TO Jazz Review: Maceo Parker, June 25, Toronto Star Stage

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 1 Comment

Toronto – With the early start and finish of Martha Wainwright’s performance at The Great Hall, I had some time to jet back to Nathan Phillips to catch the lion’s share of Maceo Parker’s set. Some of our regular readers might think that the Panic Manual is pretty enamoured with Maceo Parker, but they’d be wrong. It’s mostly just me.

With the G20 in full-swing, most of downtown Toronto was pretty barren. To no surprise, the crowd was a little on the sparse side of what I`m used to for the main stage headliner at Nathan Phillips Square. Despite all this, I felt a strong kinship with the crowd. These are the folks who said “G20 Schmee Twenty. I want to go dance and listen to funk music!” In short, these are my types of folks.

And dance they did. Maceo Parker and his band did what they do best: played fun dance-friendly funk. The brave souls that ventured out were treated to a night of great music from a legend who cut his teeth with the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown.

TO Jazz Review: Martha Wainwright, June 25, The Great Hall

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

Toronto – The Toronto Jazz Festival kicked off last night with a stellar performance by Martha Wainwright at The Great Hall. It was an amazingly intimate affair powered by some truly stunning vocals. Martha blew the roof of the hall as she sparrowed her way through songs by French singer Edith Piaf. I was completely unprepared for how consummate a musician she is. It’s too bad that much of the audience missed the first half of the set.

I was really looking forward to checking out The Great Hall; it was my first time at this venue. I arrived as per the website billing at 9 pm sharp, hoping that I’d have time to grab a drink before the show. To my dismay, the show was in full swing and had been for nearly 40 minutes. Apparently the actual show time was 8 pm. The lady at the door explained that they tried to delay as much as possible. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Factual error on the internet? Yeah right. Give me a break!” I know! I didn’t think it was possible either.

Martha, with a voice like that, I could never stay mad at you. Let`s never fight again.

Nevertheless, the management at The Great Hall isn’t so Great after all.  The fact of the matter is that The Great Hall doesn’t post event timing on their website, so the only resource we can go by is the main TO jazz site. If that website says 9 and the plan was to play at 8, then change the plan. Beg and plead with the artist and audience to start later. If someone asked Martha to come out and explain the situation and ask the audience if it was OK to start at 9 to accommodate the mixup, who would object? All I’m saying is $30 + ticketmaster surcharges is a lot to pay to miss half a set.

It’s a good thing that Martha’s performance was so captivating. Her stage banter was endearing and her voice has both nuance and power. Near the end of the set she was bobbing from side to side. Her antics painted a childish grin on my face. Martha, with a voice like that, I could never stay mad at you. Let`s never fight again. Many audience members sat down on the floor in the wings of The Great Hall to soak in the experience. If I had heard the entire set, this could very well have been my first 5 star review. C’etait vraiment incroyable.

Concert Review: Bishop Morocco, Handsome Furs, June 23, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Mark in Concerts | Leave a comment

TorontoBishop Morocco opened for the Handsome Furs last Wednesday at Lee’s Palace. Their music sounds a little like Joy Division; and by a little, I mean a lot. They had the droning bass, the droning vocals, and the general format down pat. What really hamstrung their performance was the robotic fourth member of the band: the dreaded drum machine and programmable sound creating doohickey.

Drum machines are weird. It’s understandable that musicians use them to keep things together when laying down tracks. However, in a live setting, it’s like listening to a musician playing with an earlier recorded version of himself. It’s predeterminism at its worst. Every little tidbit of the song has been pre-routed and planned. There’s no opportunity to stray from the path, improvisation is cramped, and the interplay between the musicians and the crowd is restrained at best.

At the end of this show, I made myself a promise. I’m going to build a robot. A robot with one simple directive: to roam the earth in order to seek out and destroy all drum machines. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Mark, don’t you know that a drum machine is itself basically a robot? And a robot will never kill a fellow robot?” Of course I thought of that! For frack’s sake! Give me some credit here. This is why I will *remove* my robots’ ethics chip before instructing him to fulfill this nefarious deed. (See the tooltip on the robot picture for how this might unfold)

In any case, Bishop Morocco does have potential. If they can branch out from the Joy Division umbrella and get a living and breathing drummer, I’d be curious to see what they could accomplish.

