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London Grammar
@ The Sound Academy, Toronto
January 21st, 2014

British Indie-Pop trio London Grammar made their long-awaited return to Toronto on the first stop of their 2015 North American tour. Scheduling difficulties pushed the show two months back, but even in frigid temperatures it was worth the wait.

In their trademark minimalist style, the show opens with synthesist Dot Major and guitarist Dan Rothman emerging from the darkness with a slow buildup to Hannah Reid’s haunting vocals in “Hey Now.”

The lights dim as Reid becomes the focal point and quiets the crowd with her powerfully emotive voice. Bone chilling synths and soothing riffs provide a steady backdrop to the all-encompassing humming that soon fills up the room.

The evening is marked by a tidal wave of emotions that range from inherent sadness to indecision to heartbreak. But a few tracks on the album manage to get everyone up on their feet with powerhouse performances of “Shyer,” “Flickers,” and “Metal and Dust.”

The devastating picture of young adulthood grips the audience as Hannah cries out, “I don’t know what you are, don’t leave me hanging on” in their delivery of “Wasting My Young Years.”

Between songs, the audience catches a glimpse of the band’s polite but quirky personalities on stage. Dot jokingly thanks the crowd for not being bored, for instance, to which Hannah says he sounds bored himself.

Though the band’s interaction with the audience is minimal, it doesn’t come off as pretentious. Their utmost concentration was focused on the music where Hannah will often close her eyes as she loses herself in the moment. There is something endearing about the band’s quiet charm – a quality you don’t see too much of these days.

The band closed the show with a high-stakes performance of “Metal and Dust,” featuring an incredible drum solo by Dot.

London Grammar certainly lived up to the hype as they delivered one stellar performance after another. Very few bands can say they are better live than in the studio—London Grammar just happens to be the exception.

– Aileen Ormoc (Twitter @aileenormoc )

 

 

The Knitts
@ The Mint, Los Angeles
December 11th, 2014

Hailing from an unmarked shipping container in a gritty industrial area of Van Nuys, The Knitts create a unique blend of garage, post-punk and anglo punk. The five-piece band captivated audiences last week with a short set of all-new material in LA at The Mint, an intimate, historic venue known for hosting both famous and up-and-coming artists.

The opening track, “Hold Steady Pretty Lady,” established the group’s tone of loud, quick percussion and sharp vocals. Each song thereafter was just as punchy and spirited, carrying elements of The Clash and Joy Division. The band’s dynamic presence amazed the audience, especially as lead vocalist Justin Volkens joined on drums in anti-prom anthem “She Likes The Idea of Gold.” This dreamy track was considerably slower tempo than the rest of the set, but still maintained the group’s maverick personality.

While The Knitts’ energy is reminiscent of a not-so-sweet-sixteen party, they have a surprisingly long history. The group traces its roots to the last years of Hollywood’s Knitting Factory. As guitarist Charlie Volkens worked in the box office, other young band members gathered around the venue.

The band closed out the evening with a new unreleased track, “Vamonos Mexico,” which transformed the venue into a surf punk vacation destination and left the audience dancing in delight.

Originally from New York, Charlie, Justin, and their father moved to California in 1997, where the brothers soon met lead guitarist Jaime “Jimmy” Luque. Various band members came and went, but the current lineup of the band was cemented in 2012 when a third brother, Brandon, joined.

“I'm a half-brother and was raised in North Carolina. I hadn't seen them in over fifteen years, and I moved out here and ended up joining the band at a perfect time,” drummer and youngest brother Brandon Sinclair explains. “We had a different drummer, but Brandon was just so superior. We had him right under our noses,” Justin adds.

Today, the group includes brothers Charlie Volkens (guitars), Justin Volkens (vocals, ukulele) and Brandon Sinclair (drums), along with Jaime “Jimmy” Luque (guitars) and Victor Portillo (bass).

The Knitts are currently working on recording their first full-length album. “We're going for a very vintage sound with this first full-length, in terms of production and the material,” Justin says. “We want people to know we're a band when they listen, nothing more, nothing less. Every part of our music is as important as its counterpart.”

Last year, they recorded their first official EP, Gutterboy, in only a few days. It employed minimal production and was tight and true—and got the Knitts picked up by Knitting Factory Management.

Since the release of Gutterboy, The Knitts have gained a strong local following. They played several local gigs this past year, including The Viper Room and a July residency at The Federal Bar. Their next gig is at the Downtown Long Beach New Year’s Eve block party, headlined by Fitz and The Tantrums.

With a distinct sound inspired by a blend of punk and rock, The Knitts is a band to watch.

