concert review

TO Jazz Review: Melody Gardot, June 29, Harbourfront Centre

Posted on by Brian in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | 11 Comments


Toronto – Melody Gardot’s set at the Enwave Theatre in the Harbourfront Centre for the Toronto Jazz Festival very nearly put me to sleep.

I guess that’s a review in itself.

Gardot is a singer and piano player from Philadelphia who was hit by a car when she was 19, according to Wikipedia. She was helped in her recovery by something called music therapy; she already knew how to play piano (during the set she remarked she started playing in a piano bar in Philadelphia at age 16), but during her therapy learned to play guitar. She damaged her pelvis in the accident, and as a result, she has to sort of put one foot up on a pedestal when sitting on a stool to play guitar (or piano, presumably, though I couldn’t see what she rested her foot on under her piano) to ease pressure on her hip area. She also reportedly has a sensitivity to light and sound, as evidenced by how dark it was in the Enwave Theatre throughout her set, with minimal lights on her and the band, the strict no photos at the show policy, and the hat and dark glasses she wore throughout the set.

Interesting stuff, right? If only Gardot’s music were nearly as engaging as her back story.

Now, I don’t think Gardot is a bad singer. I can understand why some people quite like her voice. It’s sort of sultry and husky easy to listen to, even if it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of range. Gardot is also rather pretty with very nice legs, which she was more than happy to show off in a short skirt, fishnets and high heels.

Do I think she’s a particularly good songwriter? Well…no, not really. Her songs all sound more or less the same after a while and all seem to devolve from lyrics into scat-vocals at almost exactly the same time. Her choices of covers, the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the pop standard “My Favourite Things,” were uninspiring. Apparently singing them slower and quieter in a bluesy manner makes them songs “you’ve heard before, but never quite like this” in Gardot’s mind (’cause no one’s ever thought of covering those songs from a different genre before). Really, if you’re going to do a version of “My Favourite Things” at a jazz festival, you should be a saxaphone quartet channeling John Coltrane.

The music she and her five-piece backing band played, at least on this night, never elevated above the level of decent hotel lounge music. Despite several horn and bass solos, her backing band rarely distinguished itself, except maybe for the xylophone player, who was quite good and entertaining to watch as he clutched four mallets in his hands to strike different tones. Gardot’s own piano and guitar playing was unremarkable.

Gardot started off in piano bars, in her own words “playing songs [she] didn’t want to play,” something she’s now grateful she doesn’t have to do. That piano bar/lounge singer vibe pervades her show. Some crooners are entertaining and talented enough, with a combination of a great voice and a charming persona to outgrow that cheesy lounge vibe (Like Tony Bennett, appearing later this week at the Jazz Festival). Gardot just isn’t there, at least not yet; she spoke briefly and quietly between songs, revealing little about herself, and although she tried to make a big deal about strutting over to her piano with her cane and high heels and taking a sip of brandy several times, she just doesn’t have much of a stage presence.

You can draw a pretty straight line between Diana Krall, Norah Jones and Gardot’s music, and I’m not sure Gardot offers anything new. It’s all ‘pop-jazz,’ if you will, jazz for people who mostly listen to top 40 and want to seem more well-rounded. Honestly, I’m trying to be less of a music snob these days, and wrapping my head around the idea of different people having different taste, but it bothers me that a show like this sold out the 350-seat Enwave Theatre and played to a standing ovation when a show like Delerium the other night at the Church of the Redeemer drew all of ten people. I ducked out before Gardot’s encore.

Concert Review: Camera Obscura, June 5, Commodore Ballroom

Posted on by Vik in Concerts, Tweeview | 16 Comments

camera obscura live vancouver commodore

Vancouver – With the recent heatwave Vancouver has been experiencing, it would seem fitting to have a band like Camera Obscura adding to it with their warm pop sounds but their performance on Friday night was enough to to have any twee fan cower deep within their anoraks only to peep out occasionally to see if it was all over.

The show kicked off with Sacramento trio Agent Ribbons and they managed to keep the crowd entertained throughout the entire set with their power-folk-cabaret sounds complete with vintage costumes and prancing tambourine player in a masquerade mask. A bit too dark for my taste but an enjoyable performance nonetheless.

Camera Obscura finally hit the stage a little after 10 to resounding applause from the near capacity crowd, and with a brief acknowledgment they kicked off the show with a track from their latest album ‘My Maudlin Career’. The rest of the set consisted of all the favorites from their 3 album back catalogue but as the show progressed it felt like the band was just going through the motions and nothing annoys me more than bands that put on disinterested performances.

I’ve been to enough concerts in my time to know when a band is or isn’t enjoying performing live and Camera Obscura’s performance on Friday night was perhaps one of the more irritating shows I’ve attended in a long time. One could blame the old stigma that Canadian’s aren’t the most lively concert attendees but I’ve always believed that it’s up to the band performing to do what they can to keep the crowd engaged. This definitely was not the case on Friday night. Everyone at the show seemed to be enjoying themselves with loud cheers after each song and the odd dancer closer to the stage. Fairly typical. CO did nothing to encourage the rest of us to clap or sing along and during one track closer to the end of the set, Traceyanne had the gall to take a seat and pan the crowd with a solemn look on her face. I can understand that bands have a unforgiving touring schedule and may not be always on their a-game for every show, but I and every punter in the crowd expect that they at least make an effort.

Hey Camera Obscura, I like you. I’ll still buy all your albums, recommend you to friends and play your songs till no end during sunny (and rainy) days but I think you should take a step back and take a look at how your elders Belle and Sebastian approach live performances. They’ve been around for much longer and always go out of their way to put on a fantastic gig with zero pretension. I’m just sayin’….

Here’s the setlist I had created on the fly during the show. I didn’t remember the names from all the tracks played and was going to go back and listen and add them but I think I’ll put the same amount of effort as CO did and just leave it as is. Enjoy!

#1- new album (intro track?)
#2 – new album
#3 – teenager
#4 – just can’t see 2nd album
#5 – James
#6 – new album mellow
# 7- French Navy
#8 – new album I’m going date tonight
#9 – new album ???
#10 – eighties fan
#11 – songs written for girls
#12 – looks could kill


Lloyd I’m ready to be heartbroken
Razzle dazzle rose

Photo’s from the gig can be found here.


Concert Review: The Thermals, May 3, Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Brian in Concerts | Leave a comment


God, I love The Thermals. What’s more, I love their Twitter feed. Twitter gives following a band on tour a whole new meaning, and The Thermals’ feed is one of the most entertaining around. Who can forget the epic tweet “But really this is the NOGL tour 09. NO ONE GETS LAID“? Or the early morning hours of May 1, when they tweeted a legendary 79 times between 1:22 and 3:53 AM?

Their tweet above is correct: the so-called “Legendary” Horseshoe Tavern is not the most glamourous of venues. On the other hand, The Thermals are not the most glamourous of bands. And that’s ok. Despite the heat that had frontman Hutch Harris sweating through his shirt, the Thermals pretty much killed it with an hour of their energetic indie rock goodness.

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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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