss" and 2009's "Fun and Laughter") and their full-length (2008's "Some Are Lakes"). The one song I don't recall them not playing that I would have wanted was "All My Friends" but otherwise it was a most satisfying set list. While the band's penchant for urgent, gritty, tunefulness was mostly on display it was with the slowed-down rootsy leanings of 'Troubled' that was practically the highlight of the evening for me.

The night wasn't without it's technical mishaps. Not that I'd noticed, but it seems one of the amps(Liz's monitor) had been off, but then with the flip of switch, and a signal to the sound guy that everything was alright, things got back on track, but not that anything had ever been off track for me. Of course, the band came back to play a few songs for their encore, ending off the night with a rendition of Big Star's "Thirteen" featuring the trio moving closer to the front of the stage, doing 3 part vocal harmonies into one mic, and Yarmush on acoustic guitar. Even though it was Land of Talk, I had some initial reservations - there was always the possibility that their cover would have been run-of-the-mill, but thankfully it turned out that the the three-part vocal harmonies were beautiful and the overall performance including Yarmush's "Thirteen" guitar solo, inspired. Icing on the cake.

Photos: Land of Talk, Adam and The Amethysts @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (April 8, 2010)
MySpace: Adam and The Amethysts
MySpace: Land of Talk

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The xx, jj @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (April 4, 2010)

The xx: photo by Michael Ligon
  The xx: photo by Michael Ligon

It being Easter last weekend I almost forgot about The xx show happening the night of Easter Sunday. It was at the Love Is All show at Horseshoe Tavern the previous night that Tom M. reminded me that The xx show was indeed happening the following day. Realistically, I probably would have forgotten. So after spending the afternoon into early evening of Easter Sunday with family, I headed down to the Phoenix for the night.

I missed LA DJ Nosaj Thing, but if I'm correct in assuming, it was a DJ set right? If it was, did he spin his remix of The xx's "Islands" or perhaps his remix of our very own Drake's "Drake Forever"?

It was a decently packed house when I arrived wit Swedish duo of jj already into their set. The duo consists of guitarist Joakim Benon and vocalist Elin Kastlander. With prerecorded backing tracks there was not much activity on stage except for Elin singing and Joakim playing a bit of acoustic guitar or some peculiar dancing so perhaps it was a bit wise that they had a video projection backdrop to keep us a bit interested. The duo's rhythmic, ethereal pop is interesting enough, but that live set tanked in my opinion.

If I'd had more forsight back last year, I'd have jumped on The xx bandwagon sooner. When they rolled through town late last year, opening for Friendly Fires, I'd initially passed on the show because I wasn't too familiar with The xx. And of course that show sold out after I decided I wanted to go. I'd given them a few listens but initial impressions were that their minimalist tunes sounded a bit calculated. Subsequent listens were however more gratifying. Built on a bed of simple beats, skeletal guitar and bass, and enticing melodies, the group songs manage to draw from a several genres like r n' b("Basic Space") and post-punk ("VCR"). At their best(say for example "Shelter") the tension that is achieve absolutely mesmerizing.

The band consisting of Jamie Smith on drum machine/programming, Romy Madley Croft on guitar and vocals, and Oliver Sim on bass and vocals began the show behind a white sheet that hung across the stage as the silhouette was cast against while they performed the stellar opening of "Intro". When the sheet dropped it revealed the group huddled around Jamie's electronic setup, illuminated only by the band's name "XX". Romy mentioned that the show that night was the anniversary of their first headlining show. For the remained of the show it was a challenge to ignore the chatter from the back crowd and stay attentive to the group's subtle, tension filled tunes and I will say for the most part I was successfully in ignoring the former and enjoying the latter.

Although the group weren't the most animated, their demure stage presence did somehow fit the mood of the songs. Romy was the least expressive of the trio, but on the other hand Oliver had a expressive swaying posture in his bass playing. While I wouldn't have known from listening to the record, I can appreciate Jamie's nimble handling of drum machine duties better after seeing them live. On a side note, I've recently seen a drum machine in person and it's more complicated than I would have imagined.

