It would seem unfair to categorize the continuous resurgence of '80s bands as simply a phenomenon driven by the nostalgic appetites of Generation X-ers, although that surely plays a role. The English Beat, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Psychedelic Furs and Spandau Ballet performances in Toronto this spring is indicative of the footprint left by these artists in the culture and psyche of its fans. Gen X-ers pack the venues to relive their youth while young music fans go to see what all the fuss was about. Spandau Ballet played to a full capacity crowd at Toronto’s Massey Hall to young and slightly older alike. They went through almost their entire hit catalogue with energy, flair, and superior musicianship. They didn’t sound like a nostalgia band at all. No Casinorama performance here; this was the real deal.
Unlike the English Beat, Spandau Ballet brought back the entire original lineup (at least the lineup since their 1981 debut album Journeys to Glory. Tony Hadley (vocals), Gary Kemp (guitar), Steve Norman (sax), John Keeble (drums) and Martin Kemp (bass) played like they never broke up 1989, superbly performing their entire singles catalogue, from “To Cut a Long Story Short” and “The Freeze” from their early post-punk synth/ New Romantic period to their later chart-topping soulful hits “Gold” and “True,” and everything in between.
A Spandau Ballet greatest hits compilation is coming out this year. Watch out for it as it will have a couple brand new songs.
– Mathew Coe Hill
On a beautiful spring Tuesday night, the Jazz Bistro was packed with friends, family and jazz fans alike to witness charming vocalist Mary Panacci’s CD release. From the looks of the repertoire and the title of her CD, Her Perfume, it was a night celebrating love, romance, and timeless music from various parts of the world.
Under the careful direction of Mary’s husband and pianist Anthony Panacci, they led an all-star band (Ted Quinlan on guitar, Mike Downes on bass, Kevin Dempsey on drums and Kelly Jefferson on saxophones) and its special guests through well-executed arrangements (courtesy of Shelly Berger) and soaring performances that tug on one’s heart strings and treats the music as a collective family affair.
Things started off strong, opening with “A Beautiful Friendship.” The spirited arrangement effectively merges Mary’s sunny, spirited vocals with the lively swing of the backup band, and Quinlan took a very cool and melodic solo to give the music a good start. Mary’s voice was angelic and romantic in “Double Rainbow” while she and her band took us to sunny Brazil, singing about one of the world’s beauties. This tune even had a fine Stan Getz-influenced sax solo contributed by the great Kelly Jefferson. From the get-go, Mary’s voice was full of life and charm, making the music very welcoming to the listener.
In celebration of the CD release, Mary invited three special guests to share the stage with her, adding their special touch to the CD Release celebration. First, there was the violinist Drew Jurecka who brought a classy, European gypsy-tinge to songs like “I Wish You Love” and “La Vie En Rose.” Smooth jazz crooner John Alcorn joins the fun with Mary for a romantic take on the standard “How About You,” sounding like a perfectly matched couple roaming around the streets of New York. Last but not least, Mary invites her daughter and fine jazz singer Natalie Panacci to swing through the standard “Almost Like Being in Love,” and take us to the Brazilian beaches in the classic “The Girl From Ipanema.” Natalie’s vocals showcase a huge jazz sensibility, and she is creative with her scat singing and melodic duets with her mother.
Aside from the familiar tunes she did in the evening, Mary made room for selecting repertoire that was fresh, adaptable, and not often heard in the jazz context. “Love Dance” serves as a beautiful love ballad; it is well arranged and performed by Mary with her vocal delivery, and the band backed her up with sensitivity and support. The Italian/French song “Love is Stronger Far Then We” showcased the splendor of Italy through Jurecka’s violin playing, and the pleasant surprise of Anthony bringing out his accordion to add an old-school Italian touch to the piece. The title track “Her Perfume” is a driving blues number that opens in 5/4 and then swings in 4/4, allowing Mary to show off her sassy soulful side to go along with a romantic evening.