– Sabrina Zeile

The Knitts’ social network links:
Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Instagram

 

 

DJ Snoopadelic
@ Shooshh, Brighton (UK)
December 10th, 2014

Snoop Dogg illuminated Brighton's club scene last night when the legendary hip hop star lit up Shooshh as part of his whistle-stop UK tour.

And what a coup it was for Brighton's only VIP superclub to have Grammy Award-nominated Snoop Dogg, who has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, play such an intimate two-hour set under his moniker DJ Snoopadelic.

Revellers crammed into Shooshh but had to patiently wait for the superstar rapper formerly known as Snoop Lion and Snoop 'Doggy' Dogg. They enthusiastically danced to the warm-up DJs before Snoop finally arrived on stage at 11:30p.m.

Battling the cold British weather he initially took centre stage wrapped up in a black puffa jacket before warming up to reveal his trademark gangsta clothing, complete with a long gold chain round his neck and his infamous statement wraparound shades.

The DJ Snoopadelic show proved to be the perfect platform for the megastar to show off in his own inimitable style by dropping his favourite tracks and exciting the appreciative fans by rapping along to some of his classic hits.

The reformed gangsta, who allegedly smokes 75 marijuana joints a day, was soon puffing on what they call in Jamaica “the good stuff” during his eclectic set and ignoring the stringent UK ban about smoking indoors in a public place.

The global icon, who has hosted several TV shows in the US and appeared in numerous movies, ensured that he immediately got the crowd in party spirit straight from his late arrival on stage with his super laidback delivery that has earned him a place among the greatest ever hip hop recording artists.

The DJ Snoopadelic show witnessed the charismatic legend enjoying being MC and tasting the fruits of nature with his unique rapping style exciting the fans. His hefty entourage cleared the way for a handful of partygoers to briefly get in on the act by having their photo taken with the legend.

It was a true party set, a full two hours of tunes that one of the biggest international names in music weaved together with live vocals over his own famous tracks like “Gin & Juice,” and Busta Rhymes’ “If You Give It To Me.”

It was a safer set than last year's UK tour when he played tunes for those older than mid-20s with classics like Joan Jett's “I Love Rock 'n' Roll” and Lionel Richie's “All Night Long.” Obviously DJ Snoopadelic brilliantly read the age of his revellers so stuck to his guns with his favourite cuts from the likes of 50 Cent, Jay-Z and M.I.A.

The fact that the DJ Snoopadelic tickets for Brighton swiftly sold out is testament to just how big Snoop Dogg remains in the music world since his multi-platinum debut album Doggystyle was released in 1993.

Being so creative and gifted has resulted in Snoop Dogg constantly evolving his sound, including exploring reggae as Snoop Lion when he released last year's album Reincarnated. He claimed during the promotion of the album that he was the reincarnation of Bob Marley, despite the fact that Snoop Dogg was ten years old when Jamaica's reggae legend died in 1981.

The innovative and influential artist has superbly remained at the forefront of popular culture and new technology through a clever combination of brand partnerships, philanthropy, several brushes with the law for possession of drugs and a gun as well as being acquitted of a murder charge – but what he ultimately does best is produce hit tracks like “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”

Snoop Dogg appears on the new album Full Court Press Vol. 1, released on De. 9, a project that features contributions from Future, Soulja Boy and T-Pain. The record celebrates the beginning of the new NBA basketball season, with Snoop Dogg a huge fan of his home team the LA Lakers. The album features appearances from high-profile players such as Carlos Boozer, Shawn 'Matrix' Marion, Lamar Odom and Iman Shumpert.

The renowned rapper follows up his inaugural visit to Brighton to perform under his pseudonym DJ Snoopadelic at the Bristol O2 Academy (Dec. 11) and the Leeds O2 Academy (Dec. 12) before jetting back to the United States.

– Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rüdd

 


Sultans And Divas
@ Koerner Hall, Toronto
December 4th, 2014

Soaring performances, groovy sounds, and new explorations into music marked a warm musical trip to the Middle Eastern Kasbah on Dec. 4. There we were serenaded by music and performances of Arab Canadians and bands influenced by Middle Eastern music.

The night opened with Bassam Bishara playing an oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument that plays exotic modal scales and tones reminiscent of its homeland. Following the opening oud solo, rising Arab soprano Miriam Khalil joined Bishara to perform “Aatini el Naya Wa Ghanni,” a Middle Eastern folk song. Khalil’s voice and performance in her native Arabic tongue was one to experience, plus pairing it with the oud backing gave the music a truly classic authenticity to the cultural backdrop.

