Toronto – With performers of a more intimate nature, making a strong connection with the audience often makes the difference between a good show and a great show. A good example of this is Sharon Van Etten. Not only is she an incredible performer with great songs, but her onstage demeanor is such that she ends up totally charming those in attendance. This is not quite the case with Marissa Nadler.
Now don’t get me wrong, Nadler did put in a solid, enjoyable performance. She has an excellent voice and displayed that voice as she played songs from throughout her career, but by her own admission, she needs to work on her stage banter. Very little was said to the crowd other than a few kind of awkward statements here and there and that’s fine, I suppose. A lot of performers prefer to let their music speak for them to good effect and Nadler certainly had the crowd’s attention. I heard nary a peep from the crowd throughout her set.
Sonically, her set was quite interesting. Performing solo for the first part of her set before being joined by a cellist and opener Mike Fiore, aka Faces On Film, Nadler offered up some moody, dreamy folk-based music that definitely impressed. Also impressive was Fiore’s opening set. Not having heard of Faces On Film before this show, I enjoyed his rootsy songs and strong voice. He did have a bit of a snag in his set though when he attempted to play what i believe was an omnichord. Apparently, he’d been expecting the thing to die on him any day now and tonight was the night. He checked it intermittently for the remainder of his set, but to no avail. I guess he’ll have to adjust his set accordingly for the rest of the tour.
Let me first make sure you know what the 2 things this post is NOT: it is NOT 2 things.
1) It is NOT a message to deter you from going to a Darwin Deez concert next time you have the chance.
2) It is NOT a blanket criticism of female rockers.
With that in mind:
I was not wowed by Darwin Deez’s last visit to the Black Cat in Washington, DC. My friends and I had gone to see him in February and were blown away by his gorgeous trash ‘stache, curly locks, vocal energy, and most of all, by the Deez and his (all-male) bandmates’ razor-sharp dance moves. All their songs sounded better live than recorded and the band’s obvious delight at performing just added to the excitement of the already-pumped crowd.
Given this experience, my concert-crew was quick to jump at the chance to see the Deez again this past Wednesday. With our high expectations, perhaps it was inevitable we would be disappointed. However, there were several specific… flaws (?) errors (?) faux pas (?) that made this show simply lacking.
• First, the band was about 15 minutes late to take the stage. Fifteen minutes. Not a big deal right? I mean, that’s the amount of time it takes me to type a text using T9 on my beloved dumb-phone. Except fifteen minutes takes on a whole new meaning when the set time is 10PM, you live in the nation’s capital, and the one and only WMATA (our ‘fond’ nickname for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) only runs until 11:58 PM on weekdays with the closest station being a good 30 minute-walk from the venue. Why the delay? After discussing (albeit drunkenly and in shouted tones) the question with fellow concert-goers, we decided Deez was… nervous. Seriously. The concert was being taped and Deez took the stage looking more consternated than excited to perform. Buzz kill. Disappointment #1.
• Second, Deez came shorn! The moustache was definitely up to par (as were the “homage ‘staches” of several male concert-goers) but his ringlets were chopped. Not a serious flaw, but still, a little sad.
• Third (and I cringe to type this, but type this I will), there was something ‘off’ about the band’s dancing, which was the unquestioned highlight of the last show. And… I’m going to blame it on The Girl. She was just too self-conscious on stage. While the original (yes, again, all-male) band-members perfectly balanced maintaining an air of: [this is SO fun + I am ROCKING these dance moves + go ahead and laugh but this is SUPER serious bizness] on stage while dancing, The Girl’s aura was more a combination of:
[I’m going to try really hard to LOOK like I’m having fun + I don’t QUITE know these moves + DAMN ! I forget – am I supposed to look sexy? Or serious? Or both?]. Not ideal.
That being said, I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent $13 on a Wednesday. Deez’s entire repertoire is excellent. Up in the Clouds, Bad Day, Constellations, DNA, Radar Detector – all the classics rocked my socks. A couple unexpected treasures were The Bomb Song and The City. And don’t get me wrong, The Girl played her bass like it was no one’s business AND she drank a regular Coca-Cola on stage, so she scores double points for being a female who drinks non-diet soda and for defying the stereotypical beer-on-stage look.
All in all, a truly enjoyable concert event. It’s just difficult to keep topping expectations when you set the bar so high the first time. So next time Deez is in town – go see him. And make sure you remind Michelle (yes, The Girl has a name) to practice her dance moves.
Toronto – A surprisingly small crowd took up shop at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night to see the Cibo Matto, a genre bending hip hop meets indie rock meets dream pop band from New York best known for their records Viva! La Woman and Stereotype A. It had been many years since the Japanese via New York duo last took the stage in Toronto and from what my friends can recall, that show (a bill shared with Lucious Jackson) was one for the ages. You would have thought that the memories of that show would propel all those attendees to visit Lee’s to relive those moments. Sadly, that was not the case.
