Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hot Docs in Toronto Kicking Off Tonight

It took long enough but for the first time I'll be diving into Toronto's Hot Docs documentary film festival. Kicking off tonight officially and running until May 6, the festival will be offering many documentaries including local, national and international productions on an array of topics which one is sure to find something of interest. I haven't yet decided what docs I'll be seeing / covering but I hope to catch at least a few  of the music documentaries, most of all Shut Up And Play The Hits which documents LCD Soundsystem's final concert which took place at NYC's Madison Square Gardens on April 2, 2011. And since this is a music blog, I thought it'd be appropriate to give a rundown of the music documentaries at this year's festival:

As you may have guessed, this is a documentary on the life of Bob Marley. Directed by Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland, One Day in September), the film apparently includes interviews with Marley's family as well as early concert footage. Uo

Beware Of Mr. Baker
Mr. Baker refers to a one Ginger Baker, the undisputed inventor of rock n roll drumming and best known for his work with Cream and Blind Faith. Apparently he's a character.

The Punk Syndrome
This doc focuses on Finland punk rock  four-piece Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day. That each of the members happens to be mentally disabled is what makes their story interesting.  Well, my interest is piqued.

She Said Boom: The Story Of Fifth Column
Back in the 80's I was knee deep in the wave of alternative bands coming from the UK (The Smiths, The Cure, New Order) and perhaps a bit immature to appreciate Toronto's own all-girl art-punk outfit Fifth Column. I remember they were one of the only Canadian acts on US indie label K Records. I remember they had a song called "All Women Are Bitches". I'm expecting that this doc would fill me in on everything else I'd want to know about the group

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
The story focuses on the life of guitar prodigy Jason Becker who in 1991 was hired as the lead guitarist in David Lee Roth's band, recorded an album with him but never made it on tour after being diagnosed with ALS.  More than 20 years later, Jason is still living strong and making music by communicating with his eyes. 

Shut Up And Play The Hits
Part interview and part concert film, this documents NYC's LCD Soundsystem's final show which took place at Madison Square Gardens on April 2, 2011. I remember watching the streaming webcast and wishing I'd got into this band sooner. The music and the show was that good.

Big Easy Express
L.A.’s Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Nashville boys Old Crow Medicine Show and Londoners Mumford & Sons take a train from Oakland to New Orleans along the way making stops to play sold out shows.  And I'm assuming shenanigans ensue.

Charles Bradley: Soul Of America
 Soul artist Charles Bradley played a sold out show in Toronto this year and has been making waves everywhere. He's an old gentleman whose talents were  discovered later in life (better late than never) and this film tells his story.

An Affair Of The Heart
From what I've read this doc is as much about 80's icon Rick Springfield as it is about his fans.

In The Year Of Hip Hop
This is a documentary about rappers in the Republic of Slovenia documenting the cultural uprising that paved the way for hip hop to form in the country.

No Room For Rockstars
Documenting the 2010 Vans Warped tour and especially the new school and broader range of artists that the tour has been showcasing in recent years, the film will either entertain the masses or else anger old-school punks who'll launch into a diatribe about the death of punk rock.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Flaming Lips To Headline NXNE Plus Preliminary Lineup Announced

Earlier this week it was announced that The Flaming Lips will be headlining this year's North By Northeast (NXNE) festival with a FREE show at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 16 (a bittersweet announcement since I already have tickets for the Radiohead show at Downsview Park that same night and am already debating whether I should sell the tickets). As well, a preliminary list of other acts have been announced for this year's festival including Bad Religion, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah and Matthew Good who will all be headlining free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square. Chromewaves has done some legwork and posted a preliminary schedule of acts who'll be in town during the festival so that's a good starting point if you want to start planning now. Otherwise for more further official artist announcements, keeping checking here. There seems to be a fair bit of buzz so far on the interwebs about this year's festival (even if most of the acts on the preliminary list are unfamiliar to me) and it's looking to be a good one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review -- The Magnetic Fields, Bachelorette @ Sound Academy, Toronto (March 30, 2012)

  Stephen Merritt @ Sound Academy: photo by Michael Ligon

Sorry for the lateness of this posting. I'll first point you towards The National Post, Sticky Magazine, and The Panic Manual who were also at the show.

Can I say I both enjoyed the show but was disappointed. The Magnetic Fields last played Toronto in February of 2010 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, a show I enjoyed very much. But before I get to this current performance, it was New Zealand artist Annabel Alpers who goes by the moniker Bachelorette opening up the show to maybe a half full venue. I'd arrive with her already a bit into her set. At first I didn't think much of it, but soon I started to enjoy her brand of electro-pop which seamed to be a seamless mix between the icy-cool synth-pop of Ladytron with the Krautrock / drone influence of bands like Stereolab and Broadcast, Alpers vocals in the same deadpan vein as Broadcast's late Trish Keenan or Ladytron vocalist Helen Marnie. With computer generated images projected behind it was fitting visuals for Miss Alpers mathematically-precise tunes.

