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

Concert Review: Junip, November 5, Lee’s Palace

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

Toronto – I will readily admit that I knew very little about Junip before going to this show, but I do like Jose Gonzalez.  His solo stuff has a nice, almost hypnotic vibe to it, so I was interested in seeing what he would do as part of a full band.  And after seeing and being totally charmed by Sharon Van Etten’s  opening set, I was in the right mood to hear what they had to offer.

Of course, any talk about Junip kind of refers to it as Gonzalez branching out and starting a new band, when of course, the band actually existed before his solo career (and apparently met through going to hardcore shows in Gothenburg) so really this is kind of a return to his roots.  Tom Petty did a similar sort of thing with his recent Mudcrutch project, so maybe this is becoming a trend.

So how did they sound?  Well, pretty much like Jose Gonzalez with a full band.  They had a similar sort of hypnotic vibe, but a bit spacier maybe courtesy of Tobias Winterkorn’s synthesizer work.  There was a definite 70s influence on their sound, and the persistent drumming added a touch of Can-style krautrock.  And they had conga drums too!  Everybody loves congas.  Or were they bongos?  Maybe both.  Either way, there was lots of percussion involved.  And if that wasn’t enough, they threw in a really solid cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” near the end of their encore … although I have to wonder, does it really even count as an encore if you’re only gone from the stage for like 20 seconds?  Why not just stay onstage and forego the pretense, guys?   

Setlist: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/junip/2010/lees-palace-toronto-on-canada-53d567c9.html

Junip – Rope and Summit by sanfordco

Concert Review: Sharon Van Etten, November 5, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto – if I was writing a year end article about the most charming on stage performers, I’m pretty Sharon Van Etten would be at the top of the list. The singer from Jersey easily won over the semi packed crowd at Lee’s Palace with her laid back and humble personality. I could easily write a few paragraphs about her interactions with the crowd but I won’t. There was, however, a particularly hilarious dedication to a man in the front row who had recognized her “I can’t. believe you know who I am!” she says to the crowd.

Opening for Junip, Sharon Van Etten gave a good sample as to why media outlets like Pitchfork are going balls to the wall for her material. I had previously labeled Sharon as another singer songwriter type with that soulful yet singular sound that while good, sounded samey when compared with other similar artists. However, the live show definitely showed Sharon’s versatility as a musician, switching from folky quiet numbers to rock/shouting ones to beautifully arranged ones. It was very impressive. I haven’t listened to her new record epic yet but if the set is any indication, I’m sure the album is pretty good. A fan requested song – Consolation prize finished the splendid set.

All in all, very impressive opening act. I am thinking it’s just a matter of time before more people will know who Sharon Van Etten is.

Sharon Van Etten – Love More by Henry Coachella