Toronto – Fergus and Geronimo are a garage pop band out of Denton, Texas who make music that touches on a variety of different genres and takes influence from doo wop and Frank Zappa. They’re named after two characters from an Irish movie I’ve never heard of, so I guess they win obscurity points for that.
While on album they sound quite diverse, live they come across as a more straightforward garage rock band, albeit one with a sense of humour. They’re the kind of band who can play a song about Roman numerals and all the great things they are related to – textbook diagrams, Star Wars prequels, Rocky sequels, and so on. This sense of humour was also responsible for one of the best sales pitches I’ve seen from a band. “Back in America, the land of opportunity, we all work regular jobs so if you’d like to buy a CD or any other counter-cultural artifact, give us your Canadian money. We’ll figure out a way to turn it into real money.” They also made two requests onstage for a place for the band to stay for the night. Ah, the glamorous life of a young touring band.
Overall, they were good but not outstanding. I think in many ways I prefer their album to the live experience (if only for the variety), but they did put on a solid performance and are a fairly tight band. Plus they have a drummer who sings lead on some tracks and that’s always a good thing in my books.
Toronto – “I Love Canada.” So said Sharon Van Etten during her show at The Drake and she said it more than once. It’s a sentiment echoed by many American musicians who come to our fair country, but Van Etten took it a step further, offering up her hand in marriage to anyone willing to give her citizenship while also relocating to New Jersey. I’m sure there was many a concertgoer (myself included) who’d be willing to take her up on that offer. A friend who was at the show put it best: “She’s so endearing.” It’s true. Sharon Van Etten will charm you. Not only is she a great performer whose beautiful voice and strong songwriting are equally impressive, but her stage banter and personality really is so … endearing.
For those not in the know, Van Etten plays a form of mellow (yet intense) and at times slightly sombre folk-rock, though more recently, she’s been augmenting the rock side of her sound slightly. I remarked that if she actually were Canadian, the CBC would be all over her.
A few songs in, Van Etten invited a very pregnant Julie Fader onstage to sing harmonies on several songs. At one point, Fader commented that this was the first time she’d seen Van Etten use a tuner onstage. “Well, I turned 30,” replied Van Etten, adding that she’s trying to do other “adult” type things, like buying dresses (good ones, with pockets) and brushing her teeth regularly. I can attest to the growing importance of dental care as one gets older. I personally try to floss and stuff more often nowadays. Plaque buildup is a bitch, I tell you.
All in all, Sharon Van Etten put on a great show, highlighted by the songs off her latest release, Epic. She also played a cover of late Texas singer-songwriter Blaze Foley’s “Oooh Love,” which she dedicated to anyone in the house with blue eyes. This was the third time I’d seen Van Etten live and she seems to get better every time (although I did enjoy her SXSW set at the IFC House slightly more just because it was more intimate). It’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll see her every time she comes through town from now on.
Toronto – Shilpa Ray And Her Happy Hookers is admittedly a great band name. It’s a name I had seen around for a bit, especially in Austin during SXSW, where Ray and her bandmates were playing several showcases, as is the standard there. Having missed them in Austin, I was curious to see what they were all about and seeing as how they were opening for noise/psychedelia masters Acid Mothers Temple, I figured this was my chance.
There were a few things that were notable about Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers. Firstly, Ray plays the harmonium, an unusual instrument for a rock band. Secondly, when she sings, Ray seems to be able to open her mouth up really wide and out of that mouth comes an impressive blues/punk wail. Thirdly, her guitarist wears track pants on stage. And finally, her drummer is a total drum monster. John Adamski had a pretty hard hitting style that in many ways reminded me of Levon Helm, but like Levon if he listened to lots of hardcore bands or something. He even kind of looked like Helm. His drumming totally drove the band’s performance.
Ray played harmonium on most of the songs and it adds a unique flavour, especially on songs like “Venus Shaver” and “Erotolepsy.” Ray’s use of the instrument isn’t just a gimmick used to separate themselves from the pack, but an act of necessity. Growing up, her father banned her from learning any Western instruments and so harmonium it was. And that harmonium sounded pretty good, as did the rest of the four-piece band. They were most effective on the more uptempo numbers, when they were given a chance to really let go.
Speaking of letting go, Acid Mothers Temple really “let go” when they play live in the sense that you never really know where their set is going to go on any given night. There’s a lot of room for improvisation in their songs and sonically, it ran the gamut from near a capella moments to heavy, trippy riffing to trippy, ambient noodling. I’m not really sure how much of it was improvised and how much is specifically designed to sound that way and following a preordained pattern, but I do know that it was quite often “trippy.” I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that a whole lot of it is improvised. One glance at their merch table revealed a ridiculous amount of CDs (they were sold out of vinyl), the sheer volume of which not only brought many a fan to dumbfounded indecision (might as well pick one at random) but also suggests that these guys record pretty much every musical idea that pops into their heads. They were something to see live – a bunch of older, long haired Japanese dudes jamming out. Truthfully, not all of it was all that interesting all the time. During the more ambient passages, I tended to lose focus, and it was far less song-based than the opening act. But by and large, it was engaging, and the idea of sonic exploration that they represent is a pretty appealing one in general. In that sense, Acid Mother Temple are kind of like a bag of Bits and Bites – you never know what you’re gonna get.
Toronto – The Toronto Jazz Festival rolled out its line-up last week. We’ll be providing more in-depth previews of all the great shows happening as it gets closer to the festival. For now, I’d like to provide some colour on the roster.
Aretha Franklin – I had a chance to catch Aretha for her last show in Toronto. While she may not have the pipes she used to, she still seems to be pushing herself. That she is the Queen of Soul is uncontested. While this won’t be like seeing her when she was in her prime, it’s still a good opportunity to mark this off your concert checklist.
Paco de Lucia – This is the show I am 2nd most excited about. Spanish flamenco music derives a lot of it’s technique from classical guitar music, which has a reputation for being rigid in its implementation. You have to sit just so, you have to hold the guitar just so, you have to use a footstool like so. It’s about as far away from the rebellious guitar rocker that you can be, while still being in the same instrument family.
“[Paco de Lucia] crossed his legs like a badass, which actually incensed traditionalists of the day”
Paco de Lucia threw those conventions out the window. He crossed his legs like a badass (see picture above), which actually incensed traditionalists of the day. He developed his own style of playing and is now considered one of the world’s virtuoso flamenco guitarists.
Branford Marsalis & Joey Calderazzo – Both of these guys have been on my top roster of favourite contemporary jazz musicians. They’ve been playing together in the Branford Marsalis Quartet for years now, and as a result, they can read each other’s minds. In the world of jazz, the duo format can be stunning. There are no safety nets; no one gets to “comp” (play straight-ahead chords or accompaniment). This allows for a focused interplay between the two musicians. You take two artists at the top of their game and it can be magic. This is my most anticipated show of the festival.
The Roots – This show will sell out quickly. Every single person who went to the show last year will want to go again and bring all of their friends. All of the people on the outside of the tent looking at the ridiculous party inside is now going to want in, sticker price be damned. It will be a crazy fun blend of rock, funk, and hip-hop. This was my favourite show of 2010, and remains my only five star review. ‘Nuff said.
The Toronto Jazz Festival runs this summer from June 24 – July 3. You can find the entire line-up here. Paco de Lucia image above is distributed under the Creative Commons license.