Concert Review: Aztec Sun, July 22, Rock and Roll Hotel

Posted on by Celeste in Concerts | Leave a comment

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Moving sucks. When the question is: do you want to pack up all your stuff into little cardboard boxes, figure out the logistics of moving it five states over, inevitably in the rain, and apartment hunt in a new city which somehow always costs 1.5x the rate of the city you’re currently living, the answer is always a hard and fast NO.

So I recently moved to Washington DC from Chicago, and finally three months into living in my new city I went to a show. If you were to ask me what the best things about Chicago are I would answer 1) the food (because Saag Paneer Pot pie with a side of mango chutney is a thing you can just find at the soda shop on the street corner) and 2) the concert venues. The second my friends got off the plane in Chicago, I’d drag them to the balcony of Lincoln Hall for a show because I wanted them to love it as much as I did, and inevitably they did.

So I was 100% ready to hate on Rock and Roll Hotel Saturday night when I went to catch local DC act Aztec Sun. Walking in, the opener was still setting up so I wandered up to the second floor, which had a pretty standard bar/dance floor, and then going up one more flight the narrow staircase emerged out into a sight of beauty for an ex-Chicagoan: a rooftop bar. Coming from a city where everyone hunkers down in their apartments for nine months out of the year, rooftop bars aren’t really a worthwhile investment for any establishment. However in DC, where the official motto is “Welcome to DC! Come sweat with us!” the rooftop bar is everywhere, from your fanciest and snootiest restaurants to your filthiest and stickiest dive bars. So I guess that’s a long way to say that while I like to think of myself as very loyal, I’m super easily bought by any kind of elevated space where I can drink beer outside.

So after hanging out at the rooftop bar for approximately 345,963,146 hours, I was finally convinced to head down to the first floor to check out Aztec Sun. The band squeezed all nine of themselves and their two saxophones, trombone, keyboard, drums, two guitars, bass, and tambourine into the small space and proceeded to melt the stage. Charasmatic frontman Stephane Detchou started things off with slow and sultry “Swing” from the band’s 2016 album Set You Free. Detchou, rocking a straw fedora and round-framed sunglasses, caught the crowd’s attention with his falsetto buoyed by the plethora of wind instruments behind him, and he never let go. Moving through “Pa Ra Ra” and “Revolution”, Detchou ceded center stage to the keyboardist, who was rocking a fedora of his own, a shiny vest, and a grin that told you he was having the time of his life. He immediately dove headfirst into “You Make Me Smile”, a crowd pleaser for the obvious reason that it sounds like liquid happiness being piped directly into your brain. Songs like that are honestly unfair – do I want a song about how much you love the special person in your life and how they make the world go around and they make you ridiculously happy and by the way do you want it serenaded to you in all its peppy, catchy glory from the adorable keyboardist with the Cheshire cat grin who has just jumped offstage to sing directly to the audience? Yes. Because I’m not a monster. So this band clearly already had me hooked, and to top it all off, they proceeded to bust out synchronized dance moves while maintaining max levels of soul infused funk. Sold.

So I’m not saying that you should move to DC for Aztec Sun. I’m just saying it’s something to consider.

Concert Review: Julie Byrne, July 18, The Great Hall

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | Leave a comment

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This past March at SXSW, Julie Byrne stood out from the crowd as one of the highlights of the week by offering a bit of calm from the storm that is SouthBy. I wrote then that it almost seemed as if time had slowed down during her set as I became focused on the mesmerising, almost meditative sounds of the songs off her latest, Not Even Happiness. And so, when given the chance to see her again in a more traditional setting less cluttered by the distractions of SXSW and a million other things happening at the same time, I gladly took it.

While that SXSW show was like a little oasis of serenity, Byrne’s Tuesday night show at The Great Hall seemed even more calm and serene. And quiet. It was so quiet, you could hear every creak of the floorboards whenever someone walked and pretty much every other little sound throughout the venue. I even heard somebody in front of me removing their gum from the package. Such was the scene where everyone in attendance was focused intently on listening to Byrne’s beautiful voice and delicate sounding songs.

