Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NXNE in Toronto (June 19-20, 2010)

Ok, I'll admit I've been a little lazy recently although I've had other things to think about lately, not least of which was all the G20 events/protests dominating the news over that last week or so.. This'll be my last of my NXNE-related posts although it's more photo-oriented than commentary. Apologies to the artists - it's not that you don't deserve the commentary, but I'm just plained pooped. So let's just keep this short and sweet.

  Avi Buffalo: photo by Michael Ligon

As you already know, on Saturday June 19 rather than take in the multitude of NXNE events happening around the city, I was at the Toronto Island Concert at which I caught Beach House, Band of Horses, Broken Social Scene and of course Pavement. After a day in the sun and then ending the night with Pavement's set ending before 11 pm, I waited for the ferry and eventually made it back to the city before midnight and decided to head to Lee's Palace where I caught about half of Avi Buffalo's half-hour long set. The two-guy, two-girl band all the way from Long Beach, California, barely out of highschool, were surprisingly tight, with lead singer Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg sounding a little like Flaming Lips Wayne Coyne and the band merging askewed pop tendencies with a bit of a jam band sensibility. Ok, I'm not sure how attractive that sounds but take it from me, they were good. Or at least take Sub Pop's word - the label released the band's self-titled debut full-length this past April.

I'd have stuck around for synth post-punks Cold Cave but my hunger was peaking at that point and I had to bail next door to get a burrito, at which point I headed home for some well-deserved rest.

  Kid Sister: photo by Michael Ligon

Sunday June 20 was a bit of an afterthought but with the weather being so good that day and with De La Soul headlining a free show at Yonge Dundas Square, I thought I'd probably regret it if I didn't go. I headed down to the Square as Chicago's Kid Sister was rapping up a storm against the scintillating electro beats provided by her DJ. It was actually quite good, especially if you're in the mood for that sort of stuff. The crowd wasn't nearly as sizeable as it would be for De La Soul, but there were definitely some fans and or converts in the crowd. I can only imagine she worked up the crowd even stronger when she played Wrongbar in Parkdale later that night.

  De La Soul: photo by Michael Ligon

And finally, De La Soul! The crowd was definitely pumped. Although I've heard and bits and pieces of their catalogue, it's their debut full-length Three Feet High and Rising which I'm most fond of. So it was definitely a treat to hear classics like "Potholes In My Lawn" and "Me, Myself, and I" (with the rappers prompting the audience to sing a certain vocal part of the song). After all these years, it's impressive to see and hear how articulate and full of flow they're rapping is. But they do like to get the party started as well, and they prompted the audience to chant or shot at just the right moments to keep the audience into it. The group mentioned several times there love for Toronto fans, even giving a shout out to a few people including some local rappers like Kardinal Offishall who popped onto stage briefly, although unfortunately did not end up rapping with the group. Had the group not mentioned the Much Music Video Awards and thanking the crowd for coming down to see them instead, I'd totally forgot that the MMVA's were happening at the same time around the corner and down Queen St. Now let's see if those kids at the MMVA's are listening to Justin Bieber in 10 years.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (June 19-20, 2010)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Toronto Island Concert w/ Pavement, Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses, Beach House (June 19, 2010)

  Stephen Malkmus of Pavement: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [June 29/2010, 11:27 pm]: My photos from the show have been up on my Flickr for a few days now but I just added the link below today. Sorry for the wait.

