Concert Review: Phoenix, October 22, Ricoh Coliseum

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Toronto – Remember when you were 17 and your favourite boy band was making a stop in Toronto at the ACC. You took the GO train into Toronto for the big night and probably went to Jack Astors for dinner before the big show. Then you found your way eagerly to your severely overpriced seats among the other 20,000 rabid fans. You sat there through the opening band because doors opened at 7PM and you didn’t want to miss anything. When the band finally appeared your ears were assaulted with shrill screams and you spend the next hour singing at the top of your lungs to a well-rehearsed pop band highlighted by an even more well-timed light show.

Now, reduce the venue size and replace rabid fans for indifferent kids, more interested in standing in beer lines than seeing the band play. This was Phoenix at Ricoh coliseum.

Phoenix has rocketed to stardom and managed to score a Grammy for their Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album largely due to their anthemic pop sound. I would describe them as a hybrid of Coldplay and U2. The French band has been touring for 18 months, limiting their ability to create new material, so their set list has remained pretty static. Shockingly, they opened with Lisztomania, their first single.

About halfway through the performance the lights dimmed and a large white curtain fell down in front of the band. Silhouetted, they played Love like a Sunset, one of their only instrumental songs. The curtain was finally drawn at the song’s climax, adding a dramatic element to the song’s long build-up.

In the latter half of the show all of a sudden half of the band disappeared from the stage. We thought this was the end of their show but after recovering from the menacing strobe lights, noticed people on the floor flocking to the soundboard where 3 members of the band were standing. Here they played acoustic versions of Big Sun, Love For Granted and a French folk song (because they’re in Canada, non?). The band was shrouded in darkness save for one spotlight highlighting their location. Despite this pleasant surprise, the crowd (outside of the floor) was barely paying attention at this point.

As always Phoenix closed with 1901 and the band kept playing while the lead singer hopped into the crowd and surfed among fans, brave man.

Lizstomania (Classixx Version)- Phoenix by Classixx (Official)

Concert Review: Anagram, Deloro, Bruised Knees, October 22, The Shop (Parts & Labour)

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | Leave a comment

Toronto – I sometimes enjoy catching little snippets of other people’s conversation in passing without getting any of the context.  As I left my apartment to make my way to the Anagram show, I overheard the following: “Some of them are interns, some are doctor, and some are other doctors.”  I have no idea what he was talking about (a plot synopsis of Scrubs, perhaps?) nor do I know why he felt the need to differentiate between “doctors” and “other doctors” – aren’t they all doctors?  And I certainly don’t know what any of this has to do with Anagram.  Maybe I can tie it all together by quoting the sage wisdom of late ’80s Doobie Brothers – “Music is the doctor, makes you feel like you want to.”  Also, one anagram of the word “doctor” is “cod rot,” which sounds kind of disgusting. 

Opening the show were Bruised Knees (something a doctor might treat – see, I can totally shoehorn this pointless doctor concept into this review), a local band who I’m pretty sure are relatively new.  They had a pretty good sound that reminded me at times of Sonic Youth and the sort of tribal sounding drums were a strong element.  However, I think that they might still need a little work.  Maybe I’ll check them out again sometime in the future.

Based on the sound of both the openers and headliners Anagram, I figured Deloro would have a similar sort of sound.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did not.  Made up of members of other Toronto bands including One Hundred Dollars, The Constantines, and Castlemusic, they demonstrated a flair for heavy, feedback-laced dark country that was reminiscent of Neil Young or Jon Rae and the River (not surprising since drummer David Clarke and guitarist Paul Mortimer once played in that band).   They had a great sound and really impressed me.  I’ve been looking for a new Toronto band to root for and I think I’ve found it.  In fact, you might say they were just what the doctor ordered.

Finally, it was time for Anagram.  These guys put on an intense show and the audience pretty much reciprocated that intensity despite the fact that it was getting pretty late in the evening (I’m not sure, but I think they didn’t go on ’til after 1:00).  This being a CD release show combined with the fact that they haven’t played any shows in awhile meant that the crowd was good and stoked.  If you haven’t been to The Shop before, it’s kind of a small space.  There is no stage – the bands just set up in the back corner.  Combine this sort of intimacy with a seriously packed room, Jeff Peers’ propulsive, repetitive basslines, and singer Matt Mason’s manic stage presence and things can get a bit out of hand.  Dudes were all pounding on the ceiling at one point, and there was a serious mosh pit going on – Matt Mason had to stop things at one point.  “This is fun and all, ” he said, “But it’s not a therapy session.  Seriously, you don’t have to shove people as hard as you can.  I’m not your therapist.”  His attempt to calm the crowd down didn’t entirely work, but one thing is certain: they were enjoying themselves.  If The Doobie Brothers are correct and music is the doctor, it definitely made the people feel like they wanted to.

Concert Review: Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans, October 19, The Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | 2 Comments

Toronto – I’ve noticed people texting at concerts before, but never before have I seen a performer texting onstage.  Well, there’s a first time for everything, and the Jim Bryson show at The Horseshoe was that time.  Granted, this happened while the band was still setting up, but I still found it a bit weird to see guitarist/trumpeter/keyboard player Rusty Matyas texting while his bandmates plugged in their gear. 

That wasn’t even the oddest use of technology I saw onstage – opener Andrew Vincent started off his set by singing along to a prerecorded backing track for his first song, which made for a weird karaoke vibe.  He did this a few times throughout the night, alternating between solo folky stuff on the ukulele and his more beat driven, kinda hip-hoppish karaoke adventures, which made for a somewhat awkward performance.  These songs were not bad per se, but definitely weaker than his more folk-oriented tunes.  He ended out his set with a decent cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds Of Love.”

Jim Bryson seemed pleasantly surprised at the crowd turnout as he took to the stage, remarking, “Thanks beforehand for showing up in case you don’t like the show.”  Bryson was here celebrating the release of his new album, The Falcon Lake Incident, a collaboration with Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans.  Much of the crowd was obviously there because of the presence of The Weakerthans as Bryson’s backing band (and let’s face it, the fact that it was a free show sure didn’t hurt).  Bryson definitely benefited, both in terms of elevating his profile a bit and in terms of acquiring an excellent backing band.  I saw The Weakerthans act as the backing band for Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin on his solo tour a few years ago and drummer Jason Tait has collaborated with  tons of Canadian musicians on various projects so these guys are known for their chops.  Bryson admitted as much a few songs into his set, stating how usually he’d only be on his second song by now, but that these guys were so good he wanted to play as many songs as he could with them.  Perhaps he adopted this “less talk, more rock” (or more folk-rock, anyways) attitude as a roundabout tribute to Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson’s old band Propagandhi.  OK, probably not, but any excuse to link to a Propagandhi song.

When Bryson did finally begin to launch into some storytelling, relating a tale about watching Oprah, a woman in the crowd actually fainted.  I was pretty much standing right next to her when this happened so it was a bit weird.  While this could have stopped the show dead in it’s tracks, luckily she seemed to be OK, and after a brief interlude, the band started up again. 

Speaking of the band, The Weakerthans definitely looked like they were enjoying their collaboration with Bryson.  They haven’t released any new stuff in awhile, so maybe the prospect of playing new songs, plus the addition of Bryson into the mix, has invigorated them.  Samson in particular was obviously relishing the opportunity to just hang back from the frontman position, sing a few harmonies and occasionally play a little tambourine.  When not doing either of those (or playing keyboard, as he did a bit on the last song of the set), he would often take a seat onstage or sip from his drink.  It was obvious to most that this was not a Weakerthans show, but there were a few people who felt the need to shout out request for some of their songs.  Bryson’s response?  “Oh, those songs, you’re gonna have to ask him about that”, to which Samson responded with a dismissive wave of his hand.  After all, it was Bryson’s show.   By the way, request-shouting dude, the name of the song is not “I Hate Winnipeg,” it’s “One Great City.”  Do you really expect a band to play your request when you can’t even get the name right?  Geez …

