Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jens Lekman @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 4, 2012)

Jens Lekman: photo by Michael Ligon
  Jens Lekman: photo by Michael Ligon

I will mention that Jens Lekman and his band's performance of "The Opposite of Hallelujah" at the Phoenix Concert Theatre this past October 4th was just about my favourite single live performance of the year, with the crowd singing and snapping fingers along to the tune, with just about everyone with the biggest grins on their faces. And then at the end of the song, Jens magnificently mimicked playing a xylophone in the air, synched perfectly with the drummer tapping the last few notes on the real instrument. Genius. Openers were fellow Swedes Taken By Trees whose smart pop is likable but watching vocalist and listening to vocalist Victoria Bergsman onstage, I really got the urge to shake her and tell her to inject some energy into her singing.

A few more photos from the show I took, at the link below:

Photos: Jens Lekman @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (October 4, 2012)

Because I can't really do a review that will do this show justice at this point, I beg you to check out the reviews and/or photos from the show over at The National Post, Exclaim, Chromewaves, and The Panic Manual.

Mechanical Forest Sound has a few recordings from the show, including the aforementioned "The Opposite of Hallelujah"!

Friday, December 28, 2012

James St. Supercrawl, Hamilton ON (September 15, 2012)

  Owen Pallett: photo by Michael Ligon

Back on September 15th, I attended the James St. Supercrawl in Hamilton for the second year in a row. The event is billed as celebrating "...the diversity of James North, our multi-disciplinary arts community, and the incredible spark that results with our unique mix of cultures, businesses and creative people." In essence, it's a quaint yet impressive festival featuring both visual art and music. Last year's event was my first time attending and I was impressed by it's musical lineup which included artists like Basia Bulat, Broken Social Scene, J Mascis, Frank Black, Junior Boys and Plants and Animals and so I thought a return to the festival this year was in order even if I thought it's musical lineup wasn't as strong this year. Aside from the music, I just thought the setup along Hamilton's James St. was very cool, with art, vendors, food and food trucks, busking stages and bigger stages stretching over several blocks. This year the festival encompassed a second day with things kicking off on the night of Friday September 14 but I only attended the main day which was the 15th. Getting there by GO Train later in the afternoon I caught as much of the visual art along the street as I could before dusk set in, and then later caught musical performances at different stages from artists including Eamon Mcgrath, Julie Fader, Born Ruffians, The Gertrudes, Great Lake Swimmers, Owen Pallett and at the end of the night as I headed back to catch the last late night GO Train back to Mississauga, I caught the headliner on the main stage K'naan closing out the night with his signature tune "Waving Flags" with the crowd singing along wholeheartedly.

  Wood Sculpture: photo by Michael Ligon

  Julie Fader: photo by Michael Ligon

  Born Ruffians: photo by Michael Ligon

  Great Lake Swimmers: photo by Michael Ligon

More of my photos from the day are at the link below:

Photos: James St. Supercrawl, Hamilton ON (September 15, 2012)

Reviews of Supercrawl over at CBC Hamilton and

Thursday, December 27, 2012

HARD Fest w/ Justice, M83, Austra, Buraka Som Sistema @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (August 4, 2012)

  Justice: photo by Michael Ligon

Having yesterday gone through my photos of HARD Fest at Fort York: Garrison Common which took place earlier this year on a steamy August 4, it's funny that nature has today given this year's first dumping of snow around Southern Ontario. Not complaining about the snow but my photos from the summer has made me miss that weather ever so slightly. While most of the Toronto music blog-osphere / media had gone to the Osheaga Festival in Montreal that weekend (even though many of the feature acts such as Sigur Ros, Jesus and Mary Chain, Justice, M83, The Black Keys, and Florence + the Machine had Toronto dates just prior to the Festival), I chose to stay in Toronto since I was having my own downsized version of Osheaga spread out over a few days having just seen Sigur Ros, Jesus and Mary Chain and now Justice and M83.

HARD Fest was quite a compact festival with just one stage (and an equally compact lineup), an area for food and drinks, and areas for merch and washrooms. I also love the fact that it's accessible by TTC, although I'm disappointed that Fort York had chose to move it's outdoor music site to the Garrison Common grounds rather than within Fort York itself as it had been back during the Rogers Picnic days. The lineup included the Afro-techno group Buraka Som Sistema, local electro-goth outfit Austra, French electro/shoegazers M83 and French dance / electronic duo Justice. There was a late addition to the lineup with the electro-pop songs of Charli XCX who opened up the festival earlier in the afternoon but whose set I missed.

Buraka Som Sistema would get the award for most energetic live set I saw that day with their colourful-attired female vocalist pumping up the crowd with her singing and chants and her male rapping cohorts dousing the audience with some water gun action. Austra, with lead vocalist Katie Stelmanis in her circular sunglasses, played a tight set and if I recall correctly played a few new tunes. I'd been looking forward to seeing M83 and wasn't disappointed - I was a newbie to the band so just hearing their singles "Midnight City" (with its sublime sax solo) and "Reunion" made it all worthwhile.

With tweets from Osheaga all day updating about the wicked stormy weather they were about to get, then got, and then got again, and with that weather system moving west towards Toronto, I was hoping for the best. We were fortunate to have great summer weather through Buraka Som Sistema and Austra's sets and we managed to stay dry right up until near the end of M83's set but as that set ended and night was setting in, the raindrops came and then eventually poured. And although I had brought a plastic rain poncho, I chose to forgo it and take a little cover under the trees near the food area (although that turned out to be futile as I was still getting soaked). Making sure my camera was nice and dry in my backpack, the rain really wasn't that much of a downer since it was a warm rain and in some ways made the experience more enjoyable. The rain did delay headliner Justice's set a bit but as the downpour subsided and then cleared, and then Justice came on with their pumping dance set, it was all worth the wait. Terrific compact festival (or maybe I'm just getting old and can't take multi-day festivals.)

  Buraka Som Sistema: photo by Michael Ligon

  Austra: photo by Michael Ligon

  M83: photo by Michael Ligon

Check out more of my photos from the show at the link below:

Photos: HARD Fest w/ Justice, M83, Austra, Buraka Som Sistema @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (August 4, 2012)

More reviews and / or photos from the show over at Torontoist, Take More Photos, Aesthetic Magazine, Style Circle, Ride The Tempo, Dinos's Word and the Austra forum.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jesus and Mary Chain, Nightbox @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (August 3, 2012)

Jim Reid of Jesus and Mary Chain: photo by Michael Ligon
  Jim Reid of Jesus and Mary Chain: photo by Michael Ligon

Hope everyone had a great Christmas as I did with family and relatives. Continuing in my quest to get up photos from shows earlier in the year that I haven't had a chance to get up yet, it's a funny coincidence that on Christmas Day, I'm up now to the Jesus and Mary Chain show that I'd attended at the Phoenix Concert Theatre back on August 3rd. I'd been wanting to scratch them off my bucket list for so long and it was well worth the wait as the Jim and William Reid of the band along with their touring band mates played an enticing setlist spanning much of their catalog. Although I'd not known at the time, Mad Men actress Jessica Pare was the band's special guest as she guested on vocals on both "Just Like Honey" and "Sometimes Always", the latter which Jim mentioned they hadn't played that often and therefore felt like an extra special treat for us. At times I closed my eyes and I imagined myself back in high school in the late eighties when I first discovered the band, the sense of nostalgia so overwhelming as I recalled how essential their albums Psychocandy and Darklands. I thought, this is what it is like to see one of your musical heroes after so many years. It was so exhilarating. Kids, when your parents start fawning about the music they used to listen to when they were younger, don't give them to hard of a time about it. You will understand one day.

Check out some of my photos from the show here.

Reviews and / or photos from the show over at Exclaim, Canoe, Wave Maker Magazine and From A High Horse.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sigur Ros @ Echo Beach, Toronto (August 1, 2012)

Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros: photo by Michael Ligon
  Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros: photo by Michael Ligon

Tis' Christmas Eve and with all my presents wrapped and before some of my family and I sit down for a simple Christmas Eve dinner, I thought I'd post a link to my photos from the Sigur Ros show from this past August. Back on August 1st of this year, the Icelandic group Sigur Ros returned to Toronto after a four year wait in support of their sixth studio album, Valtari, released this past May. The venue was the near perfect outdoor summer venue Echo Beach off Lake Ontario on on what turned out to be a beautiful summer night. Alternately epic and overwhelming, and intimate and embryonic, it was a show I've seen before in an indoor setting (Massey Hall) but on a perfect summer night in an outdoor setting made it so much more expansive. Terrific show.

