Uncle Acid’s debut Toronto appearance was a highly anticipated show for the stoner metal purists, this up and coming psych-metal mega force has toured Europe extensively since their 2009 inception and opened for Black Sabbath on a 2012 tour. To say they we’re sufficiently primed for this North American tour would be an understatement.
When I rolled up to Lee’s Palace on the evening of September 28, 2014, the usual suspects of dark and unsettling looking folks surrounded me and I felt right at home. The venue was packed from wall to wall with genre appropriate t-shirts such as Pentagram, Kyuss, Sword, Iron Maiden and other dandies. Setting the stage for Uncle Acid was a Portland, Oregon band called Danava, an act I was told NOT to miss. Despite the rough sounding board mix, Danava couldn’t have been tighter and ripped through their set with technical perfection. The harmonized lead guitars we’re simply mesmerizing and the band kicked out some very impressive 70’s era metal jams.
When Uncle Acid hit the stage, no one could move inside the Lee’s Palace, this simply added to the anticipation of what these cats were going to deliver. Seconds after they walked on stage, they RIPPED into Mt. Abraxas, the opening track on their last full length Mind Control; all 500 or so people went insane and the acid trip was in full effect. As the crowd was head banging to the ear splitting tunes, they were also waiting for the lights to slam the stage and REALLY get the show going, but that did not happen… The band brought their own lighting rig, which consisted of 5 static TV’s and 2 huge cats’ eyes that basically backlit the show. Regardless how they chose to light the stage, it did not impede their performance one bit. Musically the band was impeccable and the sound was spot on. Lead singer Kevin Starrs called out well-known tunes like Chrystal Spiders, Poison Apple and I’ll Cut You Down throwing the crowd into a frenzy of applause and screams. Uncle Acid played a perfect mix of tunes from their releases Mind Control, Blood Lust and Vol. 1 along with their new single Runaway Girls.
I think Uncle Acid is already set to be playing a larger Toronto venue next time around, either way I will certainly be there and will be bringing friends.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
For the ninth year in a row, The Polaris Music Prize held its yearly gala celebrating creativity and diversity in Canadian music. Held at the Carlu Hotel in Toronto, those in attendance included guests from the music industry, past and present jury members, short-list nominated artists, members of the music media, and other notable guests. For the second year in a row, a small number of balcony tickets were available to the general public, which sold out.
This year’s host was Montreal actor and comedian Jay Baruchel, with the Dwayne Gretzky Band on hand to entertain between performances. A passionate music lover, Baruchel managed to maintain the flow; however he struggled at times with his off-colour jokes. Nevertheless, he managed to thread together the introductions and presentations with humour and enthusiasm.
Each performer chose who would present them. Six of the 10 short-list nominees were on hand to perform, and a nod of recognition was given to the four nominees who were not. Win Butler of Arcade Fire as well as members of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan and Timber Timbre were in attendance although they did not perform. Drake was also absent.
The first musical performance featured Owen Pallett delivering a rousing version of “The Riverbed” from his short-list nominated album, In Conflict. With Pallett initially on keyboards, the song built in intensity with him switching to killer violin riffs halfway through, all the while delivering a clear and haunting vocal performance.
Mac Demarco’s performance was next. Accompanied by piano and guitar, Demarco’s relaxed demeanor created an intimate, lounge-like ambience in the room. Interestingly enough, Pallett chose to perform a song from a previous album, “Still Together” from last year’s 2.
Angelic Basia Bulat then appeared on stage to deliver an upbeat performance of the title track of her nominated album, Tall Tall Shadow. Bulat has a stunning vocal range, and this was clearly demonstrated with her compelling performance. She then approached the front of the stage, ukulele in hand, delighting the audience with a soft and intimate rendition of "It Can't Be You".
After an introduction by her proud mother, Jessy Lanza armed only with her synthesizer, keyboard and a microphone, gave up a passionate, breathy delivery of the title track of her album, “Pull My Hair Back”. “Keep Moving” was next, paired with a light show that created a rave-like atmosphere in the room and a reverberating sound that made you want to get up and dance.
Judging by the audience’s reaction, the next artist, Shad, was definitely a crowd favourite. The four-time nominated artist chilled through "Stylin'" from his Flying Colours album. He then surprised the audience by bringing out Lights to accompany him on ‘"Remember to Remember". It was a perfect pairing of her powerful, reverberating vocals and his spoken word delivery.
The final performance of the night was the one that had generated the most buzz. After an enthusiastic and impassioned introduction by singer songwriter Geoff Berner, Tanya Tagac and her band took the stage, accompanied by the forty-member Element Choir. Alone at the microphone, she approached the front of the stage and suddenly exploded into a roaring, searing lashing of throat singing. From that moment on, the audience was captivated. Along with her drummer, her keyboardist and her shredding violinist, Tagac managed to tell her story through her sound and her body. As a backdrop, a scrolling list of the names of 1,200 missing Canadian women was projected onto a screen. It was powerful, captivating and haunting. If you were unfamiliar with the Nunavut-based throat singer before, the impression she left you with was deep and permanent. Her incredible performance brought the audience to its feet.
A few minutes later, Baruchel returned to the stage, the envelope containing the name of the winner tucked into the inside pocket of his jacket. There was little shock or disappointment when the winner of the 2014 Polaris Music Prize was announced as Tanya Tagac’s album Animism, particularly after her rousing performance. This album certainly embodies the core values of the Polaris Music Prize of creativity and diversity.
