Concert Review: Buke and Gass, Efterklang, Sept. 8, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | 2 Comments

Toronto – I have long been interested in musicians who also invent their own instruments or repurpose previously existing ones.  People like Bob Moog, Leon Theremin (who invented what I feel is the coolest instrument ever), whoever invented the Electric Jug made famous by the 13th Floor Elevators, or even Les Paul, without whom we’d have to stand really close to the stage and listen carefully in order to hear an unamplified guitar.  So it was with some interest and curiosity that I went out to check out Buke and Gass.  Buke and Gass is Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, two Brooklyn based musicians who have indeed created their own instruments, the eponymous buke (modified baritone uke) and gass (guitar + bass).  In the spirit of Frankenstein’s monster or maybe Robocop, they have fused together various parts in order to make something even mightier … and somewhat stranger.  Of course, I mean strange in the best way possible.  I like strange.

Speaking of Robocop, as I watched them play, I began to imagine that Buke and Gass’s unique sound was the result of a Robocop style scenario where Sleater Kinney and Fugazi were reassembled along with some instruments and told to approximate a folk band or something.  Of course, they don’t quite sound like those bands but they bring them to mind with intricate playing, angular rhythms, and Dyer’s powerful voice.  And the folk thing just comes to mind because they play sitting down and they have a uke.  They really don’t sound all that folky.

In terms of stage presence, they were quite enjoyable.  Dyer did most of the talking, with Sanchez content to mostly just play.  She had a quirky, friendly demeanor, chatting with the audience a bit and even asking, “Who’s got a joke?” when Sanchez broke a string.  One audience member actually came forward, yet she hesitated to actually tell her joke, merely stating at first that she went to Humber for their comedy course.  She told a cheesy joke about a talking sausage, and was then deemed “sausage girl” by Dyer.  After playing a couple more songs following that brief interlude, they left the stage while also leaving a good impression on most everyone in attendance.

Even though Buke and Gass made a good deal of beautiful noise during their set, Efterklang’s lush sound made the openers seem almost subdued in comparison. (almost…)   They had the perfect blend of electronics and organic sounds that meshed beautifully and gave the band members a chance to play various instruments throughout the set. ( Not every band can have a drummer take a break mid song to do a trumpet solo)  Singer Casper Clausen even used a wooden ledge next to the stage (which I was standing right next to) as a percussion instrument, which brought to mind Arcade Fire’s penchant for using various onstage items (and people)  percussively.  Speaking of Arcade Fire, I heard hints of their sound in Efterklang’s songs, as well as The Notwist, Can, Sigur Ros, ’70s era Genesis, and a bunch of other stuff.  All of these sounds mix together into a sort of stew that makes for a fairly powerful and enthralling set. 

“Efterklang” is apparently the Danish word for “remembrance” or “reverberation.”  Both of those  words seem fairly appropriate.  As I said many of their songs seemed somewhat reminiscent of various other bands – a remembrance of sorts.  As for the reverberation … well, they had a whole lot going on sonically.  This was certainly a memorable show. 

Classic Album Review: Prince – 1999 [1982, Warner Bros.]

Posted on by Allison in Albums, Classic Albums, Everything, Music | 2 Comments

If you were to ask me who I thought was the most talented songwriter in the world, you might think I’d be hard pressed to come up with a definitive answer.

You’d be wrong.

In the hybrid category of overall singer / composer / musician of 26-odd instruments, there can only be one winner. Prince Rogers Nelson takes this title without any hesitation on my part, and despite his going off the eccentric Jehovah’s Witness deep-end well over a decade ago, I still think he is the most talented musical icon of all time. He trumps Madonna in chart-accessible rebirth. He kicks the Beatles’ catalog. He oozes pop from his every orifice. He is the most overtly sexual songwriter of all time. And more so than anyone else I can name, Prince has consistently proved that he is an endless factory of eclecticism, genuine sexuality, and ass-shakingness, which brings us to 1999.

1999 arguably takes the cake in terms of best party album of all time. Everything on this damn thing makes you want to either scream-sing at the top of your lungs or embrace the loose morality of getting “down” with your bad self (Dance Music Sex Romance). This album embodies the most positive and life-affirming heathen ethics. There are some gems on here that never fully hit the public’s radar with the full breadth I would’ve expected it to, and it’s puzzling to me why some of them weren’t chart toppers while others were.

Out of all of the albums I’m reviewing for this series, I would have to say that this is the most primal and lighthearted, least cerebral, and surprisingly, least emotional. All 1999 incites in me is a desire to get out like a dancing, singing fool (and I emphasize the fool part).

The album’s title track was something I couldn’t listen to throughout the 00’s, abandoning it due to Y2K overplay. It feels kind of like fictional farce 11 years later, but the nail-biting in 1999 was real. My computer science professor had managed to convince us all that the bulk of the world was running on COBOL, which was incapable of handling the rollover to 2000. Everything will revert back to 1900!, he said, and we either apathetically or stupidly semi-believed him (what can I say, he was dumb, and we were dumber). Listening to 1999 again, I think it’s a shame that it carried the taint of Y2K mania. It’s still an ultimate party song with all of the trimmings.