The Panaccis have put together a winning formula that celebrates love and beauty from various aspects of the world. Mary’s vocals are so inviting and endearing that she made the audience want to be a part of her family, and her backup band for the night knew how to both let go and hold back at the appropriate times to make the music more effective. The concert was an effective, successful way to celebrate a momentous artistic achievement from beginning to end.
2012 marked the 100th birthday of Toronto-born jazz legend Gil Evans. The composer, arranger, and bandleader is best remembered for his collaborative works with Miles Davis on the classic recordings Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. Apart from a few recordings he made as bandleader (think Out of the Cool from 1960), he has contributed a wealth of musical arrangements that weren’t discovered until recently.
To honour the rich musical legacy Evans left behind, young arranger, conductor, and bandleader Ryan Truesdell formed a big band consisting of top-drawer New York musicians to perform classics and hidden gems from Evans’ catalogue. These arrangements were played in the city of Evans’ birth at Koerner Hall, bringing an enhanced, fuller sound to the classic arrangements.
The night opened with a newly discovered arrangement of the Cole Porter classic “Just One Of Those Things,” which showcased the colorful textures and the spirited swing of the bebop and cool eras of jazz. Another highlight was the Grammy-winning arrangement of “How About You,” which uses Gil’s colourful choices and sense of swing to take the listener to the fun and exciting atmosphere of being in New York.
Other highlights were when Truesdell and his big band took on the classics “Stratusphunk” and “Sister Sadie” from Out of the Cool, and “Time of the Barracudas” from The Individualism of Gil Evans. The feel and groove of these tunes was replicated to the point of bringing the listener back to the actual recording of the tunes, and the solo passages were executed flawlessly and well “in the pocket.”
The vocal numbers, handled by vocalist Wendy Giles, brought the music into a classic era where it was all about the lyrics and true musicianship by all members of the band. The first number, “So Do Can,” highlights the dance band era of Evans when he was arranging for Claude Thornhill. Wendy’s vocals swung and there is a sense of classiness and maturity in her delivery. The maturity carries over to the ballad number “Hang Out the Stars In Indiana,” where the voice brings a sense of romance and the orchestration adds lushness to the performance. For the encore, Wendy’s voice on the bossa nova piece “Look To the Rainbow” brings an angelic touch to the performance, and the orchestral arrangement is very romantic and adds to the poetic quality of the song.
From what was witnessed at Koerner Hall that Saturday evening, Truesdell’s mission of keeping the Gil Evans legacy alive is being fulfilled through his big band, his recordings, and through discoveries of material we haven’t heard before. Thanks to people like Truesdell, jazz fans old and new can appreciate the quality and body of work Gil Evans left behind, and ensure his music lives on for generations to come.
Official Ryan Truesdell Website: ryantruesdell.com/gilevansproject
What do you do when you are in your 20th year since your debut album was released and you are planning some shows to celebrate the release of your new album? Obviously you choose three small Toronto diners on three consecutive days (at least that was the original intention) to play songs for the lucky souls who were able to squeeze their way into the tight venues. The show at Lady Marmalade, an independently owned popular brunch spot in Toronto’s east end, marked the second of the three shows. The first performance, the only one to feature a full backing band, was at Caplansky's Deli on March 24. Two of the three shows, including this one at Lady Marmalade, had to be postponed a week due to Hayden coming down with the flu. Early on in the set he thanked the crowd for their understanding and playfully wondered how he’d made it through the set at Caplansky’s.
