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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Stills @ Marilyn Bell Park, Toronto (September 10, 2010)

Update [Sept 19/2010]: Review now below.

It's been over a week since I saw The Stills perform a free show down at Marilyn Bell Park as part of Rock The Boat, an evening of dragon boat races and live music. The band's been doing the rounds attempting to seep back into the consciousness of the music-buying, concert-going public, having just prior to that also playing a free show down at the Distillery District. For a band that seemed bound for stardom back in 2004 when I first saw them live (strangely, it was outside of Canada at the Coachella festival in California), having released their debut full-length Logic Will Break Your Heart in 2003 through the uber-hip Vice Records label, the band's popularity seemed to wane over their second and third albums with original guitarist Gregory Paquet leaving the band in 2005, and drummer Dave Hamelin moving to guitar and vocals and guitar vocalist Tim Fletcher taking a bit of a back seat. But with the return of Greg to the fold earlier this year, and with Dave moving back to drums and Tim to lead vocals, and with Liam O'Neil on keys and Olivier Corbeil on bass, the band's original lineup was back in place. Perhaps the band will experience a bit of a resurgence going forward. As it seemed from the band's general posture on stage and their facial expressions, the band were enjoying themselves this night.

I was a fan of the band's debut when it came out but for no other reasons than too much music to listen to, didn't follow them too closely after that. But within the circle of music-minded individuals in Toronto I've met at shows and grown to know, my impression is that The Stills don't get too much love. The band do have a certain radio-friendly sound (well at least for alternative rock radio) but I will maintain that like their recent live set at Marilyn Bell Park, the band do have a more raw sound live. For a free show, it wasn't nearly as packed as I'd have imagined although I don't think it was really promoted that well, but given that night's(September 10) multitude of other things to do I'd sooner assume people were taking in other events. The crowd swelled to great numbers by the band's third song it seems, the band's set a mix of faves from all three of their albums and also including about 6 new songs (note - the band recently tweeted on September 3 that they were going into the studio in the country soon to begin recording their next album). I felt Pacquet's guitar tuning felt a bit flat, and Fletcher's vocals a bit over-reaching at times but otherwise, led by Hamelin's solid drumming the band performed a solid set of tuneful rock songs. They expressed a good variety of sonics throughout the set, a bit of dissonant guitar sounds, soothing keys, thick bass, and anthemic qualities at times. While summer hasn't technically ended yet, that night was one of the last warmer summery nights of the year. Generally, it wasn't a show that provoked strong feelings - I think it was satisfying at best - but when the band came back for an encore to play one more song, their hit "Still In Love Song", it reminded me that the band can really nail it sometimes.

Photos: The Stills @ Marilyn Bell Park, Toronto (September 10, 2010)
MySpace: The Stills

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Specials @ Sound Academy, Toronto (August 28, 2010)

Terry Hall of The Specials: photo by Michael Ligon
  Terry Hall of The Specials: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Sept 9/2010, 12:37 am]: Didn't mean to take so long to post this review but also didn't want to not post anything either so here's some of my thoughts about The Specials and their show at Sound Academy a few Saturday nights ago. I hope my posting mojo will pick up from here on out, but more often than not I'm just pooped. I should eat more vegetables.

You know you're getting old when a band from one's youth has actually reunited present day. I've had the pleasure of seeing a number of reunited acts over the last several years, bands I thought I'd never get the pleasure of seeing, such as Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and most recently Pavement. And while Coventry ska act The Specials were never a defining band of my youth, I do have fond memories of admiring mod fashion in highschool in the late 80's, that drew me in to the Two-Tone ska movement of bands like The Specials, The English Beat, and Madness. I wasn't a mod in highschool by any stretch, and my musical tastes skewed more towards bands like The Smiths, The Cure, and New Order, but The Specials always had a special place in my heart. The band's mix of pop and politics was always potent but more importantly perhaps(especially to a wide-eyed teenager) the music could drive one into a dancy frenzy. Originally scheduled to have played in Toronto back in April but having had to cancel due to an 'unforeseen medical emergency ailment', the band soon remedied the situation eventually booking a two-night stint at Sound Academy over August 27 and 28. With the first show sold-out, I was fortunate to snag a media/photo pass for the second night. Recalling one of my Facebook friend's status updates about the first show and "40-year olds" dancing up a storm, I will attest that the second night had an equally frenzied audience. This was the band's 30th anniversary, and it had been 29 years since they'd last been in Toronto and the crowd was fully pumped as they would express themselves throughout the night, mostly as a sea of dancing people. Yes, dancing in Toronto.

Forgoing an opening act, the crowd was warmed up by DJ's spinning punk, reggae, ska and soul tunes for about an hour and a half and then to the strains of the band's Reprise version of "Enjoy Yourself", the band revealed themself in silhouette behind a white sheet that draped the stage. And then with the white sheet dropping all of a sudden, the band kicked in to the blistering "Do The Dog". Except for "Too Hot", they played the entirety of their debut self-titled album which very well may have satisfied everyone for the night if they'd stopped there but they also included a bunch of favourites from their sophomore LP "More Specials". Far from prolific when they existed, the original lineup was really over after the second album although a revised lineup of the band did continue on as The Special AKA to release another LP "In The Studio" which had some key tracks. A little unfortunate that the band didn't pull out anything from "In The Studio" but on the other hand we got classic non-album cuts like "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" during the main set and then during the encore, "Ghost Town" and the rarely performed "Guns of Navarone". The band were as tight knit and energetic as I could have hoped and while lead vocalist Terry Hall's expressionless face (and occasional smoking onstage) was a little off-putting, underneath you could tell he was genuinely enjoying the moment. He even mentioned that he would like to move to Toronto, in the process mentioning something about enjoying HGTV which drew a laugh from the crowd. It was nice to see that members Neville Staple and Lynval Golding haven't lost an ounce of their energy with Neville in continual dance mode while toasting and providing back-up vocals and Lynval on rhythm guitar and vocals. Most impressive might have been guitarist Roddy Radiation, the live set which really revealed how talented a guitarist he is, sweating up buckets to the point where later on in the set he had to go shirtless.

The main set ended with the band's cover of the appropriately-themed "Enjoy Yourself" (Terry singing "Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink, The years go by, as quickly as you wink") which revved up the crowd's spirits for more. Coming back for an encore, the band jumped in with the spooky mellowness, though nonetheless essential, "Ghost Town" and then graciously performed a rarity with "Guns of Navarone" and then ended the night off perfectly, although perhaps with a little teareyedness that it was over, with "You're Wondering Now". As the group repeatedly sung "You're wondering now, what to do, Now you know this is the end" with the audience joining in the singalong enthusiastically, you could have not wished for a more perfect moment.

The Toronto Sun and The Globe and Mail have reviews of the same show, while Eye Weekly and chartattack review the first night's show. Specials bassist Horace Panter share some memories about the shows.

Photos: The Specials @ Sound Academy, Toronto (August 28, 2010)
MySpace: The Specials
Video: The Specials - Intro / Do The Dog / New Era (Live @ Sound Academy - Toronto Aug 28/10) *

* courtesy of karbonbee