Concert Review: Joan Of Arc, August 14, The Baby G

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Over the course of their 20+ year career, Joan Of Arc has never been a band that’s been afraid to follow its muse in whatever creative direction it takes them, even when, as frontman Tim Kinsella himself admitted in a Noisey piece wherein he ranked the band’s discography, the results might sometimes fall a bit flat. This willingness to experiment and take chances has been a defining element of the band’s sound over the years and that’s certainly just as true of their latest release, 1984.

Released on the heels of last year’s He’s Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands, 1984 takes the band in a different direction with Melina Ausikaitis taking on the role of lead singer for each song. It’s an interesting album, and one that sounds unlike anything else they’ve ever done with Ausikaitis delivering autobiographical-sounding lyrics in a twangy voice that recalls old-timey folk and country over the band’s expansive soundscapes.

In concert, Ausikaitis only took the lead on a handful of songs, spending the rest of the time either singing alongside Kinsella or playing her “fake guitar,” but two of those songs, “Punk Kid” and “Tiny Baby,” were among the highlights of the night. The rest of their set was a typical Joan Of Arc show – the experimental, arty indie rock the band is known for with a healthy dose of electronic elements added in – but also, in typical fashion, not terribly typical at all. Which is to say it was a unique, entertaining show.

Concert Review: The Gaslight Anthem, August 9, Rebel

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After a quartet of songs to start off the night, The Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon addressed the crowd, focusing his attention on a very specific subsection of the crowd – the VIP area to the side of the stage. “What did you do to get put over there?” he asked them. “What are you, over 40? You look young – why are you sitting down?” After a couple more jokes about bottle service and security not being needed for that crowd, Fallon returned his attention to the show and to the rest of the packed house at Rebel with a simple “Alright here it goes. A bunch of songs.” And with that understated introduction, the band launched into “Great Expectations,” the first track off of The ’59 Sound.

It’s become all too commonplace over the past several years for bands to tour behind a classic album and though some may question the deep dive into nostalgia, it’s a good reason for a band to go out on tour without having to have a brand new release to promote and it’s certainly a popular move with the fans. And while I’m sure most of the devoted Gaslight Anthem fans in attendance would be happy to see the band perform any one of their albums in its entirety (OK, probably not Get Hurt), their sophomore album, with its punk-goes-Springsteen vibe and use of retro ’50s imagery, was their breakthrough and is the one that makes the most sense to get the track-by-track performance tour.

If by chance The ’59 Sound is not your favourite though, the band still played plenty of other songs from throughout their career (but no requests please), bringing out opener Matt Mays near the end of the set to join them for “National Anthem” before closing things off with “We’re Getting A Divorce, You Keep The Diner” and “American Slang.” No encore though, because as Fallon so eloquently put it, encores are stupid. Amen.

Concert Review: St. Vincent, July 31, Sony Centre

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It’s impressive to see how much St. Vincent has progressed since she first played the Horseshoe just ten years ago. Perhaps one of the few truly unique artists in the music world today, every St. Vincent release has come with a different vision, theme and ultimately, live show. The anticipation for the live show on her Fear the Future tour was high and with good reason – her fifth album Masseduction is her most successful album, charting in the top 10 on Billboard.

I actually saw St. Vincent at Detroit’s Mo Pop Festival two days prior to her Toronto show, so this review is kind of like an amalgamation of both. Since we just loooooove amalgamation here in Toronto, right?

The thing about St. Vincent shows are … they are shows. It’s a meticulously designed affair, where all the musicians are dressed a certain way, move a certain way and basically have to hit all the visual and lighting queues at the right time. Each song has a certain design and a certain look and as an audience, you are merely there to witness the spectacle. I think St. Vincent shows have been like this for awhile and this  contributes to the overall aesthetic of the band.

As you can see, this time around, the band was set up in a Kraftwerk-ish formation (according to Frank from Chromewaves, who still manages to post music news all the time) with Annie Clark on the far side of the stage. Most of the set consisted of them moving about in this confined space, with Annie occasionally doing that robot guitar player dance that she probably learned from David Byrne. Visually, it was really pretty but the distance from the crowd made me feel like there was a bit of an emotional disconnect between artist and people. St. Vincent has always been more of a technical concert vs an emotional one, and this one was no different I guess.

Soundwise, the music was great. Masseduction and her self titled album both elevated St. Vincent’s game in terms of production and crispness and it shows. New and old tracks like “Los Ageless”, “Pills”, “Digital Witness” and the recently redone “Fast Slow Disco” had the crowd moving. One could argue the crowd might have moved more with a rawer, more visceral, organic performance but it was the Sony Centre, so who knows.

The centrepiece of the set was a lovely version of “New York”, arguably one of St. Vincent’s best tracks, that came with some Toronto based ad-libbing that also finally provided some interaction between band and crowd. It was a nice movement before the hit single. Probably a highlight for most during the show. If you want more information on that show, I highly, highly recommend listening to the Song Exploder podcast for it.

All in all, this was my seventh time seeing St. Vincent, each time having been a totally different experience and for that, I am appreciative.

Concert Review: Jeff Beck, Paul Rodgers, Ann Wilson, August 1, Budweiser Stage

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Ann Wilson wasted no time upon taking to the stage Wednesday night, immediately launching into a cover of The Who’s “The Real Me” to start things off and following that up with “Barracuda,” the lone Heart composition she would play during her set.

Taking a break from her main gig with Heart after a falling out with her sister Nancy over some family conflicts, Wilson was touring in promotion of her upcoming solo album Immortal, a collection of songs by artists who have died, but whose music will live on long after them – hence the name. With Wilson covering everyone from Leonard Cohen to Amy Winehouse to Chris Cornell on the album, it looks to be an eclectic song selection and she noted that when choosing songs, she went for what she thought were the best ones, rather than just the obvious hits. Highlights of her set included a cover of the Yes song “Your Move” (which she described as being “pure light”) and a beefed up version of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”

“You made the right choice this evening,” she said to the crowd, adding that we would get a good night of music “if you come in with your soul open and your ears open.” It almost felt like she was giving a sales pitch for the show with these comments, which seemed a bit odd to me. Everyone’s already paid to get in, Ann. You’re kind of preaching to the choir here.

Speaking of choirs, Paul Rodgers followed Wilson with a set full of hits from throughout his time in both Free and Bad Company that got the crowd singing along, most notably during set closer “All Right Now.” Rodgers has one of the quintessential rock voices and it was great to hear him belting out classic rock anthems like “Can’t Get Enough”, “Shooting Star”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”

Closing out the night was Jeff Beck, an impressive guitarist, but also a man of few words. Having seen Beck a few years ago during his co-headlining tour with Brian Wilson, I knew this coming in, but it seems he spoke even less this time around, addressing the crowd only once at the end of the night to thank them for coming and to briefly introduce his band. Still, the people weren’t here to hear Beck chat them up – they were there for some guitar heroics, and on that front, Jeff Beck certainly delivered.

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