The Polaris Music Prize journey for 2014 has come to an end. Soon, the Polaris Board of Directors will begin its next journey, if it hasn’t already, to seek next year’s winner. The entire process will culminate once again in a gala next September. This year’s gala was unforgettable, so if I were you, I’d be sure to get my tickets for early.
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)
The Gibson Showroom was rocking and rolling to the hot new (unreleased) tunes from Toronto, ON power rock trio Danko Jones. Yes they are local, and yes (disclaimer) this city loves their straight up, no bullshit sound and live show. While we have the pre-mature privilege of knowing the album title, we're not at liberty to let this bobcat out of the cage just yet ;-) All you really need to know is that Juno award winning producer Eric Ratz is once again turning knobs and pushing buttons on this eleven track album, and that it will be available in early 2015 compliments of New Damage Records. When the goal of recording this record was to capture Danko's wildfire energy, attitude, and stage presence, expect nothing less than a heated, hard rocking good time.
Among many, in attendance were savvy Listen Harder publicists Jen Cymek and Cristina Fernandes, producer Ratz, long-time sound man Corey Shields and manager Bjorn Barnekow. The band of course, (singer/guitarist Danko, bassist John “JC” Calabrese and drummer Rich Knox) were also in attendance and worked the room, chatting with the invite only crowd, as gracious as ever. We even recalled faded memories of my first DJ experience back in Thunder Bay (circa 2000?), and haircuts. Unlikely combination really, but somehow my chats seem to always end up there one way or another.
The event was a small one with a chill yet inviting and unpretentious vibe. Guests non-nonchalantly helped themselves to either beer or mixed drinks (the absence of a shot glass left me eyeing up the amount of booze I was pouring, is this a double?!) and appetizers while the new record played a few times on repeat.
By the sounds of it, this is an album that takes centre stage and in no way should it be allowed to be played or listened to in any other way than the foreground. I like my Danko loud, proud and in my face. The next time I hear these songs, I hope to be front row at a show, showing Danko Jones just how much Toronto still continues to love and support them.
– Angie Valente (Twitter @TheRealAngieV)
To kickoff a stellar season of creative, avant-garde improvisational music at the Music Gallery, I was treated to a triple double bill of forward thinking Avant Garde music performed at the highest order.
The first band was an intriguing duo named “King Weather”, co-led by trombonist Steve Ward and drummer D. Alex Meeks. In their performance, the trombone used clever sound effects to create unique soundscapes with his horn, while the drummer provides backbeats of free rock and contemporary grooves to make it exciting and loose.
The second band was another duo called “Not The Wind, Not The Flag”, co-led by Colin Fisher and Brandon Valdivia. IN their sonic set we see both musicians doubing on instruments (Colin on sax and guitar, Brandon on drums and long wood flute) while improvising and creating spaced out sounds that seemed otherworldly and futuristic. Interludes between the flute and the sax were melodic and peaceful, but when the drums came in with the sax it was full of raw energy, emotion, and full of intensity that grabs the listener and doesn’t let go until the end.
The headlining band, “Battle Trance”, is a four-tenor saxophone quartet consisting of saxophone players Travis Laplante (who also composed their main piece of the evening), Jeremy Viner, Patrick Breiner, and Matthew Nelson. In the beginning, there was a prepared silence that got the musicians and the audience centred and prepared for the sounds they will hear through this piece. Through four saxophonists they bridge the tensions of peace, chaos, rage and serenity while holding it on their own and making it sound uniquely composed at the same time. I also detected a very intense spiritual connection and experience to the piece, since the saxophone players appear to be reaching out towards God through their instruments and through their searches as avant-garde musicians.
A fine kickoff by fine three bands to kick of a year of creative music.
– Conrad Gayle
NOT THE WIND, NOT THE FLAG BANDCAMP:
TRAVIS LAPLANTE OFFICIAL WEB SITE
MUSIC GALLERY OFFICIAL WEB SITE
Boston-based band Air Traffic Controller visited Chicago Wednesday night on their first full US tour. This tour has them co-headlining with The Tragic Thrills, a band the crowd seemed to know better. Air Traffic Controller (ATC) played at Schubas, long known as a breeding ground for musical talent. ATC consists of Dave Munro on lead vocals/guitar, Casey Sullivan on lead vocals/bass, Steve Scott on the keys/guitar, Dave’s brother Richie Munro on drums, and Jeremy Van Cleave on the violin.
Watching ATC on stage, you get the feeling this is what it would look and feel like if you were invited to the band’s living room during a jam session. Smiling and comfortable with one another, the audience is brought into the feel good vibes you see the band experiencing. Crowded together on Schubas’ intimate stage, it was hard to keep your eyes on a certain band member as each brought something that together, complemented their lyrics about love, following your dreams and believing in one another. I found myself mostly drawn to Sullivan. Her voice, at times deep and smoky and reminiscent of Adele, also has a range that lends itself almost to the ethereal, and as much as I would like to avoid saying it reminds me of Enya, it had the same earthy yet lofty sound.
While the crowd was definitely thinner by the time ATC took the stage, there were those in the audience that clung to each word and even more that sang along, hands in the air, clamoring by the front of the stage in hopes that Munro would notice them and acknowledge their love for his music and lyrics. Happiness exudes from ATC’s music, even when they’re singing about unrequited love, the breakup of their favourite band or alluding to heartfelt endings of relationships.
The crowd at Schubas was treated to a few songs the band “is playing for the first time on this tour.” My favourite was the first single off their newest album, “The House”, is a catchy tune that I imagine we will soon be hearing in many commercials across the nation. Before I even left the venue, I had already gone to iTunes to purchase “The House” and have been listening to it addictively ever since. With sing-a-long lyrics that remind me of the best parts of my childhood, “The House” is “about the house I grew up in,” lead singer Munro told the crowd, “Think back to your childhood – we had that house everyone came to.” Before purchasing it, you can listen to the song here. “Warrior” is another new song debuting this summer, written by Sullivan and containing a message of hope, almost urging you to go out and make yourself a better version of yourself.
Ending with a promise that “anytime we do a tour now, we got to get to Chicago,” ATC left the stage and went into the crowd, graciously meeting both newfound fans and fans that one would think -- and WILL -- follow them to each show.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
Orange-County based indie rockers The Bolts made a bold move early last month—they changed their name to Island Apollo. Bolder still, the five-some headed north to hipster haven Silverlake previewing work through their new material as Island Apollo, taking up residency at the gritty Silverlake Lounge for four Mondays in July.
The band—comprised of guitarists Heath Farmer and Ryan Kilpatrick, bassist Addam Farmer, keyboardist Austin Farmer, and drummer Matt Champagne—gained considerable fame as The Bolts after forming as teenagers in Orange County. In short order, they picked up airplay on KROQ, won Orange County's "Best Pop Artist" from the OC Music Awards, opened for Capital Cities and Third Eye Blind, appeared across local TV and, realizing every young man’s dream, had a song placed in a commercial featuring supermodel Kate Upton.
At Silverlake Lounge, the group took the stage as relative newcomers.
From the first show through the last, Island Apollo was not what you’d call tentative. Despite the new name (coined for the artificial islands in Long Beach Bay, each named for a Apollo astronaut) and brand new material, they couldn’t shake off (nor should they) the experience of seven years playing together. Island Apollo plays with astonishing precision and considerable verve. They’re tight but not tense, intense but not intimidating. Each member knows their job and does it well, and their experience shines through in confident assured playing, compact, well-crafted songs, and at the bottom of each, Matt Champagne: throwing himself all over his small drum kit (with one synth pad, he’s quick to point out), each bang of the drums exuberant—at times it seems he just might freak out—before bringing the beats back to their “proper” place. In fact, each song finishes a little sooner than you think it should. A few of the songs hint at what might be in store if they were to shake off the disciplined structure and show fans what it might feel like to be invited into one of their private jam sessions. Watching the crowd, it was clear that each song left the audience wanting more.
If one is to believe the set lists (show-goers eagerly snatched from under Heath’s feet at the end of each gig) during the Silverlake Lounge residencies consisted of eight-song sets of original compositions the band has been working on for inclusion into their first EP as Island Apollo. He told the audience, “We think "Animal" is going to be our fist single, but our manager (Dan Catullo, of Orange County production powerhouse DC3 Music/City Drive Entertainment) asked us not to confirm that.” Regardless, our money’s on "Animal"—it’s a self-effacing excuse for love and lust, delivered with Ryan and Heath’s guitars over urgent, insistent, almost drill-cadence harmonies.
Heath and Ryan trade lead and rhythm guitar duties effortlessly, going back and forth between parts without looking at each other. Heath wields a well-worn Telecaster, showing years of love and long use along with that very sweet, country punk-tinged sound; he expands on its single pickup design and sound with an array of pedals and effects at his feet that makes the gear lovers in the audience crane their necks over the monitors to look at it.
Ryan, Island Apollo’s newly appointed lead vocalist, croons a fine tenor over his Stratocaster, fixing his gaze on the audience as he works through the tunes. Their intention was to have Ryan handle all the singing—thinking perhaps their four-part harmonies as the Bolts too lightweight—but they simply can’t help harmonizing, and you can tell they clearly relish singing together. Each song’s chorus is fist-to-the gut punchy. They pack a pop and a wallop. This is especially evident on the tunes "Phoenix" and "Animal".
Between them is Addam, alternately strumming and plucking his bass—just like the guitarists on either side of them. Twice during the residency, he sported a black t-shirt with dinosaurs on it, and the irony wasn’t lost on fans of "Animal".
Habitual starts with a looser, free-form instrumental intro reminiscent of The War on Drugs—but again, tantalizingly brief. In "Meaning of Love", the guys sing, “You build me up/And break me down/That’s the meaning of love/That’s the meaning of love.” It is then that you realize: these guys are not punks; they really are a bunch of Orange County lads, tanned, fresh-faced, and very outgoing. They want us to like them, and y’know what? We do. The band reads the audience well and knows that they won’t win us over if they sing at us to fuck off. It's refreshingly…fresh. At each week of the residency, a tanned, teeming crowd of young ladies in the audience undoubtedly seemed to agree.
Believer is as close as these guys come to down-tempo in the Silverlake sets, a minor-key anthem driven by Austin’s low-key keys, his extensive rig anchored by a Yamaha electric piano. In "I Don’t Need Your Kind of Love", they build guitar energy with staccato guitar riffs around their vocal, ensemble playing holding Champagne’s drums in check, concluding with soulful, tight harmonies on "Think it Over", their last number.
Heath explains their carefully constructed set after the show. “We believe that every song should flow naturally and that every detail should serve an artistic purpose. We added tempo changes where it made sense, and explored varying chord progressions.” As you watch his fingers fly up and down the fret board, you realize he’s taking his own advice well.