But back to The Magnetic Fields. It was bound to be a letdown, the band this time around playing the dreaded Sound Academy, a venue that required it's audience to stand [unless I guess if you were in the second level VIP section] and whose acoustics were no where close to the acoustics at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The occasion of their trip to the city this time around was the recent release of their new album entitled Love at the Bottom of the Sea with a bevy of great song titles like "Andrew in Drag", "The Horrible Party", and "I've Run Away to Join the Fairies" all included in the band's new-album heavy setlist. With the same / similar acoustic setup(piano, guitar, cello, ukelele, etc.) as their previous show in Toronto back in 2010, the band played delicately with lead vocal duties traded from song to song between Stephen plus members Claudia Gonson, and Shirley Simms, with Merritt singing most of what most might consider his 'depressing' songs while, Gonson seemed to have the more humourous ones [eg. "Quick"] and Simms adding a bit of twangy timbre to songs like the wonderful "Plant White Roses". On comparison to their previous Toronto show in 2010 there was less banter between songs, which in my opinion detracted from the overall enjoyment of the show. As Merritt cheekily exclaimed at one point between songs in his deadpan baritone "Here's another depressing song". It was purely sarcastic remark but on the other hand, without the banter to break up the pacing of the set, I couldn't help but feel the dreariness rear its head. If not for the pristine pop melodies, the whole set would just be a total downer. But then that dichotomous nature of The Magnetic Fields, who on a basic level, whose music can be described as depressing love songs and sunny pop melodies, is precisly what appeals to its audience. Nowadays, I feel the The Magnetic Fields have broadened their audience further than they have before, but in the past I'd say without a doubt that their audience consisted primarily of indiepop aficionados, music geeks, and other assorted misfits. To this last point, The Magnetic Fields is and will remain one of music history's greatest outsider bands. So overall a great set musically, though the comforts and acoustics of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as well as the greater amount of banter at that show, were sorely missed this time around.

Photos: The Magnetic Fields, Bachelorette @ Sound Academy, Toronto (March 30, 2012)
MySpace: Bachelorette
MySpace: The Magnetic Fields

Monday, April 09, 2012

Review -- Canadian Musicfest (Saturday March 24, 2012)

  ALX @ The Garrison: photo by Michael Ligon

For this year's Canadian Musicfest, Saturday wasn't the official last day of the festival [as Sunday night had a smattering of shows to close out the festival] but for many the Saturday night was the night to end things, and hopefully on a high note. That said, my Saturday night was a generally light one but that was fine by me.

Cooler temperatures than the previous milder nights, I made the decision to stay indoors as much as possible - club-hopping isn't fun when it's cold. With not much of an itinerary in mind for the night, I decided to forgo the first few primtetime hours of the night (between 9 and 11 pm) and instead of seeing bands, decided to take in one of the music films screening as part of the film festival component of Canadian Music Week. The film screening was entitled Girl Walk // All Day. The following information about the film is taken from the film's website:

"Girl Walk // All Day is a feature-length dance music video and tale of urban exploration that follows three dancers across New York City. They turn the city's sidewalks, parks, and architecture into an evolving stage as they spread their joy of movement.

The film is about self-discovery and love, and it's a tale about finding community and vitality in shared public spaces. The idea for this project emerged from our desire to expand the boundaries of the single-track music video, to an epic music film.

Girl Walk // All Day is set to All Day, the album by mash-up musician Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk)."

I enjoyed this very much on many levels. As a love letter to NYC, it made me want to go back so bad - this film has to be seen on a big screen. The pop, hip-hop mash-up soundtrack of Girl Talk brought the dance segments on screen to life. Overall, the film expressed happiness and joy of life. There was one scene that said it all - when dancer Anne Marsen while dancing approached unknowing passersby on the streets, one Orthodox Jewish gentleman questioned why she was dancing, in which she replied "Because she is happy" and which in turn the gentleman replied back "You should always be happy".

Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 1: School's Out
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 2: All Aboard
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 3: It Goes Like This
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 4: Enter The Gentleman
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 5: Chinatown Hustle
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 6: The Creep Takes New York
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 7: High and Low
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 8: Shopping Spree
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 9: When Dancers Collide
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 10: Dance With Me
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 11: Chain Reaction
Video: Girl Walk // All Day - Chapter 12: For The People

After that good start to the night, I headed to the Garrison to catch Toronto's Allie Hughes, whose new electro-pop project was entitled ALX. I'd actually not seen Miss Hughes live although I vaguely recall her in the CBC television program "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?" in which she sang a cover of Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet". From that I was aware of her vocal talents but I didn't quite expect the transformation she undertook for ALX. First impressions will most obviously point to fellow Toronto artist Katie Stelmanis who transformed into a electro-goth diva for her current project Austra. If we're to compare ALX to Austra however, ALX is decidely more disco. But rather question her motives, let's just take ALX as a new outlet for Miss Hughes talents. For their second show ever (as Allie announced), it wasn't without it's problems. There were some technical difficulties with one of the synths shutting out, during which the rest of the band continued to play through until the problem was solved. Musically, Allie was in fine vocal form but I didn't find every song as stellar as I'd hoped. I still think Allie might be working out her stage presence as a disco diva - the writhing on the floor's stage, while it may have been a spontaneous act, just felt a bit forced. The band have a song entitled "I Will Love You More" up on YouTube and available for free download on their BandCamp which I think is terrific. If they can work out the kinks and develop a good live set, I will most definitely look forward to seeing them live the next time.

Capping off my Canadian Musicfest this year was, Chapel Hill, NC's Last Year's Men who were capping off a three-night stint at the Silver Dollar. For a Saturday night, it was a surprisingly light crowd at the Silver Dollar, but the young group paid no attention to that and played as if they were rocking a full-house. For fun, the drummer had a blond wig on, with the bassist wearing an old-school, full-length sleeping gown, and the main vocalist wearing a black, robber's mask. There was also a fourth guy on guitar sporting sunglasses and a moustache. Aside from the efforts of one young lady near the end of the set to try to start some slam dancing, the crowd on hand didn't quite get in to it as I'd hoped. The band's music, a mix of 50's / 60's melodies with an infusion of punk / garage sensibilities was at time balls out rock n' roll but there were at times, a few slower tempos. For such a young band, I'm curious as to how the band found this musical direction. Overall it was a good energetic set from the band, ending off their set with a smashed guitar, some spilled beer, and the bassist exposing himself to us. All in the name of rock n' roll.

And so there it was. 17 acts, 1 film over the course of 4 days. Until next year Canadian Musicfest.

PHOTOS: Canadian Musicfest (Saturday March 24, 2012)
BandCamp: ALX
MySpace: Last Year's Men

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review -- Canadian Musicfest (Friday March 23, 2012)

Spoek Mathambo @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon
  Spoek Mathambo @ The Great Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

As it turned it out, the third day of Canadian Musicfest was purely spontaneous on my part. I had made picks for the night but really hadn't thought out an itinerary for the day, although with having the day off from work I made somewhat of an effort to check out some of the day shows.

The daytime lineup over at The Toronto Institute For The Enjoyment of Music was somewhat up my alley but I got downtown later than expected and so instead chose to take in some daytime sessions, where else but the Eaton Centre. Clothing Store French Connection in conjunction with local band promoters Audio Blood Media were hosting a few artists playing acoustic sets as part of the festival. An interesting choice of venue but ultimately it didn't seem like many people were interested given the low turnout. Toronto pop outfit Hands & Teeth, ignored the light crowd (which was really just me and a few others) and began their set. Playing acoustically (guitar, percussion, Charles Pump Organ), they were quite a bit different sounding than their electric version, with a folky quality emphasized through the band's penchant for vocal harmonies. As things went on, the band were successful in drawing some shoppers / passersby to come in to the store and check them out. The band's Jeff Pinto on the Charles Pump Organ [I asked a member of the band what the name of the instrument was] took a swipe at lead vocals sounding a bit like Bob Dylan, but it was the songs sung by lone female member Natasha Pasternak that were more successful. Call me a sucker for attractive tuneful female vocals. The band has several releases available, the most recent being 2012's Hunting Season, all of which are available through the band's BandCamp site.

Next up to perform on the same stage [well actually the same space on French Connection's floor] were Toronto band The Archives. Again, because they were playing acoustically (just the vocals of Will Gooch plus bassist Anthony Menecola and guitarist Crispin Day) they sounded much more stripped down than their usual plugged-in electric, melodic rock sound. If the crowd was virtually non-existent at this point, except for me, a few band-related persons, the store staff, and a few other stragglers, the band did an admirable job of ignoring that and performing well. The stripped-down nature of the set illustrated they have musical chops and solid songs even if for the most part it wasn't my thing. Good job, nonetheless.

