>Amy Millan at Harbourfront; Saturday July 25, 2009

>Amy Millan at Harbourfront; Saturday July 25, 2009

I use to love Stars and everything that was in or involved with Stars. They were the band that opened my eyes to so much – The Pogues, Broken Social Scene. I can’t remember which one I stumbled upon first. They were one of the bands that I really took to heart.

It’s weird because I have an MP3 player that doesn’t hold much anymore (16GBs) and I found myself removing Stars from my library. They don’t have that place in my heart anymore!

I really like Amy’s solo stuff. Or at least I did, I thought it sounded a great deal like Mazzy Star’s flat vocals with Sarah Harmer fueling the music.

This show was the first time I was able to see Amy alone and I discovered how boring I find her material. I really wasn’t into it. She played her cover of Death Cab’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. Millan has just about made that her own song from playing it so much. She launched into it for her second song and she didn’t even introduce it. She played two or three more covers – of them an older Sarah Harmer tune. She exclaimed Harmer is due to release another album – I couldn’t agree more!

The entire time I was really hoping for “Look Up”, an older Stars tune that Millan owns. From Youtube I’ve noticed she plays it solo from time to time. She didn’t tonight.

I really love her band, it’s minimal – she has an occasional trombone and banjo. It gives it a bluegrass and jazzy vibe. It spices up and saves her music as best as it can. She also had a mandolin player which I never noticed on the album but is stupid clear in live show as a key component to her songs – recorded or live.

Her voice is what ruined this gig for me. It’s flat and low in her solo stuff… quite the opposite from her Stars bit. She almost seems bored. She really needs help from her band to pick up her vocals and music – breathing new life into it.

>The Walkmen at Lee’s Palace; Friday July 25, 2009.

>The Walkmen at Lee’s Palace; Friday July 25, 2009

I don’t understand why the Walkmen aren’t bigger than they are. They should be up there with Kings of Leon, or bands that have independent potential but burst through the seams of popular music. They tried to with their guest gig on the OC four years back, maybe more. They did really well, they even made a soundtrack.

The lead singer has a distinct voice. He has a controllable scream over a sing, but it definitely works. It jives nicely with the dynamic guitar work. The guitarist really blew me away – crisp guitar lines, fooling to the point where one would think that it was a piano or synthesizer (see “Canadian Girl).

I went alone to this gig, and I sort of figured I would leave a little early to get a bit more sleep. They went on super late, probably close to 11:30pm! But by the second song they really pulled me in… The chiming guitar strums in their biggest tune off the album ‘You & Me’ called “The New Year”. It really got me going, I was completely into it. I was listening to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe and he mentioned that feeling at shows when you lose all your inhibitions. Not to the point where you are disrespecting everyone around you, but to the point where you can really feel something. The point where you don’t care about how you look or sound. I sort of felt like that. McLean described it as the “Music taking over”.

I really couldn’t believe how much energy the lead singer put into the second song. This band works hard and they are great at what they do. Pitchfork’s all over them, and so am I.

>Jenn Grant at Harbourfront; Friday July 24, 2009

>Jenn Grant at Harbourfront; Friday July 24, 2009.

Jenn Grant is sweet. She oozes it in her live shows. I really love the way she carries herself. It’s like she welcomed everyone in the audience into her living room and was playing a few tunes for them. She has warmth and sincerity that few people have in their live gigs.

As usual she played most of her material from her latest record ‘Echoes’. She has two records out and I’ve only really dipped into ‘Echoes’. But it’s almost certian she’ll play “Dreamer” from her first album ‘Orchestra for the Moon’. I remember the second time I saw her play was at the Reverb and she said she keeps trying to retire “Dreamer”. I have never seen her and have her not play it.

This particular time was not outstanding, as with each time I see her I feel as though it’s becoming more of a part of me – I know what’s going to happen. I really enjoyed the full band set up. It really sounds lovely when she has a couple of string players and a band set up. It’s the oomph she needs to spice up her act. I remember the first time i saw her was probably two years ago at the El Mocambo opening for the Veils. My biggest thought on her was that she’d never do well playing with just a violinist and a drummer – and here we are full band in tow.

I also realised that I have never paid to see Jenn Grant, I’ve always managed to get in for free!! How about that.

>The Zombies at the Mod Club; Wednesday July 15, 2009

>The Zombies at the Mod Club; Wednesday July 15, 2009

So when I tell people who the Zombies are I tell them that they did that song that goes “It’s the time of the season…” in my lousy voice stretched far to high then it was ever intended to reach. People normally respond with a big “oooh right”.

Well, tonight I felt like I was in a crowd of a really packed Mod Club that really appreciated this band. The first time I saw the Zombies it was at the Molson Ampetheatre. Seeing them at that gig meant two things for certain – short set and lousy seats.

They played everything I could want to hear with the exception of “The Way I Feel Inside”. Which I didn’t expect. Maybe if I walked into the bathroom Colin Blunstone might have been humming or singing that while he was taking a number one. I was shocked that they played the minimal “Rose for Emily”.

This show revealed one thing, that they are very proud of how far they’ve come and are not ashamed to articulate just how far that is. Keyboardist Rod Argent introduced their 1967 album ‘The Odessey and the Oracle’ as the “slowest burning album ever”. He dropped big names like Dave Grohl and Fleet Foxes who claimed that that album really made a difference in their music careers.

Before Argent played my favourite tune “Care of Cell 44” he said Dave Grohl said it was his favourite song ever.

I was very floored by Blunstone’s soft, sweet vocals. He has a bit more edge than he did before but he still has a fantastic voice, together and well. I really enjoyed his stage presence. I thought it must be so hard to look busy while only keeping together vocals. But not a chance. He had a silly amount of energy and really great dance moves.

They played two or three Argent songs, of Rod Argent’s solo stint. They also played a couple of new Zombies tunes, being ever so cautious not to play to much to lose the crowd.

I was amazed that they played “Time of the Season” in the middle of the set.

Wonderful band, the bassist of the Kinks played in their band as well as a really fantastic guitarist and drummer. I kept forgetting that this was a very, very high profile band because they were older and playing the Mod Club.

I was shocked by the age of the crowd. I mean given, there were a whole slew of older folk but there were also a great deal of twenty-somethings. I had my bets on the forty five plus club tonight.

>Beirut at the Phoenix; Thursday July 9, 2009

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Beirut at the Phoenix; Thursday July 9, 2009

I suppose going into this show I did have some expectations. I was expecting to have my heart broken by Zack Condon, the crooner superb.

Indeed I had.

He sounds flawless live. I sometimes feel like he pushes his voice to sound a certain way. Kind of like the girl from $100. I sort of wonder what he’d sound like if he wasn’t trying to sound three times his age. Zack Condon is only twenty three! Incredible!

He played everything my ears longed to hear. He stumbled on stage to play “Scenic World” first. I was amazed that he played hte songs off his EPs and smaller things. Beirut’s sort of a tricky one because he doesn’t have any hit, hits so nothing is really radio friendly. He also has a whole slew of tunes that didn’t even make his full-lengths. He played a lot of tiny gems that I wasn’t expecting.

His band instrumentally consisted of a couple of trumpets, a trombone, guitar, bass (upright and electric), drums, accordion, tuba, a ukelele and a keyboard among other things. There were probably only eight people in his band.

He brought out his ukelele on a couple of occasions. I was dying to hear “The Penalty” which he played later in the set. The first time round he teased me with the equally beautiful “Elephant Gun”. That song really blossoms with the “Let the Seasons Begin..” bit. He has a real knack for writing epic, smoozy sounding songs with booming brass bits.

The song I was least impressed with was “Nantes”… This is probably because I watched this video so many times I could predict each second. It seemed pretty rushed and less impressive then the La Blogotheque version.

He even played a Serge Gainsbourg cover. True crooner at this point.

>Sudbury Folk Festival- Northern Lights Festival Boreal

>I had a lovely weekend in Sudbury. That was quite the most northern reach of Ontario i’ve touched yet. I sure felt it, with the mosquitoes.

I saw a small handful of brilliant artists. Joel Plaskett played the first night, Hawksley Workman the second, Jenn Grant the third and Bob Wiseman sprinkled in between all of that.