Let’s go through the rest:

Little Red Corvette – Prince seems to have a shitload of songs that play as explicit sexual innuendo. He is one of the few people who is able to balance “suggestive” with “crude”, while still staying under the radar of pop culture. It’s hard to believe that LRC is still Prince’s biggest hit to date, but then I used to listen to it like the dickens, not really picking up on anything it really meant (essentially sleeping with a slut). The drum beat is still ultra tight.

Delirious – Much of this feels borrowed from “Horny Toad”, but no matter. Another example of sex flying below the censors. Probably the weakest track off the album–weird to think this charted.

Let’s Pretend We’re Married – Another favorite that didn’t receive as much attention…I always notice this as a conspicuous oversight in all “best of” Prince collections, and I’m not sure why it never captured public imagination as much as some others.  “If you’re free for the next couple of hours / If you’re free for the next seven years!”

D.M.S.R. – May very well be my favorite track off the entire album. Over 8 minutes of ass shaking, love making, I guess this is the whole theme of the entire album. We’re all going to hell, but we might as well enjoy a lot of sex in the meantime, irregardless. I just felt like using the word “irregardless” there.

Automatic – Another gem. More than anyone else, Prince has a way with keyboards, and the head boppingness makes you completely forget about the completely inane lyrics.

Something in the Water (does not compute) and Free were kind of write-offs, with Free being the sort of life after death ballad that athiests ignore. Looking at the album’s two main themes, every song either revolves around sex, love or fear of God.

Lady Cab Driver – Sure, the sounds oddly like Irresistible Bitch, but if anyone were to ask me what good, accessible funk music was, I’d point them to Lady Cab Driver. It’s easy to see why Prince was such a ladies man in spite of the fact that he essentially looked like a short, wizened monkey in high heels.

All the Critics Love U in New York – Kind of an eerie number, but catchy nonetheless.

International Lover – Totally reminiscent of a jazzier Nothing Compares 2 U.

Although so many of these songs remind me of so many others in Prince’s catalog, I have to say that no one recycles like this man (and anyone who writes over 15,000 songs can be excused for some creative borrowing from himself). He has the ability to make new out of something familiar; to make something filthy sound innocuous; and to make a 9 minute musical tirade feel palatable.

Concert review: Ra Ra Riot [Mod Club; August 30, 2010]

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything | Leave a comment

Toronto – <begin hating> I will never again bemoan the presence of other Taiwanese people (I am Taiwanese if that’s not already clear) at concerts… for the first and only time I shall expound in order to open the review. We (Taiwanese people) apparently do not have any sense of personal space – easily forgivable when you lived with 24 million copies of your short skinny self on one side of a rock (Taiwan) no bigger than Lake Michigan – but we are here, in TO. Please, people: do NOT collect and arrange your friends in a formation, leaving me with no space to even turn around while your buttocks have clear lines of sight to Mod Club’s balconies. It’s a ridiculous and empty ploy – I won’t move, especially not when I can hear soft whispers questioning which “subspecies” of yellow person I am. Please grow some facial hair and shove me around next time. <end hating>

But what picture does the above passage paint for the “impromptu” Ra Ra Riot show this night?

a) We waited for a bit – set time was said to be 830pm but the first note was played at 9pm, giving my fellows enough time to annoy me.

b) The club filled up slowly, giving lines of sight from butts to AC. But in the end it was a good turn out – definitely at capacity by the second song.

c) All kinds of people came out on this broiling night. When a friend who has been their fan since before she could dance mentioned about Molson Amphitheater, my mind did a double-take. I had no idea Ra Ra Riot was that popular.

Since this particular concert was not well-publicized and yet it filled the theater, you might reason that it consisted entirely of offerings from their new album The Orchard. After all, promotion is the name of the game here. Not so. Although I have yet to sample the new CD, they opened with St. Peter’s Day Festival, and connected through songs like Ghost Under Rocks, Can You Tell, and Dying Is Fine from their first album The Rhumb Line.

Interspersed between those immediately recognizable selections from the old are, I presume, the new songs. I have not seen them since SXSW 2009, but they have definitely grown up. The energy all 6 band members radiated was the most memorable part of their, or perhaps any, show at Austin that year. This time their stage presence, while lacking somewhat the exuberance of yesteryear, is far more polished. The performance still carried with it the feeling of six friends rocking-out in the basement (perhaps they were also tired from the bigger showcase yesterday?), but there was certainly less garage band antics and more purposeful exchanges of looks, smiles, and headbutts. Wes Miles displayed more showmanship than at the Parish – hugging band-mates, cheering them on, and generally interacting playfully to the audience.

