Thursday, December 31, 2009
Song: Pale Trash
Recorded at The Garrison, December 17, 2009.Tropics - Pale Trash (orig.)
Normally, of course, I do my utmost to try and present these recordings sounding what they were like live. But I recall having read that Tropics put out a live cassette where the music was electronically sliced up and worked over. That inspired me a bit. Nothing radical, but here's a mildly manipulated version of the track above:Tropics - Pale Trash (version)
My notes for this set can be found here.
Constantines (Ladyhawk / Lullabye Arkestra / Tropics)
The Garrison. Thursday, December 17, 2009.
So, the last time I saw The Constantines, I walked away underwhelmed, wondering if the "maturity" of their newer material was at the expense of youthful energy — or if they're just out of good songs. Even without a couple people telling me I was crazy and flat-out wrong, I didn't want that to be my final disposition on the Cons. On the flipside, I wasn't so filled with regret and a desire to confirm my opinion that I was in any hurry to grab tix to any of three Lee's shows, part of a mini-tour for the band to celebrate their tenth anniversary. But I did have this Thursday night show in my maybe list in my calendar, "Tropics + Lullabye Arkestra + ??". And when word started getting around on Wednesday that the Cons were going to be the secret headliners, I figured I might as well give it a go. Even more close up and intimate than Lee's, you'd figure that if anything was going to make me eat my words, this'd be about as good a shot as you could imagine.
So, then, out to the Garrison. Once I was in and hanging around, I found it interesting to note that apparently familiarity is breeding contentedness, as the red walls seemed a little less strange and dull.1 I wonder if it's also just sort of a new standard we'll slowly get used to — places starting up since the smoking ban aren't going to have that nicotine-yellow haze of grittiness. You want — ugh — authenticity? Go look at the ceiling of a Legion.
Meanwhile, with four bands on the bill, things were getting underway. First up, Tropics — the duo of hard-hitting drummer Simone TB2 and the guit/vox/effects of Slim Twig. As I've mentioned before, I generally find myself in the middle of the road on what's usually pitched as a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. Which is to say I find any of Slim Twig's incarnations to be entertaining when I happen to catch him, but it's not something I'm going out of my for. Under the Tropics banner, the music is abrasive rockabilly noise with the harshest of digital effects accompanying Slim Twig's lurch-y outbursts. What I think I found most inneresting this time out was how my ears found the sound to be... well, more conventional than I remembered. Which could be any combination of three things: maybe Slim is keeping his weirdest stuff for his solo work; maybe I'm just getting used to what he's doing and better hearing what was there all along; or, just maybe, rock'n'roll is pushing back a bit against Slim Twig — it's bloody hard to push the boundaries in all directions all the time, and sometimes the hooks and changes just fall in place in a more conventional way because they always have fallen in that way for a reason — and suddenly you have a band playing songs and not just a series of song-like deconstructions. I dunno. And that's not to say Tropics are suddenly easy listening by any means — this is still abrasive stuff. One working that harsh/catchy dichotomy was introduced as the band's newest song, and had a sort of early Sonic Youth feel and was a tidy sub-two-minute burst, like many of the songs. Just under twenty-five minutes in a loud room like this are probably reasonable circumstances to appreciate Tropics, and I was reasonably entertained.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Lullabye Arkestra started their set with Kat Taylor-Small's bass picking out a rhythm behind Justin Small's keyboard as dry ice poured out over the drum kit. After building for a couple minutes, the pair slammed on the accelerator and set off into the first of their sludgy-metallic duets. Key to the band's allure is that underpinning the musical chaos is the chemistry between the two players, a married couple, who codify their us-against-the-world aggression with songs like the Vonnegut-referencing "Nation of Two". In that vein, their most iconic melding of love and combat might be "We Fuck the Night", which works so well as a slogan it almost makes the song itself redundant. Generally speaking, it all works. More specifically, they're such a great band to watch — bringing extra lights, the ol' fog machine, and a penchant for climbing around on their gear — that their sets are visual treats (not to mention a temptation for even the lousiest of photographers like myself). There was a place or two where I lost the plot, musically speaking, but there was always enough going on that I was enjoying myself.
Listen to a track from this set here.
"Hi, we're the mini-Cons," joked singer/guitarist Duffy Driediger as Ladyhawk3 took the stage. Spouting Vin Diesel jokes and banter about Phil Lynnott, this crew had the sound of a meat'n'potatoes bar band that'd maybe read about Screaming Trees in an old copy of Spin and were inspired a bit by the idea. Amiably chugging through thirty-five minutes of mid-tempo rockers, the guitars occasionally interestingly glanced off each other, but there wasn't a strong animating force here. Nothing to complain about, mind you — they had way more songs under three minutes than over four, so nothing was particularly overstaying its welcome. They made for an intriguing pairing with the headliners, as they seemed to be coming from the same sort of classic rock revanchism that the Cons are headed to.
By this time the room was at capacity and squeezing up to the front. And quite an interesting crowd — a lot of gigs I go to are populated by peers out supporting each other, but this room was well-filled with fellow musicians out to pay respect (and, in at least one case, singing along to several songs). So it goes without saying that there was a love vibe in the room as The Constantines took the stage with a "happy birthday" and a round of shots, launching right into the Tom Cochrane-esque "I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song" (from '08's Kensington Heights), which certainly established the vibe for the night — "P.M.A.," as singer Bry Webb expressed it. That's, like, positive mental attitude, motherfuckers. Musically, though, there was more of a retrospective agenda at work, with the bulk of the set coming from the band's first two fine albums.
Solid rockin was on display with the band reaching back to 2002 for EP track "Dirty Business" and '03's Shine A Light for "National Hum". When first-track-from-first-album "Arizona" hit the instrumental break in the middle, just one guitar picking out a rhythm, Webb grinningly commented, "like Fugazi meets Springsteen" — or, given the self-knowing metatextuality that he swathed it in (within a song itself that is a metatextual mini-manifesto), that should be further enclosed in Webb's own scare-quotes: "'like Fugazi meets Springsteen'". And — "indeed", I guess.
Jennifer Castle was invited up to add some hardly-heard backing vox to "Million Star Hotel", — the first jaunt back to the more recent half of their discography since the opener. There were a couple more from Kensington Heights (and coincidentally or not, these were the least energetic and interesting things in the set) but generally things stuck to earlier stuff for the hour-long set.
For the encore, the band made their only dip into '05's Tournament of Hearts with "Draw Us Lines" and offered a taut "Insectivora" before inviting everybody from all the night's other bands to join in on a shake-yer-firsts rendition of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". All told, seventeen songs in seventy-five minutes. And a pretty satisfied crowd, definitely oozing the P.M.A.
Given the positivity and downright joy that people were exhibiting, I felt... well, less positive and joyful. Which isn't to say I was singing a hateful song to myself or anything, but I dunno if my opinion was shifted any — speaking honestly, I think I liked everything from their first five years way more than anything from the past five. Whether that makes the band a nostalgia act or me a churl — well, I shouldn't oughtta say.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 In another praise-worthy move by the management of The Garrison, they had the coatcheck open on a busy night, and chose not no use that as a gouge and cash grab. Why in the world should coatcheck cost more than a buck or two?
2 Simone exhibited an exceptional ability to chew gum and keep time simultaneously. That's not something I keep an eye out for or anything, but you just don't see that very often.
3 Not to be confused the the rather-similarly-named Ladyhawke, apparently a pop singer from New Zealand.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The Old Soul’s 8th Anniversary Christmas Party
Dakota Tavern. Wednesday, December 16, 2009.
Ah, The Old Soul. The local group, with three discs under their belt, fit nicely into that category of local bands that have a sprawling, scalable membership (you might see them with five people on stage, or you might see them with twelve, depending on the night and the venue) as the means to explore one songwriter-leader's musical vision. The guy at the centre of this tasty maelstrom is Luca Maoloni, able on records to play all the parts of his elaborate songs, but usually behind a keyboard on stage. Influenced by the edgier kind of 70's soft-rock with a special penchant for Brian Wilson-esque arrangements ("Vege-Tables" may be the most revealing cover song in their repertoire), the band surrounds Maoloni's honeyed yelp with smooth layers of oscillating synths and throws whatever else is handy into the mix. Although keeping a low profile lately, they continued their tradition of playing an annual December "anniversary" gig that always portends a good time.
Fearful of a repeat of the disappointment of the '07 xmas party, where I arrived with a friend at what we thought was an outrageously early hour only to find the crowd at the cozy confines of The Dakota to be at capacity, this year I decided to get down there in good time — at the very least it's far better to be warm and snug inside than embittered and freezing out on the sidewalk.1 As it turned out, there was an unbilled early show already on as I grabbed a seat at the bar, with Hopeful Monster, the pop project of Jason Ball, playing a PWYC show relaunching their Metatasking album. Ball played mostly at the piano and was accompanied by Jose Contreras (of By Divine Right) on a set of numbers ranging from Beatles-y pop to 70's piano soft rockers. There was also some nice sweetening by Randy Lee on violin for a few songs toward the end. It was pleasant, though one might well say, "sufficient, but not necessary".
And then The Old Soul got set up as the room filled in some. Not feeling quite so packed (though even when at capacity, it generally still feels like there's room to breathe at The Dakota), with the band's low profile and the hardly-advertised nature of the show this was largely a crowd of friends and those who knew to keep their eyes out for it. Starting things off, the group demonstrated that haven't been totally idle, starting off the set with a few new songs and works-in-progress. Titles include "Family Ties" and "Growing Pains"2, which imply that Maoloni is taking a whimsical view of fatherhood. Or watching a lot of syndicated 80's TV. The early contender out of the pack might be one called "Reading Rainbow Rider". The band's lineup at the outset had three of six players behind keyboards, causing Maoloni to quip, as an introduction, "we're called Synthesizor! Welcome to our eighth anniversary show."
The non-keyb-playing half of the band, meanwhile, might be dubbed the "Steamboat Rhythm Kings", as Nick Taylor (guit), Jay Anderson (drums) and Matt McLaren (bass) got focused on their own soul-rock unit while Maoloni eased back on The Old Soul for parental duty. These guys generally kept things grounded enough to put the lie to the band's banter of ill-preparation. Despite the rust, only on a cover of Harry Nilsson's "Bath" — that Maoloni claimed to have foisted on the band, who had not rehearsed it — did things sound a bit rough. After the new material and the covers, the first set (going about forty-five minutes) ended with a mini-suite of vintage Old Soul that found the band hitting their stride.3
Now fully warmed up, the second set started with a slow build to "The Old Soul", and soon enough the dance floor in front of the stage was full with moving people, and there was a different vibe in the air, and as the music segued into "You Are Gold", it was suddenly a lot less like a listening party and more like a dancing one. Maoloni switched over to guitar — which, given the space constraints, left him standing on the floor beside the stage — for a couple more new songs.4 And, once again, the band rewarded the audience's indulgence for the new stuff with a couple more covers, including The Rutles' "Cheese and Onions" and Loretta Lynn's "You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly"5, with Tara-Lynn White guesting on vox, treading barbs with #2 vocalist and utility player Andrew Innanen6. Most of the music was fabulous but the pacing, from a band that's not been spending so much time together, was a little ragged, with breaks for tuning and gear switches taking things down a bit. And even when they were a bit ragged, it suited their songs well, such as on the second set closer, a galloping run through calypso makeout anthem "Let's Neck". There were isolated efforts at starting a conga line that never quite meshed up, while meanwhile Michael Louis Johnson wandered the dancefloor, adding some trumpet licks. Fun times.
