Concert Review: The The, Agnes Obel, September 19, Sony Centre

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Following an incredible opening set by Agnes Obel prior to The The‘s headlining set at Sony Centre, something a little unusual happened – the lights stayed off. Usually, between acts you’re likely to see the house lights go up for a bit, but on this night, the house stayed dark. I don’t know if that was an intentional choice, but if it was, I suppose it was fitting since it did seem to continue the mood after Obel’s set in a way. And I suppose anyone who wanted more light could have just stepped out into the lobby anyways.

While it may have been an intentional choice to keep the crowd in darkness, The The frontman Matt Johnson made it fairly clear early on that they didn’t want the vibe to seem too dark for the audience for the duration of the night. “I know we have a serious reputation, but behind the scenes we’re not serious at all,” he said. “So feel free so dance and sing along.” And though nobody did bother getting up and dancing at that point, they finally did a few songs later after Johnson pulled the old trick of comparing us to other cities, deeming Toronto to be the “most genteel” crowd so far on the tour. He did add though that we were free to sit down and stand up as we pleased throughout the course of the night as there would be quieter songs.

Noting that it had been a long time since the band had been through Toronto (possibly 20 years, though he wasn’t quite sure), Johnson was certainly up to the task of making up for lost time, running through a set of songs from throughout their career and offering up plenty of stories about those songs over the course of their roughly two hour long show. Highlights included “Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)”, “This Is The Day”, “Love Is Stronger Than Death”, and their cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light.” Johnson proved to be an engaging, amiable frontman, balancing out the serious, political side of the band with a solid sense of humour, illustrated at one point when he attempted to have a moment of silence for seemingly no reason at all, possibly just to prove the point that it’s impossible for some people to keep their mouths shut for any period of time.

During the band’s three song encore, Johnson lamented the fact that setlists being readily available online has sort of spoiled the surprise during shows, though he made the most of it by pretending that they take requests, pausing then to let the audience shout out for the next tune, which the internet would have told us was indeed “Uncertain Smile”, before ending things off with “Lonely Planet” off of 1993’s Dusk. And while any surprise may have been spoiled, it didn’t make the songs any less effective.

Concert Review: New Order, August 30, Budweiser Stage

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Near the beginning of New Order’s Thursday night show at Budweiser Stage, Bernard Sumner noted how great it was to be back in Toronto while also apologizing for not making it back here sooner. “Sorry it’s been awhile – this happened, that happened … Hopefully we’ll provide an antidote to Ed Sheehan tonight. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” And while he was hedging his bets with that last comment, I don’t think there were too many Sheeran fans in attendance.

So yes, nothing resembling “Shape Of You” or anything else of a Sheeran-esque nature would make an appearance that night. Instead, New Order focused on what they’re best at, offering up a number of hits from throughout their career as well as a few tracks off their latest studio album, 2015’s Music Complete. Of the new stuff, numbers like “Plastic” and “Tutti Frutti” stood out as highlights that easily hold their own alongside the classics. Speaking of the classics, another standout was the band’s performance of “Your Silent Face,” which Sumner referred to as a beautiful song. “Played it a thousand times but I still think it’s beautiful.” He’s not wrong.

While the band held things down instrumentally, Sumner played his part as the engaging, entertaining frontman, dancing about the stage a bit and occasionally holding the mic up to his bandmates’ instruments while they played. I’m not sure if that did much of anything besides raising the potential for feedback though.

New Order ended off their main set with an absolutely unimpeachable trio of tunes – “True Faith”, “Blue Monday” and “Temptation” – before returning to the stage for an encore of Joy Division songs, much to the delight of all the people wearing Unknown Pleasures t-shirts. “I don’t think we’ve played that one before in Toronto. Ever,” said Sumner after they played “Disorder”, turning to drummer Stephen Morris to confirm that Joy Division had never played any shows in Toronto. “Enough of my talking. Here’s another one,” he said as they ended things off with “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

Overall, New Order put on an amazing show with a solid setlist. I didn’t even notice they left out “Age of Consent,” one of my favourite New Order songs, until it was pointed out to me after the show. That’s a sign of a good show.

Concert Review: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, August 25, Horseshoe Tavern

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It was Sarah Shook’s first time in Toronto, but it seems she’d already made some friends, pointing out someone in the crowd during Saturday night’s show who she had previously only known online but who had welcomed Shook to her home for a little apartment party before their show.

