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01 Feb 08

have you seen the ghost of wintersleep?

as a music snob/elitist/addict, it’s strange for me to be at a live show and not know the music as well as everyone around me. it’s like the first time i saw cake live, back in 2001 at massey hall. i was familiar with their latest album, but i was late to the cake game and everyone around me was singing along to a lot of songs i’d never heard before. the same sort of thing kind of happened to me last night at the wintersleep show at the phoenix. i’d seen wintersleep once before, at the wolfe island music fest a couple years ago, and was decidedly non-plussed – i guess i was always curious about how a band that clearly would’ve fit in with the grunge bands of the mid-90s seemed to be building such a following. anyway, their new album was good enough for me to give them another chance, but my lack of familiarity with their back catalogue left me in the dark for a good part of the show.

the show itself started out exceptionally strong – the first half was surprisingly fantastic. in fact, the first half of their set inspired me to write this blog entry, something i haven’t done after a show in over a year. i was prepared to rave about how amazing they were live, and how my mind has been changed after the last couple years of criticism. and then the second half came, and it was like another band took over – clearly they frontloaded their set list with new (read: “good”) songs, and once they had played such gems as weighty ghost, dead letter & the infinite yes and archaeologists, there was nowhere to go but down. the clear highlight of the second half, it must be said, was watching their frenetic drummer, especially during the set’s closing 20 minute jam (during which he was framed by spotlights while the remaining band members melted into the background). is it even possible to drum melodically? ’cause he sure came close to it during that jam. he’s now officially on my list of most amazing drummers to watch live, along with the drummer whose name i don’t even know from the high water marks and oranger, kurt dahle from new pornographers and limblifter, doug constantine, and lonnie james from the super friendz. without him, i probably would’ve left early.

i should also mention that the russian futurists opened, and were pretty much exactly how i remembered them from when i saw them in kingston – decidedly unengaging, but with good songs that seem to translate better on their recordings. they played their 3 best songs in a row early in the set, and again, like wintersleep, really had nowhere to go but down. there isn’t really too much you can do to liven up a show like that, when everyone’s just playing keyboards. there were a couple songs when one of the keyboardists picked up a guitar, but i have no proof that he was actually playing it. in summary, even the good songs weren’t enough to totally win me over.

06 Dec 06

how a couple of hair flippers ruined my constantines experience

i came to a conclusion during friday night’s constantines show at lee’s palace – it’s hardly earth shattering or anything, but i think it’s true: to fully experience a constantines (or, for that matter, insert band name here) show, you must be able to feed off the energy of the crowd as well as the band. the best live show experiences i’ve had have taken place when i’ve been in the middle of a crowd (it doesn’t have to be a lot of people) who are totally into the show, feeding back to the band – past arcade fire, camouflage nights, the cons, etc. shows have all had this in common. unfortunately, if you are standing among people who are more intent on drinking/hair flipping/making out/talking than enjoying the show, it doesn’t matter how amazing the live band is, the experience will suffer.

friday night’s cons performance was a technically good show, and they gave their all as usual (whil standing on his keyboards, doug beating the shit out of his drums, steve and bry striking guitar poses and dallas being dallas in his angel wings), but, standing towards the back of lee’s palace among people who just didn’t get it made my enjoyment of the show suffer. i just wasn’t as into it as i usually am. it didn’t help that i wasn’t a huge fan of their new songs, but i say that while recognizing that my first impression of tournament of hearts wasn’t super great, and i claimed that they were lacking in anthems. in other words, the verdict is still out.

a highlight? julie doiron (who apparently plays with openers shotgun and jaybird…whom i missed) getting up on stage during the encore, and inexplicably singing why i didn’t like august 93 an old elevator to hell song. i love that song, but i have no idea why julie sang that one. i guess the cons didn’t know any eric’s trip songs?

[thanks to suckingalemon once again for her constantines photo]

26 Nov 06

starling reborn as the hundreds and thousands

back on may 20, 1998 (or so my show list would have me believe), i went to see a matthew good band show at the bar formerly known as aj’s hangar in kingston. mgb were known for a few really great radio friendly songs, as well as a boring live show (or so i discovered later). anyway, while the matt good performance was profoundly forgettable, the opening band was among the best i’ve ever seen, in the category of thrush hermit, camouflage nights and maybe even the ladies and gentlemen as far as wow-worthy and surprising opening bands go. the band in question were called starling, and they were among the best bands you’ve never heard of, and are now featured in those new government of ontario ads.