Check out my photos from the show over at my Flickr.

Reviews and/or photos of the show over at The Toronto Sun, Blog TO, The National Post, Exclaim, Music Vice, and Chromewaves.

More photos over at Lithium, Beyond The Watch, and the band's website.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sarah Harmer @ Fort York Garrison Common, Toronto (July 14, 2012)

  Sarah Harmer @ Fort York Garrison Common: photo by Michael Ligon

So I've been a bit AWOL lately, but I haven't necessarily been resting on my laurels. (OK, maybe I have been.) And although I've been cutting back on the amount of shows I've been going to compared to previous years, it's not the say I haven't been going to any shows. Like my blogging consistency, the decline in my concert attendance was bound to happen. Generally, I lost interest in new music, but also the novelty of the live show environment was waning for me. Maybe, it's a little bit of an age thing, where the audience seemed to get younger with every new band that came on to the scene. On the other hand, what little wisdom I may have gained over the years has made me realize that while good music continues to flourish, there's precious little of it that I'm really compelled to invest in both financially and time wise. Personally, I felt I needed to step back from the blogging and pursuit of new music, and start listening to music for enjoyment again. But also I needed to step back to focus on other things. I dunno; 2013 may be a different year for me in terms of this blog; maybe I'll rediscover music again. That the world didn't end on December 21 as the Mayans had predicted should be taken as a sign, shouldn't it? Well, that's what I'm taking from it.

Since I'm on Christmas vacation right now, between now and the end of the year I hope to get links up to photos from the shows I've gone to since the summer that I haven't had a chance to yet and then maybe I can start 2013 fresh.

On July 14 of this year, Fort York Garrison Common hosted a free show on a steamy summer night for the Bicentennial Celebration of the War of 1812 featuring Shad, the Rural Alberta Advantage and Alex Cuba and headlined by Sarah Harmer. I made it out only for Sarah and it was an enjoyable, laid back summer set.

More photos here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Hidden Cameras @ Harbourfront Centre, Toronto (July 1, 2012)

  Joel Gibb: photo by Michael Ligon

Toronto's loss is Berlin's gain ever since The Hidden Cameras Joel Gibb moved to the latter about 7 years ago, so when comes back to Toronto to play a hometown show, it's an extra special treat. The last time they rolled through town was in 2009, timed around the release of their last album Origin: Orphan, when they played shows in October(@ Goodhandy's) and December(@ The Opera House) of that year, so when the band came to Harbourfront Centre to play the annual Canada Day show there, I had to be there. Gibb alluded to a new Hidden Cameras new album, which subsequently I'd came across an interview Gibb did with  Signal in which he reveals the album will be out in 2013 and will be a "...darker and more experimental affair."

The show wasn't as raucous as their live shows in year's past but still it was an enjoyable show. Lost count of the number of people on stage but there was Joel and his band, plus a horn section and a 6 member, equal parts male / female backup choir. And they had Toronto drummer of The Bicycles and Sheezer, Dana Snell behind the kit which was a nice surprise. Overall it was a great way to spend Canada Day.

Brief review of the show over at Gray Owl Point and Mechanical Forest Sound has a few recordings from the show.

  the choir: photo by Michael Ligon

  The Hidden Cameras: photo by Michael Ligon

More photos at the link below.

Photos: The Hidden Cameras @ Harbourfront Centre, Toronto (July 1, 2012)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Nellie Mckay, Becca Stevens Band @ Horseshoe Tavern, part of Toronto Jazz Festival (June 30, 2012)

  Nellie Mckay: photo by Michael Ligon

I'll try to roll out the rest of photos from the the shows I went to during the summer and forward starting with the enticing Nellie McKay. She played an intimate show at the Horseshoe Tavern at the end of June on the second last night of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

Brooklyn artist Becca Stevens and her band, playing as a trio, played a set of jazz-inflected pop and folk including their ace Smiths' cover of "There is a Light That Never Goes Out". Stevens and her vocals were obviously the most intriguing components, and her bandmates competent but not all that distinct but it was a fine set for the most part.

Looking back in the archives I found that that night was the exact date in 2004 that Nellie played Lee's Palace to what I  recall was a sold out crowd. Back then she had an appeal that had crossed over to the indie crowd that had Pitchfork and the like fawning all over her. However, six years later, and  found the Horseshoe crowd unusually light - not empty, but not sold out by a long shot. Playing solo, on keyboards and occasionally on ukelele she was as charming I'd remembered her, maybe more eccentric than  remembered her. She played a bunch of songs from her debut "Get Away From Me" and a bunch of others I wasn't familiar with. She played a Beatles medley. She did a little reggae, complete with crowd participation. It was all very charming. She ended the night with a crowd request, Sari that completel annihilated the crowd as at one point she screamed "Die Motherfucker". Completely and utterly amazing.

Lithium Magazine and The Panic Manual were also at the show also and their reviews are much better articulated, so check them out.

Photos: Nellie Mckay @ Horseshoe Tavern, part of Toronto Jazz Festival (June 30, 2012)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Bettye Lavette, The Big Sound, Get The Blessing @ Nathan Phillips Square, part of Toronto Jazz Festival (June 23, 2012)

  Bettye Lavette: photo by Michael Ligon

Like many of the music festivals that either have the words jazz, blues, or folk in their name, it's pretty much a misnomer these days and the Toronto Jazz Festival isn't any different. Although jazz still remains it's foundation and focus, I can say for a fact that many of the feature acts this year were not jazz, at least by purists standards.

On Saturday June 23rd, I had a few different acts on my schedule and I started on a sweltering late afternoon down at the Nathan Phillips Square, Outdoor Stage to catch UK band called Get The Blessing. Out of the all the acts during the festival which I saw, Get The Blessing were the most jazz. Formed from the rhythm section of Portishead, Jim Barr (bass) and Clive Deamer (drums), the band added Jake McMurchie (saxophone) and Pete Judge (trumpet) to the fold. During their set, a member of the band jokingly bantered about their instrumental songs, that they had two types of songs - ones about food, and ones about literature. The bright hot sun, didn't quite match the mood of the music in my opinion, the set being a heady mix of jazz, fusion, groove, and a slight dub reggae influence at times, the band gussied up in their dark suits, white shirts and dark sunglasses. But their was also an upbeat tempo to some of their tunes, enough to get several persons in the audience dancing enthusiastically, with a member of the band at one point giving a shout out to 'the woman in the white hat', and the 'man with the blue frisbee'. Pretty stellar playing all around, although I was particularly fond of the warm tones of the guitar playing and the occasional fuzzier solos. A decent start to the the the day.

This show was also an opportunity for me to catch local Motown-covers collective The Big Sound who'd I'd missed their semi-periodic residency at The Great Hall on several occasions. With a base group of musicians (guitar, rhythm section, etc), a horn section, backup singers and a select group of featured vocalists (I recall five or six different ones), I soon lost count of how many people were on stage. Of the vocalists, I'd only recognized Drew of The Bicycles and local vocalist-for-hire Maylee Todd but every one of the vocalists brought something unique to whatever they sung, Drew for example utilizing his sweet falsetto on Smokey Robinson's "Tracks Of My Tears" and Maylee belting out Jackson Five's "I Want You Back". The piece dé resistance had to be at the end (near the end?) of the set when Maylee and one of the male feature vocalists belted out the Marvin Gaye / Tammi Terrell classic "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". Most of what the collective performed was pretty familiar, whetting the appetites of the crowd with each song performed and as the set drew to a close, the crowd was sufficiently warmed up.

Ms. Bettye Lavette's career has been a lifetime in the making, having started her career in 1962 at the age of sixteen when she recorded a single, "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man", and since then her rise has taken baby steps. It wasn't until 2005, when ANTI- released her album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise an album comprising covers of songs written by other female artists including Aimee Mann, Joan Armatrading, Sinéad O'Connor, Rosanne Cash, Dolly Parton and Fiona Apple when many more people started to take notice. I'd recently been introduced to the music of Brooklyn-based soul artist Charles Bradley whose own story of being discovered late in life was an intriguing one and this was part of the motivation for me to check out Ms. Lavette.

