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.

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?

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.


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.



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.

Concert Review: Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon with Aron D’Alesio at the Dakota Tavern

This was an early show on a work night. I wish all shows finished at 9pm.

The last two times I’ve seen the Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser it’s been on January 20, in Toronto and at a very small, sold out venue. The Dakota doesn’t really get too many of my favourite high profile acts. Perhaps in thinning out his sound from the old outfit, Leithauser doesn’t have the draw he may have with the band.

I’ve always dug Leithauser’s crooner-like vocals. Playing in such a small, intimate outfit his vocals become even more important to the sound. It’s amazing that his loud, not-always-pretty wails work with the slow, story-based tunes.

Leithauser announced to the crowd that he and Walkmen guitarist and current tourmate, Paul Maroon, had just released an album. He said he brought some, but sold out at the band’s last gig. Tease.

As a duo, Leithauser told more stories this time. He played a sweet tune inspired by his encounter at his friend’s father at his friend’s wedding. He confessed to the packed house that neither his friend nor her father know it’s about them.

The Hamilton-based opening act Aron D’Alesio won my heart over. In my senior years, I’ve become a lazier and lazier music lover. I take fewer risks and tend to skip out on opening acts. D’Alesio seems to be a shy fella. He hopped onto the stage alone and banged out a handful of songs along with full-band recordings. It felt like a karaoke bout. His sound has been inspired by things from the past, namely sixties girl groups and surf rock. D’Aleslio spends his spare time in group outfit, Young Rival, who seem to be doing some extensive touring for the remainder of the month.

After hunting down D’Alesio’s identity, it hit me that a friend had recommended his music to me. She described him as sounded like the Walkmen. I had a little chuckle with her when I told her he opened up for members of the Walkmen.

2015 Concerts

Upon finding out the Walkmen disbanded, a friend consoled me by saying that they’ll probably make solo stuff that sounds exactly like the band. He was right, Hamilton Leithauser’s tunes sound a lot like his old outfit.  I watched them play the Drake Hotel in late January. I’m in awe the boys are back in Toronto on the very same day 365 days later at the Dakota. I’m not sure how they nailed that venue, but it’s going to be perfection.

Mid-February was cold as heck, but I managed to make it out to see Toronto writer Sheila Heti’s play All Our Happy Days Are Stupid. It was happy, weird and confusing – I would expect no less than an emotional roller coaster from Heti.

Tobias Jesso Jr played a sold out show at the Drake Hotel. I heard whispers about Jesso early on in the new year and felt immediate interested him. Funny enough, beyond the album’s Adele-endorsed banger “How Could You, Babe?,” I wasn’t really in love with his music. I’m growing to like the fella more and more each day. His show was modest and sweet. He confessed the sneakers he wore were a half size to small for his 6’7 build and that the company gave them to him for free. He said he was too shy to ask for a new pair, but hoped someone would Tweet about his shoes so they’d know.

Hayden played an amazing diner series to promote his new album and I took photos for the National Post’s concert coverage. I caught his Aunties and Uncles set, where I jammed tight into the small breakfast spot and took as many photos as my index finger and camera would allow. Hayden performed generously, taking requests on request forms from each album.

In the last days of April, I went to a sold out Patrick Watson show at the Drake Hotel. The band was showcasing their gorgeous album, Love Songs for Robots. I was unhappily crammed in the back of the venue with the other media folks, who surprisingly always only pay half attention to gigs. Watson and company hopped off stage mid-set and played on top of the bar at the back of the venue, directly in front of me. They even ordered a number of shots and gave them out to the crowd. I believe they played the tune “Adventures In Your Backyard,” along with a few other unplugged songs. I was mesmerized.

In May I caught Tennis at the Mod Club. They played many non-surfy tunes from their excellent album, Ritual in Repeat. It was around this time that I fell majorly hard for the song “Bad Girls,” which of course they played. At the end of the month I saw Patrick Watson, Jenn Grant, Choir! Choir! Choir!, Joel Plaskett, Bahamas and Coeur de Pirate at CBC Music Festival. I was most excited to hear Patrick Watson’s gorgeous album live (after listening to it endlessly). The fella I went with didn’t wear enough clothing for late March, so we left part way through Watson’s set, which was as good as the Drake gig one month prior.

I only caught one day of Arts and Crafts’ Field Trip. I managed to see My Morning Jacket (finally!!) and Father John Misty. I wish I caught a few more acts – Rhye, Lee Fields, Temples and Alabama Shakes – a really endless supply of awesome artists.

In late June I caught Judy Blume at the Toronto Reference Library. She talked about love, literature and life. She’s an astounding, radiant woman that I admire so much.