Traditionally the Saturday night of NXNE has always been my favourite night of the festival. Over the past several years at least it seems I'd been kicking off my music activities earlier in the day either by checking out afternoon sets at Yonge Dundas Square or seeing music film during the NXNE film festival. However, then news of seminal indie band Pavement's reunion tour coming to Olympic Island on June 19(the Saturday night of NXNE) was announced and I had to make a decision whether it'd be Pavement or NXNE for me. Adding to the difficulty of the decision was the fact that Iggy & The Stooges would be headlining a free show at Yonge Dundas Square on the 19th. As tempting as a free Igg & The Stooges show was, I chose the Pavement show as I'd kick myself if I missed that show. In addition to Pavement, also playing were Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses and Beach House, plus Timber Timbre and a Toronto Revue consisting of The Beauties, Flash Lightnin' and Zeus. Not originally part of NXNE, in a bit of musical comraderie, the Toronto Island Concert latched onto NXNE by offering free admission to the first 250 NxNE Bracelets/Badges at the Mainland Ferry Box Office on the day of the show. Hey, considering the capacity of the island, 250 free admittants might not seem much, but it was a start. In any case the show was sold out.

(4:00 PM @ Olympic Island) - Beach House (Baltimore, Maryland)
I got a late start to my day, missing by the Toronto Revue's and Timber Timbre's opening sets but arrived prior to Beach House's set. I manage to get a sweet spot on the left side of the stage virtually at the front of the stage and I'm glad I ate beforehand, did the bathroom thing, and had a full bottle of water with me because near the front was were I remained for the entire day and night. That's something I've never done at a festival and maybe won't do ever again, but it did guarantee me a sweet spot for all the bands I saw. With the midday sun beating down, it was the pale white duo of Beach House comprised of Victoria Legrand on vox/organ and Alex Scally on electric guitar, joined by a live drummer, to start the outdoor festival off for me. I saw them for the first time live in September 2007 at The Mod Club and while I appreciated the band's gauzy brand of subdued pop performed with guitar and organ, my genuine satisfaction remained elusive that night. To my surprise though this time around, there seemed to be more bounce in their step, whether that might be because of the live drummer or just because the songs off their most recent album "Teen Dream" are that much stronger. More satisfying than I expected and a nice way for me to start the day.

(5:15 PM @ Olympic Island) - Band of Horses (Seattle, Washington)
Band of Horses had already committed to playing the Toronto Island Concert back in January 2010 when show was announced so it was mighty nice of the band to play an intimate free show at the Horseshoe last month in advance of their major label debut Infinite Arms. Unfortunately I didn't get into the show at the Horseshoe. The first time I'd seen the band live was at the Phoenix in November 2007 although I wasn't in the best headspace at the time to enjoy that show at all. Considering these facts, I was looking forward to seeing Band of Horses this time. Led by Ben Bridwell, the band sauntered through tunes from all three of their albums, and while their were some delectable selections ("Is There a Ghost", "The Funeral", "The Great Salt Lake"), there seemed to be a bit of disconnect with the audience, perhaps to do with the minimal stage banter, and except for Ben and bassist Bill Reynolds, there was a lacklustre stage presence. Perhaps not what the kids were after, but the country-ish song "Older" with lead vocals sung by keyboardist Ryan Monroe was one of the highlights of the set for me. But such highlights couldn't detract from the fact that the band weren't owning the stage as I'd hope; they played decently but somehow I just didn't feel the passion.

(6:45 PM @ Olympic Island) - Broken Social Scene (Toronto, Ontario)
It seems that a BSS show can either be full of surprises or terribly predictable and for the most part I think last Saturday's set was unfortunately the latter. Of course, if this had been you're first time seeing BSS live, you might have found it extremely satisfying. However, when you've seen BSS live as many times as I have, it's the unpredictable moments that I'm usually hoping for. Last year's BSS show at Harbourfront was full of surprises and was generally regarded by most people (including myself) as one of, if not their best show ever. That said, this current BSS set had it's share of good moments. It's always kind of fun to guess which of the three ladies (Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, Amy Millan) of BSS renaissance period will show up, and while I guessed Emily might, I was totally surprised that Leslie also did. With Stars getting ready to tour and to promote their new album The Five Ghosts I just assumed Amy wouldn't make it and that I guessed correct. It was totally cool to hear Leslie and Emily trade off vocals on "7/4 Shoreline". The live set did warm me up to the new album Forgiveness Rock Record with cuts like "Forced To Love" and the delicate vocals of Lisa Lobsinger on the electro-pop goodness of "All To All". Other guests included Mr. Sebastian Grainger singing back-up on a few tracks as well as Pavement's Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg joining in on guitar near the end. The band did come back for an encore and of course, in honour of the occasion, and if I recall correctly Kevin Drew saying that he'd be an idiot if they did not play it, BSS performed a balls-out rendition of "Ibi Dreams Of Pavement (Better Day)". So overall, a mix of the familiar with a few surprises, and even if it 's not near the best I've ever seen, it was still pretty good.

