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.

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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Laneway Music Festival; Saturday September 14, 2013; Detroit, MI

Coming off of the busiest week of my year, I decided to make the trek out to Michigan to hang out with some great buddies and see the National. This was the first North American Laneway Music Festival date and due to the festival’s success, modest Detroit has locked down a return date in the future.

I primarily went for the Detroit Party Marching Band (DPMB), one of only two acts to hail from Detroit. DPMB is comprised of 30 members, dressed in black and gold attire. Their performances, to the audience, are often unexpected and at random often serving as a backup party band for bigger acts. They made four separate appearances at the festival, one very special one ushering in their fellow Michigan-native My Brightest Diamond. Subsequent appearances were comprised of pop up shows across the festival grounds. Despite having one of the most challenging jobs of the festival, playing four sets between 12-5, all 30 members looked ecstatic to be doing what they were doing. Watching this band is truly like attending the best party you didn’t know you were even invited to. While the DPMB was acknowledged in the line up, they weren’t slotted formal gig times in the schedule. While they maintained their guerrilla brass vibe, I feel as though they may’ve nabbed more fans if they actually had scheduled set times.

Shortly after a staying for a tune or two of My Brightest Diamond, I scooted off to catch the last few Youth Lagoon tunes. This being the second time I’ve seen Youth Lagoon, I felt pretty confident that they’d play the tune “17” and I was pretty certain it would be played near the end of their set. Sadly, I was let down… There are a lot of bands that I’ve fallen for based on my immense adoration of one song, it however is usually a shoe-in that they’ll play the tunes in their live gigs. Unless, you’re MGMT and you’re pulling a dick move. I know for a fact, Youth Lagoon has played “17” recently thanks to this video evidence:

I’ve sorta let Phosphorescent go over the last few years since their 2010 release of the album Here’s To Taking It Easy. It was around that time that I saw him play for the first and only other time. Frontman Matthew Houck is a scrappy looking dude, with a wispy, thinning mop of dirty blonde hair and a ripped up black shirt, you wouldn’t suspect he’d right such lovely tunes. Seeing him play a few years back, he donned the stage in a black wife beater, a past thought that makes me chuckle! Throughout the set Houck asked the crowd to send over a one of the mobile beer sellers, his request didn’t seem like it was met throughout their set. I was surprised to hear how wellSong for Zula,” Muchacho‘s anthem, translated in the live setting…

Warpaint was next on tap for me, another act that I haven’t seen play for over two years. I remember being blown away by their Coachella 2011 performance. Their band members seemed a bit thin, perhaps that was just their thin sound throughout the set. This differed greatly from my memory of them performing two years prior. I remember them rocking super hard and being five of the most beautiful women at Coachella, which is saying a lot. This time around, I felt like their performance and tunes severely lacked the intensity I felt a few years prior. The band struggled with sound issues for the majority of the set and even fessed up to them at the beginning of the set, acknowledging that the beginning was a bit rough but that they had a blast nearing the end of it. I embarrassingly spent the first four or five songs snoozing on the grass further back from the stage.

Seeing Savages play a few slots later really jolted energy and complete awe into the crowd. Between their rocking band and their outrageous yet somewhat modest lead singer, it was pretty astounding to see these gals rock out. I’m not the biggest fan of their music, but it was quite the spectacle nonetheless.

One of my favourite recent discoveries is a Scottish outfit called Frightened Rabbit. I’ll admit, I was holding out for one of the only tunes I’m very familiar with called “The Woodpile,” I enjoyed their entire set thoroughly and look forward to catching them on their Toronto leg of their fall tour, and maybe even the New York gig too!!!

Between sleeping in the grass and passively listening to Warpaint, I stood up after hearing the first ringing guitar strums of their “hit” “Undertow.” I managed to find some Ann Arbor pals and we took in the remainder of their set together. The last time I saw them under the hot Coachella sun, I remember raving how amazing they were. This time, it looked like they were down one band member, and they were struggling with sound issues. They sounded OK, but I just wasn’t blown away. Singer/guitarist and lover of James Blake, Theresa Wayman, thanked everyone for coming out to their set and acknowledged the rough start and that it was fun by the end. I sure wasn’t blown away by their passive set.

Deerhunter were absolutely stunning live. For this day, frontman Bradford Cox in the right mood. Fresh off of the premier of the film Dallas Buyer’s Club, Cox seemed in high spirits. He donned a black wig, that for the first three-quarters of the set I thought was just his haired dyed. He apparently wore the same wig the Dallas Buyer’s Club premier. Cox portrays Jared Leto’s lover in the film (!!!). I had initially rushed out to see my friends band play, however stopped myself because I heard the first few bars of one of my favourite “Cover Me (Slowly).” I should’ve suspected they’d play that tune first… It wasn’t the first time. I stayed for that one tune and rushed off to see the Detroit Party Marching band slay another set. This time it was near the food carts and not far off from the Deerhunter set. The poor band was a bit misplaced throughout the whole set, however I think they’re quite used to playing awkward spacing, being a guerrilla brass band. I managed to find my way back and caught the remainder of their set… It was a good mix of all of their albums and served as a terrific reminder for me to really soak my toes into Monomania. 

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Alunageorge from a distance and didn’t hate it. I also was surprised by Solange’s performance, I had no idea Beyonce’s sibling had such talent and style, one cool broad.

This was my second time Sigur Ros. Seeing them at a similar hour at Coachella, I made sure to dress warm at this gig. I have not so distant memories of freezing my butt off in a sheer dress and a bikini at their Coachella set back in April. This time, very appropriately, wore a wool sweater from Iceland and jeans, comfy dress. We found a good seat to the side of the stage and got settled in. It was really nice to be able to sit and watch Sigur Ros because it’s so atmospheric and serene. I zipped out a bit early to get a good spot to see my favourite band, The National.

At the same time, thousands of other people leafed from Sigur Ros’ set. Many folks had even camped out at the stage the National were playing at. I found a good spot to the side, where I could see 3/5 of the band. My friend found me and brought me back about fifty rows, but in the centre where the whole band was visible. I was so sure how I felt about this, as I really wanted to get a good view of everyone and everything. Fortunately, when frontman Matt Berninger did is ritualistic crowd walk during “Mr. November” happened to walk right by our row. In the midst of my out-my-mind National high, I followed Matt a metre or so and bopped my head on some other person’s. It was just the jolt I needed to remember to keep my cool. This show, for the most part, was like any other National gig I went to. All the crowd pleasers were busted out and the band played their “international smash hit” “Fake Empire” and closed with “Terrible Love.” I was surprised and slightly relieved they didn’t play “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” to close shop. Overall, my favourite moment of the day.