Concert Review: Yanni, July 21, Budweiser Stage

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I will admit that going into Saturday night’s Yanni show, I had very little familiarity with the Greek musician and composer. Sure, I knew that Live At The Acropolis, the 1993 concert and subsequent live album which he and his band were celebrating 25 years of, was kind of a big deal back in the day, and that Yanni himself was still a big enough deal with some folks that he can fill the Budweiser Stage, but other than that, not so much. I’d spent very little time actually listening to his music and knew of Yanni as really more of an abstract concept, he of the synthesizer solos and the moustache and flowing hair. But I figured life is all about taking chances and since I had the chance to see Yanni live, I might as well take it, even if the prospect of a three hour concert of almost entirely unfamiliar instrumental music seemed like it might be a bit of a chore going in.

Taking the stage grinning from ear to ear and looking like he just stepped off the set of Miami Vice with his white pants and open white shirt over a bright blue t-shirt, Yanni and his orchestra launched into their set and he kept that grin on his face for pretty much the entire show. Dude’s been doing this for decades and still clearly loves doing what he does. As did the audience. There were solos galore almost from the first note they played and nearly every minute of the set was devoted to Yanni giving his band members (all of them talented musicians) time to shine, so he’s nothing if not a generous bandleader. Although I did notice that of the three violinists onstage, one of them didn’t seem to get the same opportunities to solo and be in the spotlight that the others did. Maybe he’s the new guy or something. Who knows?

While Yanni put on an impressive enough show, his music still doesn’t really do all that much for me (I did not feel any of the so-called “Sensuous Chill” for which he named his most recent album, but I will give a shout out to drummer Charlie Adams for a lengthy solo that was one of the highlights of the night). Yanni himself did kind of win me over though – he’s a bit of a character onstage, from the amusing little “woohoos” he did into the microphone every now and then to his enthusiastic boosterism for his bandmates in the form of constant finger wagging and other emphatic gestures of approval to the somewhat dramatic yet entirely sincere statements he would make throughout the night such as “Tonight we’re celebrating – first of all we’re celebrating life itself – but also the 25th anniversary of Live At The Acropolis” or “he’s captured the essence of the piece of music but he’s also I believe captured the essence … of life” when praising one of the violinists after they played a duet together on “Until The Last Moment.” A little corny perhaps, but clearly Yanni’s not afraid to get a bit corny. I mean, he did name an album Sensuous Chill after all.

Yanni also announced that his one hope for the evening was that he could bring the audience close to the emotions that he and his band were experiencing when they performed at the Acropolis all those years ago and while you know that he must say that at every single show, there’s no doubt that he definitely means it all. And while an amphitheatre by the Lakeshore doesn’t quite compare to an ancient Greek citadel that overlooks the Parthenon, based on the reaction of many in attendance, he at least brought them somewhat close to that feeling.

And now, because I’m sure you were all wondering where he stands on the matter, here’s Yanni’s reaction to the whole “Yanny or Laurel” debate:

Song Of The Day: The Huntress and Holder of Hands – Creatures In Flight

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This past weekend’s Hillside Festival in Guelph saw many great performances across the festival’s stages from the likes of Partner, Lilly Hiatt, US Girls, The Messthetics and more. At its core though, Hillside has always been about the discovery of new music, that special “Hillside moment” where you hear something that blows you away. Of the acts I saw that were new to me over the weekend, one of the best and most unique was Providence, Rhode Island based band The Huntress and Holder of Hands.

Initially started as a solo project and an outlet for her grief after the loss of her husband Dave Lamb to leukemia, bandleader MorganEve Swain has expanded The Huntress and Holder of Hands into a full band. The band’s debut album Avalon offers up a beautiful blend of folk, classical, and post-rock sounds that are still running through my head nearly a week after seeing them. Check out the video for “Creatures In Flight” below:

Concert Review: Japanese Breakfast, July 18, The Phoenix

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At several points throughout their Wednesday night show at The Phoenix, Japanese Breakfast‘s Michelle Zauner repeatedly stressed how much the band enjoys playing in Toronto and clearly, Toronto loves Japanese Breakfast too, as evidenced by the enthusiastic, sold out crowd.

Japanese Breakfast definitely fed off the energy of the crowd (“You make it very easy to have fun at our job.”) and played an engaging set full of tracks from 2016’s Psychopomp and last year’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet. I was also pleased to see that the band has kept their cover of The Cranberries “Dreams” in their repertoire as well.

“Holy shit, this is a lot bigger than the Silver Dollar.” said Zauner, adding that they do remember their residency there very fondly. I remember it fondly too, having attended two out of the three nights the band played there during CMW 2017(and subsequently seeing them about two weeks later opening for Slowdive at the Danforth) and while I definitely preferred the shows in the smaller venue, there’s something very satisfying about seeing a band graduate to playing bigger venues to larger and increasingly more appreciative crowds. Hell, this crowd was so into it, they even cheered enthusiastically for a reference to Scholastic book fairs that Zauner made onstage, which is maybe one of the weirdest reasons to cheer I’ve ever seen at a show. That’s a good audience. And one of which Japanese Breakfast is entirely deserving.

Concert Review: Armored Saint, July 17, Mod Club

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“Toronto! It only took us 18 years to come back. What was that? It was a blip.”

These were Armored Saint vocalist John Bush’s opening words to the crowd on Tuesday night and though he apologized for the lengthy delay between visits, he offered up no real explanation other than that they were “dumb” for doing so. But hey, the crowd of diehard fans didn’t seem to mind one bit – I guess all that stuff about absence making the heart grow fonder is true. And I’d imagine the fact that the L.A. based metal band would be playing their 1991 album Symbol Of Salvation in its entirety probably played a part in the fans’ excitement too.

Yes, Armored Saint has joined the ever growing list of acts doing shows/tours dedicated to one particular album (I think that list pretty much includes any and every band nowadays) and after an opening trio of tunes that are not on that album (“March Of The Saint”, “Long Before I Die” and “Chemical Euphoria”) they launched into Symbol Of Salvation. Starting things off with opening track “Reign Of Fire,” they ran through the whole album in order before ending things off with a few more classic tracks. Technically no encore though – after 18 years away, they decided not to waste our time by walking off the stage, opting instead to just keep playing. Such thoughtful chaps.

At one point during their set, Bush mentioned that he recognized a few familiar faces in the crowd, including one fan who had apparently followed the band on tour for a few dates, starting in New York, then moving on to Boston and Montreal before coming back home to see the band in Toronto. That seemed perhaps a bit excessive considering that the band’s setlists for each of those shows were practically identical – no Grateful Dead style jams to be found – but it just goes to show the lengths that some will go to to see their favourite bands live. And I’m sure that fan did not walk away disappointed from any of those shows.

Formed back in 1982, Armored Saint are a 36 year old band touring behind a 27 year old album, but while it’s a bit of a nostalgia trip, they certainly did not show their age at all (other than a bit of hair loss). They put on a solid show over the course of roughly an hour and 45 minutes – the band was tight and Bush’s gruff, full-throated vocals sounded great. Here’s hoping they keep that promise to not wait 18 years until the next Toronto show.