Gush: Damien Jurado

Have you heard of Damien Jurado? I saw the guy play a few years back at Sasquatch! Music Festival. He must’ve been in a bad mood because after noodling around in his brief soundcheck he stormed off the stage. It took a fan to hop in front of the mic to publicly beg Jurado to please his fans. He plugged through the set and offered a half apology for his displeasure.

This performance got me. I get the challenges of turning it on for people. It ain’t easy.

Here I provide a short list of albums Jurado loves. I’m surprised by the list’s diversity and his sweet memories of how he stumbled upon each one.

Jurado’s playing the Garrison on May 30, 2016.

Throwback: Eaux Claires music festival, July 17-18, 2015

My girlfriends and I didn’t make a video of our experiences at Eaux Claires, but the Stavely-Taylor girls did (aka The Staves). They get the festival’s buzz perfectly in this sweet little video for the song “Horizons.”

A few things about the festival:

  • Sweet program book/Eaux Claires passports – bright yellow, comprehensive, artistic and handy
  • Timely rain. Nothing during festival hours, but the scariest hazardous conditions I have ever endured. Tornado warnings and high winds forced us our of our tent and into our car. We called all our loved ones in fear of losing our lives (see 1:43 in the video above). Something tells me the Staves weren’t sleeping outdoors!
  • A killer line up that never tired me: Charles Bradley, Spoon, Sylvan Esso, The National, Bon Iver, Phox, The Tallest Man on Earth, Poliça and that’s just off the top of my head.
  • Movies – a short film by Tom Berninger, a short partly-fictional film on the band Phox
  • Shitty food
  • Our discovery of Buzzballs

Feeling some major summer nostalgia right now.

Ty Segall five: Mikal Cronin

I drunkenly discovered Mikal Cronin (pronounced like Michael) at NXNE 2013. The guy played a three-night stand at tiny Toronto dive bar the Silver Dollar. The Silver Dollar is famously known for a dispute fellow garage rocker Jay Reatard and Toronto concert booker/promoter Dan Burke both lost their shit (see this). I wasn’t at that gig, but I remember hearing about it.

And while long-time bud Ty Segall was releasing 10 albums, Mikal (we’re on a first name basis) got a degree in music. The fella’s now got three solo albums out and he hasn’t even hit thirty years of age yet. Mikal has a cleaner sound than Ty, which drew me in faster and more immediately than Ty Segall. I however love that they work collaboratively and allow each other to do their own thing.

Mikal is touring with Ty’s band, the Muggers, this year. I’m over-the-moon excited to see them play Toronto in a few weeks. Here’s an awesome, George Harrison-sounding tune, “Get Along.” I think I prefer this version to the studio version:


Concert Review: Riot Fest Denver, Colorado; Friday August 29-Sunday August 31, 2015

Canada is just a bit larger than the USA and is comprised of ten provinces and three territories. If we’re very lucky touring bands and festivals visit three or four of these major cities. Living in Toronto means that all bands that are touring North America will make a stop here. Famous live albums and films have been recorded here (see examples one, two and three). While we aren’t as lucky as our American neighbours to have so many concert options, we have it pretty good.

With this dink as the Mayor of Toronto from 2010-2014, we surprisingly saw some changes to the Toronto music scene in the duration of his reign. It first became apparent in 2012, with the birth of three new festivals – Toronto-born efforts Field Trip and Toronto Urban Roots Festival, as well as Riot Fest. The subsequent years led to repeat visits of these new festivals, whispers of Chicago’s Lollapalooza new music-focused positions created with the City of Toronto and one embarrassing SXSW visit by our former idiot Mayor. Our new Mayor, John Tory, seemed pretty surprised by the importance of the Austin music scene.

Music, culture and healthy communities is not a new thing (see Richard Florida for more on this), but what is new is we’re starting to see some sort of musical shift in Toronto. I credit this to a lively music scene, the few surviving concert venues and its status as the fourth largest city in North America.

Riot Fest is one of many festivals scheduled for early-September, one of the busiest times of year, with Just for Laughs comedy festival, Toronto Urban Roots Festival and The Toronto International Film Festival. Despite the fierce competition for festival-goers, Riot Fest has done alright. It expanded from a one-day festival in 2012 to a two-day festival in 2013. It downgraded locations from the downtown haunts of Fort York to the North York airfield, Downsview Park. I had high hopes last year in anticipation of carnival offerings with the larger festival grounds space, but I was welcomed to maximum carnival eats, but no carnival. Perhaps the carnies are exhausted from their two-week-long bender Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), occurring around Riot Fest time in Toronto.

