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.

Gush: ‘Something to Write Home About’ by The Get Up Kids

Perhaps I’m just reminiscing on the easier times, but the inspiration of today’s music selections has been the nineties and the early oughts. I can’t help but do the simple math to think about how long ago 1997, 1999 and 2002 were. In 1999, I was just eleven and learning about fractions and integers while Matt Pryor of the Get Up Kids were twenty-one and drinking legally for the first time. In 1999 they made one of my favourite albums ever created, Something to Write Home About.

I think the most formative years for my music taste were between 2002-2004. I listened to a whole lot of crap music, but some have stuck with me. Something to Write Home About is still incredible seventeen years later:

Throwback/Gush: All things Jenny Lewis

It has been so long since I’ve visited this spot. I guess I can thank Jenny Lewis for this one, who I get to see this Saturday to celebrate ten years of Rabbit Fur Coat.

I love this performance of “Happy,” where Lewis delivers an uncertain act to a very deliberate performance (just watch her expressions throughout):

Fast forward ten years to about a month ago and soak up this delightful sing-a-long. One of the few I wouldn’t be afraid to belt out in a live show.

Gush: Matt Berninger talks life, money, things and jobs

This article is incredible. So incredible, I pasted it below. Now I have it forever!

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Matt Berninger, Lead Singer of The National, Tells Wealthsimple Why Losing $1 Million Led Him to Being a Rock Star

Quitting the dot-com world to start a band taught him about the power of good karma and creative freedom—even at the cost of a little cash.

In our original series “Money Diaries” we ask interesting people about the role money has played in their lives. Matt Berninger is the lead singer of the rock band The National. In 2014, he formed the side project El Vy with Brent Knopf.Growing up, anytime I had money, I couldn’t wait to spend it. I can’t really remember ever saving a penny. I just always figured out how to earn more cash if I ran out. For me, it was always more about buying things and having an experience than monitoring a savings account.

Except in a few cases, that hasn’t really stopped. After college, I moved to New York City in 1996 and was lucky enough to land a website-design job at a firm called Nicholson NY. I was a part of the first graduating class that learned how to use HTML and create interactive graphic designs. This was the early days of websites, when you could use only four colors in a logo. I went from junior designer to creative director in a matter of a few years.

“It was that sense that it’s OK to make it up as you go along that gave me the confidence to just start a band.”

My timing was great—I got in on the ground level of the dot-com boom and was making good money. I also had crazy stock options. On paper, I was worth a million dollars before I turned 30. It was insane. I was happy to have a nice paycheck and spend the money buying records, going to shows at the Mercury Lounge, eating out every day, and drinking at bars. I lived in a huge unconverted loft in Gowanus in Brooklyn and threw massive parties and hosted art-gallery shows.

I eventually moved into my own apartment and bought myself a designer couch from the extremely high-end SoHo design store Moss. I’m a huge impulse buyer, and I had to have that god-awful couch. It made me feel like some cool, artsy New Yorker. I instantly regretted buying it. It was a terrible color; it was way too big for my place and wildly uncomfortable. I don’t think I ever sat on it. I also bought a crazy-expensive—but exceptionally cool—Gaetano Pesce lamp that I regretted less. But I still had no business buying it. I was living a certain idea of life, and those items seemed to fit.

Then it all came crashing down. The Internet bubble popped, and I spent a year and a half at my job laying off all the junior designers I’d become friends with. It was awful. All my stock-option money disappeared. I’d convinced my parents to invest in the company, so I even managed to lose them money. All the things I enjoyed about my job were gone, so eventually I laid off myself in 2003. I was in my early 30s. Granted, I continued to freelance here and there for several years, but eventually the idea of working hard for a client that I didn’t really respect got to me, and I couldn’t do it anymore.

Looking back, though, there was something about the DIY quality of those early web-design days that made me realize there was no script to life. In a way, it was very punk rock and a completely new art form. I think it was that sense that it’s OK to make it up as you go along that gave me the confidence to just start a band. I hadn’t played music for years, but I didn’t worry about whether I was qualified or not. After all, the Sex Pistols weren’t necessarily great musicians, but they did reinvent the idea of a band.

