Gush: Ryan Gosling’s old band Dead Man’s Bones

I have to say, I am one of the lucky ones. I have seen some pretty tremendous acts. Throwback to 2009, Ryan Gosling was set to play a gig at the very tiny church venue, The Music Gallery. I was still riding off of a high from seeing Charles Spearin’s offbeat project put to life there in 2008, so why not Ryan Gosling too?

Nope. Too popular. Thanks, The Notebook. He flipped his venue to the Opera House, still a household favourite in my books. While I don’t think it came out around Halloween, Gosling released a very spooky album that is in season that is certainly worthy of your Halloween playlist tomorrow (and maybe today too).

Dream Serenade featuring Hayden, Feist, some of the National and more at Massey Hall; Saturday October 25, 2014

Confession: I dropped $80 on a ticket for this show to see member of my favourite band the National for the sixth time this year.

By the end of the evening, my heart was warmed after a super celebration (and ka-ching ka-ching) for the Beverley School… money well spent. This gig was two pronged, it was an organized buskerfest to raise funds for the Beverley School, however it also felt like a celebration of Toronto-based singer Hayden. In Hayden very selflessly calling favours from his friends to support his daughter’s school, he in turn received so much love from his surprising range of friends.

A few years back I learned that Hayden was good pals with the National with this spread in the Grid (RIP). I then saw Hayden hop on stage to sing the National’s closer song on evening two of the three day residency at Massey Hall earlier this year. What surprised me more was his friendly relations with the crummy Toronto band, Billy Talent and Canadian jokers, Barenaked Ladies.

Like many people, I had some reservations about Barenaked Ladies continuing on without Steven Page. I saw them as a little peanut over fifteen years ago at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, ON. I remember that they played the hits and covered Britney Spears, which I assume was big at that time. This gig was no different. Compacted into a micro-mini set of five or six songs, the band played some crowd favourites, such as “Pinch Me” and “If I Had a Million Dollars.” I was surprised to see the band get all 2000+ people in the venue excited with a medley of covers, including Lorde’s “Royals,” Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and Miley Cryrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” but started with a brief homage from the band’s guitarist/piano player, Kevin Hearn’s dedication to the late Lou Reed playing “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” The band danced and sang in ways most sensible people would not ever dream of doing. They totally got me with this set.

It was almost unbearable to sit through the Billy Talent set. The evening’s announcer CBC personality Pete Morey announced that the band has a forthcoming greatest hits album, which made me want to swallow my tongue. My wincing aside, their set was entertaining. They seemed to be a bit out of place from the other slower acts. The band played a cover of Hayden’s “Bad As They Seem,” which requires tuning that even Hayden has found hard to nail down. Billy Talent frontman Benjamin Kowalewicz for the first verse tried hard to emulate Hayden’s flat, airy sound and released a bit on the subsequent verses to Kowalewicz natural voice.

With each rotating artist, their sets lengthened out a bit. I was pleasantly surprised by Cuff the Duke’s Wayne Petti’s new outfit Grey Lands, which had more energy and grit than his country alter ego. His presence reminded me that Cuff the Duke, years ago, served as Hayden’s back up band. Now he rests close with bassist, Jay McCarrol on bass and Taylor Knox on drums.

Sarah Harmer dazzled. She has her own unique sound that I think sounds Canadian and very full.

Jason Collett played a pile of songs I have never heard of, but there’s also some sort of warm familiarity with all of Collett’s music. I think it’s in the clear delivery and consistent earthy sound in all of his songs. I’m not bored or sick of listening and looking at Jason Collett… I hope he never quits.

Aaron and Matt of the National were perfect. As a heavy weight fan of the National I find it easy to watch them play, what feels like listening to a song you haven’t heard in a while and finding yourself completely at home with it. Periodically throughout the week, I spent time fathoming what the guys would put together – I knew “I Need My Girl” would be in their repertoire and figured some other slow songs would be too. We got:

“Blood Buzz”
“Pink Rabbits””I Need My Girl”
“Terrible Love”
“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”

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The National boys also played during Hayden’s performance of “Dynamite Walls.” Matt even took the second verse of the tune!

