Posts Tagged ‘ Sound Academy

Live Review: Bright Eyes @ Sound Academy, Toronto 03/15/2011

This review originally appeared at

Even Connor Oberst’s greatest detractors have to give the singer some begrudging respect; so dedicated are Obert’s fans that he could milk his Bright Eyes project for years to come, happily playing the tortured messiah to his devoted followers.

Instead, Oberst has chosen to retire the band that made him famous and chase his muse elsewhere, as he goes on what’s supposedly one final run as Bright Eyes.

That left the converts to deplete the band’s T-shirts stock and simply scream along with every line Sunday night at Sound Academy. Oberst and his six-piece backing band responded in kind, digging deep into their formidable catalogue.

But even impeccable song selection couldn’t make-up for the venue’s notoriously atrocious sound that left “Firewall,” “Haile Selassie” and “Take It Easy (Love Nothing)” sounding like a pile of muddled bottom end. More stripped-down numbers faired better, but the poor sound blunted the subtlety that’s so integral to Bright Eyes’ music, causing it to lose much of the (melo)drama Oberst tried so hard to sell.

Oberst seems to have come to terms with his rock star status, unveiling an elaborate lighting rig and a stage set including a pair of white eggshell awnings.

He’s also come a long way as a frontman. He ditched his guitar at several points during the show and stalked the stage, much to the crowd’s delight. He even made fun of himself introducing one song by saying it “was made with artificial sweetener. You will get cancer and die.”

His band — which includes longtime collaborators Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott, as well as Laura Burhenn from openers the Mynahbirds — were on point all night, switching instruments and following Oberst’s cues (“False Advertising” was particularly well executed). It’s clear they trust and respect Oberst and vice versa.

Oberst ended the main set alone, playing “Lua” on his acoustic guitar to all the couples who began impromptu slow dances and make-out sessions — clearly this is the indie rock wedding tune of choice.

The group returned for a four-song encore that included “Bowl Of Oranges” and “Lover I Don’t Have To Love,” before ending with “One For You, One For Me.”

While it was far from a perfect show, you got the feeling most fans left feeling fairly satisfied. If this really was Bright Eyes’ last appearance in Toronto, it will neither tarnish not bolster their status as one of the past decade’s most influential bands. Only Oberst and whatever he does next can change that.

“Shell Games”

Live Review: Robyn @ Sound Academy, Toronto 01/26/2011

This review originally appeared at

Robyn’s self-directed reinvention finally seemed complete last year, when she unleashed her excellent Body Talk full-length. The album closed the book on her transformation from late ’90s teen-pop star into Euro-disco diva, embraced by indie-minded hipsters and, if her Toronto gigs are any indication, the gay community as a whole.

But as her star re-emerged on the pop-culture landscape, Robyn seemed to find herself right back where she started. Last fall, the Swede appeared on teen-drama phenom Gossip Girl, while she will be playing warm-up act to teen-pop sensation Katy Perry across North America this summer, playing some of the very same venues she turned her back on over a decade ago. So in reclaiming her image, has Robyn simply come full circle?

Her rescheduled performance at Toronto’s Sound Academy would suggest not. Drawing heavily on the dance-floor fillers that populate Body Talk, Robyn proceeded to throw down the gauntlet for all subsequent pop shows that role through town, swinging, dancing and twirling her way into the hearts of the sold-out audience who cheered her every move.

Robyn fills her songs with heartfelt emotion, giving her listeners an actual piece of herself as opposed to a manufactured version. Similarly, onstage Robyn gives a piece of herself to her audience and, in turn, feeds off their energy in a performance that is neither hindered by the shallowness of a singer like Perry or the choreographed and distracting spectacle of Lady Gaga.

Her exuberant personality won over even the most casual fans in attendance, as she had the entire bar dancing along to her three-piece band (her second drummer was mysteriously absent), who were decked out in white lab coats. Throughout the 90-minute set, the singer never wavered in her energy levels, stalking the stage with a determination that rivals Mick Jagger, grinding the air and generally defying physics with her flexibility and dance moves in a pair of impossibly huge platform shoes.

Whatever Robyn has in store for the future, it’s clear that she continues to occupy the driver’s seat of her own career. While she may continue to flirt with the mainstream she once abandoned, these dalliances are on her terms. If Robyn decides to move away from the fan base whose fervent adoration helped spread word of her resurrection, it will be of her own volition.

“Hang With Me”

Live Review: Scissor Sisters @ Sound Academy, Toronto 08/31/2010

This review originally appeared at

There was a moment there were things seemed like they were going to go off the rails for New York’s Scissor Sisters. All the love the quintet engendered from their campy debut was put in jeopardy with it’s sub-par Ta-Dah follow-up, which fully embraced the Elton John-ness of their hit “Take Your Mamma Out” while leaving behind the gender and genre-bending ways of “Tits On The Radio” and “Filthy Gorgeous.”

