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.

CBC Music Festival Review: Alvvays, Stars, Elisapie, Peach Pit, Buffy Sainte Marie, Charlote Cardin, May 25, Echo Beach

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“Rain or Shine” – if you’ve ever attended any outdoor concert or festival, you’re well aware of these ominous words, a caveat emptor reminding attendees that the weather can throw a bit of a wrench in the works. Over its years of existance, the CBC Music Festival at Echo Beach has generally been blessed with good weather, but that streak came to an end this year with thunderstorms putting things on a hold midway through the day. Still, despite the weather, it turned out to be a good day of music, though I will note that a venue full of sand is not really the ideal place to be after excessive rain.

Missing out on the first few acts of the day, I arrived in time to catch the tail end of Charlotte Cardin’s set on the main stage. With the sun still out at the time, her jazzy tunes went over well with the crowd, with songs like “Dirty Dirty” and “Main Girl” getting a strong positive reaction. Following Cardin came one of the sets I was most looking forward to – legendary singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie. With a career spanning over 50 years, Buffy knows how to put on a show and definitely has not lost any of her edge. With a longstanding history of activism, she continues to use her songs as a platform to speak out against all sort of injustice in the world – newer songs like “No No Keshagesh” and “The War Racket” fit in quite nicely next to classics like “Universal Soldier.” While Alvvays were the day’s headliners and Stars’ performance of Set Yourself On Fire was the big story surrounding the festival, Buffy Sainte Marie easily put on one of the most engaging shows of the entire festival.

Shortly after that, the announcement came that due to incoming weather, they would be evacuating the site, directing people to either go wait it out in their cars or seek shelter under the roof of the nearby Budweiser Stage. I chose the latter, which meant I was privy to the strange little interlude wherein q host Tom Power did his best to keep the crowd occupied, mostly by firing off a t-shirt cannon into the crowd. People do love t-shirt cannons … well ok, maybe not Maude Flanders, but most people.

Once the storm had cleared, the festival resumed according to schedule, with Peach Pit getting things going again at the q Stage with a set of catchy indie rock that featured probably the day’s only instance of a performer crowd surfing. Weird side note: I’m not sure if this was purely coincidence or if it was intentional, but the entire band seemed to be dressed in the same clothes they’ve worn in a bunch of press photos. Or maybe they’ve just got a closet full of the same outfit, like Mark Zuckerberg.

Moving on to the Junos 365 Stage, I caught most of Elisapie’s performance as she and her bandmates put on an impressive set full of songs from her latest, The Ballad Of The Runaway Girl, that ran the gamut from folky singer-songwriter fare to louder, noisier, and occasionally dissonant numbers. Highlights of her set included “Arnaq”, “Una” and her cover of Willie Thrasher’s “Wolves Don’t Live By The Rules.”

Before Alvvays closed things out with a solid set that included a nice cover of The Breeder’s “Divine Hammer,” Stars brought the nostalgia with an entertaining and dramatic set made up of their 2004 album Set Yourself On Fire performed in its entirety. And though it has admittedly been awhile since I’d listened to that album at all, it all came back to me pretty quickly and the songs still sounded great. Ageless beauty indeed.