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.

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: