Concert Review: Plants and Animals, June 24, Opera House

Posted on by sarahw in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto – Lately I’ve been on a serious Canadian music kick, read: enjoying many bands with nature-themed names (you have no idea how much this amuses me).

Plants and Animals’ freshman effort, Parc Avenue has been on my iPod for about a year, but not on very high rotation. To be honest they never really wowed me. My roommate is a huge fan and bought us tickets to their show at the Opera House last week.

I was pleasantly surprised with this band made up of only 3 members. Plants and Animals can be described as modernized classic rock (a mix of The Kinks and Coldplay is what first comes to mind). These guys have a pretty decent stage presence, they really rock out up there. You can tell P & A have been touring a while when the lead singer/lead guitarist and the bassist start to sync up their “moves” on stage, I found these rock star moves pretty amusing.

About half way through their set P & A brought out a guest saxophonist, apparently he was one of their high school friends (the name of the song escapes me and after The Acorn debacle, I won’t try to guess it). The sax was a great addition to the song and the guy really nailed his solo (sporting a neon green shirt, wayfarers and a matching neon headband) while hamming it up for his 5 minutes of fame.

Later on in the show they announced another guest, which turned out to be fellow Canadian Basia Bulat. She didn’t really do much per se, except augment a few songs with her Autoharp, maraca’s and some other random percussion tools. Regardless of her contribution, it’s cool when bands bring out surprise guests and it definitely adds another layer to the performance.

I have to admit P & A have moved to a more frequent rotation on my iPod and I am going to take a serious listen to their latest album La La Land.

Plants and animals – Tom Cruz by DerAndere

TO Jazz Review: Tomasz Stanko, June 28, Church of the Holy Trinity

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment

photo courtesy pgaif13’s Flickr photostream. used with attribution under Creative Commons

I really like concerts in churches. Churches make great venues for a few reasons: the surroundings are interesting to look at, they’re almost always on transit routes or have free parking, and above all, the acoustics are fantastic. The great high ceilings and wood panelling is all wonderfully designed for one person to project his or her voice to a large group of people. Put a band with a bunch of instruments in such a room and the sound is excellent. The one thing I can’t stand about church shows, though, are the pews. I genuinely can’t sit in most pews for longer than 20 minutes, or my back starts threatening to go into painful spasms. It makes it difficult to appreciate the other things that are great about church shows when you can’t sit and enjoy in comfort.

My relationship with free jazz, like the sort that Tomasz Stanko plays, is similar. It’s great music for a few reasons: I enjoy a lot of the improvisations that come out of it, I appreciate it as a historical movement in jazz, and the players are almost always talented as hell. It’s designed to foster brilliant creativity. Put a great, experience band leader like Stanko with a group of talented musicians and they can do great things. The thing about free jazz, though, is the total lack of structure to most of the songs. I generally can’t sit through a free jazz session for longer than 20 minutes, or my mind starts to wander away on me. I want to appreciate it for all the great things about it and the musicians that play it, but my tastes and/or attention span just run to more melodic, less chaotic jazz.

It probably doesn’t help that I was 15 minutes late arriving to Stanko’s set. I really have no idea if Stanko’s quintet was playing tunes from a new album or classic stuff or what. Since he didn’t talk the whole time I was there, I actually have no idea if Stanko spoke to the crowd at all. Getting there late did have the advantage of me being able to sit at the back and get in and out of my seat without disturbing anybody. Sure enough, after 20 minutes of sitting in a pew, I stood up the rest of the show, and I wasn’t the only one. And sure enough, after 20 minutes of music, my mind started to really wander.

Don’t get me wrong, Stanko is a brilliant player, and deservedly one of the greats of Eastern European jazz. I wanted to go to his show because I’d heard his name a couple of times while living in Europe, and since I passed on seeing Dave Brubeck again this year, the Bill Evans/Robben Ford show was cancelled, and I skipped Herbie Hancock, Stanko fulfills my “jazz legends” quotient for this year’s festival. His band, playing electric guitar & bass, piano, and drums, was also quite good.

But as much as I like a lot of things about Stanko’s music, the overall package just doesn’t hold my attention. Judging by how the crowd appeared to alternately be completely enraptured or totally bored stiff during the show, I daresay I’m not the only one. I would feel bad giving the show a poor rating; it’s really just my own personal taste that didn’t allow me to get that into Stanko’s set, and I did enjoy some bits and solos. But when all five players on stage sound like they’re all playing a different song at the same time, well, I start wondering what’s being posted on Twitter. Let’s give it an average rating and leave it at that.

Toronto Fringe Preview: Fruitcake – Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward

Posted on by Brian in Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | Leave a comment

A few years ago while trolling the Edmonton Fringe Festival solo for shows to see, I decided I would try something a different. At the time I was really into improv shows and sketch comedies and the bittersweet comedy/dramas of a few local playwrights, and not a whole lot else. I was pretty sure that I didn’t care much for poetry, and didn’t really know what performance poetry even was.

Exactly what possessed me to drop into a show called the Bold & Spiky Poetry show I’m not sure. You can probably tell where this is going, though: I was glad that I did, in the end, because it was fantastic. Two British guys on stage, alternately reciting/performing poetry of their own creation; it was riveting stuff. It’s been years since the show and I can still vividly recall many details. Particularly affecting was a Remembrance Day poem from one half of the duo, Rob Gee, a poem about the abandonment and loneliness many old soldiers face when they’ve returned from war, something he’d seen firsthand as a psychiatric nurse. “We should wear our poppies with shame, not pride,” Rob said. Every November I think about that poem.

