Archive for the ‘ Live Review ’ Category

Live Review: EMA w/ Nü Sensae, the Garrison, Toronto 03/13/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Erika M. Anderson’s emergence as a solo artist was both surprising and quick; her work with doomy folk group Gowns never really hinted at the highly intimate creative impulses the singer was concealing. Yet with a host of year-end accolades for her full-length debut proper, Anderson’s live appearances now come shackled with some pretty lofty ambitions.

Opening act Nü Sensae from Vancouver seemed a tip of the hat to Anderson’s noisier tendencies while testing the patience of those who’ve fallen for her more intimate moments. The three-piece carried themselves with an unassuming manner, but were blisteringly loud once they got going. One of the leading lights in Vancouver’s DIY punk scene, Nü Sensae’s records have always felt a tad thrown together, as if they were making things up as they went along. Live, though, the group are a razor-sharp force to be reckoned with.

After briefly taking the stage to set up her gear while playfully singing along to Beyoncé, Anderson disappeared only to reappear to the droning sounds of her three-piece backing band, who deftly recreated (or reinterpreted) selections from Past Life Martyred Saints. She came across as both playful and confident, and her enthusiasm clearly rubbed off on the packed venue.

Framed by a collection of coloured LED lanterns crafted and triggered by multi-instrumentalist Leif Shackelford, the band, taking cues from Anderson, delivered stellar stabs at “The Grey Ship” and “Anteroom.” By the time they reached pulsing album highlight “Milkman,” Anderson jokingly complained about how hard it was to sing the song live, then asked the crowd, “Is it weird that I feel less dorky gasping like a dying animal than I do dancing onstage?”

Anderson went solo for “Cherylee,” a track from Gown’s last recordRed State, and recent anti-bullying song “Take One Two,” before her band returned for set stopper “Redstar” and finished with “California.” Visibly moved by the crowd’s reaction, she returned for two more songs, capping the night off with another Gowns track, “White Like Heaven.”

Unfazed by her growing profile, Anderson seems right at home sharing her most personal thoughts with an audience, and thanks to a crack group of backing musicians, she’s able to make that experience simultaneously intimate and larger than life.

Live Review: Daps Records Revue, Great Hall, Toronto 02/24/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Anyone wondering how Daps Records so quickly gathered international buzz around its burgeoning roster need only have witnessed this show. The label — run by Ian Chai, along with Hooded Fang’s Daniel Lee and April Aliermo — has rekindled Toronto’s DIY spirit, producing and releasing records from their friends and like-minded artists.

After L Con opened the night, former Spiral Beach members Maddy Wilde and Daniel Woodhead took the stage as Moon King. Woodhead opened their set, back turned to the crowd singing a Peter Gabriel-esque version of “Walk on By.” With Wilde on guitar and Woodhead playing a tom and snare drum while triggering beats and samples, they delivered a tight set of tracks off an upcoming album that matched the Jesus & Mary Chain’s swagger with the shimmering shoegaze of Lush, quickly finding a groove that Spiral Beach always lacked. Their energy and charisma was palpable, and the anthemic nature of so many of their songs made it very easy to imagine the duo playing much further up the bill soon.

Woodhead remained onstage for his brother Airick’s solo projectDoldrums, who quickly shot to indie notoriety through their split single with England’s Portishead. With Daniel on keyboards and a live drummer, they worked through the chopped and sampled grooves of Doldrums’ debut, Empire Sound. Recalling Primal Scream’s dubbiest moments tossed into a blender, Airick proved to be a formidable frontman, and their set, backed a pastiche of video images projected onto the stage, captured the groove and hedonistic spirit of acid house’s halcyon days.

Hooded Fang felt like the night’s de facto headliners; the longest running of the Daps roster, the band already have a pair of records under their belt. But a massive lineup shift (they’ve downsized from eight members to four) and an abandoning of their original glock rock sound in favour of surf-inspired garage has alienated some of their original fan base. Ignoring their debut, Album, the band played a tight set that on most other bills would have been a triumph. But the songs didn’t quite transcend the ’60s garage trappings and lacked the enthusiasm of the night’s earlier performances even if Hooded Fang’s trademark hooky songcraft remained.

After an extra long break, Phèdre marked their debut performance by literally emerging from the womb of a digital projection of Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life on their massive handmade screen. The trio unites Lee and Aliermo with Airick Woodhead in a sleazy and decadent take on electro pop. Throughout their quick set, they were flanked by an entourage of courtesans covered in gold who performed purposely stiff dance routines while similarly garbed performers threw feathers and gold-glitter-filled condoms into the audience. At times, the performance threatened to overshadow the music itself, but their final track “In Decay” proved that Phèdre are more than an excuse to wear gold lamé, as half the crowd joined the band onstage to close the night in a glitter-covered haze.