Opener Johanna Warren, singing Byrne’s praises, referred to her music as being “like some portal to another dimension” and that’s as apt a description as any. For a short while on a Tuesday night, it felt as if the Great Hall had been somehow transformed into another world altogether.

Review: Hillside Festival, July 14-16, Guelph Lake Conservation Area

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Hillside | Leave a comment

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During Montreal trio Big Brave’s Saturday evening set at the Island Stage, singer/guitarist Robin Wattie thanked the audience for listening and took a moment to comment on the general vibe at Guelph’s Hillside Festival. “People are so nice here. Like, genuinely so,” she said, adding that the band considered apologizing to the crowd before they even started playing since their heavy, expansive sound didn’t quite fit in with anything else that was happening that weekend and thus might not sound all that nice to everyone, but she acknowledged that people seemed to be enjoying it regardless. In fact, their beautifully heavy set stood out for me as one of the highlights of the entire weekend.

While Big Brave may have differed stylistically from the other performers, Hillside has long been a fairly eclectic and adventurous festival in it’s programming, willing to challenge the audience and this year (the 34th edition) was no different. The lineup encompassed everything from the indie rock sounds of Weaves and The Luyas (who shared the stage for a workshop/jam session on Saturday afternoon) to the animated Congolese band Mbongwana Star to the electronic sounds of DJ Shub to the East coast indie rock meets Chinese pop of Halifax’s Century Egg.

One common thread among many of the performers this year was a theme of resistance and protest music with artists such as Las Cafeteras, Billy Bragg and Leonard Sumner singing and speaking out on several important issues. Sumner in particular stood out with his powerful spoken word pieces and songs during a workshop where he shared the stage with Bragg, Sarah Harmer and recent Polaris Prize shortlister Lisa Leblanc. Leblanc may have felt a bit out of place, joking that her “stupid love songs” contrasted with the others’ more political lyrics, but she definitely held her own and absolutely blew the crowd away during her high energy main set on the Island Stage later that night.

While this year’s lineup may have featured less big name acts than years past, that just gave some of the lesser known performers more opportunity to shine and really, aside from the boom period a few years back when practically every big Canadian indie band was playing there, Hillside never really relied on big name acts to draw in a crowd anyways. And while Hillside moved itself one weekend earlier this year so as to avoid the competition with WayHome, something tells me Hillside will be the one to last and might even be able to move back to its original weekend dates for next year. Just sayin’ …

Review: Ricky Gervais, Humanity, Massey Hall, July 16

Posted on by Ricky in Everything | Leave a comment

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it’s been a long time since Ricky Gervais did a stand up tour and in that time we’ve seen three stints as Golden Globe host, a few moderately successful films and a few successful tv series. So life’s been good for the man. Which begs the question, in the world of observational comedy, can a man like Ricky still relate to the crowd?

The answer is a definite yes.

You might think I thought hard to pose such a question but the reality is that this was one of the topics among many during Gervais’s incredibly self aware and modern show this past weekend.

Armed with a pint, his infectious laughter and too many stories, Gervais put on a hilarious show that tackles his life, the art of the joke, tolerance and modern communication. Nothing is off limits for the comic but the beauty of his show is that he’ll tell you why nothing should be off limits.

I really enjoyed Ricky’s set. His jokes are built from elaborate stories and his punchlines come at you rapidly and often when you don’t expect it and definitely goes where you don’t think it’d go. Some might get put off by his incessant bragging about his success but frankly that’s all part of the act and his personality . Without it, some of his self deprecating jokes wouldn’t hold the same weight and it’s also refreshing to see someone take as many shots at himself as he does with others.

Obviously it goes without saying to catch him on tour. It might be awhile before that happens again.

Fun fact: Ricky Gervais once managed my favourite band Suede

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