Apartment parties notwithstanding, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers¬†brought the party to the stage as well for an excellent show at the Horseshoe Tavern. After all, there was something cathartic and rather fun in shouting, “I need this shit like I need another hole in my head” out loud during the band’s performance of “New Ways To Fail.” During their set, Shook and her talented bandmates (shout out to the bassist for wearing a WFMU t-shirt) ran through a number of songs from their latest album Years and last years’ Sidelong with numbers such as “Dwight Yoakam”, “Fuck Up” and “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down” standing out as particular highlights.

“Thank you. We love you too,” replied Shook at one point when a fan shouted out their approval in between songs. “It’s our favourite fucking thing,” she said, going on to describe her feelings on playing music with one simple word: “Heaven.” I’d wager those in attendance on Saturday night felt the same way.

Motor City Muscle Review: Molly Hatchet, August 19, Hart Plaza

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Much as it was throughout the entire weekend at Hart Plaza, the crowd for Floridian Southern rock crew Molly Hatchet’s Sunday night set was decidedly sparse, suggesting that perhaps the organizers of Detroit’s Motor City Muscle Festival had been, to borrow a phrase from Molly Hatchet, flirting with disaster. However, judging from the reaction of those who did show up, people seemed to be enjoying themselves in general, which is ultimately what counts. And though the festival was generally underattended and hindered by a few issues (the weather on Friday, delayed set times, Iceage’s cancellation, Ace Frehley’s BS video shoot), overall it was a fun time. Here’s hoping they can work out the kinks and make a few improvements and that there’s more to come with a second round for next year.

Though playing to a small crowd, Molly Hatchet took it in stride, with singer Phil McCormack taking a few good natured shots at their tiny audience. “How you doing?” he asked the crowd at one point. “Both of you responded! That’s 3 out of 5!” Overall, McCormack was an entertaining frontman – a little bit over the top and almost a bit of a caricature of a good ol’ boy rock ‘n’ roller but that’s exactly what you want from a Southern rock singer. Yes, he’s almost a walking stereotype, but there’s something oddly compelling about him onstage as he roams about the stage shouting out his catchphrase, “Hell yeah!”

“No, we’re not gonna go into the next song. I’m gonna go into how awesome this guy is.” he said at one point in reference to drummer Shawn Beamer, adding that “He kicks ass, no longer takes names.” Speaking of Beamer, sure he’s a good drummer, but the most memorable element of his performance on this night was playing while his hair got whipped around by a ridiculously overpowered wind machine. His hair was so windblown, it looked like he was touching one of those static electricity things at the Ontario Science Centre that makes your hair stand on end. Awesome.

Also awesome? The dude who I saw breakdancing during Molly Hatchet’s set. I’m sure that no one except those of us in his immediate vicinity even saw him, but I can safely say the combo of Southern rock and breakdancing was one of the best things I’ve seen in awhile.

Before they performed “Fall Of The Peacemakers,” the band brought a guest onstage who McCormack introduced as Reverend Rob, a former marine. “He’s not an ex-marine. He’s a former marine.” I’m not quite sure what the distinction is. Doesn’t it mean he’s no longer a marine either way? I assume he was trying to make the point that once a marine, you’re always a marine? Or maybe ex-marine has the same connotation as the ex-parrot in the old Monty Python Sketch? In that case, then yes, I agree – Reverend Rob is a former marine. The band followed that song up with McCormack reciting the actual Pledge of Allegiance while waving the flag in a not too subtle show of patriotism. And of course he ended the pledge with his own personal flair, adding the obligatory “Hell yeah” at the end. That addendum really should be officially added to the pledge. Give it a couple years and it probably will be …

At one point during Molly Hatchet’s set, I cut out to catch a bit of Detroit alt-rockers Sponge for a bit because I remembered them having one or two minor hits back in the ’90s and it was … not good. So I hauled ass back to that weird mainstage to catch Molly Hatchet playing the piano coda to Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.” Did they play the whole song? Who knows? I certainly hope they did. They went on to play a couple more songs before ending things off the only way they could have – with their own personal Citizen Kane, “Flirtin’ with Disaster.” Hell yeah, Molly Hatchet. Hell yeah.