Concert Review: Wilco, October 8, Budweiser Stage

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Before I get to the meat of this review, let me just preface things by saying that, unless the answer to “what should I wear to the show?” is always “just a light jacket”, outdoor shows in early October are generally not a good idea. That said, I’ve been a fan of Wilco long enough for me to overlook any sort of concerns over the temperature and head out to the Budweiser Stage on Tuesday night to see the band play a set in support of their newly released 11th album Ode To Joy.

I’ve seen Wilco live a few times now, and it’s always an impressive show, from Nels Cline’s incredible guitar work to Jeff Tweedy, John Stirrat, and Pat Sansone’s harmonies to Tweedy’s dryly humorous stage banter, which he kept to a minimum on this occasion since the band had a limited amount of time onstage. There was still time for a few gems though, such as when when he introduced “Everyone Hides,” the latest single off the new album, as “a song we made a video for. There aren’t many …and there will be very few more.” Of the new stuff, that song was among the highlights, as were “White Wooden Cross” and “One and A Half Stars.”

Closing off their set with a stellar version of “Misunderstood”, the band returned to the stage with an encore of “California Stars” and “The Late Greats”, thus ending off a show that was absolutely worth coming out for on a chilly October night. And though the temperature didn’t end up being a big concern, I did end up having some issues with the overall tempo (and pacing) of the set.

While I can’t fault the band’s sound in any way, the majority of the songs played did tend towards more of the slower, mid-paced numbers in the band’s repertoire. This is not necessarily a complaint, since the band sounded great all night and it’s practically impossible to complain about a set that includes such classics as “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Handshake Drugs”, “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “Impossible Germany”, but I couldn’t help but feel that the show might have benefited from, to borrow a phrase from the band itself, “a shot in the arm” from time to time. Granted, Ode To Joy is something of a mellow Wilco album, and the band played no less than eight numbers off of it, so an overall more mellow vibe was to be expected, but one or two more uptempo numbers would have been welcome, if only to make “Random Name Generator” seem like less of an outlier in the set.

Still, those are relatively minor complaints, and setting all that aside, Wilco proved once again that they are always a joy to watch live.

Concert Review: Ladytron, October 5, Danforth Music Hall

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Ladytron, Danforth Music Hall by Frank Yang

Ladytron, Danforth Music Hall by Frank Yang

Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since Ladytron first entered our consciousness.

Impeccably cool, Ladytron gained themselves a fan base with their visual aesthetic and unique sound, a blend of electro music paired with somewhat distant, almost robotic vocals. Who didn’t sing along with “they only want you when you’re seventeen, when you’re 21 – you’re no fun?”

Well, fast forward twenty years. The only people who are seventeen now are the kids of the original Ladytron fans and those kids were put to bed early on Saturday as the parents came out to play.

Performing in front of a reasonably sized crowd at the Danforth Music Hall on Saturday night, Ladytron made their long awaited return to Toronto and played a fantastic show.

In town to promote their comically under marketed self-titled comeback album, the band played a 90 minute set that spanned their entire discography. Their last show here was in 2011 and I guess my memory sucks (probably alcohol related) but I don’t remember their music packing such a punch before. On record, all the Ladytron songs, from “Seventeen” to “International Dateline” to “Runaway” always had a dance element to them, but in that electro kinda way. Live, however, with a backing band and live drums, the songs jump out. They go from bedroom dancing tunes to all out bangers.

The show’s surprising liveliness was also accentuated by an engaging performance from the two leads. Helen Marnie danced all over the stage during the set and displayed showmanship that I did not remember. Mira Aroyo, fighting equipment problems for most of the set, also showed a few moves. Both seemed genuinely excited for the show. For better or worse, the general expectation was that Ladytron was essentially going to stand still behind their devices. This was not the case and the show was all the more fun because of it.

The new songs meshed in well with the old tracks, always a good sign for a band that’s been around as long as they have.

The set ended off with the romper “Destroy Everything That You Touch” which for my money, was one of the better songs of the 00s. It had the whole place dancing, which just proves that when you are 41*, you might just be fun.

*I’m not 41 but it sounded good.

Concert Review: Esther Rose, September 17, Horseshoe Tavern

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“What a lovely evening. It’s Tuesday, right?” asked Esther Rose near the beginning of her set opening for Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets on the first night of a two night run at The Horseshoe Tavern.

She went on to ask if it was “Honky Tonk Tuesday” here in Toronto, joking that she just wanted to make sure that she was in the right place. As far as I know, Honky Tonk Tuesday is not officially a thing anywhere in Toronto, but yes, Esther Rose was definitely in the right place, as was anyone who was lucky enough to be in attendance for her show on Tuesday night.

While some small part of me would have been happy enough to skip the show, go into full old man mode and just stay home to watch Ken Burns’ Country Music doc on PBS, I made the right choice in coming out to this show. Aside from the fact that I can just watch said documentary any old time at my leisure, Esther Rose brought plenty of that old school country/honky tonk feeling live and in person just in case I felt like I might have been otherwise missing out on that vibe. All that was really missing was some Peter Coyote narration.

Accompanied onstage by a second guitarist, Rose put on a fantastic show, with the bulk of the material coming off of her latest release, You Made It This Far. Highlights of her set included “Lower 9 Valentine”, “Only Loving You”, “Me And My Bad Mood” and “Don’t Blame It On The Moon”, the latter of which suggested a bit of Joni Mitchell influence in Rose’s delivery. And while Rose was definitely playing to a crowd that was mostly there for Nick Lowe, I’m certain she must have made a few new fans on this night.

With her songs and her voice hearkening back to the earliest practitioners of the genre, the New Orleans-based singer ran through a compelling set of honest, rootsy, retro-sounding country songs during her perhaps too brief time on stage.

Not bad for a Tuesday night.

Concert Review: The Long Ryders, September 14, Horseshoe Tavern

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“We haven’t been here in 30 years. Thanks for coming out!”

So said The Long Ryders‘ Sid Griffin a couple of songs into the band’s set at The Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night and as far as gaps go, that is indeed a rather long one. Griffin made further reference to the long break later on in the set when introducing one song as the band’s “last single”, then laughing and adding, ” … from 1987.” So yes, it’s been awhile, but The Long Ryders are back on the road and were back in Toronto for the first time in decades. And it was certainly a welcome return.

While the band has reunited for the occasional tour over the years, their current tour is happening in the wake of the release of their first album in over 30 years, Psychedelic Country Soul. As comeback albums go, it’s a strong return for the band, continuing on where they left off with some fine, Byrds-indebted country rock offerings (Griffin even noted that the album has ranked highly on a couple of Americana charts, joking that he’s got the screenshots to prove it).

Highlights from the new album include “Greenville”, “Molly Somebody”, and the band’s stellar cover of Tom Petty’s “Walls”, all of which stood out as memorable moments during the live set alongside classics such as “Gunslinger Man”, “Looking For Lewis And Clark”, and “State Of My Union.” Another highlight of the night came from watching bassist Tom Stevens each time he was given the chance to switch over to lead guitar. This is, of course, not to disparage Stephen McCarthy’s playing in any way as he was also great, but it was quite fun to watch Stevens really let loose each time he took the lead – when he took over, he really took over. Speaking of McCarthy though, seeing him sing “Lights Of Downtown” was definitely my favourite moment of the whole evening.

All in all, it was a fun show for both the audience (there was a small group enthusiastically dancing through pretty much the entire show) and for the band, with Griffin thanking the crowd again at the end of the night and adding that this was “the most enjoyable show of the tour” so far.

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