Concert Review: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, March 31, The Horseshoe

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Toronto – Last Thursday Austin-based Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears brought their energetic brand of horn-infused blues rock to the Horseshoe. There were sweet red guitars, badass brass, sing-a-alongs, and beer swillin’. It was a supremely fun show, despite the fact that I lost my earmuffs shortly after arriving.

“This may very be one of the best shows of the year” – Panic Manualer Paul (just recently back from the SXSW extravaganza)

As a lover of the blues, it’s so refreshing to see bands from America’s south ply their craft up here. They are steeped in the culture of the blues in way that we northerners aren’t. They grew up with it, and Joe Lewis’ confidence with this kind of music was palpable. The Honeybears are attempting to avoid the term “soul revivalists”, but the blues-infused rockers do have a sharp brass section. When you throw them in the mix, the result is music that’s both great to listen to, and groovy something fierce.

If there was one weird part of the show, it occurred approximately 27 minutes into the set. The brass section took a break, and Joe and his band slid into some harder straight-up rock. I’m not sure if Joe was experimenting with some new sounds, or playing some really old stuff before he had his horns. It was a little edgy, and it seemed like the crowd didn’t know what to think of it. Thankfully, the horns came back soon after, the groove resurfaced and everything was as sweet as, well, honey.

Concert Review: Miami Horror, DVAS, April 1st, Mod Club

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Toronto – The Mod Club was home to one massive dance party on Friday night and the club crowd have Toronto’s DVAS and Australia’s Miami Horror to thank for it. I’ll be frank, I wasn’t even aware of Miami Horror until two months ago. Clearly, I was the only one as the Mod Club was sold out and there was a healthy lineup at the venue when I arrived there at midnight.

Making their Toronto debut Friday, Miami Horror wasted no time in living up to the lofty expectations the sold out crowd had for them by delivering an energetic rock star worthy show that had me thinking that this may be the last time that they play a small venue like the Mod Club. Miami Horror started out as synthesizer-obsessed producer Benjamin Plant, and has since grown into a full band. Anyone who has seen electronic music played out in concert with a live band will agree that it’s a way better solution then a bloke on a laptop. Armed with a guitar, Benjamin provided the vocals for all the tracks while delivering several rock star guitar moves. Clearly this man has taken lessons from other front men, for a band who is only one year old, Miami Horror played their set like veterans.

In a live setting, the songs from Miami Horror’s debut record Illumination jumps out at you with a relentless beat and just plain out dirty synth lines. Tracks like Holidays (originally sang by Alan Palomo of Neon Indian), Moon Theory and I Look To You provided worthy dance soundtracks for the very clubberific crowd, who for my money, was one of the best crowds I’ve seen in awhile. They danced for the openers, they danced for the in-between set DJs and they definitely danced for Miami Horror. As the set progressed and the band started delivering it’s singles, the dance floor turned out some crowd surfers, which for me is a rarity for any non hard rock acts. That’s a pretty good sign of a job well done.

Opening for Miami Horror was Toronto’s own synth loving duo – DVAS. A band that I’ve managed to miss seeing all of last year, DVAS’s two man act was a great way to start off the party vibe. Playing tracks off their 2010 debut record Society, DVAS provided a healthy dose of energy to the crowd although I thought some of the 80s guitar riffs on the tracks would have been better off with a live guitarist. I have since read that they do employ a guitarist on stage for shows, so maybe being an opening act on this particular night dissuaded the band from doing so. The band finished off a short five song set with their hit single Society which sounded as good as it does on album.

Armed with a solid debut album and a ridiculously fun and energetic live act, Miami Horror are well on their way to bigger things, check them out when you get the chance.

Holidays by Miami Horror (Official)

Concert Preview: Bugs Bunny at the Symphony, April 9, Sony Centre

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Toronto – When it comes right down to it, Bugs Bunny is the reason I love Classical music. Watching the show was a staple of my Saturday morning routine. It had an ingenious way of melding music with animation to tell a story. There was so much tasteful craft that went into these soundtracks that the music was a character unto itself. This was a fortunate development for a generation of Classical music-lovers.