i saw starling play a few shows over the years – once in ottawa with the carnations and a band robin dubbed shitbucket (actually called wishpocket), and once at clark hall pub in kingston with another forgettable band called flood. this last performance was an exciting one – we talked to the band after the show, and they seemed positive about the prospect of their 2nd (or 3rd, depending how technical you want to get) album, stuff you should have said before, getting wide release and thus propelling them forward. they assured us that we’d be seeing them in kingston again soon after they’d geared up for a big tour. that was back in late 2002, and i haven’t heard anything from them since, much to my friend cindy’s chagrine. sure, there’s a band called the supers, featuring maury lafoy (and sometimes ian lefeuvre) of starling, and sure, ian has produced andy stochansky’s album, but it just hasn’t been the same.

fast forward to friday night’s small sins show at the horseshoe. the openers were called the hundreds and thousands, and i had heard that that was the name of ian lefeuvre (of starling)’s new project. what i didn’t know until friday night was that the hundreds and thousands ARE starling with a new name, a more drum-driven and rock-er sound, and some really amazing new songs. they played a 45 minute-ish set with songs rivalling anything they did under the starling monicker, so i’m very excited to hear a recording – if they don’t disappear again. i can’t imagine a better surprise. i thought it was pretty cool of small sins to invite them to open their show toronto, given their history. small sins’ singer, thom darcy, used to be in a band called the carnations (the same ones who opened for starling a few years earlier), and who used to feature ian lefeuvre on drums. i guess it’s a bit of a role reversal, now that small sins are experiencing some success of their own. anyway, now that i’m done my canrock geeking, i strongly encourage you to check out their myspace page, where a new song called rat race is currently featured. it’s a good one, but it’s not even their best.

the hundreds and thousands weren’t the only band on the bill, however, so i should probably discuss the other two bands. up second were a band from california called the little ones who played some pop songs with varying degrees of catchiness. some were quite good (after the first song, for instance, i was wondering if i was going to enjoy the best 3 band bill since…arcade fire + final fantasy + wolf parade? sloan + hHead + thrush hermit?) unfortunately, they weren’t all gems, and the crowd really didn’t seem too into them. i did enjoy the lead singer’s guitar stance, straight out of that thing you do, and their finale was a spectacle, involving all of small sins leaping on stage to participate. oh, and one really drunk guy who assumed that he too was welcome on stage, stole the keyboardist’s tambourine, and proceeded to remove his pants. thankfully, i didn’t have a good view of this, and he was escorted off stage and cut off (only to come and sit beside us and have his buddy buy him more beer, ’cause that’s what he needed). anyway, the little ones were enjoyable, but not particularly memorable.

finally came small sins, the band formerly known as the ladies and gentlemen. the first time i saw them was about 2 years ago, opening for the salteens. i’d never heard of them (and was surprised to see thom darcy fronting a new band), but we were treated to a fantastic performance in spite of the obvious nervousness and inexperience of much of the band. the 2nd time i saw them was just about as enjoyable, but was sullied slightly by a marathon 4 band bill. friday night’s show was another story. this was the first time we’d seen them since they’d renamed themselves as the small sins, and i felt like i was watching a subpar ladies and gentlemen cover band. gone were the all-white suits, and the band seems to have changed at least a couple of members (and now includes brent of the salteens on drums)…although they have thankfully kept the guy on “lead handclaps and lasers”. most shockingly, however, is thom darcy’s new vocal choice – the whispery falsetto that endeared himself to me is gone, and has been replaced by what anne described as karaokeish. the set opened with two new songs, and i was a bit surprised at the vocal turn, but thought they might be trying something new on new songs. but no, once they launched into songs from the small sins album, the new lower voice remained. was it the label’s choice? could thom not sustain the falsetto over time? or maybe he just likes the new sound better? regardless, it seems to be working for them – word was that they sold out the mercury lounge in nyc last week, although the horseshoe was anything but packed. we left at the beginning of the last song (after about a 40 minute set by my watch) and i think that’s the last time i’ll be going to a small sins show.

it’s lucky the hundreds and thousands opened that show and wowed the hell out of me, or i would’ve had a terribly disappointing night.

[photo courtesy of beef_taco_supreme. it’s actually of the mercury lounge show last week, but it’s the best i could do. and i had to spotlight the hand clapper, cause he’s my favourite.]