My friends and I formed The National and started playing whatever gigs we could get. I decided that to be a real band, you needed to play shows and have an album. So I put my credit card down and charged the entire first album. I was happy to do it. I thought it was great that we’d be able to have something that I could listen to that we’d made ourselves. Had I valued money more at that point, I probably wouldn’t have done it.

If my timing in starting out in the dot-com world was perfect, my timing in starting a band was horrible. We released our first album, The National, in the early 2000s, the same year bands like The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, The Walkmen, and TV on the Radio were all creating albums and performing in New York City. They were cool as shit; we were just figuring out how to be a band. If you look at old photographs of us, you can tell we didn’t know how to look cool. It should have been depressing, listening to their albums and seeing them live and comparing it with our situation, but I was just happy to have an album. I thought it was great that we’d actually done something, and that was enough.

I think you have to be pretty fearless when it comes to creating anything. We toured Europe a lot from 2002 to 2004 and came back with far less money than we’d started with. It would actually get depressing. I never loved traveling, and I felt homesick. We stayed in disgusting hostels and trucker hotels where they literally hosed down the rooms. Meanwhile, my friends back in New York were starting to buy houses. But ultimately it didn’t matter. We all knew we could pull the plug if we wanted to—go back to our regular jobs, freelance, or liquidate a 401K. But we forged ahead. It helped that I was never completely broke and never really faced the prospect of not being able to pay rent.

Timing got a little bit better for us when we released our third album, Alligator, in 2005. Suddenly all these music blogs and sites that shared information about bands appeared. There were dangers in that world—certain sites seemed to take joy in putting a band on a pedestal and then killing them off so it could become a weird, power blood sport of indie rock. We were never on a pedestal, but through word of mouth, we started getting more festival gigs, which were not only lucrative but also increased our fan base. We nearly missed our first, most important festival show in the summer of 2007 and had to ask Cold War Kids to leave their gear on stage since we didn’t have time to set up our instruments. They were kind enough to help us, and we performed. We would have been in debt for a while if we’d missed that show.

We started making a little bit of money, but when there was a choice, we always opted for creative control over higher paychecks. We signed with a label that didn’t insist on money-making hits to recoup big advances. That let us do what we wanted to do and let us define our sound. That was particularly true of our fourth album, Boxer, in 2007. We also noticed that the bands that lasted the longest were often the most respectful, helpful, and professional, so we followed suit. That stuff matters when you’re trying to chase a dream and everything is pretty dismal and exhausting.

In some ways, I haven’t changed my attitudes about money from when I was a teenager. A few years ago, I poured tons of my own money into a documentary that was mostly about my brother because I thought it would make a great film and be an awesome thing to have. It was never about making money. I think my parents instilled that in me a bit—money was never a symbolic image of success, so I never had any anxiety about it growing up. I was happy to spend the money. I still am. In fact, I often insist on spending the extra 20% on something if I know it’s going to last longer and make me happy. Granted, at this point I’m mostly just talking about nice socks and underwear. Which I recommend to anyone, regardless of your financial situation.

– As told to Craig Charland exclusively for Wealthsimple

Gush: Saves the Day

I was fifteen when Saves the Day In Reverie came out and I fell in love. I’m nearly thirty and I still love the album. It was cute to hear this recent interview with my hero from my teen years. The interviewer apologized to Chris for trashing his album from over ten years ago – 

Going Off Track Person – “Hey, it took me like ten years, but I finally came around on In Reverie
Chris Conley – “No worries, man. I made a whole album that sounded like “Freakish””

Gush: Tamara Lindeman, The Weather Station and ‘Strangers’

I do a lot of data entry at my day job. It gives me the opportunity to listen to an infinite supply of podcasts. I found Strangers a little while back and I’ve been hooked for the last few weeks. The most recent episode is from Tamara Lindeman, who has a Toronto-based music outfit, The Weather Station. She credits her musical career to the fella she loved and lost. You can listen to her beautiful story here.

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Strangers feels like a good Sarah Polley film.