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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Snowblink, OFF!, Washington, Kevin Seconds, Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield, No Joy, Chains of Love @ NXNE in Toronto (June 16, 2011)

Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield: photo by Michael Ligon
  Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield: photo by Michael Ligon

I stayed surprisingly true to my original picks for this night of NXNE. And making the most of my Priority Plass(thanks NXNE), I hit the night hard.

Kicking off the night early, I hit The Music Gallery to take in the 7 pm set of Toronto-by-way-of-California band Snowblink. I arrived just after the band had started it seemed with most of the pew seating occupied so I took to the right side of the church to stand and snap a few photos. Getting my first real taste of the band's songs, I'm now less inclinded to lump them into the indie-folk genre (my original preconception of what I thought they might be based on reviews I read) and even moreso have to draw a comparison to Feist who was the artist I was reminded of when I'd first sampled their tunes prior to their set. Like Feist's occasional use of a stripped down instrumental setup, Snowblink which is the project of Daniela Gesundheit had along with her only a drummer and guitarist, and the three musicians played a subdued set of not-quite-folk and skeletal pop. My first taste of Snowblink and it was good.

I decided to bypass the 8 pm timeslot for a snack and then headed to Yonge Dundas Square to catch the tail-end of Fucked Up but ended up missing the whole set. Hardcore supergroup OFF! who were playing the Square next were my 9 pm pick for the night and although I hadn't got the e-mail confirmation that day to photograph the show, the gentleman in the pit making the decisions was kind enough to let me shoot. The band consisting of Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag) with Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides) and Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless, Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes) played a blistering set, the self-admitted 56-year-old vocalist Keith Morris in fine form as was the rest of the band (guitarist Dmitri Coats and his long red wavy hair flapping around providing visual stimulation for the crowd. Morris showed himself to be an articulate person, his banter touching on political issues, the punk scene, and growing old. His proposed plan if OFF! were to play the half-time show at the Super Bowl, including dropping tar from the Goodyear Blimp on to the heads of US Politicans was hilarious but at the same time illustrates Morris' political convictions.

Lee's Palace was my next destination, mostly because I was keen on catching the midnight set of Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield, but first there were the 10 pm and 11 pm sets of Aussie singer-songwriter Washington and American singer-songwriter Kevin Seconds respectively to to stand through. Fortunately, what I'd sampled from those artists prior to show pique my interest. I was a littled disappinted that Washington (whose full name is Megan Washington) was playing solo with only keyboards but almost from the getgo she showed herself to be a mighty talent. With her supple keyboard playing and emotive vocals, obvious comparisons are Fiona Apple and perhaps even Sara Bareilles. Megan played a set of originals as well as covers by Rufus Wainwright and fellow Aussie Paul Kelly, the latter which was her last song of the night and which she sung accapella. Quite a thin crowd at this point, but for those who were there, we were impressed.

With the crowd growing a little fuller for 11 pm, singer-songwriter Kevin Seconds (ex-vocalist of seminal Reno, Nevada punk rockers 7 Seconds formed back in the early 80's) took the stage. With his quite interestingly hand-decorated acoustic guitar which had among other things a picture of a young Johnny Cash as well as the words "This Machine Trolls Fascists" inscribed with black marker on it, Kevin played a great set of tunes that straddled country, folk and pop some a bit laid-back while others displaying a bit of a punk-ier energy with furiously strummed guitar. With song topics ranging from growing older[which seemed to be the defacto theme of the night thinking back to OFF!'s set], to his hometown of Sacramento, and to love and friends, Kevin had a good knack for melody and effective lyrics and his acoustic guitar chord structures and playing were fantastic.

As expected as soon as Mr. Seconds ended his set, I could feel the herd of patrons rushing as close as to the stage as possible for Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. I'd seen Evan live a few times in the past 6 years touring The Lemonheads playing newer material and the classics but on the other hand had never seen Juliana live, mostly because even as she was releasing new material she never ended up touring up here. As she'd mentioned during the set, she was releasing a new album/material later this year, but whatever made her decide to finally perform live up here now during NXNE (and better yet with Evan) I was just glad she was here. Sitting on stools side by side, and each with acoustic guitars, both were slightly older but at the same time almost exactly the way I'd remembered them back in the 90's, with their stringy hair, denim and morose facial expressions. Each took turns singing their songs, as well as singing together, on Lemonheads classics like "Drug Buddy" and "Down About It" and Hatfield tunes likes "Choose Drugs", and Dando was in fine voice as ever, while Hatfield held her own most of the time with only minimal strain trying to hit a few higher notes. This was a purely nostalgic set that left me with enormous happiness hearing these songs and at the same time a little sadness that the early 90's from which the setlist harkened from can now be classified as nostalgic. On a side note, while she admitted she was not a hockey fan, she just had to bring up the fact that the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Juliana we still love you anyway.

I felt I was on a roll at this point so I headed on down to the Horseshoe Tavern for the 1 am set of Montreal's No Joy. There was a good sized crowd for the blonde-haired duo of Laura Lloyd and Jasamine White as well as their male rhythm section on bass guitar and drums. There was a bit brighter stage lighting this time than when I'd previously seen them in NYC at CMJ last October which in my opinion detracted the vibe away from the band's shoegazer, noise-pop element and focused my attention more on how hard-rocking they were. Yes, they move on stage.

A quick check of the NXNE Twitter page revealed that the secret guests for the 2 am time slot at Sneaky Dee's were Vancouver retro-pop outfit Chains of Love and there I headed off. Some technical snafus prevented the band from starting on time but by about 2:30 am, things finally got underway. Chains of Love, consisting of Felix Fung (Guitar), Clint Lofkrantz (Bass/Guitar), Henry Beckwith (Keyboards), Nathalia Pizarro (Vocals), Rebecca Marie Law Gray (Vocals/Guitar), and Al Boyle (drums) play Motown-inspired, pop-filled, rock n' roll and have the sixties-influenced attire to match. The band's songs were glorious at times, but sometimes the tempos felt rushed. Asking the soundman for a lot of reverb in her vocals, frontwoman Nathalia Pizarro in her sparkly top and leather mini-skirt reminded me a lot of Amy Winehouse(back when Amy was voluptuous), exuded an exhuberance on stage and in her vocals. The band, quite literally at times, bashed away on their instruments, the drummer losing his cymbal a few times, while I believed a mic stand was knocked over at one point and finally, guitarist Fung lost the whammy bar off his guitar at the end. It seemed all over too soon, and with too few patrons really dancing (blame it on 3 am approaching at that point), so it may have not been their best set, but I'm sure this band could get an entire venue hopping.