I love Jenn Grant. It was her live gig that pushed me to like her as much as I do. She played with just her violinist Kinley Dowling. I was amazed they were able to play practically every song off of her latest album ‘Echoes’. I loved the light summer tone of her set, between the weather and the crowd it was perfect.

>The Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Toronto Jazz Festival; Wednesday July 1, 2009

>The Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Toronto Jazz Festival; Wednesday July 1, 2009

Every Canada Day I see some kind of show. This year was sort of a special occasion because I dropped fifty bones on my ticket, regardless, it was a lovely time! The stage as I suspected was outside, but well tented in with carpets and chairs, an elegant summer party. There was however space at the back that people could mooch and watch in for free. However if it rained they woudl simply just close the curtains and the moochers would be in trouble. The weather held out, mooching proceeded. I probably would have saved the money if I had known that that was a viable option.

I told myself last year around this time that I would see Dave Brubeck before he died. He’s eighty-eight years old which is absolutely remarkable that he can even continue with his daily lifestyle. On top of that this man globetrots, he’s still touring quite a bit and always manages to come into Toronto at least once a year.

His fingers are still nimble and they move with ease, unlike his abilities to walk and speak. He managed to get up a few times throughout the set to talk to the crowd. Each time the crowd rose up and cheered. He opened up the show by saying… “When I was younger my favourite composer was Duke Ellington, so lets play some of his stuff…” He played a song at the beginning and then they played “Take the A-Train” at the end.

He got up again to introduce his son, Matthew Brubeck, a York/U of T instructor of jazz improvisation, specialising in stringed instruments. He played the cello… I think that was my favourite part. While introducing him Brubeck described his son’s brief story: “I asked him why he didn’t tour any more and he said being 6’8 makes travelling difficult, so i’ve decided to settle down in Toronto as a York instructor”. Matthew then entered the stage. Brubeck said every once in a while a moment inspires him to write a song, he read a memorised note from his wife (which i’m sure was an old jazz song). The note read things about distance and honesty… He said his son Matthew was going to play the melody and then on his cue he would improv over the tune. Brubeck described it as “Matthew was going to play the song and then he would let himself fly”. I thought that was very nicely put.

Brubeck held out playing anything from ‘Take Five’ until the end, which earned another talk from Mr. Brubeck. He said that they recorded a little album called ‘Take Five’ fifty years ago, and they’ve been playing a lot of songs out of it recently. He described the tune “Three to Get Ready” as a tune that decieved the listener, the first two bars are in 3/4 time (fooling the listener into thinking it was a dance) and the second two are in 4/4… Then they improvise on top of that. He went on to say that and even sometimes it sounds good. Modest.

They ended on “Take Five”. Except what threw me off was that Brubeck barely played. He simply stood up and leaned against the piano with his stomach over the keys with a smile on his face the entire time. He let his band and son play… Brubeck would only splash in for the recap of the beginning.

>The Velvet Underground

>In high school I use to wear a Velvet Underground t-shirt that I scored from Hot Topic. I felt so cool wearing it, and the extent of their catalogue was found on their greatest hits album.

My perceptions of the Velvet Underground are not that different from five years ago. I still feel stupid cool when I’m listening to them. It’s some kind of off-beat charm that Lou Reed has. I however am super glad that I know a touch more than I did back then.

“Oh Sweet Nuthin'” is hitting the spot right now.

>Camera Obscura at Lee’s; Saturday June 27, 2009

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Camera Obscura at Lee’s; Saturday June 27, 2009

I was going to write a bit about them and I had absolutely nothing to say. I think it was because I didn’t really enjoy their set.

I liked their songs, actually love their songs. They’re cute, watching them is like stepping back to a high school dance in the fifties. But you’re spot on in that they were a little flat. I was surprised that the most upbeat songs that make me want to dance (and I’m no dancer) didn’t even provoke a smile out of the lead singer.

I thought they sounded great live, but there was nothing to their live show. So why don’t I just listen to the CD… On an up note, their conversion from string arrangements to live show really translated well… The trumpet worked really nicely. I also really loved their end to their set. I thought they’d just end on “Hey Lloyd” but they launched into another ditty… The ending completely blew me away with the messy guitars and the trumpet.