Bugs Bunny is the reason I love Classical music.

Picture a rising sun over a green meadow with a flock of peaceful sheep, just moments before they would be terrorized by that wily Wile E. Coyote. That music still evokes the gold standard of what “morning music” should be. Who could forget Bugs and Elmer’s antics in The Rabbit of Seville, or that infamous if morbid refrain, “Kill The Wabbit!” From Wagner, to Rossini, to Mozart; Bugs covered them all.

As I embark upon my nostalgic trip down memory lane, I’m still amazed at the level of craftsmanship to be found in those old cartoons. While they were funny and appealed to youngsters, they also offered sophisticated music, and ideas that spanned the globe. Sure, there were some cultural stereotypes that feel dated today, but watching Bugs explore his cartoon world broadened my own horizons. I  journeyed with him through the French Alps, the canals of Venice, the arctic tundra, and even Mars! We would be hard-pressed to find that tasteful a mix of entertainment and culture in the shows on offer today.

“Kill the Wabbit!!!” – Elmer Fudd

“Kill the Waaaabbit?” – Bugs Bunny

Thankfully, my trip down memory lane doesn’t have to end here. Conductor George Daugherty has partnered up with Bugs and the whole cast at Warner Bros to bring us Bugs Bunny at the Symphony. The year-long North American tour hits Toronto next Saturday with performances that include The Rabbit of Seville, and What’s Opera, Doc? Mr. Daugherty plays with a number of symphonies throughout his excursion. For the performance at the Sony Centre, he will be accompanied by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony plays at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday, April 9th.

Concert Review: Destroyer, March 31st, Lee’s Palace

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Toronto – Often thought of as the cool one in the New Pornographers, Dan Bejar’s personal band Destroyer was in town on Thursday night to promote their ninth LP – Kaputt. Easily one of my favorite records of the year, Kaputt is one of those few albums you listen all the way through every time you listen to it. Filing into the sold out Lee’s Palace, it was pretty obvious that Kaputt had made a mark on many people as well.

Arriving on stage at around 11 pm, the band started off a Kaputt heavy set with the opening two tracks off the album – Chinatown and Blue Eyes before delivering It’s Gonna Take an Airplane off 2004’s Your Blues. It’s almost funny that Dan Bejar gets a pass on his live show performance because he’s Dan Bejar. Completely disengaged from the audience, the Destroyer front man barely made any attempt to talk to the crowd, often crouched down staring blankly at the crowd in between songs and occasionally reading from a lyric sheet. I get that Destroyer song lyrics are often long, complicated and cryptic, but it’s still something to see someone read off a lyric sheet at a show. However, he gets away with all of this because he is Dan Bejar, the man, the myth – if it was any other artist, I suspect that the crowd would definitely reactdifferently.

Despite the general disinterest from the front man in generating any sort of a stage show, the concert went about smoothly. I guess the music speaks for itself, and the band is tight. The brass section was incredible and highlighted a lot of the songs off Kaputt, which was rather brass heavy. I was kind of disappointed I didn’t get to hear Savage Night at the Opera with it’s New Order-esque guitar riffs, but I’m sure the crowd appreciated Destroyer bringing back select tracks from past albums, such as My Favorite Year and 3000 Flowers. Pairing the older Destroyer tracks with the newer ones created quite a stark contrast I thought, as the older tracks were more guitar heavy, and then the ambient disco beats would start off again and you would be like ‘yep, that’s off the new album’. It’s quite impressive how the band can switch up sounds so easily from album to album. I for one, prefer the latter material.

The set finished off with the epic 11 minute track Bay of Pigs, which has one of the truest opening lines of any song – “Listen, I’ve been drinking” Bejar says, but if that’s all it takes for Dan Bejar and Destroyer to continue to make excellent music, then I say, drink on.

Blue Eyes
It’s Gonna Take an Airplane
My Favorite Year
3000 Flowers
Painter in Your Pocket
Suicide Demo
Song for America

Bay of Pigs