Saturday, December 31, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 22, 2011)

  Peelander Z @ Public Assembly, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

Last day/night of my trip to New York City and CMJ back in October 2011. (Next year, if I do the NYC trip again, I think I'll just post updates on a daily basis - this is too much work after the fact.)

For my last day/night in The Big Apple I took it relatively easier than the other days:

- Starbucks near MOMA
- Radio City Music Hall
- General Electric Building
- Rockafeller Center Ice Rink
- Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
- Emmy The Great @ Spike Hill
- Born Gold & Peelander-Z @ Public Assembly (as part of Day 2 of the Brooklynvegan 'not a CMJ' party)
- Grand Central Terminal; while wandering around, a one Miss Rebecca Black (of "Friday" fame) was signing autographs and chatting with a few fans.
- back to MOMA only to find out that it closes earlier than I expected on Saturdays.
- raced on over to Central Park to check it out, especially Wollman Rink (although because the rink itself it was closed, I didn't get to renact the scene in the film Serendipity when John Cusack lies on the rink as snow flakes fall down. ;-)
- saw the Robert Indiana LOVE Sculpture
- raced across town to the World Financial Center for the Sonic Festival featuring the American Composers Orchestra with the headlining piece composed by The National's Bryce Dessner and featuring him as well as his brother Aaron on guitar [FREE things like this should so happen in Toronto more often].
- at this point, figuring what I'd do for the rest of the night, but nothing musically was really fancying me, nor was the prospect of traveling back to Brooklyn looking at all tempting on my last night in NYC.
- checked my Facebook on my iPhone using the free Wi-Fi @ Burger King (across the street from the Occupy Wall Street protest) and found that my cousin had just arrived in NYC for a week's stay for his birthday [too bad we could not get together since I was leaving the next morning].
- Starbucks, then Chinese Food near Canal St. and while I was in the area(near Lafayette St.) I saw that the show at Santos Party House (which I think was featuring a hardcore lineup) was just letting out; at that point I decided to call it a night.
- walked back down Broadway towards my hotel, to drop off my bag, and while waiting to get my key to the room, chatted with a cute Asian girl at the counter apparently having problems with her booking; wished her well and then left to explore the Bowery / Soho neighbourhood for the remainder of the night until a little after 1 am.
- pondered even going to one more CMJ set [Peelander-Z was in fact playing a set just down the street from my hotel at the Bowery Poetry Club] but since the band weren't set up yet when I passed by, I decided not to stick around; I did notice how busy the Bowery strip was on a Saturday night.
- called it a night.
- will it be a third year in a row for NYC / CMJ this October for me? We shall see.

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 22, 2011)

Friday, December 30, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 21, 2011)

  Emmy The Great @ Public Assembly, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

- started out the morning exploring the neighbourhood around my hotel (walked down Bowery and then turned on Prince; nice Ralph Lauren and Gant Rugger shops on Prince St, although both way too expensive for what I was willing to pay (I've slowly become a clothes horse over the last few years, although I never buy regular price)
- walked to Lafayette for coffee at Dean & Deluca then went window shopping (David Z, Converse, Ben Sherman store @ Mercer St.)
- random chat with older dude I passed walking down the street, as we both looked back at the same cute girl who just passed us. ;-)
- logged on to the free Wi-Fi @ a Starbucks to check a few things on my iPhone.
- browsed the shops on Canal st.
- spent some time @ the Occupy Wall Street protest at Liberty Plaza (now known as Zuccotti Park)
- checked out the site around Ground Zero
- that afternoon headed to Public Assembly in Brooklyn for the Brooklynvegan "not a CMJ day party" feauturing sets varying from interesting to terrific, including sets by Young Magic, Emmy The Great, Silver Swans, A Place To Bury Strangers, Chelsea Wolfe, Hospitality, Xeno & Oaklander, and J Mascis
- the whole afternoon, Public Assembly was serving free booze courtesy of Sailor Jerry as well as giving away free organic snacks!!!
- one thing that stood out from Emmy The Great's set was when she mentioned that she'd also be playing the day after at a venue in Brooklyn who's name she couldn't recall and so I yelled out "Spike Hill" which she then queried whether I was a Fleetwood Mac fan (I'm still not sure what the reference is there) at which I was left speechless at that point.
- J Mascis played a cover of Edie Brickell's "Circle of Friends" and also a song called "Several Shades of Why" the title track of his first solo album released earlier this year; he also played Dino Jr. classics, "The Wagon" and "Get Me", video which you can see here.
- after that full afternoon of CMJ day partying, decided to try to check out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) (which had free admission that night from 4 pm to 8 pm (as it does every Friday night) but in error I ended up going to Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMOA)
- I then hopped on the 5th avenue bus to head down to MOMA but got there just as it was closing.
- while I was in the vicinity, I went to check out the new Uniqlo Global Flagship store that just opened; it was effin' huge, and bright, and busy.
- hopped on the 5th avenue bus again to continue south to Madison Ave and East 23rd to go to, drumroll please...Shake Shack! Verdict? Not the tastiest burger I've ever had but it was pretty darn good, or perhaps I was just really hungry.
- for the night time portion of my CMJ festivities, I headed straight from Shake Shack to trek back down to Brooklyn to Glasslands Gallery where I checked out a terrific set from a new local act called Caveman (who are coming to Toronto in January!) and from our own Canadian act, Memoryhouse.
- however, it was such a cluster-fuck of people (who all seemed to be not over the age of 25) and it was too much for me to bear to stay for the rest of the bands on the bill (which was at least 2, maybe 3 more acts) and so I bailed.
- walked to Bedford and then down Bedford to the Bedford subway station, along the way picking up my only taco (from a Taco Truck) during my whole trip.
- it'd been a long day, and I was glad to call it a night relatively early (don't get me wrong it was still after midnight, I think closer to 1 am, by the time I got back to my hotel). Sleepy-time.

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 20, 2011)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 20, 2011)

  Givers @ Ace Hotel, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

So yes, I'm pretty late on posting this (and still have two more days from my CMJ/NYC trip in October to post, so bear with me). And so here it is, point form, with a link to the photoset below:

- swung by the CBGB's site again (noticed the etching in the concrete this time).
- saw the Joey Ramone Street sign
- @ Ace Hotel to catch tailend of Widowspeak's set, part of the 2nd CMJ day show sponsored by radio station KEXP.
- coffee had @ Stumptown Coffee Roasters (connected to Ace Hotel)
- still @ Ace Hotel, chatting with volunteer due at KEXP free swag table who told me that his daughter goes to York University in Toronto but comes homes to NYC in May; and then we chatted about the plethora of free music in the summer that NYC has to offer.
- headed to East Village on a successful quest to see the Joe Strummer mural up close
- hot dog had @ Papaya Dog; (not the same as Papaya King as once referenced in an episode of Seinfeld).
- Ace Hotel for Givers' set (good but not too excited about them).
- hopped on over to Times Square (failed quest to get to that Shake Shack location).
- back @ Ace Hotel for Dum Dum Girls' set (good).
- on my way over to Brooklyn, caught NYC subway soul singer sensation Danny Smalls AKA Geechee Dan busking on the subway platform!! If you don't know who Danny Smalls, check this video out.
- swung over to Brooklyn to catch the Pop Montreal / Smoked Beats CMJ day party at Public Assembly with Miracle Fortress (good), Pat Jordache (good).
- Pop Montreal brought in FREE smoked meat sandwiches from The Mile End deli, a Montreal Jewish delicatessen in Brooklyn
- ginormous pizza slice had @ Anna Maria Pizza & Pasta
- massive backup of people on the L Train subway platform due to subway delay.
- back in Manhattan, saw the Flaming Cactus street art installation near Astor Place subway station as well as the Alamo sculpture at the same location.
- headed over to Thompson LES Hotel for the free CMJ shows sponsored by; caught sets by Dum Dum Girls (well the singer and guitarist anyway) (great set), and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (wasn't paying too much attention as this point as it was pretty cramped); I won a free set of ear buds.
- also during the show, there were guest DJ's working the app(sorry, it is only available within the U.S. currently), with guest DJ's including Nancy Wang (LCD Soundsystem), Amrit Singh (Stereogum), and Ayad Al Adhamy (Passion Pit)
- my night time portion of CMJ for this day was spent at Littlefield in Brooklyn featuring Blues Control, Talk Normal, Widowspeak and Frankie Rose, a varied, interesting and satisfying night of indie music.

