Concert Review: Gustaf, April 5, The Garrison

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After nearly two years of Toronto’s live music options ranging from nothing to not much, it really is a joy to again have a wealth of options to choose from, even if we do still have the spectre of Covid hanging over our heads at these shows. This week alone has seen or will see concerts from the likes of Low, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Efterklang, Viagra Boys, Sampa The Great, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and Pillow Queens, just to name a few.

But I’m not here to talk about any of them. No, I’m here to tell you about Gustaf.

The New York band was in town for a show at The Garrison in support of their debut album Audio Drag for Ego Slobs (out now on Royal Mountain Records) and put on a fantastic performance showcasing their fiery art punk sound – a sound that brings to mind the likes of Bush Tetras, ESG, and The Slits.

Singer Lydia Gammill is eminently watchable as she roams the stage playing the role of a person perpetually on the brink of absolutely losing it. Her stage banter and persona also reminded me a bit of Pere Ubu’s David Thomas at times. Not to be outdone, vocalist/percussionist Tarra Thiessen was also a lot of fun as she interacted with the crowd and added an extra level of weird to the proceedings – I think I spotted a rubber chicken in her arsenal of instruments?

All in all, this was an incredibly fun show with highlights such as “Book” and “Best Behavior” demonstrating what the band is capable of in a live setting. To paraphrase one of their own songs, Gustaf are good, they’re very, very good.

Concert Review: The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Gloin, April 4, Queen Elizabeth Theatre

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Ahead of Monday night’s Brian Jonestown Massacre show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre came the unfortunate news that their tourmates Mercury Rev would not be playing any of the Canadian dates due to being turned away at the border. This was a bit of a disappointment, however, locals Gloin delivered an engaging set of noise rock in their place that got the evening off to a good start before the headliners would take to the stage.

After thanking us all for coming and passing on Mercury Rev’s regrets that they couldn’t make it, BJM frontman Anton Newcombe revealed a bit more about why Mercury Rev didn’t make it – apparently someone in their camp stole a John Coltrane boxed set several decades ago and so was denied for that reason, even though the band surely must have crossed the border several times in the interim before being turned back this time. Who can really predict the whims of a border guard, though? Surely not I.

With that out of the way, the band launched into their first song of the night, “We Never Had A Chance” and from there, they locked into a groove and pretty much kept it going throughout most of the set. For some in attendance, however, it wasn’t quite the groove they were looking for and sadly, for a good chunk of the night, it turned into Anton vs. the fans. Or at least a vocal minority amongst the fans.

It started out somewhat early, with a few dudes shouting out “Thank God for Mental Illness!” but eventually some of the hecklers got a bit more persistant and aggressive in expressing their dissatisfaction and later in the evening, it was a matter of Newcombe and his bandmates dealing with the wrath of dissatisfied fans. I was reminded of a certain Sloan lyric.

Playing a set that’s heavy on new stuff is certainly a bit of a gamble, especially when the new album isn’t due out until June, and as Newcombe himself admitted, doing so could certainly be seen as “commercial suicide.” But here’s the thing – the new songs all sound like Brian Jonestown Massacre songs – and several sound like pretty good ones too. It’s not like it’s a radical departure from their sound and as Newcombe pointed out during a mid-set response to some of the hecklers, “I decided to play new music because I write new music.” It’s a good point – while some may choose to do so at their shows, artists shouldn’t be expected to just be a jukebox pumping out the old hits to appease the fans.

This was an evening that proved that there’s truth to the old adage “you can’t please everyone.” But it was also an evening that saw the return to Toronto of a band with a dedicated fan base and I’d wager that most of those in attendance left feeling satisfied at the end of the night and looking forward to the new album. That album, Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees, is due out on June 24.

Concert Review: Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, April 1, Danforth Music Hall

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A few songs into Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ Friday night set, frontman Kevin Starrs made the announcment that their next tune, “Death’s Door”, would be their last song. He said this when the band was only a few songs in and after they had been playing for probably less than 30 minutes – an April Fool’s joke? It would seem so but then again, it wouldn’t have been too far out of the realm of possibility if the band just jammed out for an hour plus on that song to close out their set. Honestly, that might have even been kind of cool. Luckily though, the band did still have many songs left in them.

