The National at FirstOntario Concert Hall; Sunday December 11, 2017

I did the big count this morning to realize that I’ve seen the National play seventeen times. That’s seventeen times across five American states and countless Toronto gigs.

I have seen them play a wide variety of settings, including:

  • Formal concert setting
  • Festival setting
  • Full-band charity benefit setting
  • Stripped-down charity benefit setting
  • Church show
  • Free show

Sunday’s Hamilton show was a formal concert – fancy light displays, jumbotron-type backdrops and the National’s trademark uniform, business casual attire. As the band ages, they adopt a more relaxed attire, although front-person, Matt Berninger, still black leather dress shoes. All other members seem a bit more relaxed – drummer Bryan Devendorf wore his usual trucker hat, but in highlighter yellow. The Dessners with their scrappy and wispy hair – Bryce’s just a bit more kept than Aaron’s.

Fashion aside, they played a dynamite set, comprised of mostly tunes from the darker, more monotone new album, Sleep Well Beast. They played a variety of songs from older albums, but showed no preference for their older catalogue. This tour, unlikely any other gig I’ve seen, had the agenda to promote the new material. At all past National gigs, I knew that I’d hear certain older songs. Thanks to extensive set list posting on their Instagram page, I sadly and excitedly had expectations that sets would vary and that new material would be in full swing.

Low – Very little from High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me; Despite being in the third row, the venue refused to let anyone into the front area of the stage. Everyone diligently stood on the ground floor as the National entered the stage.

High – Roomy floor section seats! When Berninger hopped into the audience for Mr. November, he knocked off Adam’s hat. I chuckled as my date was clothes-lined by my favourite band; the National’s pump up music prior to taking the stage was “Sadly Beautiful” by the Replacements and as they walked on the stage was “Shark Smile” by one of my favourites, Big Thief. I was in absolutely gleeful knowing that the National dug the same tunes that I do. I shamelessly sang along to the catchy chorus of the tune.

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Angel Olsen at the Phoenix; Wednesday December 6, 2017

At thirty years old, Angel Olsen has reached a point in her very established career where she can release an album of B-Sides. With four full-length recordings to date, Olsen is an artist that varies her style, but never at the cost of quality of sound.

Being my third time seeing Olsen live, I found this time to be more playful and lighter spirited. Somehow, with minimal audience engagement and a tight hour and a half-long set. Olsen jested to the crowd “We’ll be playing here again tomorrow”, as if she was playing a regular residency at a tiny club.

Early on in the set Olsen showed some love for one of her guitarists, acknowledging that it was his birthday. Some extra hoots and woos were given and the guitarist playfully pointed at his heavy left hand that donned a ring on its fourth finger. Upon filing back on stage for the encore, the guitarist cheekily said to the crowd “No one’s sang me Happy Birthday yet.” Immediately the audience started singing and a bit disorderly, Olsen chimed in with the same song at a different pace.

I suspect part of this enjoyment and a playfulness came from a place of comfort and establishment as a musician. Unlike the last few times I’ve seen her, she wore a race car driver body suit, except in solid metallic gold. Her hair was its usual messy half up style with trimmed bangs that look like she cut them herself in a dim lit bathroom. Upon returning for her encore, she reentered the stage with the silver tinsel wig she wore in the video for “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”

The band were in their modest country band frocks – powder blue suits

A major high was watching Olsen’s band rock out. Two lead guitarists flanked the stage at both sides. Their sound was playful and fun and while separated, they sounded incredible playing off each other.

Another major high was watching the set closer (before the encore) wrap up with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason.” Olsen asked the audience to sing along, especially to the hard-to-hit low parts, and to be nice to those singing around following it with a half thought through comment: “because it’s hard”.