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 20, 2011)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ Air Canada Centre, December 8, 2011

  The National @ Air Canada Centre: photo by Michael Ligon

Just taking a moment to post a link to my photos from the fantastic triple bill of The National, Neko Case, and Wye Oak which happened down at Air Canada Centre near the beginning of the month. By all accounts, it was a fantastic show. Part of me was dreading having to see the show at Air Canada Centre, but the "theatre" configuration that the venue was transformed into, combined with my fantastic seat which was just about dead centre in the 100's section, gave me a terrific view for the show. First openers, Baltimore indie rock duo Wye Oak, did a fair job entertaining the sparse audience on hand with their moody, melodic, indie rock. For a duo, their sound sounded quite full, making a lasting impression on the audience. Vocalist Jenn Wasner, gave thanks for being on this great bill with The National and Neko Case, and humorously expressed that the all thing bad about playing these shows was getting drunk too early in the evening.

The last times I'd seen Miss Neko Case live was back in 2009, having seen her twice, first at Trinity St. Paul Church in April of that year, then later that summer making her debut at Massey Hall. For various reasons, both shows weren't in my opinion the best I'd ever seen Miss Case, surprising when given those venues, one would hope those shows would have knocked me off my feet. Even more surprising is that Neko's most recent local show, this time at Air Canada Centre, ranks as one of the best sets of hers I've ever seen. Paced well, many of the set's songs were taken from her last few albums (Middle Cyclone and Fox Confessor Brings The Flood) with a couple of new songs sprinkled in. Neko kept her humourous banter flowing throughout the set between songs, seeming giddier, and well naughtier than ever. Joining her on this tour was guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and for this tour specially, John Convertino of Calexico on drums. Musically tight as I've ever heard Neko, highlights included the pristine "Vengeance Is Sleeping" with Kelly on background vocals and Paul on guitar as well as the raucous "Red Tide" with particularly fiery background vocals from Kelly. As always when they're in town, a shout was given to our own The Sadies (who wrote the song "Hold On, Hold On" for Neko). Fantastic set all around. Hope I won't have to wait two years until I see her live again.

As 'indie' bands make the natural progression from the small stage to bigger stages when they tour Toronto, The National have been one of the few bands that has just gotten better. I'd not have guessed that The National could have outdone the last show I'd seen of them in Toronto when they played a fantastic show at Massey Hall (one show of a two-night stint) back in June 2010 but by all accounts, The National reached even greater heights. What The National accomplished was making the night an experience on a variety of factors - such as visually interesting and colourful screen projections, humorous banter from vocalist Matt Berninger throughout the night, and encouragement from the band to keep the audience engrossed and participating. On that last factor, the Dessner brothers at one point got the crowd clapping leading to a natural transition to most everyone in the audience to stand up. From there on, the show just got better and better. Matt would later on invite fans onto the floor which would soon lead to a virtual onslaught of many more fans to invite themselves onto the floor (leading security to cut off the access to the floor, and Matt sheepishly pondering his original idea and whether it was such a good one). But perhaps the icing on the cake in terms of Matt's efforts was when he ran into the stands singing and proceeded to navigate himself through the seats (literally crossing near me a couple of rows up from me) from one end of the stands to the other and then back onto the stage. Man, that was one long-ass mic cord. Local musical hero Owen Pallett was a surprise guest joining in with the band on violin for a few songs including a new one. Things had just about reached their peak as the main set drew to a close but reached even higher with the encore, featuring a non-amplified rendition of "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", with the entire band and including Wye Oak making their way to the edge of the stage, performing acoustically and singing without mics. Singing with passion to the audience, which in turn drew the audience to sing along as well, the performance, transformed the environment into a very intimate setting. It's such a rare thing to experience in a venue as big as that, and I am truly thankful.

Photos: The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ Air Canada Centre, December 8, 2011
MySpace: Wye Oak
MySpace: Neko Case
MySpace: The National

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sloan, Rural Alberta Advantage, Ohbijou, Bonjay @ The Great Hall, Toronto (December 21, 2011)

  Sloan @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [December 25/2011, 1:38 am]: Review now up. Merry Christmas! Now have to wrap some presents

Thinking back to 1995 when Sloan headlined CFNY 102.1 FM's Edgefest 3 festival at Molson Ampitheatre, billed as their farewell performance, Sloan had called it quits. Their most recent album at the time had been their second full-length Twice Removed, released a year prior in 1994, and arguably to the some was the band's finest album. But a year after Edgefest 3, the band reunited to release their third full-length, 1996's Once Chord To Another, and as they say the rest is history, with the band continuing to this day as one of Canada's most respected musical outfits. It was "Once Chord To Another" which Sloan chose to play front-to-back for Toronto charity COUNTERfit (an Ontario Ministry of Health and City of Toronto funded injection drug harm reduction program) at a show at The Great Hall organized by Toronto band Fucked Up. The promise of such a performance was more than a tantalizing factor for many who snapped up tickets for the sold out event. And as a bonus, the opening bands lineup was none too shabby itself, with an all Toronto supporting acts lineup featuring Bonjay, Ohbijou, and The Rural Alberta Advantage.

Electro-dancehall duo Bonjay featuring dynamite vocalist Alanna Stuart and programmer extraordinaire Ian “Pho” Swain were definitely the odd man out on the bill and did their best to warm up the small yet devoted early attendees. I'd caught about half the set as I myself had been running late. I chose to hang back during the remainder of their set which may have worked to my advantage as the beats and vocals sounded superb from where I was standing. As soon as their set was over, I made my way to the merch table and ended up purchasing one of the limited edition show posters and then I ducked out of the venue to put said poster in my car before returning about 20 minutes later.

It's been a number of years since I've seen live nor paid attention to Toronto's Ohbijou. I was always a fan of the band's melancholy, string-laden, indie-pop sound but as a live entity had usually been disappointed with their laid-back stage presence. Now on album number three with this year's released Metal Meets, which I still have yet to hear although I'm assuming they were playing songs off of at The Great Hall, it seems the band is flexing a little more muscle these days. With the Mecija sisters, vocalist Casey and violinst Jenny, both wearing black (Casey wearing a black hooded cloak even), I'd swear the band had gone goth, and even they haven't they're definitely heavier, hence the album title Metal Meets perhaps. The band seems to strike their instruments harder, and play louder, Casey even going-into guitar-face and strumming her guitar furiously at times. Ohbijou still maintain their recognizable melancholy pop sound but this time with more oomph, and it's working wonders for them.

Since the release of their first full-length "Hometowns" in 2008, Toronto's The Rural Alberta Advantage have gradually been achieving a most fervent fanbase within Toronto, Canada and beyond. RAA were a band who'd in their early days regularly played shows at the tiny Embassy in Toronto but more recently have been headlining at midsized Toronto venue, Phoenix Concert Theatre. It'd been a few years since I'd seen RAA live when they played the third stage at 2009's Virgin Festival Toronto, the same year that American indie label rereleased their debut album Hometowns. Earlier this year, the band released their second album Departing which by my own procrastination had never gotten around to picking up. Given this gap in my RAA experience, it was nice to again see the band live. If you're familiar with the band's propulsive acoustic sound based around drums, keys, and acoustic guitar, then yes, not much has changed but that is a good thing. The band played a bit more ragged than usual ["Edmonton" in particular, seemed a bit more sped up and less rigid than on record] but overall reminded me why they're one of the best current bands in Toronto.

Beginning with Fucked Up's Damian Abraham announcing Sloan on to the stage, a la the beginning of One Chord To Another ("Will you please… welcome to the stage… SLOAN!"), the band erupted into lead off track "The Good In Everyone" and proceeded to play the entire album front to back. Second track "Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay", never a single but which should have been in my opinion, remains one of my favourite tracks on the album and I was singing along to much of it. You could feel the crowd energy surge on the punky "G Turns to D" and later on the urgent "Anyone Who's Anyone" (whose lyrics "Everyone who's played a part, We're all together now, Everyone who's played a part, stand and take a bow" sounded so appropriate that night). Other highlights included the three person horn section on "Everything You've Dong Wrong" and "Take The Bench", the former also benefiting from the crowd singalong. The Jay Ferguson-sung "The Lines You Amend" also garnered a favourable reaction from the crowd and a further crowd singalong. I cannot remember if I'd ever heard "Can't Face Up" live but regardless of guitar flub during the Patrick's solo which he freely admitted, hearing it that night was like listening to if for the first time, and when Patrick belted out the chorus it was sublime.

