Concert Review: Wild Beasts, Still Life Still, September 29, Mod Club

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On Friday night, me and my friends went to Clinton’s for a fun night of dancing. While we were there, we met some cool people and in a drunken 3 am haze, we decided that karaoke was the only course of action. We stumbled down a narrow staircase into one of those Korean karaoke places that you swear would serve you alcohol after three, but the lady at the front of the shop was insistent that this wasn’t one of “those places”. We went into the room and proceeded to do as you do, which is butcher as many songs as possible (the random people we picked up insisted on singing Christmas songs, and some of us spent the entire weekend with Wham in our head). Tone death, out of breath and lacking any type of range, it’s amazing to see how truly awful some people are as singers when faced with a microphone.

You know who aren’t horrible singers?

Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, of English band Wild Beasts. While Hayden is armed with an operatic range, Tom is no slouch on his own, adding an impressive array of depth with his vocals. Together, they are the backbone of the amazing live act that is Wild Beast. In town to promote their third album Smother, the group once again took to a packed Mod Club to display their talents, much like last August when they were in town to promote their Mercury Prize nominated Two Dancers.

Taking the stage to darkness and mystique, the band’s initial yearning for a dramatic opening was interuppted by technical difficulties, as noted by respected music blog Chromewaves in their review of the show. Hiccups aside, the band spend the next eighty minutes wooing the crowd with their unique blend of dramatic rock ballads anchored by vocal interplay between the smooth agile voice of Hayden Thorpe and the more rough meat and bones sounds of Tom Fleming. The moderately hypnotic tracks were accentuated by Hayden’s weird swaying with the guitar during the set, which I can’t decide if it’s awkward or awesome.

Starting the set with the mostly tracks from the last album, Wild Beasts played what I think should be the default set list for a new band to play – newer songs first, followed by all the popular hits. As one would expect, once the opening notes of the hit song We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues were played, the crowd simply went to another level. Surprisingly enough, it’s one of the bands few fast tempo songs. I don’t think Smother has a track that plays that fast. Anyways, the impossibly good Hooting and Howling finished off the main set before the group came back for a surprising three song encore. The seven to ten minute epic End Come Too Soon ended off the set and left a crowd in a nice post show daze. I think every band needs an epic long track and End Come Too Soon fits that glove to a tee. A slow build, a breakdown followed by a rousing lifting conclusion, its a song gives you goosebumps and appropriately enough, seems perfect to end off a very impressive show.

Wild Beasts – Reach A Bit Further by DominoRecordCo

Before there was all the drama, there was light – in the form of local indie rock band Still Life Still, a constant on the Toronto concert scene, I had yet to see this Arts and Crafts band play live. I don’t think I had even heard any of their songs, but the fact that their name always floats around and that they appear to be Kevin Drew’s little baby sparked my interest. Haven’t released an album since 2009’s Girls Come Too I assumed the band used the opening slot to test out new material in anticipation of a 2012 release.

Unfortunately for the local outfit, Thursday night shows at the Mod Club means that the opening band has to take the stage at an ungodly time of 7:30 pm. This might be a reasonable time if you were 65 and going to check out Cher, but for indie kids, 7:30 pm start time is almost unimaginable. The result was a sparsely attended opening set that saw the band play to a small but dedicated fan base. Despite the fact that there has been some negative rumblings about the band, I thought the band’s music was pleasant enough. They definitely wear their Arts & Craft influence on their sleeves, as most of the tracks seems to have a community jamming sort of vibe, where the band would play randomly and somehow a song would derive out of that. The result was a very typical guitar based indie rock song that is pretty on the ears but for me lacked the hooks to fully reel me in. Fortunately for SLS, the band appears to be all of 14 years old so they have plenty of time to hone their craft.

Still Life Still – Kid by Arts & Crafts

Concert Review: Ohbijou, Julie Doiron, September 30th, Trinity St Paul’s Church

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With the rain pouring harder than it has in Toronto in weeks, soaked but excited people filtered into Bloor Street’s Trinity St. Paul’s Church. Shivering and damp, ready for warmth whether it be from temperature or the kind brought on by the night’s roster, we settled into the pews, where we’d leave puddles.