Island Apollo’s next gig is Thursday, August 14 at a new venue downtown: Downstairs at Fifty Seven, located at 712 S Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021
So with a nostalgic look back at their history as the Bolts, Island Apollo is poised to rise above the ocean floor and reach for the stars.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
On June 15, over 150 members of the music industry and music journalists gathered in the Round Room in Toronto’s The Carlu, eagerly awaiting the announcement of the 10 Canadian albums that comprise this year’s Polaris Music Prize Short List. The crowd silenced as Polaris’ founder, Steve Jordan stepped up to the microphone. After a brief introduction, Jordan announced this year’s host of the Polaris Music Prize Gala, Montreal actor, writer, and producer, Jay Baruchel. A self-confessed “music nerd and patriot”, Baruchel is beyond stoked to be a part of this year’s events. He then proceeded to list the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Short List.
The Polaris Music Prize is the brainchild of former record company executive Steve Jordan. It’s awarded yearly to the best Canadian album released in the previous year. The Short List is chosen based on artistic merit by a panel of 11 jurors. It is not based on genre, record sales, number of downloads, popularity or record company affiliation. There is no submission process for the prize; therefore each and every album released in the previous year has an equal opportunity to enter.
Early in the year, a jury is created of over 200 Canadian music journalists, bloggers, writers and programmers. Jurors may not have a direct financial relationship with any of the artists nominated. Each member of the jury submits a list of their top five Canadian albums released in the past 12 months from June 1 of the previous year to May 31 of the current one. Starting with five points awarded to the top choice, the points descend until the fifth choice receives one point. The scores are then tallied and the top 40 albums will comprise what is known as the Polaris Music Prize Long List, which is released in June. By July, the list is narrowed to the top ten, which becomes the year’s Polaris Music Prize Short List.
At this point, the jury is also narrowed down to 11 members and becomes known as the Grand Jury. Jurors may only be a part of the Grand Jury once. Through much deliberation, persuasion, arguing – and certainly a lot of blood, sweat and tears – the Grand Jury will decide which of the 10 albums will become the winner for the year. The winner will be revealed at this year at a gala hosted by Baruchel at The Carlu on September 22.
The winner receives a prize of $30,000. Polaris is a nonprofit organization that “annually honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music by recognizing, then marketing the albums of the highest artistic integrity”.
The Polaris Music Prize was first awarded in 2006. Here is a list of previous Polaris Music Winners:
2006 – Final Fantasy – He Poos Clouds
2007 – Patrick Watson – Close To Paradise
2008 – Caribou – Andorra
2009 – Fucked Up – The Chemistry Of Common Life
2010 – Karkwa – Les chemins de verre
2011 – Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
2012 – Feist – Metals
2013 – Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Along with the 10 albums that comprise the Short List, the following is the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Long List. Due to a technical glitch, there were in fact 41 albums nominated this year.
AroarA – In The Pines
Austra – Olympia
Philippe B – Ornithologie, la nuit
BADBADNOTGOOD – III
Chromeo – White Women
Cousins – The Halls Of Wickwire
Cowboy Junkies/Various Artists – The Kennedy Suite
The Darcys -Warring
Dead Obies – Montréal $ud
DIANA – Perpetual Surrender
Freedom Writers – NOW
Fresh Snow – I
Frog Eyes – Carey’s Cold Spring
Gorguts – Colored Sands
Tim Hecker – Virgins
Jimmy Hunt – Maladie d’amour
Greg MacPherson – Fireball
Kalle Mattson – Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold
Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On
Mounties – Thrash Rock Legacy
Odonis Odonis – Hard Boiled Soft Boiled
Pink Mountaintops – Get Back
PUP – PUP
The Sadies – Internal Sounds
Shooting Guns – Brotherhood of the Ram
Solids – Blame Confusion
Rae Spoon – My Prairie Home
The Strumbellas – We Still Move On Dance Floors
Thus Owls – Turning Rocks
Chad VanGaalen – Shrink Dust
Bry Webb – Free Will
And lastly, one of the following will soon be the 2014 Polaris Music Prize Winner:
For the next two months, this year’s Short List will be hotly debated however all of these albums are already winners. Some were predictable, some were surprises, and some were no doubt unknown to many. These 41 albums have now been drawn into the Canadian Music spotlight, as they should be. Personally, I look forward to checking out new music from the Long List. Care to hazard a guess as to who this year’s winner will be?
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)
DJ sets are a completely different type of performance than more traditional forms of music. Usually concerts are about the performers creating a strong bond between them and the audience. An excellent performer will, through both stage presence and their music, create an atmosphere in which it is impossible for the crowd to look away. DJs, due to the constraints of their mixing boards, are forced to take a different approach. Rather then being the focus, most DJs blend into the background, providing the soundtrack to an evening of drinking and dancing. Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities was no different.
Coming straight from a gig as the opening act for Katy Perry at the Air Canada Centre earlier in the evening, Simonian and his laptop enthralled club goers at Tattoo until the early hours of the morning. The absence of Capital Cities’ other half, Ryan Merchant, didn’t seem to faze the crowd in the slightest. After all, this wasn’t a Capital Cities concert, it was a DJ set by Simonian using Capital Cities‘ name recognition. More party than concert; more A Night at the Roxbury than The Last Waltz.