A major low was helping catch a middle-aged Mom that fainted at the show. My knee-jerk reaction was to help, so I cradled her head as her lifeless body descended to the floor. She eventually woke, surprised to hear that she had briefly passed out, she immediately said that needed some fresh air. Space and sight lines are always so limited at the Phoenix. I am so grateful for intensified bookings at the Danforth Music Hall.

Required listening:

Required listening after you listen to the above video.

This sparkly gem wasn’t played last night, but it’s one of my favourite songs… ever:

Spoon at Massey Hall; Tuesday July 25, 2017

It’s been a while, but here is my brief recap:

  • The fancy stage lights weren’t working for the first song. Brit Daniel commented and mid-way through the opening song “Do I Have To Talk You Into It?”. Instantaneously, a sea of cellphone flashlights appeared. On its own and unsolicited – completely annoying, together and requested – fantastic.
  • I’ve always called Brit Daniel effortlessly cool, but this show made me realize how cool they all are.
  • I’m a huge Get Up Kids fan, so seeing bassist Rob Pope (Get Up Kids, Spoon) play in a slightly cooler band like Spoon is a total delight.
  • This Song Exploder session with Spoon drummer, Jim Eno, is worth listening to. He tears apart the sweet tune “Inside Out” 
  • Massey Hall only allowed the first three rows to dash to the front and leave the en. They issued wristbands to all folks with tickets for that section prior to the show’s start. We were in row five. Thanks, Massey!!

Big Thief at the Horseshoe Tavern; Wednesday June 28, 2017

The girl in front of us excitedly typed “@BigTheif…” over a dimly lit Snap Chat video. After an unsuccessfully attempt at finding the band, she erased her spelling error and changed it to the excitedly punctuated “Big Theif!!” I turned to Adam and we shared a chuckle about our Snap Chat concert buddy’s struggle to put I before E except after C. Full disclosure – I always fuck up spelling Big THIEF.

My second time seeing Big Thief and my first time seeing them knowing their material. Last October I took a risk on an empty Friday night to see them open for Frankie Cosmos, two bands I knew nothing about other than the highest regard a la Lucy Dacus. Big Thief’s twenty-five year-old vocalist/guitarist Adrianne Lenker’s taken her projects to Toronto four or five times, playing as Big Thief three times and on her own opening for Here We Go Magic in 2015. I feel the luckiest to have even caught her for half of those gigs.

A part of me hates seeing bands get big. As a teenager I used to hoard music and share it with select people I felt deserved knowing it. Now, I still enjoy music independently, but without the possessive tendencies and I’m amazed to see that a band that I only seem to like is able to sell out the Horseshoe Tavern. Perhaps I’m not socializing enough with Big Thief fans. It’s weird feeling to look around and think your little secret, the record that won’t move at your record store, is able to draw 400 people.

Big Thief played for an hour and a half, now drawing from two albums Lenker told the crowd that it’s so nice to finally be able to share the album with everyone. The newer songs almost sounded better than those played off of Masterpiece. The tunes off Capacity felt more rehearsed and cleaner – perhaps better, less risky arrangements. Capacity is noticeably absent of the grit and edge that songs like “Real Love” and “Masterpiece” have. In the second guitar solo of “Real Love” Adam turned to me and suggested they were offering a sneaky launch into “Shark Smile.” Not quite, while it was the next song, it was the almost painfully long live rendition of a recorded guitar solo.

Adam and I have spent the entire week prior to the gig singing the catchy chorus of “Shark Smile”: “And she said woo, baby, take me. And I said, woo, baby, take me too.” The show did not let us down – a reverse of what you’d expect, guitarist and backup vocalist Buck Meek shadows Lenker’s vocals throughout the verses and allows her to sing independently throughout the chorus.