And then, making good on the promise of three sets, the band returned for a generous encore, mixing three more songs from their first album (leading off with the catchy "River of Daughters") with a couple more covers — the Beatles' "I Got a Feeling"7, and then as the showstopper to close it all out, a satisfyingly funky run through ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down", the sort of song that this band was built to play. So, over two hours on stage for the band — not bad for a bunch of guys just throwing something together — and the grins on the members' faces at the end showed they were having a fine time. The Old Soul are pretty good stuff, but people tend to forget that when you slip away from the scene for a year. If the band actually manages to get some of this new stuff out there, and maybe play more than annually, next year's anniversary show might be back into the "hot ticket" realm. But for this year, it was five bucks very well spent.
Listen to a track from this set here.
1 On that night, two years ago, the band were pretty fresh off their historically fabulous Gold album release party at Lee's Palace. In the end that night, we ended up knocking around the neighbourhood for a few rounds, before slipping in to catch the last half-hour or so of the show.
3 Maoloni credited drummer Jay Anderson — whose work on the night ranged from the Ringo-y fills on "Baby, I'm Amazed" to some Sabbath-worthy thunderous rolls on "E is for Estrogen" — for working out the deft arrangements stitching three or so songs together.
4 One of which, at this point in its evolution, appeared to have the title "F# Mofo" on the setlist, although that might just be a reminder of the key and the mood for the song.
5 Which isn't as completely out of place as it might seem. Although it's not the strongest flavour in the stew, the band does have a country side, as can be witnessed on their first album's "Nectar of the Nitwit". So there's a reason they play these shows at the Dakota and cover songs like Junior Brown's "Too Many Nights in a Roadhouse".
6 Innanen would later take some jabs for wearing a Jesus Lizard t-shirt on stage, with Maoloni suggesting that he'd have to wear a Yanni shirt next year to even things out.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Looking around for some different options on where I can stash my MP3's online. Any suggestions are welcome, but I'm curious to see if this one is working.
Can you leave a comment and let me know if this stream works for you?
Also, what do you think of this player? I think I dig this more than the Yahoo one, but, generally, in this case at least, I suppose I care more about what makes it easy for you to listen to this music — I have all this stuff handy at home, and I can transfer it to 8-track to listen to in the van, or whatnot. If you know of a more likable frills-free flash player, let me know.
Artist: Grant Hart
Song: She Can See the Angels Coming + Signed D.C. (Love cover)
Recorded at The Horseshoe, December 14, 2009.Grant Hart - She Can See the Angels Coming + Signed D.C.
My notes from this set can be found here.
Grant Hart (Massey Harris, Stephen Stanley)
The Horseshoe. Monday, December 14, 2009.
Despite it being a Monday night, this was one that I was looking forward to. With a new album out for the first time in a decade — and a decent one at that — here was a too-rare chance to see a perennially-underrated top-shelf songwriter digging from a deep well of material. Plus, the last time I saw him playing was a particularly memorable occasion — on an outdoor stage in Mirvish Village during a pedestrian Sunday, Hart showing up with just a single guitar, no setlist and an amusingly prickly sort of manner. So I sort of knew what I was in for. Heading in to the 'Shoe, I walked past Grant Hart having a smoke and chatting with a couple people out front. With his beret and pencil moustache, he could have been a professor discussing Baudelaire as easily as a punk rock hero. Inside, there were some seasonal decorations up — the stockings were hung on the monitors with, well, something like care.
Although I didn't know either of the openers on the bill, it turns out that they had been selected with a certain thematic rigour. First up was Stephen Stanley, formerly of beloved-by-some local rockers Lowest of The Low. He was playing an acoustic and, backed by the electric guit work of Barry Walsh, had a bloke-y vibe, receiving dispatches from the front bar on how the Leafs game was going. Playing a set of straightforward, slightly rootsy singer/songwriter material, he tried to engage the crowd and take advantage of the quiet room by stepping away from the mic to sing a chorus on his opening song. There were a few partisans in attendance applauding for him, but no great momentum of curiosity-seekers making a rush for the stage. A perfectly, um, nice campfire kind of vibe, but nothing really stuck with me. Generally speaking, the originals were well-crafted enough but just not compelling, and the playing was fine. A cover — of The Weakerthans' "One Great City!" — didn't really work but didn't interrupt the flow too much either. Pleasant, goes-down-easy stuff that didn't do much for me.
The 80's Queen St. vibe was continued with Massey Harris, a duo of singer/songwriter Scott Bradshaw backed by the slide guitar stylings of Gord Cumming. Bradshaw — who also operates under the nom de rock of Scott B. Sympathy1 — has a long-standing place in Toronto's indie music history, as a member of Groovy Religion2, with The Sympathy, and solo. The pair had that vibe of old friends picking up in the middle of an ongoing conversation as they played their songs:
Gord: [as if remembering where they were] Hey! Grant Hart!
Scott: I opened for Grant Hart many years ago —
Gord: [interrupting] It would be.
Scott: — at RPM. I was in a band, Groovy Religion. It was a great show. Willie New says "hello" to Grant.
Gord: He didn't say hello to me though.
Scott: No... why would he?
Gord: I dunno. Why would he? I saw 'em at Larry's, I'm still deaf in my right ear. That's why everyone still calls me names to this side.
They gave the sense that they weren't putting on a show so much as they happened to be playing at the same place where some people were sitting and watching them. It was apparently the influence and friendship of late Canadian folk icon Willie P. Bennett that sent Bradshaw down his rootsier road, and tribute was paid with a pair of covers to bookend the set. We also got some Fred Eaglesmith ("Little Buffalo") and Dylan ("Something's Burning, Baby") but the real clincher for the set was the original "Way Beyond The Nicotine". Musically, both Bradshaw's voice and Cumming's guitar expressed a sense of longing that animated the material. Unforced craftsmanship with just that bit of grit that makes it feel right, these "lifetime musicians" (as one troubadour I know might call 'em) impressed most by not trying to impress at all.