(9:00 PM @ Olympic Island) - Pavement (Stockton, California)
I wish there was some sort of Pavement gigography but surfin the net I came across info that Pavement played the Palladium in 1994, the Phoenix in '97 and the Guvernment in 1999. During their Olympic Island set, Stephen Malkmus mentioned that in the early nineties, they played Lee's Palace. I know Pavement played Lollapalooza in 1995 when the roaming festival stopped in Barrie at Molson Park. And somehow I missed all of these shows. Like many, their 1994 major label debut full-length Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was my introduction to the band and since then I've liked the band a lot. I'll admit it's never been a 'love'; I've been on-again-off-again in listening them and their noisier bits were things I tended to skip over, but after they disbanded in 199 and more recently with the deluxe reissues of their albums over the last several years I've grown fonder of them. Maybe it's just that they remind me of the 90's when life wasn't as complicated or stressful. Or maybe it's the old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Now 2010, Pavement have decided that a decade is a an appropriate length of time that they've been away and so reuniting for fans (and maybe moreso for the money), I finally got to cross them off my concert wishlist and it was everything I'd hoped for.

I'd read in the past that when Pavement toured in their heyday they were quite sloppy musically, but for their set at Olympic Island last Saturday night, they were much tighter than I expected, for the most part resembling their recorded material, and that was just fine with me. The setlist (which you can view over at Brooklyn Vegan) leaned towards the familiar, meaning the band's singles as well as a heavy dose of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, with various nifty album cuts interspersed. They wasted no time to pump out the 'hits' as they dove head first into "Cut Your Hair" to the delight of the fans, then segued next into "Trigger Cut". Other favourites of mine included "Grounded", "Gold Soundz", "Range Life" and main set closer "Summer Babe". The band came back for a three song encore and I practically collapsed when they ended off with "Stop Breathin". I was never bored for a moment and was satisfied with the pacing of the set which contained one great song after another. Member Bob Nastanovich was one to behold with his idiosyncratic approach to back-up singing and his hard-core-ish screams. Spiral Stairs played the guitar arrangements with vigor. It was fascinating to watch Stephen as vocalist sing these songs again as I'd always imagined he never ever wanted to, but it seemed he was geuninely enjoying the experience. And Last but not least, you have Steve West on drums and Mark Ibold on bass holding down the rhythm section quietly but solidly. These are all just random thoughts of mine but all those fuzzy good feelings of a great show will remain. When it was over, Malkmus said with a combination of cheekiness and perhaps a little sentimentality, "Don't Forget The 90's".

Photos: Toronto Island Concert w/ Pavement, Broken Social Scene, Band of Horses, Beach House (June 19, 2010)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NXNE in Toronto (June 18, 2010)

  PS I Love You: photo by Michael Ligon

While my previous night's NXNE schedule was confined to a relatively small part of the city[Queen West, from Dovercourt to just west of Dufferin], my second night of NXNE had me venue-hopping taking me from Little Italy on College, to Little Portugal at Dufferin and Ossington and back up to the Annex at Lee's Palace. The Taste of Little Italy festival took place on the same night in Little Italy on College St which caused some TTC delays for me and eventually led me to scrap by 11 pm timeslot plans but otherwise the thrill of the venue-hop was in full effect.

