SXSW Song Of The Day: Blushing – The Fires

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Photo Credit: Cristian Sigler

After two long years away, SXSW is (fingers crossed) finally set to make its IRL return to Austin this March.

At least we’re presuming it’ll go ahead as planned. After all, with plenty of artists starting to postpone/cancel tourdates again and festivals like Sundance moving to a fully online format this year, nothing is guaranteed.

On the other hand, yesterday’s announcement of this year’s Coachella lineup would seem to be a hopeful sign that things might be looking up by the time SXSW rolls around. Or just a sign that everyone’s in denial. Either way, there have been a whole bunch of acts announced for SouthBy so far, so as a further sign of hopefulness and/or self-delusion, today we start our annual tradition of profiling acts we’re excited about (potentially) seeing this March. After all, it’s what we here at the Panic Manual do around this time of year, so why break with tradition at this point?

We start things off with a look at one of my favourite Austin based acts of the last few years – Blushing. The band’s sound encompasses everything that’s great about shoegaze and if you don’t care to take my word for it, they’ve even got the seal of approval from Miki Berenyi of Lush/Piroshka fame, who guested on the band’s previous single “Blame”, taken from their forthcoming album Possessions. Or I guess you could also just listen to their latest single “The Fires” below. Your choice.

Possessions is out Feb 18th on Kanine Records.

Concert Review: Martha Wainwright, November 30, The Great Hall

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During her performance last night at The Great Hall, Martha Wainwright noted that two of her bandmates were from Toronto, which made this feel like a bit of a homecoming for her too. She also gave a shout out to a store across the street from the venue where she had just picked up the outfit she was wearing on stage, so it all felt pretty local. Wainwright later continued with the Toronto theme, telling a story about a time she spent here in her younger days before stopping herself.

“This story’s going nowhere. But you know what? Neither are you … Neither am I.” For their part, I’m sure the audience was glad she didn’t go anywhere.

With her loose, sometimes meandering, but generally enjoyable stage banter, Wainwright and her band seemed to be having a lot of fun up there – even a bad joke about her song “Getting Older” being called “Getting Younger” became kind of funny after she repeated it a few times in a row … and that bit then eventually morphed into a semi-pitch to buy a t-shirt from the merch table. Musically, the band was impressive, though also playful, such as one moment when they spontaneously started humorously riffing on some instrumental jazz while she was talking to the crowd.

While her band was impressive, some of the most memorable moments of the entire night came during the more stripped down moments in Wainwright’s set. At one point, the band left the stage as Wainwright ran through a few number from earlier in her career, commenting on how while she didn’t relate to some of those songs she wrote all those years ago, some resonated even more as she’s gotten older.

Other highlights of her set included a performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” that saw her belting the song out powerfully. She followed that up with a lovely rendition of her mother Kate McGarrigle’s song “Talk To Me Of Mendocino” and later in the night played another of her mother’s songs, “Proserpina”, during her first encore.

Ending things off with a second encore of “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole” after that seemed almost anticlimactic after what felt like a natural song to go out on but I’m sure a lot of fans were probably expecting to hear “BMFA” so it’s not like she could just skip it. And of course it still sounded great regardless, so what am I complaining about?

Concert Review: Caribou, November 23, Danforth Music Hall

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At the outset of Caribou‘s set at The Danforth on Tuesday night, Dan Snaith announced how happy he and the band were to be playing again and to see everyone at the show, adding, “Thank you for waiting so long for this.”

His words echoed those of most musical acts who have made their return to the stage over the past several months, but they seemed to hit a little harder and mean a little more at this show.

After all, if you’ll recall, Caribou was originally meant to be playing this show way back in March of 2020 and that original date was one of the first notable Toronto shows to be postponed due to COVID. So for it to finally be happening all these months later was certainly appreciated by all.

Snaith and his backing band put on a solid show, which is not too surprising considering they’ve been playing together for many years now. The band has an impressive musical rapport, exemplified on this evening by their epic performance of “Sun” – a song that went on so long that I almost forgot they were still playing that same song until they circled back to its main motif at the end. This is of course not a slight on them at all – “Sun” sounded brilliant and was one of the highlights of the night. It was far from the only one though, with “Odessa”, “Our Love” and the nonstop positivity parade that is “You Can Do It” also standing out as notable highlights.

In an interview done with The Toronto Star in advance of this show, Snaith described his current live set as “just a big dance party”, which is indeed an accurate description of what went on at the Danforth on this occasion. And while many people (around me at least) may have still refrained from full on dancing, it’s hard to argue that the energy levels of this show didn’t have that big dance party energy. This was a joyous performance.

Concert Review: Tobin Sprout, November 18, Monarch Tavern

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“I haven’t been here in a long time. It was a lot easier to get in last time. A lot of hoops this time.”

So said Tobin Sprout by way of introduction to the packed crowd at the Monarch Tavern for a show that was not only his first time back to Toronto in a while, but was also the first show back for many in attendance after a long time away from live music. For me personally, it was also my first time seeing Tobin Sprout and he did not disappoint. Starting things off with “Get Out Of My Throat“, Sprout set the tone for the night as he and his band ran through an enjoyable set full of songs from throughout his career.

With Sprout touring behind his latest release, last year’s folk/Americana leaning Empty Horses, I wondered whether he might have just been playing a stripped down solo set for this show, but luckily he brought a full band and the band, in turn, most definitely brought it. So yes, they may have had to jump through a lot more hoops to get here this time around, but the Toronto audience was definitely appreciative that they made the effort.

On a wildly tangential note, I will note here that while doing a recent Google search on Tobin Sprout, I stumbled across a completely unrelated company called Tobin Sports, known for their inflatable boats and kayaks. That is, I presume they’re unrelated – there’s always a chance that Tobin Sprout is a majority shareholder in the company, or maybe even the CEO. Perhaps there’s a whole other world he’s been involved in all along, providing quality inflatable modes of water transport to the CostCo faithful. Who knows?

Unlikely? Maybe, but stranger things have happened. I mean, his 1997 album Moonflower Plastic culminates in a track entitled “Water on the Boater’s Back.” That can’t be just a coincidence, can it?

Come on, people, the clues were there all along! Wake up!

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