Concert Review: Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, October 14, Scotiabank Arena

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It’s safe to say that Ramin Djawadi is one of the more popular and in demand composers working in film and television these days. He’s done the scores for such notable works as Westworld, Person of Interest, Prison Break, Pacific Rim and a little show you may have heard of called Game of Thrones. Certainly one of the most popular and acclaimed television series of recent years, Game of Thrones is beloved enough by fans to earn its own concert tour, which features Djawadi himself leading a live orchestra in bringing the music of Westeros to life. So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.

But here’s the thing – I’ve never seen the show. I have nothing against it per se, but the show never really grabbed my attention, even though some people whose opinions I trust have vouched for it. Despite never having watched, when the tour made it’s way back to Toronto on the current leg of its North American tour, it got me wondering – would the music and the accompanying live show hold up for someone like me who’s not a fan and mostly only knows GOT by its reputation as a show full of dragons, boobs, and Peter Dinklage? On Sunday night, I aimed to find out.

As I made my way over to the recently rechristened Scotiabank Arena, there was a definite chill in the air – a sure sign that winter is coming. I gather that that’s a phrase people on the show often like to say, though of course, not having seen the show, I can only speculate as to why they say it. I presume its because the people of Westeros really enjoy making small talk about the weather in between all the murder and incest, which are also things I understand they do a lot of on this show.

Walking into the arena, you could tell that the fans were pumped for what was to come, although personally, I was a little let down that everyone looked disappointingly normal. I was really hoping to catch a few folks all decked out in cosplay like they were at Comic Con or something. I bet if this was a Doctor Who or Star Trek event, more people would have dressed up. There were, however, plenty of options for photo ops avialable, including a throne for people to sit on and some sort of green screen thing I saw people lining up for, so there was at least a little of that Comic Con vibe. There was also a signature cocktail on sale at the bar for the night – The Night’s Watch, a curious concoction made up of of peach vodka, spiced rum, pomegranate, pineapple and orange juice, which all seemed just a bit too ambitiously tropical in flavour to really fit thematically with the part of the series which takes place in frozen wastelands … that’s right, I looked it up. But again, I’ve never actually seen the show, so maybe the members of the Night’s Watch are all big fans of fruity beverages. I mean, who isn’t from time to time?

The show itself opened up with a prerecorded message to all of the “lords and ladies” in attendance from presumably one of the female stars of the show, probably one of the ones who played Sarah Connor (I’m guessing it was Sarah Connor from The Sarah Connor Chronicles rather than the Sarah Conner from Terminator: Genisys), telling us all to silence our phones and warning that those who disobeyed this order would be “boiled alive in their own blood” or something to that effect. OK, so far so good … you have my attention, Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. From there, the band launched into the show’s main title theme, followed by Djawadi addressing the crowd to let us know how happy they were to be playing Toronto on the final night of their current North American tour and that they wanted it to be a good one. “So if you see a favourite character or villain or favourite scene let us know,” he said. And they did, with the crowd cheering for practically every character.

So how was the show for a Game of Thrones illiterate like myself? I have to admit, it was a fun show and the music does hold up even if you don’t know the program. For the performance, Djawadi (who conducted as well as played the hammer dulcimer, keyboards, and electric guitar at a few key points during the show) was joined by a group of touring musicians, all of whom were dressed up like they just stepped off the set of the show, as well as a local orchestra and choir backing them all up. Djawadi, however, just wore a regular suit. Again, I’m a little disappointed he didn’t go full Comic Con, but I understand … I guess.

With its big, epic, stirring sounds, the music was all very evocative of a certain mood and together with clips from the show up on the big screen, it was easy to get swept up in it all, even for a novice – it definitely piqued my interest and made me want to watch the show even though I’m absolutely spoiled all to hell for probably every important/cool moment in the series. While I’m still unclear on some of the finer plot points, it did serve as a decent crash course in GOT and the show and its music are certainly better suited to a massive live concert spectacle than say, Djawadi’s work on Westworld. And it certainly was something of a spectacle – whenever I do get around to watching the whole series, it will be a bit less impressive to not have live percussionists and pyro erupting all over the place every time the dragons breathe fire.

And on a final note, I’m happy to report that as I was leaving the venue I did finally spot a couple decked out in full GOT cosplay so in the end, I guess I got everything I ever really wanted out of this show. Mission accomplished.