Still early with a whole night a head of me, I decided I was ready for another instore and so headed over to Sonic Boom to check out The Inbreds. I arrived as the duo [bassist/vocalist Mike O'Neill and drummer Dave Ullrich] were already a song or two into their set, with a good-sized crowd in attendance. This was a warm-up for their proper Canadian Musicfest / comeback show which was the next night at Lee's Palace so the set was understandably brief but they of course couldn't leave without playing their biggest 'hit' "Any Sense of Time" which they saved for last. What a jolt of nostalgia that was. It was 1996 all over again - those were the days.

I'd originally headed to the Horseshoe Tavern to catch Snowblink's 8 pm set but getting into the venue and then waiting around for a few minutes, then realizing that they were already half an hour behind schedule [it was already 8:30 pm at this point] with no sign they'd be coming on soon, I decided to bail and instead headed to Lee's Palace for the 9 pm set of Australian duo's Big Scary. I arrived to the venue after 9 pm with the band already into their set playing to a sparse but appreciative audience. Far more versatile than I expected, they were neither just the poppy indie duo I'd heard ["The Apple Song"] nor a garage-rock act a la The White Stripes that you might imagine, but over the course of the three or four songs I heard, they displayed these various influences generally through their guitar-drums (sometimes keyboards-drums) instrumentation. One of my more interesting discoveries of this year's festival.

The evening portion of the night was centered on me checking out South African hip-hop / r n b artist Spoek Mathambo who was playing The Great Hall at 11 pm and as it turned out I decided to make things easy for myself and just plant myself at The Great Hall for the whole night. It'd been several years since I'd seen Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon perform live and not much has changed. His combination of old-school rap flow and what I could only described as fucked-up beats is still omnipresent. Assisting him with the beats was a dude who looked like a blonde version of The Cure's Robert Smith. The set was filled with mostly new songs. Making a shout out to the 1059! crew (so-named for the Toronto address 1059 Bathurst where many a secret show was hosted and of which Cadence Weapon had performed on occasion), performed a song called "Loft Party". There was a good energy in the room throughout the set and it seems many are looking forward to his new album Hope in Dirt City which'll drop soon.

The most anticipated act for me this night was South African afro-hip-hop artist, the colourfully-named Spoek Mathambo fresh from his appearance at this year's SXSW. Samples I'd heard of his on YouTube gave me the impression of an artist who fused old-school (hip-hop) / old-world (African) influences with a modern sensibility, similar to the approach of an artist such as M.I.A. With his mostly South African band plus one gentleman(on sax) who I believe was from San Francisco, that old-school/new-school fusion was definitely present (especially in their twitchy cover of Joy Division's "Control" which they played near the end) but the live set in general seemed to emphasize the organic approach(drum, guitar, bass, horns) much like The Roots brand of hip hop when they play live. While Mathambo's elder musical stateman Saul Williams was the headliner of the night, Mathambo and could easily have headlined had there been a need for him to. It was a fully-charged set from Mathambo and crew, with the crowd very much into as well. A successful outing all around, which should do him well if and when he returns to Toronto.

I'd considered ducking out to check another set at another venue {I think it was Toronto's Badbadnotgood @ Wrongbar) but then reconsidered because I realized I'll have more opportunities to see Badbadnotgood live but although I wasn't at all familiar with Saul Williams, what I'd read of him intrigued me, and this perhaps might be the only opportunity I'd get to see him live. Just a little background, but according to the first sentence from the Wikipedia entry on him, Saul Williams is " American poet, writer, actor and musician known for his blend of poetry and alternative hip hop and for his leading role in the 1998 independent film Slam." Prior to his emergence onstage, a colourful-looking gentleman who I think was his DJ hyped up the crowd with an old-school mix of hip-hop blaring from the PA system. From the onset, Mr. Williams was hyped up and determined to hype up the crowd, beating away on a percussive instrument with what I believe was a mallet. The R n B, soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and rock influences that all contributed to his music was really just the basis for Mr. Williams himself, as confident and capable as soulful vocalist as he was with his spoken-word, def poetry jam contributions. What was so impressive especially about his def poetry jam capabilities was the amount of words that went into those compositions and even more impressive that Williams was able to memorize it all. It was quite apparent from the performance why Saul Williams is held up in such high regard with many artists and musicians, even though he is not nearly as well-known with the general public. Quite the experience, and one I highly recommend.

PHOTOS: Canadian Musicfest (Friday March 23, 2012)
MySpace: Hands & Teeth
MySpace: The Archives
MySpace: The Inbreds
MySpace: Big Scary
MySpace: Cadence Weapon
MySpace: Spoek Mathambo
MySpace: Saul Williams