Highlights of the evening were their silhouetted performance of "Intro", their mesmerizing performance of "Shelter", their Bronski Beat-"Smalltown Boy" keyboard intro to "Infinity" (no, I wasn't imagining it) and their haunting cover of UK artist Kyla's "Do You Mind". The band came out for their encore consisting of their song "Stars" complete with a starry illuminated backdrop outlining a large 'X' behind them. Musically and visually satisfying, I'm looking forward to seeing them again when they play a rather larger stage at Kool Haus on April 20 when they open for Hot Chip.

Photos: The xx, jj @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (April 4, 2010)
MySpace: The xx

Friday, April 09, 2010

Japandroids, Love Is All, The Two Koreas @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (April 3, 2010)

Japandroids: photo by Michael Ligon
  Japandroids: photo by Michael Ligon

Last Saturday night at the Horseshoe Tavern presented a triple-bill that musically varied from artist to artist(from local post-punk outfit The Two Koreas, to Swedish skronk-pop group Love Is All, and Vancouver indie-punk guitar-drums duo Japandroids) On the other, what the bands had in common, were energy, although the opening bands couldn't surpass the intensity of the audience response during Japandroid's set. Two words - body surfing.

Although I'd arrived during The Two Koreas set partway I'd imagine there wouldn't have been much difference had I arrived right at the start. The Toronto outfit don't stray very far from their influences, most obviously The Fall especially in lead vocalist Stuart Berman's Mark E. Smith sing-speak. Musically, they achieve an urgent post-punk racket with solid drumming, steady bass rhythmns, and alternately wiry and brashy guitar playing. But for the number of times I've seen the band through the years, while I do enjoy the band on one level, there's an element of diminishing returns - like listening to Stereolab(who I like alot) who with each successive album seem less and less to surprise me.

It was Sweden's Love Is All who were the main draw of the night for me. It was strange to see Love Is All not playing as headliners as they did at the same venue in December 2008. It seemed barely half an hour that the band ended up playing but within that time the music felt even more deliriously energetic than ever. Pint-sized vocalist Josephine Olausson singing was bright and enthusiastic, frequently on keyboard but occasionally tapping out some rhythms on a cowbell. The band on bass, guitar, drums and sax, were in good spirits and played energetically. It's funny that while there was a certain enthusiasm within the crowd, there was also a level of restraint that was a little disappointing. The band is currently promoting their newest album "Two Thousand And Ten Injuries" out through Polyvinyl which(from the songs I've heard) don't nearly match the brilliance of their debut album "Nine Times That Same Song" or the satisfaction of 2008's "A Hundred Things Keep Me Up At Night" but I'll definitely give it a chance.

Headlining the night was I(Heart)Music Poll fourth hottest band in Canada of 2009, Vancouver guitar/drums duo Japandroids consisting of guitarist/vocalist Brian King and drummer/vocalist David Prowse. The fan set up adjacent to vocalist Brian King wasn't likely just for effect (although the wind did cast a cool effect upon Brian's shaggy locks) as the band's set (or more accurately the audience) collapsed into pure chaos, broken beer bottles on the floor, body surfing and all. Initially, I'd been near the front(with camera in hand) but soon head to fall back(then later towards the left side but closer to the stage). Rare do I see body surfing at the 'Shoe but the mosh pit was intense as one could get in the confines of the venue and the body surfing was persistent. Although this wasn't an all-ages show, it felt like one, and I imagined the mostly-young twenty-somethings thinking as they moshed and body-surfed, adulthood's a drag. Enjoy your youth. Signed to Polyvinyl in 2009 with their debut full-length "Post-Nothing" released that year(released in Canada through Unfamiliar Records), the band will be releasing in May an EP's compilation entitled "No Singles".