Phèdre – “In Decay”

Live Review: Eamon McGrath @ Bovine Sex Club, Toronto 02/18/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Playing exclusively new material is a ballsy move, even for the most established artists. So when Toronto-based musician Eamon McGrath announced he’d be playing his forthcoming album, Young Canadians, in its entirety, in order, it seemed to indicate that he was either extremely confident in the new songs or lacked basic business sense.

The ploy seemed to pay off, though, as the bar was packed by the time McGrath and his three-piece band took the stage around midnight. “This is Young Canadians,” he announced as they launched into album opener “Eternal Adolescence.” While McGrath could be seen flitting about the bar chatting with friends and supporters before the show, once at the mic, the 23-year-old maintained an incredible focus, his raspy vocals cutting through his overdriven guitars.

The record’s more upbeat numbers, such “Rabid Dog” and the title track, were unsurprising crowd pleasers. McGrath’s years in Edmonton’s punk underground reared their head as he leaped and thrashed around the stage. His backing band did a good job of toughening up the slower, more delicate compositions, the lap steel/keyboard player seated to McGrath’s left doing and excellent job delivering some of the album’s more subtle textures.

“Auditorium,” a haunting paean to the concept of punk, proved to be the evening’s highlight before the band finished their set with album closer “Saskatoon, SK.” McGrath and co. started to pack up but were quickly coaxed backed to their instruments for a three-song encore that included covers of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and “Fuckin’ Up,” and ended abruptly when the drummer hopped over his kit to tackle McGrath to the stage floor.

The night proved that McGrath has the rare combination of both talent and ambition with a stellar album in the can, and the driven personality to deliver it to the masses. When Young Canadians drops at the end of next month, it’s hard to imagine the singer not graduating to larger venues as his star rises on the Canadian music scene. Best get in on the ground floor now — you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Live Review: the Darkness @ Phoenix Theatre, Toronto 02/01/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca 

Chuck Klosterman once wrote that the Darkness would never truly make it in North America. The U.S., he argued, would never embrace the band the way England had, because their music was neither completely serious nor fully tongue-in-cheek. To America, the Darkness we just too damn clever.
His prediction proved dead-on. Despite scoring a minor hit with “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” the Darkness never conquered stadiums here the way they did in Europe, but the band still managed to sell out their Toronto stop on their current reunion tour with a crowd that mixed both fans of their over-the-top image and indiscriminating hard rockers.

After blasting the room with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” the quartet hit the stage. Led by singer and sometimes guitarist Justin Hawkins, who apparently spent his time apart from the band growing some ill-conceived facial hair, they wasted no time whipping the crowd into a frenzy, knocking out “Black Shuck” and “Growing on Me” at a quick clip. Digging deep next withPermission to Land-era B-side “Best of Me,” it was clear the Darkness were keen to lean on that record’s massive success and eventually played all ten of the album’s tracks.

Hawkins’s vocals haven’t aged a day and the rest of the group (guitarist Dan Hawkins, drummer Ed Graham and bass player Frankie Poullain) laid down solid slabs of AC/DC-esque riffs. Though the Darkness lacked the edge they’d once had, the band worked their way through the set like seasoned pros, used to playing far bigger venues than this mid-sized club.

The band barely acknowledged their lacklustre sophomore record,One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back. And while the crowd welcomed both the title track and “Is it Just Me?” it was disappointing to not hear standouts “Dinner Lady Arms” and “Knockers,” a song about fumbling through what was once routine. At times, Hawkins looked as if he was doing just that, appearing a tad unsure what to do with himself onstage. But most of the time, he hit all the right notes, leading the crowd through vocal exercises like Freddie Mercury and even stepping off stage briefly to change into a jailbird-inspired unitard.

Perhaps inevitably, the Darkness have written new material; they played it and received a lukewarm reaction. New songs like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us” seemed to skip those clever double entendres that marked their best work and leaned on good-time rockisms (an album is apparently in the can and waiting to be titled and sequenced). It was clear that the crowd, while hardly hostile, was there for the old songs. Less expected was a surprising cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” which the band turned into the Randy Rhodes-era Ozzy rocker it was (apparently) always meant to be.

After delivering the goods with “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” the Darkness retired for a minute before retaking the stage for their encore. Hawkins emerged with a third costume change, this time sporting in a Bovine Sex Club tee, much to the delight of the fans, and finished the night with “Love on the Rock with No Ice.” While it’s unclear where the Darkness have to go from here — musical progression never really seemed like their M.O. — it was clear the band and their fans are glad to be back together.