Photos: Snowblink, OFF!, Washington, Kevin Seconds, Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield, No Joy, Chains of Love @ NXNE in Toronto (June 16, 2011)
MySpace: Snowblink
MySpace: OFF!
MySpace: Washington
MySpace: Kevin Seconds
MySpace: Evan Dando
MySpace: Juliana Hatfield
MySpace: No Joy
MySpace: Chains of Love

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lowe Dens, Ume @ NXNE in Toronto (Wednesday June 15, 2011)

Lower Dens: photo by Michael Ligon
  Lower Dens: photo by Michael Ligon

Over the last several years NXNE has taken strides to improve, one factor being that it kicks off stronger on the Wednesday night than it had historically. The Thursday night of the festival traditionally was the official first night of the festival but in recent years Wednesday night has provided more musical options, I guess to satiate the appetite of festival-goers who couldn't wait to get started. While generally I find this a good thing, this year I'd eased slowly into this year's festival with only two shows on the Wednesday night since I hadn't booked off work the day after[I'd only booked Friday off work] - next year, I think I might just book most of that week off. In the long run, I think easing into the festival with just two shows the first night was prudent as I hit the rest of the festival relatively harder and am only recovering now. And of course two shows the first night makes this blog post a whole lot easier to do.

By the time I'd started out this night, I'd already missed any bands or artists playing time slots from 9 pm or prior, and so then decided on checking out the 10 pm set by Baltimore's Lower Dens at the Garrison. I'd hadn't even heard the band's music prior to this night, but they were one of the buzzier acts of the festival and on top of that were playing the Garrison who've booked a number of good acts (most of which I've not actually caught unfortunately). Any anxiety I had of encountering a lineup at the venue was soon diminished as I got in with no problems and found the venue to be comfortably filled at about half capacity. A little background - the five member Baltimore outfit are led by the androngynous-looking Jana Hunter and they released their debut full-length Twin Hand Movement in 2010. Prior to that, Hunter was a solo artist, most notable for being the first artist to release an album on Devendra Banhart and Vetiver frontman Andy Cabic's label Gnomonsong. At the time I'd arrived, it looked like the band just began their set. With the general configuration of bass, guitar, synth, drums, and vocals, my initial impression was a bit underwhelming, although mostly due to the band's lack of stage presence but partially due to the sluggish pace of whatever song they were playing at the time. However as I listened more closely, the band's musical qualities became more apparent. Their music was a far more subdued version of shoegaze, choosing atmosphere, subtle dissonance, and echo-y melodic guitar lines over feedback. But what really tied it together nicely were the song's bubbling melodies and the enchanting, distant-sounding vocals of Hunter along with the contrasting back-up vocals of bassist Geoff Graham. Not an exemplary live experience by any standard due to the PA problems, but musically I'm convinced and I hope to catch the band live next time they come to town.

Next venue I headed to was the Drake Underground to see the 11 pm set by Ume. Austin, Texas female-led rock trio Ume have been simultaneously been making waves in the music scene and remaining a little under the radar for a few years now. I'm expecting them to really hit it big any day now. I've read that they've been named one of the top 16 unsigned bands in North America by Rolling Stone and after finally experiencing their live set, and well actually really hearing their music for the first time, you wonder why they haven't been signed yet. Led by husband-and-wife duo Eric Larson (bass) and Lauren Langner Larson (guitar/vocals) plus recently acquired new drummer Rachel Fuhrer the band tore through their hard rock, slightly punky tunes carried effectively by the melodic vocals of Langner. Langner was also exemplary as a guitarist ripping through riffs and displaying a strong personality and stage presence as front-person of the band. I'd half expected the venue to be at capacity and was more than a little surprised that the venue was only half full. Disappointly though, most of the crowd seemed fairly tame but overall the crowd was appreciative of the band's rocking set. Ume have now come through Toronto a number of times now and been constantly touring over the last few years, acquiring fans gradually. Ume's time will come, just you wait.

Photos: Lower Dens, Ume @ NXNE in Toronto (Wednesday June 15, 2011)
MySpace: Lower Dens
MySpace: Ume

Monday, June 20, 2011

Joel Plaskett Emergency, Beast @ David Pecaut Square, Toronto (June 10, 2011)

  Joel Plaskett: photo by Michael Ligon

NXNE just wrapped up so before the bombardment of festival coverage that will be upon you, I just wanted to get up a post on the Joel Plaskett Emergency show which kicked off Luminato over a week ago, a festival which also just wrapped this weekend.

Taking place at Metro Hall Square (renamed David Pecaut Square) a good sized crowd was onhand for the free show that was kicking off Luminato. Montreal alterna-rock outfit Beast wasn't really appealing to me from the start, with their somewhat dated sound merging 90's grunge and alternative rock with trip hop, hip hop and electronic rhythms. They were technically proficient, Francophone vocalist Betty Bonifassi posessing a strong, soulful singing style and the band was obviously appealing to some but they overall weren't my cup of tea. Drummer Jean-Phi Goncalves near the end of the set put on a fantastic display of drumming proficiency and when the band's bassist joined in and they both together segued into the intro of Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" I got excited for a moment although it only turned out to be a tease. Oh well.