The biggest compliment that I can give to Montreal-based Handsome Furs is the fact that I signed up to review their show. With my mind still reeling from NXNE, and the Toronto Jazz Festival already upon us, I had but a few precious days of break time at my disposal. When I saw that the Handsome Furs were playing during my stare-at-a-blank-wall-in-silence time, I barely hesitated to sign up. I had caught the last 20 minutes of their CMW set last March and jumped at the opportunity to see them on their own terms. Despite my bleary eyes and general sense of exhaustion, I’m glad I went.

The Handsome Furs consist of husband-wife duo Dan Coeckner and Alexei Perry. Before I get into the details of their show, it’s worth mentioning that the couple spent much of the opening set out on the floor. They were listening, dancing, and occasionally making out. Not only was that a pretty classy and supportive move, but it was also as cute as fuck. Dan does the lions share of the singing and guitar-playing, while Alexei covers the keyboard beat machines and the cartwheels. Anyway you cut it, the Handsome Furs is one adrenalin rush of a live show.

With only two people on stage, it can be difficult to maintain such intense energy throughout an entire set, but somehow they’ve figured out the formula. Alexei is like a heart beat on heroine. She kicks her legs out with abandon, jumps up and down, and mouths the words to all the songs. Their brand of electronic rock is infectious. They admitted to using the Toronto crowd as guinea pigs to test out some brand-new songs, and we certainly won’t fault them for it. Alexei’s trepidation and slightly panicked approach to this new material was positively endearing.

Toronto Fringe Preview: PUBLIC SPEAKING

Posted on by Brian in Fringe, Reviews, Theatre | 3 Comments

Last year I only managed to catch a handful of Fringe plays, none of which I reviewed here, but I was lucky enough to catch a fantastic little one-man show called Moving Along that I really enjoyed. The one man in it was Chris Craddock, a wonderful actor based in Edmonton, and featured a chair with several lights strapped to it that he’d switch on and off as he ricocheted through the performance. Moving Along was an older show he’d dusted off to tour Fringes last summer, and I hope a lot of people saw it because it was excellent.

The picture above is a promo shot for Moving Along because I couldn’t find one of suitable size/quality for Craddock’s new one-man gig that’s going to run at this year’s Fringe, which is called PUBLIC SPEAKING. This show is so new that it’s Toronto showing is apparently a “fully realized workshop presentation,” and won’t actually have an official premiere until next season at Theatre Network in Edmonton. Just to take a potshot at the city I used to live in, this means that there is something to look forward to this upcoming winter in Edmonton, which is a refreshing change from the norm.

From the show’s press release: “Celebrated playwright and performer Chris Craddock returns as a one-man tour-de-force. Characters from opposing sides of the tracks collide when Johnny Three Fingers and his assistant, Brian, kidnap the rich and famous Diana. But when Brian, a homeless man with gigantism, is put in charge of guarding the girl, a closet sex-addict and daughter of Canada’s “King of Self-Help,” he has to fight not to fall in love with her. Meanwhile, Diana’s father tries not to betray his principles now that they’ve been put to the ultimate test. As Craddock weaves this intricate multi-character tale, he manipulates sound to awesome effect—much as he had manipulated lighting in his hit play, Moving Along.”

You might remember Craddock as the writer of previous hit shows Boy Groove and BASH’d, which was actually performed off Broadway in 2008. I remember him from a handful of shows around Edmonton when I was around that theatre scene a lot, but mostly I remember him as the writer of Summer of My Amazing Luck, a stage adaptation of the Miriam Toews novel, which was stupendous and made both my mother and my sister cry when I took them to see it.

So basically if you want to see a playwright and actor who’s been at the top of his game for years now without any sign of slowing down perform his new work, and you probably should want to do that, see PUBLIC SPEAKING.

PUBLIC SPEAKING runs at venue 9 in your Fringe program, the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse, which is north of College on St. George Street. As usual, a ticket will cost you $10 at the door, $11 in advance, and you can get all info on passes and advance tix at the Fringe website. The schedule for the show looks like this:

Friday July 2, 10:30 pm

Sunday July 4, 7:15 pm

Tuesday July 6, 6:30 pm

Wednesday July 7, 4:00 pm

Thursday July 8, 11:15 pm

Friday July, 9, Noon

Sunday July 11, 5:45 pm