Dressed in a silvery, sleeveless top, Ms. Lavette commanded a great deal of respect and applause as she came on to the stage. Backed by a four0piece band, Lavette ran through a set of soul balladeering, interspersed with some more uptempo soul tunes. Lavette's singing style on the slower numbers, tended towards strategic pauses, creating moments of quiet. Lavette displayed her versatile vocals, capable of belting out on the more uptempo numbers and dialing it back on the quieter ones. Her band, while capable musicians, seemed a bit on the reserved side, though the guitar solos and some harder drumming toughened things up at times. My only previous sampling of Lavette's work was her 2007 ANTI-released album The Scene Of The Crime which was a collaboration with Drive-By Truckers as her backing band and I was hoping for that grittier instrumentation, so I was disappointed by her backing band who were by comparison almost antiseptic. Draggier moments seemed to come and go during the set, but the set picked up steam in the latter half and there was no doubting Lavette's power such as on "Love Reign Over Me" which she got a standing ovation. At the conclusion of the set her band left the stage one at a time, the crowd giving her a standing ovation for several minutes and Lavette then returned to the stage for an accapella number to soothe us before we walked out of the tented area into the warm summer night.

Photos: Bettye Lavette, The Big Sound, Get The Blessing @ Nathan Phillips Square, part of Toronto Jazz Festival (June 23, 2012)

Monday, September 03, 2012

Janelle Monae, Roman GianArthur @ Toronto Star Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, part of Toronto Jazz Festival (June 22, 2012)

  Janelle Monae: photo by Michael Ligon

R n' b / soulstress / chanteuse Janelle Monae is making a return visit to Toronto for a show at Sony Centre For The Performing Arts on September 9, a mere three months after her playing the main stage at Nathan Phillips Square, which had kicked off the Toronto Jazz Festival in style. That was only the second time I'd seen her live (the first time being when she opened for Arcade Fire at Olympic Island during the summer of 2010) and it only confirmed my first impressions of her - her talent seeps through every pore of her being and she's in it for the long run.

Opening up the show was Roman GianArthur, originally from Winston-Salem, NC. Not much information comes up on the 'net about him although apparently a debut LP The Good Dreamer is in the works. And there is no doubt, that as Mr. GianArthur's set exemplified, the man is talented, playing guitar and belting out his funk / soul tunes with precision. Perhaps, it's that last point wherein the problem lies - there's a Prince-like quality to GianArthur's music and overall approach, but so far at least, there isn't much of a distinct personality behind it. Maybe, it's just because I don't know much about the gentleman but it's early on his career and I'd be more than willing to give him a chance towards paying his dues.

After having gone through my photo-set of the show, it was quite obvious how kinetically-charged this show was. Although a female, Monae's performance embodied male icons such as Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson, both in her vocal intensity as well as her physical stage presence and dancing. I'll admit that maybe her gender as a female makes her talent seem that much more special; were she male, maybe she'd be called out as a copycat. But rather than over-think this any more, I'd rather focus on what a spectacular show she and her band-mates put on. Everyone was dressed to the nines in white shirt, dark trousers and black tie, a few sporting vests, with her three-member string section sporting the white body suits, and her backup vocalists doing the opposite with the black bodysuits. It was so freaking amazing how tirelessly energetic Monae and her band-mates were and I'm thinking how do they do it from night to night? They gave it a 110% and more.

The set list was a terrific mix of her own songs (from her debut LP The ArchAndroid) and covers. While the set list including encore seemed short in length, Monae and her band extended many of the songs into impromptu james, playing up to the crowd, with guitar and drums solos. Songs of hers like "Faster" and "Tightrope" hit the crowd in all the right places, while covers ranging from Charlie Chaplin's "Smile", Prince's "Take Me With U", Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" and Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" displayed how versatile Monae is. There was an interesting point in the show during one song where she painted on a canvas and at the end of the show, a lucky fan (whose birthday it was) got to keep the painting. It was just another example of how giving Monae had been to the audience that night. If your a newbie to Monae's live show and you are going to see her at the Sony Centre For The Performing Arts this coming Sunday, you are in for a really special treat.

Photos: Janelle Monae, Roman GianArthur @ Toronto Star Stage, Nathan Phillips Square, part of Toronto Jazz Festival (June 22, 2012)

Friday, August 31, 2012

NXNE (June 15-16, 2012)

  Friends @ Lee's Palace: photo by Michael Ligon

First, apologies for the lack of posts this summer. I wish I could say I was off on same fabulous adventures, but no I've just been lazy. Oh and pooped from work and not wanting to deal with the summer heat. It's not to say that I've stopped going to shows - I've been to a bunch of good ones this summer and over the next week or so will make an effort to at the very least get up the photos. Don't hold your breath for reviews (well, at least in-depth ones). I do hope you will stay tuned. So let's go way back to June and my last two nights of NXNE:

Friday June 15, 2012
Eight And A Half @ Yonge Dundas Square (7:30 pm) ----- Arts & Crafts supergroup of sorts featuring The Stills' Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil – and Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff. I only caught a few songs and was more focused on people-watching in the square but what I'd heard of the band reminded me of semi-slick pop-rock of The Stills, although perhaps with more emphasis on synths.

Plants And Animals @ Yonge Dundas Square (8:30 pm) ----- As the sun was setting, I was a bit more focused for Montreal pop-rock trio Plants and Animals. A few of the members came out in long Blonde-haired wigs and Hawaiian shirts in what I thought was a half-successful attempt at ironic humour but the band settled into a set playing some old faves and think a few new tunes. A bit of a draggy set for me, they didn't take full control of the large crowd although I think they really could if they'd just put more effort towards crowd participation.

Diiv @ Lee's Palace (10 pm) ----- I caught the tail-end of scruffy young Brooklyn trio whose debut full length Oshin just came out released through Brooklyn indie label Captured Tracks. I wished I'd caught more of the set as I'm pretty keen on their song "How Long Have You Known?" but I do remember Lee's already been pretty packed for their set. I also remember the band wearing baggy sweatshirts, like a group of skate-punks from the 90's.

Friends @ Lee's Palace (11 pm) ----- The main reason I'd ventured to Lee's (after feeling I'd not been there in ages ) was for the another Brookyn act whose rnb / funk / disco / pop melange seemed like a fun set to check out. With echoes of Tom Tom Club, Madonna and perhaps ESG and their minimalist approach with bits of percussion, guitar and bass, keys and vocals, I sort of imagined them as a band that might have sprung out of the NYC post punk scene of the early 80's after discovering Chic and disco and the power of booty-shaking. Pretty entertaining set and the crowd was having a lot of fun, as my photo above asserts.

  Crowd @ The Flaming Lips, Yonge Dundas Square: photo by Michael Ligon

Saturday June 16, 2012
The Flaming Lips @ Yonge Dundas Square (9-11 pm) ----- With initial plans for me and my brother to take in the Radiohead concert down at Downsview Park taking a tragic turn of events, the one positive outcome was opening the opportunity to catch the free NXNE headlining performance down at YDS featuring none other than Oklahoma City's finest. A capacity crowd filling every nook and cranny in the square and a few of the surrounding streets (Yonge st. and Dundas Sq had both been closed off), frontman Wayne Coyne took the stage and wasted no time to acknowledge the tragic events that forced the cancellation of the Radiohead show earlier in the day. Retweets of Coyne's tweet earlier in the day had extended an invitation to the Radiohead crew to come by their show and there were rumours amok that maybe Radiohead would even play a song. Well that did not pan out but as a consolation of sorts the Lips performed their poignant cover of Radiohead's "Knives Out". From my vantage point, I hardly actually saw the band nor the stage but once the balloons and confetti started floating above us, it hardly didn't matter. The set list was alright (all that I wished they'd played either "Fight Test" or "Race For The Prize") but their encore of "Do You Realize?" was an appropriate and stunning closer.

Photos: NXNE (June 15-16, 2012)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NXNE (June 13-14, 2012)

Purity Ring @ Wrongbar: photo by Michael Ligon
  Purity Ring @ Wrongbar: photo by Michael Ligon

I went a little less hardcore during NXNE this year and yet I'm still late on posting about it. Overall there were some good new artists I'd discovered year this although no one had really grabbed me outright like some artists had in previous years. With that said let's get to it.

