As a part of the celebrations associated with the Pan Am Games, the City of Toronto has been hosting a series of concerts in a few locations around the city, presumably to build up excitement for the games and to bring a bit of a party vibe to the city. With that in mind, Rich Aucoin was a smart booking for Panamania. With confetti cannons, an audience invasion, and wacky videos flashing across the screen, Aucoin brought the party – and that was just during the one song I caught from him. Aucoin is so dedicated to pleasing the people, he even put his cell number up on the screen with an offer to send a zip file with all of his music in it to anyone who texted him. Good times.
Following Aucoin on the adjacent stage was Cold Specks. And if the band’s moody, darker sounds weren’t an indication that the vibe would be a bit different from Aucoin’s set (though no less enjoyable), the dark yet hilarious stage banter certainly would have given it away: “This next song is a morbid tune about decapitation. I hope you enjoy it!” and “Some of us flew in from the UK this afternoon, so I’m wearing these shades to hide my cold dead eyes. Here’s another morbid tune.” The dark grey storm clouds that appeared overhead during their set seemed somehow fitting.
And while the storm did hold off for Cold Specks, the rain was coming, so a short break at a nearby pub for a pint was a smart move. After a brief rainfall, we returned to the stage to see Joel Plaskett and The Emergency charm a fairly large crowd as they played the hits along with a number of songs off of Plaskett’s latest, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test, initiating a few singalongs along the way . “Panamania! I guess that makes you all Panamaniacs!” said Plaskett before adding that they were considering opening with Van Halen’s “Panama.” Plaskett’s not afraid to get a bit corny – it’s one of his strengths really. He’s a good showman, and even if most of his tricks are old hat once you’ve seen him a few times, it’s never not fun.
Toronto Urban Roots Fest (TURF) came out of nowhere earlier this year enshrouded by a haze of mystery. Initially, everyone was like who the hell was that, but as secrets revealed themselves, everyone went from curious to ecstatic as it finally dawned on people that we were finally getting a summer time music festival featuring some of our most beloved indie band.
What the hell is “urban roots” anyway? who cares. Lets take a look at 6 acts playing this thing next week.
The Scottish group recently released their fifth album – Desire Lines, recently and while it doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, their music is a pleasant summertime affair. I thought they would be put on a later slot, but I always over estimate a bands poularity.
She & Him
Zooey Deschanel has made an entire career out of being cute and quirky. It’s as if she took a look at two words in the dictionary and said “I’m going to dominate those words”. Underneath all those sun dresses, quirky mannerisms and hello giggles is an interesting voice. This voice has been harnessed by M. Ward to form She & Him, a power duo that has released three whole albums of vintage inspired folk-pop songs. Conveniently named Volume 3, She & Him’s third album came out earlier this year and they’ll be eager to show it off (everyone will just want them to play In The Sun). Just to fuck you up, here’s a picture of Zooey with and without bangs.
Surely by now this man has been declared a national treasure. Joel Plaskett returns once again to Toronto to delight us with his lively music. Last time he was here, he played five nights at the Horseshoe so this time around it’ll be a bit different. What won’t be different will be the elation of his fans every time he regales them with one of the many hits he has provided over the past decade. He hasn’t released anything since Scrappy Happiness, so maybe this show is just to enhance his own personal brand, or he’s just here to visit family or something.
Dawes was one of those bands whose name you couldn’t escape in Austin this year. They even joined John Fogerty on stage, and he called them ‘good ole boys’. Since this is a roots festival or sorts, it would only make sense that good ole boys with plaid shirts and beards would play this show. The LA quartet also recently opened for Bob Dylan.
People freaking love Xavier Rudd. Who they are? I don’t know. I went to his show at Queen Elizabeth Theatre a few years ago and let me tell you, his fans are so fanatic that it’s almost cult like. It also reminds me of Christian rock for some reason. Perhaps best known for his extensive use of didgeridoos, Rudd’s on stage show is energetic and if you are one of those lost souls looking for a random cause to join to feel something, maybe you too might turn into one of those Xavier Rudd fans.