While the occasion of the night was to play One Chord To Another, the encore was a treat unto itself. Kicking off with one of my faves from Twice Removed, "Snowsuit Sound", then Fucked Up's Damian come on to stage perform a punky / hardcore number which I did not recognize which had Damian and Chris vocally playing one another then lead to some physical horseplay between the two. The next song "500 Up"(from their debut Smeared) was a pure joy to hear regardless of the mic problems that plagued drummer Andrew Scott's vocal parts. The piece de resistance to the encore and the night was the surprise appearance by Toronto's own Leslie Feist, who played added guitar for what was an energetic rendition of the band's song "She Means What She Says". Wow. What started out as Sloan agreeing to play a special charity show turned out for me in coming full circle with the band; the show revived, at least temporarily, the pure euphoric rush I once had for them. I guess that is what we call nostaligia but damn it sure feels good. After all, they are a band that has a song called "If It Feels Good Do It". Thanking the crowd at the end, Chris remarked that they came to Toronto as a Halifax band, but more and more are feeling like a Toronto one. And this another reason why Toronto is one of the best cities in the world.

Photos: Sloan, Rural Alberta Advantage, Ohbijou, Bonjay @ The Great Hall, Toronto (December 21, 2011)
MySpace: Bonjay
MySpace: Ohbijou
MySpace: Rural Alberta Advantage
MySpace: Sloan

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bon Iver, Lianne La Havas @ Massey Hall, Toronto (December 6, 2011)

  Bon Iver @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

The second show I'd gone to this month was the first show of a two-night stint put on by Bon Iver at Massey Hall on December 6. As it seems with me over the last several years, I've not put too much effort into exploring much new music. I haven't totally ignored new music but rather have been really selective. As a result, I've caught on to some artists a little late. I'd only given Bon Iver's debut album Forever Emma Forever Ago cursory listens in the past and I'd liked what I'd heard but still hadn't been compelled to listen to it too often. I'll admit, my choice to buy a ticket to the Bon Iver show was purely on the current popularity of the group and perhaps I should see what all the fuss is about. I am glad to say that Bon Iver did make an indellible mark on me that night.

Opening the show was a young new UK artist named Lianne La Havas [even spelling out her name in full], a slender, petite young thing wearing dark boots, tights, a white skirt, and a glittery black top, who strolled onto stage to her mic with her guitar. Thanking the crowd profusely throughout the night in her thick British accent, toasting the crowd with tea, and singing songs about love, breakups, and old boyfriends, her jazz-inflected pop songs sounded like a mix between the soulfulness of Adele and the starkness of Tracey Thorn. La Havas displayed a competent grasp of the guitar that complemented her soulful, melodic songs well. I will be a monkey's uncle if she does not hit it bigger in the music scene next year. She's set to release her debut album early next year.

This being the first night of a two night stint, it's easy to overlook that Bon Iver had just played Toronto at the dreaded Sound Academy this past August to promote the self-titled 2nd album which came out this past June. Regardless of how well that show went, I'd imagine that many a Bon Iver fan breathed a sigh of relief when the Massey Hall shows were announced. It was an ecstatic audience response that great Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and his 9-piece band as they strolled on to the stage. What I found apparent of the set overall was, although they've frequently been categorized as indie-folk by the music press, Bon Iver do come across much more musically ambitious. Like Vernon jokingly said on stage, "Stop calling us an acoustic rock band." Added to the usual drums, guitar, bass on stage was other instrumentation like violin, baritone saxophone, and trombone. Bon Iver may start from a basis in folk-rock, Appalachian and American influences, but also showed a willingness towards sonic experimentation which reminded me of Wilco. What was almost more interesting to me was Mr. Vernon's vocal range which could go from a falsetto-toned vocal on one song, then to a bluesy, ragged drawl on the next. The man[ie. Justin Vernon] I'd read about who'd apparently for the first album had sequestered himself in a log cabin in the woods after a broken-up relationship to write the songs for the first album, turned out to be quite chipper during this show, infusing bits of humorous banter between songs throughout the night.

Musically, highlights included the solo-performed, desolate-sounding "re: Stacks", and the group sing-a-long- and hand-clapping on main set closer "Skinny Love". But for me the I just about shed a tear on the encore closer "The Wolves (Act I and II)" on which Mr. Vernon encouraged the audience to sing-a-long repetively with the lyrics "what might have been lost". Such a beautiful conclusion to a wonderful show.

Photos: Bon Iver, Lianne La Havas @ Massey Hall, Toronto (December 6, 2011)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Austra, Young Galaxy, Tasseomancy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 1, 2011)

  Austra: photo by Michael Ligon

Kicking off a busier month of concert-going than usual for me these days was Toronto's Austra at the Phoenix Concert Theatre at the beginning of the month. The bigger ticket that night was Feist at Massey Hall but there seemed to be a full-house (if not a sold out one) for the homecoming show for Austra who'd been making waves and touring all year.

Doing double-duty that night were twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman aka Tasseomancy who to me were better known as Austra's dynamite backup vocalists / all-around foxy side women. It was only more recently that I found out that the sisters use to be Haligonian indie folk duo Ghost Bees. Joined by male musicians on keys and drums, the gals stark vocals complimented the lilting folk melodies and subtle instrumentation nicely. Haunting at times, and sonically interesting throughout, they aren't your average folk band.

Since the release of their self-titled debut full-length in 2007, Montreal's Young Galaxy were a band I'd suspected would have hit it big by now, which if they had, it'd have been deserved. The band's soaring, dream-pop melodies were never really the mainstream, as mainstream pop has gone over the last five years, but in my opinion could have crossed over easily if only the fickle music buyer had taken notice. With the release of their third album Shapeshifting released earlier this year, it seems that band has discovered dance music, as was obviously displayed by the band during their set preceding Austra. With the entire band dressed in white, including female lead vocalist Catherine McCandless in a flowing white top, it was a visually attractive presentation. Musically, it was quite apparent that the band's recent forays into dance-inflected pop is what's floating their boat these days. A part of me misses their earlier dream-pop sound, but the band seem like a more stimulating live band this time around, especially Mccandless' vibrant movements and tambourine-shaking onstage.

Austra's debut album Feel It Break released this past May I will have to say is my favourite Canadian album of the year. Featuring vocalist Katie Stelmanis' stark operatic vocals against a backdrop of pulsating rhythms and synth, along with a bevy of great melodic tunes, it's just such a fantastic listen. Stelmanis greeted the crowd and told us that just a year ago they'd play their first headline show at the Bovine Sex Club and now they were playing their biggest show yet in Toronto, this time at the Phoenix. I was fortunate to catch them live at the sweaty and intimately confining Wrongbar earlier this year during Canadian Musicfest so it's a shame to say that this show at the Phoenix just did not reach those euphoric levels I'd experienced at Wrongbar. I wished the crowd had shown more energy, like the pulsating, dance-infused crowd that greeted Austra earlier this year. The crowd at the Phoenix was wholly appreciative for sure, but definitely lacked the energy that they should have had. given the band's exemplary musicianship. Perhaps the post-midnight set was frustrating for some that Thursday night for those who had to work the next day, but hey, you're only young once.

Photos: Austra, Young Galaxy, Tasseomancy @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 1, 2011)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 19, 2011)

Portugal The Man @ Ace Hotel: photo by Michael Ligon
  Portugal The Man @ Ace Hotel, NYC: photo by Michael Ligon

If it had to rain, then I'm glad it was at the beginning of my trip. More thankfully, I'm glad it only rained once the whole five days I was in New York City last month. Given the rain, I was confined to mostly indoor activities. With umbrella in hand, and rain jacket on (yes, I came prepared), I took off that morning to head to the Ace Hotel in midtown Manhattan for KEXP's "Free Yr Radio" CMJ sessions, and then for whatever randomness the day could bring. Overall I think I made the most of what was a soggy day.

