Ted Leo and Aimee Mann are both performers with very distinct styles, neither of which would necessarily be an obvious match for the other, yet after touring together a few years back, the two joined forces as The Both, creating a musical partnership which has been surprisingly effective. In addition to the songs from their self titled debut, the both of them collaborate on a few tracks from their respective solo careers, putting a slight twist on old favourites. And their collaboration has also highlighted how well they work together as a comedic team through their stage banter, with Leo often playing the role of put-upon straight man.
Along with memorable performances of songs such as “Milwaukee,” “Volunteers Of America,” and Mann’s “Save Me,” some of the more notable moments of their show came during their frequent back and forth between songs, such as Mann asking to borrow Leo’s handkerchief midset or her teasing Leo for his knowledge of hobbits. Mann mentioned how she initially hesitated to share the song “Hummingbird” with Leo as she thought he might find it too “folksy and woodsy.” Leo reminded her of his Rush fandom and quoted some lyrics from “The Trees” at her to show he was down with the folksy and woodsy. Mann replied that those lyrics sounded pretty Hobbit-y.
Speaking of Rush, it seems some of those in attendance missed out on another collaboration Mann did back in the ’80s with the Toronto power trio. After closing off their set with Leo’s “Bottled In Cork,” The Both broke into a cover of Rush’s “Time Stand Still” (or most of it at least) as a nod to their Toronto setting. When they returned for the encore, Leo asked the crowd how many knew that it was a Rush song and that Aimee had sang on it. There was a smattering of applause, which led Mann to estimate that maybe 14 people knew. “And those are my 14 people,” added Leo.
What’s better than a local band? A local band with a female lead. What’s better than a local band with a female lead? A local band with a female lead and a badass female drummer. What’s better than a local band with a female lead and a badass female drummer? A local all female punk band with robotron vocals and an attitude – that’s what.
Check, check, check, check and check. The Lala Lala’s checked all those boxes playing Lincoln Hall on Tuesday night. Frontwoman Lillie West was sporting an oversized tie dyed shirt and hella swag while blasting out the vocals for the band’s short, punky riffs with lyrics like “I do what I want to when I want to” while Abby Black laid down the beat in the background. West, who was playing in her socks (adorable), also let her insecurity flag fly, telling the audience, “sometimes…when I’m playing a song, I think about the next song that I’m going to play and I think to myself…do I know the chords for that song? And then I think to myself…wait…do I know the chords of the song that I’m playing right now?” As someone who checks that her door is locked 168,359,121 times before walking out the door, it’s nice to hear other people express their uncertainties as well.
Bedroom pop artist J Fernandez was up next. The local Chicago artist, who has produced two tapes for Teen River & All Right and dropped an album this year, came onstage backed by a full band and played from his 2015 release Many Levels of Laughter and his 2012 releases No Luck and Olympic Villages. The sleepy voiced Fernandez soothed the crowd with his crooning vocals backed by tumbling, rolling, guitars and drums.
Finally Ezra Furman took the stage. The gender bending indie rocker out of Chicago was looking good in a bright red dress and lipstick. Backed by a sax, drums and a keyboard, Furman rocked hard, singing with what I can only describe as a playful growl – an almost rumbling falsetto – and was well backed up by his live band, especially the sax player, who was all over the stage. Give “Restless Year” a listen and head out to Furman when he rolls into your city – he’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.
While a bit of rain and the threat of thunderstorms seemed to put Monday night’s Panamania concert in jeopardy, luckily things went ahead more or less as planned with Austinites Explosions In The Sky and Alejandro Escovedo each putting on impressive performances.
Taking to the stage a couple of hours before Explosions In The Sky, Escovedo led his band though a set of songs from throughout his career as well as a cover of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane.” During the latter, he attempted to get a singalong going on the chorus, though the response was pretty weak. “They sing louder in Kamloops,” he said.
Escovedo’s a bit of a storyteller in his songwriting style and this carried through into his stage banter as he gave a bit of a history lesson on himself, his musical career and his family throughout the set. He noted how he’s been playing shows in Toronto for many years now, both as a solo act and with his old bands The Nuns, Rank and File and True Believers, and dedicated the song “San Antonio Rain” to Yvonne Matsell, who first booked him in Toronto. Unfortunately, the lyric “The rain ain’t gonna come” from that song did not hold true as there was a light drizzle throughout his set. The weather improved as the night went on, though the usual victory celebration for Parapan Am athletes and the post-show fireworks display for the evening were cancelled, which was unfortunate, but at least it spared us from hearing any more “Explosions In The Sky will be followed by actual explosions in the sky” jokes.
In a lot of ways, the touring package of Faith No More and Refused is a perfect pairing – both bands made their names with genre blending sounds and were highly influential, inspiring countless bands that followed in their footsteps. In fact, Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzen acknowledged that the headliners were something of an influence on them, mentioning how he and drummer David Sandstrom bonded over Faith No More in the early 90s.
I must admit though that I was a little disappointed to see Refused playing to a somewhat empty arena when their 7:30 set time rolled around. Sure, 7:30 is a bit of an early start and while there was a small but dedicated crowd gathered on the floor in front of the stage, the surrounding seated area was fairly sparse. However, that didn’t seem to affect Refused one bit and they still put on an impressive show. Lyxzen is an engaging frontman, dancing and flailing about the stage and putting his all into it. “I grew up in punk rock,” he said at one point, discussing the importance of art in getting a message out. “It wasn’t life and death – it was way more important than that.”
A few songs into Faith No More’s set, the band demonstrated their affinity for mixing together musical genres when Mike Patton slipped a few lines from Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” into the middle of “Evidence.” He repeated the lyrics shortly thereafter following the end of “Epic.” “Who does that song?” asked keyboardist Roddy Bottum (who seems to be resembling Matt Walsh of Veep and Upright Citizens brigade fame these days). “Dude, it’s the mayor of fucking Toronto!” replied Patton before asking the crowd, “Do you guys like Drake?” After some boos, Bottum cheekily responded, “We’re all open minded up here. Leave those judgements outside of the coliseum.” It’s true, Faith No More has always been pretty open minded about music, incorporating a bit of everything into their sound right from the get go, and they have been known to incorporate covers from a wide range of source material into their live shows, but apparently the crowd wasn’t having it tonight. They also seem to have some issues with Van Halen. When Patton pointed out that Eddie and co. were in town, there were more boos. This of course, inspired the band to turn the middle of “Midlife Crisis” into a bit of a mashup with Van Halen’s “Jump,” which was pretty spectacular. Speaking of covers, they also played their classic versions of “Easy” and “I Started A Joke,” with Patton calling out the Drake and Van Halen fans in attendance to sing along during the former and Bottum adding, “That sounds like progress! We are the world!”