Listen to a song from this set here.
With a minimum of gear to be dealt with, we had a short wait before Grant Hart took over on a fairly spartan stage. Just one tall mic stand looming over and pointed down for him to sing in and his amp off to the side, he walked on with "Soul Finger" by The Bar-Kays playing on the house system. "Turn it up!" he called out, playing along to a few bars of chicken-scratch guitar. He launched into "Remains To Be Seen" (from '99's very fine Good News For Modern Man) and we were off. Mixing songs new ("You're the Reflection of the Moon on the Water", from new album Hot Wax) and old (many Hüsker Dü classics, starting with "Never Talking Talking to You Again") we were off on a no-setlist jaunt through Hart's songbook.
Though still sorta prickly, Hart was not above some goofy back-and forth with the crowd. Launching into "2541", a heartfelt song about an apartment with that titular address, Superfan Guy (about whom, more anon) shouted out, "Sweet!" and Hart stopped playing and looked at him quizzically: "Did you say it was a suite? I thought it was a single!"
His guitar playing ranged from playing quiet and unamplified on "Barbara" to jazzy on a couple songs I didn't recognize (One — a cover? — had florid tin pan alley lyrics: "with passion or concern / we proceeded to burn / the candle at both of its ends" and a second one that he said was new, about fallen angels that he introduced by asking if anyone had read Milton).3 Meanwhile, there was a helluva case being made for Hart as a premiere songwriter — even on hearing some of the tracks I wasn't really familiar with, like "She Can See the Angels Coming" or "The Main"4, never mind more familiar stuff like "Turn On The News" there was a feeling of distinguished workmanship. And an immense talent for catchy-as-hell choruses, like on "Little Miss Information". Playing from all stages of his career, we even got a mini-set of songs from Nova Mob's The Last Days Of Pompeii.
All of which was played for a fair-sized audience. The 'Shoe was not full by any means, but there was a nice crowd on the floor taking things in. And, unsurprisingly, there were probably more deeply devoted fans than casual ones. Amongst the former was one guy who must qualify as the local Grant Hart superfan, who looked throughout the show like he was going to plotz at any moment when not clapping or singing along. At one point he literally fell to his knees in happiness, and later, when Hart was soliciting requests, he approached, hands out in a begging gesture, to ask for his song. "I can work that in," Hart said. In fact, most requests were accommodated. Though when someone asked for "Love is All Around", Hart replied, "so will your ass be." Before apologizing, "Naw, I'm kidding. Too many years of snappy comebacks — I've hurt people."
And the songs came, one after another, often in rushes of two or three without pause. There was a sensitive run through "Green Eyes", and then, eighty-five minutes after taking the stage, Hart took it all back to the start by pointing to the ceiling and shouting "Soul Finger!"
It was only the quickest of breaks before he was back for more, though, giving the crowd four more Hüsker songs before calling it a night — all told, about an hour and three quarters and over thirty songs. Quite a journey. On my way out, Hart was again out front, having a smoke and chatting with a knot of audience members. I'd have stuck around to catch some bon mots, but I was exhausted and thinking about catching that streetcar.5 But in terms of value for money, quite a night.
2 I must confess, I'm utterly unfamiliar with Groovy Religion, but the seminal Have Not Been the Same — and you have a copy on your reference shelf, right? — refers to them as goth-psychedelic punks and outlines their central role in the '80's Queen Street scene, including founder William New's role in launching the Elvis Mondays music series.
3 The only other cover essayed was a harrowing take of Love's "Signed D.C.".
4 Both from 1989's Intolerance — I really gotta track me down a copy of that one.
5 If I'd had time to hang around, I might have asked Hart why he had a Canadian flag sticker on his guitar. Is it there all the time? Does he rotate stickers for different countries?
Friday, December 25, 2009
Do Make Say Think (The Happiness Project)
E----- Theatre, Harbourfront Centre. Saturday, December 12, 2009.
Knew I was heading down to Harbourfront for this one, but I actually had to look up to double check where I was headed. The E----- Theatre — and beg my pardon I if don't give free publicity to the utility company that has "naming rights" to the place — is the one attached to the Power Plant Gallery, a facility I'd walked past hundreds of times, but had never been in to. It turned out to be a rather nice room — a boxy rectangle inside, with a large stage facing rising rows of seats and a balcony. Compact enough to feel intimate without being shoehorned in. Rows of seats along the long sides would have meant a bit of an awkward angle to watch the show seeing as they faced straight across the long side of the room but I lucked out, ending up sitting right in the middle of the front row of the balcony. I'd casually grabbed a ticket at Soundscapes, not even realizing until just before the event that the venue was assigned seating. And the sort of assigned seating, it looked like, that would be enforced by very vigilant, very un-rock'n'roll ushers, enforcing the sorts of rules most typical of a play or serious recital than a rock show — no drinks in the hall, no photos. But if nothing else, it meant that the show started right on the tick at nine o'clock, so I do appreciate that.
Opening things up on the first night of three at the theatre was Charles Spearin's "science experiment", The Happiness Project, wherein he explores the musicality of the human voice by creating melodies from interviews with his neighbours. As an album, I found the concept compelling — and even moving — but I can't say I found it something I wanted to relisten to a lot. Revisiting it live brought a similar reaction, although in the live setting it was also possible to see the technical skill of the musicians being brought to bear in nimbly doubling the voices in the interviews. "It's the same band," Spearin wryly commented before beginning, and indeed, the vocalizations were brought to life by Karen Ng's saxophone ("Mrs. Morris") and Julie Penner's violin ("Ondine"). And, just as the first time I listened to the album, I found it easy to get swept up in the emotionality of the music, such as "Vanessa", recipient of a cochlear implant, discussing the first experience of hearing after a lifetime of deafness — "all of a sudden I felt my body moving inside" taking on a sweet resonance, the group singing it in harmony after the swelling music dropped out. Catchiest of the lot was the exuberance of "Vittoria", swinging like a kid making a beeline for the monkey bars as soon as recess starts. So on the whole, a worthy effort.