I took to Denver, Colorado last weekend to get a feel for how Riot Fest works in the US. I was greeted to dust, heat and a sea of tattoos. The venue lived up to the festival’s “rodeo” handle situated on a property used for the world’s largest stock show held every January, showcasing 15,000 animals and a rodeo. Spaced appropriately so no two acts were playing too close to each other at the same time, something that Toronto’s venue gives no leeway to.

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To this blogger’s eyes and ears, Riot Fest Denver has a stronger line up with more indie acts, such as the Pixies, Modest Mouse, Nada Surf and the Get Up Kids. Toronto’s line up has the genre-diverse line up Denver has, but will draw fewer indie rock lovers. Riot Fest Toronto’s line up last year included Death Cab for Cutie, the National, The Flaming Lips and the New Pornographers, acts that would draw a significantly different crowd than the likes of this year’s roster.

Festival sets are challenging, as demonstrated by post-rock veterans, Explosions in the Sky. The band filed on stage as Alabama hip-hop artist, Yelawolf, was finishing up his set. Explosions guitarist Munaf Rayani used the lone mic on stage to remark that this is going to be a short set, so they have to make the most of it here. The band opened up with The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place album opener “First Breath After a Coma.” Mid-way through the song, Rayani’s amp gave, which put some roadies to good use in making a quick swap. Rayani was able to rejoin in the last minute of the song.

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Seeing Explosions in the Sky is an experience for the ears, but I look forward to the opportunity of watching how the music is made. With just three guitars, a bass guitar and drums, the band is able to swell and swallow sound on a dime. The band did their best given the circumstances. Major praise for plugging through the seven-minute set closer “Postcard from 1952,” which was poisoned by a two or three long toots from a moving train less than one hundred feet away from the band.

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I caught a delightful mid-day set from Welsh act The Joy Formidable. It was a throwback to 2011, as they’ve slipped off my radar since. It was great to hear they’re still fun and energetic. Leader of the pack Ritzy Bryan was the cutest gal at the festival in a conservative mod-style, mini-dress with black leggings. Bryan dropped about half a dozen curse words in cutely complaining about having to restart a song because of her bassist.

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Festival wildcard players, Nada Surf, played a mid-day set that would have put even the greatest Nada Surf fan to sleep. The night prior, I stumbled upon this article that was apparently written about Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws, which was all I could think about in watching the band play. The band introduced Doug Gillard as a new addition to the band, formerly of Guided by Voices.

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I was excited to hear Thrice live, a band I don’t think I’d pay to see now, but would be delighted to hear at a festival. Twelve years ago, you could find me wearing big headphones hanging on to every word of the album The Artist in the Ambulance. I had slowly made my way to the stage to find that their second song in their set was the title track from that very album. I dashed into the VIP camera section to snap photos, but mostly hang on to every word that left singer/guitarist Dustin Kensrue’s mouth. I was excited to find that most of the audience crushed to the front of the barriers hung on to every word too, allowing Kensrue to take advantage of full audience participation. The band was selling a shirt at the merch table that read: “Play Deadbolt,” which I found ironic as it was the sloppiest song performed in the band’s hour-long set.

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Seeing Conor Oberst his old rock outfit Desaparecidos in great form made me respect the guy musically even more. Conor’s scrappy, spit-filled vocals fit perfectly with the band’s sound. This set has seasoned me to dive right into their new album and a few festival shows in Toronto later this month.

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Philadelphia’s Beach Slang were my takeaway band from this festival. Upon taking the stage, singer/guitarist James Alex expressed his surprise by the hundred-person crowd at his feet. The band’s poppy-grunge sound and rough vocals are a bit reminiscent of the Replacements. Their fuck-all attitude also reflects Paul Westerberg and company, Alex declared to the crowd that this would be the most unprofessional set of the entire festival. Much the opposite, I was impressed by the band’s solid sound and performance.

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GUSH: Meet February

February: Festival season. Sigh.

I was underwhelmed by Coachella and Sasquatch!’s offering’s this year, but with just two bands announced in the lineup Eaux Claires, crafted by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner, got me. TWO DAYS featuring the likes of BON IVER and THE NATIONAL.

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Local festival WayHome has a bunch of names I’d like to hang out with too:

Alvvays, Modest Mouse, St Vincent, Timber Timbre.


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”


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.”