Concert Review: AC Newman, March 12, Lee’s Palace

Posted on by Brian in Concerts | 7 Comments


Walking into Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night, it was all I could do to not walk right back out upon seeing four somewhat geeky-looking dudes on stage with the lead singer playing a ukulele. I find it hard to take ukulele rock seriously. I’m just prejudiced against ukuleles, I guess. It’s a personal failing. I’ll work on it, I promise.

In this case, however, I was able to suppress my natural instincts and managed to sit back, get a beer from the bar, and patiently await AC Newman without charging the stage during Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele’s set (actual band name) and beating the lead singer to death with his own ukulele. My ukulele prejudice may be stronger than I originally thought. May was ok, it was kind of cute when he climbed up on the bass drum and jumped off during his last song, but I wasn’t disappointed that we arrived halfway through his band’s set.

Newman arrived promptly at 10:30. You may know Newman best for his work as one of the voices and the primary songwriter for The New Pornographers, Canada’s favourite 8-piece musical outfit (or second favourite, depending on how many people are actually in Broken Social Scene at any given moment). Newman has also just put out his second solo album, Get Guilty, the follow-up to 2004’s The Slow Wonder. His solo band is also almost as big as his other band; Newman’s set last night featured seven musicians on stage, occasionally with as many as five singing at once.

Clearly, Newman is a songwriter who likes the harmonies and instruments you get with a larger group. His show featured a violin player/backup singer, a keyboardist/trumpeter, and a backup singer/tambourine player, alongside the more traditional two guitars, drums, and bass.

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Concert Review: Asobi Seksu, El Mocambo, March 3, 2009

Posted on by Allison in Concerts | 15 Comments

10 bones can get you a pretty big boner in this city.

Case in point, ultimate babe Yuki Chikudate made her way through the El Mocambo last night for an all-out noise-fest with shoegaze darlings Asobi Seksu (you know, the band that was backing her–the three white guys). Asobi Seksu is one of New York’s most prominent indie rock acts right now it’s easy to see why…Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and  MBV’s Kevin Shields could pass for their long lost music parents and Chikudate could pass for a Japanese spokesmodel.

But c’mon now, it’s not always about how pretty the lead singer is, is it? It was maybe Yuki that left us all slack-jawed, silent, and motionless throughout the show. At least that would explain why the applause had the viscosity of cold molasses–didn’t notice if it slowed down after she stripped down to her tanktop though. Anyone? Anyone?

More noisy than ethereal, I would say the ElMo (or any small venue for that matter) is sort of the last place you want this type of shoegaze to be played at because no matter how ambient your guitars sound you can envision even Grandpa Simpson’s eardrums exploding. More than a few people ran for the hills once the set started and even seasoned show-going veterans could kind of feel their ears’ cilia hairs dying. This is not to say that it wasn’t beautiful music–the gentler, dreamier stuff off 2006’s Citrus sounded lovely, particularly Thursday…it was just that much of the noisier stuff off Hush, which I have yet to listen through, seemed much too loud for a club show.

One last thing…I might be alone on this one but it felt like the pace at which they tore through their set was unprecedented. I think what they were going for was a seamless sound without audible transitions from song to song–a noble shoegazey intention that ended up sounding like it was just another day at the office, at least to me.

Concert Review: Thievery Corporation, Kool Haus, Feb 22 2009

Posted on by Mark in Concerts | 6 Comments

Toronto – The Washington-based duo Thievery Corporation came to Toronto last Saturday to share their unique fusion of solid beats decorated with musical styles from the world over. The heart of Thievery consists of duo Rob Garza and Eric Hilton. They filled out the stage by bringing a veritable posse of over 10 other musicians, including a Brazilian songstress, a sitar-player, horns, and assorted percussionists. This is the 2nd date of a new tour helping to promote their latest album, Radio Retaliation. You can check out an excellent review of this album by my fellow Panic-Manualer Brian here.

Sure the bass drums may sound “great” if they’re literally shaking your chest, but if it’s doing so at the expense of the vocals, the horns, and the sitars, then all you’re left with is some muddy-ass drum and bass

I will say that I was looking forward to this show for months. Thievery is one of my go-to groove bands when I just want to get in the zone and stay there. It’s good music to listen to when doing stuff; like polishing shoes, or ironing, or working/studying. Radio Retaliation is by far their most political offering to date, but it still contains the main elements of Thievery that I love; killer beats and an atmospheric sound. While the show was great, I think my expectations were probably a little unrealistic given the venue that is Kool Haus.