And then, a proper intermission between sets, the house sound system, somewhat incongruously, playing a selection of Motown hits. Time to stretch a bit and wander around the upper reaches of the theatre — the long north-facing wall giving a nice view of the city stretched out behind the Queen's Quay condos. Heading back in, I saw a well-dressed middle-aged woman being politely but firmly busted by one of those ushers for trying to smuggle her glass of wine back to her seat. Well, those are the trouble-making types you have to watch out for, I guess.
Celebrating their fifteenth anniversary as a band, local indie titans Do Make Say Think took the stage with an obligatory "it's fucking good to be home!", starting with "Make" off the just-released Other Truths. This is a rare track with vox, although even still, they're more of the chant-for-texture variety. Following the prototypical Constellation-y template, there was a big build, imploding — ten minutes later — into a quiet horn fanfare at the end.
"Let's get romantic here Toronto," most banter-prone member Justin Small commented to the crowd, asking for the lights to be further dimmed. "This is a long-time love affair. This isn't a one-night stand... this is a three night stand." All the better to see the well-executed visuals projected onto the giant screen behind the band. Mostly of the reclaimed stock footage variety, manipulated in real time following the changes in sonic texture. Different elements would re-appear throughout the show, being juxtaposed against each other in sly ways.
About forty-five minutes in, the band came up for air. "Anybody need to take a piss? We'll wait — we're cool." Small commented. "We're tuning right now, if you gotta do it, now's your chance. 'Cuz we're about to play our second song." Then into the pretty, waltz-ish intro to "Reitschule", like many DMST tunes stuffed with exceedingly beautiful moments — tension/release, potency/languidness — several times I was rather glad I was sitting in a relatively comfortable seat, and just leaned back and closed my eyes and let it all sink in — when not in thunderstorm mode, DMST craft sounds exceedingly well-suited to zoning out.1 Of course, such moments of reverie would be pierced by the crescendos of ascending complexity and volume. The seventy-five minute main set ended with "The Universe!" (worthy of its exclamation mark) before the band came back for the encore.
"Do you like sitting down for a Do Make Say Think show?" ["Nooo!" from the crowd] "Then stand up! We thought we were providing an experience — turns out you fuckers wanna dance!" And as they launched into "Do", most of the crowd stood up, the most intrepid moving up to stand at the foot of the stage. "Do" merged into the anthemic "Auberge Le Mouton Noir", which the band pulled off even with violinist Julie Penner's amp konking out. A fully satisfying showing from the home side — excellently performed in a superb-sounding room.
1 Writing this, in fact, may be the hardest things I've ever done, as, while listening back to the show, I keep getting caught up in the music, and I keep finding myself staring out the window instead, light snow gently drifting down against a late-afternoon grey sky, the solstice darkness about to descend with a quick thump, cars whooshing by below past the occasional pedestrian. ... [five minutes later] Oh, sorry, was I saying something?
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Artist: Gentleman Reg
Song: We're in a Thunderstorm
Recorded at the Opera House, December 5, 2009.Gentleman Reg - We're in a Thunderstorm
Featuring Laura Barrett on keyboards.
The Hidden Cameras (Gentleman Reg)
The Opera House. Saturday, December 5, 2009.
Back out to the unloved Opera House for this fabulous pairing of acts. As is happened, I had a fine time there this time out — it didn't feel uncomfortably crammed, the door staff were humane, etc. Y'never know what you're gonna get there, I guess. Ran into an acquaintance, J., inside. He'd seen The Hidden Cameras in L.A. before moving to T.O., but he was eager to see them on their home turf — where he was expecting something special and not "just" a gig.
The last night of the tour brought us opener Gentleman Reg in loose and lubricated form, starting things off slow and ballad-style before launching into the "Give Me The Chance to Fall" (from 2002's Make Me Pretty, one of his best tunes1) and the rocking "You Can't Get It Back". All told, we had a different setlist and a larger cast of characters than his previous appearances this year. With no second guitarist and a pair of borrowed bass players from The Hidden Cameras (Dave Meslin played bass for the first few songs, and then Jon Hynes completed the set), the band was down to a core of Reg plus key co-conspirators Kelly McMichael (keybs) and Dana Snell (drums). But given the pool of Hidden Cameras members available to fill out the sound, this might have been the biggest sounding set from Reg this year. In a burst of end-of-tour/home crowd blowing off steam, there was a loose, party vibe to the whole set, with Reg, apparently getting into the sauce:
Reg: I didn't drink for over three months, and then in Vancouver — in Vancouver I started to drink again... I think I'm more fun when I drink.
Dana: Reg... what else do you do when you drink?
Reg: [smiles, affects innocent look] Oh, nothing. [beat] I just have more fun.2
Meanwhile, the band also essayed a "brand new song" ("it's true, it's true / what they said is true") with classic Brill Building changes and charming backing vox, Joel Gibb and Maggie MacDonald coming out to add some harmonies. Taking further advantage of the troops of the mild-mannered army, "How We Exit" featured a punchy trumpet solo from Shaun Brodie. In a nice bit of catalogue-digging, Katie Sketch came out to add vox to "Untouchable" (from 2004's Darby & Joan), with Reg telling us at the end, "I don't know if it's because I'm drunk or what, but that made me very emotional!" — perhaps appropriately, that was followed up with "To Some it Comes Easy", with its "in time / I'm gonna drink myself into a nursery rhyme" refrain. And then two big dance-frenzy numbers to finishing things out, with Laura Barrett adding extra keyb to a stellar take of "We're in a Thunderstorm" before the set was capped off with "The Boyfriend Song", the back of the stage filling up with dancers as if a sock hop had broken out. With a strongly partisan group of fans on hand — at least up front — this didn't feel like your typical grin-and-bear-it opening set, although it was a superb bit of warming up for the main event.