“Nothing’s Going to Stop Us”

Live Review: Ryan Adams @ Wintergarden Theatre, Toronto ON 12/10/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Since going solo, Ryan Adams has been accused of many things — a lack of quality control, erratic live performances and general assholishness. But the Jacksonville, NC musician has written more great songs and played more good shows than bad ones. As for his famed temperamental nature, recent interviews and live performances suggest he’s finally ready to bury that part of his life for good.

Tourmate Jessica Lea Mayfield wandered on stage and delivered a demure “hey” before working through a handful of tracks with her acoustic guitar. On Mayfield’s records, a band usually backs the songwriter, bringing her country-soul tunes to life. But on their own, they become somewhat indistinguishable; coupled with a frustrating clicking sound that plagued the venue’s PA system throughout the night, the odds seemed stacked against the Ohio native. Still, Mayfield has a haunting voice, which saved the performance from being a complete washout.

After a long delay due to the buggy soundsystem — the headliner assured us it was not his fault “for once” — Adams took the sparse stage wearing a black Bathory tee (further evidence that last year’sOrion wasn’t meant as an ironic joke) and opened the night with “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” from his solo debut Heartbreaker, then delivered the title track from new album Ashes & Fire. Like that new, intimate record, which served as a much-needed reminder of why we all fell in love with Adams music in the first place, the night remained a quiet, solo-acoustic affair, with Adams cherry-picking tracks from throughout his long career, including a performance of Whiskeytown’s “16 Days.”

With two acoustic guitars, a piano and several mics as his only company on stage, Adams was extremely chatty, engaging the audience and weaving funny, longwinded non-sequiturs between each song. He even wrote one on the spot about how much Dracula likes to cook. Despite some ass-hat heckling from balcony, Adams remained in a light-hearted mood throughout the night, and more importantly self-deprecating, frequently mocking his own image and even making up a song about his Motörhead sweater (it’s not a T-shirt) in which he jokingly referred to himself as the “Glenn Danzig of alt-country.”

Beyond the between-song hijinks, Adams also delivered a stellar set of tunes, showcasing both the power and fragility of his voice and songs. Along with highlights from Ashes & Fire (“Dirty Rain,” “Lucky Now”) the audience was treated to turns at “Desire,” “Dear Chicago” and a beautiful piano-led version of “New York, New York.” He also further distanced his solo material from the work he did with the Cardinals by mostly ignoring their catalogue.

Adams finished his set with favourite “Come Pick Me Up” then returned for a three-song encore that began with a cover of Ratt’s “Round and Round,” describing the hair-metal anthem as “what Dracula’s ringtone would be if he had a cellphone.” Finally ending the two-hour set with “Why Do They Leave?” Adams slayed the public perception of himself as a temperamental jerk while refocusing everyone on his brilliant music.

“Lucky Now”

Live Review: the Lemonheads – Lee’s Palace, Toronto 10/17/2011

Coming hot on the heels of Evan Dando’s aborted attempt to perform It’s a Shame About Ray at New York’s Bowery Ballroom (the singer claims he was under the weather), expectations for this Lemonheads gig were tentative at best. Which Dando would we get? The inconsistent shell of a man that sunk his career in the second half of the ’90s? Or the still-got-it performer whose voice has aged incredibly well and played the same venue during NXNE in June?

Before taking the stage with his backing band (an unnamed drummer and bassist who looked like Jackson Browne), Dando made his way through the packed crowd with only a couple people even noticing the one-time teen heartthrob. After doing his own sound check, he let loose the opening riff to “Rockin Stroll.” Dressed in baggy cords and worn hoody, with his long greasy hair falling into his face, Dando was Gen X personified — or at least the version Reality Bites would have had us believe.

Making their way through Ray, Dando sounded pitch-perfect with the band sounding as raggedly brilliant as on the original record. Former bass player Juliana Hatfield’s backing vocals were missed, but the crowd did an admirable job on “Rudderless” and “My Drug Buddy.” Dando engaged the crowd rarely and looked somewhat hesitant in his playing, but the group knocked out one tune after the next.

Skipping their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” that was tacked on to the end of Ray by Atlantic Records, Dando ran through nine songs on his own. Looking far more comfortable now that the pressure to deliver was clearly over, he took requests from the audience (though he stipulated it had to be “one of our songs” to cries for their cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”) while playing material fromCome on Feel the Lemonheads and Car Button Cloth, such as “Outdoor Type” and “It’s About Time.”