Since the end of his Thrush Hermit days, Joel Plaskett has been alternating between releasing solo albums and as well as under the moniker of Joel Plaskett Emergency, the latter of which is a band configuration that chose for the Lumintao launch show that took place down at David Pecaut Square in Toronto on June 10. With original Emergency drummer Dave Marsh behind the skins and with multi-instrumentalist and current Toronto resident Peter Elkas as well as bassist Chris Pennell in tow, Joel and the band played a set that touched on all aspects of his career from the kick-off song which was Thrush Hermit's "From The Back of The Film", to recent solo tunes like "Deny Deny Deny" & "Through Through Through" to Emergency standards like "Come On Teacher" and "Extraordinary". I think I've underappreciated Plaskett outside of Thrush Hermit when I should have been paying more attention. As was fully exemplified during this live set, he's a clever lyricist and outstanding songwriter and while his gangly physical appearance may not be an indicator, Plaskett's seasoned comfort on stage as a performer (including humourous banter) is apparent. He's got a foothold in classic rock influences but at the same time his songs have a timeless quality which cannot necessarily be said of his Thrush Hermit days which definitely have a 90's indie rock quality to them. Regrettably, I wish I'd been more familiar with Plaskett's work as I would have sung along with many of those that were in attendance. It was one of those shows, that I'd not expected much but came out with a reaction like, that was really great. The show was not without a certain bit of promotion as Plaskett just released a solo-spanning rarities collection entitled EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations via his own label, New Scotland Records. The collection boasts 20 tracks spanning over a decade of his career and as impressed I was with Plaskett during this live appearance I may just have to pick up this new collection and rediscover him all over again.

Photos: Joel Plaskett Emergency, Beast @ David Pecaut Square, Toronto (June 10, 2011)
MySpace: Beast
MySpace: Joel Plaskett

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NXNE Picks (Sunday June 19, 2011)

If I had to encompass the last four days of NXNE, it'd be "phew!" and on one level I actually didn't hit the festival as hard as previous years. Part of it has to do with the 'Murtaugh' factor (ie. Roger Murtaugh, a character in the Lethal Weapon films whose famous catchphrase is "I’m getting’ too old for this shit") which had been hilariously played up in an episode of "How I Met Your Mother". A few nights ago I was waiting for the TTC Blue Line bus with Murtaugh's famous catchphrase running through my mind. But I digress. It's been a great festival and it seems to be getting better and better every year. However, it's not just yet over as NXNE concludes officially tonight with a free hip hop show down at Yonge Dundas Square. Check out my NXNE picks for today below including details tonight's hip-hop NXNE closing festivities show down at Yonge Dundas Square:

3:00 pm - 6:00 pm - Static Zine Launch Party @ Sky Blue Sky & Christie Pitts

Static Zine is a new Toronto arts and lifestyle zine started by fellow Toronto blogger Jessic Lewis of Roundletters along with Melody Lamb and Aviva Cohen of The Singing Lamb. The zine which has already apparently run out of it's original printing had been given out by the girls through various locations in Toronto including NXNE headquarters at the Hyatt Regency. To celebrate the zine's launch, they're having a day of intimate performances first at a Wilco-themed sandwich shop in Toronto called Sky Blue Sky [which I've yet to visit but I heard is great], then strolling down Bloor St. towards Christie Pits where the last few bands conclude things. It's technically not a NXNE-affiliated event but the first issue of the zine was billed as the NXNE issue, so there. And as you read this, it's still not to late to catch the bands that'll be playing the launch party. The bands and set times are as follows (I realize that I'm posting this late and I apologize):

3:00 Kat Burns at Sky Blue Sky
3:30 Lowell Sostomi (of Great Bloomers) at Sky Blue Sky
4:15 walk down Bloor with The Ruby Spirit
5:00 Bravestation at Christie Pits
5:30 Sister at Christie Pits

Video: Kat Burns - In Studio(National Post) session
Video: Great Bloomers - "The Young Ones Slept" (music video)
Video: The Ruby Spirit - "Tin Can Bees" (Wood & Wires Session)
Video: Bravestation - "White Wolves" (music video)

Unfortunately, I will not be able to make it(sorry girls) because of Father's Day plans so I wish them all success.

7:00 pm - 11:00 pm - The Pharcyde, Digable Planets, D-Sisive @ Yonge Dundas Square

Canadian rapper opens things up early down at the Square at 7 pm with 90's hip hop legends Digable Planets and The Pharcyde continuing the party at 8 pm and 9 pm respectively. As hip hop goes I'm no where a connoisseur of the genre and I only have relatively small amount of it in my music collection, but 90's hip hop was in my opinion my favourite decade for the genre thus far. Argue that as you may listen to The Pharcyde's debut full-length Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde or Digable Planets' second album Blowout Comb and then tell me if I'm wrong.

Video: D-Sisive - "Wonderful World" (music video)
Video: Digable Planets - "9th Wonder (Blackitolism)" (music video)
Video: The Pharcyde - "Passin' Me By" (music video)

11:00 pm - Wild Nothing @ Garrison

The NYC indie pop group played a good set at Lee's Palace yesterday and were one of my picks for yesterday. Here's another chance to see them live.

Video: Wild Nothing - "Chinatown" (live @ Holocene, Portland Oregon, March 01 2011)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

NXNE Picks (Saturday June 18, 2011)

While tomorrow NXNE concludes officially, tonight's festivities are really where it's at. There is just too much going on, really illustrating the major downside to festival's such as this is that you're always going to miss something. But c'est la vie. As you can see from my picks below, it's very likely that I might just camp out at Lee's for most of the night. But then again maybe I won't. We'll see how it all works out. As always make sure to check out the NXNE Twitter as you never know what last-minute special shows might be announced. Fuck, if Brian Wilson plays some intimate last-minute set somewhere, I will die [not literally - you know what I mean] - but then again at 2:00 am he's probably fast asleep in his hotel room, which is probably what I'll want to be doing at that time also.

5-5:40 PM - Dirty Beaches @ Yonge Dundas Square

Alex Zhang Hungtai, known by his stage name Dirty Beaches, is a one-man band whose music, from what I've heard is a weird hybrid of rockabilly and post-punk influences. Intriguing stuff, although I'm not sure how this'd come off in the daylight and concrete surroundings of Yonge Dundas Square.