(08 PM @ Sneaky Dee's) - Dark Mean (Hamilton, Ontario)
I'd been coming across the Hamilton band's name and read a few good things along the way since last year and had only given them a cursory listen, so I decided NXNE was as good an opportunity to check them out. Strange as it seemed to watch a band in Sneaky Dee's when the sun was still up and no curtains covering the windows there was a decent crowd on hand to witness the seven-member group's set. The band's polite demeanor aside, there was a good deal of personality in the group's dark-tinged pop rock music. I was reminded a bit of The National in the band's textures in guitars, keys, horns and rhythm section but The National are merely a point of reference - Dark Mean by all means are distinguishable from them. Their live presence is somewhat lacklustre and they haven't yet grasped the skill of stage banter, but these may be one of the times where it may be preferable to listen to the recorded material before checking them out live again. What better way to check out their recorded material than free tracks - you can download the band's "Music Box" EP, released this past February, here.

(09 PM @ Whippersnapper) - Inlets (Brooklyn, New York)
With Whippersnapper Gallery my next stop of the night, this meant a stroll through the crowds taking in the Taste of Italy festival on College St. Killing a few minutes at Soundscapes to purchase the new issue of The Big Takeover, I then strolled over to the second floor gallery Space where the Whippersnapper Gallery resides. I'd got a few e-mails about Inlets which is one of the reasons why they were on my radar. Inlets is the outlet of songwriter Sebastian Krueger, and while he'd played solo for part of the set he also played part of it as a duo with a drummer accompanying him. With Mr. Krueger on vocals and guitar, his music treads the same baroque pop terrain of Toronto's own Owen Pallett with equally satisfying results. The accompanying drums at times added a slight more grit but otherwise it was a lovely set in the rather intimate settings of the gallery space witnessed by a decent crowd of spectactors cross-legged on the floor.

(10 PM @ Whippersnapper) - Silje Nes (Norway)
While the first two acts of the night were must-sees for me, the rest of the night was more tentative. I did end up choosing to stay at the Whippersnapper to check out Norweigan singer-songwriter Silje Nes whose minimalist pop songs on her MySpace I remember liking. It also didn't hurt that I could stay longer in the relative comforts of the gallery rather than venture back into the throngs of the Taste of Little Italy festival happening outside. With Ms. Nes seated at centre stage and flanked by a violinist on her right and a drummer on her left, it was a set of whispered vocals, and minimalist pop instrumentation. There was a folksy ambience to her songs, and a bit of an experimental edge in the percussion[I don't think I've ever seen a drummer scratch his arm close to a mic as a percussive element]. The blond-haired Ms. Nes obviously exudes a natural physical beauty the Norweigans are known for but her music showed quite a bit of depth that one might not have expected. Her forthcoming full-length is entitled Opticks with the first single being "Crystals" which you can hear over at her MySpace. She's currently on a North American tour, and also hitting one final Canadian date on July 2 when she plays the Sled Island Festival in Calgary at the Arrata Opera Center, and I highly recommend you check her out.

(12 PM @ The Garrison) - The Soft Pack (San Diego, California)
I missed my 11 PM timeslot choice [which would have been X's John and Exene performing an acoustic set at The Great Hall] due to TTC delays. Once I finally caught a streetcar, which turned out to be a rerouted #506 which would be running along Dundas St, it seemed logical to head to The Garrison for midnight where San Diego four-member outfit The Soft Pack would be playing. When I arrived at the venue, Best Coast were still playing to a packed and as I would find out extremely warm venue. I had to wait in line shortly, but I was able to get in after the throngs emptied the venue after Best Coast's set. Don't worry, though - the venue would soon fill up again for The Soft Pack who were coming up at midnight. In any case I was right up front for The Soft Pack. I'd last seen The Soft Pack live in March 2009 at Lee's Palace when they opened for White Lies and Friendly Fires. It seems then they've caused a minor stir in the indie rock scene, slowly building a loyal following. Granted I didn't remember much about my previous experience with them but they soon proved how good they are. Visually, they present a general slacker wholesomeness[think, how Pavement looked like], but musically there was a gritty, garage, punkiness to their songs. For all intensive purposes they are a great rock n' roll band and whatever garage/punk tendencies the band has are displayed with a refreshingly modern perspective rather than dated nostalgia. Put guitarist Matty McLoughlin as one of my favourite aspects of the band and one of the most fun guitarists in recent memory to watch onstage - no gimmickry or wankery from him, but rather a guitarist who plays with gusto and looks cool doing it.

(01 AM @ Lee's Palace) - PS I Love You (Kingston, Ontario)
To end off the night, I chose Kingston guitar/drums duo PS I Love You who'd been racking up points in the local music scene over the last little while, especially with their split 7-inch with Toronto 'it' artist Diamond Rings released back in August of 2009. John O'Regan aka would eventually joing the duo on stage, even mentioning that the duo were his favourite band. Such accolades would seem like hyperbolic praise but after hearing PS I Love You, I realized such praise was not without credibility as the duo worked up the far-from-full but decent sized crowd. What I'd heard from the band live was a bit different from the samples on their MySpace; their recorded output based in drums and guitar also included some electronic keyboard flourishes at times, although their set at Lee's Palace last Friday night was pure drums and guitar. My best description of their songs is indiepop music with occasional grungy/metal guitar inflections. With the guitar/drums duo being commonplace nowadays [The White Stripes, Japandroids, The Pack A.D.], PS I Love You have succeeded in carving out their own niche and not sounding like those other bands. Fantastic.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (June 18, 2010)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NXNE in Toronto (June 17, 2010)

  Best Coast: photo by Michael Ligon

This year's NXNE was arguably the best Toronto's had since it's exception in 1994, at the very least the best I've experienced since I started regularly attending the festival in 2004. Although the festival officially kicked off on Wednesday June 16, it was the next day[Thursday June 17] that the festival kicked into high gear with most people, like myself, beginning their venue hopping. Having booked off June 17 and 18 from work, I devoted some of my free time on the 17th to finally give the NXNE schedule a good look, eventually coming up with a rudimentary schedule that had me confined to the Queen West corridor for my first night of NXNE. Here's how it went:

(09 PM @ The Great Hall) - Demon's Claws (Montreal, Quebec)
Having read about this young garage trio from Montreal touring with the likes of Black Lips and King Khan & BBQ Show piqued my interest to check them out. That, combined with the fact that their set preceded bands Women and Best Coast who I really wanted to se who were also playing the same venue later that night. Unfortunately, whatever qualities the band have didn't seem to be on display that night. While the venue was far from full at the time, neither was it empty, so really there was no excuse for the band not to bust loose and show some energy. The performance seemed a little studied, like they were trying to hit all the correct notes and rhythms, and in the end it seemed they hardly broke a sweat.

(10 PM @ The Great Hall) - Women (Calgary Alberta)
It wasn't my first time seeing Calgary indie four-piece Women live. I'd first saw them live at last year's Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain whose angular instrumentation, jagged melodies and solid rhythms made an impression on me. By this time of the night, the venue had nicely filled in, obviously people there to start off their night with Women, or at least set themselves up comfortably for buzz band Best Coast who were coming up next. The pace of the set progressed nicely, so nice, that at the end I was left wanting more. The band's debut album Women was released through Flemish Eye / Jagjaguwar in 2008 and the band will be releasing their follow-up Public Strain through the same outlets on September 28.

