Posts Tagged ‘ Toronto

Photo: EMA @ the Garrison, Toronto 03/13/2012

Photo: Nü Sensae @ the Garrison, Toronto 03/13/2012

Photo: Eamon McGrath @ the Bovine, Toronto 02/18/2012

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

This review originally appeared at 

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”

Record Review: The Paint Movement – “The Paint Movement”

This review originally appeared at

It would be easy (and not all that inaccurate) to dub this Toronto, ON crew Broken Social Scene-lite. The band’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, with hushed boy-girl vocals, makes it difficult to distinguish the crew from their heavyweight Toronto colleagues. Of course, enlisting Dave Newfeld (best known for his work on the Scenesters’ first two records) to produce doesn’t exactly help squash the comparison.

But that discounts the sophisticated level of songwriting on display. The Paint Movement’s songs are lean jams held together by some soaring melodies and subtly brilliant saxophone work. But credit Newfeld with bringing these tracks to life; his clean production cuts through the busy noise of the band’s six instrumentalists, bringing out the inherent hooks of each track.

Though not the most original group going, this debut proves that the Paint Movement certainly have the potential to be among the most thrilling.

“Young Lights”

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

This review originally appeared at

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

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.

Download Laura Stevenson and the Cans’ “Sit Resist”

Laura Stevenson and the Cans join the most excellent Lemuria on a growing list of indie rock leaning bands putting out records on punk and hardcore labels. Sit Resist, their second disc is out now on Don Giovani Records but is availalbe as a free download all month via their Souncloud (see below). The band will be swinging through Toronto this weekend – you can check them out at the El Mo May 7 with Fake Problems and Into It, Over It.

Laura Stevenson & the Cans “Sit Resist” by Riot Act

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: !!! @ Lee’s Palace, Toronto 09/26/2010

This review originally appeared at

I bet Nic Offer gets laid a lot.

The dude spends a lot of time shaking his ass and crotch in front of crowds without a hint of self-consciousness as frontman for Brooklyn, N.Y. rumpshakers !!!. That confidence has got to go far with the sweat-covered fans at the band’s shows. And it’s how this septet built the reputation that eventually brought them to prominence along with a host of other so-called “dance-punk” acts.

But these guys always had more in common with bands like DNA or Liquid Liquid from New York’s early ’80s downtown arts scene than P.I.L. or Gang Of Four. And that’s probably why, despite some patchy albums, we continue to be drawn to the band.

Offer had the crowd in the palm of his hands from the moment !!! stepped on the modest Lee’s Palace stage and jumped into “AM/FM.” He caused involuntary butt-shaking for the entirety of the band’s 90-minute set. Offer made excellent use of the venue’s strange stage out-croppings and bar railings, shimmying his way across every inch of them.

But beyond Offer’s non-stop antics — humping the P.A., bum-rushing the crowd, making out with audience members — the !!! live experience proved the heart and soul of the band rest in the hands of guitarist Tyler Pope. While the band’s rhythm section held down the groove, it was Pope who remained constantly busy, noodling away on his guitar, shaping the band’s songs into the individual beasts that they were.

The addition of singer Shannon Funchess, who helps ease the gap left by former co-frontman John Pugh, added a nice grounding foil for Offer, too. The group’s best tracks, like “Heart Of Hearts,” which they closed their set with, saw the two trading verses the maximum effect.

!!!’s set leaned heavy on their most recent album Strange Weather, Isn’t It?. Selections like “The Most Certain Sure” and “Steady As The Sidewalk Cracks” went down well with the packed and enthusiastic crowd. Its more streamlined sound also worked well on stage as the band were able to abandon the more lengthy jams that typified earlier incarnations.

And even if you weren’t up to speed with the album, Offer’s non-stop movement and enthusiasm was enough to win over even the most stand-offish personalities. Still, it was old favourites like “Must Be The Moon” and “Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard (A True Story)” that had everyone singing along.

While !!! have endured a great deal of turmoil since forming back in the mid-’90s (drummer Jerry Fuchs died in an elevator accident last fall) their boundless energy remains, ensuring anyone who gets within earshot of their music will be shaking their ass for hours to come.

“Heart of Hearts”