Concert Review: Kate Nash, November 13, Phoenix Concert Theatre

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Everything | 1 Comment

Toronto – So Kate Nash is kind of becoming a bit of a star.  That’s the impression I got as I entered the fairly packed Phoenix for an early Saturday show.  You could see the excitement building amongst the largely young and female crowd (and in the guy standing next to me who was excitedly dancing to the prerecorded music being piped in over the PA.) The excitement grew, manifesting itself as Kate took the stage to the sound of much cheering amd launched into “Doo-Wah-Doo,” followed by “Mouthwash,” which is pretty similar to how she started off her previous show in town at the Mod Club.  One significant change from the setlist of that show is that she saved the song “Foundations” until almost the end of her set, so perhaps she read Ricky’s review and took it to heart. 

Another change from that previous night’s set is that Nash moved more quickly to guitar based songs (she was on the guitar by the third song, although that may have had something to do with the fact that she was uncertain of the structural integrity of the chair she was sitting on) and switched things up a bit, moving back and forth every few songs.  She definitely knows how to work a crowd, and was happy to interact with them, responding to the random things shouted by excitable fans – things like “Get her a drink!” (shouted during a call for silence before a particularly quiet song), “You’re my favourite ginger!” and various comments about her dress, belt, feet, and what she was drinking.  This sort of thing makes a crowd feel like they have some sort of connection with a performer and came across pretty well, as she had some pretty funny reactions.  She does clear her throat into the mic a bit too often though.

While some may feel that her piano pop numbers are stronger, I did find several of the newer guitar based numbers to be mostly pretty compelling as well.  I thought she did a fairly convincing performance, bringing an almost John Lydon-esque vibe to her delivery.  Do I like these songs as much as “Birds” or “Merry Happy?”  No, but they’re still pretty good and this seems to be a direction she’s interested in going in.  Certainly, the bulk of the crowd seemed to be pretty into it, and frankly, I’d rather see a young musician with only 2 albums under her belt branch out into various directions than get pigeonholed as one sort of thing.  Speaking of branching out, Nash played what she referred to as her version of an R n’ B song, “R n B Side.”  She credited her guitarist with coming up with the title and seemed pretty pleased with the wordplay.  It’s pretty good, but as far as clever wordplay goes, I’d have to give the prize for the night to the guy asking for change outside after the show – “Give some cash if you love Kate Nash.”

Kate Nash – Paris by musicfan

Concert Review: The Autumn Defense, November 9, Drake Underground

Posted on by Paul in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto –  The Autumn Defense is best known as a side project for Wilco’s John Stirratt and Pat Sansone.  Of course, the truth is Sansone was in this band before he joined Wilco, so if you really wanted to stretch things, you could say Wilco is a side project for him … a really successful side project.  And most likely, these guys don’t care to think of their band as just another side project, something they alluded to when reminiscing about a show at the Horseshoe, where according to Stirratt, they played with “a Nickelback side project.”  “It was side project night,” he added, before going on to explain that they try to avoid the term “side project” … even for the Nickelback guy.  (Side note: a quick perusal of the internets did not reveal any evidence of any Nickelback side projects so i can only assume they must have been talking about Theory Of A Deadman, which is hilarious.  Sorry, TOAD, you’ll always be thought of as Nickelback lite.) 

But if we are going to label them as a side project, let’s examine them in relation to Wilco.  How do they compare?  Well, pretty favourably in that they don’t really sound like Wilco at all and are really doing their own separate thing.  First off, Wilco is clearly Jeff Tweedy’s show, whereas in this band Stirratt and Sansone share vocal and songwriting duties.  Secondly, unlike Wilco, these guys are all about the soft rock, a fact that was clearly evidenced by the second last song of their set, a cover of Bob Welch’s 1977 hit, “Sentimental Lady.”  Sansone introduced the song by saying, “Sing along if you know this song.  You may not think you know it, but then you’ll know you know it.”  And immediately after they started playing, I knew it … but I didn’t really know it.  I kind of remembered it in that hazy sort of way, but definitely didn’t know who sang it.  I saw Sansone after the show and had to ask him.  He was more than happy to tell me, going so far as to explain how it was originally a Fleetwood Mac song, recorded by them in 1972 when Welch was part of that band (the pre-Stevie Nicks/Lindsay Buckingham day) and that their version veers closer to the original version.  Here’s a video of their version of the song, recorded somewhere in Manchester.   

Of course the ’60s/’70s  vibe in their music goes much further than cover songs, permeating their entire catalogue.   Sansone used this fact to gently mock Stirratt at the end of one of his songs, singing a bit of Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” to point out the resemblance.  In fact, Sansone and Stirratt seemed like pretty funny, amiable guys.  Aside from joking around on stage, they hung out at the merch table before and after the show (something they probably don’t do much at Wilco shows) and giving props to openers Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion. 

Not bad for a “side project.”

The Autumn Defense – Every Day by smartleydunn

Concert Review: Horse Feathers, November 8, Drake Underground

Posted on by Brian in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto – Rather than talk about how it wasn’t that much fun to have to line up at the Drake when we arrived at the venue a little early, then saw about an hours delay in the stated open door time, I would like to talk about how great it is to watch an entire concert from a couch.  It’s…it’s pretty great. Sure, it may not have had a perfect sightline, and maybe it wasn’t an ultra-plush number like those couches you see on the TV ads, but I barely moved my ass an inch from the time I planted it in that couch to the end of the show.