Feist stumbled out very sweetly with Pete Morey’s awkward introduction and took a few moonwalk strides back after she realized he wasn’t ready for her. The audience chuckled with excitement and endearment. Since Feist rise to the queen of the ipods, she’s developed a flare to her live performance. She re-visions the songs that have become household indie standards, it was boring at Field Trip 2013, but dazzling alone. I suspect that the venue played a huge party in making this experience so special. At Field Trip, Feist played a comatose set to a sore-legged bunch. This set we were completely warm and fuzzy from the community vibe of the evening and more importantly we were sitting. Leslie Feist played alone, offering a warm a cappella rendition of “The Circle Married the Line.” She tapped her fingers on the mic while singing to provide a beat for the entirety of the song. She played a beautiful version of “1 2 3 4,” which she declared was a cover of a cover that Canadian pianist Chilly Gonzales gave to her.

IMG_6224After everyone played their bit, all the acts gathered on stage to perform a campfire-esq version of Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out.”

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Gush: ‘Whiplash’ directed by Damien Chazelle

I left Whiplash tonight feeling like I had just downed ten cups of coffee. I won’t dare spoil the film for you here, but it gets you motivated to do things, much like the character in the film.

Astoundingly, the writer/director of Whiplash is only twenty-nine years old. The film originated as an 18-minute short, however after big praise at the 2013 Sundance, it was made to a full-length.

The Jason Reitman sponsored film featured his favourite go-to actor, J.K. Simmons, who for once showed some amazing talent. I was also surprised to see the aged Mad About You lead Paul Reiser take on a fatherly role.

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Sharon Van Etten with Tiny Ruins at the Opera House; Tuesday October 7, 2014

I fell hard for Sharon Van Etten with the release of her perfect album Tramp back in 2012. This is her third time in Toronto since the release of Tramp and has since released the sweet album Are We There. I got my paws on Are We There the minute it came out, giving it a few listens, but not much more than that. It wasn’t until the day of the Opera House gig that I really gave it a listen. The album’s fuller and more thought through than its little siblings with a particular sadness Van Etten isn’t afraid to show.

Van Etten and company played an incredibly tight set. Van Etten’s banter is sweet and awkward. Her clothing is floppy and her hair is cut short like a little boy. Before she played the song “Break Me” she asked the audience if they’d buy a mug that read, “Break Me”. The audience seemed a bit confused as to why she’d ask. Much of her banter was run on sentences and incomplete thoughts – she had mentioned the name Randy and began listing off famous Randys she was familiar with. The audience yelled “Randy Bachman” in response and Van Etten very unfamiliar admitted she had no idea who that was. Guess Who mutters were yelled, but she didn’t get it.

The show was very much in promotion of her new album. She drew only two or three songs from the vault, one of them being a favourite of mine, called “Serpents” from Tramp. Surprisingly, it was the only tune from Tramp played the entire evening. Drawing from the 2010 album Epic, the band played the song “Don’t Do It,” which featured a very eerie acapella intro that reminded me a ton of Elliott Smith’s “King’s Crossing.”

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Despite Van Etten’s Instagram raves about New Zealand band Tiny Ruins, I couldn’t get into their live set. They sounded amazing recorded when given a pre-concert listen, but I found them to be a bit too snoozy. I spent their entire set recounting to myself all of the gigs I’ve seen at the Opera House in the past.

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Tennis at the Mod Club; Friday October 3, 2014

It’s a cute story how Tennis came to be… Singer Alaina Moore and guitarist Patrick Riley met in college, wed, sold all of their belongings and sailed along the east coast and then wrote an album. Their first album Cape Dory is sweet, beachy and full of surf beats, a sound the band has definitely strayed away from with their most recent release, Ritual in Repeat. I read an interview Moore had with Now Magazine where she said she stated:

“When we first started making music, our scope and abilities were very limited. I remember thinking at one point that the surf beat was my favourite beat, and why would there be any other rhythm in any song other than that beat?” says Moore.