Anyway, all this is a very roundabout way of saying that Rob Gee is very, very good, and that you should see his show that’s running this year at the Toronto Fringe, namely Fruitcake – Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward. From the press release:

“Comic, poet and reformed psychiatric nurse, Rob Gee presents a user-friendly guide to losing the plot. Fruitcake charts a night shift on an acute psychiatric ward, seen through the eyes of a nurse who hears the voice of God – a kindly Jamaican woman – who gives him ten benevolent commandments to help him through the shift; and life.”

Bet on a thoroughly entertaining show that is mostly hilarious, often touching, and will probably leave you with tears in your eyes by the end. Recommendation: go early in the run. This show totally owned the Winnipeg Fringe Festival last summer, winning Best of the Fest, it owned the Orlando Fringe in May, winning the Sold Out Award, and has gotten great reviews everywhere it’s been. The smart betting is that as soon as the Toronto reviews start coming out and word of mouth spreads, this show’s going to be sold out the rest of the way. And if you come on opening night, try to find me and say hello. I’ll give you one of my new Panic Manual business cards.

Fruitcake is at St. Vladimir’s Theatre, Venue 8 in your programs, just south of Harbord on Spadina. The schedule:

Wed June 30 – 7:00pm

Sun July 4 – 11:00pm

Mon July 5 – 4:45pm

Wed July 7 – 9:30pm

Thur July 8 – 12:00pm

Fri July 9 – 8:00pm

Sat July 10 – 1:45pm

TO Jazz Review: Maylee Todd, June 27, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment

Toronto – It was Sunday night, and I had planned a nice casual night in – the past few weeks have been very taxing and with all the G20 shenanigans, I felt that an easy night in was a good solution, but as Harry Potter would know, sometimes you have to choose between what is easy, and what is right. The right thing to do was to go check out some live music and like a good bacteria, get cultured. It just so happened that Esthero was playing down the street at Lee’s Palace. It also just happened that I had a ticket/media pass for the Jazz Festival. It also just so happened that Brian was at the show. With all these factors in place, I decided to check out Esthero at Lee’s.

Brian had told me to get there by 9 (and any sooner would be appreciated). This had me thinking it was going to be an early show and I can be home at 10:30. However, I arrived at Lee’s and there was a massive lineup outside. The doors had just opened and slowly the line of people were making their way in. My dreams of going home early were shattered like a Starbucks window in a G20 protest. Dejected, Deflated and semi depressed, I turn to the console of my iphone, to check out who the opener is. I had briefly contemplated doing a full 180 and go home. I didn’t really know Esthero and judging by her show, I think I may have mistaken her for some other mid 90s singer I had like that one song of. Luckily, I found out that the opener was non other then Maylee Todd, a Toronto singer and a fellow Asian. I had previously enjoyed her show at a No Shame show and I think I also saw her perform in a garage at some point last year. No joke. Knowing this, I abandoned all thoughts of..abandoning the show, and begrudgingly joined the lineup entering Lee’s. I had to support the local scene I thought..otherwise, what would they think? what would they think!

Maylee Todd, as I’ve said, is a Toronto based singer. She has an album coming out June 22nd called Choose Your Own Adventure. I would classify her music as easy listening featuring hints of everything from soul to motown to disco to jazz. Her band, the Pegwee Power consists of Andrew Scott (horns /synth), Eric Woolston(double bass), and Chris Kettlewell (drums/vibraphone), She herself plays the harp, guitar, cowbell and all sorts of random instruments. There were a lot of instruments.

Taking the stage a bit after 9 to a sold out and anxious crowd, Maylee quickly launched into a quiet song (perhaps Protection Plan) that could of been out of 1960s French Restaurant featuring a harp and an accordion. The crowd quickly became quiet, like a monk. One of the things I appreciate about the Toronto Jazz Festival crowd is that they are rather appreciative of the artist, and are fairly quiet during the set. The same situation would not happen with hipsters at the Garrison. Playing to what I imagine would be one of the largest Toronto crowds she’s played in – Maylee, like a cowboy on a cattle drive, reigned it in and produced the tightest set I’ve seen her play so far.

Some of the songs I recognized from her set include the french disco tune Aerobics in Space, the jazzy Summer Sounds and the motown-esque tune called Hooked, which I liked, save for some in song banter. The crowd was definitely into getting into it, and even saw some people dancing during Aerobics in Space. She ended off the set with a upbeat rendition of Patrice Rushen’s Haven’t You Heard.

It was a good show. I really like her motown and loungey numbers. I think it’s a shame the show Ally McBeal isn’t around anymore, because Maylee’s type of the music would totally fit the soundtrack and that cocktail bar they seemed to always hang out in afterwards. Maylee’s got a good stage presence and gives off a nice relax vibe that puts the crowd at ease. It also helps that she has a very sharp singing voice that she puts into good use. The crowd gave her a rousing applaud at the end, indicating that they too were pleased.

Hooked – Maylee Todd & Circle Research by circle research

For Brian’s review of Esthero, click here.