MattyFest Review: Jennifer Castle, Young Guv, METZ, Danny Brown, Standing On The Corner, Descendents, Wu Tang Clan, September 7, Echo Beach

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Going back to the days of hardcore shows in the basement of his old restaurant Parts & Labour, chef Matty Matheson has always tried to combine his passions for both food and music. While both the restaurant and its basement concert venue have since closed, Matheson has continued to combine the two and taken things to the next level with the first edition of Mattyfest, a day long outdoor festival that continues on the tradition of birthday parties/shows that Matheson has thrown for himself in the past. And for the first edition of Mattyfest at Echo Beach, Matheson attracted an impressive lineup of talent both local and international alongside some of the best restaurants in town for a festival that was as much about the food as it was the music.

After taking in a bit of Luna Li and a bit of Ruby Waters, the first set that I was able to devote my full attention to (after devoting my attention to a Matty’s Pattys burger) was Jennifer Castle’s mid-afternoon set on the mainstage. While a set of folk/country/rock tunes about death may not exactly scream party time, Castle and her excellent band The Angels of Death ran through a set of songs from the album of the same name that definitely got the afternoon off to a good start. From there I made my way over to the smaller Matty Stage to check out Young Guv. The band, led by Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook, ran through a energetic set that gave me some definite ’90s flashbacks and made for one of the highlights of the whole day. Cook took the opportunity a couple of times during the set to give a shout out to his mom, who was attending one of his gigs for the first time. I guess you don’t have the opportunity to play too many mom-friendly shows when you’ve spent most of your career playing in hardcore bands.

After some typically energetic sets on the mainstage from local noise rockers METZ and Detroit rapper Danny Brown (who noted that he couldn’t jump around too much during his set because there was “too much good food here” – he wasn’t wrong), I took in one of the more unique sets of the entire festival, a performance from New York’s Standing On The Corner, who offered up plenty of jazzy, experimental sounds that made for a rather compelling sonic journey throughout.

While the day’s lineup was full of great performances, the biggest draws for many were of course the final two acts of the night – Descendents and Wu Tang Clan.

For their headining set, Wu Tang Clan took the time to show Toronto some love, giving shout outs to the championship Raptors team as well as Bianca Andreescu (who I believe was referred to as “that tennis chick who won today”) and also taking a minute to plug Raekwon’s new store that just opened up in Toronto. While it’s never a given that the whole crew will show up for a Wu Tang show, we were in fact treated to the full Wu Tang Clan experience on this evening with all of the members in attendance – they even had the son of the late ODB filling in for his father and absolutely doing him justice. Wu Tang definitely did, as the song says, “Bring Da Ruckus”, running through hit after hit over the course of the evening, even including some snippets of hits from the Beatles and Nirvana because why the hell not?

During their set shortly before Wu Tang closed things out, Descendents rather appropriately dedicated the songs “Wienerschnitzel” and “I Like Food” to Matheson and really, there could be no better anthem for the entire festival that the latter, with its refrain of “I Like food/Food tastes good” summing up the theme of the day quite nicely.

Concert Review: Ken Boothe, Jay Douglas, August 21, CNE Bandshell

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During his set opening for Ken Boothe at the CNE Bandshell on Wednesday night, Jay Douglas had history on his mind, acknowledging some local history by talking briefly about the battle of York which took place on the CNE grounds back in 1813. Furthermore, Douglas acknowledged the historical roots of his music throughout the set, paying his respects to the artists who laid the foundations of reggae not just with shout outs but with a few well-chosen covers. Of course Douglas himself has played a significant part in Canadian music history, fronting R&B band The Cougars (represented on this evening with “I Wish It Would Rain”) and later helping to put together the excellent Jamaica To Toronto compilation.

Following Douglas was headliner Ken Boothe. Sharply dressed in a red suit and bow tie, Boothe started strong, opening his set with “Freedom Street” and grabbing the crowd’s attention from the get go. While his career stretches back to the 1960s, I’ll admit that I’ve only just discovered Boothe quite recently through his performance as part of Inna De Yard at Roskilde Festival last month. Seeing this 71 year old man come out on stage at that show and sing a reggae version of “Speak Softly Love” (aka the theme from The Godfather) definitely piqued my curiosity, so when I saw that he was playing a show at the CNE, I took the opportunity to check him out again. And he did not disappoint.