Wednesday June 13, 2012
I started off the first day of the festival, Wednesday, first picking up my media pass at the Hyatt Regency and then being drawn to a Q & A happening in the same room, with the crew of the YouTube episodic sensation Epic Meal Time. I'd never seen their videos but it was apparent more than a few fans in the audience. The mandate of the show is sort of a mad-scientist's approach to creating these high-calorie, high-fat, fast-food dishes, and then eating them on camera. The show's founder and spokesman Harley Morenstein was a natural comedian as he fielded questions from the audience. And as I've sampled a video of theirs or two, I can see that they appeal to an audience who are curious and who also find what they do humourous. Behind any chuckles I may have had during the Q & A, in the back of my mind I was thinking, how can they eat all that effin' bacon. I can't fathom seeing them continuing their schtick for more that a few years before they start running into health problems.

Feeling a little guilty that I'd not made it to any of the launch events for the first three issues of local grassroots music publication Static Zine, I made a conscious effort to head over to new vinyl / vintage goods store Of A Kind (on College St. near Dufferin) for a NXNE in-store musical showcase which was also doubling as the launch party for the fourth issue of Static Zine. It was a pretty good turnout as individuals sauntered around socializing, checking out the new issue of Static Zine, browsing the merchandise in the store, and of course checking out the bands playing sets throughout the early evening. I'd only arrived in time for the last band, Vancouver's Indian Wars.

Indian Wars @ Of A Kind (8 pm) ----- As the band quietly set up and then segued into their set, the previously mingling crowd quickly switched gears to taken position and listen to the band. With the lead singer's Bob Dylan-esque vocals, the band excelled with their reverb-filled, at times twang-ified garage rock tunes. Not necessarily innovative, but in its own way it sounded fresher than I'd anticipated. The band's debut full-length Walk Around The Park was released in 2011 through Austria-based Bachelor Records. Although my original intention was to perhaps check out Toronto shoegazers Beliefs at the Drake, I opted instead to skip it (since they were playing the next night) and call it a night.

    Photos: NXNE, Toronto (June 13, 2012)

Thursday June 14, 2012
With original plans to go to Toronto Islands for the free-with-RSVP Jansport Bonfire Sessions featuring Smith Westerns and Dusted following through - the lineup was too long and that I found out it would have gone on later than I expected - I bailed and headed to Yonge Dundas Square to take in some punk rock, food truck goodies (Busters Cove) and some freebies (Candy, ice cream, entry drinks). And then it was off for the night to see some bands.

Beliefs @ El Mocambo (9 pm) ----- Local 4-piece (3 guys, 1 gal) shoegaze outfit Beliefs drew a decent sized early crowd. Purposely muddied vocals, and a slightly sludgier take on the shoegaze genre, perhaps a simplistic description is Dinosaur Jr. meets My Bloody Valentine. The male / female vocals makes them a bit more essential than they'd otherwise be had say it only been male vocals. A good, although not entirely distinct set, but a good start to the night nonetheless.

Hooded Fang @ Horseshoe Tavern (10 pm) ----- Since the last time I'd seen the band live back in August 2009, Toronto's Hooded Fang have gone through a bit of an evolution from it's twee-pop, horn-embellished beginnings to a edgier musical personal. The 2009 version of the band, while having their charms, were like a group of high school musician kids working out their growing pains on stage. A few years later and the band (which seems to have downsized and changed membership a bit) seem more confident and at the same time dropping their twee side for set of edgier influences with echoes of Talking heads, new wave and punk within their sonics. These days even vocalist Daniel Lee has dropped his croon for a singing style that's grittier. It was a nicely packed audience encompassing mostly the young'uns making me feel old, but that aside, it was an enjoyable set.

Grass Widow @ Garrison (11 pm) ----- San Franciscan female post-punk guitar / bass / drums trio Grass Widow whose previous album Past Time was released in 2010 through Kill Rock Stars (and whose most recent album is this year's Internal Logic) are the very essence of what reminds me of the Kill Rock Stars label - a D.I.Y. approach to punk-ified, pop music. It was a pretty healthy crowd on hand, although I wasn't sure whether they were all there for Grass Widow or perhaps were there early to secure a spot for the the buzzier later bands of the night, The Black Belles and The Men, but with each spunky song that the group rattled off, the crowd seemed to be enjoying it. Less girl-group pop than their peers Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and the like, Grass Widow (whose name to me seems apropo) favoured a grittier, not-as-straightforward melodic approach. The band's minimalist approach had its charms and I imagined I'd be far more into it back in the 90's during my American indie rock phase, but otherwsie they were just ok.

Dusted @ El Mocambo (midnight) ----- At this time slot my original plan was to see L.A's Bleached at the Silver Dollar but upon reaching that venue I found another band playing (later finding out that Bleached's set had been moved to 2 am). It was purely spontaneity that I wandered down the street to the El Mocambo and upon finding out that Dusted (a duo that included Holy Fuck's Brian Borchedt) was playing, I decided to check it out. With Brian on drums and vocals and Leon Taheny on drums/,keys the duo's set did quickly establish the group's meat-and-potatoes, gritty, pop sound. One of the sleeper sets of the festival for me, I sauntered into that set not knowing the group but came out a convert. I'll be interested in hearing their just-released debut album Total Dust out now through Hand Drawn Dracula in Canada and Polyvinyl in the US.

Purity Ring @ Wrongbar (1 am) ----- One of the buzzier sets of the night, I'd travelled in the direction of the venue, half-expecting to not get in. Even from the streetcar as it passed the venue, I could see a long lineup. Still, I decided to get off the streetcar and on closer inspection found out that there was a separate lineup for passes, and before I knew it I had bypassed the lineup and was in, but just barely - it was packed to the rafters. The Montreal duo, consisting of Megan James (vocals) and Corin Roddick (instrumentals) seemed to have garnered a lot of attention, recently being signed by 4AD, with the band's debut full-length Shrines set to be released July 24, 2012. So while I could hardly see the band from my vantage point which was towards the back, I was fully engrossed into the duo's scintillating, electro-pop sound guided by the atmospheric vocals of James. Colourful lighting danced against the band's small stage backdrop, illuminating the duo enough at times for me to catch just a glimpse of them. Overall it was a well-received set and I hope to catch the duo live another time.

    Photos: NXNE, Toronto (June 14, 2012)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012 Toronto Jazz Festival Picks

  Nellie McKay

Whether it be folk, blues, or jazz, over the years music festivals have been broadening their spectrum to include artists that perhaps may have not been included under the original mandate of the festival. The Toronto Jazz Festival has not been alone in that respect. My experience with the festival in past years has been minimal but the few times I'd actually seen artists playing during the festival [keys-bass-drums groove trio The New Deal in 2004 and gospel/soul legend Aretha Franklin last year ] they were both not jazz artists. Purists may scoff but then festivals are expensive and they need to draw in an audience somehow so I don't blame the Toronto Jazz Festival for being more inclusive of the acts that it will accept. In the end, I think it's win-win for everyone.

The jazz purists will probably hate my following list, but this is rather geared more toward non-purists like me who would want to explore what the Toronto Jazz Festival has to offer. Here's what has piqued my interest:

June 22
Janelle Monae (Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square, 8 pm) - Kansas City-born pompadoured female r n b, soul artist who I first saw live opening for The Arcade Fire at Olympic Island in Toronto in August 2010. As a vocalist and performer she comes across as a combination of James Brown, Prince and Michael Jackson. Her debut album The ArchAndroid, released in 2010 was a critical success.
Video: Janelle Monáe - Faster (Live on Later with Jools Holland)

The Shuffle Demons (Shops at Don Mills, 8 pm) - Toronto jazz-fusion, sax-heavy group who had a surprise Top-40 hit in Canada with their single "Spadina Bus" . Since 1986 the band have released 5 full-lengths, had broken up in 1997 then reformed in 2004 and released a Greatest Hits album that coincided with a reunion tour that year and are continuing to tour until this day.
Video: The Shuffle Demons - "Out of My House, Roach" (music video)

My Favorite Robot (The Hoxton, 10 pm) - "My Favorite Robot is the trio of Jared Simms, James Teej, and Voytek Korab, three Canadian DJ/producers who in a space of a few short years have become a central part of the global electronic music scene."(via)
Video: My Favorite Robot @ BPM

June 23
Destroyer (Opera House, 9 pm) - Project of Vancouver-based singer songwriter Dan Bejar known for is enigmatic vocals and his melodic sensibility. Prolific in his own right with Destroyer and know for his contributions with Vancouver supergroup The New Pornographers.
Video: Destroyer - "Savage Night at the Opera" (music video)

Meech (The Hoxton, 10 pm) - "Meech is a DJ/Producer from Toronto, Canada. He has performed throughout North America & Europe, consistently winning fans with his diverse musical style.... Meech is set to release with American imprint Fool's Gold and is set to remix for the Parisian label Ed Banger Records."