A few days after Blume, I saw my Norwegian crush, Sondre Lerche play the converted shoe box, Adelaide Hall. Much to my chagrin he played alone. In introducing “Just Like Lazenby” and “Tragic Mirror” he said that he likes to write songs about middle-aged men. Sondre, despite having a ten year plus career to date, is just in his early thirties.

In mid-July I drove off to Detroit, Eau Claire, Milwaukee and Chicago to attend Eaux Claires music festival, my big festival of 2015. The festival had heavy hitters – Spoon, Bon Iver, the National, Poliça, Charles Bradley, Tallest Man on Earth and Sufjan Stevens. In addition to smaller acts that I’ve now grown to love – Phox, Sylvan Esso and No BS! Brass Band. On the first night of the festival, while camping, we got hit by a tornado. Three girlfriends and I huddled in our SUV and prayed for survival. Each one of us called our loved ones in fear we’d get carried away.

On August 10, as a part of Panamania, I caught Explosions in the Sky play Nathan Phillips Square. These fellas modestly introduced themselves by saying they were from a town south of Toronto. Every hair on my arm stuck up to the sweet swells and build ups. Very excited to hear most of  The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place.

Visited Denver, Colorado before our dollar plummeted to catch Riot Fest. Their line up had many of our acts, but a few more awesome pulls for me to visit. I caught Alkaline Trio, Thrice, The Joy Formidable, Desaparecidos, Beach Slang, Explosions in the Sky and Nada Surf. I managed to nab a media pass, which allowed me to take photos and catch the first few songs of the set up close. One of my favourite moments of the year was catching “Artist in the Ambulance” less than three feet away from the band. My ears were pounding from the band’s noise, but it was worth it.

I caught Mikal Cronin play Adelaide Hall, his first Toronto show in over two years! Cronin was pushing his terrific album MCIII. Cronin is easily one of my favourite artists of the last five years. It was about time I saw the guy play.

On the last few days of TIFF, I wiggled my way out to catch acts from the Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF). I watched Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Wilco, Neko Case, Cake, Lord Huron and Hop Along. Due to work I only caught the second day of the festival.

The Constantines played a two or three-night residency at Lee’s Palace. The gig was filled with boys in plaid shirts. I’m constantly in awe by how dedicated and passionate Constantines fans are. They own their crowd.

My lovely friend and country superstar, Whitney Rose, played a show at the Horseshoe Tavern in promotion of her new album Heartbreaker of the Year. The album has become one of my go-to plays at the bar I work at. She’s since been signed to Six Shooter Records. Big news for the most deserving person.

In mid-October a friend bought me tickets to see on of his favourite acts, John Grant. I hadn’t heard much about Grant, but my friend was a huge fan of the guy. I was surprised by his poppy sound and his massive gay following. Grant has HIV and is living above and beyond its limitations.

Toronto-based sultry popstars RALPH played Taste of Iceland, a little festival that blends Icelandic outfits with Toronto acts. RALPH played the earliest set, but were easily the best I saw that night.

In late November I hung out with Matt Berninger for the second time this year. I stupidly drank a bit too much and got to the gig after the venue had filled up. His alter-outfit to the National is a poppy act called EL VY (pronounced like the plural of Elvis). Beyond shitty-ass sight lines, I managed to boogie to their cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “Drive Me Crazy.”

A few days after I caught one of my favourite acts of the year, Beach Slang. The band’s bassist commented that one of his heroes was Kevin Drew, not knowing that Brendan Canning was in the audience. Canning yelled out something sassy in returned and I was rolling on the floor laughing. I was delighted to hear the band play numerous Replacements covers. This was my first visit to the Dance Cave as a concert venue. I look forward to more gigs in this space.

I caught Zeus at Lee’s Palace with openers TUNS (featuring Chris Murphy of Sloan). The gig was one of those gigs that makes you feel especially proud to be from Toronto.

In early December I was crowdsurfed over for the first time in about a decade. Some lame dude at the Get Up Kids gig decided to float over a bunch of now old-aged fans. The surfer made his way to the front and eventually hopped on stage trying to take a selfie with front person Matt Pryor as he was playing (!!!) Matt jokingly kicked him in the butt, gesturing him to move his rear off the stage. The surfer then jumped on myself and the girls behind me. I managed to move, but the poor chicks behind me got the worst of it. I was sad to not hear any selections from Guilt Show. Rob Pop also wasn’t there. Bassists were extracted from other bands (the dude who plays bass for Saves the Day and the front person from Into It. Over It.).

I finally bought tickets to the Jason Collett Basement Revue, but found myself too tired to attend. I ended up selling my tickets and hanging out at the bar as the bands did soundcheck. Knowing people in high places allows you to do such things. I managed to catch a mini set from each act playing, no FOMO here.