Before returning to the stage for a brief a capella version of “Try A Little Tenderness”, Boothe closed out his main set with his version of Bread’s “Everything I Own”, a big hit for him back in the ’70s which he’s recently rerecorded with the aforementioned Inna De Yard, a project put together in the wake of a documentary of the same name covering Boothe and several other old school reggae stars. Check out the video for Inna De Yard’s version of “Everything I Own” below:

Concert Review: Low Cut Connie, August 6, Horseshoe Tavern

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It’s quite a big stretch to say that I’ve seen Low Cut Connie in concert before since my previous experience with the band probably amounts to a grand total of a song and a half this past March while I waited for our food order during SXSW. But I’m gonna say it counts, in that the band made some kind of impression on me and they certainly had the crowd at Lucy’s Fried Chicken in the palm of their hand that day so I made a mental note to check the band out in more of a proper concert setting when I got the chance. And on Monday night at the Horseshoe, I got that chance.

As it turns out, the chance to see the band in Toronto was not necessarily a given. Singer and pianist Adam Weiner noted early on in their set that the band hadn’t been to Canada in four years, later adding that they had considered the option of not returning to Canadian soil at all.

“I didn’t think we’d come back,” he said, explaining that they played a show once at the Drake Hotel where they couldn’t get the piano down the stairs as well as a show in Ottawa that he only described as “very strange” and a show in Kitchener (“wherever that is”) that also didn’t make a good impression on them. So while all of that could have added up to convincing the band never to cross the border again, luckily they changed their mind and came back. And despite the fact that Weiner described the crowd as “polite motherfuckers” early on when they didn’t respond quite enthusiastically enough, he repeatedly stated how much he loves Toronto throughout the night and even dedicated the song “Beverly” to the late Jackie Shane, who spent the bulk of her career in Toronto.

Weiner also mentioned another Canadian connection – the fact that he once lived in Montreal for two years, a time wherein he would often see Leonard Cohen walking around his neighbourhood and hoped that Cohen might come in to the cafe where he played piano and see “the other depressed Jewish boy in Montreal” play.

Leonard Cohen never did see him back then, but if he had, I’m sure it would have been much a much different performance than the kind of show that Low Cut Connie puts on – the band’s performance was a full on rock spectacle centred around Weiner’s over the top showmanship. Strutting about the stage, ruffling people’s hair, high-fiving, and standing on top of his piano at various points throughout their set, Weiner gave off a bit of a Jerry Lee Lewis meets WWE vibe. He started the set at pretty much 100% energy level and didn’t really let up aside from a couple of piano ballads later in the night. That’s entertainment.

Concert Review: Psychedelic Furs and James, July 31, The Orpheum, Vancouver

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Psychedelic Furs

Co-headlining tours are always funny ones, as you get half the audience really interested in one band and half the audience really interested in the other. Last night, unfortunately, the Orpheum was only half full, so you had a little less than a quarter of the seats filled with James fans and a little over a quarter filled with Psychedelic Furs fans. I’m not sure why this gig wasn’t at a smaller venue – it would have been perfect at the Commodore Ballroom.

James came on first, and performed a set of material mostly from albums they have recorded since they reformed in 2007. They sounded tight and Tim Booth’s voice has not lost any of its power. It was disappointing to not hear more of the old favourites, “Come Home” being the only song they played from back in the day. It sounded fantastic, and only made it more disappointing that they didn’t play one or two more. They finished with “Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)”, their last single before they broke up. They invited audience members up on to the stage, with 30 or so people joining them. It was a great end to the show, but without “Sit Down”, “Laid”, “She’s A Star”, “Gold Mother” or “Born of Frustration”, the audience were left feeling a little frustrated.

Psychedelic Furs were the opposite. They started with “Love My Way” and played hit after hit, including “Heaven” and “Pretty In Pink”. Bassist and founding member Tim Butler even sang along with the crowd to the big tunes. Singer Richard Butler’s voice was as clear and powerful as ever, and the saxophone player, Mars Williams, played his sax like a lead guitarist, powering through tune after tune, and he was even joined by James’ trumpet player on “Sleep Comes Down”. The audience were mostly of an age where they would remember both bands from the heyday of their career, but what the audience lacked in youth, they made up for in enthusiasm.

The Furs did a short encore and the crowd left happy – the one good thing about the theatre not being very full is you get out of there super quick without much of a queue!