Bringing the band back on stage, they continued this manic run through Dando’s catalogue; “Style,” “Big Gay Heart” and “Down About It” all made appearances to rapturous applause as the band and especially Dando loosened up a lot. In fact, this part of the show carried far more energy than the advertised performance ofRay, as if Dando felt put upon to perform the record, even though he’s been playing most of those songs on solo tours for the past half-decade.

After ending their main set with a muscular “Into Your Arms,” Dando once again took the stage for a final quartet of songs. The show ended anticlimactically as he sauntered off stage following “Ride with Me.” But the singer had clearly proven that he was still capable of moving an audience with his golden pipes and ramshackle guitar playing.

“It’s A Shame About Ray”

Live Review: Sonny & the Sunsets @ Sneaky Dee’s, Toronto 07/24/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Kelley Stoltz is often looked upon as the lynchpin in San Francisco’s current lo-fi rock renaissance, but who knew the dude was so damn funny? Setting aside his solo career to play drums in fellow Bay Area stalwarts Sonny and the Sunsets, Stoltz had his bandmates and the sparse crowd who gathered to watch them in stitches throughout the night, trading one-liners with Sonny Smith throughout the band’s 75-minute set.

Even openers the Sandwitches conceded that, when it came to stage banter, they were clearly outclassed. But the female trio delivered some excellent vocal harmonies on their tweed-up doo-wop tunes, but again, their stage presence (or lack thereof) somewhat muted their overall performance.

Sporting a short crop of hair, tight button-up shirt and a battered semi-hollow bodied guitar, Sonny Smith looked more like a ’50s blue-collar folk singer than the ’60s hippie his music sometimes suggests he is. Along with three-piece the Sunsets, Smith worked through a set composed mostly of songs off the band’s last two full-lengths Tomorrow Is Alright and Hit After Hit, belying Smith’s prolific songwriting over the last few years. Though the singer-guitarist did his best to not break a smile, Stoltz thwarted him at every turn, telling stories about being harassed by Texas cowboys as a young teen punk rocker or making Wolfman Jack impersonations. Not to be outdone, Smith mocked en vogue indie rockers Vampire Weekend by introducing one song as “an African tune straight outta Williamsburg,” before singing “Saw her walking across campus.”

When the band did get down to the business of playing, the results were spectacular. Live, Sunsets tracks are given an added visceral bump while Citay and the Dry Spells member Tahlia Harbour provided uplifting harmonies to Smith’s relatively small range of nasally vocals.

Though the bar was barely a third full, Sonny and the Sunsets had clearly impressed all in attendance; it’s rare to find a band whose live prowess is matched by their personality. As a band whose rep has been based almost entirely on word of mouth, Sonny and the Sunsets’ performance is the type that ensures repeated viewings and enthusiastic testimonials to friends.

“Planet of Women”

Live Review: JEFF the Brotherhood @ Wrongbar, Toronto 06/21/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Back in the ’90s, any band the major labels spat out seemed to get tagged as “the next Nirvana,” regardless if they sounded like the Seattle trio. Denials in the press were common, but most found the comparison tough to shake — just ask Bush or Silverchair.
Nashville duo JEFF the Brotherhood actually do sound like Nirvana, and they seemingly couldn’t care less. They even carry themselves with the same fuck-off indie swagger that Kurt and co. famously brought into the mainstream.

Openers White Fence and the Strange Boys did their best to win over the crowd with their individual takes on ’60s rock, but quite frankly, most of the efforts were forgotten once the brothers Orrall hit the stage. It was nice to see that the duo haven’t let their newly inked deal with Warner Bros. change their wardrobe, which resembled a one-stop shopping spree at Value Village.

The pair quickly established their presence, laying down some Sabbath-esque riffs. Guitarist Jake yelled into the mic while staring down the audience before launching into “Hey Friend.” This technically being the band’s album release party for their new disc We Are the Champions, JEFF the Brotherhood’s set leaned heavily on the new record and their previous breakthrough Heavy Days. Jake wandered into the crowd several times during the set without missing a note while the crowd cheered on, camera phones in tow. If the audience were unfamiliar with the new material, they certainly didn’t show it, as a mosh pit quickly opened up near the front of the stage and beer cans started flying.

By the show’s halfway mark, a pair dressed as blue and pink Easter bunnies had made their way into the fray, their heads quickly taken as trophies and tossed around in the crowd. Eventually one landed onstage, knocking Jake’s guitar cable loose. But as they did the entire rambunctious set, the brothers paid no mind to the screaming crowd; drummer Jamin didn’t miss a beat while Jake ditched the rabbit head and quickly plugged in.

Stone-faced throughout, JEFF the Brotherhood bid farewell with a slow and sloppy number before returning for one last tune. Whether their major label deal will bring chart success to the brothers remains to be seen, but it’s clearly done nothing to blunt their formidable live show on which their reputation is based.