Besides, it’s not like the delay in the doors opening was really anyone’s fault. Apparently the band’s van broke down outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. That plus the usual stress of crossing the border with a vanful of stuff led to a pretty long, tough day for Horse Feathers and opener Anais Mitchell.

Mitchell took the stage with just a guitar, and had a fairly decent set; her voice is interesting enough to make her solo acoustic stylings worth a listen, even if her songwriting rambles a little for my taste.

Horse Feathers, meanwhile, managed a terrific set, despite being clearly exhausted, and despite lead singer Justin Ringle breaking a string on nearly every guitar on stage. You may or may not recall that Horse Feathers were my favourite of the 2010 Hillside Music Festival, and while their Hillside set impressed me partly for the novelty of seeing a band feature four people all on strings (guitar, banjo, cello and violin) for many songs, while the banjo player also plays drums and the violinist sometimes plays a saw, their set Monday night impressed me with how tight it was. Band members almost literally dropped one instrument to grab another mid-song. For a group with some pretty complex harmonies, nary a wrong note was struck all night. And in a stunning show of band chemistry, after Ringle broke the string on his last guitar, then borrowed Anais Mitchell’s guitar but couldn’t get it plugged in, the band suddenly exclaimed “we’re going unplugged,” jumped down in front of the stage with their instruments, and closed the set with an energetic version of “Vernonia Blues”.

The show did run kind of late for me on a school night, being over 30 and gainfully employed as I am. The band did a nice job soldiering on despite their exhaustion, but it was pretty clear that they were having a hard time not thinking about how they had a whole lot more tour in front of them and were off to a bit of a rough start, which led to some quiet staring straight ahead from the band between songs.

Tickets were only $12, though, which is a tough price to beat to see a band this good, especially if you’re lucky enough to watch the show from a couch. Horse Feathers made sure to hit the highlights of their new album Thistled Spring, particularly “Starving Robins” and “Belly of June”, and their live renditions of some of their tracks really put the studio versions to shame. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the cities on their current tour, check them out.

Horse Feathers – “Belly of June” by TRACER_Magazine

Concert Review: Bonobo, November 5, Phoenix

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Everything | 1 Comment

Toronto – Back in the late summer of 2007, I was living in Calgary without a car and was so desperate to check out Bonobo live, after I’d listened to his Live Sessions EP and Solid Steel Presents mix for months on end, that when he was booked into a small dance bar in Nelson, BC for a DJ set, I conned a friend of mine who only listened to country and hard rock into driving us the sixteen hour round trip to his show. I was checking out hostels in the area for us to stay the night when the gig was cancelled. For years I’ve seen Bonobo’s name in the lineup for the Montreal Jazz Festival, and spent the days before his set there counting my pennies to see if I had enough for a flight. Earlier this year, his live tour went through Toronto in early April, about two weeks before I was set to come back from Europe, then played a series of shows all over Holland a month after I flew home.

So after years of wanting to see Bonobo, aka British DJ/musician Simon Green, play live, it was probably too much to ask for him and his band to meet my sky-high expectations.

That’s not to say their set last Friday night at the Phoenix wasn’t good. Far from it: it was quite possibly the best show I’ve seen this year. Not only was Bonobo’s new album, Black Sands, clearly made with a full band playing it in mind in a way his previous, more sample-driven albums weren’t, the live setup he and his band employ really gives some of his older tunes a new depth that’s very cool to hear. Starting off the night behind the decks alongside a live drummer on “Recurring” was a brilliant start. “Ketto,” one of my favourites, really takes on an added tone of menace live at high volumes, with eardrum-rattling bass punctuating every other beat. Green bounced from turntables to bass guitar between tunes, sometimes during the same song, and his flautist/saxaphonist, guitarist and drummer were all standouts from the terrific eight-piece band. Ending the encore with “Pick Up”, possibly the best electro song with a flute part ever produced, was a great way to finish off the night.

With my expectations so high, though, I couldn’t help but find things to be disappointed with. As good as the tracks with vocalist Andreya Triana sound on record, they didn’t come across as well here. I can’t help but wonder if she just doesn’t sound as good live as she does in a studio. On the other hand, half the songs she was given to sing were from Bonobo’s previous release, Days to Come, and are among my least favourite tunes in his repertoire, so maybe it wasn’t entirely her fault, and I would much rather have heard Triana sing tunes from her solo album as an opener than stand through Thunderball’s mediocre opening DJ set like I did. I know it’s kind of lame to be a longtime fan and criticize a setlist for not featuring all of your old favourites, but damned if I wasn’t disappointed not to hear Bonobo do “Dismantling Frank”, “Nothing Owed” or “The Plug”.

However, these are things that kept me from giving the show full marks, not things that ruined my night. If Bonobo had actually been able to meet my expectations years after the disappointment of not being able to see him DJ in Nelson, BC and years of fandom before that when I hopelessly figured he’d never tour outside Europe, I’d probably had had to pull a Ricky and give his show a ten out of five or something. Bonobo is a great musician, a terrific producer and DJ, and I’m delighted to have finally got the chance to see him live.

Bonobo – Ketto by tashaleto