Listen to a track from this set here.
I'd seen the Cameras at the other end of their tour, at the album release show at Goodhandy's, and it was instructive to contrast the setup and the vibes. Although even that show had the feel of an event, it was ultimately like comparing a high school musical to a Broadway show — bigger and amped up in every dimension. Just like at the Goodhandy's show, the band took the stage to the slow build of "Ratify the New", a couple minutes of mounting drone as the band, in their hooded cowls, took their places before beginning the song proper. But any theories that they might stick as close to the new album as they did at the release party were put to rest as they launched into a couple from 2006's Awoo, including "Follow These Eyes" (in an arrangement with muscular "Billie Jean" drums and bumblebee trumpet) and the makes-sense-when-you-see-it-live "Heji". "Bboy" ramped up the spectacle even further, with banners being waved around and the choir (more than a dozen deep, arranged in two wings behind the band) taking the stage in their ghost-y costumes. And, not for the last time, we were invited to participate: "Why don't you join in with the choir? It's just a little breathing".
Gibb brought back a little bit of Berlin with him, with the ending of "Hump From Bending" melding into a rollicking cover of a German rocker "Macht Kaputt Was Euch Kaputt Macht"3 Gentleman Reg came out with some dance moves in the "see no evil, hear no evil vein" the band exhorted everyone to dance along to "Breathe on It"4, reaching all the way back to The Smell of Our Own. "This is just like a revival meeting!" the woman beside me shouted joyfully to her friend.
After "Fear is On", the perienially civic-mined Dave Meslin managed to sneak in a pitch for Beautiful City and the fight for the since-passed billboard tax. 5 A bit of a pause for breath with some of the less frenetic material from Origin:Orphan, including "Kingdom Come", "Walk On" and "Colour of a Man". And to those who have harrumphed that this is a new direction for the band, sandwiched in the middle of those was "A Miracle", which was recorded c. 2001, and which complemented them well. Admittedly not all of the new songs are quite up to that standard — I find "Walk On" a but dull — but I think when we look back at this in time, it'll seem like a natural part of the whole.
In a delightfully unexpected turn, the band played "Fear of Zine Failure", which I'm not sure I've ever heard them do live — not for a long time, anyways. And with Maggie MacDonald leading the crowd with some dance moves, it signified that the pause for breath in the middle was done and the party was resuming. Gibb contributed to this by gathering up the length of his microphone cord in loops around his arm and launching himself into the audience, running towards the soundbooth like he was trying to escape the building while singing "Doot Doot Plot". The final four songs of the main set were an O:O mini suite, with the dancey "Underage" leading to a frenetic run through "The Little Bit" before closing things out on the lovely meditative "Silence Can Be a Headline", and suddenly it was like the last slow-dance at the gay prom I never had.
Returning for the encore, the band led off with a cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella", which was popular from a crowd singalong point of view, but didn't really work for my perspective. Things were on a much more solid footing with the band revisiting a few classics, like "Smells Like Happiness" and "Music Is My Boyfriend", all holy hell breaking out on the last one, with members of the audience being pulled up to dance on a crowded stage, and some of the band taking to the floor. It sounded a bit ragged, but it was most assuredly full of the spirit. Although that was probably meant as a ne plus ultra spectacle, the band was called out for one more, to a pretty worked-over stage, to end with the always-triumphal "Ban Marriage".
In the final analysis, I left remembering why The Hidden Cameras are so good. In the treadmill of digging the next thing and the next thing, we sometimes have a propensity to undervalue the bands we already know and love. And while it seems ludicrous to think of the Cameras as an underdog, it seems like most of the local reaction to the new album was a middling, take-'em-for-granted shrug. So a show like this serves as a powerful corrective and a chance to remember how bloody good they are. And in the larger picture, to remember what a joyfully ideal vision of our society they dare to reflect. J. confirmed that this was indeed the sort of spectacle that he'd been hoping for, and I left reflecting on the fact that it's artists like Hidden Cameras that are our city's ambassadors to the world. At a time when out political classes seem eager to increasingly debase themselves on the world's grand stage to score the crassest tactical victories, at least we have an option that we can point to and say, "no, this is what represents me." When our other institutions fail us, The Hidden Cameras make us feel unashamedly like citizens of a more perfectible nation.6
Listen to a track from this set here.
2 Snell was a worthy comic foil for Reg throughout the night. Later on, in introducing the band, Reg played the diva card to make sure he got the last and loudest applause, and Snell brought him back down to earth, commenting, "Real life begins tomorrow Reg — who's going to cheer for you?"
4 "Not bad for Toronto!" was the verdict from the stage.
5 Taking up his thought again later on in the show, Mez started singling out people at the front of the crowd by name, telling them to call the mayor — and that if the tax didn't get passed, it would be their fault.
6 Even if they travel under their own flag, they still belong to us, dammit.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Song: Cliff Jumps
Recorded at Third Floor Session, December 5, 2009.Ohbijou - Cliff Jumps
My notes for this session can be found here.
N.B. This is not my own recording – it comes via the good people at SPIRITlive, who have kindly put the entire session on the internet for you to download. For free! I unreservedly recommend you to head over and grab this superb-sounding set for yourself.
Third Floor Studios at Ryerson University. Saturday, December 5, 2009.