Video: Dirty Beaches - "Sweet 17" (live @ Hardly Art / Art Fags showcase, SXSW 2011)

7-7:40 PM - Cults @ Yonge Dundas Square

This NYC indie outfit, with their reverb-laden, Motown / Blues influced pop music has been making waves since last year having alreadly rolled through Toronto twice. Apparently there was a packed house for their midnight set at Lee's Palace yesterday. Here's your last chance during the festival to see what the hype's all about.

Video: Cults - "Most Wanted" (Live in Toronto, 4.4.2011)

8 PM - Mode Moderne @ Supermarket

Elements of goth-pop, Joy Division, and The Smiths seem to infuse the bands tunes from what I've heard. Given my 'goth' leanings as of late (Austra, Zola Jesus, and older bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees, This Mortal Coil), Mode Moderne would give me another opportunity to awaken my inner goth.

Video: Mode Moderne - "Ashes" (live, 2009)
Video: Mode Moderne - "Real Goths (fan video)

Also worth your time: Men Without Hats @ Yonge Dundas Square [8:00 pm - 8:40 pm]

9 PM - Doldrums @ 918 Bathurst

As quoted from their page, "Doldrums is a project started by Airick Woodhead. He lives in Toronto and does weird stuff." According to the band's website, they are soon(?) to be releasing a split 7" with DDMMYYYY.

Video: Doldrums - "I'm Homesick Sitting Up Here In My Satellite" (music video)

Also worth your time: Louise Burns @ Supermarket, Devo @ Yonge Dundas Square [9:30 pm - 11:00 pm]

10 PM - Guards @ Lee's Palace

Guards is the one-man band pop project of Richie Follin(who also is in the band Willowz). His sister is Madeline Follin of the band Cults.

Video: Guards - Live at Daytrotter Barnstormer IV

Also worth your time: Jennifer Castle @ The Great Hall, Hooded Fang @ Horseshoe Tavern

11 PM - Wild Nothing @ Lee's Palace

I was impressed with the indiepop stylings of NYC group Wild Nothing when I caught them during CMJ in NYC last October so it's very possible I will just stay put at Lee's for them and the next couple of acts.

Video: Wild Nothing - "Live In Dreams" (live at Monster Island Basement for Fader TV)

Also worth your time: Grimes @ 918 Bathurst, Braids @ The Great Hall, Jenn Grant @ Horseshoe Tavern, Heartbeat Hotel @ Rancho Relaxo, Nightbox @ Wrongbar

midnight - Twin Shadow @ Lee's Palace

Twin Shadow, the stage name of George Lewis Jr. Lewis was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Florida, been making splashes in the indie scene for the last year or so eventually getting signed to 4AD for his debut full-length Forget whose been described as the black Morrissey by some and his sound harkens back to the new-wave pop of the 80's. I've heard but a few of his tunes and I'm liking everything so far. Lee's probably will be packed at this point so it's recommended you probably come by a few sets early.

Video: Twin Shadow - "Castles In The Snow" (Billboard's Tastemakers Session @ Mophonics Studios, NYC)

Also worth your time: Secret Cities @ Dakota Tavern, Chad VanGaalen @ The Great Hall, Dinosaur Bones @ Horseshoe Tavern, Diamond Rings @ Wrongbar

1 AM - Memoryhouse @ Lee's Palace

This Guelphite band's dream-pop impressed me during their set at Canadian Musicfest earlier this year. But then I'm a sucker for this kind of music. The band were recently signed to Sub Pop - look for a new release by the end of the year.

Video: Memoryhouse - "Lately" (music video)

Also worth your time: Crocodiles @ Silver Dollar, Handsome Furs @ Garrison, Grimes @ The Great Hall, One Hundred Dollars @ Horseshoe Tavern

2 AM - Makeout Videotape @ Garrison

Tasty, lo-fi pop nuggets from are what this young guitar / drums Vancouverite duo seem to specialize in. Not too shabby. Good way to end the night perhaps - if I'm still standing.

Video: Makeout Videotape - "Heatwave" (music video)

Also worth your time: Lying down on the nearest park bench.

Friday, June 17, 2011

NXNE Picks (Friday June 17, 2011)

Phew! Yesterday, I hit NXNE hard taking in show starting at 7 pm with Snowblink at The Music Gallery and ending off the night with the 2 am set by Vancouver Motown-influenced indie outfit Chains Of Love at Sneaky Dee's. Slept in until 10 am this morning which it's a good thing I booked off work today. And now we'll do this all over again tonight. Here are my picks for tonight:

8 PM - Persian Rugs @ Silver Dollar

After Toronto indiepop group The Airfields dissolved a few years ago, I thought indiepop in Toronto was pronounced dead, but apparently that's not the case as evidenced by Toronto's Persian Rugs who wave the flag of C86 / Sarah Records-styled indiepop proudly.

Video: Persian Rugs - "Always All" (NYC Popfest @ The Rock Shop, 22.5.11)

Also worth your time: The Most Serene Republic @ The Mod Club

9 PM - Secret Cities @ Wrongbar

This Fargo, North Dakota band plays psychedlic-tinged, chamber pop. Could be worth checking out if I find the crowds at Yonge Dundas Square for the Stars show too daunting.

Video: Secret Cities - "Pink City" (music video)

Also worth your time: Art Brut @ The Mod Club

9:30 PM - Stars @ Yonge Dundas Square

You know 'em and you love 'em. The Montreal indiepo quintet have been around for a little over a decade with their 2004 album Set Yourself On Fire a certifiable classic in the Canadian music canon. The band just released the digital-only The Bedroom Demos, which you probably guessed correctly are the demos of the songs which appeared on the band's 2007 album In Our Bedroom After The War. The Square will be packed and of course there'll be some loser who shouts out prematurely, "play, 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead".

Video: Stars - "The Night Starts Here" (music video)

10 PM - PUJOL @ Wrongbar

I'll likely be at the Stars show at Yonge Dundas Square for PUJOL (whose full name is Daniel Pujol) who had a 7-inch produced by Jack White last year. PUJOL's garage punk sonics are improved on by his grasp of melody which, in my books, places him a notch above other wailing garage punks.