Night Work, the band’s recently released tribute to their hometown’s gay club culture in the ’80s, redeemed them. As such, their Tuesday night Toronto gig felt like a bit of a victory lap from a band happy to be back on top, creatively speaking at least.

Scissor Sisters are huge in Europe, but remain something of a cult act here in North America. But the relative anonymity on their home continent ensure their shows pack the wallop of a stadium gig with the intimacy of a club, a vibe that was abundantly apparent as they hit the stage backed by an additional keyboardist and two back-up singers.

Picking up where the Village People left off, “Night Work” kicked off the set followed by “Laura” from their debut. That set the tone and the pattern for the night, and the band alternated between new tracks and choice old cuts.

Singers Jake Shears — decked out in a stone-washed unitard later described as a “hillbilly version of The Warriors” — and Ana Matronic — sporting a gravity defying ‘do, were in fine form — played off each other with both rehearsed and unrehearsed between song banter. They even dedicating a song to CHARTattack’s very own Phil Villeneuve for his spirited dancing.

There wasn’t much time for chatter, though. Scissor Sisters had run through a marathon five tracks before even saying hello. No biggie. Their live show is one of the most well-oiled and inspired sights going; the musicians recreate the sounds of their records with ease, and Shears and Matronic can belt out a track like “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” (the only Ta-Dah track to rear it’s head on this night) without a hint of obligation.

Shears in particular seemed fired up, running the length of the stage back and forth the whole night, feeding off of the dancing audience’s adulation. Both he and Matronic took turns singing on their own (Shears “Skintight,” Matronic, “Skin This Cat”) but it was when they worked in tandem, like on “Running Out,” that they really shone.

After running through an hour-plus of songs the band left the stage for a break and costume change before returning for a three-song encore. Nightwork’s epic closer “Invisible Light” got sandwiched between the band’s disco reworking of “Comfortably Numb” and “Filthy Gorgeous.”

If more pop bands gave as much of themselves as the Scissor Sisters do in concert, then maybe the genre wouldn’t be such a dirty word.

“Fire With Fire”


Live Review: Hole @ Sound Academy 07/10/2010

This review originally appeared at

Say what you want about Courtney Love, but she is an attention magnet. From the minute the Hole front-woman stepped onto the stage Saturday night, cigarette dangling from her fingers, all eyes in Toronto’s Sound Academy were on her.

Despite years in the spotlight as a professional fuck-up, Love still means a lot to her fans, especially her female admirers, for whom Love (at least at one point) represented the pinnacle of riot grrrl feminism’s penetration into the mainstream.

Unfortunately, Love and her trio of hired guns masquerading as a reunited Hole were unable to re-create the sound and the fury that brought the band to prominence in the ’90s.

Love started with a few lines from “Pretty On The Inside/Clouds” before segueing into a brief version of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” (the first of four covers) then finally settling on new track “Skinny Little Bitch.”

“Miss World” and “Violet” received rapturous applause and sing-alongs. Tunes off the recently released Nobody’s Daughter went over well with the crowd, but the band were unable to elevate them above the plodding versions found on the album. A jazzed-up take on Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” faired better, as did the always fantastic “Reasons To Be Beautiful.”

The band stuck with the rougher material, tossing in “Plump” and “Asking For It” in place of the more shimmering “Awful” and “Boys On The Radio” that they’ve been playing throughout this current tour.

Love’s voice was in top form, despite her age (she just turned 46). She also appeared incredibly lucid on stage for someone famous for public meltdowns and tirades.

But that couldn’t hide the fact that the band really seemed to be phoning it in. They lacked both the ferociousness of the Live Through This-era and the technical ambition of Celebrity Skin. Guitarist Micko Larkin and bass-player Shawn Dailey are poor stand-ins for Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf Der Maur, who, despite being eclipsed by Love, were always strong personalities on stage. This current incarnation, meanwhile, performed Hole’s back catalogue with all the passion of a wedding band.

An all to brief set ended with “Doll Parts” before Hole returned for a four-song encore. The gig ended with Love and Larkin playing a sweet version of Big Star’s “Thirteen” before finishing the night with “Never Go Hungry.”

It was a pretty lackluster evening for a band whose legend has just grown since they last released a record 12 years ago. But that was secondary for all the fans who screamed for more even as the house lights came up; they were just happy to have their hero back.

Live Review: Phoenix & Holy Fuck 12/05/2009 @ Sound Academy, Toronto

Saturday night’s gig at Sound Academy offered one of the oddest musical pairings Toronto has seen for sometime.

Phoenix and Holy Fuck‘s fanbases do overlap, but Phoenix’s recent ascent into the North American mainstream would no doubt bring out a whole new segment of fans who had never heard of Holy Fuck. The question, then, was would fans of the French headliner’s smoothed over pop-rock accept naughty-named purveyors of lo-fi electronic rock?