06 Nov 06

death cab for boring, part 2

i know, i’m a week late, but who’s counting?

on halloween night, death cab cutie played massey hall, with ted leo along for the ride. my last (and only other) death cab experience was less than satisfactory, but i was hoping that a sit down venue would be more appropriate for their brand of mid-tempo OC-rock. i was right – the show was less annoying than the kool haus show, but it wasn’t my favourite.

ted leo and the pharmacists opened the show to a mostly ambivalent crowd (consisting of mostly mid-teens), and they didn’t play long enough in my opinion. at least they played the high party (by request no less), but sadly there was no cover of since you’ve been gone.

a few notes about the death cab performance:

  • as i mentioned after the koolhaus show, ben gibbard has a guitar cable tossing obsession. so what did he do for this show? he hired someone whose job it was to pull the cable out of his way for him. yup.
  • they pulled out company calls off of we have the facts and we’re voting yes, which made me happy (although i got the feeling that most of the people had never heard it before)
  • what was up with the overwrought faux angst ben gibbard had on display? twice he threw his mike stand, and once he threw his guitar. maybe they were trying to make up for the non-rocking-ness of the performance by ACTING like rock stars?
  • i don’t usually complain about this kind of thing, by i really do wish he’d sung transatlanticism like he did on the album. the “i need you so much…closer” cadence was just too off for me.
  • their encore was the clear highlight of the show: since it was halloween, they came out dressed like devo (pictured), and tore through four devo tracks, which was amazing. i’m not sure how many of the 15 year olds knew who devo was though… what was especially amazing about this portion of the show was that ben somehow managed to stop his awful ingrained “dancing” for 4 songs, and instead managed to mimic devo’s robotic moves. that was a nice break.
  • mostly, however, they were boring, and certainly not worth the money they’re charging these days. zzzz.

ah, i’m such an elitist…but really, they were BORING.

[thanks to i_saw_sparks for the devo-tastic image].

16 Oct 06

exclaim + mint have a birthday

i’m obviously a subscriber to the “better late than never” school of blog posts, which is why i have no problem making this post about last wednesday’s exclaim show, in spite of the fact that it’s now the following monday. sure, a “good” blogger who is “on the ball” would have made this post by “thursday”, but my own goals are less lofty: i’ll settle for being an “adequate” blogger. or perhaps “subpar”.


let’s start this again: wednesday night was exclaim/mint anniversary show at the kool haus, and thanks to phil‘s newfound exclaim connections, he scored me a free ticket. the lineup was pretty fantastic: new pornographers, immaculate machine, novillero and the bicycles. i would’ve probably felt like i had died and gone to heaven if it wasn’t at the kool haus, if it wasn’t a school night, and if i wasn’t so damn old. if rock crew chris were still around, he’d probably say something like “even i wouldn’t put on a 4 band show!”

we sadly missed novillero, who are on my list of bands i seem destined to never see live, but we arrived at the beginning of immaculate machine’s set. they’re a band with some really good songs (and the guitarist has a killer elvis stojko haircut) but not a lot of stage presence. i guess you can get away with that when you have catchy songs, and a keyboardist who can sing like kathryn calder.

i was much more into the new pornographers’ set than i was the the last time i saw them at the phoenix. sadly, there was no dan bejar this time to add a couple songs, nor was there neko to add her voice and presence, but they still played a fun show proving that, as carl newman once said, they really can be the new pornographers without neko. i don’t think i’d be able to say the same thing if they didn’t have someone as good as kathryn calder (yes, her again) touring with them. also, and i’ve said before, i can never get enough of watching kurt dahle drum. a high point: when a moron in the crowd yelled “we love you neko!” kathryn looked pretty uncomfortable, and kurt dahle yelled “she’s not even here, you fucker!” that solved that.

definitely not bad for a free show, and for the 2nd time in a couple weeks, grant lawrence was the MC. not bad at all.

05 Oct 06

i’m in awe of joanna newsom…and i’m not alone

it’s about time joanna newsom finally played a show in toronto. she played the mod club last night, alone on stage with her enormous harp, and i haven’t seen many shows like it. since she’d never played toronto before, she elected to alternate between older songs (from the milk-eyed mender) and new ones (from her forthcoming ys which, incidentally, is a crazily ambitious album that i think is best defined as a grower). i think it’s safe to say that i’ve never seen anyone cram as many words into an hour as she did – her songs are complex and very wordy (for lack of a better word) in a good way, and the lack of traditional verse-chorus-verse song structure or any kind of extended instrumental stretches left me wondering how she didn’t mess up the lyrics more often than the one time she did (which, incidentally, she covered quite well by simply replaying that section over again without missing a beat).