“But by the time we were done touring that first record, I felt like I was going to kill myself if I had to hear it again.”

I bought the album five days before the gig to do some much-needed homework while supporting Sonic Boom’s big move to Spadina and Queen. I felt a strong love for some tunes and a dislike for others (namely, the likeliness of “Needle and a Knife” to Carly Simon’s “Your So Vain”). The album’s redeeming bits are the tunes “Night Vision” and the vintage sounding tune “Bad Girls.”

Super cheesy tune, “I’m Callin'” actually came off real slick live. Guitarist Riley started the beeping riff from the tune on the keyboard and made an awesome transition to continue the same riff on guitar. In my mind, saving (or distracting) me from the otherwise annoying, skippable song.

Moore was in good shape for this gig. The band looked a bit frazzled, declaring that their visit was only to be a two-hour stop in Toronto because of their gig in Cleveland the following day. Nearing the beginning of her set she sheepishly thanked everyone for being at the show over another gig that evening in town of a band she said she loved and would leave nameless (Beach House at Lee’s). Early Mod Club shows allow for doubling up, an absolutely likely reality of Tennis’ gig, as it was over by 11pm.

The set was very divided, the first half dedicated to their new album and the second half allowing for older tunes like “Marathon,” which Moore dedicated to the audience and one of my favourite tunes, “Pigeon,” both from their 2011 release Cape Dory. They only played a few songs from their 2012 release Young & Old – “Petition” and “It All Feels the Same” serving as the crowd shaking dance tunes.

Between my pal Natalie and myself, we had both watched Tennis play quite a few times in Toronto, but all on different occasions. She saw them with their early starts at the Drake and the most recent gig opening for Haim at the Kool Haus. I’ve seen them play the Horseshoe and the Phoenix. Apparently, the relentless band even played the Garrison somewhere in between, which neither of us attended… Pretty amazing. I guess touring has yielded an eclectic fan base comprising of a surprising number of men… Who knew?

Note Alaina’s short bob, very confident:

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Sondre Lerche at the Bowery Ballroom; Tuesday September 23, 2014

I love New York. At any given time or date you can find someone amazing performing… I’m looking at you, Ted Leo at South Street Seaport in 2011 and the National (a few times over). I always peruse the wonderful Oh My Rockness to keep me in the loop for all of my concert needs.

The last time I saw Lerche play the Bowery Ballroom, it was to an empty house. I was surprised to find so many people this particular gig. Lerche’s new album titled Please is filled with everything I was expecting, wonderful hooks, full swells and lots of sing-along opportunities. Many folks in the crowd seemed to be hanging on to the words of many of the new tunes.

Lerche played with a three-piece band, which with Lerche sounds like a band twice its size. He had a three girls from the opening band Teen provide back up vocals and keyboard on three or four songs throughout the set.

The first gig I’ve see him as a single man, Lerche appeared in good spirits despite the happenings. He appeared to be having a great time, which is something very unique to the guy. He’s active and full of energy on stage without coming off as forced or planned. Music comes easy to him and he’s not afraid of showcasing older tunes. He drew from his older catalogue, playing a number of older tunes such as “Two Way Monologues,” “My Hands Are Shaking” and “The Tape,” while playing a number of newer tunes that the crowd loved.

Since the release of Dan in Real Life, Lerche has been playing “Modern Nature” at his gigs. The first time was sweetly with his tour mate Sylvie Lewis, but without a female counterpart he has been drawing from the audience for help. I’ll admit, it’s a sweet song and it’s mighty nice to be involved, but I’m growing tired to hearing knobs yell the lyrics out like maniacs. I sadly was positioned next to the village drunk who was sluggishly, yet confidently yelling out all of the words he could string together.

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