I do miss their more expressive and meandering songs like Oh La, but I’m sure that’s merely the nature of this particular show. Their pace is always even with the recordings, and all of the instrument voices sound crisp and clear. I thought Miles’ voice has become brighter since 2009. There are comments from the floor that most people were staring at either the cello or the violin… but that’s a positive note illustrating how their music is conducive to mellow and sanguine thoughts. (Btw, is it me or they have a new drummer?) At the end of each piece, the entire theater would dim to denote the transition – which in a sense addressed my comment last time that theirs songs can feel like one giant stream.

To summarize: Ra Ra Riot is still a riot to watch. And the next time they show up in Toronto (I heard December?) we’ll still be there.

Ra Ra Riot – Boy (RAC Mix) by Remix Artist Collective

Concert Review: Wye Oak, Lou Barlow, August 28, Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Allison in Concerts, Music | 4 Comments

Toronto – Saturday night, the Horseshoe Tavern turned into a Merge Records showcase with Maryland duo Wye Oak and legendary rocker Lou Barlow with his new band the missingmen.

Although I walked in towards the end of their first song, I could tell that Wye Oak has already attracted a following. Unbeknownst to me, this girl/boy duo has been around since around 2006, showing me that there’s something in the water in Baltimore.

It’s difficult to resist the temptation to at least make superficial comparisons with Beach House, our favorite duo of 2010. Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner has the same husky soulful leanings as Ms. Legrand; Andy Stack’s drumming and keyboards is a parallel reversal of Alex Scally’s guitar work. I’m not saying Wye Oak is the bizarro-world Beach House–they’re notably noisier, thrashier, and higher energy, but it’s reassuring to know that the two bands are good friends. Jenn Wasner showed a flair for interacting with the audience, and I’m sure her solicitation for a Canadian Spouse will be met with a shitload of offers.

Best: I Hope You Die off My Neighbor / My Creator EP

From Backstage Rider

Next came the legendary Lou Barlow, who had confessed he was napping backstage before his set. There are a few people in this world that have always oozed the intrigue of 90’s cool, but Lou is definitely one of those people. It kind of grinds my gears that to this day, he seems to be almost as associated with Dinosaur Jr. as he is with Sebadoh, Folk Implosion, his plethora of hybrid side projects, or solo career.

He started off without his band, playing an acoustic set comprised of a historic rainbow, not dissimilar to what I had read about his Carrboro North Carolina show last week. What surprised me about his solo set though, was that I actually found it highlighted how hard it is to tame a venue like the Horseshoe due to the bar set-up outside of the performance area. The crowd was a decent size, but I would say that the bulk of attendees not directly around the stage area were there to go out on a Saturday night, making it one of the chattiest shows I’ve been to in a long time (and though he may not have cared, I found this unacceptable for Lou fucking Barlow).

As readers of the blog will know, this is definitely my crotchety old lady pet gripe about Toronto show goers. I can relax this policy for enthusiastic fans (and there were several upfront); but for people wanting to talk about how so-and-so is a bitch because they used your name in a text message, it’s just not cool. It’s just plain disrespectful, and I would not do that to anyone I had paid to go and see perform.

Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll admit that I probably would not have noticed the background noise at all, had the one-man aspect of his set not highlighted it. I have covered the difficulties of completely solo performance before, but I’m glad that Lou’s glistening catalogue saved it from deteriorating into a level of discomfort. For me, and I’m sure for a lot of the younger (read, younger in this case would mean 35 and under) attendees, hearing songs like “Magnet’s Coil”, “Too Pure”, “Soul and Fire”, and especially, “On Fire” live is something that is irreplaceable. His voice is still beautiful, and he has passionate stories about bootlegs gone wrong (someone had mentioned the “Life in Japan” bootleg, which a band member had angrily made and distributed when he was told they wouldn’t cover the cost of admitting his girlfriend into the show).

The second part of his set involved Mike Watt’s (the illustrious punk bassist’s band has purchased a lot of Kinder Surprise eggs and YOP in Canada) missingmen  joining him onstage to perform his more recent stuff. To me, this was what really blew me away…after all of these years, Barlow is still churning out high caliber music and it’s unfair to expect him to be a one-trick jukebox of past Sebadoh / Folk Implosion tunes. I actually felt that this half of the set was the best thing about the show, bringing a much needed energy / interaction and effectively shutting up all of the background chatty cathys. Goodnight, Unknown and Emoh are both great releases that I have left lingering on the shelf because I haven’t made the effort to re-conceptualize an artist after a long period of neglect.

Barlow came out again on his own to perform a solo encore with what I think was a ukelele for the first few songs. Together or Alone and On Fire were the big standouts here, and when 1:15 A.M. rolled around, he was still going strong with even more. The reviews have been consistent with marathon-long sets and encores, and you can rest assured that if you see these guys on this tour, you’re going to get your money’s worth.