(11 PM @ The Great Hall) - Best Coast (Los Angeles, California)
It's always fun to catch a buzz band or two during a music festival, and one such band of this year's NXNE was Los Angeles trio Best Coast. Marrying sunkissed-California pop music with Shangri-La's garage rock with just a touch of melancholy, it's a formula could be limiting but fortunately the band write such delectable melodies that they transcend those limitations. It was a bit seredipitous that the band were on just as their beloved Lakers were in the final minutes of securing their win in the NBA Finals over the Celtics. Vocalist Bethany Cosentino prompted the audience for the score with a member of the audience yelling out that Boston sucks and Ms. Cosentino responding back cheekily 'you suck'. I'm neither a Kobe hater or Lakers hater, but I was going for the Celtics myself so 'boo' to Bethany for cheering on the Lakers but 'yay' to the band's great set. The band's as-yet-untitled and label-less debut LP is apparently to come out later this year according to Pitchfork.

(12 PM @ The Great Hall) - CocoComa (Chicago, Illinois)
The midnight timeslot wasn't written in stone for me although I'd tentatively pencilled in seeing Toronto's The Coast down the street at the Gladstone Ballroom. Before I took off, and partly on Mechanical Forest Sound's recommendation, I stayed for several songs during the intriguely-named CocoComa's set. Featuring the husband & wife duo of Bill & Lisa Roe, TJ Brock on bass and Anthony Cozzi on organ, the band's sound has been described as garage-punk. They were as authentic, energetic and adept at their genre as I'd hoped and really made up for Demon's Claw's lacklustre set earlier that evening.

(12 PM @ Gladstone Ballroom) - The Coast (Toronto, Ontario)
While I'd been enjoying CocoComa's set over at The Great Hall, I made a conscious decision to leave partway to catch Toronto's The Coast who I hadn't seen live since their instore at Sunrise Records last year as part of NXNE. The four-piece outfit consisting of Ben, Ian, Jord and Luke, was also featuring a fifth member who I'm not sure is a permanent member of the group, but was adding some keyboards and background vox on occasion. As young as the core members are, this fifth member looked even younger than them. Unfortunatley I only caught several songs, none of which I recognized, and I believe some and or all were new songs. The band seems to have strayed from their Brit-infuenced, anthemic beginnings, opting nowadays for a more straightforward pop-rock sound. It doesn't leave me as breathless like they used to but, they still hit the mark more often than not. For the intimate settings of the Gladstone, it was a fairly full house, and if one thing is consisent, the band continues to maintain a loyal female contingent.

(01 AM @ Wrongbar) - Glass Candy (Portland, Oregon)
The final set of the night for me would be to see Portland, Oregon, electro-disco duo Glass Candy playing down the street from the Gladstone at Wrongbar. The last time I'd seen them play live was back in October 2009 at The Garrison. As Glass Candy initiated me into the then-new-to-me venue The Garrison, this time around the duo did the same with Wrongbar, a venue I'd never been to before that night. Like The Garrison, the packed house onhand for Glass Candy in Wrongbar made for a warm venue. While the duo's set back in October 2009 had the benefit of being a full headlining set, NXNE's restriction of set times to approximately half an hour in length meant that Glass Candy's set was over far sooner than anyone felt it should have. Glass Candy were pretty hot almost right from the start, producer/keyboardist Johnny Jewel at the helm of keyboard/sampler duties and working out the grooves with vigor and skill, and lead vocalist Ida No the very definition of disco-soul diva, prancing around the stage and singing and playing up to crowd. And the crowd were eating up every last bit of it. Too band it was over so soon.

Photos: NXNE in Toronto (June 17, 2010)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Arcade Fire @ The Music Hall, Toronto (June 11, 2010)

  The Arcade Fire: photo by Michael Ligon
The Arcade Fire: photo by Michael Ligon

Update[June 17/2010, 3:00 pm]: Review now up.