By the time Holy Fuck hit the stage, the Sound Academy already looked as packed as it could get. The quartet set up in a tight circle with lead knob tweakers Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh facing one another amongst a mess of chords protruding from the array of keyboards and effects pedals.

A quick hello and the band were off, delivering a tight set of lo-fi dance instrumentals. The heart of their live show lies in the hands of bass player Matt McQuaid and drummer Matt Schulz; they held the band together while Walsh and Borcherdt created all manner of electronic noises.

Holy Fuck are a surprisingly energetic band considering their cerebral music, with both Walsh and Borcherdt leaping around the stage while still hitting their marks throughout the set. The warm, though somewhat cursory reception the crowd gave the band made it clear that while Holy Fuck’s set had gone over well, people made the trek down to the once-was-The Docks for one reason.

Amazingly, more people managed to make their way into the bar in between sets, adding to the anticipation for the night’s headliner. Phoenix emerged 15 minutes late to a recorded track that wouldn’t have been out of place at the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, before launching into “Lisztomania.” Frontman Thomas Mars got the crowd, which was already singing along, clapping as well.

The Parisian group focused heavily on their breakthrough, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The seven-minute epic “Love Like A Sunset” was unsurprisingly a set highlight. But they weren’t afraid to drop hits from their previous records Alphabetical and It’s Never Been Like That into the set.

Phoenix really came alive during older tracks like “Run Run Run” and “Napoleon Says.” Their ability to recreate Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix‘s slick sounds live — with the help of two ancillary musicians — is admirable, but the tracks came off as a little stale at times.

The night’s version of “Fences” was a particular letdown. But the older tunes showed a much rawer version of the band. It didn’t really make a difference to most in the audience, who sang along with almost every word and treated the sextet to rapturous rounds of applause after every song.

Phoenix retired for a brief respite after playing for over an hour before Mars and one of the band’s two guitarists returned to the stage for a stripped down version of “Everything Is Everything.” They finished the night with spritely hit “1901,” which the group stretched into an epic closer.

After working through the standard album length version of the track, Mars waded into the crowd, making his way halfway to the back of the venue, then standing up on the bar and leading the surging crowd through another round of the song’s “Falling, falling, falling” chorus. He then crowd surfed his way back to the stage where he invited the crowd to join him before the band finished the song.

It was a fitting end to a night where Phoenix more than proved themselves worthy of their newfound fame.

Live Review: Lily Allen @ Sound Academy, Toronto 04/22/09

5600054_lily_allen_gay2The live setting is a rough go for any artist, but it can be a career killer for pop stars whose work hinges on crystal clear hooks and vocals. Just ask Ashlee Simpson.

As a symbol for the online social networking generation, Lily Allen needs to do little more than live her life and tell the world about it. Seriously, she could never release another note of music and fame alone could carry her for years.

But as one of the few pop starlets who has chosen to actually support her music career with a full-blown tour, Allen proves she can put her money where her mouth is. The real question now is, can she pull it off?

A true mish-mash of fans were on hand to see on which side of the fence Allen would fall at her gig on Wednesday night. Hipsters, party girls and middle-aged yuppies all made the trip down to the Sound Academy. Most managed to catch at least part of openers Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head and were treated to a strange mix of Radio 4 meets the Jonas Brothers singing songs about beards and ponytails. As that description suggests, it wasn’t very good.

Allen hit the stage in prime form soon after with “Everyone’s At It,” and stalked around like a less magnetic M.I.A. in a black and white hoodie. The set was extremely heavy on tracks from her new It’s Not Me, It’s You, with Allen and her four-piece band playing only a trio of songs from her breakout album, Alright, Still. One of those songs, “Everything’s Just Wonderful,” was prefaced with a verse and chorus of “Oh My God” by fellow Brits Kaiser Chiefs.

Allen’s decision to go so deep on the new record worked against her. The sameness of the album’s tunes are saved by some savvy studio production, but they bled together live, which dragged down the entire set. Despite Allen having a surprisingly strong natural singing voice, a back-up singer or two would have helped make the choruses soar.

The night was saved by the one thing everyone can agree Allen has in spades: sass. Her between-song banter was top-notch, off-the-cuff and hilarious.

“If he can’t fuck right, then it’s over,” Allen quipped while introducing “Not Fair,” a song about a man who can’t get her off. In fact, the night’s lesser tracks seemed like obstacles in the way of her comedy act.

The set ended on a high note with the Bush-baitng “Fuck You” before Allen returned to sing “Smile” and audience favourite “The Fear.” Allen ended her set with a cover of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.”

While Allen didn’t exactly knock the socks off anyone at this show, her high points proved she’s a singer first and celebrity second. Now she just needs to weed the duds out of her set.

This review originally appeared at

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