By the time Simonian made his way behind the mixing board at midnight, the crowd was ready to party. Simonian made sure not to disappoint, opening with a club-friendly remix of Capital Cities’ massive hit “Safe and Sound” (one of two times the song was played). From then on it was an endless parade of remixed Top 40 tracks as well as a healthy dose of hits from Capital Cities’ debut album, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery. The crowd ate every bit of it up and as the night wore on the dancing became more furious. Early in the evening Simonian wasn’t afraid to get out from behind his mix board and dance along with the crowd. It was almost as if he was inviting the crowd to join him on stage. It didn’t take long for people to get the hint and within a few songs the stage was host to a full-fledged dance party -- something that would almost never happen in a more traditional venue.
A great venue and great club tunes lead to a fantastic party atmosphere throughout the night. Simonian was able to keep the crowd engaged and dancing all night long. It may not have been a full Capital Cities concert, but to those at Tattoo, it couldn’t have made any difference.
– Morgan Harris
One of my final picks from the Toronto Jazz Festival had to be Oliver Jones, a Canadian jazz legend of the piano. Spending a night with him and his trio was an experience of piano mastery at its highest order, bringing forth strong emotions and high command of piano technique with his playing, arrangements, and choice of material.
Opening the night was a stellar take of the classic jazz standard “Tenderly”, starting off with a classic rubato before switching gears into driving swing. Through this performance I could clearly hear the influence of Oscar Peterson, captivating the audience through every note played and swung to set off the night.
Jones displayed his creative take on classical technique when he interplayed with bassist Eric Lagace on tunes such as “You Look Good To Me” and “Up Jumped Spring”. These performances echoed the counterpoint employed by Bach and gave a more refined edge to his jazz sound.
Not only is Jones a great interpreter and clever arranger of music, he is also a fine composer who can compose everything from a rousing blues selection such as “Something For Chuck”, a refined elegant waltz in “Dance Again Diana”, or a spritely be-bop in “Dizzy’s Nest”. His compositions are not too complex, allowing the pianist to display various aspects of his playing and writing.
A word about the drummer of the trio, Jim Doxas: He is one of the most talented and creative young drummers to come out of Canada, showing great empathy and technique when needed. In Jones’ composition “Sam Patrick”, he played a great calypso drum solo that echoed Max Roach’s performance on Sonny Rollins’ classic “St. Thomas”.
Jones played a lot of medleys and requests, showing his wealth of knowledge of repertory material, familiarizing the audience with popular, timeless material. In the first set, he played a medley of songs connected with his favourite entertainer, Nat King Cole, to the wealth of music composed by the great George Gershwin. In the second set, he played a ballad medley consisting of songs from West Side Story, classical Chopin and the great classic “Over the Rainbow”, concluding the evening with a medley dedicated to Duke Ellington.
The most enduring influence on Jones’ playing has got to be the black church, and it was shown that night through his soulful take on “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” and the Oscar Peterson classic, “Hymn to Freedom”. His performance was like going to heaven and wanting to stay there for a long while, basking in the glory and presence of God.
Overall, it was a great evening of piano trio music by one of the great living Canadian jazz legends of our time. The concert was a stellar way to celebrate his upcoming 80th birthday in September with fans and patrons of jazz in Toronto.
– Conrad Gayle
On a nice summer night last Wednesday, Keith Jarrett made a commanding appearance at the Toronto Jazz Festival by putting on a very rare solo piano concert of completely improvised music to an appreciative and attentive audience. It is through his improvised concerts that have made him a jazz legend with audiences awed and inspired as to how much music can come out of one man, which was never before planned or never been rehearsed.
A big difference from the improvised concerts of the past versus the later improvised concerts of today is that instead of marathon sets lasting 30 to 60 minutes, the improvisations are like shorter songs lasting from 5 to 8 minutes. For both Jarrett and the audience, I feel that the shorter improvisations allow the music to breathe and at the same time allow him to mentally prepare himself for whatever comes next.
Jarrett’s improvisations consisted of a wide range of styles and influences ranging from contemporary classical, folk, boogie woogie jazz and even gospel influences, while all sounding fresh, invigorating and always looking forward to the future. Although his work is completely free and improvised, he has the uncanny ability to make it sound like complete compositions that took a long time to put on paper.
During the concert, Jarrett was having fun with the audience, and commented about some issues with the piano and the bench he was sitting on. But nothing deterred him from putting on a concert that was nothing short of pure, God-given genius at work. The very appreciative audience was even treated to three encores at the end of the concert, capping off an evening of music that was simply heaven on earth.
– Conrad Gayle
Last year, Kurt Vile released his critically acclaimed fifth album Wakin on a Pretty Daze, which was comprised of his most expansive work to date and some of the best back-to-basics guitar rock heard in a long time. However, the song that really ignited the most conversation was the tail end track “Snowflakes Are Dancing”, its most infamous line being “Snowflakes are dancing/disc man is pumping/headphones are loud/chilling on a pillowy cloud.” While the song is instrumentally stunning and takes its time to let the melodies swirl around, it’s difficult to imagine any other musician who could get away with a line like that without it seeming sardonic. Vile’s perpetually laid back vocals and equally relaxed lyrics manage to pull this off. However, that is exactly what Vile’s most remarkable feat as an artist has always been; a high level of technical skill complemented by his acutely self-aware, unabashed earnestness.
More than a year after Vile played 2013’s Toronto Urban Roots Festival, he arrived at the Phoenix as part of an extended world tour. The show opened with Steve Gunn, the quietly prolific and occasional guitarist in Vile’s The Violators. Gunn’s music has a penchant for sprawling instrumentation, and on stage those qualities only become more predominant. With his backing band often venturing into extended jams, his composition seemed to invite improvisation and create an effortlessly relaxed, honey-soaked atmosphere. An unsung hero of Gunn’s backing band was drummer John Truscinski, who maintained a confidant, crisp rhythm that gave him the freedom to play around. Truscinski received rampant applause from the crowd when Gunn introduced him to the stage.
