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

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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

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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

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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

Monday Song Reviews – Charly Bliss, Baio, Night Things, Bleachers, etc.

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Every Monday, Spotify suggests me a new playlist. So I decided it’s a decent idea to listen to these new tracks.

Everything Everything – Can’t Do
Sounds like a rock band trying to awkwardly fit into the dance-disco craze right now. Like when Starsailor did Four to the Floor, only that song was good. This song might have been a hit in 2004 but sounds a bit tired now.

Charly Bliss – Glitter
I like Charly Bliss’ album this year. Like their other songs, Glitter sounds like ’90s era power pop that is strengthened by the lead singers saccharine voice. I dont know why I used saccharine, but yeah it fits.

Mesia – Spirits
Whispery vocals against a bassy drum beat. Doesn’t really make me want to listen again.

Low Island – Holding it Down
I feel like Future Islands has already got the “islands” band down so it’s hard to look at this band and not think about them. Also, there is a band called Low. This song began and ended without me really noticing.

Baio – Philosphy!
One of the few solo acts spun off Vampire Weekend, Baio is back after a failure to launch attempt a few years ago. This song has a nice funkiness to it with a nice sax line. APPROVED!

Night Things – Cost of the Summer
Another ’80s inspired pop song, with a nice synthesizer part that makes me feel like this song could be a soundtrack for an ’80s era drama that takes place in Miami or California that has a good looking cast and really bad acting. I like the duo male/female vocals, so this song is okay. It might be one minute too long

Bleachers – Hate that You Know Me
This song sounds like a ’90s song. I think that’s the only way i can describe music now. I envision a ’90s high school movie, where the lead character is a skater and then the female character is a less cool character, and this song plays during that down period where they like each other, but then a conflict from the past threatens to derail this unlikely love and it’s just a montage of the two characters being all sad and shit. Obviously they’ll get back together because the lead character learns to become a better person but that is probably done to another song.

Childcare – Dust
Not sure what this song is aiming for, or who the target audience is. It is good in a non-offensive, won’t distract while you are working but making noise at the same time kinda way.

Smooth Ends – Be a Man (Radio Edit)
This song is one you would hear while shopping at Urban Outfitters. It’s got a friendly beat, some light synthesizers and a non-abrasive voice. Its catchy but not in a memorable kind of way. I laugh at the Radio Edit thing cos is this song ever gonna get played on radio anyway?

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