Bettye Lavette (Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square, 8 pm) - American soul artist who'd remained in obscurity until she achieved wider success in 2005 with her Joe Henry produced full-length I've Got My Own Hell To Pay released through -ANTI. In 2007 she released another full-length, also released through -ANTI, entitled The Scene Of The Crime where the band Drive-By Truckers acted as her backing band.
Video: Bettye Lavette - "Talking Old Soldiers" (music video)

Get The Blessing (Outdoor Stage at Nathan Phillips Square, 5 pm) - Bristol, UK based jazz rock quartet who "...were formed when Jim Barr (bass) and Clive Deamer (drums), the rhythm section from the trip hop group Portishead, teamed upwith Jake McMurchie (saxophone) and Pete Judge (trumpet) over their mutual appreciation of Ornette Coleman." (via)
Video: Get The Blessing - "OCDC" (music video)

June 24
The Bad Plus (Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square, 8 pm) - American Midwestern-bred drums-bass-drums trio mixing jazz, rock and pop formed in 2000 and have released 7 full-lengths to date, 2010's Never Stop being the most recent. The band have also recorded covers of songs by artists ranging from Nirvana, David Bowie, Neil Young, Pixies, Ornette Coleman, and Radiohead.
Video: The Bad Plus - "Karma Police" (Radiohead cover)

June 25
Robert Glasper Experiment Featuring Bilal (Enwave Theatre - Harbourfront Centre, 7 pm) - "Glasper's music can be described as "experiments with space, rhythm and chord textures", creating a vast array of sound. He has said that he tries to make the music flow in a way more like a hip-hop beat, trying to always leave the music open for someone to rap over." (via) Philly native Bilal is a neo-soul, r n b vocalist who has released 3 full-lengths to date since 2001 his most recent being 2010's Airtight's Revenge.
Video: Robert Glasper - Always Shine (Feat. Lupe Fiasco And Bilal) - David Letterman 2-29-12

June 26
Frisell Plays Lennon featuring Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Tony Scherr, and Kenny Wollesen (Enwave Theatre - Harbourfront Centre, 7 pm) - "In September 2011, Frisell released All We Are Saying, a full-length offering of his interpretations of John Lennon's music. Frisell's quintet includes violinist Jenny Scheinman, pedal steel and acoustic guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Kenny Wollesen." (via)
Video: - Bill Frisell - "Julia" (Beatles cover)

June 27
Ziggy Marley (Phoenix Concert Theatre, 9 pm) - Following in the footsteps of his father, legendary reggae artist Bob Marley, Ziggy has been prolific in his own right over the last two decades releasing albums both with his siblings as Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers as well as a solo artist. His most recent album is 2011's Wild and Free produced by Don Was.
Video: Ziggy Marley - "Look who's dancing" (music video)

June 28
British Jazz Showcasae: "Made in the UK" (The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar, 3pm) - Billed as a British / UK showcase it's more accurately a Scottish showcase, with all three acts originating from Scotland. Featuring guitar / organ / drums / electronics trio Breach Trio, guitar / trombone / drums outfit NeWt, and world class piper, saxophonist, and whistle player Fraser Fitfield who's a contemporary composer and musician with roots in traditional Scottish folk music.
Video: Breach Trio - There it is at Glasgow Jazz Festival
Video: Out of the Box - NeWt with Silke Eberhard
Video: Signs Of Life | Fraser Fifield & Graeme Stephen

June 29
Keys N Krates (The Hoxton, 10 pm) - "...combine live instrumentation, turntablism and live sampling to remix existing pop music and samples from MGMT to Jay-Z right before your eyes. Pushing the envelope beyond the ideals of laptop-centric remix culture, this unique trio changes the game by bringing an explosive live analog presence to their sought-after sound and performance. " (via)
Video: Keys N Krates - "Unforgettable" Drake Remix

June 30
Becca Stevens Band (Horseshoe Tavern, 10:30 pm) - Band fronted by New York based jazz, pop,folk artist and guitarist Becca Stevens. Performing originals and in the past has performed covers from a diverse range of artists including The Smiths, Animal Collective and Usher.
Video: Becca Stevens Band - "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (The Smiths cover)

Nellie McKay (Horseshoe Tavern, midnight) - American singer-songwriter and pianist who made a splash back in 2004 with her debut album (double length) Get Away From Me and has released 5 albums to date. Her lyrics have generally been playful and her music has spanned genres ranging from jazz, rap, disco, and funk.
Video: Nellie McKay - "Mother of Pearl" and "If I Had You"

July 1
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square, 8 pm) - It's an intriguing story how this group's members were all refugees of a Guinean refugee camp, having fleed their country's capital of Freetown when civil war broke out in 1991. The group was founded by musician Reuben Koroma, a refugee from Sierra Leone's capital city, and with his wife, Sister Grace, they joined up with other musicians they knew from back home to provide relief to their fellow refugees through music. The members of the band returned home to Freetown years later to continue to play as a group and record their music and the band's story was captured in the 2002 documentary, "The Refugee All Stars". The band released their debut album Living Like A Refugee in 2006 with their followup Rise and Shine in 2010. The band's most recent album Radio Salone was released earlier this year.
Video: Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars - Goat Smoke Pipe (Live on KEXP)

Idioteque (The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar, 10:30 pm) - Although many of us were disappointed that Radiohead's show at Downsview Park recently had to be cancelled (due to a tragic accident), could a Radiohead tribute band band be the next best thing. From what I've read, Idioteque are Toronto’s top Radiohead tribute band, and comprised of some of Toronto’s top young jazz musicians performing note-for-note reproductions of songs taken from Radiohead’s eight studio albums. (note: also check out The Music of Radiohead w/ Josh Grossman's Toronto Jazz Orchestra playing the same venue preceding Idioteque at 7:30 pm)
Video: Idioteque - "Bodysnatchers" (Radiohead cover) (live at The Piston on October 27, 2011)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

NXNE Picks (June 16-17, 2012)

  Warm Myth: photo by Reynard Li

Although, I'd mentioned in my previous post NXNE was a washout because of going to the Radiohead show at Downsview Park tonight, the opportunity has risen that I may check out some of the afternoon NXNE events and depending on the time that me and my brother get out from the Radiohead show, perhaps I'll check out a later night NXNE set. And while I've see The Flamings Lips several times live (both locally and abroad), part of me will miss seeing them play a free show in the heart of downtown Toronto. I hope there's some wicked overhead photos taken of the show that will hopefully surface on the web. So here goes my picks for NXNE for tonight and tomorrow.

Saturday June 16, 2012

Afternoon ----- As they've done for the past several years, Sonic Boom Records who moved months ago from their original location on Bloor St. West of Bathurst to their current location inside Honest Ed's just down the street, will continue their NXNE tradition by hosting a slew of live acts this afternoon. Some may miss that basement stage of the old location but onward and upward this should be a fine afternoon. Check out the lineup. Or else one might fancy the NXNE Day Party @ 218 Brock Ave where each of the bands on the lineup will be performing 10 minute sets. Another option which is a little less guaranteed at this point is the Bruise Cruise sponsored by M for Montreal and BrooklynVegan with bands performing on a boat for the afternoon - there's an RSVP which is now closed but I've heard (and this may or may not be true) that if you show up and they still have room, you may still get on-board. Finally there's the in-store down at Urban Outfitters (235 Yonge) street which will have sets from Vacationer, Zulu Winter, Young Magic, and DIIV between 1-4 pm (via).

2 pm ----- If you happen to be down near the Waterfront, maybe check out female Toronto-based, rapper Masia One who'll be performing at the Redpath Stage at Harbourfront Centre. I kind of forgot how ridiculously talented she is. I remember back in 2003 when she had named her debut album "Mississauga" (as a tribute to all the Mississauga-based friends and business associates who helped her launch her rap career) and being a Mississauga, I never forgot that.

8 pm ----- Warm Myth was a totally unknown entity to me until I'd read in the NXNE guide that they are the "secretive new project of Casey Mecija of Ohbijou. For stratospherically inclined fans of Washed Out, Memoryhouse et al." They'll be playing an early set at The Garrison tonight. I'll have to catch them another time.