A slightly unusual Saturday afternoon outing. Headed down to Ryerson and found the R----s Communication Centre1 at the corner of Church and Gould and up to the titular third floor, finding a little hive of activity in a network of small rooms off a main hallway. Unsurprisingly, I suppose, the place was filled with students, though it's now to the point where it shocks me a little bit how young they look these days. Why, when I was their age, I —
But I digress. This whole thing was an effort of SPIRITlive — "a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week live Internet Broadcaster, produced by students in the School of Radio & Television Arts". As a bunch of us built up in the hallway, the technical folks were getting everything in place before letting us into the studio proper. Which turned out to be a rather tiny space — the advertisement wasn't kidding when it indicated that limited admittance was available. Not a bare, spartan room as one might mentally envision a studio — someone had gone to some trouble to decorate it up nicely, with hanging paper lanterns and strings of white christmas lights adding some atmosphere. Quite an elaborate setup, with the band and all their gear spread out across the front and various technorigmarole lining the walls. We were further hemmed in by the video crew, with taped lines on the floor demarking lanes for them to operate in at the sides and down the centre. As I looked over the thirty or so of us in the crowd, I once again had that pang of being the oldest, least student-y guy in the room2 but I was at least able to draw some comfort from the fact that some of the members of the band are closer to being my contemporaries.
Anyways, everything in place, the band began to play, starting off with "Jailbird Blues" (from this year's wonderful warm hug Beacons) and it was quite glorious to soak in the sounds. A setup like this combined the spark of live performance with the sonic fidelity of a studio recording, so even if it was a sort of cramped and constrained, it was a splendid opportunity to just listen. Not making any radical rearrangements or digging out any rarities, the band put their best foot forward with eight tracks (five from Beacons, three from debut Swift Feet for Troubling Times). Being music that I've listened to a fair lot, I could pick out a few little tweaks in the arrangements here and there — "To Rest In Peace On Righteous Tides" had a slightly softer edge to it than it used to, say. But mostly I was just luxuriating in it — songs like "Make It Gold" so gently pretty and revivifying somehow.
The set was followed by a short interview with Casey Mecija and then out. I wasn't in a rush to get where I was going, so I had some time to stroll around the Ryerson campus, and exchange a nod with old man Egerton before wandering off.
One of the more winning features of this series of sessions is that they are being put online for download afterwards, so you can grab the whole thing here. Or, for just a taste, I have one track up in the usual manner here.
1 I shan't impose on you the name of the dead tycoon emblazoned on this building.
2 We tend to think of ourselves as being more or less the same as we were back in our student days, and to some degree I still carry a mental image of myself with my long, curly hair, slightly affected penchant for Foucault and a sweeping sense of self-disapprobation. I suppose it's only natural to sorta romanticize the salad days, even if it means sweeping some of the Other Stuff under the rug. All things considered, I was so much older then — I'm younger than that now. So I probably don't have a lot to complain about, creeping entropy notwithstanding.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Artist: The Hoa Hoa's
Song: Intensity + New Comb*
Recorded at The Silver Dollar, December 4, 2009.The Hoa Hoa's - Intensity + New Comb
My notes for this set can be found here.
* This song is listed on the cover of Pop/Drone/Pedals as "Feels So Good Inside", though the disc's metatext and the band's setlist prefer "New Comb".
Artist: Your 33 Black Angels
Song: If Lovin' You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Wrong*
Recorded at The Silver Dollar, December 4, 2009.Your 33 Black Angels - If Lovin' You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Wrong
My notes for this set can be found here.
* Thanks to a commenter for providing the title to this one.
The Hoa Hoa's (The Disraelis / Your 33 Black Angels / Action Makes)
The Silver Dollar Room. Friday, December 4, 2009.
It had been a good week for The Hoa Hoa's — just like in some of their songs, a long slow burn had turned into an intense frenzy and a lot of solid legwork from the Optical Sounds crew had paid off with some nice media attention, including making the cover of eye weekly. After the earlier warm-up at Sonic Boom, the payoff was this official album release show in the classy confines of the Silver Dollar Room,1 all in honour of their fab new Pop/Drone/Pedals disc.
Definitely worth showing up early on this night, as The Disraelis led things off. I've tried in the past to nail what it is that's so appealing about their sound, and I can't add much to what I've said before. There's just a sort of delicious tension between Colin Bowers' crystalline guitar lines and Cameron Ingles' opaque murmurs, a collision between heightened rationality and bleary oblivion — like drinking six shots of vodka and then trying to have a discussion about Kant. Or, more emotionally, like those moments where you suddenly gain a flash of sky blue clarity into your own failings, accompanied by a resounding desire to do whatever is necessary to obliterate it. The set included some new material (such as the tasty "January") that leaves me eager for the band to get a new release out. With recent uptick in recognition for The Hoa Hoa's, their stablemates are now overdue for some of that spotlight as well.
Listen to a track from this set here.
Bathed in blue light, Your 33 Black Angels hit the stage like they were playing a Byrds cover of a Dylan song cut with some "Summertime Blues" rock'n'roll energy. Six members deep, featuring three guitars and saturating garage-style organ, they mixed equal parts flower punk and paisley underground. But notwithstanding those touchstones, the band didn't limit themselves to any one narrow retro-stylistic patch of ground, generally mixing things up enough to make it interesting and always keeping a quick, steady beat (courtesy of John O'Callaghan) to drive things home. Most frequent singer — they mixed it up a bit — Josh Westfal's guitar featured glow-in-the-dark psychedelic flowers and designs, but the incipient hippietude of that and a are-you-ready-for-the-patchouli shirt was undercut, I noticed later, by the fact that he was wearing a New York Dolls tee underneath. And that's as apt a metaphor for this band as I could muster. A well-suited addition to this lineup, the NYC visitors put together a solid set and impressed the growing crowd.2
Listen to a track from this set here.
