Concert Review: Petula Clark, June 17, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

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While a punk show at some dingy dive bar is probably more my speed on any given day, I will admit to having a fondness for old school show business and an appreciation of classic pop hits so it wasn’t really too much of a stretch for me to take in Petula Clark’s show this past Monday night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. As far as classic pop songs are concerned, Ms. Clark certainly has that covered latter with bona fide classics like “Don’t Sleep On The Subway”, “Sign of the Times”, and of course “Downtown”, all of which made their way into her set.

As for the old time showbiz vibe, she’s definitely got that covered as well, playing all her hits as well as songs made famous by others as she regaled the crowd with stories from throughout her lengthy career, dropping some impressive names like Fred Astaire, Francis Ford Coppola, John Lennon, and Charlie Chaplin and even throwing in a Glenn Close impression along the way.

The showbiz vibe perhaps went a bit too far for my taste when Clark performed her “60s Medley” which was an economical way to fit many of her old numbers into the set, but which also veered into slightly corny territory with the lyrics linking all those songs together and singing the praises of the ’60s. At times it came dangerously close to SCTV’s old Jackie Rogers Jr sketches.

Still, it was a good medley regardless, and Clark’s band for the evening, made up mostly of a group of Quebec musicians who made the trek along with her after the Montreal show, sounded great on it and everything else. It was especially impressive considering that this was only their second night playing with her (and that they were playing an almost entirely different set than the previous show, which focused on her French language recordings).

One of the highlights of the night that also came as a bit of a surprise was her version of Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 hit “Crazy.” The song’s been covered many times by many others but by adding a bit of that old school showbiz flair, she certainly managed to put her own spin on it. And at 86 years old, Clark’s voice does not seem to have lost much of its lustre. And I don’t just mean her singing voice – that Glenn Close impression was not too bad either.

Concert Review: Dido, June 15, Danforth Music Hall

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While introducing the song “See You When You’re 40″ off of her 2003 album Life For Rent, Dido mentioned how she wrote the song back in the day with the notion of wanting to hurt someone who hurt her and how she imagined that “the most insulting thing I could say to them is that they would one day be 40. Clearly that’s not old.”

No, it’s not. And a quick survey of the crowd would seem to indicate that this was an audience where perhaps the majority of people in the place were, if not over 40, at least somewhere in the vicinity of the big four-oh. You could easily tell it was an older crowd because while they stood up for certain songs, they happily sat back down when those songs were over. And for those on the other side of 40, this show was definitely a bit of a nostalgia trip. A trip back to a time when Dido was still in her 20s, 40 really did still seem old, and we were all just happy to have survived Y2K.

On the subject of nostalgia, while I do recall enjoying all of her hits from back in the day, I’ve never really been that big of a fan of Dido. With this in mind, I decided to refresh my memory a bit on her career before the show. In doing so I was reminded that “Here With Me” used to be the opening theme for the old WB series Roswell (which has of course recently been rebooted – yet another form of nostalgia) and also that the video for “White Flag” featured David Boreanaz, which seems like a very 2003 thing to do. Of course I needed no reminder on her breakthrough hit “Thank You,” which was also famously sampled by Eminem on “Stan.”

It wasn’t all about nostalgia of course. About a third of Dido’s set was taken up with songs from her latest release Still On My Mind. Live, Dido and her band did a good job on the new material, which fit in quite nicely with the oldies, though as is the case with most artists who’ve built up a decent back catalogue, the biggest reaction was for the older stuff.

While I was never more than a casual fan, it was clear upon walking into the sold out Danforth Music Hall that Dido has a fair number of diehard fans who were eager to see the English singer live on her first tour in fifteen years. I get the impression those fans did not walk away disappointed.

Concert Review: Nightmarer, May 29, Lee’s Palace

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Though its members have played in several other bands (including Gigan, War From A Harlots Mouth, and The Ocean) Florida death metallers Nightmarer are a relatively new band, having just released their debut album Cacophony of Terror in March of last year.