Belle and Sebastian
Basically one of my favorite bands ever, Belle & Sebastian are hitting the summer festival this year hard. This includes a headline slot at Pitchfork as well. It’s been three years since they have released an album but who cares? Their live show has progressively better over the years and I expect nothing less then a wonderfully delightful show to close off the first ever TURF. No better way to finish off a Sunday.
The first thing that struck me when I walked into the 9:30 Club was just how darn good lookin’ Joel Plaskett actually is. The Nova Scotian musician is slim, smiling, and super well dressed (all-denim Canadian tux for the win!). His set was simple (both in the fact that he had no props and his banter was limited but friendly) and his music was clean and crisp feeling. My favorite tracks came toward the end when he played Nowhere With You (which starts with “hey good looking, why the frown?”) and Wishful Thinking. Since the show, though, I’ve looked up several of his tracks and, honestly, kind of love them all. Top picks include Sailors Eyes and Fashionable People. The artist is currently touring promoting Scrappy Happiness (such a good album title!) and is definitely worth a try if you haven’t heard him before … or even if you have.
The main act, Rusted Root, only added to the good lookin’ theme. First, the band was impeccably attired for the aged (or is experienced a better, more PC term?) jam band profile. Dreadlocks, aviator sunglasses, shiny-red-vinyl vests, and rasta hats were all sported with perfectly casual ease. Second, the inter-generational crowd they drew to the 9:30 Club had some notably amazing looks going on themselves: my favorites were the bobsey-twin 50-year old couple wearing matching Rusted Root T-shirts, cowboy hats, and plaid jeans. The show (not just the look) was great too. The band was perfectly past its peak if that makes sense: they exuded ease and familiarity on stage while also catering to the older crowd they attract by playing a 7:20 headliner set for the early show (Django Django played later at the 9:30 Club). Crowd favorites included Food and Creative Love as well as the band’s most famous song, Send me on my Way, which made for an awesome encore. The band is out promoting its newest album, The Movement, which came out October 2012.
It seems only fitting that a venue as storied and successful as the Horseshoe Tavern celebrates its 65th anniversary with rock n’ roll from the equally fantastic Joel Plaskett. Wrapping up a successful year with the release of the critically acclaimed and Polaris Prize nominated Scrappy Happiness and heavy touring across Canada, Joel takes some time out to speak with the Panic Manual about the making of Scrappy Happiness, and of course, what the Horseshoe means to him. We chatted for a while and here are some of the highlights:
Panic Manual- I spent a lot of time listening to Scrappy Happiness and I found the album more raw than your other ones—the content and the lyrics. What were your motivations behind this album and the direction you took for it?
Joel Plaskett- For me I knew I wanted it to be a band album, so the material that I was writing, I had a bunch of songs to choose from for the record, I felt like I wanted it to be collaborative. In that sense if I [recorded] it on that weekly basis we’d all be thinking on our toes and I think that’s what kind of brings the urgency to it. On a lyrical and recording level—because of the time frame and the nature of the record, being a weekly deadline and never having recorded any of the songs before, it was more, “let’s see what happens” and so I think that brought an energy to it that was kind of cool. On a more thematical lyrical level, it was just about taking songs that felt good to sing and lyrically can get to where I’m at. Three was a really great record the way it was received and touring it was really, really good but it was kind of a challenge because there was a lot of international touring in the UK which was cool as an experiment, which is not to say I won’t go back; I do intend to go back, but it was hard after the initial blast in Canada, going international solo and duo and the band wasn’t as involved there was a bit of a disconnect there I think sometimes things can feel like a bit of a struggle. I felt like I wanted to make this record fun for everybody and for it to be in the moment. I tend to think a lot about things and so I thought about this album and when it comes to the live shows and recording that I would get to it and not hung up on some preconceived idea of what it should be.
Panic Manual- The transformation to record [the songs]—was that something that was more spur of the moment? Did you feel that the music you were writing needed that kind of spontaneity?