Concert Review: Deerhunter, October 19, Opera House

Posted on by Allison in Concerts, Everything, Music | 4 Comments

There are a few bands in this world that can do no wrong in my eyes. One of them is Atlanta’s Deerhunter, being headed by the most prolific songwriting duo since, well, maybe ever (Burt Bacharach and Hal David?). What I like about the Bradford Cox / Lockett Pundt songwriting partnership is that they let each other exist, nurture each other’s independence, and support the band’s collaborative creative growth. Most of all, they don’t appear to take themselves too seriously at all, the key to anyone’s affability.

Let me just start off by saying that even though I have been looking forward to this concert since the end of August, I had once again overbooked commitments and had to rush back from a week in Ottawa, cabbing it to the Opera House with all of my bags in vain hope of catching the band’s entire set (I would’ve liked to have seen Real Estate and especially Kentuckians Casino Versus Japan, but it just wasn’t in the cards). I have to give props to my gracious cab driver at this point, who floored it all the way down Queen to get me there in ample time. I had a duffel bag and backpack with me, and after enduring searches more thorough than anything I ever get flagged down for at Pearson International Airport, checking both bags looking like a traveling transient, and grabbing a beer, I still had about five minutes to spare before grabbing a prime spot on the floor for the sold out show. Again, happy to see them selling out larger venues now as a headliner even if it must’ve been a slowburn.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I have finally mastered the art of perfect show timing. It seems that if you bank for a 20 minute block inbetween openers, and after the door time, maybe a 30 minute block before the headliner, you should be golden. Of course you can always skip all of this guesstimation by simply calling the venue ahead of the time, but I had forgotten my cell phone at home. The universe was either self-aligning itself to absorb my lack of foresight or it was just plain dumb luck. Either way, I guess my determination paid off.

When the band took stage, it occurred to me how shocking it is to see Mr. Cox live and in person if you have never seen anyone with Marfan’s Syndrome before. It’s a natural reaction to seeing anyone that thin/gangly and a guy in the group standing beside me had remarked “He looks like a scarecrow.” True enough. Good thing it doesn’t matter what he looks like, since it’s always been about the music. The band’s wide appeal should be obvious to anyone taking a cross-section of the crowd from last night as well as folks looking for extra tickets outside. BROAD age range, dress, look, and feel, all enjoying consistently excellent music.

As for the music itself, I’m going to do a play-by-play recap of the setlist from last night:

  1. Desire Lines (Halcyon Digest) – I was hoping they’d open with this one based on other setlists I’d seen from previous dates on this tour. It’s the best thing off Halcyon Digest, and that instrumental jam that starts at the 3 minute mark was one of the highlights of the show for me. That guitar line is, for lack of a better word, “sick”. Everything about the long ending and its progression is a reminder of how good this band is at build-up execution. Not too much in the way of variation from studio performance, but again I go back to hearing the long ending live. Even though the acoustics at the Opera House were kind of shitty that night (at least close to the stage), it still sounded amazing.
  2. Hazel Street (Cryptograms) – Glad they are still incorporating this one into all of their setlists. Pleasant surprise for me. Has always been one of my favorites off one of their best albums (though it is becoming more and more difficult for me to rank them in order). Again, no ambient reorchestration going on at this point, but these shorter, punchier numbers were needed to balance out the long, drawn-out noisy reworkings.
  3. Don’t Cry (Halcyon Digest) – One of the best off the new album and got a bit of a vocal makeover as many of the more duwoppy numbers did. Although my short-term memory is fading, I think it sounded more energetic than what we heard in the studio, if nothing else.
  4. Revival (Halcyon Digest) – As many other fans have remarked, I wish this song was thrice the length that it is. It is the best Cox penned song off Halcyon Digest and you never want it to end. The same goes for their performance of it.
  5. Never Stops (Microcastle) – Another upbeat number to keep the flow going. Not as good as I remember from their October show at Lee’s in 2008, but this is a different tour and a different year.
  6. Little Kids (Microcastle) – Part of me wishes they had done a variation on this by performing the demo version (my favorite of all of their demo versions, and may have softened the crunchiness we heard in the venue). No matter though, this one was a crowd favorite that actually got heads bopping.
  7. Memory Boy (Halcyon Digest) – This one got a slight vocal makeover; couldn’t hear if there were any back-up vocals coming through but this is a pretty prominent feature of the song that kind of got lost.
  8. Rainwater Cassette Exchange (Rainwater Cassette Exchange EP) – By far, the highlight of the show for me, and one of the reasons you go to see bands like Deerhunter live. WOW. The 80’s patina gave this song a complete makeover that pretty much blew my head off to smithereens. Completely unexpected, and an awesome gift.
  9. Fountain Stairs (Halcyon Digest) – Unexpected crowd fave–another Pundt song that has hopefully cemented him as one half of the songwriting duo.
  10. Nothing Ever Happened (Microcastle) – Probably the highlight of the evening for the rest of the crowd, and indeed it brought the house down. Bradford really got into the distorted guitar jamming at this point and just when you thought it might never end, it did…and you wish it hadn’t.
  11. Helicopter (Halcyon Digest) – I heard someone complaining outside that this was an “Atlas Sound song, not a Deerhunter one.” While I could see his point, I think this was also one of the best performances of the evening due to the extended remix treatment it received.
  12. He Would Have Laughed (Halcyon Digest) – The last song in the main setlist, and I can understand why they would’ve chosen it to end things off on. The extensive layers and ambient noisiness = license to experiment, and the last third of the song where it morphs into a ballad gave them a nice clean ending to walk off to.

ENCORE

  1. Cover Me (Slowly) (Microcastle)
  2. Agoraphobia (Microcastle) – Two of the best songs off Microcastle that again served as a nice break back to shorter pop songs, although all of the encore songs were along those same lines.
  3. Spring Hall Convert (Cryptograms) – Bradford dedicated this song to the Opera House and I thought it would bring the house down. Probably their best song period, and just damn fine rock ‘n roll music.
  4. Wash Off (Fluorescent Grey EP) – Kind of surprised they chose this one to end off on once and for all. It’s a fast, punchy song, but I was sort of really hoping for something mindbogglingly majestic, like Calvary Scars II/Aux. Out.

Some general notes about the show. Bradford did a better job than most connecting to a local audience by describing his day in the Annex shopping at Honest Ed’s, Sonic Boom, and eating at Pizza Pizza (I am guessing they either know someone from Toronto or loved exploring the area all of the times they have played at Lee’s Palace). While people loudly applauded the first two stops, he noted far less for Pizza Pizza, which he told us we should be proud of. It’s good, cheap pizza, and better than Domino’s. Thank you Mr. Cox. As a loyal Pizza Pizza customer I feel completely validated and think the Bloor/Bathurst shop should have a signed black and white glossy with your endorsement.

He also shone the spotlight on Pundt a couple of times, but he seemed quite a bit more wallflowerish. It must be tough not to make Cox look gregarious onstage, but I can appreciate that bantering with the audience just isn’t really his thing. Cox jokingly referred to Pundt as George Harrison, Joshua Fauver as Paul McCartney, and Moses Archuleta as Ringo Starr; instructing them to “stop gossiping!” They just looked like they were having a good time for the most part, and in a sudden fit of rock ‘n roll impulse, Bradford slapped down the microphone stand. His stagehand jumped right back up to reset it.

While the acoustics up front left that familiar ultra-crunchy nails-on-chalkboardish sound sometimes, it was still a great show that I’ll remember.

If anyone has reviews of Real Estate or Casino Versus Japan, post ‘em here.

Deerhunter – Fluorescent Grey by defacto