Lenker isn’t a talker, which is surprising because her vocals are so strong and her singing voice is very deliberate. She throws her voice in a way that is her own and sets Big Thief apart from other folk acts. This was very apparent with Julia Jacklin’s version of “Paul,” which is beautiful, but lacks the perfect pacing that Big Thief gives it. See:

Beyond all this, Big Thief has the best lyrics that are minimal and poetic:

“Paul” – A series of promises that come off effortlessly. There are two songs in Big Thief’s set list where Lenker’s vocals come off as rapping at times (she hits in the gorgeous song “Mary” off of Capacity). I feel like audiences are drawn to this song because it comes off as a big defeat and accomplishment for singing it all the way through in one breath:

I’ll be your morning bright goodnight shadow machine
I’ll be your record player baby if you know what I mean
I’ll be your real tough cookie with the whiskey breath
I’ll be a killer and a thriller and the cause of our death

“Real Love” – the lyrics alone don’t offer much, but listening to Adrianne Lenker belt this nearing the end of the tune makes it for me:

            How much blood is worth the draw?

Frankie Cosmos & Big Thief at the Adelaide Hall; Friday October 28, 2016

All my perfect nights happen without expectation. Catching Big Thief was a total surprise, as I only found out they were opening for Frankie Cosmos through a Facebook post I saw around 5:30pm. I immediately scrapped all my existing plans to make this early show work. I lightly checked out Big Thief after learning that my favourite artist of 2016, Lucy Dacus, very fittingly described Masterpiece as her favourite album of the year. Trusting Dacus’ judgment I felt compelled to go to the show.

They took the stage just passed 8pm. I knew to be there early because Toronto arts heroes Collective Concerts publicly posted set times, because of this I felt good investing my time to see the show, rather than guessing set times and the investment of the entire evening. High fives to Craig Laskey and company!

Four-piece Big Thief took the stage, but only Adrianne Lenker played the tune “Lorraine.” They followed it with the tune I found to be the most accessible tune, “Real Love.” Prior to the third song, I overheard the girl behind me whisper disappointedly to her friend that those were the only two songs she knew. I could relate, as I love the anticipation of waiting for a band to play your song and the disappointment of it not being played. Not being too familiar with Big Thief meant that I didn’t arrive to the show with big expectations for certain songs, but taking comfort in knowing it would be a good show. This is rare for me, but I felt compelled to be at this show.

Much like my whispering concertmate, I fell for the first two songs – “Lorraine” was slow and bold, demonstrating Lenker’s talent on the guitar and vocals. “Real Love” is a lively tune that has one of the most compelling driving guitar solos I’ve heard in a while, which they play briefly, launch back into the song and play it again – perfection. Guitarist Buck Meek and Lenker share the responsibilities of a lead guitar player feeding off of each other’s energy and musical cues. Meek, as his surname suggests, is a thin fella with a classy look and energetic stage presence. He’s twists, sways and spazzes more than anyone in the crowd, perhaps inspiring people to move just a bit more than they normally do. Meek played an incredible cover of a song by a band called Twain, comprised of Mat Davidson formerly of the band the Low Anthem. I didn’t grab the song name, but Meek bravely played it with no accompaniment, but with a heavy country drawl that worked real well for him.

My take away from this gig is the tune “Paul.” An emotionally-charged, heartbreaking tune about leaving someone, but includes all the messy bits in between. The song’s unusally structure ends on a second variation of the song’s chorus. I’ve listened to it about 15 times today. And if my word isn’t enough, indie heavyweights Pitchfork put forward glowing words about the song:

“The happier moments described here are understood to be almost hypothetical. Musically, that puts “Paul” in this midtempo middle-ground where the guitars sound incredibly wistful, with brief flashes of smoldering pain and twinkling hope. Maybe she made the right decision, cutting him loose. Maybe she didn’t. But at least we got this beautiful song out of it, about the struggle between the head and the heart.”