i watched her with the kind of awe that i feel when i watch paul aucoin and his hylozoists play live – like his mastery of the vibraphone, joanna newsom makes playing the harp look easy, in spite of the fact that it’s twice her size and has 47 strings. it’s insane to watch. at one point i was trying to figure out how she knows which string is which, and i got my answer shortly after when she kindly requested that the lighting guy stop using saturated colours that make all of the strings the same colour.

the crowd was both unbelievably attentive, as well as almost too at home with joanna. i haven’t seen an audience so completely entranced by a performance since i saw sondre lerche at lee’s palace a couple years ago, but between songs the setting felt so intimate (well, as much as the mod club ever does) and she seemed so approachable that people couldn’t resist but talking to her as though she were in their living room: “i love you!” “come to toronto more often” “come to toronto every month!” “never leave!” etc. at one point, someone in the front row even gave her a handkerchief because she was so warm. crazy.

the show only lasted a little over an hour, including a 2 song encore, but it was a jam packed hour. i get the sense that she would’ve played even longer if she wasn’t getting blisters – an occupational hazard – but i’m not complaining.

[thanks to the omnipresent chromewaves for his lovely joanna newsom photo]

03 Oct 06

see vous play

i must say that i admire what cbc radio 3 attempted to do on sunday night at the kool haus: on international music day, they organized a 4 band (2 anglophone, 2 francophone) all ages show, giving away free tickets via their podcast and radio show. oh, and they cleverly called it see vous play. unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite as i’d hoped.

we arrived at around 8, thinking that, since the doors opened at 6:30, we could skip at least one of the openers. sadly, this was not to be. les breastfeeders had just begun playing when we arrived, and their set was extremely loud, but reasonably fun for an all-french set. i quite enjoyed the band member whose main role was to jump around shirtless with a tamborine. we figured he could probably get a job with the ladies and gentlemen (or small sins, if you prefer) if things don’t pan out with les breastfeeders.

emily haines and her new band, the soft skeleton, went on second. i was looking forward to her set, and i quite enjoyed her single, but the set itself made me want to go to sleep. robin described it as music to kill yourself by, which was fairly apt…but the strings and horns sure were pretty. sadly, no one shouted out requests for dead disco to liven things up a little.

next were les trois accords, who i could’ve really done without. apparently they’ve sold over 100 thousand albums in quebec, but i won’t be buying a copy. their 50 minute set seemed to drag on forever, and i kept looking at the time, realizing that things were going much later than expected. yawn.

joel plaskett and his emergency band finally took the stage at about 11:40, which was frustrating since kristi had to make the annoying drive back to whitby after the show, on a school night no less. we managed to stick around for 5 songs, but had to leave much sooner than we’d liked. it’s tricky finding an appropriate time to leave when dealing with someone like joel – there are no low points in which to sneak out. we had to leave during nowhere with you of all songs. anyway, as has been the case roughly 75% of the many times i’ve seen joel play live, he was sick, and it showed in his voice. he was endearing as always and put on a good show, but it sounded like it was hurting him to sing – he definitely didn’t have his usual range. having listened to the cbc radio 3 recording of a million dollars, i do have to say though that jill barber made him sound fantastic though. definitely not her finest moment.

so how could they improve on things? if i were running things and it HAD to be a 4 band bill, i would’ve definitely started things a bit earlier and reduced the set lengths of the bands. did we really need 50 minutes of each of them? it was a shame that so many people left before joel even took the stage. i probably also would’ve chosen different bands, but hey, you can’t please everyone. a good effort anyway, and it was free – AND, i got a free loot bag containing a mint records cd. not all bad.

[note: thanks to cbc radio 3 for the photo of jp.]

29 Sep 06

memphis v2

last night at lee’s palace marked memphis’ 2nd ever show (or, as torq put it, their first ever show that anyone attended). it should be noted, however, that both anne and i attended their first show at the rivoli almost 2 years ago…along with maybe 20 other people. i guess that makes us cooler than most. memphis, i suppose i should point out, is the side project of stars’ torquil campbell, along with chris dumont and a rotating cast of characters. from what i could remember, the rest of the band was completely different from their october 2004 show, and now includes montag on keys, among several others.

anyway, the show itself was quite enjoyable, much like the first time around, except with more songs in their arsenal. torq’s mission again was to put us all to sleep (in a good way) and they mixed in lots of low key but layered songs from both albums with a few of their super catchy pop songs, balancing each very well. a highlight occurred unfortunately while i was in the washroom – torq convinced everyone to sit on the ground while he cuddled with a member of the most serene republic on the floor. i got back just in time to catch the end of the spooning. i also quite enjoyed the agatha christie book give away mid-set, even though i didn’t win.

the crowd wasn’t huge this time around (probably 100 or so people, including 2 most serene republics, 1 kevin drew and 1 jian ghomeshi), but everyone got their money’s worth. for those of you in kingston: go catch them at the grad club tonight.