9 pm - 11 pm ----- Unfortunate timing for any other artist or band playing during this two hour time slot because when Oklahoma psych / weirdo-pop veterans The Flaming Lips come to town to play a free outdoor show, they will trump everything else. Even if you're not a fan of their music, their live show has to be witnessed. C'mon, frontman Wayne Coyne walking around in a transparent giant bubble over the crowd - why would you want to miss that?

10 pm ----- If I had to choose I'd probably be at the Rivoli to check out Swedish duo The Deer Tracks based on the recommendations of Chromewaves. Although, the Bowie-esque, indie-pop of Toronto's Mac Demarco, who is playing the Silver Dollar, is very, very tempting.

11 pm ----- I caught the garage-y, Dylan-inflected vocals Vancouver outfit Indian Wars when they played Static Zine Issue 4 Launch at vinyl / vintage clothing outlet Of A Kind this past Wednesday. They're playing a set at Sneaky Dee's (and if you don't catch them then, they are also playing a set later that night at Dakota Tavern at 2 am.) Another option is new-ish Toronto folk outfit BEAMS whose demo (up for listening on their Bandcamp) is pretty impressive.

11:15 pm ----- If it was at all possible I would be heading to the Phoenix Concert Theatre for the long-awaited return of 90's Chapel Hill, North Carolina indie rock legends Archers Of Loaf. Their show isn't officially an NXNE one but the band's tour documentary "What Did You Expect?" did screen this year as part of the NXNE film festival. From someone in the known, advance tickets have apparently not sold as well as hoped so I implore both NXNE and non-NXNE patrons to head down and score a ticket for perhaps will be your last time to catch the band live in Toronto.

Midnight ----- If I'm back from the Radiohead show and downtown in time, I'm still not fully committed to anything in this time slow, but it'd be a tug of war between punky rock n' roll of Teenage Head at The Great Hall, the dance-rock tunes of Young Empires at Horseshoe Tavern or the emo-ish sounds of Rival Schools at Wrongbar.

1 am - L.A.'s Bleached play their 3rd and final show of their 3-night stint at the Silver Dollar tonight. But then there's Aussi, now NYC-based, duo WAZU whose dark electro-pop stylings is tempting - they're also playing a set Sunday night at Rancho Relaxo at 9 pm.

Sunday June 17, 2012

Afternoon ----- It's Father's Day people. Let's spend time with our dads.

9 pm - 11 pm ----- In all likelihood, Saturday will be the last day of NXNE for me, but if I do get tempted to venture out it'll be for the free show down at Yonge Dundas Square headlined by Ghostface Killah and Raekwon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

NXNE Picks (June 15, 2012)

  Widowspeak (via)

One day of NXNE down for me and tonight for all intensive purposes may be my last official night of the festival - I'm going to the Radiohead show on Saturday night so NXNE festivities that day are pretty much a washout, although I may try to catch a late-night NXNE set or two, and Sunday night is Father's Day and I will most likely have some plans that day with family but I may perhaps check out the Ghostface Killah / Raekwon show at Yonge Dundas Square later that night. That said here's my picks for today where you might find me (or where you should be):

2-10 pm ----- NXNEXPERIMENT II - billed as the ultimate daytime party of the summer, it'll take place at 214 August Avenue in Kensington Market in some back alley, but with the festival buzz of acts like The Men, Doldrums and Mac Demarco as part of this bill, this one's sure to be busy. It's $10 at the door. Check the link for complete details.

7:30 pm & 8:30 pm ----- With not much else I really want to be doing around this time, I may just hang around Yonge Dundas Square and soak up the sounds of synth-y Arts & Crafts indie supergroup Eight and A Half and jammy rock trio Plants and Animals. Of course, there's the free schwag, ice cream samples, and Monster energy drinks to take advantage of down there too.

9 pm ----- So far the only act I've chosen for this time slot is dark-pop London duo 2:54. Does their video for their song "Scarlet" tempt you? Whether I make it for this all depends if I stick around for Plants and Animals at Yonge Dundas Square or come up with a totally different option.

10 pm ----- As I've already caught Hooded Fang's set at the Horseshoe yesterday, I'll be skipping their set at the Silver Dollar tonight. In brief, I'll say they've progressed from their sunny, pop leanings, towards an almost punkier direction. I like it. My only other choice for this time slot is Oxford, Mississippi heavy guitar / drums duo Bass Drum Of Death [which may be the best band name I've heard in a long time] who'll be rocking out down at Wrongbar. Oh, God that would mean a commute clear across town. I may need to find another option.

11 pm ----- I think the electro-RnB of Brooklyn outfit, Friends, who are playing Lee's Palace should be fun. Other options include the garage-goth outfit The Black Belles who'll be playing their second and final set of the festival at the Horseshoe Tavern.

Midnight ----- I've not heard a lick of their music but breaking news reveals that Yamantaka // Sonic Titan have been shortlisted for this year's Polaris Music Prize. Which I would imagine make getting into their set at The Garrison tonight near impossible. The joined forces of Andre Williams and The Sadies looks tempting but I'd imagined that be hard to get into as well. Bleached who'll be playing the second of their 3-night sting at the Silver Dollar may be where I end up or perhaps it'll be The Men at Wrongbar.

1 am ----- The hazey pop of New York Band Widowspeak was something I'd enjoyed when I caught them at the CMJ Music Marathon last year. They'll be playing The Garrison tonight and it would be nice to revisit them. My other option currently on the table is a forgotten but were never gone 90's act called Smoking Popes who are best known for their 1995 song "Need You Around". Yes this is a purely nostalgic option.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NXNE Picks (Thursday June 14, 2012)

Purity Ring
  Purity Ring

It'd been my intention to have had my picks up earlier this week but that just did not happen what with NXNE sneaking up on me, me catching up on some belated blog posts (Hot Docs), posting my review of the recent Rufus Wainwright show, and well just being a bit lazy. Unfortunately, I didn't get up my recommendations for yesterday's NXNE shows although I did pick up my media pass at the Hyatt Regency where I caught a Q & A with the thoroughly ridiculous but admittedly entertaining crew of Epic Meal Time, and then headed over to new vinyl / vintage clothing outlet Of A Kind which was hosting a NXNE-related event with a trio of bands plus the Static Zine crew on hand who were celebrating the launch of Issue 4 (the NXNE edition) of their zine. They've stated they will not be posting concert reviews of anything of the bands they see during the festival but rather will be writing about their experience and if their recap of Wednesday's events is an indications, it's been fun times so far.

I'd intended to get up a post today with my recommendations for today through Sunday but that's just not going to happen, but I will get up today's(Thursday) recommendations and I should have up Friday through Sunday's recommendations either tomorrow or over the next few days:

Afternoon ----- Later this afternoon I'll be heading over to Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island for a free show featuring Chicago's Smith Westerns and Toronto's Dusted, the melodic folk project of Brian Borcherdt (of Holy Fuck) playing as a duo with Leon Taheny, the latter from whom you can expect a record on Polyvinyl later this summer . Sponsored by Jansport Bonfire Sessions, local artist Emily Bitze created a poster for this event, and concertgoers will receive limited edition silk-screened prints at the show along with JanSport giveaways throughout the event. The event does require an RSVP which is already closed unfortunately, but I'll let you know how things went if I make it in.

9 pm ----- Ex-Constantines Steve Lambke's solo project Baby Eagle has been off my radar for a while but he's apparently back and will be playing an early set at The Great Hall. I'll probably be down at the El Mocambo to check out Toronto shoegaze / post-grunge duo Beliefs.

10 pm ----- Another local act who've been off my radar for a few years is chirpy Toronto indiepop outfit Hooded Fang and they'll be playing down at the Horseshoe Tavern. My plan B will be Toronto duo Army Girls who I'm inclined to give a second chance given the adulations that have been laid on them by many although when I'd seen them play live back in May 2011 I hadn't been particularly blown away, although I'm a big fan of vocalist/guitarist of Carmen Elle who've seen play live with many artists around town.

11 pm ----- The neo-psycho-pop of Brooklynites Young Magic seems interesting and they'll be playing at Wrongbar while I've been itching to see Toronto free-jazz trio Badbadnotgood who'll be playing The Hoxton and have been racking rave reviews all over. But to avoid the hubbub over at Wrongbar and with the likelihood that I'll get to see Badbadnotgood play another time, I'll probably head over to The Garrison for San Franciscan female post-punk trio Grass Widow (who I've read have been described as a cross between The Slits and The Shrangi-las) whose most previous album Past Time was released in 2010 through Kill Rock Stars and whose most recent album Internal Logic was released this past May through HLR.