Photos: Japandroids, Love Is All, The Two Koreas @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (April 3, 2010)
MySpace: The Two Koreas
MySpace: Love Is All
MySpace: Japandroids

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Shearwater, Wye Oak @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (April 1, 2010)

Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater: photo by Michael Ligon
  Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater: photo by Michael Ligon

Strangely, for a bill as strong as the one last Thursday at Lee's Palace featuring Austin's Shearwater, Baltimore guitar/drums duo Wye Oak, and Lawrence, Kansas experimental pop outfit Hospital Ships, it didn't sell out although by the time headliners Shearwater hit the stage there was a healthy crowd onhand.

Although what I'd heard of Hospital Ships through their MySpace was intriguing, to me reminiscent of the experimental pop style of bands like The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, I was running late and missed their set entirely. Chromewaves fortunately was there and has a review of the entire show including Hospital Ships' set. Strangely, when I'd arrived I thought perhaps the band that was onstage setting up was Hospital Ships but it turned out to be Wye Oak. So basically, I was later than I imagined.

The band had made their Toronto debut a few years back at Sneaky Dee's during the Over The Top Fest in May 2008 (which was soonafter the release of their debut album "If Children") but couldn't make it for reasons I can't recall. Already on to their second album entitled "Knot" released in 2009 I've been grossly ignorant of the band. Knowing that they were a young duo playing guitar and drums, the first descriptive word that I guessed might apply was 'spunky' which can be good but on the other hand there seems to be sufficient number of spunky indie-rock duos at the moment. The duo of Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitars) and Andy Stack (drums, keyboards, backup vocals) fortunately had more versatility than I'd hoped, generally taking Yo La Tengo's approach to writing keen melodies and breathing life into full-sounding musical arrangements notwithstanding their limited membership. But rather than Yo La Tengo's penchant for 3-minute lo-fi pop nuggets, Wye Oak tended toward darker pop territory, with songs that seemed more drawn out instrumentally at times. Jenn's vocals were femine but not brittle thankfully, alternating her guitar sound from quiet to loud augmented through the use of guitar pedals. Drummer Stack kept a solid backbeat but at times showed he was adept at more complicated rhythms. At the end the duo brought out Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg on a cover of an Americana-tinged number that unforunately I didn't get the name of but it was terrific.

Perhaps, the dimming of the stage lights for Shearwater's set was a good thing (a bad thing for photographers though) as it definitely helped to add to the mood created by the band's sweeping, dramatic folk-rock songs. It was definitely a far cry from the the first time I'd seen Shearwater during the band's late afternoon set at one of the medium-sized stages at last year's Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain. I'd only got on board with the band with the 2007 deluxe reissue of their 2006 album "Palo Santo", and through to their 2008 release "Rook", while I can say they can be enticing, it's mood music that I just don't find myself reaching for as often. So I had give "Palo Santo" a spin prior to the show just to remind me how good they could be.

Fans of Okkervil River and Shearwater will know that Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff collaborated together in Okkervil River then formed Shearwater together to write quieter songs and now Sheff has devoted himself to Okkervil River while Meiburg has done so with Shearwater. With such cross-pollination, there's some obvious musical similarities with both bands at one point or another treading dark lyrical territory, and expressing it through folk, country and or rock influences. But whereas Okkervil River feels more loose and ragged reflected in as much in Sheff's buoyant vocals, Shearwater seemed a bit more methodical in their approach - stark keyboards and strings, glockenspiel, clarinet, well-placed guitar and drum arrangements, and Meiburg's rich, dramatic vocals. In some ways and especially during the band's quieter, starker moments, with the solemness of Good Friday which was the day after the show, Shearwater seemed like a near-perfect soundtrack.

Photos: Shearwater, Wye Oak @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (April 1, 2010)
MySpace: Wye Oak
MySpace: Shearwater

Monday, April 05, 2010

Spoon, Deerhunter, The Strange Boys @ Sound Academy, Toronto (March 29, 2010)

Spoon @ Sound Academy: photo by Michael Ligon
  Spoon @ Sound Academy: photo by Michael Ligon

Let's face it. I'm getting lazy with reviewing shows but so far, for the sake of this blog, I still feel compelled to write something. I apologize for my tardiness - it's been a week since Spoon's show at Sound Academy last Monday. Even if Sound Academy is far from my favourite venue (and well actually is my least favourite venue in Toronto) my general disdain for it has diminished slightly now that I'm attune to the bus route that travels in the general vicinity of the venue and the venue itself isn't as terrible as I'd remembered as long as you show up at a reasonable time to snag a decent spot to watch the show. With regards to the show itself, Spoon really delivered.

