Concert Review: Ladytron, October 5, Danforth Music Hall

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Ladytron, Danforth Music Hall by Frank Yang

Ladytron, Danforth Music Hall by Frank Yang

Hard to believe it’s been twenty years since Ladytron first entered our consciousness.

Impeccably cool, Ladytron gained themselves a fan base with their visual aesthetic and unique sound, a blend of electro music paired with somewhat distant, almost robotic vocals. Who didn’t sing along with “they only want you when you’re seventeen, when you’re 21 – you’re no fun?”

Well, fast forward twenty years. The only people who are seventeen now are the kids of the original Ladytron fans and those kids were put to bed early on Saturday as the parents came out to play.

Performing in front of a reasonably sized crowd at the Danforth Music Hall on Saturday night, Ladytron made their long awaited return to Toronto and played a fantastic show.

In town to promote their comically under marketed self-titled comeback album, the band played a 90 minute set that spanned their entire discography. Their last show here was in 2011 and I guess my memory sucks (probably alcohol related) but I don’t remember their music packing such a punch before. On record, all the Ladytron songs, from “Seventeen” to “International Dateline” to “Runaway” always had a dance element to them, but in that electro kinda way. Live, however, with a backing band and live drums, the songs jump out. They go from bedroom dancing tunes to all out bangers.

The show’s surprising liveliness was also accentuated by an engaging performance from the two leads. Helen Marnie danced all over the stage during the set and displayed showmanship that I did not remember. Mira Aroyo, fighting equipment problems for most of the set, also showed a few moves. Both seemed genuinely excited for the show. For better or worse, the general expectation was that Ladytron was essentially going to stand still behind their devices. This was not the case and the show was all the more fun because of it.

The new songs meshed in well with the old tracks, always a good sign for a band that’s been around as long as they have.

The set ended off with the romper “Destroy Everything That You Touch” which for my money, was one of the better songs of the 00s. It had the whole place dancing, which just proves that when you are 41*, you might just be fun.

*I’m not 41 but it sounded good.

Concert Review: Esther Rose, September 17, Horseshoe Tavern

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“What a lovely evening. It’s Tuesday, right?” asked Esther Rose near the beginning of her set opening for Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets on the first night of a two night run at The Horseshoe Tavern.

She went on to ask if it was “Honky Tonk Tuesday” here in Toronto, joking that she just wanted to make sure that she was in the right place. As far as I know, Honky Tonk Tuesday is not officially a thing anywhere in Toronto, but yes, Esther Rose was definitely in the right place, as was anyone who was lucky enough to be in attendance for her show on Tuesday night.

While some small part of me would have been happy enough to skip the show, go into full old man mode and just stay home to watch Ken Burns’ Country Music doc on PBS, I made the right choice in coming out to this show. Aside from the fact that I can just watch said documentary any old time at my leisure, Esther Rose brought plenty of that old school country/honky tonk feeling live and in person just in case I felt like I might have been otherwise missing out on that vibe. All that was really missing was some Peter Coyote narration.

Accompanied onstage by a second guitarist, Rose put on a fantastic show, with the bulk of the material coming off of her latest release, You Made It This Far. Highlights of her set included “Lower 9 Valentine”, “Only Loving You”, “Me And My Bad Mood” and “Don’t Blame It On The Moon”, the latter of which suggested a bit of Joni Mitchell influence in Rose’s delivery. And while Rose was definitely playing to a crowd that was mostly there for Nick Lowe, I’m certain she must have made a few new fans on this night.

With her songs and her voice hearkening back to the earliest practitioners of the genre, the New Orleans-based singer ran through a compelling set of honest, rootsy, retro-sounding country songs during her perhaps too brief time on stage.

Not bad for a Tuesday night.

Concert Review: The Long Ryders, September 14, Horseshoe Tavern

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“We haven’t been here in 30 years. Thanks for coming out!”

So said The Long Ryders‘ Sid Griffin a couple of songs into the band’s set at The Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night and as far as gaps go, that is indeed a rather long one. Griffin made further reference to the long break later on in the set when introducing one song as the band’s “last single”, then laughing and adding, ” … from 1987.” So yes, it’s been awhile, but The Long Ryders are back on the road and were back in Toronto for the first time in decades. And it was certainly a welcome return.

While the band has reunited for the occasional tour over the years, their current tour is happening in the wake of the release of their first album in over 30 years, Psychedelic Country Soul. As comeback albums go, it’s a strong return for the band, continuing on where they left off with some fine, Byrds-indebted country rock offerings (Griffin even noted that the album has ranked highly on a couple of Americana charts, joking that he’s got the screenshots to prove it).

Highlights from the new album include “Greenville”, “Molly Somebody”, and the band’s stellar cover of Tom Petty’s “Walls”, all of which stood out as memorable moments during the live set alongside classics such as “Gunslinger Man”, “Looking For Lewis And Clark”, and “State Of My Union.” Another highlight of the night came from watching bassist Tom Stevens each time he was given the chance to switch over to lead guitar. This is, of course, not to disparage Stephen McCarthy’s playing in any way as he was also great, but it was quite fun to watch Stevens really let loose each time he took the lead – when he took over, he really took over. Speaking of McCarthy though, seeing him sing “Lights Of Downtown” was definitely my favourite moment of the whole evening.

All in all, it was a fun show for both the audience (there was a small group enthusiastically dancing through pretty much the entire show) and for the band, with Griffin thanking the crowd again at the end of the night and adding that this was “the most enjoyable show of the tour” so far.

Concert Review: Of Monsters And Men, September 11, Budweiser Stage

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Though I will admit I haven’t yet spent much time with Of Monsters And Men‘s latest album Fever Dream, I do find that the newer stuff doesn’t grab me the way that their debut My Head Is An Animal did – it doesn’t quite have the same warm, folksy vibes as that album. On the other hand, the newer material is not without its own charms and is probably better suited to the larger venues they’re playing these days anyways. And if you’re looking for grabbers, set opener “Alligator” does have a certain immediacy to it.

It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since the band released their debut album but a quick glance at the calendar confirms that it absolutely has been that long. In the intervening years, they’ve released two more albums and have also moved up in the world, going from playing their very first Toronto show at the El Mocambo all the way to headlining the Budweiser Stage all these years later. Admittedly, this did come as a bit of a surprise to me. I guess the moral of the story here is that unless it’s a mega huge popstar or some legacy act that’s been around for decades, I don’t have the best sense of exactly how popular things are with the masses. So be it.

Even so, Of Monsters And Men put on a rousing performance full of crowd favourites like “Little Talks” and “King And Lionheart” alongside a healthy serving of the newer material and a few off of sophomore album Beneath The Skin and proved that they’re more than capable of holding their own in the big rooms.