Midnight ----- It's a toss up between the all-female goth-garage-stomp of Nashville's The Black Belles, signed to Jack White's Third Man label and who'll be playing at The Garrison or the DIY bubblegum punk of Los Angeles duo Bleached who'll be playing a set at the Silver Dollar. Mind you both bands will be playing multiple sets during the festival so I could perhaps skip this time slot and grab a bite to eat. Win-win.

1 am ----- Ok maybe I'll see Badbadnotgood at The Hoxton at this time slot but otherwise I have a but of a hankering to catch the recent 4AD-signed Montreal indie electronic duo Purity Ring who'll no doubt be attracting a crowd down at Wrongbar. Otherwise, another buzzed act this year, Brooklyn noise-punk quartet The Men who'll be playing The Garrison may just be where I end up. There's no guarantee I'll get into any of these sets given the buzz of all these artists. This is when it's important to have a plan D, E, and F.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review -- Rufus Wainwright @ David Pecaut Square, Toronto, part of Luminato Festival (June 10, 2012)

Rufus Wainwright
  Rufus Wainwright: photo by Michael Ligon

Without question, Canada's most prominent renaissance musical artist these days is Montreal native Rufus Wainwright, and with the release of his seventh studio album, the Mark Ronson-produced Out Of The Game he broadens his musical palette even further. I'd last seen Rufus when he performed a solo set in 2009 at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal, his mother Kate McGarrigle still living at the time even performing with him. It was a special set and did give me the itch to see Rufus perform live again. Performing down at David Pecaut Square to a packed audience as part of the Luminato Festival, Rufus introduced selections from his new album and played a bunch of crowd favourites.

Rufus started out the set on a subtle note with "Candles" from the new album, singing acapella and with some members of the band contributing a few harmonies later on. He continued with a few more songs ("Rashida", "Barbara") from the new album, this time with the band which showed Rufus more laid-back than I've ever seen him, and displaying Ronson's imprint all over them, with some subtle soul, r n' b and pop nuances. It was with Poses "Greek Song" that Rufus delved into his past catalogue, calling the song a romantic song and an ode to his boyfriend. Although Rufus' sister Martha was in attendance and would join him in song later in the set, she didn't sing with him on his most well-known hit "April Fools". It still sounded wonderful.

There were poignant moments during the set as well. Acknowledging the late Levon Helm of The Band, Rufus performed 2004's "The One You Love" on which Helm had drummed on. Except for some faint chatter at the back and noise from the street, the audience grew quiet as Rufus and his sister Martha Wainwright performed a duet of their late mother Kate McGarrigle's song "I Am A Diamond". Although prior to that sublime performance, Martha feigned some sibling squabble with her brother, that she had to come out on stage in her relatively plain ward robe, while exclaiming to Rufus that he had to come out " that fucking outfit" (referring to his glammy / glittery outfit. The poignancy of the set at that point in time continued with Rufus on piano on the melancholy "Respectable Dive" singing "But I’m not able to put my cards on the table, And if you only knew of the hand I was holding".

While he'd referred to his significant other as his boyfriend earlier on in the evening, at this point then referred to him as his fiance, and that he was now out of the game (and that it was a nice place to be), segwaying of course to a performance of title track of his new album, with it's sunny, Californian vibe. Rufus bantered late that they're now "...deep into the California sound of the album..." and then jokingly said "I love L.A. -- why would I be wearing this..." (referring again to his glammy outfit).

Other highlights of the night included the cover of his dad Loudon Wainwright III's "One Man Guy" with just acoustic guitar and some lovely 3-part harmony and Rufus solemn rendition of his 2007 song "Going To A Town". Rufus would later return for an encore performing solo on piano on his 2003 song "Dinner At Eight" and then, urging the crowd to dance he ended the night with "Bitter Tears" from his new album. With the spectacular, "un-Canadian" weather which Rufus jokingly had referred to it, and with the stellar selection of tunes Rufus and band had performed, it was one of the most enjoyable outdoor shows I've experience in a while.

Photos: Rufus Wainwright @ David Pecaut Square, Toronto, part of Luminato Festival (June 10, 2012)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hot Docs -- Reviews (May 4-6, 2012)

  Charles Bradley: Soul Of America

With North By Northeast this week about to take up all my time, I figured I finish up the last of my reviews from this year's Hot Docs:

Welcome to the Machine [ROM, May 4, 4:00 pm]

This was an interesting documentary interweaving director Avi Weider's own story of the premature birth of his newborn triplets and their subsequent dependence on a high-tech neonatal unit with commentary from various individuals and academics on the relationship between humans and technology. I don't know if the documentary so much seeks to answer the question whether technology is good or bad as much as it provides a forum for both sides of the argument to be presented. The documentary no doubt shows that technological developments have led to great advances in human history but at the same time, mostly through the words of the Unabomber's manifesto, presents technology as the source of many ills in society.

The Relationship Doctrine Of Don Blanquito [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 4, 7:00 pm]

I'm not sure of director Roger Nygard's premise with this short. Rio de Janeiro-based rapper Don Blanquito is by all accounts crude, misogynistic, and chauvinistic and this documentary short has him talking about his views on women, and relationships and having sex. You can't help but laugh at much of what Blanquito says but was it Nygard's intent that this be humourous for humour's sake or was this suppose to be ironic? I couldn't tell but in 7 minutes it was over anyway.

Sexy Baby [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 4, 7:00 pm]

Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus who met while working for newspaper The Miami Herald have crafted an interesting documentary in Sexy Baby. Three seemingly different females are presented - a 13 year-old Manhattan-nite going through that difficult parental phase, a retired porn star who now teaches pole-dancing and seeks to be a mother and wife, and a young adult female about to go through labiaplasty surgery as she feels it would boost her self-esteem. But as the documentary attempts to illustrate, there is a similarity between all three. The sexualization of females in the media and the prevalence of online porn have been contributory factors to sexual attitudes amongst females and as I view the documentary the sexual attitudes of the three females in this documentary have walked a fine line between exploitation and empowerment.

Radioman [Cumberland, May 5, 4:15 pm]

I don't recall if the documentary ever mentioned his real name, but to most he's only known as Radioman. Formerly a homeless alcoholic although eventually establishing housing [inheriting his deceased mother's house], he has been a fixture on NYC film sets for many years, been an extra in over 100 films and hobnobbed on film sets with many a celebrity. The documentary shows Radioman [known as such because of the radio that is always to be found tied around his neck] to be an unusual character - unkempt, loopy, filled with a bit of piss-and-vinegar, but at the same time intelligent and strangely charming. The documentary follows Radioman to Hollywood in his attempt to get into the Oscars, and his ultimate disappointment when he never makes it in, realizing that his privileged status within the NYC film-set industry won't cut it on the west coast. Back on the film sets of NYC is where Radioman finds his true happiness and calling. What's revealing about the documentary is Radioman's home life, capturing the life of a hoarder in movies and film memorabilia. The documentary shifts to a discussion of the passing of his mother many years ago and at this point I wonder whether underneath Radioman's unusual behaviour and his compulsion for film's and being part of New York City's film industry lies an anguished man. After the film, there was a Q & A with the directors who subsequently were able to get Radioman [who was back in NYC] on the telephone and one thing was for certain from that conversation - Radioman exudes true contentment and that was truly admirable.

I Beat Mike Tyson [Cumberland, May 5, 6:30 pm]

Every one has a story, and for boxer Kevin McBride it was that he beat Mike Tyson. But rather than that be the catalyst for acontinued and winning career, Mcbride never fulfilled that and may have to hang up the gloves. There's only so much beating one man can take. This 13-minute documentary short, tells McBride's story efficiently, almost poetically, and displays a loving husband and father who may have never had the might as much as other contenders in the boxing world, but did definitely have his heart in it.

Charles Bradley: Soul of America [Cumberland, May 5, 6:30 pm]

Brooklyn-ite Charles Bradley is the subject of this fine documentary. What's so intriguing about his story is how long his soul vocalist talents went un-nurtured. Yes, he'd been a fine James Brown impersonator under the name of "Black Elvis" playing some local establishments but it wasn't until New York City soul record label Daptones Records' Gabriel Roth discovered him that he got the opportunity to develop his talent for a wider audience. It's not a comprehensive biography of his life by any stretch but rather touches on milestones and painful episodes on his life which defined him as an individual while at the same time focusing on some of Bradley's live performances as well his home-coming show preparations for the release of his debut album "No Time For Dreaming" released through Dap-Tone Records. This is a gem of a story, and really it's just the beginning for Mr. Bradley. Here's to many more years.

