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.