Video: Pujol - "Black Rabbit" (music video)

Also worth your time: Dirty Beaches @ Lee's Palace, The Vandelles @ Comfort Zone, Indian Handcrafts @ El Mocambo (main floor)

11 PM - Volcano Playground @ Rancho Relaxo

A local Toronto act that I was previously acquainted with, what I've heard from Volcano Playground ranges from blippy electro-pop to more guitar-oriented indie pop. And with both male and female vocals to boot, I do indeed want to check these folks out.

Video: Volcano Playground - "Fill It Up" (live @ The Painted Lady, Toronto on August 31, 2010)

Also worth your time: Braids @ Garrison, Dum Dum Girls @ Lee's Palace, Juliana Barwick @ Wrongbar

Midnight - Crocodiles @ Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar booker Dan Burke's annual tradition during NXNE of booking a band for three nights in a row continues this year with San Diego band Crocodiles, who as per indicated on their Wikipedia page are likened to The Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Spacemen 3. How can they go wrong? We'll see, but most accounts I've read of their show last night at the Silver Dollar were a thumbs up.

Video: Crocodiles - "Mirrors" (Studio Session With Insound)

Also worth your time: Freak Owls @ Czehoski, Carolyn Mark @ Dakota Tavern, Matters @ Drake Underground, Olenka and The Autumn Lovers @ Gladstone Ballroom, Swervedriver @ The Great Hall, OFF! @ Horseshoe Tavern, Cults @ Lee's Palace

1 AM - Heavy Cream @ Comfort Zone

This Nashville 3/4 female punk outfit impressed me when I saw them during CMJ in NYC last October. I missed them when they came through Toronto recently during Canadian Musicfest in March so maybe I'll make it up tonight.

Video: Heavy Cream @ Public Assembly, Brooklyn, 23 October 2010

Also worth your time: Rich Aucoin @ Garrison, The Pack A.D. @ Horseshoe Tavern, Superhumanoids @ Lee's Palace, Ty Segall @ Wrongbar

2 AM - Sheezer @ Sneaky Dee's

Fans of this local all-girl quartet totally dig what these girls do but there also seems to be an equal number of people who slag them. Of course this band is an offshoot made up of REAL musicians - Laura Barrett, Dana Snell (The Bicycles), Magali Meagher (The Phonemes), Robin Hatch (Sports: The Band). I've not seen these girls live but have heard some of their Weezer interpretations and if I end up getting down there tonight, I expect it to be loads of fun.

Video: Sheezer - "El Scorcho" (Weezer cover, Souther Souls session)

Also worth your time: Special Guests are scheduled for 918 Bathurst, Bovine Sex Club, El Mocambo (main floor), Garrison, Horseshoe Tavern, and Silver Dollar. Keep checking the Twitter feed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

NXNE Picks (Thursday June 16, 2011)

Again, here I am with my 11th hour picks for tonight for NXNE. I didn't hit NXNE hard yesterday but what I lacked in quantity I made up for in quality with decent sets from Baltimore indie outfit Lower Dens over at the Garrison and Austin, Texas' rock trio Ume at the Drake Underground. But, alas I had to work today. Responsibility, people. Booked off work tomorrow, so my tentative plans are to go out past midnight. Here are my picks for tonight, where you will most likely find me, most time slots except for 7 pm, indicating other alternate choices worth your time:

7 PM - Snowblink @ The Music Gallery

A local act I haven't gotten around to checking out, but they've been getting some buzz from the local press and having opened for some big names recently like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. They've generally been tagged as indie-folk although the sample below reminded me a bit of Feist. Take what you will from this.

Video: Snowblink - "Ambergris" (music video)

8 PM - The Lying Cheats @ Comfort Zone

The band's description in the NXNE guide describes them as a husband and wife team influenced by the Jesus and Mary Chain. The sampled below doesn't sound like JAMC but maybe I shall give them a chance.

Video: The Lying Cheats live at the Silver Dollar (April 28, 2011)

Also worth your time: Ruth Minnikin @ Dakota Tavern, Evening Hymns @ The Music Gallery, Rusty @ Yonge-Dundas Square

9 PM - OFF! @ Yonge-Dundas Square

Punk supergroup made up of Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag) with Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides) and Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless, Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes). With a lineage like this, they must be the best band in the world, right?

Also worth your time: The Luyas @ Horseshoe Tavern, Brian Borcherdt @ 918 Bathurst, Forest City Lovers @ The Music Gallery

10 PM - Washington @ Lee's Palace

What I've heard of this Aussie female falls squarely in the realm of what may be considered radio-friendly pop music but it possesses enough edge that I'm not embarrassed to admit I like it.

Video: Washington - "Rich Kids" (music video)

Also worth your time: The Two Koreas @ Velvet Underground

11 PM - Kevin Seconds @ Lee's Palace

Mr. Seconds was the vocalist of seminal Reno, Nevada punk rockers 7 Seconds formed back in the early 80's but he's playing it troubadour style these days with gritty acoustic guitar accompanied singer-songwriter material.

Video: Kevin Seconds - "Boy Leader" (from 'My Secret YouTube Videos' Series)

Also worth your time: PS I Love You @ Horseshoe Tavern

12 AM - Evan Dando / Juliana Hatfield - @ Lee's Palace

Mr. Dando and Miss Hatfield were both 90's hero's of mine fulfilling my sweet tooth for pop melodies while adding grit with grungy, fuzzy guitars which was fashionable back then - alterna-pop if one might categorize it. While my tastes have broadened since then, I've always held a special place in my heart for alterna-pop. Let's hope I get into this set.

Video: The Lemonheads - "It's A Shame About Ray" (music video)
Video: Juliana Hatfield Three - "My Sister" (music video)

Also worth your time: Ty Segall @ Garrison, Tomboyfriend @ El Mocambo (Upstairs)

1 AM - No Joy @ Horseshoe Tavern

Montreal female shoegaze duo. I saw them at CMJ last year and were impressed. Their debut full-lenth Ghost Blonde is out through Brooklyn indie label Mexican Summer.