As the crowd, which had been waiting patiently outside the front doors, entered the diner, they could see Hayden being interviewed by a CBC correspondent. Upon entering, each person was given a “song menu” that included a sample of songs covering all eight full-length studio albums, including the currently released “Hey Love,” and the 1996 EP Moving Careful. Patrons were asked to “place their order” for songs off the menu, to which Hayden would align his set list according to their requests. It was a creative gesture that fit the theme of “Hayden’s Diner” very nicely. How many requests actually made it to the overall set list is not known for sure, but this is what was played:
“Don’t Get Down”
“Middle of July”
“Between Us to Hold”
“Home by Saturday”
“I’m to Blame”
“Wicked Game” (Chris Isaac cover)
“All in One Move”
“Bad As They Seem”
“No Happy Birthday”
It was a relatively short set compared to an average Hayden show, but that was by design based on the nature of the event. The “reliably real” (to quote Maggie Wrobel of the Globe and Mail) Hayden was in good form and good spirits throughout the set. He revealed that his decision to perform these three shows, which have come to be known as “Hayden’s Diner Series,” was born out of a desire to do something different, to honour the independently owned eateries in the city, and to draw connections with a number of songs in his catalogue that involve eating (like in the last line of “Wide Eyes”). Before playing “I’m to Blame,” Hayden revealed it was one of the first songs he had ever written, and it was composed on his parents’ piano. He prefaced “Woody” by announcing that his beloved cat (who is the song’s namesake) had died recently. This segued into a brief story of his other cat, Movie, who has trouble understanding that the front and back door of his house both enter the same dwelling. Movie may have been cuter than Woody, but was not as sharp. The contrast in tone, from his upbeat banter between songs to the somber songs themselves, was not lost on the crowd, who had all, no doubt, seen Hayden’s live show on more than one occasion. Between the often soberly thoughtful songs he delivered, there was a sense of humour in his banter that filled the breaks. It was almost like he was offering a spoonful of sugar before giving you your medicine.
The preamble to “Troubled Times” revealed the song was originally composed in a stripped -down acoustic manner, but he decided to go “disco” for the album track, to “try to make a hit.” The song’s title turned out to be foreshadowing the stumbles Hayden had in recalling the lyrics while performing it; but his charm and poise stilled any uncharitable feelings that may have crept into the fans’ minds.
The final song of the set, “No Happy Birthday,” was one from his latest release. Hayden told the audience that this song is about his daughter who was born with a chromosome deletion causing developmental disabilities, including the inability to communicate verbally. The lyrics of the song reveal a sad but beautifully crafted tribute. Hayden attested that the song is perhaps not as sad as it may appear on the surface; however, he seemed to be slightly choked up while performing it. For those watching, it was an opportunity to witness yet another layer peeled away from the often private and protected core of a true artist.
– Mark Paterson
Official Hayden Website: wasteyourdaysaway.com
If you were to judge the level or “size” of a performance based on the size of the outside of the venue, you would be sadly misguided. It would be a huge underestimation, as it would have been with Limblifter's performance at This Ain't Hollywood on March 26 in Hamilton. Walking into the quaint little venue with the friendly staff, you would never guess you were about to be treated to such a huge show. It was one of only six concert dates on their current tour to promote their upcoming release, Pacific Milk. It is their fourth new album in eleven years, not including the vinyl release of their self-titled debut album in 2012. Pacific Milk will be released on April 7.
The term “supergroup” is being thrown around a lot lately, with musicians forming other bands by collaborating between albums with musicians from other successful bands. Frontman Ryan Dahle, in fact, is a member of Canadian supergroup Mounties, along with Hawksley Workman, Steve Bays (Hot Hot Heat), and Parker Bossley (Gay Nineties). The current lineup of Limblifter is a supergroup in a sense, drawing from an impressive mix of talent. Dahle is joined by longtime Limblifter bassist Megan Bradfield (West Coast Symphony, the VSO, A.C. Newman, the Salteens, Ryan Dahle solo band), keyboard/guitarist Gregory Macdonald (Sloan, Thomas D'Arcy), and new drummer Eric Breitenbach (Drugzndreamz, char2d2).
After opening sets by Detroit's Pony Show and Hamilton's Customaries (formerly Old Lady), and a brief equipment setup, Limblifter quietly took their place onstage. By then, the audience was more than ready. The band kicked off their set with “Hotel Knife,” the first of ten songs they would play from Pacific Milk, along with another 10 from their first three albums.