Things I did / saw / heard / ate:

- an Americano and toasted bagel with Nutella (although I didn't eat the bagel until much later in the day) at Think Coffee on Bowery St. down the street from my hotel.
- saw the Joey Ramone street sign at the corner of Bowery and East Second Street, (down the street from the original location of CBGB's.)
- watched local bluegrass outfit Ebony Hillbillies busking at the subway station as part of the city's Music Under New York series.
- Flatiron building at 23rd and Broadway [funny thing is I didn't realize that Shake Shack was just across the street]
- Flatiron Prow Artspace which is a glass-enclosed space at the base of the Flatiron building which was hosting "The Cup Drawings", an installation by artist Gwyneth Leech who draws on upcycled take-out paper coffee cups and suspends them by string
- The Ramones tribute in front window display of the Guitar Center on 14th Street in Manhattan
- Urban Outfitters @ 14th and 6th
- Portugal The Man performing in the lobby of the Ace Hotel as part of KEXP's "Free Yr Radio" CMJ sessions; the hotel itself is a boutique hotel which I'd have loved to have stayed in; it had such a cool ambience.
- had the most delicious pulled pork sandwich at No. 7 Sub just around the corner from the Ace Hotel
- Puma Store, Union Square location for the CMJ Spin Sessions with Washington, D.C. rock band U.S. Royalty [not my thing, but they were decent] and San Franciscan shoegaze trio Weekend who fared better with my musical tastes [I'm biased].
- bottled apple cider at the Union Square Farmer's Market
- off to Brooklyn to catch the tailend of Conneticut psych-funk outfit The Stepkids' set at Public Assembly as part of Under The Radar's free CMJ day party.
- rest back at the hotel
- headed to Santos Party House at Canal and Lafayette but got denied entry because I hadn't RSVP'd; grabbed a coffee Starbucks and went back to Santos but they still wouldn't let me in.
- headed to Pianos and caught a few acts on the upper floor including the electro-pop chanteuse Erika Springs (of Au Revoir Simone) [I'd wished I'd caught her whole set - it was good], and local indie act Dinosaur Feathers whose melodies and musicianship were impressive.
- decided to try my luck and head back to Santos Party House to see if I could get in - success!; finished off the night seeing Los Angeles duo (backed with a band) Inc who seemed to specialize in funk, r n' b and soul for a new generation, and a headlining set from Brooklyn resident George Lewis Jr. aka Twin Shadow

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 19, 2011)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CMJ & New York City (October 18, 2011)

  Janet Weiss & Carrie Brownstein of Wild Flag @ Bowery Ballroom: photo by Michael Ligon

First, sorry for the late posting. CMJ and my trip to New York City in October has already been over for almost a month now, and I've been really lazy getting photos up on my Flickr and posting about the CMJ shows I went to. Overall, it was great to be back in The Big Apple. The CMJ lineup this year felt more subdued than last year, but with the amount of acts I had to choose from, I caught a number of good bands I hadn't heard before. In any case, CMJ is well worth the trip when you have the city and all that it has to offer to fall back on. I hope to get up these posts on a daily basis, although don't hold me to that. Grammar be damned, for expediency's sake, I'm going to shoot this off point form:

Things I did / saw / ate / heard:

- Bowery House (check-in) - good location in lower Manhattan, the hotel itself feeling somewhere between a hostel and a boutique hotel. I got myself a private cabin which basically was a room with a bed and a dresser and that's it but of course I was hardly going to be in the room anyway. The bathroom/shower facilities are however shared, except for the one individual bathroom available if you were lucky to snag it when no one was using it. The price was good and the staff were friendly. I recommend it if you're looking for a inexpensive and clean hotel in Manhattan.
- Ramones-in-front-of-CBGB's poster on the wall of my room - cool.
- New Museum
- John Varvatos Store (@ 315 Bowery St., the site of where CBGB's used to be)
- Chinatown (peanut rice dumpling, hmmm)
- Sara D. Roosevelt Park
- random conversations with others (including one photographer from QRO Magazine) in line outside of Bowery Ballroom trying to get a ticket for the Wild Flag, Eleanor Friedberger, & Hospitality (basically a mini Merge Records fest with local NYC outfit Hospitality its newest signees) show (success!); by the way, the people I met were really friendly.
- locals Hospitality opened the show with a spiky set of indie pop tunes
- Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger almost stole the show with her fantastic set of pop tunes.
- Wild Flag set was an intoxicating mix of musical influences and was really a sum of it's parts ie. the art-rock influences of Mary Timony's old outfit Helium and the punk, garage influences of Sleater Kinney; I'd also perceived a psych-rock influence at times.
- Wild Flag's Carrie Brownstein kicking her plastic glass of beer into the crowd at the end of the main set
- Wild Flag, for their encore, playing covers of Television's "See No Evil", and Patti Smith's "Ask The Angels"

Photos: CMJ & New York City (October 18, 2011)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Lemonheads, The Shining Twins @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (October 17, 2011)

Evan Dando @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

After a steady diet of The Smiths, New Order, The Cure and and The Jesus and Mary Chain in the late 80's, the 90's were to usher in a shift in my musical tastes. discovered the Pixies and their eclectic musical stew of surf, garage, punk and pop just prior to their breakup and their last album, 1991's "Trompe Le Monde". The musical axis of 1991 and 1992 of course was dominated for me and many others by Seattle's Nirvana and their 1991 major label debut "Nevermind", a vibrant combination of grungy guitars and pop melodies. On the other end of the Atlantic, Scottish power-pop outfit Teenage Fanclub also released their major label debut album in 1991 entitled "Bandwagonesque". But of that time period, I would say the album that has most stuck with me was The Lemonheads' 1992 alt-pop classic "It's A Shame About Ray". Led by singer songwriter Evan Dando, up until that point, the band had gone through a few configurations and had released 3 indie albums and one major label album. But with the release of "It's A Shame About Ray", the band became bona-fide alt-rock stars, and Evan Dando a musical pin-up poster boy for many female musical fans(and I imagine some male music fans). For me, "It's A Shame About Ray" was a logical extension of my alternative pop tastes in the 80's and it was a voluptuously hummable album from start to finish. On another level, the album was important to me because while they were already on a major label at the time, my musical research into the band at the time, opened me up to their indie history and well of course the burgeoning American indie rock scene. With Nirvana's "Nevermind", 1991 may have been the year that punk broke, and Nirvana the voice of a new generation but The Lemonheads' "It's A Shame About Ray" was a far more influential album for me.

I'd seen The Lemonheads (well Evan Dando and whomever his touring band was) play Toronto in 2006 at Lee's Palace and more recently had the pleasure of seeing Dando and his dear musical friend Juliana Hatfield perform a set of Lemonheads and Hatfield songs acoustically earlier this year. When I heard that in honour of the 20th anniversary of "It's A Shame About Ray", Dando was going to tour as The Lemonheads and perform the entire album, I was super excited. It'd have been cool for consistency sake if the album's original lineup was touring, with Juliana Hatfield on bass/vocals and David Ryan on drums, but for this tour Dando brought in some replacements, bassist Josh Lattanzi(The Candles) and drummer Brian Nolan (American Hi-Fi). Hey, I'll take what I can get.

Opening the show was New York City punk duo The Shining Twins, consisting of Alex Weiss and Marisa Kreiss. My own superficial research into the band reveals that it was only within the last few years that the duo learned to play their instruments, that being drums and bass guitar, and it does show. And while the band may have rudimentary musicianship it does in no way detract from the gals musicality, with nods to old school punk and their sound also reminding me of the DIY ethics of the American West Coast K Records scene of the 90's. Perhaps to relive some of the old punk rock energy of The Lemonheads' earlier albums, Evan Dando joined them on guitar and some vocals for the gals' last song.

