Concert Review: Death Cab For Cutie, June 3, Massey Hall

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Despite being a band that has been releasing new indie rock music for over twenty-five years, you could say that Death Cab for Cutie is still going as strong as they were back then.

Coming off their tenth studio album Asphalt Meadows, the band rolled into Toronto for a pair of weekend shows at Massey Hall with enthusiastic crowds that ranged between Gen X parents with their young children and a younger millennial crowd that was likely still in diapers when Death Cab first started out. Lead singer Ben Gibbard has led a more than interesting life: formerly married to actress Zooey Deschanel, dedicated ultramarathon runner, as well as one-third of indie pop band The Postal Service, all while continuing to churn out albums that have been consistently praised by the online music community.

Between the two nights, they mixed up their sets by playing a variety of songs from older albums like The Photo Album, PlansTransatlanticism, and from the more recent Thank You for Today and Asphalt Meadows. I must confess that I haven’t given them a good listen since 2005’s Plans but based on enthusiasm and crowd noise, I was the anomaly.

Gibbard noted the politeness of Canadians for not rushing the stage like the “lunkheads” in America might which brought some cheers from the crowd. Gibbard’s performance with all his swaying and footwork could transfix the audience over the more energetic parts of the set but he also held attention through a solo acoustic performance and sing-along like “I Will Follow You into the Dark”. Massey Hall’s acoustics and the orchestration of the light production added to the show, especially with several songs that turned into 7-minute frantic jam sessions.

Death Cab continue on their current tour supported by Lomelda before starting a second leg in September with support from The Postal Service (double-duty).

Concert Review: Blackbraid, May 27, The Phoenix Concert Theatre

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Let’s face it, print media is a dying form. This is certainly noticeable in the music press in recent years, where despite the occasional blip like Creem magazine coming back from the grave, it’s much more common to see longtime music mags either switch to online only formats (SPIN, NME) or just shut down operations entirely (Q). So it’s a nice change from that pattern to see a magazine that has not only managed to stick around for close to 20 years now, but has even put together a successful touring package of bands featured within its pages.

I’m speaking of course of Decibel Magazine and its Decibel Magazine Tour, which has been going strong for 11 years now. One of the strengths of Decibel as a magazine is the the depth and breadth of their coverage, with acts spanning a wide variety of subgenres, and even the occasional non-metal act (I seem to recall a story on Mogwai a few years back), featured within its pages. Another great thing about their coverage is that rather than just covering the stalwarts of the genre, Decibel will often champion the up and comers or lesser known acts of the metal world. This spirit was definitely seen in the lineup of the latest edition of the Decibel Tour which featured both established acts like Dark Funeral and Cattle Decapitation alongside relative newcomers 200 Stab Wounds and Blackbraid. In fact, of all the acts on the bill, the one that interested me the most was not only the most recently established band, but also the first one up for the evening – Blackbraid.

Blackbraid is the brainchild of Jon Krieger aka Sgah’gahsowáh, and while it’s essentially a one-man solo project with Krieger handling all of the music, in the live setting he focuses completely on vocals and being the frontman, putting on a compelling and energetic performance.

Taking to the stage at the not-terribly-metal hour of 7:00, Blackbraid were lucky enough to be playing to a fairly large crowd for such an early set time – clearly, word has gotten out on the Adirondack-based band, with many in attendance stoked to see their performance.

As they took to the stage to the sounds of traditional indigenous drumming and singing, Blackbraid made it clear from the get-go that their indigenous culture and heritage are a central part of the band’s identity. And tunes like “The Spirit Returns” and “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon” clearly show that the band has got the goods live.

Having just formed last year and with only one album to their name (with another on the way very soon – July 7), Blackbraid may have been the rookies on this bill, but they definitely left a strong impression, putting on an incredibly entertaining set and coming on strong with the energy of a headliner rather than the first band up on a four band bill. A friendly reminder that if you’re able to, you should go see the openers. Also? Go buy a magazine.

Concert Review: Sunny Day Real Estate, April 26, Danforth Music Hall

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A few songs into Sunny Day Real Estate‘s Wednesday night set at the Danforth Music Hall, frontman Jeremy Enigk introduced “Song About An Angel,” the third track off of 1994’s Diary, by noting that it was the first song written for that album, which they’d recorded about 30 years ago. He also commented on the fact that, yes, that does date them a little bit, though a quick glance around the room would suggest that a good number of the attendees looked old enough to remember the album coming out at the time, so I guess it dates them too.

Yes, it would seem that the occasion of a Sunny Day Real Estate show is all it takes to draw all the middle-aged emo folks (and the not quite middle-aged yet, but not quite young either) out on a weeknight, and they were out in full force to see the Seattle legends run through a set of classics taken from all four of their studio albums.

And it was indeed quite the set, one full of intricate guitar parts, big climactic moments, and a decent amount of singalong choruses. With highlights such as “48”, “Seven” and “In Circles”, Sunny Day Real Estate put on an impressive show that definitely left all the aging emo kids in attendance satisfied.

Concert Review: Carcass, April 16, Phoenix Concert Theatre

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There’s a scene in Sam Dunn’s documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey wherein Dunn tells the story of himself and some high school friends sitting around and trying to come up with the most extreme death metal lyrics they can. It’s a great scene and one that likely rings true for a lot of metalheads.

I can certainly recall my circle of metalhead friends doing the same back in high school as we made up lyrics for a steady stream of not entirely real bands. In large part those lyrics were inspired by the works of Liverpool’s Carcass, whose early work especially focused on gore with a particular penchant for using the elevated language of medical textbooks. This set them apart and gave their songs a slightly more sophisticated air when compared to the more straightforward bluntness of many of their peers’ lyrics, and helped to solidify their status as true originals in the metal world. The band’s influence on the genres of death metal and grindcore, both lyrically and musically, is indisputable, even if our own attempts to mimic the band’s particular lyrical style back in the day mostly resulted in semi-nonsensical word salads.

Touring behind their latest, 2021’s Torn Arteries, Carcass made their way to The Phoenix to play a career-spanning set to a packed house on Sunday night. Well, not entirely career-spanning – they neglected to include anything off their debut Reek of Putrefaction, though to be fair, that one’s a bit of an outlier in their discography with its more straight up grindcore sound. I doubt anyone minded its omission too much though, as the band’s setlist for this tour, full of classics like “Buried Dreams,” “Incarnated Solvent Abuse” and “Heartwork”, is a hard one to argue with.

The one quibble I might have with their set is the band’s reliance of working snippets of some of their tracks into the intro or outro to other songs, but I guess it gives them a chance to slip at least some part of these songs into a medley when they otherwise might have been cut altogether, so I guess I’ll allow it.

Despite vocalist/bassist Jeff Walker’s description of himself and his bandmates as the old guys just trying to keep up with the younger acts on the bill with them, Carcass proved on this occasion that there’s a reason why they’re still regarded as one of the greats of extreme metal.

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