Nightmarer are currently on tour behind that album and were the first band up on a stacked bill for the Devastation On The Nation tour that also included Dark Funeral, Belphegor, Incantation, Hate, and Vale of Pnath. Starting things off at the not very metal hour of 6:30pm, the band played to a relatively sparse crowd, but those that showed up early were treated to a fairly intense performance that definitely stood out as unique from the other bands on the bill. At times sounding very reminiscent of Quebec’s Gorguts, Nightmarer created a certain mood with their music and managed to impress within the short time they were given on stage. Over the course of their roughly 25 minute set, singer John Collett spoke not one word between songs, not even to introduce the band, choosing instead to gesture dramatically during each song and basically let the music speak for itself.

That music, as exemplified in songs like “Cave Digger”, “Bleach” and “Fetisch” is really best described by the title of the album on which it appears. As album titles go, Cacophony of Terror is quite apt as this album is indeed pretty damn cacophonous. I mean that, of course, in the best way possible – on album and in concert, the band plays around a lot with dissonance, creating something that is full of different textures, expansive and experimental but at the same time just heavy as fuck. And also very good.

Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, May 28, Echo Beach

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There’s an old showbiz adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity and while I’m sure there are some exceptions to that statement, for the most part the adage holds true. Case in point: bad publicity is 100% the only reason I started paying any attention to Greta Van Fleet in the first place.

The band had already built up a fairly decent following, but saw their profile rise while at the same time they took a bit of a hit after that now notorious Pitchfork review that absolutely savaged them made the rounds back in October. They took another hit a few months later following their SNL performance that led to more than a few folks taking a shot at them afterwards. And perhaps most devastating of all, Anthony Fantano, the self-proclaimed “intenet’s busiest music nerd,” deemed their debut album Anthem Of The Peaceful Armynot good.” The biggest tragedy of it all though is that SNL missed out on their chance to have Pete Davidson come onstage dressed up as singer Josh Kiszka to mime alongside him during the band’s performance a la John Belushi during Joe Cocker’s performance on the show back in the day. That would have been comedy gold.

I’ll admit that Greta Van Fleet is not my cup of tea – their music doesn’t really grab me and I do agree with a lot of the criticisms leveled against them. That said, I do like to keep an open mind (after all, one of my favourite shows from last year was a Molly Hatchet concert) and so I ventured out on a somewhat chilly Tuesday night to see if I could figure out just what it is that the band’s legion of fans see in them. I never did quite figure it out, but here’s a few random thoughts on the band after witnessing their first show of a two night stand at Echo Beach.

Much had been made of the band’s similarities to Led Zeppelin, specifically the blatant Robert Plant-isms of Josh Kiszka’s voice, and it’s impossible to deny, though I will note that live, his voice also often resembles that of Geddy Lee at his most Temples Of Syrinx-y. My point is this – he sure does have a real high voice.

It’s also already been pointed out by others that with his small-ish stature and head of curly hair, Josh bears some resemblance to a hobbit, so I won’t get into that, but I will say that I’m shocked that no one’s talking much about the fact that the other two brothers are basically just twin clones of Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. Prove me wrong.

And while we’re on the topic of Greta Van Fleet’s appearance, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their personal style as a band. Though they weren’t dressed quite as elaborately as they sometimes are, the band certainly has an interesting fashion sense that was still quite evident in their stage wear on this evening and that can probably best be described as faux hippie. You can’t convince me that they didn’t get 90% of their stage clothes just from raiding the wardrobe of the cast of Godspell. You just can’t.

Finally we come to the band’s actual performance. I suppose they did put on a decent enough show that certainly had the die hard fans loving it. It wasn’t terribly interesting to me, but nothing went terribly wrong either. It was … fine, I guess. I still don’t quite get it, but if people dig it, I guess they’re allowed to. I will leave the final word on the subject, however, to some dude who I overheard talking to his friends midway through the band’s set, presumably as they headed to the gates to make an early exit:

“I love rock and roll, but that’s a knock off. I need a nice punk circle pit …”

Amen, brother. I feel you. See you in the pit!*

*Note: I will not actually see anyone anywhere near the pit. Like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, I am too old for that shit.

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