Given the brevity of "It's A Shame About A Ray", running approximately a half hour, had the show been confined just to the album itself, it'd have been a short show so thankfully Evan included a number of other Lemonheads' goodies. The band first ran through the entire album minus the cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Mrs. Robinson' which Evan chose not to perform and wasn't on the original pressings of the album anyway. Compared to the record, the performance felt grittier, especially in the guitar sound making everything that much better in my opinion. It was quite apparent that on songs like 'My Drug Buddy' and 'Bit Part', Juliana Hatfield's vocals were missed. Looking up at Dando on stage, it's almost like he'd never aged with his stringy hair and sleepy look staring down upon us like most of us remembered him 20 years ago and that sense of nostalgia that many of us in the crowd had was exhilarating.

As good as the first part of the show was, the remainder of the set felt equally as good. Dando's bandmates would leave the stage to let Dando perform a bunch of songs solo before returning later to play out the rest of the set. During this portion I wasn't entirely familiar with everything, although their were a number of songs included from "Come On Feel The Lemonheads" and "Car Button Cloth" which were exhilarating, in particular 'The Great Big No', 'Into Your Arms', 'Big Gay Heart' and 'If I Could Talk I'd Tell You'. Even back during the band's heyday, I had a tendency to underestimate the talent's of Dando because the music while really enjoyable was also deceptively simple. But therein lies the answer to why Dando is so talented - it's Dando's simple, straight-forward directness in his melodies, chord changes, and even sometimes his lyrics eg. 'Being Around', that really ARE the marks of a good pop song. I imagine writing a naturally-sounding good pop song can be a difficult task, even for the best songwriters, but Dando's rounded out a 20-plus year career of making it seem easy.

Photos: The Lemonheads, The Shining Twins @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (October 17, 2011)
MySpace: The Lemonheads

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Portishead @ Sound Academy, Toronto (October 10, 2011)

Beth Gibbons of Portishead @ Sound Academy: photo by Michael Ligon

There are bands I wish to see live who I have accepted will probably never reunite (The Smiths, New Order) and then there are the bands that I think I will never get to see live but then miraculously the band comes out of hiatus or retirement and goes on tour. Of the latter category, I've seen The Pixies, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, and most recently, as well as more dear to my heart, Portishead. Along with fellow Bristolians Massive Attack, Portishead ignited the 'trip-hop' genre in 1990's propelling what was once an underground musical style towards the mainstream. Prior to their most recent full-length "Third" in 2008, they'd only released two albums, their seminal full-length debut "Dummy" in 1994 and their sinister self-titled follow-up in 1997. And for whatever reasons I'd not been motivated not check out the band live during the few times the band toured to promote their first two album, it was the band's 1998 live album / DVD "Pnyc Live" (a recording of the band's one-off show at NYC's Roseland Ballroom at which the band performed with an orchestra)which cemented my need to see this band live. At the time I could have not forseen the band going on hiatus from touring or recording a follow-up full-length until a decade later. When the band finally released their third album, entitled "Third", in 2008 I was ecstatic and was even more ecstatic that the band started to play live again, my hopes that the band would come back to Toronto. The band's first show in North America in 2008 was at the Coachella music festival and I remember being glued to my computer screen as I watched the live webcast of Portishead's phenomenal set. I'd never have guessed that it would have been more than three years later that Portishead would embark on a proper North American tour. Toronto made the cut fortunately, and even more fortunately the band booked two shows here for October 9 and 10. Too bad it had to be at the ghastly Sound Academy. But beggars can't be choosers, and as the dates grew closer, so did my excitement for the show. I was even more excited that within days of the show, I found out I got approved for a photo pass.

I was going to the second show of the two, which also was the same day as Thanksgiving here in Canada. After spending the day with family, I made my way down to the venue. It was just as well that I got there when I did because my arrival was only minutes before Portishead were to start. By the time I got my photo pass, then squeezed my way through the crowd to the front, then was let into the photo pit by Security, the stage lights dimmed and Portishead came on to the stage as I was still fumbling with my bag trying to get my camera and lenses out. Sweating profusely at this point, partly due to my excitement for the band and partly due to some nervous energy realizing I was almost late, I finally settled in for the three songs I'd be up there. When I wasn't snapping away, I stopped for a moment to realize I was mere feet away from the one and only Beth Gibbons!

Portishead's holy trinity of Geoff Barrows (drums, turntables), Beth Gibbons (vocals), and Adrian Utley (guitar) were joined onstage and for this tour by Jim Barr (bass), Clive Deamer(drums), and John Baggott (keyboards). The set kicked off with the rhythmically propulsive, pre-millenial tension of 'Silence', then one-eighty'd into the solemn quietness of 'Hunter' before working up the audience with the cinematic crowd-favourite 'Mysterons'. I felt fortunate to experience the band front-row centre for those three songs, to feel the immediacy of the band's different sensibilities. My three songs in the photo pit were over and I made my way back into the crowd when the band sunk into the desolate-sounding 'The Rip'(my personal favourite off "Third"), Beth Gibbons' voice trembling with every note. My view of the stage from stage left may have been less satisfying but with the remainder of the set just getting better and better, the visual element almost didn't matter.

The remainder of the main set had it's share of highlights. 'Wandering Star' was stripped down to a bare bones version with Beth and Geoff seated in the middle of the stage, Beth on vocals and Geoff on bass guitar. Audience sing-alongs could be heard on favourites like on 'Sour Times' and 'Glory Box'. It was on the latter that I realized how deeply connected I was to Beth's presence as even with such gender-specific lyrics like "Just give me a reason to love you, Give me a reason to be a woman, I just wanna be a woman", I felt like I was experiencing the female point-of-view without it being awkward. The descriptively titled 'Machine Gun' sliced it's propulsive rhythms through the air, Barrow's metallic drum sounds synched with the video projections behind them. The band's self-titled second album got the least representation during the show but thankfully included a few stunners, 'Over' featuring Barrow's exemplary turntablist skills and the sinister 'Cowboys'. I didn't realize it until they played it, but the band's Amnesty International charity single 'Chase The Tear' a song gussied up in electro-rhythms but grounded with simple drums and guitar, reminded me of Radiohead. By far the most eye-opening (or maybe that should be ear-opening) point of the night was the set-closer, the metal-ish 'Threads' on which three-quarters of the way through Gibbons' normally subdued vocals went through a transformation as the thrust and volume of her vocals achieved a level I was not entirely acquainted with. And it was exhilirating.

The encore, while only two songs, was near perfect with the Rhodes-accompanied 'Roads' which enthralled the crowd from its very first keyboard note and then with the urgent, industrial-sounding 'We Carry On' during which Gibbons, normally the introverted type, lept down to the floor to seemingly shake the hands and greet the entire front row of the crowd. Cameras and camera phones lept in to action before Gibbons jumped back onto the stage where she stood towards the right side of the stage sipping her beer as her band mates steamrolled to a conclusion.A concert on Thanksgiving could not get any better than this.

Photos: Portishead @ Sound Academy, Toronto (October 10, 2011)
MySpace: Portishead

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Weeknd - "Initiation" (new song)

Toronto's Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd is blowing up, quietly. He's been propped by Drake after he quoted a line from the track "Wicked Games" via Twitter and then linked to The Weeknd's website. He's released a few free mixtapes through his website, first "House of Ballons" and more recently "Thursday", the former which had garnered him a Polaris Music Prize nomination. He's only performed a few live shows so far including The Mod Club in Toronto, opening for Drake at Molson Ampitheatre this past summer, and more recently at the Guelph Concert Theatre at the beginning of October. The Weeknd's chill, heady brand of r'n'b is as much about his vocals as about it's production, the latter of which I'm actually more drawn to. And until he releases his next mixtape, or perhaps a proper album, to whet our appetites he's recently released a new song entitled "Initiation" - best experienced through headphones:

The Weeknd - "Initiation"

MP3: The Weeknd - "Initiation"

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Portishead and Doldrums Collaborate On New Single For Charity

As of the time of this posting, Bristol UK's Portishead are in the midst of their first show of a two-night stint at Sound Academy in Toronto. I'm super excited to see the group live tomorrow night, and even scored a photo pass for the show! And for Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow, that photo pass will be one of those things I give thanks for, along with of course the important things like family and health.

Portishead stopped in recently with "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" to perform a few songs including their new Amnesty International benefit track "Chase the Tear" for television broadcast as well as their classic "Mysterons" as a web exclusive:

"Chase The Tear"


In recent news from XL Recordings, it was announced that "Chase the Tear" will be released on vinyl for the first time through XL on November 14. And if you thought there wasn't any Canadian content in this post well then you're wrong as the b-side of the vinyl will be a remix of "Chase The Tear" done by Toronto experimentalist eccentric Doldrums.

Check out Doldrums' cover of the Portishead track below. Doldrums posted this on YouTube back in December 2009 and it's definitely a cover. At this point I'm not sure of the track below will actually be the b-side of the new Portishead vinyl as the info from XL lists Doldrums' contribution to the vinyl as a remix. I guess we'll have to wait and hear:

Doldrums - "Chase The Tear" (Portishead Cover)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 1, 2011)

Another edition of Nuit Blanche, Toronto's "...sixth annual sunset-to-sunrise celebration of contemporary art" happened this past Saturday night. And aside from the night's chilly temperatures, I wasn't feeling thrilled in the quality of the installations and projects as I'd had in past years. Much of what I saw was visual which may make for interesting visual stimulation for a moment but didn't provide much in the way of a lasting impression. On the other hand, installations like "Soon" at Commerce Court, with spotlights situated atop buildings surrounding the area shone down on the crowd while an immersive, audio-warped soundtrack filled the square, in my opinion made for a cool experience. With my brother, cousin and his girlfriend in tow, we hit Zone's B and C and never made it to Zone A. But as the night wore on, there were a few installations(like the aforementioned "Soon") that stood out and provided good photo ops, making the night not a total loss. I'm a strong supporter of the annual event in general and I will be surely out for the next edition.

"Soon" @ Commerce Court: photo by Michael Ligon

"Je t'aime Alouette" @ Design Exchange: photo by Michael Ligon

"Barricades" @ Yonge & Queen: photo by Michael Ligon

"I just know that something good is going to happen" @ Dundee Place: photo by Michael Ligon

Check out my entire photo set of the night below:

Photos: Nuit Blanche, Toronto (October 1, 2011)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sloan @ Echo Beach, Toronto (August 5, 2011)

Sloan @ Echo Beach: photo by Michael Ligon

Sloan @ Echo Beach: photo by Michael Ligon

Sloan once were fashionable - for about a year, maybe two. They were right on board with the alt-rock movement of the early 1990's when Nirvana and Sonic Youth were bringing the indie and 'punk' music to the forefront of the music industry. But since their second album, 1994's "Twice Removed", the band have gone the decidedly unfashionable route for the last seventeen years playing out their pop and classic rock influences. Over the band's twenty year career, they've released ten full-lengths, two EP's and a live album and have solidly established themselves, I think, as one of Canada's all-time best bands.

The band played a free show at Echo Beach in Toronto at the beginning of August. The classics of course were what the fans were obviously there for and Sloan eased their way into the set with a trio of songs from their most recent album "The Double Cross" before giving the fans what they wanted, starting with their very first single 'Underwhelmed'. Funny thing is that over the course of the last 15-20 years (holy shit I'm feeling old), I'd thought I'd grown out of the noisy, messiness of their first album "Smeared" but since the show have reconnected with its discordant, pop melodies.

The rest of the set was a mixture of their greatest hits/singles, more songs from "The Double Cross" and a few curve-balls such as the vocally reconfigured version of 'C'mon, C'mon (We're Gonna Get It Started)', as well as 'Sinking Ships' both from their album "Navy Blues". The main set ended quite exuberantly with enthusiastic renditions of 'Everything You've Done Wrong' (with a horn section) and 'Who Taught You To Live Like That?'. For the encore, fan favourites 'The Other Man' and 'Money City Maniacs' were included but the pièce de résistance was the band's ode to the venue and well to Toronto's Martha and the Muffins by performing an excellent, albeit, ragged cover of "Echo Beach" featuring second opening band Modern Superstitions' Nyssa on vocals. A fine set all around from a band who have been and who will no doubt remain my favourite Canadian band of all time.

The setlist.

For my whole photo set, check out the link below:

Photos: Sloan @ Echo Beach, Toronto (August 5, 2011)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Basia Bulat @ Mississauga Celebration Square (August 26, 2011)

Basia Bulat @ Mississauga Celebration Square: photo by Michael Ligon

Basia Bulat @ Mississauga Celebration Square: photo by Michael Ligon

As you may have guessed given my two recent posts, I'm trying to work my way backwards, posting photos/reviews of the shows I've gone to over the last several months, which brings me to the enchanting Basia Bulat who played Mississauga for the first time on August 26 at Mississauga Celebration Square. It was a solo set from Miss Bulat, accompanying herself on vocals with a variety of instrumentation from piano, guitar and autoharp.

A somewhat small crowd was on hand for the show, but otherwise Basia was chipper throughout, playing enthusiastically and smiling through. Basia bantered with the audience, .entioning her days as a youth patronizing such Mississauga establishments as "Coffee, Tea or Me" and how her mother still goes to Starsky's (a European-style grocery store). Performing a selection of tunes from her two albums, 2008's "Oh My Darling" and 2010's "Heart Of My Own", she charmed the crowd throughout her set. In addition to that, other highlights included a cover of Jon Rae Fletcher's "Come Back To Me" (which she sung as a duet with Mississauga native and Arkells member Dan Griffin), a cover of Daniel Johnston's "True Love Will Find You in the End" and the folk traditional "Hush", which she embellished with hand clapping and foot stomping. And recognizing her heritage, and if I recall correctly saying something along the lines about wanting to record a Polish-sung album, she even sung in Polish like on "W Zielonym Zoo". Even a group of young teen boys, who in my opinion were acting up a bit, seemed to be charmed by Miss Bulat as during several of her tunes, they started to dance - it was perhaps a little bit of a joke to them, but Basia took it all in stride, accepting their enthusiasm as genuine. And perhaps maybe it was.

I've seen Basia several times live, and it was after this show I finally introduced myself, as well picking up her CD "Heart Of My Own". Lovely, lovely person, and I also must thank her for giving me the heads up on Supercrawl, a music and arts festival in Hamilton, ON which happened a week later, where she had a sublime performance collaboration with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

For my complete photoset from the show, check out the link below:

Photos: Basia Bulat @ Mississauga Celebration Square (August 26, 2011)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Supercrawl in Hamilton, ON (September 10, 2011)

While the Toronto International Film Festival occupied most of my time during the period of September 8 to the 18, I'd consciously took Septemeber 10 off in order to check out a arts and music festival called Supercrawl in Hamilton, ON. I'd heard of the festival for a few years now and had hopes of going but it didn't happen, but when I'd seen the musical lineup this year which included amongst others, Broken Social Scene, J Mascis, Plants and Animals and Basia Bulat performing with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, I made up my mind quick to check it out. Somewhat serendipitously, I was clued into the festival and the music lineup by Basia Bulat herself who I'd spoke to briefly after her solo show in Mississauga at Celebration Square just a week prior to Supercrawl.

Taking over several blocks of Hamilton's James Street North neighbourhood, there was an array of artwork, sculptures, vendors, and music stages. While I was there primarily for the music, I was impressed with the art that could be found at different spots along the street - photographs, paintings, street murals, sculptures. As well there was an array of artisans selling and vendors selling their wares. In addition to that, there was a variety of food trucks, food vendor as well as local restaurants and cafes providing a variety of food choices for hungry Supercrawl-ers. But yes it was the music lineup that brought me out, and in short it was fantastic.

It was only by chance that I caught Toronto's Bruce Peninsula as I'd happened by their free show (a CD release at that for their new album "Open Flames" which comes out October 4) at Christ’s Church Cathedral. Apparently, Toronto's Snowblink had opened the show. Funny, but I'd never had seen the band live before, and have more than an ounce of regret after hearing what little I did that day. Within the sublime acoustics and environs of the church, the vibrant, vocal indie-folk of the band was mesmerizing. I'd only caught their last song and their encore, but it was enough to count me now as a convert. The band are in the midst of a tour and will be in Toronto on October 27 for a show at Lee's Palace.

Bruce Peninsula @ Supercrawl: photo by Michael Ligon

Having only seen Basia Bulat the week before, playing a solo show in Mississauga at Celebration Square, I was super excited to see her perform with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. With the Orchestra adding illustrious arrangements to Basia's tunes and with Basia herself changing the phrasing of her vocals somewhat, these versions were quite a bit different than I'd heard from her before. And yes it worked very well. As a Hamilton outsider, when I think of Hamilton, a symphony orchestra does not come to mind, but after this set, Hamilton has proven its cultural depth with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra's blissful performance with Miss Bulat.

Basia Bulat with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra @ Supercrawl: photo by Michael Ligon

As the sun went down and then set, after a long setup, Montreal trio Plants and Animals took the stage for a vibrant set of their tactile and jammy rock music. "Faerie Dance" with the audience participation of "la la la la la la la la la" was perhaps their finest moment of the night. Terribly disappointing that the band's long set-up time meant the band had to cut their set short, but otherwise it was a fine set.

Plants and Animals @ Supercrawl: photo by Michael Ligon

Who might Paley and Francis be? Well, the Francis refers to Black Francis - yes, that one, sometimes also referred to as Frank Black. But no this was not a Pixies set nor the Frank Black show. Francis and Paley (Reid Paley that is) took relatively equal duties on lead vocals, and the music drew a bit on the garage rock eccentricities of the Pixies though perhaps with a bit of a blues flavour. With the duo rounded out with a bass player and drummer, it was not as electrifying as I'd hope it be but still to see Black Francis was exciting.

Paley and Francis @ Supercrawl: photo by Michael Ligon

Shooting back to the mainstage I went, to catch Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis sitting on a chair, playing his acoustic guitar through an amp and performing some of Dinosaur Jr.'s more well known songs. Later on in the set, J would bring up Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew to sing along on "Not Enough". Musically I loved it and J tore through some fantastic guitar solos, although as a whole it was somewhat underwhelming to watch a solo set as the quiet crowd gazed towards him. Part of me wished I could have caught Junior Boys' set down the street, but that stage was too far to get to and I wanted to secure a spot for Broken Social Scene's headlining set.

J Mascis (with Kevin Drew) @ Supercrawl: photo by Michael Ligon

Broken Social Scene's show at Harbourfront Centre in 2009 was my favourite show by them ever, with the extended BSS family like Feist and Emily Haines popping out the woodworks to make it a very special show. Broken Social Scene are a much more streamlined animal these days with a core lineup of Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Charles Spearin, Andrew Whiteman, Justin Peroff, Lisa Lobsinger and Sam Goldberg making up the band. Kevin mentioned that this was their last show in Ontario for a long time, and with recent news of the band going on an indefinite hiatus, I'm glad to have caught the band this time. No special guests unfortunately for this how, but the band did seem to have a pep in their step as they played selection of favourites from their last three albums and apparently also including a cover of Modest Mouse's "World At Large". It was neither the band's best nor worst show but as a capper to the festival it was a keeper. I have no doubt the band will be back (and have not broken up). I think we've all started to take the band for granted, especially over the last several years, and I think now's the perfect time for the band to take a break, both for themselves and from us, but I think when the band eventually make their return, it will be monumental.

Broken Social Scene @ Supercrawl: photo by Michael Ligon

For my complete photoset of Supercrawl, check out the link below:

Photos: Supercrawl in Hamilton, ON (September 10, 2011)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011 Toronto International Film Festival Wrap-Up

I jumped heavier into this year's Toronto International Film Festival than I'd ever had before seeing a total of eleven films over the festival's eleven day run. Overall, I'm glad to say that everything I saw was good to great, although having seen a number of films that were dark, grim, or just plain weird, I'm motivated for next year to see more comedies.

Gus Van Sant's newest film "Restless" was a great start to the festival, a quiet, quirky film about life and death, and the budding romance between two social misfits. There was a very nice balance between the sombre and the uplifting elements of the story and both lead actors, Henry Hopper as Enoch Brae and Mia Wasikowska as Annabel Cotton were excellent. My favourite scene in the film was the graveyard conversation.

Q&A, 'Restless': photo by Michael Ligon

Directed by and starring Ryan O'nan (and who also wrote and performed many of the songs in the film), his directorial debut "The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best" turned out to be a great little indie comedy. In the film, a pair of fate-matched musical losers come together to form a guitar / multi-instrumentalist indie rock duo and go on tour. Part comedy, part drama, part road movie, this was a fun film with surprisingly good musical performances to boot. The three leads (Ryan O'Nan, Michael Weston, Arielle Kebbel) may be relative unknowns but were fantastic and there were some familiar faces (particularly Andrew McCarthy, Christopher McDonald, Jason Ritter and Wilmer Valderrama) that filled out smaller roles to great effect.

Q&A, "The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best": photo by Michael Ligon

I took the Sunday route with a laid back screening of the new Todd Solondz film "Dark Horse" at the VISA Screening Room at the magnificent Elgin Theatre. Having rewatched Solondz' 1998 film "Happiness", I was reminded of his skewed perspective on everyday life, even borderline uncomfortable to watch, depending on the company you were watching it with. While Solondz hasn't necessarily changed his world view on things, he's reigned back the weirdness just a tad on his new film. In this new film, Solondz' story of a man-child's pursuit for love is comedic, yet tragic, fantasical yet grounded in real life.

Q&A, "Dark Horse": photo by Michael Ligon

With famed director Jonathan Demme already hemming Neil Young's previous concert films: 2006′s "Heart of Gold" and 2009′s "Trunk Show", it was only natural that he come on board to document Young's shows at Massey Hall in May of 2010. This newest concert film entitled "Neil Young Journeys" is not only of document of Neil's two night stint at Massey Hall in May of 2010 but also intersperses clips of Young's musings of his childhood as he makes the drive from his childhood hometown of Omemee, ON to Massey Hall in Toronto. Concert films will never take place of a real show but this one comes close with perhaps the finest audio quality I've ever heard during a concert film. During the Q & A, Demme and Young spoke about some sort of new audio technology used I believe to record the sound, and believe me the sound quality was fantastic.

Q&A, "Neil Young Life": photo by Michael Ligon

Apparently, if you're Australian, the mention of "Snowtown", conjures horrific stories of serial killings that took place in the impoverished small town in South Australia between 1992 and 1999. In his directorial debut, director Justin Kurzel does a superb job, given the difficult subject matter, in firstly directing mostly unknowns who gave fantastic performances, and secondly, creating an the films appropriately grim atmosphere. It's not really a film I can say I took 'pleasure' in watching, given it's subject matter, but I appreciated the craftmanship that went into it.

Q&A, "Snowtown": photo by Michael Ligon

And what would a film festival be, without at least watching a foreign film with subtitles. "Kotoko" a Japanese film directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, tells the story of the unravelling mental state of a young mother with double vision which affects her ability to take care of her baby, eventually being suspected of child abuse and having her baby taken away from her. The film does a great job with editing and camera shows in illustrating the realm of pyschosis, to the almost unbearable point of feeling the sickening madness myself. Tsukamoto stars in the film as a writer who's drawn to Kotoko's maudlin singing on the bus one day, eventually pursuing her romantically even after realizing her mental unwellness. At this point, this sounds like a Hollywood formula, but believe me this film is far from it.

Q&A, "Kotoko": photo by Michael Ligon

The most 'star-studded' film I saw was the co-production between Canadian actor Shawn Ashmore and British actor Dominic Monaghan for their post-apocalyptic film "The Day". The short of it is, the film is about a rag-tag group who try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world but then encounter a hurdle. What is it you might ask? No, it's not zombies. Go watch the film. Not much depth to the plot, but as a Midnight Madness entry it was appropriately fun, especially with some of it's kick ass kill sequences.

Q&A, "The Day": photo by Michael Ligon

Better known as stand-up comedian, Bobcat Goldwaithe's directorial effort entitled "God Bless America" turned out to be a surprisingly affecting film. It definitely has a satirical edge and a sensibility that reminds me somewhat of the 1993 film "Falling Down" starring Michael Douglas. But amidst the film's satirical components, is the unconventional friendship between a middle-aged divorced father and a dissatisfied, independent teenage girl. Albeit, as touching as that sounds, the premise of the story is that they do go on a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque killing spree. Better than I expected, and admist the violence and satire, there was a wonderfully human message.