For those not in the know, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are an English stoner/doom/psych band with a penchant for heavy riffage and vintage horror film iconography. For those already in the know … well, there’s a good chance you just might have been at this show. And if you were, hopefully you remembered to bring some earplugs. Yes, Uncle Acid can get loud, and their music is definitely heavy, but in songs like set highlights “Mind Crawler” and “Crystal Spiders”, the band displays a solid sense of melody and harmony as well – they sound a bit like what might have happened if the McDonald brothers from Redd Kross were way more into Sabbathy sludge than they were into power pop.

It may have been April Fool’s Day but with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats in town, the vibe at the Danforth on Friday night was decidedly more Oct 31 than April 1.

SXSW 2022: The Recap

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This was the year that the Panic Manual made our semi-triumphant return to Austin for yet another SXSW. This one, would of course be a bit different than other editions – worries about Covid hanging over our heads, work responsibilities clashing with SouthBy funtime, and, oh yeah, the fact that we’re all three years older than the last time we set foot in Austin would obviously all have an effect on our time here. But it was a joy to be back nonetheless and as usual, here is our annual recap post wherein we try to make sense of everything we experienced this year.

Best New Discovery

Gary: Pillow Queens

Ricky: Self Esteem – the show was fun but after listening to the band some more, I’ve determined that I really like them.

Paul: It’s hard to pick just one as there were many great new discoveries – Blackstarkids, Hotel Lux and Crows were all great and Ryder The Eagle was definitely the most memorable and unusual of all the new acts I saw. But maybe the best discovery of the week for me was the latest project of a veteran musician. Catching Mike Watt’s new project MSSV at an unofficial Sunday evening set as part of Chili Dog Fest was definitely a nice surprise. And an incredible performance too.

Best Act

Ricky: No act blew me away this year like The Comet is Coming did in 2019, but there were several notable fun acts. I mean, it’s really just hard to top Dolly Parton but that’s a given. Best new act for me was probably Working Men’s Club, if only because I really dig their New Order vibes.

Paul: I’ll have to second what Ricky said, both in terms of Dolly being hard to beat live and on Working Men’s Club being fantastic. I will also give a shout out to Los Bitchos for putting on a great show – they’re a lot of fun live!

Gary: Hamish Hawk

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Biggest Disappointment

Ricky: My biggest disappointment stemmed from my own inability to separate work and play as I had to work during the festival, but let’s unpack that another time. I was also disappointed that not enough people attended Enjoyable Listens’ afternoon showcase as that was super fun.

Gary: I didn’t have much expectation going in… I also gave up on seeing people wearing masks. That helped, too.

Paul: After three years away from SXSW, even the worst band I saw was still a pleasure to see live – listening to live music in the Austin sun with a beer (or White Claw) in hand makes it hard to be too disappointed in anything. I will admit though that I’m a bit disappointed in myself for missing out on shows from Beck and The Lemonheads during the week, but then again I caught some great new acts (or just caught up on some much needed sleep) in place of them, so again, no real complaints.

Favourite Moment

Paul: Seeing my comedy heroes from Kids In The Hall on a panel discussing the documentary Kids In The Hall: Comedy Punks was pretty great. Also, seeing Geezer Butler and Sebastian Bach talking about the “enduring power of metal” was cool and almost makes up for the near total lack of metal on this year’s (and the past few years’) Music lineup.

Ricky: My Favorite moment was during MEMES’ showcase at Swan Dive, when during the outro part of “Cheer Up”, the lead singer went into the small crowd, got everyone jumping up and down and handed the mic off to either a friend or some fan who then proceeded to go on stage and sing the rest of the song. It made me realized how much I missed that live show energy and was a bit cathartic.

Gary: When Saturday rolled around and 6th Street shed the tumbleweed feeling, I was elated. And a split second after reveling in the moment, realized I best get out of there.

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How did it feel to be back at sxsw again after 3 years (and during a pandemic)?

Gary: A surreal pride that it came together after all, despite the disastrous hypotheticals. Except for Film, which benefits from avoiding timetable clashes with Music once the films are online, SxSW does not work virtually. Plus, it just feels wrong if I’m not a walking billboard for some music production company!

Ricky: It was weird to have some semblance of normal, and quite great. Also, a realization that we are all three years older and so can’t go as hard as possible anymore. Live music is amazing and i’m happy to have seen so many acts.

Paul: It definitely felt strange. But good. But, yes, definitely strange. Starting off slow, the first few days felt a lot lighter than past years, but by the end of the week, the crowds were more or less back in full force … which also felt weird. Still, it was nice to get back into “the thick of it” as KT Tunstall said during her Wednesday night set and I look forward to hopefully going back again for 2023, when things will presumably be a little more back to normal.