As the crowd grew with people spilling out onto the edges of the venue – it was one of the most packed sets I’ve seen at The Phoenix in quite some time – the anticipation for Vile grew along with it. Emerging in front of an enormous backdrop baring his name, and behind his signature long, brown hair, he began with the title track off Wakin on a Pretty Daze, the very similarly named “Wakin on a Pretty Day”. As a musician who has made his career on rules he’s invented himself, from the extravagant production that went into the artwork for his most recent album to publicly outing Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus for accusing him of selling out, his live show has the same type of free-flowing attitude.
Playing a nearly two-and-a-half-hour set, several songs have clearly evolved since their creation such as “Girl Called Alex” and “Goldtone”, which saw Vile indulging in longer guitar sections that seem to have been added organically. “Jesus Fever” went down like a warm glass of milk as it put the spotlight on his exceptional finger-picking style while removed from its scuzzy lo-fi production on 2009’s Childish Prodigy. “Freak Train” morphed into a much louder, heavier and denser alt-rock beast, possibly indicating a new direction on upcoming releases. Despite the relaxed demeanor of his music, Vile is an unintentionally dramatic front man, whipping his sweater off wildly after the first song and nearly throwing his guitar to the side between songs. The audience ceased to exist around him as Vile sank to his knees and turned his back to the crowd, completely absorbed and enamoured with his own music. In the middle of his set he launched into “On Tour” where he drawled “I’m just playin’/I got it made/most of the time.” Judging from the success he’s experienced and how evidently he appreciates being on stage, there is nothing fabricated about those lyrics.
– Melissa Vincent (Twitter @MellVincent)
To cap off a stellar jazz season celebrating the 90th birthdays of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, the organizers at Koerner Hall managed to bring together two top male vocalists who excel at the top of their game. The vocalists are fellow Canadian superstar Denzal Sinclaire and beloved American superstar Kurt Elling.
As Sinclaire opened the first set, he showed both his strengths as a Nat King Cole influenced singer and an all around complete musician playing guitar, melodica, piano and even drums. For instance, his take on the opening “All of Me” displayed his caressing vocals and his swinging prowess on the brush kit. After a bit of swinging jazz, he switched to acoustic guitar as he delved into R&B repertoire courtesy of the Dinah Washington classic “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” and the folk pop inflections of the piece “I’m Getting Ready”. Those performances effectively showed his contemporary side and adaptability toward other styles of music other than jazz.
Sinclaire captivated the audience again with a funky take on the Gershwin classic “I Got Rhythm”, doubling on piano as well as voice. Bringing a Mediterranean/Latin vibe to “You And the Night and the Music”, his use of the melodica brought a certain exotic flair to the performance along with his backup band. He capped off the night performing the original composition “You Treat Me So Good”. It was funky jazz at its swinging best and it showed that he should be composing more songs in a similar vein.
After Sinclaire’s set, Elling brought on a captivating performance that showed why he is consistently ranked as the top male vocalist of his generation. Through the straight opening take on “Come Fly With Me” he brought in a lot of soul, soaring vocal prowess and new life into a classic standard made popular by Frank Sinatra. Among the other highlights of his great set is a funky take on “You Send Me”, the interplay of vocal and rhythm on their version of “On Broadway”, and a swinging, scat-infused take on the classic “I’m Satisfied”.
Elling is also a vocalist who is a complete musician, but primarily uses his voice to achieve such musical effects. For instance, he sees himself as part of the band ensemble when he does vocal effects and interacts with the musicians during the “On Broadway” performance. Elling’s voice was like a well tuned and a well-executed instrument when he caressed vocally in performances such as “Skylark” and when he brought high-octane scat and energy into performances such as “I’m Satisfied”.
Both Sinclaire and Elling honoured the legacies of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington perfectly with captivating vocal performances of their own that showed the heart and soul of singing at its best. Overall, it was a stellar concert put on by two great vocalists who do a whole lot more than just sing lyrics; they interpret and treat it musically as their very own.
– Conrad Gayle
Sean Kelly’s love of the Canadian hard rock and heavy metal heroes who inspired his own successful music career were his inspiration for his book “Metal on Ice: Tales from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes.” An accompanying CD project was also released and received high praise including this previously published review by The Spill.
A slot in the esteemed roster of shows featured at Canadian Music Week 2014 was the next natural step in honouring the influence of Canada’s metal scene. The concert was at Toronto’s The Opera House and featured Sean Kelly on the axe accompanied by his Metal on Ice band and a few of the rock legends themselves: Brian Vollmer (Helix), Carl Dixon (Coney Hatch), Darby Mills (Headpins), Lee Aaron and Nick Walsh (Slik Toxik) who performed new versions of classic songs from the ‘80s.
Earplugs were necessary as these rawk legends tore the place apart. Age did not seem to be an obstacle for any of these performers; they brought it and delivered the goods. Vollmer entertained with the classic “Heavy Metal Love” and brought the audience to a frenzy with the crowd-pleasing “Rock You”; a great audience participation number. (Gimme an R! “R!” O! “O!” C! “C!” K! “K!” Whatcha got!? “Rock !” And watcha gonna do!? “Rock you!”) This song is considered an ‘80s metal anthem amongst other adrenaline jolters like Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”, Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” and Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock”.
