It was an evening of opposites at Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night. The stage was lit up with a sparkly backdrop and flashing, twinkling lights, and the audience was generously and boisterously vocal. Cass McCombs, flanked by his three-piece band, seemed to be a man of few words, letting his well-crafted songs do the talking.
The show opened with “What Isn’t Nature,” an older song with a jangly guitar line reminiscent of the Walkmen (who, incidentally, McCombs toured with in 2009 – they also played Lee’s on their Toronto stop). There were short pauses in between each song – with not a word spoken by McCombs, combined with appreciative cheers from the audience – the set was fairly straight ahead and crowd-pleasing. With a discography spanning seven records, there was an inevitable mix of old and new songs, including “My Sister My Spouse,” “Robin Egg Blue,” and “Big Wheel.”
Before the last song of the set, McCombs finally spoke, thanking the audience and saying it would their last one for the night. The crowd responded with yells of “No!” to which McCombs grinned and quickly said, “Yes” in reply. There was a back and forth of “No!” and “Yes!” before the band launched into “County Line.” The song drew a unanimous surge of approval before the crowd mellowed out and swayed with probably the most well-known McCombs song in his catalogue.
After extended cheering and shouts, the band came out for one last song – the appropriately named “There Can Be Only One,” from McCombs’ latest record, Big Wheel and Others. Quickly thanking the audience once again, McCombs and band disappeared from the stage quietly, with the twinkly lights still flashing in their wake.
There are two types of sing-a-longs. There are your standard, run of the mill sing-a-longs, where the singer prompts the audience to sing, but his lips never leave the mic. Then there are trust-fall-sing-a-longs. This is where the singer leaves the mic, cocks his ear towards the audience, and has faith that the crowd knows his song well enough to hold the tune until he returns.
I’ve seen a lot of trust-fall-sing-a-longs crash and burn.
There’s an awkward silence in which the crowd mumbles what they think might (?) be the lyrics while everyone just avidly hopes that the singer will pick the tune back up again so that we can all leave this terrible fiasco behind us and pretend it never happened.
Max Bemis of Say Anything knows how to pull off his trust-fall-sing-a-longs. I cringed every time he left the mic during his acoustic set at Lincoln Hall on Wednesday night, but the audience loved it. They were belting out good portions of his songs without any help from him whatsoever – and they sounded damn good. Bemis was obviously enjoying himself, beaming (sorry I had to), while rocking out as the audience sang, and then picking up the thread of the song (there were some major tongue acrobatics going on during his songs – it was super distracting.)
Bemis was preceded by Matt Pryor of Get Up Kids fame, hailing from Lawrence Kansas. I haven’t seen a performer with good stage banter in a while but Pryor broke the streak. He pretty much spent the entire set making fun of his band mates and himself. Self-deprecating humor is always approved. When his stand up bassist made fun of him for not having a degree, Pryor’s response was “I don’t need a degree – I went to the school of rock. I didn’t realize how stupid that would sound until I said it. ‘That’s right, I went to the school of hard knocks and Vans.’” The best part of the night was when Pryor and his band “hillbilly-ed it up” and busted out a banjo, a harmonica and some good ol’ blue grass tunes.
Vancouver band The Belle Game‘s debut record Ritual Tradition Habit has been on my radar for a while now. It’s one of those slow burning albums that kind of just simmers for a really long time before you realize how good it is. Like a really good soup. What really set me on the course of the Belle Game was when I saw their music video “The River” for the first time. It’s a gorgeous music video and as someone who has been to Japan a few times, a great reminder as to just what a splendid and strange place that is.
Quite a stunning video that this dark, moody song seems to play a perfect soundtrack to . Andrea Lo’s vocals on this track are powerful and I would rank the Karaoke skill level of this track as “difficult”. Check it out.
Hard to believe Sophie Ellis Bextor is already 34. Then again, it’s hard to believe I’m 33. Why aren’t we married?
The British pop star, who came to fame with almost decade ago is back with her fifth album – Wanderlust, The first single from the track is not a dance floor thriller as you might expect, but rather, a subdued piano ballad about how someone gives her “young blood”. I guess she is dating younger. Doing the arrangements is Ed Harcourt, another popular musician from a decade ago. Combined, they have created an introspective and charming track. Have a listen!