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.

Concert Review: Kathryn Joseph, The Twilight Sad, May 16, Velvet Underground

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A few songs into her set opening for fellow Scots The Twilight Sad on Thursday night, Kathryn Joseph introduced her next song as “another creepy song about being obsessively in love.” It was a funny comment and also an assessment of her work that is not entirely inaccurate – creepy, obsessive love songs do seem to be a recurring motif in her work.

Yes, much of Joseph’s music could conceivably be described as “creepy” – in fact Joseph herself referred to the songs as creepy more than once, even starting her set off by announcing that she would be more creepy than usual tonight (she also later helpfully pointed out which song had the most “fucks” it in – that would be “We Have Been Loved By Our Mothers” in case you’re keeping score).

Joseph’s latest album From When I Wake The Want Is is certainly a bit of a dark album, written, as it was, in the wake of some heartbreak and relationship problems, but it’s also a strong collection of sombre sounding yet beautifully mesmerizing songs that come across even better in a live setting.

Seeing the songs performed live, it’s very hard not to be drawn in by Joseph’s haunting, almost otherworldly voice and the sparse yet intense solo piano arrangements. It seems I wasn’t alone in feeling this way as much of the crowd near the stage were watching and listening intently during her set and I noticed a few people grabbing her albums from the merch table afterwards.

She ended off her set by thanking the audience, noting that both The Twilight Sad and their fans are the best and how lucky she is to get to see them live each night. She’s not wrong on that count – The Twilight Sad are a great live band.

Touring behind their recently released fifth full length It Won/t Be Like This All the Time, The Twilight Sad put on a typically intense performance following Joseph’s opening set – an impressive enough feat considering there was a distinct possibility that this show might not have happened. “Feels good,” Said vocalist James Graham a few songs in. “I wasn’t sure this was gonna happen but this is working.” The ‘this’ in question was of course, Graham’s voice, with the band having cancelled their previous gig due to vocal problems. But it seems that he’d gotten past any issues as it all sounded quite good on our end.

The band played nearly all of the new album throughout the course of the evening, peppering in a few choice selections from the rest of their discography including standouts “Cold Days From the Birdhouse” and “There’s A Girl In The Corner.” They also paid tribute to the late Scott Hutchison with their cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm” which has become a staple of the band’s set on this recent tour and which had more than a few singing along.

They closed the set off with “And She Would Darken The Memory” off of Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters and James closed things off (or got things started?) by having his first drink in a couple of days – after dealing with illness, cancelled shows, and an extended stop at the Canadian border earlier that day, I’d imagine it was well earned and well deserved.

CMW Review: The Dandy Warhols, May 9, Danforth Music Hall

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Midway through The Dandy Warhols‘ set at The Danforth Music Hall as part of Canadian Music Week, the band, and singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor in particular, faced a bit of criticism in the form of a heckle when some random fan shouted out, “Make your vocals higher!”

No, he didn’t mean that he wanted Taylor-Taylor to sound more like Geddy Lee, though that would have undoubtedly been very amusing. Rather, he felt that the vocals needed to be higher up in the mix. Apparently it wasn’t the first time the band had faced such a critique.

“Every single night – ‘turn your vocals up!’ … nope.” replied Taylor-Taylor. His feeling was that it was the heckler and not the band who needed to change things up, suggesting that the fan should “smoke more pot” and¬†change his mood to suit the music rather than the band changing anything to suit him. That’s fair enough – for much of their set the Dandys were all about setting a certain mood through their music, which would certainly qualify as stoner friendly as the band put out a psychedelic vibe that was kind of heavy yet also kind of mellow. And despite the fact that the band taking the stage about twenty minutes past their announced set time got me in a less than gracious mood from the outset, that mood quickly changed once the band got things going.

Though the Dandy Warhols just released their tenth studio album Why You So Crazy earlier this year, their current tour is being billed as a 25th anniversary tour and accordingly, the band played selections from the new album as well as songs from throughout their career. Highlights included “We Used To be Friends”, “Get Off”, “Godless” and of course the big crowd singalong during “Bohemian Like You.” “Highlife,” one of the tunes off the new album also stood out as keyboardist Zia McCabe took the lead on the krautrock meets country number.

And while it’s kind of weird to consider that the Dandy Warhols have been going for 25 years now, it’s still not as weird as the fact that Hanson has somehow been a band for even longer than that, and they’re all still only in their mid to late 30s. Just something to think about.

Anyways, here’s the video for “Forever”:

CMW Review: The Lemonheads, Tommy Stinson, The Restless Age, May 8, Lee’s Palace

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While the idea of going out on the first couple of nights of CMW seemed a bit daunting to me, by Wednesday night, I was drawn out of my music fest hibernation to check out a couple of acts whose legacies stretch back to the 1980s – Tommy Stinson and The Lemonheads.

Taking the stage before Stinson and The Lemonheads were openers The Restless Age, a younger act than the others on the bill, but one whose sound hearkens back to an even earlier time with their piano-based pop bringing to mind the smooth sounds of ’70s singer-songwriters. That influence was made explicit by the end of their set when they closed things off with a James Taylor cover. With each member of the band taking the lead during their set and the three of them displaying some solid harmonies throughout, the band put on an impressive set.

Next up was Tommy Stinson, performing solo and acoustic throughout much of his set (he switched to electric for the last couple of tunes). Stinson was in a chatty mood, joking with the crowd (“Everyone pull out your iPhones. Here’s tonight’s tourist attraction”) and offering up a few good natured yet somewhat curmudgeonly complaints about his guitar stand and his new eyeglasses. Noting that he doesn’t do this kind of solo gig too often, Stinson promised that he was going to bust out some deep cuts for the occasion, and referred back to those new glasses again when explaining why he wasn’t working with a setlist – too hard to read and so, he was winging it. “So if you have any requests,” Stinson added, “Keep ‘em to yourself.”

Finally came the main event for the evening as Evan Dando and the current iteration of The Lemonheads took to the stage to play a set full of songs from throughout their career including classics such as “It’s A Shame About Ray”, “It’s About Time”, “The Outdoor Type” and “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You.” Touring behind their latest Varshons 2, the band also performed several of the songs off of that collection of covers, including versions of Yo La Tengo’s “Can’t Forget” and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Straight To You,” the latter of which stood out as one of the highlights of the night.

The band closed out their set with another cover, their version of Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum” from 1990’s Favourite Spanish Dishes EP, thus ending things off on a high note.