Playing tracks off those two albums, Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori put on a stellar show that was energetic and surprisingly intimate. The duo started off the set as the only members on stage with Yuka on the keyboards and Miho behind the microphone (and some funky sunglasses). Sugar Water was played rather early much to the delight of the crowd. Just as I was about to complain about a lack of live instruments, two other members took the stage, assuming bass and drum duties. Now a full band, Cibo Matto’s show took on a more upbeat vibe. Miho’s rapping has to be seen to be believed. You would never think that a Japanese woman rapping in a heavy accent would work, but it does. The band seemed to appreciate the crowd that showed up, perhaps realizing their decade long sabbatical might seem exponentially longer given the break neck speed that the music industry moves at these days. A particularly funny story about 16 dollar pad thai was told (you can read it on their website) and the band introduced a few new songs, including a thrilling dance track that may or may not be called Ghost Girl on the Dance Floor. Apparently a new album is on the way
Cibo Matto finished the set with dance floor igniting Know Your Chicken. It might have taken them almost a decade to return to Toronto, but for those in the crowd, it was well worth the wait.
Roskilde – Whoever does the music programming for the Roskilde Festival really must be commended. Having already seen acts as diverse as Portishead, Kylesa and Shangaan Electro, the remaining days proved to be equally eclectic and perhaps even better.
Things started out on an interesting note with post-punk/industrial/metal pioneers Kiling Joke. Clad in a camouflage jumpsuit and often lumbering across the stage like Frankenstein’s monster, singer Jaz Coleman took on the role of an angry prophet of doom. His between song banter consisted of a series of Howard Beale-esque rantings like “the European Union is in trouble,” “there are no more fish in the ocean,” and more cryptically, “soon, they’ll attack the supermarkets.” Each of these rantings segued perfectly into the title of the next song and worked to create a perfect mood to match their music. In fact, Coleman seemed a little miffed when bassist Martin “Youth” Glover asked the crowd if they were having a good time between songs as if it were breaking the angry comspiracy theorist mood he was trying to create.
One of the most impressive acts I saw was Dutch art-punkers The Ex. I had known the band by reputation and heard a bit of their music, but was not quite prepared for it to be quite as good as it was. Known for their love of collaboration, the group was performing on this occasion with Italian jazz trumpeter Roy Paci, who played on their most recent album Catch My Shoe. For a band that’s been going for 32 years (though admittedly not with all of it’s original members), these guys had an incredible amount of energy, jumping and flailing about the stage with the energy and enthusiasm of teenagers. Also delivering an energetic set was Swedish electronic act Little Dragon. Dancing, posing, and twirling (yes, twirling) across the stage, singer Yukimi Nagano is a totally engaging, charismatic frotwoman. I expect to hear more from this band in the future.
One of the more unique acts of the festival was Congotronics Vs. Rockers. It was essentially a massive jam session made up of 19 musicians from six different bands – Konono No. 1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Wildbird and Peacedrums, Skeletons, and Juana Molina – all of whom had participated in the Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers CD compilation. It was really pretty impressive to see that many musicians from various musical backgrounds playing together and they all seemed to be having a lot of fun up there. Of course, as would be expected with that many musicians, the logistics of organizing it all didn’t go 100% smoothly as it seemed that certain instruments were not always as prominent in the mix as they should be. Still, this was one of the highlights of the entire festival, and well worth skipping out on most of The Strokes’ mainstage set. Luckily, Julian Casablancas and company frontloaded their set with a lot of hits and I walked away after about half an hour satisfied that I had seen enough.
Due to the abundance of mud, I decided to stay at the Odeon stage after Congotronics Vs. Rockers to check out old school death metallers Autopsy. The metal faithful were out in full force, eager to hear something heavy and brutal at 1:00am, and Autopsy did not let them down. I enjoyed their set, but not being overly familiar with their stuff, I felt that I had had enough after 4 or 5 songs. I do have to comment, however, on the fact that guitarist Danny Coralles seemed to be wearing trackpants on stage. Sure, he offset this by wearing studded gauntlets onstage, thus upping the metal quotient, but to quote from Seinfeld, when you wear sweatpants, you’re telling the world, “I give up.” I know death metal has never been the most glamorous of genres, but come on, put a pair of jeans on. Or at least some shorts. Shorts would be better.
By Sunday, lack of sleep had gotten the best of me and so a conscious decision was made to see less bands and take it easy. California punk legends Bad Religion were on my list of must sees and put on a pretty solid set full of songs from throughout their 32 year career. “This is a song from the 20th Century … back when we were good,” joked vocalist Greg Graffin and as with all good jokes, there was a good bit of truth to it. This is not to say that their newer material is bad, but the older songs certainly got a bigger reaction from the crowd.
Also getting a big reaction from the crowd was Janelle Monae. With a great band, a great voice, and a top notch stage show, it’s hard to fault anything she does. She even managed to incorporate covers of Stevie Wonder and The Jackson Five into her set. Yet despite all this and despite the fact that a guest spot from Big Boi on “Tightrope” was pretty much inevitable (although according to this Pitchfork review, he didn’t make an appearance), I just wasn’t really feeling it. What I needed instead was to close out the festival with something a little more intimate from an equally impressive performer – Justin Townes Earle. While his stage show couldn’t compete with Monae’s in terms of spectacle, Earle is a talented guitarist and songwriter as well as an accomplished storyteller. Accompanied only by another guitarist, Earle made it feel like a performance in a small club rather than a side stage at a massive festival. He closed things off with a cover of The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait.” The song was a perfect reflection of how I felt at that moment. Roskilde was great, but after 4 days of music, mud and little sleep, I could hardly wait to get out of there and get some rest.