28 Aug 06

harbourfront’s indie unlimited

i’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again: the harbourfront centre has some pretty great free summer programming. on canada day they brought us the dears and jason collett, for the “from the peg” festival they offered the weakerthans and waking eyes. this past saturday was the first night of the “indie unlimited” festival, and it didn’t disappoint.

while i missed the afternoon of amy millan and great lake swimmers, i arrived in time to catch the best hidden cameras performance i’ve ever seen. it should be noted that i was never lucky enough to catch one of their infamous church shows, but each of the 4 i’ve seen have been progressively more enjoyable. saturday’s performance was technically the cd release for their new album, awoo, so they proceeded to play each of the songs from the album. what made it extra fun was the addition of a couple of violinists and a cellist, not to mention laura barrett and her kalimba…as well as the other usual 6 or 7 people. they (obviously) had a very full sound and a lot of energy, and it was super fun. i have to say though, for a guy who puts on crazy shows, joel gibb looks like one serious guy.

after that set ended, we headed over to the brigandine room at harbourfront for a couple of over the top sets. before the bands, i was enjoying the dj’s picks – a band who sounded like north of america, followed by the inbreds? not bad. too bad this didn’t last…

torngat went on first and, as always, were fabulous. if you’re not familiar, torngat are guys from quebec who play keys, drums and french horn (complete with various pedals)…and occasionally a melodica and trumpet. i do have to say that i prefer it when they stick to more conventional song structures – they lose me a little when they get too experimental – but i did enjoy it when the two guys circled the crowd and played their french horn and trumpet from opposite ends of the crowd.

after torngat was finished, the dj had another chance to impress me. she got off to a good start by playing some motown, but then went downhill fast. i have no idea why, but she spent the next 20 minutes changing tempo, making the cd sound like it was skipping, and randomly pausing tracks in the middle. i have no idea what she was thinking, but she should just stick to playing her good music.

they shoot horses don’t they couldn’t come on fast enough. i was really looking forward to seeing them – i’ve listened to their album more than just about anything over the past 6 months (except tokyo police club, final fantasy and tapes n tapes, according to, so my expectations were pretty high. sadly, and this may sound awful, but they seem to be a band better heard than seen. on the plus side: the keyboard player was almost exuberant, and they actually DID sound pretty good. on the down side: i wasn’t quite as keen on their new songs (and 4 of the first 6 songs were new to me), and i felt like they went a bit too far to be considered avant garde, or just plain weird. for example, the trombonist spent half his time sitting on the floor playing “instruments” including: a broken crutch, a broken network router, a dented metal watering can, and a rope attached to a badminton birdie and random pieces of metal. note that “playing” these “instruments” meant slamming them against the floor. he also had a dirty rag wrapped around his bare foot, probably indicating that he’d stepped on one of these instruments at some point. we left after 6 songs, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the night over all.

but that’s not all…sunday afternoon offered more fun. the hylozoists went on at 3, but unfortunately we missed the first 25 minutes. the 20 minutes or so i saw were pretty great, however. they too added a few more musicians to make a fuller sound, adding to the vibraphoney fun. and bell orchestre capped the weekend with a typically equal parts soothing and exciting set. wow they’re crazy talented.

anyway, how good is that programming? and it cost me nothing. go harbourfront.

[note: thanks to _candice_ for the they shoot horses photo, and to rockpaperpixels for the hidden cameras pic.]

28 Aug 06

bye bye deadly snakes

you know, i wish that the deadly snakes’ last ever show on friday night at the horseshoe was actually their last show, so i could say “i was at the deadly snakes’ last concert”, as is written on andre ethier’s t-shirt. but nooooo, they had to go and ruin it and play a “surprise” show at the silver dollar on saturday night.

but really, that’s my only complaint about the night…friday’s show would’ve been a pretty great last hurrah for any band. the snakes played 2 sets spanning about 3 hours, and encompassing just about every release they’ve ever had, including a number of gems from porcella and ode to joy, as well as a lot of oldies and rarities from 7″s and b-sides. the first set was solid, but the second set was pretty amazing. high energy, tight, and fun.

and really, it’s not so bad to be able to say that i was at the deadly snakes 2nd to last concert…just like i can say that i was at sloan’s last concert ever (for a couple of years anyway).

[note: photo courtesy of miss door]

Pronunciation: 'ch&mp
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps blend of chunk and lump
Date: 1883

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