Aside from tech difficulties with the drum mike stand, and a drum change about halfway through the show (I pity the poor drums at the mercy of Breitenbach's sticks! Wow!!!), the night went off without a hitch. The band was tight and the audience loved it. Dahle was quick to set up a personal connection with the audience, sharing his origin of Regina, another steel town. He bantered with the audience and other band members between songs, and the fans lapped it up. Kickass drummer Breitenbach hammed it up for the cameras, sticking his tongue out and shaking his head quickly from side to side to pose for a shot, without missing a single beat. Bradfield and MacDonald were equally as personable. There was clearly a mix in the audience that night, from newcomers to the band, right up to seasoned hardcore fans who shouted out song requests and sang along word for word with the band.
When Limblifter finally called it a night and the house lights were lit, the audience was left with the sense of having just watched their friends' band jam out in their basement – but with infinitely more skill, and a sublimely written setlist. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 11 years to hear from Limblifter again. Though the last thing the music world needs is to pull Dahle away from Mounties, Limblifter is much too good to be put to rest yet.
“Cast a Net”
“Wake Up To The Sun” (Bellaclava)
“Key Of Karavana”
“Mood Of Mechanics”
“Under The Riot”
“Screwed It Up” (Limblifter)
“Count To 9” (Bellaclava)
“Ariel Vs Lotus” (Bellaclava)
“Perfect Day To Disappear” (In/Out)
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)
On what would be the last legs of a 10-day tour, a modern jazz quintet “Gray Matter” made a two-day stop in Toronto to perform their genre-bending, forward-thinking jazz for a very enthusiastic audience. What is even more special is that throughout this tour they are promoting a brand new CD of original compositions that is a potpourri of funk, hip hop, and modern jazz that gives the band a unique identity of its own.
The “Gray” in this band is named after drummer Derek Gray and bassist Justin Gray, brothers and fine musicians who compose, perform, and provide rhythmic support for the ensemble. Rounding out the quintet is pianist Todd Pentney, Vancouver saxophonist Eli Bennett and New York-based trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. Through this potent lineup, they really cooked up some engaging music that points to the future of jazz and beyond while staying grounded in the fundamentals of groove, rhythm, and improvisation.
The first set opened with a medley of songs, “Footprints” and “Today is the Day.” “Footprints” is an intriguing number that shifts between 4/4 and 7/4 time while keeping a steady funky beat throughout the piece. Pentney in this opening melody shows his funky and groovy side in his solo passage on the electronic Hammond B3 organ while the groove is supplied strongly by the Gray brothers during the solo passage. Jensen’s solo on the trumpet brings an energy that echoes the later works of Freddie Hubbard at times. After Pentney’s moving piano interlude, the ensemble breaks into “Today is the Day” which slows down in pace but picks up in intensity and groove when Bennett solos to the point of achieving “sheets of sound.”
“One By One” delves into the ambient/trance vibe through Derek’s rhythmic setup on the drums, leading into Justin’s solo that has a horn-like sensibility applied to the electric bass. Bennett’s saxophone playing becomes more intense and electrifying, in lieu of the intense groove applied through Derek’s drums, Justin’s bass, and pentney’s accompaniment on the electric organ.
On a somber note, there were two compositions in the set that were dedicated to the memory of beloved Canadian politician Jack Layton, both written by Derek along with lyrics by special guest singer Jillian Harris. In the first piece “For J.L.,” the rhythm section provides a free-flowing introduction that is dreamlike, futuristic, and heavenly at the same time. The heavenly motif is applied throughout by Jillian’s vocal, which is angelic, soothing and peaceful while celebrating the life of a respected Canadian. Pentney’s piano solo is very moving that breathes life and hope into the memorable piece. On “Eulogy,” the piece opens with a sample of the sermon given at Jack Layton’s funeral by the Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes (senior pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto). After the sample, Jillian enters the song with her emotionally charged and poetic lyrics. Throughout the performance there was a gospel hymn quality that made you feel at church, while taking the time to remember and celebrate a man who impacted the lives of many. To make it extra special, Jack Layton’s widow Olivia Chow and the Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes were in attendance on the opening night of the Toronto leg of the tour to witness these wonderful creations in person.