Knowing the set times, I ran some errands and grabbed a few drinks at my friend’s bar between sets. I managed to catch Frankie Cosmos last three songs. I took away three thoughts: cute, she looks like my dear friend Rita and if I made music it would probably sound like this. I’d definitely see her again and listen to some of her cute tunes, but she hadn’t left a mark on me the way Big Thief did. Prior to the last song, Frankie Cosmos frontperson, Greta Kline (daughter of actor Kevin Kline), told everyone that this was their last song and they should all go see her favourite band Kero Kero Bonito play the Velvet Underground. They did not play an encore.

The Staves at Lee’s Palace; Thursday June 9, 2016

I’ve been slacking a bit with the event reviews. Yesterday I caught about thirty blissful minutes with the Staves. The Staves’ core members are sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor. They’re now permanent fixtures in Bon Iver’s band and can often be found touring with him, but last night, just days after playing the gorgeous Sydney Opera House in Australia, they found themselves in one of Toronto’s best dive venues.

I was amazed to find just how late they took the stage. I’ve been spoiled with so many early shows as of late. My advanced age is showing. They played well passed eleven, too late for my sleepy eyes.

The Staves are as charming as they are gorgeous. They interjected sweet thank yous and high compliments to their Toronto crowd. They seemed truly happy and grateful for the sold out venue.

I walked in part way through the tune “In the Long Run,” which they followed up with “Mexico.” I was surprised to hear how well they carried out cresendos. The addition of a drummer, who they introduced as Dave and jokingly called him “Dave Stave.”

If you’ve never heard the Staves, I recommend watching the video below and just try to not fall in love with them:

Concert Review: Jason Collett at the Mod Club; Wednesday March 9, 2016

I had the strange realization that I watched Jason Collett play exactly a decade ago when I was eighteen (and underage) at the Mod Club. My move was to never buy advanced tickets, but to rely on door tickets and a little bit of hope that someone thought it was my picture on my ID.

I had a sweet exchange with the guy I bought my ticket off of. We agreed that listening to Jason Collett makes someone cool and that Jason Collett has sure held up well with time. The record store guy said that it was because of his “responsible” choices as a musician. Must be responsible being a Dad of a large, mature brood of kids (no longer kids and maybe not that large).

Along with his age, Collett’s live show has changed quite a bit. He has the same fellas (Zeus and Bahamas) playing with him that he did a decade before, as well as session artist, Christine Bougie. Trusting his band more, he leaves the music to the band and focuses on his sweet dance moves. His lanky figure matches his hip-heavy, arm swinging dancing that traversed most of the stage.

Hometown heartthrob Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas) came out for a few songs and for the third modestly hung back and played the tambourine. It felt more like a family gathering than it did a paid concert. Collett’s always been good at setting a comfy mood at gigs.

In sixteen years, Collett’s released eight full-length albums. He played selections from most of the albums including some oldies like – “Blue Sky,” a solo sung “Hangover Days,” “Fire” and the set’s opener “I’ll Bring the Sun.”

He played a honky-tonk-style version of “My Daddy was a Rock ‘n Roller,” which he tacked together with another song – a very Zeus move.

ajy

Concert Review: Beach House at the Danforth Music Hall; Sunday March 6, 2016

I went out of my way to trade for these damn Sunday tickets. I had to sell my Stub Hub’d Saturday tickets and bought someone else’s Sunday tickets. Madness, but I made it.

These shows were crazy sold out ages in advance. The Danforth Music Hall has a capacity of 1,500 people. In 2008, I saw them play to a crowd one-third of the size at the El Mocambo and paid just eight bucks to hear them. That was almost eight years ago to the month, I was a wee peanut – just twenty years old. As the chumps we are, we watched them play eight years later with one thousand more people.

Beach House is Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Their band additionally includes a bassist and a drummer. Their sound is lush and sleepy with Legrand’s husky vocals and Scally’s guitar noodles. Beach House has carved their own unique sound – organ heavy with gorgeous guitar parts. I fell hard for 2010’s Teen Dream, particularly the album’s second track, “Silver Soul.” I was into it so early that YouTube videos hadn’t even really populated on the album. I watched this video over and over soaking it every sound that left Scally’s guitar from the first second of the video.