“Bone Jam”

Live Review: Robyn @ Echo Beach, Toronto 06/03/2011

This review originally appeared at Chartattack.com

Robyn‘s made three Toronto stops in the last year, but Hogtown’s appetite for her seemingly knows no bounds.

As people crowded into the rather haphazard and makeshift “new” venue, Echo Beach, it was clear many had caught one of her previous appearances, while another large cloister of fans were just coming around to the Swedish chanteuse’s brand of Euro-disco pop music.

John O’Regan, better known as Diamond Rings, once again opened and it’s easy to see why: his own take on sentimental synth-pop and a penchant for ridiculously loud clothing (red leather jacket, matching Blue Jays cap and some very bagging trousers) put him perfectly in line with Robyn’s own aesthetic.

O’Regan performed on his own, and set failed to match the shimmering recorded power of last year’s Special Affections, though he did give it his best, stalking the stage like the seasoned performer that he is. But O’Reagan appeared to be at his most natural while playing guitar, which suggests his other more rock-leaning band, the rechristened Matters (formerly known as The D’Urbervilles), might ultimately win out in the struggle for O’Reagan’s comfort zone. But for now he appears to want to continue to ride the Diamond Rings wave.

Robyn hit the stage as the sun went down to the pulsing beats of “Fembot.” She was clad in garish tights and a bomber-jacket with “Konichiwa Records,” her label, emblazoned on the back, and quickly set the tone for the night by dancing up a storm on stage.

Her set was heavy on material from the Body Talk trilogy, and was very similar to her past appearances. But as great as songs like “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend” are, it’s clear it’s Robyn-the-performer that draws fans back again and again.

Though the set needed to be tightly scripted in order for her four-piece band (with two drummers) to keep the beat moving, nothing about Robyn’s performance felt affected, from her dance moves to her interactions with her band. Fierce looks quickly melted into bright smiles as she soaked in the love from the crowd. Her short set was augmented by two encores; the first included “Hang With Me” and “With Every Heart Beat” while the second ended with a slowed down version of ’90s hit “Show Me Love.”

It remains to be seen whether or not Robyn can carry the goodwill and dedication of her core fans further into the pop mainstream. But it’s clear from this night, that as a performer she’s ready for the big stages and bright lights that pop stardom brings.

“Dream On” with Christian Falk

Live Review: Neil Young @ Massey Hall, Toronto 05/10/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

As with everything Neil Young, the announcement of two shows at Toronto’s storied Massey Hall was coupled with a great deal of mystery. The concerts were set to be filmed by director Jonathan Demme as the finale to his trilogy of Young concert films. Heart of Gold captured the songwriter in all his country glory while Trunk Show showed Young’s hard-rocking and jammier side. So which Young would the fans get this time?

Unsurprisingly, Young’s ability to avoid being pinned down carried over to his song selection this night. Rather than choosing to be defined by his sonics, Young cashed in some of his post-Juno adoration for a set focused on the personal and introspective side of his weighty catalogue, leaning on a similar set list to the one he’s used on his recent solo tours.

Sauntering onstage alone, decked out in jeans, a black T-shirt, cream sports coat and matching hat, he appeared to take stock of the setup — a colourfully decorated grand piano, pump organ, battered-looking standup piano and wooden statue of an American Indian — before he took his seat. Lit by a pair of spotlights, his acoustic in hand, Young delivered “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” “Tell Me Why” and the CSNY classic “Helpless,” much to the delight of the packed audience.

But any thoughts that Young was seeking to recreate his famed 1971 acoustic performance at the same venue were quickly dashed. Young soon ditched his guitar for an acoustic-electric hybrid on the beautiful “You Never Call,” a song that was recorded for last year’s Le Noise but was axed from its final tracklisting, as well as a pair of tunes that did make the cut. Switching guitars again, Young ripped through passionate, overdriven versions of “Down by the River” and “Ohio.”

Young let his music do the talking for the majority of the set while fans cried out between song lulls or at any mention of Canada, Ontario, Toronto or hockey. He finally spoke as he sat down at the upright piano. “Here’s a song for all the little people — they’re too small to be here tonight,” he joked. “Mamma said ‘nope’ but Grandpa’s here.”

The main set ended with solo-electric versions of “Cortez the Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl.” Young briefly left the stage before returning for a feedback-drenched version of Le Noise‘s “Walk with Me.” How Demme eventually chooses to frame the evening remains to be seen, but the show itself showed that however varied Young’s songs are in instrumentation, they remain highly personal snapshots of time.