To cap off the set, the composition “Wake Up” started off with a energetic, rhythmic, and swinging solo by Derek, before shifting into Latin and bebop figures by the band in its opening passages. Jensen’s trumpet solo becomes highly energetic and soars mightily through the changes, and Bennett’s saxophone solo navigates the shifts effectively from Latin rhythms into straight-ahead bebop. Before closing the number on an energetic note, there is a cool unison passage by the horn players before taking it to a close.
Gray Matter is a cutting edge band to look out for in the months and years to come. Through their incorporation of funk, hip-hop, electronica rhythms and jazz, it is bound to win new audiences with its collective sounds, rhythms and compositions.
Official Gray Matter Website: graymattermusic.ca
While the freezing winter winds chilled everyone to the bone, Hundred Waters heated things up with their haunting, vibrant, and melodic performance at Lee’s Palace. The setlist consisted of songs new and old, with hits like “Innocent” and “Murmurs.” The pit filled in slowly at first, but come time for the band to perform, there wasn’t a lot of room to move. One or two hundred people filled the room. Fans from all sorts of walks of life were there – an Irish man who lived on 10 acres of land as a child, three women – one of whom had a shrill voice and would loudly gossip about friends, a couple hiding up in the back corner who didn’t talk much to each other.
Opening act Suno Deco came onstage, removed his shoes, and gave a short and humble introduction of himself and commented on how tough Torontonians are during winter. He performed with as much energy as a one-man band could, belting out his songs with all his might, swaying and bobbing his head, limited as to how far he could go while singing and playing guitar and the keyboard. Using his bare feet, he recorded several drum beats and guitar riffs before playing them back and performed his songs while playing the keyboard, giving the audience a taste of what to expect before actually playing.
After the 10-minute delay, Hundred Waters came on stage, opening with “Out Alee.” The crowd cheered as the band performed with energy from all four members. The Los Angeles band was on point with their performance, never missing a beat, and was better than expected – they sounded much better live than on their album.
Every now and then between songs, vocalist Nicole Miglis softly thanked the crowd before sipping water. She danced to songs through stiff movements in time to the drum or bass beats, mostly by bending her knees and walking around the stage. Keyboardist and bassist Trayer Tryon bobbed up and down while playing, but moved around the stage a bit while on bass. Paul Giese, guitarist and keyboardist, didn’t move other than the bobbing despite his instruments. It’s unusual, but it worked.
Unlike other major bands, Miglis and the other members don’t interact with the crowd through prompting to sing along or participate in some way. It’s as if they’re just recording another song in the studio, which may have been why the audience was a little more stiff than others.
The closing of the concert with the upbeat song “Animals” was a great touch to the concert by ending it off with a bang, especially since Miglis moved around a bit more.
1. Out Alee
8. Show Me Love
10. Down from the Rafters
Sweaty bodies and by a barrage of death metal ripping through the venue's PA system greeted fans upon setting foot into the jam-packed Phoenix Concert Theatre on the evening of Feb. 24, 2015.
Aeon was playing at approximately 220bmp with more double bass drum hits than you could fit into the US financial defect. Headbanging, elbows-to-the-face, ear-crushing music and flying hair was the order of the night, and everyone loved it. Aeon looked and sounded like they spend 10 hours a day at the death metal gym –they never missed a note in their blisteringly fast setlist and they kept the joint shredding in preparation of the mammoth acts to follow.
Behemoth's setup was impressive. Between acts the roadies brought out stage props like satanic wrought iron mic stands with pentacles and pentagrams on them, and at centre stage there was a demonic-looking candle holder with three ceremonial candles that burned for the whole set. Lead singer Adam Darski is ALL BUSINESS when it comes to the stage show. With white face paint and an unsettling hoodie covering half of his head, he gave out an aura of evil while sounding like Satan himself. Behemoth seamlessly ripped through each of their songs from various albums over their 20-year career; the band was in top form and each song sounded as tight as their recordings. For the last song, the band changed outfits and wore horned cloaks and played slow doomy music, leaving the crowd wondering if they would forever be possessed by the demon that is Behemoth.