Legrand took a few minutes to give the audience an etiquette lesson, referring to it as her old lady rant. She told the audience that out of respect to their fellow concert-goers and the artist, one shouldn’t have their cameras on for more than a minute. Similarly, She & Him share this same attitude towards cameras and concert going.

Considering the band released two albums in 2015, they played a good balance of songs old and new. I was thrilled to hear “Silver Soul,” “Walk in the Park” and “Gila,” but slightly heartbroken in the absence of “Used to Be,” “Zebra” and “Master of None.” To YouTube, I guess!

 

Concert Review: Ty Segall with CFM at the Danforth Music Hall; Friday March 4, 2016

After writing ten or eleven posts gushing excitement for seeing Ty Segall live, I left the gig feeling embarrassed and disappointed. From the first few songs to the very last song, Toronto people, mostly boys, crawled to the front of the lightly supervised pit and crawled on stage. Most took pool-like belly flops into the crowd, but overstayed their welcome by lingering too long or harassing band members. At one point, Ty Segall said “I don’t like that guy.”

Someone pointed out to me that Ty Segall’s music and performance is very unhinged, so the crowd naturally mimics his attitude. I think my hopes were so high for this gig that it surprisingly wasn’t the band that brought me down (they were flawless), it was the crummy audience.

Something that’s always astounded me is looking around the room of a sold out concert, in your home town, to see that you know no one in the room. It’s a weird feeling, but it’s nice. I used to keep music a secret from my friends. If I liked an artist a lot I wouldn’t share it. I’d keep it deep inside of me, my little secret. Going to a show and having this anonymity is a similar feeling… Except I was trapped in my worst nightmare that consisted of shirtless bros with their Calvin Klein boxers showing.

Segall’s recent release Emotional Mugger is album that I enjoy live more than recorded. Watching a live band comprised of crazy talented musicians is such a marvel and is the reason I started this series in anticipation of this gig. Most of the band came out in weird outfits – Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff) and Cory Hanson (Wand) were both wearing neon orange. Hanson wore bright orange clown-like lipstick and Thomas was in a bright orange jail-like one-piece. My favourite, Mikal Cronin, just had dress shoes and nice pants on. I dig the average guy.

Segall spent a good chunk of the gig wearing his creepy baby mask. It was no surprise to me, but I could tell people were put off. He’s weird.

The set was comprised of more upbeat Ty Segall songs to keep up with the new album.

ty

 

Concert Review: Sandro Perri at Burdock

It’s been five years since I saw Sandro Perri live. He was pushing his new album, Impossible Spaces, and had cool openers, Bry Webb and Ryan Driver. Apparently, opening act LUKA had roped Perri out to play the gig.

I was surprised to see the classy outfit Perri brought together. I don’t remember seeing him with a trumpet/flute accompaniment. Toronto musician, Ryan Driver played the flute with some of the worst wind instrument posture. As a former flute player, I was always told to keep a balanced stance that allows air to flow freely through your body. Driver’s legs were crossed, back hunched and head forward with a duck-like pull. I’ll admit Driver still sounded good.

Perri’s trumpet player, Nicole Rampersaud, made trumpet sounds I didn’t even know were possible. They weirdly blended and stuck out perfectly.

The set was short. He managed to play a few of my favourite tunes – Tiny Mirrors’ strongest tune “Double Suicide” was played second in the set. Perri told the crowd after playing the song that he tried to write a song about suicide. His drummer chimed in to say a young child told him that you can’t force a suicide – the audience awkwardly chuckled.

I was super excited to hear Impossible Spaces‘ nine-minute bleeding tune “Wolfman,” which has always had a certain likeness to Neil Young’s “Walk On.” The set followed up with a closing cover of John Martyn’s “Couldn’t Love You More.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard him tackle this cover, but it sure was lovely.