I'd arrived at the venur with Austin's The Strange Boys well into their brief set of garage-y, sometimes twang-inflected guitar rock. Formed in 2001 and releasing their debut EP, States Newest Noise Makers, in 2004 this was the first time I'd even heard their name, so I'd have guessed that they've dwelled in relative obscurity. There's an authenticity in their garage-y tunes although not particularly distinctive, and not particularly fashionable if you pay attention to such things. I do particularly recall a twang-inflected, slacker tune that hit a good stride although otherwise there's a dozen other similar bannds albums I'd no sooner reach for.

I'd only caught part of The Strange Boys' set due to trying to convince security to let me in with my SLR [as I didn't have a media pass, I promised to keep my camera in my bag but they wouldn't budge so I gave in and they held it for me in the security office. Hence, the iPhone photo above(using the Hipstamatic app) as well as including the photos through the link below].

While Spoon were the main reasons I'd bought a ticket for the show, it was second openers Atlanta's Deerhunter who were arguably the best band of the night. The youthful outfit led by the lanky Bradford Cox wearing dark sunglasses and what looked like a fishtail-style military green parker were a sonically exciting bunch at various times sounding like some of my all-time favourite bands. At various times they had the noisy guitar dissonance of Sonic Youth, the skewed-pop sensibilities of the Pixies and Jesus and Mary Chain, and the shoegaze-y guitar tendencies of My Bloody Valentine. But as much as they'd reminded me of these other bands, their sound was still fresh. Between songs, Mr. Cox spouted what seemed like stream-of-consciousness existential babble, all very entertaing in a sense, but it made me wonder if he was on something. With Spoon's Britt Daniel joining in on one song on guitar for an extended jam as well as a member of The Black Lips also jumping on stage at one point, it was an entertaining set.

There's no doubt Spoon's star has been steadily rising over the past 4-5 years. Their last show in Toronto was in October 2007 at Kool Haus (a show which had originally been scheduled for the Phoenix), and their show previous to that was in 2005 at the Phoenix. But such a historical progression still didn't make a show at Sound Academy a reasonable venue. Are Spoon really THAT big in Toronto? Apparently so.

The dapper-looking quartet in their monochratic shirt and trousers performed a delectable set of tunes from their new album "Transference", their previous efforts "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" and "Gimme Fiction" and peppering the setlist with oldies from "Girls Can Tell" ('Me and the Bean'), and "Kill The Moonlight"('Small Stakes'). What the band lacked in stage presence (though they were far from wet blankets on stage, with Britt Daniel oozing more slinky sexuality that I recalled on previous visits to Toronto), the band compensated musically, with the group's sublime mix of guitar, bass, keys and drums, led by Daniel's attractive semi-raspy vocals tying things together perfectly. What makes Spoon so generally distinctive is their devotion to classic songwriting, songs that have an air of influence of bands before them, but yet so timeless sounding when I come to think of it. When so many bands these days sound like a genre, indie or what have you, Spoon are truly in that minority of bands that really make good melodic, rock n' roll music.

Random points: Deerhunter's Cox guested on one song. Britt made a humourous comment about a moustached-guest musician being on "lead moustache". There was good audience handclap participation on "I Summon You". The keyboard staccato of "Small Stakes" absolutely sizzled. And while real horns would have been nice on encore closer "The Underdog", still the song's celebratory mood was such a perfect way to end the show.

Eye Weekly has a review plus also the setlist from the show.

Photos: Spoon @ Sound Academy, Toronto (March 29, 2010)
MySpace: The Strange Boys
MySpace: Deerhunter
MySpace: Spoon