I don’t want to be a one-trick pony where all my live reviews consist of an intense critique of the venue, but the more concerts I attend, the more I realize how important the venue is. It is a critical element that will colour the entire concert-going experience, for better or worse. I have to say, I do try to avoid the Kool Haus (and the affiliated guvernment) at many costs, and will only be persuaded by my favourite bands. To Thievery’s credit, they are one of those bands. That being said, after this experience at Kool Haus, the bar for “what bands I will go see at Kool Haus even though I hate Kool Haus” has just been raised a couple notches.

I think if we spent more time making sure that a band is properly heard, then the crowd will concentrate on making sure that it’s being properly felt.

Now, I know that getting a live band to sound good is no easy feat. Any sound engineer worth their salt will tell you that working a big cavernous concrete box like Kool Haus is no simple task. But I do feel that sound engineer’s today could learn a great deal by discovering that special button known as the “master volume knob”. Sure the bass drums may sound “great” if they’re literally shaking your chest, but if it’s doing so at the expense of the vocals, the horns, and the sitars, then all you’re left with is some muddy-ass drum and bass. I think if we spent more time making sure that a band is properly heard, then the crowd will concentrate on making sure that it’s being properly felt.

So, despite the sound and feedback issues, I would say that Thievery made the best of the situation. They started at 10, but things really got going about 20 minutes into the set when they started to dust off some well-known material from their 2002 album, The Richest Man in Babylon. The beats were solid and got the crowd shaking for most of the 2 hour set. Despite the sound issues, it was still impressive that an electronica-duo would tour with so many musicians. How cool is it to have an electronic band playing live with horns, a real sitar player, and two beautiful songstresses? One highlight was hearing the song “exilio” set to female vocals.

So overall, I’m glad I went to see Thievery Corporation. I would have preferred to see them in a less crappy venue. Although Thievery is a fairly popular band, the $50 price-tag combined with a place as thoroughly underwhelming as Kool Haus makes for a questionable transaction. A band like Thievery can only command a price like that at a place that actually sounds good, like the Mod Club or the Phoenix. Sadly, after this experience, the list of bands that I’m willing to go see at the Kool Haus for this kind of dough just got a whole lot smaller.

Thievery Corporation: 4/5
Kool Haus: 2.7/5

Concert Review: Laura Barrett & Valery Gore, Horseshoe, January 28, 2009

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

(Toronto) Last Wednesday my girlfriend Karen and I went down to see Laura Barrett and Valery Gore at the Horseshoe. I have been hearing Valery Gore’s song Worried Head for a couple of months now and really enjoying it. Also, since my secret crush Laura Barrett was opening up, AND because Karen was OK accompanying me to see my secret crush, I had high hopes for this show.

I was first introduced to Laura Barrett back in 2003 when we were both volunteering for the NXNE music festival here in Toronto. I noticed her carrying her bicycle helmet and wearing her plaid pants into our festival volunteer meeting. When I say ‘introduced’ to her, I really mean observed from a far because I couldn’t think of anything witty to say to her at the time. I probably still couldn’t today.

Now I must admit, my initial review of last Wednesday night had a few comments about how hot Valery Gore and Laura Barrett are mixed in with how great the show was. I mean sure, Valery Gore and Laura Barrett are both very attractive women. I then began to wonder how often they get reviewed where there isn’t any mention of their physical appearance in the review. Probably not very often. Does this take away from their musical talent? Do guys only go to their show to gawk at them?

The day after the show, I was directed to a Globe And Mail article on Laura Barrett with the title This Thumb Plucker Is One Sexy Nerd. A quick glance through the comments and you will see a brief discussion regarding the use of the word ‘sexy’ in the articles title and how it relates to the music of Laura Barrett.

So what is my point here? I’m not exactly sure except that I felt like a dirty old man mentioning the physical properties of Laura and Valery in this post. It happens a lot and maybe it isn’t a big deal, but maybe it is? I guess I am just aware of it now.

Today I woke up and read this review on BlogTO of the all male, Halifax based band, The Darcys, Saturday night show at the Horseshoe.

“…it doesn’t hurt that these guys are so easy on the eyes, and snappy dressers too.”

Pftt…guys being objectified. Fuck me I guess.

Laura Barrett – Robot Ponies. Man, this song rocks. Lyrically, it is kind of out there but if you really listen to it, it makes total sense. Yes, they would have nylon fur and eat plastic bags. The swimming ponies would have to be airtight. If you can justify using the word fuck in a song about robot ponies, you have my vote.