Concert Review: Judah and the Lion, November 2, Aragon Theater

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Choreographed dancing? Check. Campfire singing? Check. Cape-wearing? Check. Pep talk? BIG CHECK. Who’s been checking off these feel-good requirements on their ongoing tour? Look no further than the tremendous trio of Judah and the Lion (although at this show, there was a glorious six-man line-up of talent). The Tennessee-based band is making huge waves throughout the States as they promote their newest album, Pep Talks, and regale audiences with old-time favorite tunes.

The band took the stage at the estimable Aragon Ballroom Saturday night to an energetic crowd pumped up by the awesome opener Wilderado. Judah and the Lion opened up with their newest hit, “Quarter-Life Crisis”, which had everyone in the crowd asking for a pep talk – and getting it in spades. Over the next two hours, frontman Judah Akers led his band through on-stage shenanigans, crowd surfing, choreographed dancing, and silly/sexy group dancing. One of the highlights of the show was when Judah actually came off the stage with his band, setting up shop in the middle of the crowd, and leading an intimate “camp-fire sing-along” experience of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Interspersed throughout were, in all seriousness, pep talks. Judah told uplifting stories about his childhood, told everyone in the crowd they could overcome their “something” – be it addiction, divorce, or just a bad day, and generally dropped tons of love on Chi-city.

The band left the stage with a 4-song encore culminating in their hit “Take it All Back” which became an uproarious sing-along from a crowd who obviously wouldn’t have taken any of the last two hours back for anything in the world. Judah and the Lion will be on tour for the next few months – be sure to check them out when they’re in a city near you!

Concert Review: The Mavericks, October 30, Danforth Music Hall

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The intro music a band chooses to play before they take to the stage can really tell you a lot. Not only does it get the crowd a little more hyped up, but it can also help to set the tone for the evening and maybe even give you a hint of what’s to come for the night. In The Mavericks’ case, their choice to take to the stage to the strains of “Galop Infernal” (aka the Can-Can song) was a rather apt one. No, there were no spontaneous bursts of Can-Can style high kicking involved, but The Mavericks definitely put on a show during their Wednesday night performance at The Danforth Music Hall.

The Mavericks’ current tour sees them celebrating 30 years together and as such, they played a set of songs spanning their entire career, including a few selections from an upcoming collection of covers that the band will be releasing to honour the occasion.

Singer Raul Malo mentioned that after 30 years, they’ve decided it was finally time to put out an album of songs that have been important to them over the years, songs that, as Malo put it, “tell our story.” He then went on to tell a story of his own about driving around Miami with his dad as a kid listening to Freddy Fender’s classic “Before The Last Teardrop Falls” on 8-track. The band absolutely did that song justice, though to be fair, with a singer like Malo, it’s practically impossible to go wrong. The man could sing anything and make it sound fantastic, as he proved on the band’s covers of “Blue Bayou” and “Harvest Moon”, as well as their classic version of “Blue Moon.” None of those will show up on the new covers album, but their versions of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” and John Anderson’s “Swingin’” will, and both of those stood out as highlights of their set alongside the band’s own “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” and “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight”.

Midway through the band’s set, an enthusiastic audience member in a cowboy hat and shiny jacket did his best to get the whole crowd up on their feet and while he didn’t quite accomplish that goal, Malo assured him and all of the others who were already dancing that by the end of the set, they’d have everyone up and dancing.

“Resistance is futile,” he joked, adding, “It’s a Mavericks show.” And sure enough, by the end of the show, everyone was indeed on their feet. After all, it was a Mavericks show.

Concert Review: Beyond Creation, October 20, The Garrison

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There must be something in the water in Quebec.

From Gorguts and Cryptopsy to Kataklysm and Despised Icon, and even stretching back to Voivod, the French Canadians have proven themselves to have a definite penchant for technical metal. Continuing on in that tradition is Montreal’s Beyond Creation.

The band is currently on tour in support of their latest release Algorythm, a proggy collection of tech-metal jams which vocalist/guitarist Simon Girard announced the band would be playing this evening in its entirety “from first to last.” They would go on to do just that at The Garrison on Sunday night, and presenting the whole album as a complete piece helped to bring the band’s compositional skills to the forefront.

While the band’s music is impressive enough on record, it’s an even more impressive sight to behold live as each member of the band displayed their dexterity on their respective instruments. And while the entire band was something to see and hear, the contributions of bassist Hugo Doyon-Karout managed to stand out in particular. The sound of his fretless bass brings a distinctive texture to the band’s sound, adding a nice bit of contrast to the proceedings.

At a couple of points during the band’s set, Girard exhorted the crowd to “bang your fucking heads” and “move the fuck around” in an effort to get everyone a bit more riled up, though really, the crowd didn’t need all that much nudging in that direction. While some bands making music of a technical nature might tend to attract more of the type of fan that stands there with arms crossed and studying the band intently, Beyond Creation make music that can get the crowd moving as well.

Yes, surely, there must be something in the water in Quebec.

Concert Review: Wilco, October 8, Budweiser Stage

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Before I get to the meat of this review, let me just preface things by saying that, unless the answer to “what should I wear to the show?” is always “just a light jacket”, outdoor shows in early October are generally not a good idea. That said, I’ve been a fan of Wilco long enough for me to overlook any sort of concerns over the temperature and head out to the Budweiser Stage on Tuesday night to see the band play a set in support of their newly released 11th album Ode To Joy.

I’ve seen Wilco live a few times now, and it’s always an impressive show, from Nels Cline’s incredible guitar work to Jeff Tweedy, John Stirrat, and Pat Sansone’s harmonies to Tweedy’s dryly humorous stage banter, which he kept to a minimum on this occasion since the band had a limited amount of time onstage. There was still time for a few gems though, such as when when he introduced “Everyone Hides,” the latest single off the new album, as “a song we made a video for. There aren’t many …and there will be very few more.” Of the new stuff, that song was among the highlights, as were “White Wooden Cross” and “One and A Half Stars.”

Closing off their set with a stellar version of “Misunderstood”, the band returned to the stage with an encore of “California Stars” and “The Late Greats”, thus ending off a show that was absolutely worth coming out for on a chilly October night. And though the temperature didn’t end up being a big concern, I did end up having some issues with the overall tempo (and pacing) of the set.

While I can’t fault the band’s sound in any way, the majority of the songs played did tend towards more of the slower, mid-paced numbers in the band’s repertoire. This is not necessarily a complaint, since the band sounded great all night and it’s practically impossible to complain about a set that includes such classics as “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, “Handshake Drugs”, “Heavy Metal Drummer” and “Impossible Germany”, but I couldn’t help but feel that the show might have benefited from, to borrow a phrase from the band itself, “a shot in the arm” from time to time. Granted, Ode To Joy is something of a mellow Wilco album, and the band played no less than eight numbers off of it, so an overall more mellow vibe was to be expected, but one or two more uptempo numbers would have been welcome, if only to make “Random Name Generator” seem like less of an outlier in the set.

Still, those are relatively minor complaints, and setting all that aside, Wilco proved once again that they are always a joy to watch live.