Concert Review: Ben Howard, Wye Oak, October 5, Budweiser Stage

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Upon learning that Ben Howard would be performing a show at Budweiser Stage in early October, my initial thought was that it seemed a bit ambitious. Primarily because outdoor amphitheatres and Fall weather don’t necessarily make for natural bedfellows, but beyond that, I also just wasn’t really aware that Howard had made it to the big outdoor amphitheatre show stage of his career. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought of Ben Howard all that much over the past few years. I liked his 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated debut Every Kingdom and I recall him being able to easily full the Mod Club way back in 2012, but since then, I’ll admit that I stopped paying close attention. But just because I’d stopped paying attention, that doesn’t mean that others had, and Howard has most definitely built up a following who were primed and ready to hear him perform songs off Noonday Dream, his first release in four years, despite the chill in the air on this cool October evening. And so, after giving the new album a listen, I decided to bundle up and check out the show.

Opening up the show were Wye Oak who put on an impressive performance despite playing to a crowd that would have easily filled a club-sized venue but seemed comparatively sparse in the larger amphitheatre setting. I’ve seen the band twice before, but this was easily the best set I’ve seen them play and the first time I’ve been able to truly appreciate what great musicians they really are. Though, to give some context, the first set I saw them play was a SXSW afternoon set that was plagued with technical difficulties and described at the time by singer Jenn Wassner as their worst ever, while I was way too tired to really take it in the second time I saw them play. So let’s just pretend that this show was my real first Wye Oak experience. And a rather good one at that.

“We are from America and are currently accepting applications for sham marriages,” joked Wassner, echoing the sentiment of more than a few American performers who’ve visited our country over the last couple years or so, though she did go on to clarify, “I should probably add that that was a joke so America will let us back in in two days.” Wassner also had the best line of the night when she gave a shout out to “our corporate overlords, Budweiser. Thanks to Budweiser for making a beer that it’s impossible to have an opinion about either way.” The band ended out their set with the title track to their latest The Louder I Call The Faster It Runs and thanked the audience, noting that they could feel them out there despite it being cold and dark and everyone being so far away.

Once Ben Howard took to the stage, one of the first things I noticed (besides the fact that I kind of wanted to give the man a comb – some serious bedhead going on there) was that his band has tripled in size from the trio I saw Howard fronting all those years ago. With a bigger band, of course there came an accordingly bigger sound as well, with the songs off his latest (which made up the bulk of the setlist) expanding from the folkie singer-songwriter template of those earlier recordings into a moodier, spacier, more expansive sound that touches on ambient and post rock elements at times. It all sounded quite good, though as technically impressive as it was, there was a bit of sameness to a lot of his songs that, for this writer at least, meant that things did start to drag a bit by about the one hour mark or so – still worth sticking it out though to hear “Towing The Line,” one of the highlights from the new album, make an appearance late in the set.

Despite any of my misgivings however, most of the crowd seemed quite taken with it all throughout the night so I suppose this review is just the opinion of one crusty old bastard who just wanted to go somewhere a bit warmer as the night wore on. Still, this crusty old bastard maintains that a bit of a change of pace might have shaken things up somewhat and made it all a tad more interesting – perhaps a more uptempo number (something like “Keep Your Head Up” off his first album) or maybe even just another flute solo or two would have been nice. Flutes are cool.

Song Of The Day: Windhand – Grey Garden

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It’s Friday! Celebrate with some doom metal courtesy of Windhand. Is doom metal really all that celebratory? Sure, why not?

“Grey Garden,” the lead single off of the Richmond, Virginia band’s latest, Eternal Return, is a solid slice of fuzzed out, psyched out, doomy goodness. Check it out.

Eternal Return is out today on Relapse Records.

Song Of The Day: The Natvral – Know Me More

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It hasn’t been all that long since we last heard from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (they just put an album out last year) but TPOBPAH frontman Kip Berman is back with a new project – The Natvral.

Described by Berman as “neither solo project nor side project,” The Natvral certainly shows off a different, much folkier side of his songwriting, with Berman citing the likes of Richard & Linda Thompson, Leonard Cohen, and Ted Leo as influences. After listening to the title track of his Know Me More EP, I’d suggest another possible influence in there, as it gives off a little bit of an early Paul Simon vibe as well. Check it out.

The Natvral’s Know Me More is out tomorrow (October 5) on Kanine Records.

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