Hitting the stage just past 12:30, The Hoa Hoas's led off with "Waves". Starting low on the intensity scale, the band played a smartly constructed set that kept raising the stakes, building up in speed and energy, letting things plateau for a bit, and then amping things up again. Ironically, the longer set afforded them by headlining their album release show also gave them a chance to dig into the catalogue a bit, such as for Sonic Bloom's "The List", which I don't think has gotten an airing for awhile, as well as some of the cuts from the new album like short, punkish burst "Intensity" that are not usually in the live set. Also keeping with the celebration of the new album, the band were joined on "Grew Up on the Seeds" by Planet Creature's Kristina Koski, adding some of the rockin' flute grooves that aren't usually there in live performance.
The crowd was tightly packed in and dancing in surging waves. Maybe it was a fever dream, but it seemed like someone in the crowd (fortunately not near me) was playing a harmonica briefly. During the droning groove of "Looking For the Sun" it all really started to kick in. Not just the music, but the light show — machine gun bursts of strobes from one side of the stage, and swirling multicolored lights from the other.3
The band played "Postcards" a bit slower than they had earlier in the evening at their in-store appearance, simmering in the groove of it a little more. By the time they reached the set-closing tandem of "Vinyl Richie" and "Blue Acid Gumball", the experiential overload of sound and light and shouty thrum was nearly veering into dazed synaesthesia. Perhaps — perhaps — not the best sounding, best played set I've heard from The Hoa Hoa's, but certainly the most correct.
Listen to a track from this set here.
If the Black Angels complemented the Hoa Hoa's at the more flower-powered end of their range, then Action Makes overlapped with the headliners at the other end of their sound, over in the scuzzy garage-rock zone.4Not so sloppy as some bands of this ilk play it — the had a tight underpinning throughout — the band nevertheless had a reasonable amount of leering attitude on stage. Thanks in no small part to vocalist Clint Rogerson, the band evoked a party vibe — not one of your hippy-dippy be-ins, though, more of an end-of-the-night vibe, where you get fucked up not to aim for some kind of transcendence so much as to regain functionality after the last binge. Even if there were still a healthy number of folks up around the stage dancing away, it gave the room, now emptier as last call came and went, a different kind of vibe. Dan Burke, for example, was right up front, boogieing away, pausing every few minutes to aim a kick or two at the nearest monitor. In fact, maybe that's an apt vision to hold in your mind when thinking of an Action Makes gig: imagine Dan Burke's boot kicking a stage monitor, forever and ever. The set, nine songs in thirty-five minutes, ended with things getting unglued a bit, a few uncontrolled squeals of feedback and concluding with drummer Ryan Rothwell tumbling over his drum kit.
Listen to a track from this set here.
A late end to the night, but worth it for a rather fab show. And hopefully a successful bit of consciousness-raising for The Hoa Hoa's.
1 Speaking of that extra touch of elegance: I noticed that in the men's room, there was no soap in the dispensers, but someone had thoughtfully left a plastic cup half-filled with liquid soap on one of the sinks. At least I hope it was liquid hand soap.
2 And checking out Y33BA's website, it looks like the favour is being returned, with the Hoa Hoa's heading down to NYC to join 'em on New Year's eve, a trip which will hopefully gain some new converts for the local side.
3 This light was being held up and swung around by a guy standing right in front of the stage. Whether he was a friend of the band drafted for this job or just someone who took it unto himself to do this, it fit the vibe of the night particularly well.
4 An acquaintance that I ran into at the show was slightly confused, earlier on, when I explained that one of the "opening" acts was, in fact, playing after the headliner, but that's just how things roll at the late-night Silver Dollar shows.
Monday, December 21, 2009
The Hoa Hoa's
Sonic Boom Records. Friday, December 4, 2009.
Although I knew I'd be heading over to see their proper show later in the evening, had nothing keeping me from heading out check out The Hoa Hoa's make an in-store appearance downstairs at Sonic Boom. Interestingly, a rare all-ages show for the band — not that I'm guessing that they have anything against the youth of today, but what with usually appealing to a bit of an older crowd, they're just not in that circuit that includes very many all-ages shows. But taking advantage of this opportunity, there were lots of friends out, some with kids in tow, and before the show started, guitarist/bassist Femke Berkhout was making the rounds, passing out candy and earplugs to the young'uns.
With a nice crowd built up, the band started with "Hey Joe", and moved into a nice run through "Thinking About Today"1. And then, excitingly, "Waves" — a vocal spotlight for Berkhout and a slowburner of a tune that's a close acquatic cousin to the VU's "Ocean" — and the first time I'd heard them essay this one live.
Although the band was celebrating their album's release, they still have a surplus of unrecorded material that's been kicking around in their setlist for awhile. "This one's gonna be on the next one," was the comment as the band introduced the dreamy yearning-adolescence ballad "Going Out".2 And then, fully warmed up, the band ended by putting their new release in the best possible light with the scorching trio of "Grew Up on the Seeds", "Vinyl Richie" and "Postcards". The whole set ran a generous nine songs and thirty-five minutes — actually a hair longer than the "proper" set they'd placed at Rancho. One would hope that at least a few of the assembled were there out of curiosity and seeing the band for the first time, and thinking to themselves, "If this is the warmup, what are they saving for the main event?"
Check out a track from this set here.
2 The song even manages to nick a few lines from Sam Cooke at the end.
Artist: Germans feat. Doc Pickles
Song: The Wavelength 500 Lineup Announcement Song
Recorded at Wavelength 494, The Garrison, December 20, 2009.Germans feat. Doc Pickles - The Wavelength 500 Lineup Announcement Song
I'll have some proper notes — and more soundz — from this show when I get caught up. Maybe a week Thursday or so. Until then, enjoy this madcap bit of impromptu collaboration. These notes can now be found here.