Toronto based artist Lowell might be destined to be famous. The former U of T music student has yet to see her debut record release, yet in a short time span, we have already seen her collaborate with some famous musicians and already signed to Arts & Craft. While some might attribute that to luck, Tuesday night’s “homecoming” show was a good indication that much of her immediate success is more a result of talent, and sounding just a bit different from other acts in the Canadian landscape. Dressed in some sort of cheerleader uniform, Lowell played an interesting show that highlighted a lot of positives. The show had a selection of new tracks as well as songs from her EP If You Can, Solve This Jumble, which was recorded with the Apparatjik collective. This collective, unknown to me until now, features Magne F of Aha, Guy Berryman of Coldplay and Jonas Bjerre of Mew. How did those guys even meet up? Only God knows. There’s been a lot of comparisons of Lowell’s sound with that of Lykke Li and I guess the comparisons are fair in that they both don’t sound like what you would expect for pop bands, which is great. Some of the songs are playful tracks while others were rockers (including the declarative “LGBT”). While those descriptions are rather vague, there was a certain something different in the way Lowell uses her voice or arrange the tracks. I don’t want to use the word eclectic or kooky, but it’s just..different, but good. The wide range of musical styles combined with Lowell’s strong vocals and streamers and balloons made for a fun show.
Opening the night was Repartee, a indie dance-pop band from St. Johns. They played a short but fun set that injected some energy into a somewhat lethargic crowd at the Drake. Meg Warren was a firecracker on stage and Repartee, with their hand claps, cutesy dancing indie pop sound seemed like a band that could catch a strong audience, since everyone loves that type of music today.
It was an evening of opposites at Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night. The stage was lit up with a sparkly backdrop and flashing, twinkling lights, and the audience was generously and boisterously vocal. Cass McCombs, flanked by his three-piece band, seemed to be a man of few words, letting his well-crafted songs do the talking.
The show opened with “What Isn’t Nature,” an older song with a jangly guitar line reminiscent of the Walkmen (who, incidentally, McCombs toured with in 2009 – they also played Lee’s on their Toronto stop). There were short pauses in between each song – with not a word spoken by McCombs, combined with appreciative cheers from the audience – the set was fairly straight ahead and crowd-pleasing. With a discography spanning seven records, there was an inevitable mix of old and new songs, including “My Sister My Spouse,” “Robin Egg Blue,” and “Big Wheel.”
Before the last song of the set, McCombs finally spoke, thanking the audience and saying it would their last one for the night. The crowd responded with yells of “No!” to which McCombs grinned and quickly said, “Yes” in reply. There was a back and forth of “No!” and “Yes!” before the band launched into “County Line.” The song drew a unanimous surge of approval before the crowd mellowed out and swayed with probably the most well-known McCombs song in his catalogue.
After extended cheering and shouts, the band came out for one last song – the appropriately named “There Can Be Only One,” from McCombs’ latest record, Big Wheel and Others. Quickly thanking the audience once again, McCombs and band disappeared from the stage quietly, with the twinkly lights still flashing in their wake.
There are two types of sing-a-longs. There are your standard, run of the mill sing-a-longs, where the singer prompts the audience to sing, but his lips never leave the mic. Then there are trust-fall-sing-a-longs. This is where the singer leaves the mic, cocks his ear towards the audience, and has faith that the crowd knows his song well enough to hold the tune until he returns.
I’ve seen a lot of trust-fall-sing-a-longs crash and burn.
There’s an awkward silence in which the crowd mumbles what they think might (?) be the lyrics while everyone just avidly hopes that the singer will pick the tune back up again so that we can all leave this terrible fiasco behind us and pretend it never happened.
Max Bemis of Say Anything knows how to pull off his trust-fall-sing-a-longs. I cringed every time he left the mic during his acoustic set at Lincoln Hall on Wednesday night, but the audience loved it. They were belting out good portions of his songs without any help from him whatsoever – and they sounded damn good. Bemis was obviously enjoying himself, beaming (sorry I had to), while rocking out as the audience sang, and then picking up the thread of the song (there were some major tongue acrobatics going on during his songs – it was super distracting.)
Bemis was preceded by Matt Pryor of Get Up Kids fame, hailing from Lawrence Kansas. I haven’t seen a performer with good stage banter in a while but Pryor broke the streak. He pretty much spent the entire set making fun of his band mates and himself. Self-deprecating humor is always approved. When his stand up bassist made fun of him for not having a degree, Pryor’s response was “I don’t need a degree – I went to the school of rock. I didn’t realize how stupid that would sound until I said it. ‘That’s right, I went to the school of hard knocks and Vans.’” The best part of the night was when Pryor and his band “hillbilly-ed it up” and busted out a banjo, a harmonica and some good ol’ blue grass tunes.
There’s something special about a hometown show. Hayden, returning to the music scene on the Arts and Crafts label after a four-year gap, has made 2013 his “comeback year.” I’ve been a fan since my university days (early 2000’s) and was surprised and excited when Us Alone dropped this year. Prior to this year, I’d only seen Hayden play once at Lee’s Palace during his Elk Lake tour in 2004. This year, I had the pleasure of seeing him play Arts and Crafts’ Field Trip fest in the summer, his Dundas Square set opening for the National and he also popped up as a special guest at a Cuff the Duke show at the Dakota. But a full headlining show at Danforth Music Hall on Saturday was truly something wonderful.
The atmosphere was warm and welcoming when Hayden and band took the stage. Hayden seemed relaxed and at one point, commented with a smile that he got “lost in the moment and just enjoyed it” during an extended piano solo in “Motel.”
The set list was a balanced selection of old and new songs, where some songs were preceded by amusing anecdotes (ie. “This is a song about a home invasion…”). The introduction to “Woody” (a song about the family cat who has gone missing several times but later returned) turned into a detailed and hilarious story about a strange woman in the neighbourhood who “kidnapped” people’s cats, but also dismantled Hayden’s front porch, piece by piece over the summer. I’ve always been appreciative of Hayden’s dry wit and self-deprecating humour, which many reviewers seem to overlook and instead focus on his serious, earnest delivery.
Old favourites were obviously well-received – “Between Us To Hold,” “Carried Away” (which prompted a lovely audience singalong) and set closer “Dynamite Walls” were stand-outs.
For the encore, the band reassembled, joined by Wayne Petti from Cuff the Duke on vocals and guitar. Hayden thanked the audience and introduced the next song as a Neil Young cover. They launched into a rousing rendition of “Powderfinger,” which felt like the most perfect song that Hayden could possibly cover. The show ended with an arm-in-arm acoustic singalong of “Don’t Get Down” with openers Doug Paisley and Reuben and the Dark. Danforth Music Hall may be a large theatre, but the intimate and heartwarming feeling of this performance felt like catching up with an old friend.