Video: No Joy - "Hawaii" (music video)

Also worth your time: Bruce Peninsula @ Rivoli

2 AM - Special Guest @ El Mocambo (Main Floor)

No clues to who this will be, but I will be checking the Twitter feeds, you can count on it. Well, except if I run out of steam before that and call it the night.

Also worth your time: Light Fires @ Wrongbar

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NXNE Picks (Wednesday June 15, 2011)

North By Northeast kicks off tonight with a slew of choices for music fans and while tomorrow it really kicks into high gear, this year's Wednesday night is more robust than previous years. It was surprisingly problem-free picking up my media pass after work today, and this year's NXNE tote bag is nifty (I actually switched all my gear from my messenger bag into the tote bag because I like it that much). Ok, so I'm here in an internet cafe typing out my picks for y'all rather than checking out either of my 8 pm picks, but if I do end up checking anything out tonight, it'll be any number of my picks below:

08 pm - Young Contrarians @ Rancho Relaxo

Local outfit whose NXNE bio describes them as a " of soft rockers whose taste for 10cc, Eno and Kate Bush has produced a terrific little ambient pop group". I'm liking what I heard on their MySpace and am sorry I just missed their set.

08 pm - LOOM @ Rivoli

I've not heard about local artist Brooke Manning a.k.a LOOM currently on the roster of local indie label Nevado Records. Delicate vocals combined with atmospheric sometimes droning instrumental accompaniment. Intriguing.

10 pm - Rob Moir @ Dakota Tavern

My first impression was to liken Toronto troubadour Rob Moir to Dallas Green/City and Colour. The singer with guitar thing is so played out but I was really impressed with what I heard from this gent.

Video: Exclaim! TV: Rob Moir - Lost And Found (Like You)

10 pm - Lower Dens @ Garrison

The band name of Baltimore outfit Lower Dens recently in the press and by some of my fellow blogger peers but I still haven't heard a lick of them. But they're playing the Garrison who frequently book buzzy-worthy acts and that's enough that I might check 'em out.

Video: Lower Dens - I Get Nervous (NPR Tiny Desk Concert)

10 pm - The Meligrove Band @ Rivoli

This Mississauga trio's been on the local Toronto scene for years having gone from their east coast pop-influenced beginning towards headier, more psychedelic territory, all the while maintaining a keen ear for melody. The band's most recent effort Shimmering Lights was released last September through Nevado Records in Canada.

Video: The Meligrove Band - "Halflight" (live @ CN Tower)

11 pm - Red Mass @ Horseshoe Tavern

I'm tempted to check out this raucous Montreal psychedelic, garage rock collective again after having witnessed their earth-shattering performance at the Silver Dollar during NXNE in 2009.

11 pm - Ume @ Drake Underground

This Austin, Texas female-led rock trio been simultaneous been making waves and remaining a little under the radar for a few years now. I'm almost expecting them to really hit it big any day now. Maybe it'll be today.

Video: Ume - "The Conductor" (music video)

12 am - Parlovr @ Horseshoe Tavern

Self-described "Sloppy Pop" trio Parlovr (pronounced "parlor") formed in Montreal, Quebec had may a splash on the Canadian music scene a few years ago and somehow I've yet to see them live. I should remedy that but not tonight - I have to work tomorrow unfortunately. Yes, I am wussin' out.

Video: Parlovr - Pen to the Paper (music video)

01 am - The Damn Choir @ Dakota Tavern

Chicago five-piece who are described as cello-laced folk-rock which these days applies to a number of bands. Where in that spectrum do The Damn Choir fall? Make up your own mind.

Video: The Damn Choir - "Noah" (music video)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Radio Dept., Nightbox @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (May 29, 2011)

The Radio Dept @ Horseshoe Tavern: photo by Michael Ligon
  The Radio Dept @ Horseshoe Tavern: photo by Michael Ligon

Update[June 15/2011, 12:06 am]: Review now up.

So it had only been February 7 of this year which marked the Toronto debut of Swedish shoegaze-y, indie-pop trio The Radio Dept. but that didn't stop them from booking a second Toronto show just 3 1/2 months after, this time taking place at the slightly cozier Horseshoe Tavern. The other big show that night was anthemic Scottish shoegaze pop outfit Glasvegas playing a sold-out show at Lee's Palace and since my plans were foiled in picking up an advance ticket to the show, I decided to go check out The Radio Dept. for a second time.

New local dance-rock outfit Nightbox opened the show attempting to drive the crowd into a frenzy and only half succeeding. Indeed there was a small yet enthusiastic number of people dancing but then there was also quite a number of others seemingly disinterested. Count me as somewhere in the middle. I appreciated the band's sensibilities and was reminded a bit of UK's Friendly Fires but for some reason I don't recall being intrigued by the songs live. Strangely, their recorded output(from the samples on their MySpace) displays a melodicism, plus an equitable melding of organic(guitar, drums, bass) and electronic(programming, synth) influences that I really dig. Off-night for me perhaps that prevented me from being open to something new, but I guess all I was wanting was my dose of The Radio Dept. Until the next time Nightbox.

I never got around to reviewing The Radio Dept's show at Lee's Palace back in February but if I did, much of what I would have said would have applied to the band's recent show at the Horseshoe Tavern on May 29. Dim lighting. Sparse musical setup. Void of any stage presence. But all that aside, with music as delectably melodic as the band's hazey, indie-pop tunes, it didn't much matter. Playing some of the same songs they played back in February at Lee's Palace such as "David", "Freddie and the Trojan Horse", and "The Worst Taste in Music" but also adding some different ones like the breezy "This Past Week" and the stunningly dreamy and my absolute favourite "Pulling Our Weight", the inclusion of the latter resulted in this show inching ahead as the better show over the February show at Lee's Palace, even if the sightlines at the Horsehose can be less than desirable [which was of no consequence to me since I was near the front]. While the Glasvegas show may have been the higher profile show that night, there was a near-capacity, if not sold out capacity for The Radio Dept at the Horseshoe. And so for the hour or however long it was, reflective of the dream-like quality of the band's music, the crowd was put into a dream-like state that Sunday night making the entrance to the work-week the next day just that much more bearable.