Q&A, "God Bless America": photo by Michael Ligon

The zombie film genre is something I've grown attached to over the years and was psyched to see that the Cuban-Spanish co-production entitled "Juan Of The Dead" was in this year's festival. It definitely leans towards the side of "Shaun of The Dead" with it's comedic angle, and the humour while cheesy at times, was at other times uproariously funny. Part of me was a little disappointed at times that the zombies weren't as visually threatening as they could have been, the zombies being of the slow and sluggish-paced variety. Director Alejandro Bruges uses the characters' dialogue at times to make commentary about life in Cuba, which somehow fits in well with the characters' situations. Admirable addition to the zombie film genre.

Q&A, "Juan Of The Dead": photo by Michael Ligon

My penultimate film of TIFF was the midnight madness screening of UK film "Kill List" directed by Ben Wheatley. A strange and suspenseful twist on the hit-man film, I especially enjoyed the pacing and buildup of film. By the end film which turns out to be a suckerpunch, your reaction is like, holy 'eff did that just happen? Intensely, dark atmosphere, maybe too dark for some, it won't be everyone's cup of tea but I'll recommend as an intriguing curiousity.

Q&A, "Kill List": photo by Michael Ligon

My last film of TIFF was the Swedish film "Play". Intriguingly shot entirely in long shot, "the film is based on an actual incident in Gothenburg where a group of black kids manipulated other teenagers, mostly from "ethnic" backgrounds, into surrendering their valuables." As a closer for the festival for me, it was an insightful film and its use of long shots an example of how wonderfully cinematography in filmmaking can be. As a story which touches on issues of bullying, race, and the like, it was an insightful film.

And that's it. Let's do this again next year.

And more of my pics during TIFF below:

Elgin Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

TIFF Volunteers: photo by Michael Ligon

Red Carpet at Roy Thomson Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

Princess of Wales Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

Mounties by Mr. Brainwash: photo by Michael Ligon

Spray Cans by Mr. Brainwash: photo by Michael Ligon

Alfred Hitchcock by Mr. Brainwash: photo by Michael Ligon

For my complete TIFF photoset, check out the link below:

Photos: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (September 8-18, 2011)


ps. Apologies to anyone who's stuck around for the last 2 1/2 months hoping for a post. I lost all motivation for posting gig reviews during the summer partially out of laziness but also partially because of the dearth of really anything extraordinary to post about. Mind you, I saw some good shows during the summer, and did the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago this past July but otherwise the bands and artists that I did see, you've all heard and read about anyway. While my motivation for writing has waned, the pleasure of grabbing a few photos at gigs still remains. At the very least, photos will still provide content to this site, but I'm rethinking the writing angle. I'd like to keep the writing off-the-cuff and spontaneous and rather leave the act of music writing to those of who you who do it for a living, or at least do it better. One of the books I'd read over the summer was called "The Cult of the Amateur - How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture", a harsh critique of user-generated internet/web content in many ways, but one thing I've gained from the book is that I'll probably tighten the quality control on what I publish and don't publish.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Persian Rugs, Stars, Action Makes, Crocodiles, Heavy Cream @ NXNE in Toronto (June 17, 2011)

Crocodiles: photo by Michael Ligon
  Crocodiles: photo by Michael Ligon

Since I had Friday[June 17] off from work, I'd had hopes off making it out to some of the daytime NXNE festivities but alas it did not happen. It figures just when it seems the daytime NXNE-affiliated or NXNE-related shows are stepping it up, I don't make it out to any of them. On the other hand, I made a conscious decision to try to start the night out early.

My 8 pm pick went to Toronto indiepop group Persian Rugs. In my NXNE preview post for this night I picked Persian Rugs as my choice for the 8 pm slot and in that same post, I kind of eulogized the death of indiepop in Toronto when Toronto's The Airfields called it quits (went on hiatus?) a few years ago. It was a pleasant surprise when lo and behold up on the stage of the Silver Dollar I see Ian Jackson, ex of The Airfields and The Diableros. Also behind the drumkit was Diableros drummer Mike Duffield. Filling out the band was a female on alternate lead vocals and keyboards as well as a gent on bass guitar. Very much in the vein of C86 / Sarah Records-inspired indiepop, the alternating lead vocals between Ian and their female vocalist was a nice change. As well the varying textures from song to song going from sweet, float-y synth, to more dissonant guitar work kep things interesting. Not quite sure what happened to The Airfields although if I understand correctly that was the project of a one David Lush, so it is nice to see that Mr. Jackson's struck out with his own band. Thin crowd at the Silver Dollar but given the confined quarters there, a thin crowd didn't seem all that thin actually.

For my 9 pm timeslot I shot up to Yonge Dundas Square to catch Stars. I had to dig back through the archives but I believe the last time I saw Stars live was when they played a free show at University of Toronto in September 2007 as part of Frosh Week. And now here they are headlining a big show at Yonge Dundas Square. As I fully expected it was packed so I reserved myself to watching the show from the back amongst which as you might guess is far less exciting than watching a show from near the front. So I got to see Torquil's big face on the video screen, as well as of course the lovely Amy Millan. Busting out their 'hits' such as "Elevator Love Letter", "The Night Starts Here", and "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", Stars' fans got what they wanted. I remember seeing Stars several years back when they played Lee's Palace(one show of a multi-night stint there) and it was really fantastic but the effect of the band's sophisticated pop songs felt diluted in the Square. Good points to the set other than the music - Torq's articulate / humourous banter such as his dedication of their song "We Don't Want Your Body" to the lady-adorned H & M billboard atop the Eaton Centre staring back at him from across the street.

The garage rock / pysch scene in Toronto is proudly heralded and promoted by Toronto indie label Optical Sounds although it's largely a scene I don't have partake in that often. Toronto garage act Action Makes who were playing the Silver Dollar at 11 pm were my next stop. As I arrived, the band were already playing to a sweaty packed crowd, with a select bunch of patrons really getting their dance on. With mop-topped lead vocalist Clint Rogerson, and four other gents on keys, guitar, bass, and drums, the band stomped through a melodically-infused set of garage rock tunes. They were as good, maybe even better, than other bands of the genre I've heard. They play live in Toronto occasionally and I do recommend they'd be worth your time.

The big draw of the night, at least for me, was the next band to hit the Silver Dollar stage for a midnight set - that belonged to San Diego buzz act Crocodiles. With a co-ed membership, the females of the group on drums and Farfisa, with the males of the group on lead vocals, bass and guitar, the band played a setlist of tunes with titles like "Neon Jesus", "Summer of Hate", "Hexes" and "I Want To Kill". The lyrics may have not been all sunshine and lollipops but musically, the upbeat tempos and melodies showed the band to be far more fun and less serious than you might have imagined. For God's sake, they played a totally fun Farfisa-driven cover of The Ramones "Beat On The Brat" - loved it. Making the set even more special was what seemed like a totally spontaneous moment when NXNE-participants, Dum Dum Girls [Dee Dee's husband is Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles] jumped onto stage and started to dance and jump up and down vigorously during Crocodiles' set. Crocodiles were Silver Dollar promoter Dan Burke's pick to play a 3-night stint at the venue for NXNE and this very well could have been the best show of the bunch, well at least I hope it was.

Ending off the night for me was garage-punk outfit Nashville's Heavy Cream who were playing next door at The Comfort Zone. The 3/4 female group were setting up still as a I arrived and I was a bit disappointed to see the venue less than packed. I'd seen them live during last year's CMJ in NYC and I'd missed their set during this year's Canadian Musicfest so I was glad to take in their set during NXNE. Taking their musical cues from The Ramones with short bursts of rock n' roll tunes (although perhaps less melodic), as well as visual cues with their t-shirts and denim, Heavy Cream gunned through a set with just the right amount of punk attitude, especially from vocalist Jessica McFarland (now sporting a platinum-blonde, longer haircut rather than the tomboy-ish, brown-ish 'do she had last year during CMJ) who's snarling vocals always seemed genuine and never cartoonish. This is a band I could have imagined would have fit in quite well with the CBGB's / 1977 NYC punk scene. I might not be cool, but they are.

Photos: Persian Rugs, Stars, Action Makes, Crocodiles, Heavy Cream @ NXNE in Toronto (June 17, 2011)
MySpace: Persian Rugs
MySpace: Stars
MySpace: Action Makes
MySpace: Crocodiles
MySpace: Heavy Cream