Julie Doiron took the stage half an hour after promised, declaring how nervous she became within the last ten minutes. I would too if I was in a church, under one spotlight, surrounded by people. But I don’t think I, or many other people, can go through an entire set laughing, cracking awkwardly cute jokes and apologizing for messing up in such a charming way. “I’m playing the guitar so quirkily tonight!” she laughed. Doiron had her audience smiling, laughing and cheering for her after the first song.

Julie turned her set into an all-request hour, playing what people would shout out at her, like I Woke Myself Up. She told quips to every song, talking about imagination and reality bases for storytelling, even once saying a song was about how she was “grateful about things and stuff.” This type of banter brings the audience closer, and it worked well for her. I bet Doiron actually does walk and bike around where she lives and makes up little songs to herself and that’s that. She’s simple, but in the most endearing way, like you think you can do that too, but for some reason it’s so much harder to pull off. I’ve never seen a musician so openly anxious and yet the music still comes so easily.

Julie Doiron’s got a very soothing voice paired to her guitar playing out of a little old amp. Her recordings include drum and bass, but tonight, she was solo. She mentioned she doesn’t feel like writing another album for another five years, and instead settling down and getting a real job, but I wouldn’t stick that to her, and I would hope that won’t happen.

Spill Yer Lungs by Julie Doiron

Ohbijou then took the stage and the church seemed to swell. We were dry by then, but still ready for more warmth. Tonight was their release party for the newly minted Metal Meets album, and they didn’t disappoint in successfully transitioning the gorgeous recordings to the stage.

Stationed in front of kaleidoscopic videos, the six-piece worked themselves right into the material. Though I’m still not too familiar with the new songs, the ones with more oomph really stood out, such as the lovely wistfulness of Niagara, spritely Balikbayan and the haunting Iron and Ore that Jenny Mecija (sister of lead singer Casey and violinist) sings. While Casey can belt it out if she wants to (it doesn’t happen much, but when it does, it’s captivating), Jenny stayed a bit too quiet.

Every member in this band was interesting to watch – Jenny and Anissa Hart’s string sways, James Bunton’s heavy drumming, Heather Kirby’s slow and steady bass, Ryan Carley’s spacey sound effects and Casey’s guitar changes and strong voice. Songs like Black Ice from Beacons still shined, and the band even emerged for two encores, one which included Casey walking around the church singing with a tape recording of herself.

Ohbijou and Julie Doiron can fill the coldest, dampest person with lasting, glowing warmth. It doesn’t seem that often that you’ll get a big crowd full of people in Toronto who had just been rained on looking that happy and satisfied.

Ohbijou – Niagara

Remaining Tour Dates:
Oct 5 – Kingston, ON @ The Mansion
Oct 6 – Ottawa, ON @ Ritual
Oct 13 – London, ON @ The Aeolian Hall
Oct 14 – Peterborough, ON @ Market Hall
Oct 18 – Halifax, NS – Halifax Pop Explosion @ The Marquee Club
Oct 21 – Charlottetown, PE @ Baba’s
Oct 22 – Fredericton, NB @ The Capital

Concert Review: Mates of State, Suckers, September 28, The Phoenix

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If great careers are defined by consistent production over a lengthy period of time (as it is in most professional sports), then husband and wife group Mates of States would be a forerunner for what defines a great career. Since forming in 1997, Mates of State have been keeping up an incredible work rate, having released seven quality (if not kind of similar) albums in that time. Mountaintops, the band’s seventh album, was recently released off Barsuk Records and features more of what we’ve come to know from Mates of States – short and sweet pop songs that fill your heart with all kinds of warmth. On Wednesday night at the Phoenix, band took to the stage to introduce their new songs to the city of Toronto.

For a band that has produced so many albums and quality singles over the years, the relatively small crowd (~ 50% capacity) that attended the concert was a surprise to me and all involved. Decorated in a floral manner, the stage’s bright color accurately reflected the happy mood of band and the crowd for the entire show. Armed with an extra guitarist and multi-instrumentalist, Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel took center stage with their respective synth and drum sets and delivered a nearly ninety minutes hit filled set that spanned most of the band’s discography (including their covers album).

I wasn’t terribly surprised at how well the new material (such as Maracas and Palomino) meshed with their older stuff material but it’s always nice to see a crowd respond as positively to the newer songs as to the older ones. If there’s an award for consistent sound, you could make a good case for Mates of State to take that one home. The small but loyal crowd ate up all the tracks and me and Paul both were surprised at the amount of people who were singing along to every one of the songs played. Kori and Jason both played their songs with enthusiasm, which is nice since they’ve probably played tracks like Get Better a few thousand times by now. An entirely pleasant time for an entirely pleasant band.