Darby Mills equally satisfied with two Headpins’ classics, “Don’t It Make You Feel” and “Turn it Loud”. The beautiful and very talented Lee Aaron absolutely levelled the place with her songs “Metal Queen” and “Whatcha Do to My Body”. Carl Dixon amazed with his guitar prowess on Coney Hatch’s “Hey Operator”. Nick Walsh proved that as a showman, he’s in the same league as Sebastian Bach of Skid Row and David Lee Roth (in his prime) of Van Halen. His stage presence, swagger, incredible vocal range and audience-engagement are second to none. Walsh belted out Kick Axes’s classic “On the Road to Rock” as well as a tune from his former band, Slik Toxik, “Helluva Time”.
Okay, we’re blown away. Now what’s next for the Metal on Ice project? A movie, perhaps? We hope so. With a music scene seemingly stuck on low-fi indie snoozers and dancing auto-tune fakers, this show reminded us that the world needs a rock revival. Kelly’s efforts could be a lynchpin in bringing this about.
– Michael Filonienko
(photography by Anita Shuper)
David Gray, along with his seven piece band, which included the evening’s opening performer David Kitt, was greeted with a warm welcome as he took the stage at the Danforth Music Hall. His stop in Toronto was a sold out performance, and is his fourth stop on a mini cross continent tour celebrating the release of his eleventh album, Mutineers (available June 17).
“This is what it feels like to be a mutineer...”
With those words, David Gray began an evening that included the performance of the complete Mutineers album.
The stage was simple and the music was extraordinary.
There were no gimmicks this evening, as both the stage and the performance was beautifully clean. Clearly the focus was on the music and the haunting voice of David Gray, a beacon of light for his fans. It is hard to believe that he has been making recorded music for three decades.
Based on response of the audience to the new album, it should be very well received this summer. Perhaps not critically because who knows what popular culture hungers and thirsts for, but certainly in the hearts of the fans. The song the Incredible is only one example why. It is a deeply moving song, inspired by a short story written by a Norwegian author. A single line from the story haunted David Gray so much that it because the source of inspiration. The lyrics were deep, by the memory is weak. Without the official release of the album, it is difficult to share with you some of the deeply meaningful verses.
The Incredible was followed by Cake and Eat It, a delightful song about desire.
“I hear you have a mayor here who lives like that as well”.
It seems everyone loves the Mayor of Toronto. He is an international sensation and casts a deep shadow on the world.
Strangely, the audience remained seated through the whole performance. A true rarity today. They listened. They bobbed their heads up and down. They held hands. They exchanged glances. Some tapped their feet.
They were all listening!
They were actually listening!
Neil Young would be proud, even though the night still brought out some catalog hecklers, who shouted out song titles, like they were at a drive through window. Their quips were met with a smile and a bit of healthy sarcasm. "Shhhh... we are trying to talk. We are working here..."
The Mutineers set ended with Birds of the High Arctic, an incredible song which led to the departure of the band, leaving David Gray in truly intimate setting. It doesn't get better than this.
He took centre stage, seated himself quietly, checked the microphone, strummed the guitar and looked into the audience. After a moment he began to play Shine.
After the song he explained to the enamoured crowd that this moment reminded him of his El Mocambo days. The crowd agreed with a loud cheer.
David Kitt, who opened the evening, was excellent in his own right. He brought his Irish humour and more importantly his Irish thirst to the beautiful city of Toronto. He sang folk songs of love and loss, and told the crowd how eternally grateful he was for the opportunity to play live.
The evening ended with a standing ovation for David Gray. No one wanted to see him stop. At one point, a few brave or perhaps intoxicated women ran to the front of the stage to exercise their freedom to dance, like the days of Babylon, but that was not to be. They were quickly ushered out, and no one else dared to try again.
This two and a half hour performance was perhaps meant as a warm up for David Gray, getting ready for the official tour in support of Mutineers. If it was, it certainly didn't seem like it. David Gray and his band of musicians delivered a unforgettable performance that needs desperately to return, hopefully sooner than later.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
(photography by Greg Kieszkowski)
Mounting an overwhelming mixed media assault on the Sony Centre, Kraftwerk benefited from their eerily prophetic influence over the modern fascination with retro futurism. With spectators bedecked in 3D glasses, made to look like droids themselves, the quartet activated their entertainment machine with the seminal “Robots”. It was a dramatic intro for the night and it stood out as a true statement of intent for the rest of the show. The band, dressed in reflective hieratic costumes, stood in perfect alignment on stage delivering just what one would expect of a concert put on by humanoid robots (complete with vocoders and 3D technology). That might not seem like an endorsement, in fact it’s quite the opposite, since Kraftwerk’s strength lies in their stark presentation of the minimalist audio-visual art form: they’re a fruitful merger of music and technology.
Playing song after song from their last eight albums, Kraftwerk travelled through their back catalogue highlighting popular themes. With “Numbers”, the screen spat out endless figures over the audience’s heads, reminiscent of ‘80s desktop images. In “Computer World”, an old school PC floated by as the crowd roared with their nostalgic approval. A futuristic melancholy was apparent in their choice of images that made the band seem more prescient now in retrospect. “Spacelab” was definitely the highlight of the show; the accompanying projections transformed the venue into a giant spacecraft zooming through the stratosphere, soaring with the UFOs and finally landing by the CN Tower, much to the enthusiasm of the crowd. “Das Model” was beautifully executed with kitschy ‘50s vintage footage, while “Radioactivity” provided a disturbing spin with a quick reference to the Fukushima disaster. They played an extended version of “Tour de France” from their Vitamin album at the median, which felt more like an ode to avid cyclist Ralf Hütter. “Autobahn” was the crowd favourite, but it may have been the only weakness in the set; its extended version didn’t provide anything different to its music video version. Nonetheless, the synthpop love was clearly felt as Kraftwerk looped through familiar beats and fully took advantage of the crystal clear sound system of the venue.