Photos: The Radio Dept., Nightbox @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (May 29, 2011)
MySpace: Nightbox
MySpace: The Radio Dept.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anna Calvi, Cuckoo Chaos @ El Mocambo, Toronto (May 27, 2011)

Anna Calvi @ El Mocambo: photo by Michael Ligon
  Anna Calvi @ El Mocambo: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [June 14/2011, 11:14 pm]: Review now up.

One of the more anticipated draws of this year's Canadian Musicfest this past March was suppose to have been UK artist Anna Calvi who was suppose to have played a hotly tipped showcase at Wrongbar but when she cancelled the show plus a string of others due to an unspecified injury I'm sure it some disappointed. Ever since then I'd not even got around to sampling her wares but still was somehow compelled(based purely on the buzz surrounding her) to purchase a ticket to her show at the El Mocambo which took place a several weeks ago. Although press on Ms. Calvi from the local media and blogs seemed to be at a low rumble leading up to the show, the packed house did indicate otherwise that Toronto fans (or at least a segment of them) were still intrigued to check out the Toronto debut of this ingenue.

San Diego five-piece Cuckoo Chaos had the task of opening the show and were overall semi-successful. Admirable but not entirely revelatory, a modern point of reference would be Vampire Weekend as Cuckoo Chaos display at times a similar afro-beat means indie sensibility, although with less smugness and a bit more volume. The band's west coast origins also appears to have rubbed off in their music with at least of an ounce of a surf vibe in the band's African-influenced guitar melodies. The band in actuality are probably more influenced by the Talking Heads (rather than the Heads-influenced Vampire Weekend) even recounting them gushing over David Byrne who happened to take in their show at the Bowery Ballroom a few nights before - although Cuckoo Chaos vocalist Jackson Milgaten grinninly pointed out that Mr. Bynre was very likely at the Bowery to check out Miss Calvi. Cuckoo Chaos further into their set displayed more straightforward punk tendencies on at least one song which seemed to come from left-field but did show the band's versatility.

It's seldom these days it seems that I come across a new artist that leaves me awestruck but Miss Calvi did just that. Anna came onto stage with her hair tied back and wearing black pant suit and heels displaying a visual resemblance that reminded me of German actress/singer Marlene Dietrich. Along with her was a drummer and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist to fill out the sound. Her bandmates aside, it was Calvi's vocals and electric guitar which were front and centre. Playing songs off her debut self-titled album out through Domino Records, there was a myriad of influences that seemed to infuse her songs ranging from a southern gothic, twangy, guitar sound to the torch-song quality that infused her vocals. And if I had to pick her musical peers it'd probably be PJ Harvey and Nick Cave.

The beginning of her set, such as on her song "No More Words" in particular, started out with whispered vocals, brittle guitar, and lightly tapped drums and percussion quite a subtle display which at the same time made it quite apparent to the crowd of the hard-rocking band playing on the second floor. But soon, Calvi would cut loose with her expressive vocals and brash guitar playing on songs like the adrenalin-rushed "Blackout" or the gender-role reversal, early PJ Harvey-sounding "I'll Be Your Man". It was songs such as these that the crowd gravitated the most. On the other hand I was quite taken by the quiter, less-harsh material such as the romantic, grand-sounding "First We Kiss" or Calvi's twangy, southern gothic rendering of Elvis Presley's "Surrender". Nary a word from Miss Calvi between songs, but it didn't matter anyway because she'd already grabbed a hold of our attention with her music. Her one-song encore, an urgent rendition of Edith Piaf's "Jezebel", practically bowled the crowd over, as Anna passsionately uttered "Jezebel" as the drums and guitar came to a stop-on-a-dime conclusion. Utterly wonderful show.

Photos: Anna Calvi, Cuckoo Chaos @ El Mocambo, Toronto (May 27, 2011)
MySpace: Cuckoo Chaos
MySpace: Anna Calvi

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Austra, Trust, Army Girls @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (May 19, 2011)

Austra @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon
  Austra @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [June 9, 1:07 am]: Review now up.

Don't take my tardiness in posting this review as any sort of apathy towards local electro-diva Katie Stelmanis, these days fronting her new band Austra, who played a sold out record release show at Lee's Palace for their debut Domino Records full-length Feel It Break. On the contrary, that show was just further evidence that the hype that the music is indeed well-deserved. I was intrigued with Stelmanis' earlier work as a solo artist under her own name as well as her collaborations with drummer Maya Postepski, Stelmenis' prior works which could be described as classically-influenced keyboard arrangements accomapnied by her stark operatic vocals. Stelmanis maintains her identifiable vocal style with Austra but the music is indeed much more accessible, for all intent purpose pop songs that mix goth and dance influences into a truly infectious mix.

My procrastination cost me getting an advance ticket to the show and so I consider myself very fortunate to get into the show after lining up early before doors opened and eventually snagging one of only six available tickets at the door. Yay! The first opener wouldn't go on until about an hour later, which would be local guitar/drums duo Army Girls led by singer-songwriter Carmen Elle. They were an odd act to open given the electronic/beat-oriented acts that would follow. Carmen had a certain charisma with her empassioned pop vocals and strummed guitar playing and certainly has the potential, backed with her drummer, for greatness but honestly songwise I can't remember much at this juncture. Perhaps it was a veil of Austra excitement which blocked my focus during Army Girls' set. Better luck next time.

On the other hand, local electro-synth outfit, Trust, which featured Austra drummer Postepski doing double duty, made a fantastic impression. With Postepski's solid drumming and vocalist Robert Alfons slightly deadpan vocals, and with a third member adding some scintillating synth arrangements, Trust create dark yet most times danceable pop music. I wish they had had a different band name as I'd have probably have taken notice of the band sooner in the music listings and have already checked them up, but better late than never.