Given the amount of shows I've been to, of course I'm bound to miss something. There aren't many shows that I regret not seeing because in the grand scheme of life, a missed show is miniscule. To go all High Fidelity, sometimes it's fun to make a list of all the shows/bands you didn't see or get to see. On the list I'd for example put The Smiths when they played Canada's Wonderland's Kingswood Theatre in the eighties, Wilco at the Horseshoe Tavern in 1995, and New Order when they played the CNE in 1987. Those were all shows I had a realistic opportunity of going but for one reason or another, such as lack of money or transportation, could not go. More recently, a band that I'd put on that list would be The Arcade Fire who played a two night stint at Massey Hall in May 2007 but I ultimately did not end up getting tickets for either show. I clearly recall trying to get four tickets for the first show through Ticketmaster.ca the morning the shows went on sale but got failed miserably as tickets sold out quicker than expected. Had I tried to purchase a single ticket instead I probably would have been successful. As to the second show in May 2007 I do not have any recollection of trying to get tickets; if I had to guess I probably was at work and forgot that tickets went onsale.

Alas, the last time I'd seen Arcade Fire live was on April 27, 2005 at the Danforth Music Hall so when tickets went onsale for the band's long-awaited return to Toronto scheduled for Olympic Island on August 14, I jumped on purchasing a ticket. But as a bonus to Toronto fans, the band announced last-minute through Twitter at the beginning of last week that they'd be playing two shows in Toronto and after that the Twitter feeds were abuzz. By Wednesday of last week the official announcement had been released that the band would make a return to Danforth Music Hall (now just called The Music Hall) for two shows on June 11 and 12 with tickets going onsale at The Music Hall box office at noon the day of the show and with only one ticket being permitted to be bought by each person. It was serendipitous that I was off work on June 11 and with that on my side I lined up at the box office that morning, waited for about two and half hours and eventually got my wristband for that night.

I've been easing myself back into concert-going since the beginning of the month and the passing of my mother first with The National show at Massey Hall on June 8. The Arcade Fire show, unplanned and spontaneous as it was, came at a time that I was glad to be present for and it ended up being very much therapeutic. I scored a second row, stage right seat for The Arcade Fire show even though I arrived later than expected to an already bustling crowd onhand. But as with The National show earlier that week, once the show got going, the first few rows made a beeline to the front of the stage, and of course I followed. Joining the 7-person core membership was fellow Montrealer, Marika Anthony-Shaw of the band Silver Starling on viola, apparently having played with The Arcade Fire during their Neon Bible tour. With the band dressed up in a utilitarian look filtered through an indie sensibility, and lead vocalist/songwriter Win Butler sporting a updated mullet cut, their emergence onstage was greeted with gleeful abandon.

They almost immediately dove into a set consisting mostly of new songs from their upcoming new album The Suburbs and their debut full-length Funeral with a few cuts from their second album Neon Bible thrown in. As to the details of the night, well, my memory is kind of foggy. While the band performed with exhuberance, it was much less chaotic than I'd experienced in past shows. That was partially due to the more straightforward nature of the new material such as the country swing of "The Suburbs" or the jittery punk of "The Month of May". The band teeterred between new and old songs, and while initial impressions of the new material are good, it's the anthemic, urgent qualities of the older material that everyone was wanting. As I'd stated the stage presence was much less chaotic than I seen in past performances - no helmet tapping love between Richard Parry and William Butler, for example - but William himself was still as spastic as I remembered as he he tapped out rhythms on snare drum and tambourine with adrenalin-induced energy. Win Regime on drums and background vocals had a constant smile on her face even though half the time her presence was relegated to the back of the stage. When she finally took lead vocals on their track "Haiti" (prior to which Win had announced that a dollar of every ticket sold was going to Partners in Health to help with the relief efforts in Haiti), the crowd cheered. The only real criticism of the night that it seemed much too short, even though the show plus encore ran at least one hour and a half. If things had to end, the band did it well, albeit predictably with the double shot of "Neighbourhood #4(Power Out)" and "Rebellion(Lies)". If the band's main set for every show they play always ends off with those two songs, I'll never complain. As a bonus, the band came back for an encore consisting of "Keep The Car Running" before ending things for real on "Wake Up". The latter song's instrumental coda kicks into a bouncy higher gear as you know, and in my opinion reflects what I presume is the consensus of the night about the show - I so wish this could have gone on longer.