Tchoupitoulas [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 5, 10:00 pm]

Directors, brothers Bill and Turner Ross follow three African American brothers as they venture into the night life of the French Quarter in New Orleans. With the ages of the brothers ranging from approximately 10-14 years old, the adult night life world they enter is a source of discovery and wonder. Seeing things they shouldn't be seeing and hearing things they shouldn't be hearing, it's a coming of age event enfolding in front of the camera. The youngest brother approaches the situation with more innocence as one might expect and when the boys miss the last ferry home, there's a heightened sense of anxiety from the youngest, extending their night mission to an all-nighter and making it a night they likely remember for the rest of their lives. I have no idea as to how the directors removed their liability had the boys been harmed during the filming (as apparently the boys had snuck out of their house for this) and while there were some slow moments during the film, this was a generally intriguing idea.

Planet of Snail [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 6, 2:00 pm]

The most poetic of all the documentaries I'd seen this year, director Seung-Jun Yi observes the life of an inspiring young Chinese couple, both with disabilities (the tall lanky husband who is deaf and blind, and his much shorter wife whose height is a result of a spinal deformity) as they navigate day-to-day tasks and obstacles which most of us take for granted, and as they lean on each for support, both physically and emotionally. The camera follows the couple with a non-intruding lens, observing the couple as well as individually during the most routine of tasks (changing a light bulb, eating) as well as during almost spiritual moments such as their afternoon walk during which the young man's experience of nature is both auditory and tactile. Theirs is an almost symbiotic relationship, and at times the issue of their relationship as one of convenience, rather than love is discussed. However as the documentary will reveal, this really is an extremely tender portrait of a couple who love each other and who want to take care of each other and experience life together.

Only The Young [TIFF Bell Lightbox, May 6, 4:30 pm]

That a camera was present to catch the transformative summer that the three teenagers (the subjects of this documentary) experience was the most surprising element to me in this documentary. The camera captures life in a desert town, where there's not much to do, alternating it's focus between the friendship between two skater, punk-rock boys, Garrison and Kevin, and the friendship and on-again-off-again romance between Garrison and a girl named Skye. Garrison is the level-headed one between the two boys, and relatively more introverted than Kevin who's more spontaneous and a bit of a goofball. Skye is much like many young girls at her age, interested in boys but also with hopes of her own, looking forward to adulthood when she can hopefully leave the confines of her desert town. Emotional moments abound throughout the film, as the teens experience one last summer together with events in each of their lives that will lead to them parting ways. Literally in the making is their transition from the innocent facets of their youth (budding romances, skateboarding, punk rock music, dressing up for Halloween) to the unknown trappings of what their oncoming adulthood will bring. I was surprised by how comfortable each of them were in front of the camera, to the point I questioned how much direction they may have been taking from the characters, but that aside, this was a poignant coming of age tale. And on a musical note, the obscure soul songs that peppered the soundtrack were superb. Must find the names of those songs.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review -- Eleanor Friedberger, Hospitality @ The Garrison, Toronto (May 4, 2012)

Eleanor Friedbierger
  Eleanor Friedbierger: photo by Michael Ligon

Brooklyn came to Toronto at the beginning of May when Brooklyn-based artist Eleanor Friedbierger and opening band Hospitality played the Garrison. In fact the first time I'd seen both artists live was during a show at the Bowery Ballroom last year during CMJ when they comprised 2/3 of a bill headlined by indie rock supergroup Wild Flag. Given my fascination and love for NYC which I've only had the pleasure of visiting twice so far over the last few years, this second opportunity to see these artists live here at home would at the very least serve as a good reminder of my time in NYC last year.

Since I'd saw Hospitality live in NYC during CMJ last October the band have signed with Merge Records and released their debut self-titled full-length. As well, since CMJ last year the four-piece have played a few shows (as an opener) in Toronto which I did not make it to, but finally this time around I was able to make it. The band's sound is reminiscent of the breezy indie pop of which I'd so loved in the 90's, centering on the attractive vocals of Amber Papini. It was also the bass-guitar playing of Brian Betancourt which I noticed, less of a low-end rhythmic tool but more melodic and providing some interplay with the more dexterous guitar arrangements. As airy as Papini's vocals could be, she did flex her vocal muscles on a few songs, displaying a bit of grit and yelp, a punk influence perhaps which is not too surprising given this was the same lady wearing a Beastie Boys "Check Your Head" t-shirt during last year's show at the Bowery Ballroom. There was a definite appreciation for the band (even a song request) by the early crowd, as sparse as it was.

As this was an all-Brooklyn bill, I must also mention it was an all-Merge Records bill as well. After having been one half of The Fiery Furnaces for many years, Miss Friedberger quietly released her debut full-length entitled Last Summer on Merge in July of last year. I remembered loving her set at the Bowery Ballroom last year and had only picked up the vinyl album late last year and the buzz around her since last year has I've perceived been generally on the low-end. Although not elbow-to-elbow at the Garrison, it was a healthy turnout for Miss Friedberger, and by the vocal response there were some definite die-hards in the audience.

Eleanor's hipster, vintage retro-threads notwithstanding, her songs came off as a sincere homage to that late 70's / early 80's NYC music scene, flexing a pop sensibility with an edginess, whether musically or lyrically. Like a faded photograph, Friedberger's songs were imbued with a nostalgic quality. However simplistic a description, I imagined Patti Smith fronting Blondie with the grittiness of Television and Lou Reed thrown in for good measure. Shedding the idiosyncrasies of her work in The Fiery Furnaces which made them difficult listening at times, Friedberger has wholly embraced pop song craftsmanship. She and her band played a set that included selections off Last Summer plus a bunch of new songs. My favourite songs of the set included the bouncy "My Mistakes", the sparkling "Heaven" and the funkafied pop of "Roosevelt Island". Coming back for a three song encore, Eleanor played a few songs solo [even revising her lyrics on the spot to acknowledge a segment of the crowd to stop talking], and ended with her and the band playing a cover of Bob Dylan's "True Love Tends To Forget". So true love may tend to forget but I assure you a good show, as this was, you won't.

Photos: Eleanor Friedberger, Hospitality @ The Garrison, Toronto (May 4, 2012)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

School Of Seven Bells @ The Hoxton, Toronto (May 2, 2012)

School Of Seven Bells: photo by Michael Ligon
  School Of Seven Bells: photo by Michael Ligon

Several weeks back during Hot Docs (which I was hitting pretty hardcore), I'd also realized that two shows which I'd purchased advance tickets for were taking place during the same week, the first being by New York City group School Of Seven Bells at The Hoxton. The first and only time I'd seen the band live was in October 2010 in their hometown of New York City during the CMJ festival for a headlining bill at Santos Party House. Their set of rhythmic, shoegaze-y, dream-pop was fantastic and the hometown crowd was really enamored with them. That was my last night of CMJ during that year and it was a great way to end the festival. Fast-forward about a year and a half, and here the band were in Toronto promoting their recently released third full-length entitled Ghostory.

With founding member vocalist/keyboardist Claudia Deheza having left the band in 2010, members guitarist Benjamin Curtis and and singer Alejandra Deheza performed as a trio with a drummer during CMJ that year. But as apparent this time around, a fourth member on keyboards and background vocals had been added back into the fold, with the added background vocals melding seamlessly with Alejandra's dreamy vocals. What started out in some ways as a bit mundane, soon picked up steam. I'd only had the pleasure previously of hearing their second album Disconnect From Desire so hearing songs like the ethereal, dream-pop of "Windstorm" were real treats. A respectable-sized crowd was on hand, although not as large as one would hope, but one gets the impression that the band's popularity in Toronto is strictly within cult status. On the contrary, I was thinking the band were more popular than they are, but then in conversation with Chromewaves who was also in attendance, he revealed that the last show he attended back in September 2010 at The Mod Club was quite under-attended. Running through a set and encore in about an hour and change, it was a good set overall. It kind of felt in some ways like the band was running through the motions, but I guess it's a bit discouraging when they still can't fill venues in Toronto.

Chromewaves also has a review of the show.

Photos: School Of Seven Bells @ The Hoxton, Toronto (May 2, 2012)
MySpace: School Of Seven Bells