The bulk of the crowd came down to this show for Cannibal Corpse and this was obvious during their setup; no one in the crowd could move as everyone stared intently at the stage while the roadies set everything up. There was a full drum kit change, a HUGE backdrop with the band's logo on it and MAJOR anticipation for this year's heaviest band and craziest mosh pit. During the band's set, someone threw a can of beer on the stage and lead singer George "Corpsegrinder” Fisher picked it up after the song and said. "Whoever threw this up on the stage is lucky I didn't see your face, because if I did, I'd come down there and RIP YOUR FUCKING FACE OFF in front of your girlfriend!" It was truly awesome and the crowd went insane! The songs “Kill or Become,” “Addicted to Vaginal Skin,” and “Hammer Smashed Face” were the highlights of the set. The place went absolutely ape-shit during these tunes; it’s a wonder people didn’t end up exiting on a stretcher. During “Hammer Smashed Face,” Corpsegrinder told the crowd that the mosh pit must take over the entire club, at which point it expanded to about four times its original size. It was pure madness. This concert was one for the Toronto metal history books; I'll be at the next one for sure.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Despite freezing rain and horrible driving conditions, a handful of people had found their way to Hamilton Place, and were standing around waiting in eager anticipation. Quietly and unassumingly, Operators made their way onto the stage. With the volume set to 11, they dived in headfirst – and the audience loved it!
Operators is the latest musical incarnation of Dan Boeckner. Wolf Parade, Atlas Strategic, Handsome Furs, and Divine Fits are former and current projects of the prolific rocker. Accompanied by Divine Fits' drummer Sam Brown, Devojka on synths, and a touring bass player, the band broke the ice with a rousing version of “Ancients.” The bouncing synth beats, contrastingly airy drumming, and booming bass were the perfect backdrop for Boeckner's keyboards and vocals. The band had the audience dancing right out of the starting gate.
Devojka plays the synths live, with the precision and frenetic energy of a pilot at the helm of a 747. Nothing is prerecorded and there is not a laptop to be found. Brown is a phenomenal drummer – his style is eclectic but somehow low-key, avoiding booming bass drums in favour of masterful work on cymbals, high tom-toms and the snare drum. Boeckner is certainly comfortable as front man, pushing his vocals to the limit and bouncing back and forth between keyboards and electric guitar.
As the standing-room-only hall filled, the band followed up with “Start Again,” “Shape,” “True,” and ended with “Cold Light.” There was nothing cold about their performance that night, and the audience was heated up and raring to go by the time the band was done with them. The audience members not familiar with Operators certainly left with the sense that this is a band to be recognized.
After a short break, the New Pornographers walked swiftly onto the stage and dived right into their first number -- the title track of their new album Brill Bruisers. The band has managed to create a “wall of sound” that rivals that of ‘60s phenomenon Phil Spector's. They opened the show with a bang, leaving the audience feeling like they’d run into said wall.
From the get-go it was clear that Carl (A.C.) Newman (solo performer, also from Superconductor and Zumpano), who was on vocals and guitars, was at the helm. The band also comprised of Dan Bejar (Destroyer, Swan Lake, Hello, Blue Roses), Kathryn Calder (solo, Immaculate Machine), Todd Fancey (Limblifter) on lead guitar, Blaine Thurier on keyboards, John Collins (The Evaporators, Destroyer) on bass, Lindsay Hames (The Ettes) on acoustic guitar, and Joe Seiders on drums.
With their complex, sophisticated vocals and intricate harmonies, Newman, Bejar, and Calder took turns leading vocals, and shared the spotlight on several numbers. Bejar would walk on and off the stage to perform his numbers, hanging up his microphone and guitar before exiting. It was a phenomenal performance by the band, despite Neko Case’s noticeable absence.