Photos: The Arcade Fire @ The Music Hall, Toronto (June 11, 2010)
MySpace: The Arcade Fire

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The National, The Antlers @ Massey Hall, Toronto (June 8, 2010)

The National: photo by Michael Ligon
  The National: photo by Michael Ligon

It's been an emotional few weeks for me with the passing of my mother but with the support of family and friends I've been getting through it. My mom was quite aware of my fondness for music and concerts and would have not wanted me to let my ticket to The National's show last Tuesday night to go to waste, so there I went and it was an uplifting show to say the least.

Openers, Brooklyn trio, The Antlers had the early crowd entranced with their stratospheric dream-pop melodies. The band's knack for slow builds leading into crescendoing extended instrumental jams encompassing drums, guitar and keyboards made quite the impact, building upon the impression they made on me when I first saw them live at the Horseshoe in July 2009. I liked them enough that I picked up their current album "Hospice" at the show and even got the band to sign it.

Fellow Brooklynites, The National risen through the rungs of Toronto venues, from the Horseshoe, to The Opera House in June 2007, the Phoenix in October 2007 and Kool Haus in 2009, myself having seen the band live at the last three venues. Nothing had quite matched the intensity and impact of seeing the live for the first time at The Opera House and when they played the much larger Kool Haus I was disappointed. If anything, you have thank the band for choosing to play a two-night stint at Massey Hall this time around rather than perhaps one show at the larger Sound Academy in Toronto. Rising up to the challenge of playing the majestic Massey Hall, the band were successful in igniting the euphoric emotions I'd felt when I first saw the band play live at The Opera House several years back.

I was fortunate to have a second row seat for the show but thanks to The National's Matt Berninger who near the beginning of the show prompted the audience to stand up, the first few rows of the audience including myself made a beeline to the front of the stage, in turn making the show much more of a visceral experience for me. Mr. Berninger straddled a line between restraint and spastic energy, the latter occasionally resulting in him jumping down amongst the crowd, and at one point right in front of me before he headed through the crowd to congregate with fans within the seats. I've not yet got around to hearing their newest album "High Violet" but their last two previous efforts "Boxer" and "Alligator" got ample respresentation in the setlist, to the gleefel satisfaction of the crowd. So with my stage level view, with the band and especially vocalist Matt Berninger rising to the occasion of playing the glorious Massey Hall, it turned out to be one of the most uplifting shows I've seen in a while. And I really needed that.

Photos: The National, The Antlers @ Massey Hall, Toronto (June 8, 2010)
MySpace: The Antlers
MySpace: The National

Sunday, June 06, 2010

It's Cool To Love Your Family

As some of you already know, my wonderful mother Leonida passed away early last week sending my family and I reeling into a period of sadness, mourning, and stress. She had ongoing medical issues over the last 30 years, culminating in a stroke about 9 years ago which left her physically paralyzed on one side of her body but she was still mentally sharp as a tack. Having her not living at home was an adjustment but in time it got easier and my visits to her at her long-term care facility, usually at least on a weekly basis if not more often, were always something I looked forward to. She was a friend, sister, mother, and wife, and nurse and having looked at many of her photos over the last week or so, I can see she led a rich life. To everyone that knew her, she will be missed. Thanks to all for sending their condolensces. Thanks to my family, relatives and friends for standing by me through this difficult period. And yes, things are getting better. I hope to get back to some regular posting in the future, perhaps by next week, but yes music is still a part of me with The National show at Massey Hall on Tuesday and other upcoming summer shows still on my itinerary. I think my mom would want me to continue to do the things that make me happy. Back in 2007, I'd posted a link to the song below (during a difficult period of 'real life' taking priority), and yes, the song's sentiment is exactly what's got me through the last week:

Feist - "It's Cool To Love Your Family"