When I saw Austra live for the first time a few months ago during Canadian Musicfest, other than Stelmanis and Postepski, they were an unknown entity to me but I was intrigued enough by their description and the buzz surrounding them to give them a chance and they turned out to be my favourite set of the festival. That set was a perfect combination of the band creating an intoxicating, hypnotic sound and the audience reacting enthusiastically with undulating dance movements. It was intense. I'd hope those circumstances could be recreated again during their set at Lee's Palace a few weeks ago but it wasn't entirely achieved. There's no mistake that before and during the show, the crowd was excited. But the move to the larger Lee's Palace as compared to the much more intimate Wrongbar at which Austra performed at during Canadian Musicfest would definitely play a factor, at least in my mind. Stelmanis does not so much play to the audience as she gets lost in her own undulating body movements. It seemed like a select bunch at Lee's Palace who danced during the show whereas the crowd(well, at least the front crowd near the stage) at the Wrongbar show a few months ago were much, much more into it, my theory being that the eye-level experience of Stelmanis and her back-up vocalist-dancers hypnotic dance movements were reflected back to the audience much more effectively. The eye-level experience of seeing Austra at Wrongbar outdid their set at Lee's Palace, but only ever so slightly. The goth-vocal tinged, rhthymic "The Beat and The Pulse" may not be the best song on the band's debut full-length Feel It Break but arguably is the definitive song of the band, and in my mind was the best song of the nigh - sweeping vocals, trance-like beats - you will be converted and you will love it.

Photos: Austra, Trust, Army Girls @ Lee's Palace, Toronto (May 19, 2011)
MySpace: Army Girls
MySpace: Trust
MySpace: Austra

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Death Cab For Cutie, The Lonely Forest @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (May 18, 2011)

  Yes, that's Death Cab For Cutie

It's funny how long seven years can be. In the grand scheme of things, seven years isn't necessarily a long time. On the other hand, a lot can happen in seven years. I'm already nostalgic for 2004. Things were just a lot simpler back then (believe me it was). Musically, it was also somewhat of a renaisance period which for me culminated with my trip to Coachella that year where I latched onto bands (not necessarily new bands) that seemed to break out that year (or perhaps just prior to that year) such as Broken Social Scene and what is the topic of this post, Death Cab For Cutie. The Washington State indie four-piece had already released several indie albums, but broke out with their 2003 album Transatlanticism. A few years later they'd jump ship for the majors which brings us to the present as the band's third major-label album entitled Codes and Keys was just released and which brought the band to the Phoenix Concert Theatre a few weeks ago to promote the album with an intimate club show.

Lucky ticket-buyers were subjected to a will-call process to get into the venue, which while warding off scalpers, meant a lineup into the venue that snaked down Sherbourne even half an hour before doors opened which was when I arrived. But fortunately it was a mild spring day which made the waiting process more bearable. Finally making it into the venue, Anacortes, Washington quartet The Lonely Forest were already into their set warming up the fairly packed house. I'd have probably have been more into this band perhaps 7 years ago, their music in the vein of melodic emo pop-rock not entirely dissimilar at times to headliners Death Cab For Cutie. The band's musicianship and melodies was satisfying on one level but there was also something of generic quality that I couldn't get passed. Perhaps it's not such a good move to open up for Death Cab For Cutie if you sound a bit like them, just saying.

For a band who's worked their way up to scheduling their biggest show yet in Toronto on July 29 at the Molson Ampitheatre, you'd figure that an intimate club show would have the all-ages crowd at the Phoenix delirious. While the band entered onto the stage amidst a euphoric reponse, the crowd soon lulled into a passive state even though the band kicked off the set with fan favourites "I Will Possess Your Heart" and "The New Year". Honestly, from my vantage point from the middle of the room just past the drinking area barrier, the crowd seemed dead. The setlist, while including a number of songs from the new album (early on in the set including "Some Boys" and "Doors Unlocked and Open"), also included most if not all the fan favourites that I could think of. I think it wasn't until Ben Gibbard bantered to the audience that they'd play a lot of new songs and then quipped "This is like free jazz Death Cab...whatever happens happens" that the crowd finally warmed up with a chuckle.

Soonafter, with Ben on keys, the band broke into "What Sarah Said" with the crowd launching into singalong during the song's outro "who's gonna watch you die", a poignant closing to that song. With the band minus Ben leaving the stage, Ben polled the audience "This is fun right?" before leading into the other big audience singalong of the night of "I Will Follow You Into The Dark' with more than a few smartphones raised in unison to capture the video for posterity. Of the five or so new album songs played during the night, my favourite was "You Are A Tourist" with it's urgent tempo and sinewy, melodic guitar line. "Underneath The Sycamore" while less memorable was also enjoyable, at least within the group of the last part of the main set list which ended the main set on a high note. "Soul Meets Body", Twilight-soundtrack contribution "Meet Me At The Equinox", "Cath", "Crooked Teeth", "Sound of Settling" -- what more could any Death Cab fan asks for.

Well an encore for one, which the band gave to us with four songs, including some earlier catalogue tunes including "Photobooth" and "Your Bruise" but intermixed with Transatlanticism faves "Title and Registration" and the title track. When the band plays the Molson Ampitheatre in July it won't be the first time they've played a big stage - I did see them play the mainstage at the Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge Ampitheatre in Washington State in 2008 and the band just played that festival this past Memorial Day. While there wasn't as fervent a response from the crowd at the Phoenix as I'd hoped overall, the crowd did warm up and it turned out to be an enjoyable set. One can hope that their Molson Amp show will be life-changing for someone - I will attest that hearing "Transatlanticism" on a big stage amongst a sea of people and flickering lighters and illuminated mobile phone screens will virtually move you to tears.

ps. No photos for this show, except for the less-than-stellar cell phone photo above. I had a ticket for this show but not a photo pass. And I also just want to apologize for the lack of posts lately; general laziness on my part but I hope to get up reviews and photos for other shows I've attended lately including Austra, Anna Calvi, and The Radio Dept. Plus, of course, Luminato and NXNE is coming up. Stick around.

MySpace: The Lonely Forest
MySpace: Death Cab For Cutie