The band moved seamlessly from song to song, with Newman sometimes exchanging light banter with the appreciative audience. They were treated to selections from each of their six albums, with their most recent, Brill Bruisers, being performed almost in its entirety. The New Pornographers is clearly a well-oiled machine, and that night they were at peak performance.
The audience had braved the elements and driving conditions and was ready for a rousing performance. No one was disappointed. It was a phenomenal hour and a half, and the band willingly returned for a three-number encore. It was a great evening, one that will not soon be forgotten.
Myriad Harbour (Challengers)
War On East Coast
Use It (Twin Cinema)
Born With A Sound
Another Drug Deal Of The Heart
Testament To Youth In Verse (Electric Version)
All The Old Showstoppers (Challengers)
Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk (Together)
Silver Jenny Dollar (Together)
Champions Of Red Wine
Born With A Sound
Fast Romantics (Fast Romantics)
Ballad Of A Comeback Kid (Electric Version)
Sing Me Spanish Techno (Twin Cinema)
The Bleeding Heart Show (Twin Cinema)
– Trish Melanson Hill (Twitter @spydrgyrl)
There are some things that are worth the wait. Fans patiently waiting for the the release of Absolutely Free’s debut album were rewarded last October and last Friday they got to listen to it live. That lapse in time perhaps helped to build the excitement that was palpable in the air at their sold out launch show at Geary Lane.
Located off the beaten track, in an industrial area near Dufferin and Dupont, the almost warehouse-like Geary Lane is the ideal venue for a band known for playing eclectic locations.
Inside, the studio that has been used for recording and artistic events looks the part: at the back there are couches to lounge on, the air is replete with the cloying scent of patchouli, and there is a bar stocked with drinks. Because it is an Absolutely Free show, the cocktails are naturally named after Absolutely Free songs, like Spiral Jet Tea and Beered Lens (named after songs Spiral Jetty and Burred Lens, from their latest work).
Headlining the show is U.S. Girls, aka Megan Remy, whose haunting crooner-style vocals and catchy dub reggae-ish beats warms up the crowd. Her vocals are reminiscent of Lana Del Rey and Beth Gibbons, and her presence is laced with a dark edge that is both seductive and smart. At the end of her relatively short but sweet set she introduces the band with a deadpan: “Absolutely Free are on next. I hear they are in it for the money.”
If you know Absolutely Free, you get the joke. Even if you don’t, its clear their motivations are artistic by nature. Behind the stage a white wall projects their album cover, a painting of a ladder and a bouquet (designed by singer Matt King, who also doubles as an artist.) As the show starts, psychedelic geometric patterns and live video of the band are also projected onto the white wall. It is quite a sight to behold, but not surprising, given that these guys usually go all out at their shows.
They kick off the show with the first song on their new record, Window of Time, which featured an extended coda with a drum beat that is not on the album, and is therefore a thrill to witness live. Drummer Moshe Rozenberg is a whiz kid with drumsticks and a wonder to watch as he flails his drumsticks like they were attached to his arms.
He stays on drums while they play their older single “On the Beach,” and then the newer “Beneath the Air” and “My Dim Age” from the new album.
On the cosmic “Earth II” they shuffle their duties – Matt goes on percussion while Moshe plays the synth.
One concertgoer declares the band “is sick,” articulating what most in the crowd were feeling, as they shake and nod in time with the steady tide of undulating beats.
When they come back from the break, they are clutching their Absolutely-Free-themed drinks to play the beautifully layered ‘Burred Lens.’
Then, another oldie: “Clothed Woman Sitting,” followed by two other songs from their latest. “Striped Light” got the crowd buzzing, and finally they showcased “Spiral Jetty,” the epic closing song that featured three exciting musical guests: producer Mike Haliechuk of Fucked Up, Joseph Shabason of bands Diana and Destroyer, and sound engineer Marcel Ramagnano, who also helped with the recording on the Absolutely Free album.
A climactic ending to a long-awaited show that was inspired and got most of the crowd dancing, despite the venue being near to capacity. Next time, they may need a bigger venue.
– Andrea Pare
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 )
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
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
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.
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.
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)