As “Music Non Stop” closed the concert, individual members took turns to show off their synthesizer prowess, leaving Hütter, sole survivor of the original outfit, alone on stage. Some audience members, barely able to sit still, got up to dance. One girl even managed to jump the stage and hug the band before security whisked her away. Kraftwerk had “worked” the crowd without budging from their android-like exteriors.
For four decades Kraftwerk has changed the history of pop as pioneers of electronic music, and can still put on an electrifying show. While the band barely interacted with the crowd, the images that projected in the centre created intimate and indelible impressions. If Kraftwerk were a thesis of impending concert entertainment, the possibilities of what might come next are as exciting as they are palpable. The future is definitely now.
– Jacqueline Valencia
On what would be the 180th birthday of the city of Toronto, I decided to end the night going to a musical extravaganza – the CD release party for Brasstronomical.
At Lula Lounge, both The Heavyweights Brass Band and Street Brass treated a packed audience to a rousing Mardi Gras party, transporting you to the hot shores of Brazil or the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was a night of feel good music that made you want to dance, shake your thang and sing along to a groovy beat.
Street Brass opened the set by marching to a tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”, which resembled a cross between Salvation Army organized horns and Pentecostal/Black Baptist church fervor. After the opening, they broke into another New Orleans’ staple, “Do What You Wanna”, before delving the rest of the repertoire into the Latin American ideologies of Brazil and Colombia. I really liked the Latin American music since it was fresh, exotic, danceable, and intellectually stimulating.
The main event was the Heavyweights Brass Band – a mix of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, Trombone Shorty, and Preservation Hall Jazz Band cooked up into one hearty, spicy gumbo. Playing the entire CD set, we were treated to special guests such as soul R&B vocalist and fellow Jamaican Jay Douglas, soprano saxophonist and Spirits of Havana advocate Jane Bunnett, and percussionist Luisito Orbegoso. Throughout the set I was dancing, getting my groove on and reliving a part of my youth over and over again.
If the Heavyweights Brass Band doesn’t get a Juno (or even a Grammy) for their stellar, original work on New Orleans jazz, then there must be something royally wrong with the judges (or I should become a judge myself). Not only are they one of the best – and my favourite – local bands to ever come across the scene in Toronto (with most of the members being born in Winnipeg and Vancouver), but they also do a great job of authentically channeling black soul as well as the history of the music they play. Again, one of the best concerts of 2014 to kick off the release of one of the best CD’s to begin the year, Brasstronomical.
– Conrad Gayle
The Chicago stop of Skinny Puppy’s ‘Shapes for Arms’ tour is a night that ought to go down in industrial history, as the legendary band pulled out all the stops and performed an amazing set (as usual).
Openers Army of the Universe did a great job setting the stage with their brand of industrial dance music. As the opening band for most of February, they entertained the crowd with a sound somewhere between ‘80s metal and ‘90s industrial. Opening their set with “Acid Flows”, a previously unreleased track, they continued through 10 more songs and ended with “Hollywood Drama”.
Skinny Puppy, about halfway through their 29-date journey across North America, opened the show with a dark stage. Drummer Justin Bennett and founder cEvin Key came out first in front of a screen glowing with images reminiscent of Star Wars, which soon switched over to what looked like illuminated maps of a computer’s insides. Beginning with “Choralone”, vocalist Nivek Ogre took the stage wearing a hooded outfit and toting an umbrella (which he didn’t hold onto for very long). He flawlessly began to sing “illiSit”, the second track off of their new album Weapon. His voice sounded just as it does in the recording; the accompanying music by Key and Bennett was perfection.
Ditching the umbrella, the band powered through tracks including “Wornin’”, which was visualized with an on the large screen behind the stage of a helicopter-like blade that switched to a series of images of faces (most likely of politicians knowing Skinny Puppy’s interest in making a message). The images projected on the screen behind the stage as well as the numerous “television-like” screens on the stage were mainly controlled by Ogre. The screens flashed with different images throughout the performance, sometimes with close-ups of the musicians (which I believe were live, but I’m not entirely sure). The rest of their set list included “Warlock”, “Hexonxonx”, and “Solvent” among others.
Encore number one brought Ogre back sans the mask he’d worn during the show. Thanking the audience for staying, he welcomed us to the event and made a pointed comment impressing the danger of our chemical society, after which he launched into “Far Too Frail”. The songs “Glass Houses” and “Smothered Hope” were among the others played, after which the band again departed to a static-filled screen behind the stage, and a “thank you, Chicago!” could be heard from Ogre.
Realizing we weren’t about to leave just yet, their last encore consisted of (my personal favourite) “Assimilate”, during which the screen behind the stage was filled with images shaped like stars and stripes.
Overall, I was immensely impressed as I always have been with them. Since they began in 1982, they have achieved a legendary status, and rightly so. Their energy and willingness to do so much for their fans is immensely respectable.
– Kathleen Nichols