Joel Plaskett- I felt like the lyrics for a lot of these songs… a lot of them were written quite quickly and a lot of the sentiments reflect the struggle to find happiness in things… I felt like there was a connection between the approach to the record and the title of the record. The title came out of a lyric out of Lighting Bolt which to me seemed like the obvious choice as far as the centre piece of the album and the story of the album and I guess I just I was thinking maybe with Three there was a concept from start to finish [for] what the songs were about and they were structured methodically in terms of telling a long story in three acts almost. With this album it was more like there was a lot of variety within the songs but the thing that kind of held it together was the approach.
Panic Manual- Your approach for Scrappy Happiness… is this something you think you’ll do more of in the future?
Joel Plaskett- The thing I guess I sort of learned through having made a lot of records, I don’t think I would do it under the same deadline weekly type thing… I went through that process of going 10 weeks of intense work one song a week—that’s just an approach. I think that was part of the story behind this record, but I do feel like the idea of recording something and putting it out to the public really quickly is something I really like and I will take that with me whether it’s a single or another album done in the similar quick release fashion.
Panic Manual- Well as part of the public I loved it because you’re always on your toes waiting for the next one and for me it was a great experience to hear it in that way and anticipate it in that way, that’s my praise for it!
Joel Plaskett- That to me is an exciting thing to hear because that’s kind of why I brought in the videos and the whole approach—I just thought this’ll have an energy to it and let people in on the process. For me I find that if I just get down to it that’s when stuff starts happening. I can think about things and I really think about the writing and I spend some time with the songs but a lot of the time with the band I don’t even really commit to ideas… I show them things that almost don’t seem finished until I’m [say] “let’s go, I’m ready to sing this now, let’s learn this”. It’s almost like a live show—I don’t commit until I love committing to it on stage. Like in sound check you might be half singing or messing around, not really playing the song but when you get up in front of people then you go and that’s the time… It still might not be perfect but let’s put all of our focus and all of our attention right here right now. That was the same approach with the record and I think that’s why the record [stands] up to live shows and reflects that spontaneity we have live that has always been a hard thing to capture on a record. So I realized the way to recreate the live show is to not try and recreate it. It’s just to let mistakes fly or have the accidents be what they are and that kind of reflects the approach and through years of playing I’ve just become more free.
Panic Manual- Given your run of shows this week it is fitting to ask a few questions about you and the Horseshoe. I find that club and bars like the Horseshoe are a dying breed—there seem to be fewer and fewer of those legacy bars where you can go to see a good show. What does a venue like the Horseshoe mean to you?
Joel Plaskett- It’s a rock n’ roll room with crack in the steps and a smelly washroom, but having said that, the room is really well curated, the people who run it and all the staff, they’re all great and have been there a long time. I have a connection to them. But there’s a history of all these great shows—some of the ones I’ve had, some ones I’ve seen. Just the collective energy that the room has acquired through years of being a place… at the same time it is those marks on the floor, the drinks that have been served, and all the sweat that’s been poured out on stage by a bunch of bands giving it that brings the energy to the room. Just to get the invite to go in there was a no brainer… it’s going to be fun because people know the place, [and] you bring your best to the stage. It’s kind of casual but important and I like being a part of that. It jives with the way I present music.
Panic Manual- What is your favourite memory or story to do with the Horseshoe?
Joel Plaskett- Really my biggest memory if I really think of the place, I just think of Ian McGettigan, the bass player from Thrush Hermit and later the Emergency, but in the Hermit days he had a lot of pension for blowing fire and I remember just he would start the show by wrapping the head stock of his bass guitar in tissue paper and then he’d put grain alcohol in his mouth, light the tissue paper, and blow grain alcohol up onto the head stock of his bass. It’s blow a huge fireball up onto the ceiling. Looking up at the Horseshoe ceiling with this fireball on it and go, “Fuck, tonight’s the night we’re going to burn the club down”. It completely dissipated, we would never do that now… we were young and stupid and no one knew what we were going to do! If I think of the Horseshoe I look up at the ceiling and go, “Yeah right, I remember Ian McGettigan blowing fire”.
Joel Plaskett continues his 5 night run at the Horseshoe Tavern until December 16.