Mates of State – Maracas by orchardmktg

If you have read our blog consistently for awhile now, you will know that I was a large fan of Wild Smile, the debut record from Brooklyn act Suckers. So you will imagine my disappointment last year when I missed out on a large portion of the bands opening set last year due to an extremely early (7:30!!!) set time. This time around, I made sure to catch the groups opening slot on Wednesday.

Equipment problems delayed the start of the set, but the group was still able to play a half an hour show that was heavily impressive. I did not notice this last time, but it seemed every member of the band played at least two instruments. Most impressive was the drummer, who somehow managed to play with the drums with one hand and the keyboards with the other at the same time. Just thinking about that gives me a headache.

The band played a slew of songs from their debut album and maybe one or two new tracks. Highlights include Martha (which the band introduced as Samantha, an inside joke of sorts), A Mind I Knew and the epic set closer It Gets Your Body Movin’. One of my favorite tracks off the album, It Gets Your Body Movin’ was a great choice to end off the set and introduce the people coming into the Phoenix to the band. Featuring a gospel-esque singalong chorus, a trumpet AND a whistling solo, the song just hits you hard in a live environment and it would be hard for even the casual concert goer to not get swept up in it all. Hopefully a few of the people did, for Suckers is a pretty impressive band.

Suckers – Black Sheep (RAC Mix) by RAC

Concert Review: Peter Hook and the Light, September 24, Phoenix Concert Theatre

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I have to write a few disclaimers before I dive into this review, as I feel it may arouse some impassioned opinions. First, as conflicted as I feel about some band members embarking on tours without others, it’s within all of the songwriters’ rights to tour such material without other members (particularly when one of its key members is dead). Second, it’s not up to me to decide whether a tour should or shouldn’t happen. I can only report on what my thoughts were.

Let me preface this with Panic Manual’s love of Joy Division, albeit in varying degrees, through various phases of our lives. I would say for me, finding this band had more to do with timing in impressionable adolescence. The music was poetic, dark, and rebellious, but on top of everything else there was a dreary upbringing, unhappy marriage, and of course the dramatic finish of a suicide. One needs grand things to explore in youth…be it Star Wars or Joy Division, and this is probably the closest I ever got towards music fanaticism, having collected every album, boxed set, poster, book, vinyl, and t-shirt that I could afford.

That said, I haven’t actively listened to them since I was in 12th Grade. Art is funny that way–the stuff you discover in high school sticks with you forever in spite of abandonment. Your formative years can make a book, album, or film feel like your life is hinging on its consumption. I would imagine that I’m no exception here–being a teenager is all about brooding poetry, after all.

So…onto my thoughts about the show. This past year, Peter Hook has been touring the posthumously-released Closer (my favorite of the two official albums), and he continues on the success of those shows by performing Unknown Pleasures with The Light, which includes his son on bass. The backing band certainly sounded louder and more stadium-rocky than anything I had remembered…that in itself is fine, seeing as a tour should be supporting a new and different ambition towards past material to make it a worthwhile endeavor. I just felt like Hook was scream-singing most of the lyrics, struggling to keep up with the breakneck punk tempo of the songs (however at age 55, we should all be so lucky to be pulling off rock shows passably at any level).

And what was up with those aggressive ceiling and audience points?

On the one hand, I had to admire Mr. Hook’s enthusiasm for rocking out with his cock out. On the other, I couldn’t help but wonder if a different approach to the material might have given us more to enjoy and think about. I’m hard-pressed to suggest what that approach might be (acoustic??), but it just seemed as if the album was turning into a parody of a prototypical ‘punk’ sound when so much of what made Joy Division appealing in the first place was its hollow percussional scarcity.

Some of the songs went off better than others. Shadowplay, Transmission, and Dead Souls, which made me wonder whether I might have felt differently about an instrumental version of the tour because it would have stayed true to Mr. Hook’s true talents. To me, the poetic lyrics are really the foundation of the group’s appeal–something I really felt was missing from New Order. New Order of course had other strengths in electronic music.

I would suspect that given Peter Hook’s interviews about how he thinks anyone who disapproves of these shows should fuck off, he won’t care much about what I have to say. Perhaps you don’t either, but at the end of the day I expected something better from the man who created one of the best singles of 1997.