In addition to the ethnically authentic performances that opened up the evening, sections of the night were devoted to classic operatic arias performed with great execution by Khalil and Julie Nesrallah. In the first set, soprano Nesrallah takes on Bizet’s “Habanera” with such authority and sass that it truly displays her command of the classic material. The same goes for Khalil, who takes on Puccini’s “Quando M’en Vo,” which was treated as a soaring love ballad filled with positivity and emotion. The two sopranos would join forces in the second set to sing renditions of Leo Delibes’ “Flower Duet” and Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” which literally took us to the heavens and back with their wondrous voices singing in complete unison.

In the first act, a group from Montreal known as Oktoecho closed the set with a program of original music written by conductor Katia Makdissi-Warren. Their set incorporated Middle Eastern music, Western classical, and even jazz influences into a unique and completely exotic sound. They employed strings, piano, oud, drums, percussion, and even belly dancing to create an experience that virtually took the audience into a Middle Eastern marketplace filled with action, intrigue, and adventure. The music even sounded like a movie soundtrack with all the instruments coming together to produce a full orchestral sound.

The other main group, the Juno-nominated Sultans of String led by Lebanese Canadian violinist Chris McKhool, brought elements of flamenco, world fusion, folk, and jazz into an exciting program that electrified the second act. Their opening number “Alhambra” blended their trademark sounds of flamenco and Middle Eastern flair with touches of funk for good measure. By the second number, “El-Kahira,” the crowd got up on their feet, moving to the music along with a guest belly dancer that provided exotic dance moves to keep the audience enthralled and enchanted. Another highlight was their ballad treatment “Josie” and closing number “Auyuittuq Sunrise,” which paid homage to the great white North and the native peoples who inhabit it. The performances were fresh and funky, and the music represented a unity of cultures and traditions that brings a universal connection for those sharing in the process.

The closing number brought all of the artists together to perform a Middle-Eastern piece called “Bint el Shalabiya,” which was a rousing performance that brought a celebratory tone to the evening. The last number would make you want to belly dance and party in the Middle Eastern market square with all that music in the air. Overall, it was a great night of paying tribute to and celebrating the great cultural landscape of the Middle East through dance, singing, and music pulled off by top-notch musicians at the peak of their powers.

– Conrad Gayle


 

Carol McCartney
@ Jazz Bistro, Toronto
October 24th, 2014

Canadian jazz chanteneuse Carol McCartney and her all-star band tore up the second of a three-night stand at the Jazz Bistro on Friday, October 24.
The night, comprising a full mix of classic standards that swung, gave exotic twists, and brought lush romanticism for an attentive audience, was in celebration of her sophomore CD, aptly titled Be Cool.

Opening off the first set I attended was a brisk Latin arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” From the get-go, Carol McCartney’s vocal delivery was full of clarity, high spirits, and full of enthusiasm for bringing a fresh edge to the jazz scene. She even brings this flare into a vocal take on the Wes Montgomery classic West Coast Blues, which swings effortlessly as a brisk jazz waltz with witty lyrics that make the listener want to leave the cold and head out west.

Continuing the trend of interpreting varied material, McCartney and her band did justice to the Joni Mitchell classic Be Cool by providing a soulful, bluesy edge to the piece as evidenced in Joni’s classic jazz treatment of it. It made you want to snap your fingers and tap your toes to a cool arrangement taken at a relaxed pace. She even delved into the repertoire of Cassandra Wilson and her bossa nova take of “Almost Twelve,” channeling one of her contemporary influences in an effective manner by making the arrangement completely her own while introducing a fairly new song to the audience.

One of the highlights of the concert was her duets with just piano and bass that really show off the clarity of her voice and how she respects the lyrical content of her performance. With pianist Brian Dickinson, McCartney delves into “More Than You Know” as a heartfelt romantic ballad that brings a good cap to a romantic evening at a jazz club. Another duet, this time with Kieran Overs on bass, brings the childlike and playful innocence into the Bobby Timmons/ Oscar Brown Jr. classic “Dat Dere.” It also pays homage and respect to the classic version done many years ago by Sheila Jordan when she experimented with just voice and bass on that tune and her other later works.

McCartney and her stellar band consisting of pianist Brian Dickinson, Bassist Kieran Overs, guitarist Reg Schwager, saxophonist Chris Robinson and drummer Terry Clarke have done justice to the stellar repertoire through their carefully-executed arrangements and top-shelf playing by all involved. It was an affair full of high spirits that was intimate and at the same time celebratory for the music that was performed. McCartney’s voice and diction throughout the night was so clear and poised, to the point that the real meaning and beauty of the lyrics came forth effectively. Congratulations to Mrs. McCartney and her team for a great concert and releasing a great collection of music to be enjoyed for years to come.

– Conrad Gayle

 

 

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats
@ Lee's Palace, Toronto
September 28th, 2014

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)