NXNE Review: My Apology For Being A Concert Douchebag

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, North By Northeast | 2 Comments

Toronto – After pioneering some pretty innovative technology on how not to be a concert douchebag (picture link above), it’s with a humble apology that I admit to being just such a douchebag during one show at NXNE this year.

Apparently some types of scotch will turn even the biggest music nerds into concert douchebags

The scene of the crime was C’est What and I was busy chatting with some remarkable people from Malta and New York. One was a successful millionaire who owned a penthouse in the Upper East Side. The other owned and operated her own business training and selling Maltese Falcons. I may have just made that stuff up, but the important thing to note was that the scotch was flowing.

As this was happening, two low-key extremely chill female singer-songwriters in the form of Ghost Bees came on at 12 am. While I was at the back of the room, I had no idea that my voice was projecting up to the front like the clarion call of the beautiful Vuvuzela. At some point mid-set, a young lady approached my guest and I, “Excuse me, did you know that we can hear you way up at the front?” Even scotched up, I was pretty horrified at my behaviour. I mumbled some apology and retreated to the bar area to continue rhapsodizing without disturbing the rest of the show.

Here is an executive summary of the lessons learned:

  • Apparently some types of scotch will turn even the biggest music nerds into concert douchebags
  • A concert douchebag situation may be diffused if dealt with tactfully and in a non-confrontational way
  • My douchebag technology needs updating to reflect loud drunken talking at quiet shows

So to all those Ghost Bees’ fans who wanted to punch me in the nads but refrained, I thank you for staying your fisticuffs. To that tactful young lady that got me to simmer down, I thank you for being tactful and getting me to simmer down. And to everyone else: sorry for being such a douchebag. I promise to stay away from that particular brand of scotch. Scout’s honour!

And here is the rating for my behaviour:

NXNE Review: Elise LeGrow, Erin Hunt, June 18, Harlem Restaurant

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, North By Northeast | 1 Comment

– There have been times at NXNE where I’ve run from one venue to the next in a desperate attempt to see and hear everything that could possibly be seen and heard. This year I decided that my new rule of thumb is no more than two venues per evening. The new plan is to minimize the hopping and get friendly with the locals and the locales. The night began at the Harlem restaurant with some sultry jazz in the form of sultry sultry Elise LeGrow.

Some people are surprised to hear that, although I am huge jazz fan, I’m not typically into the vocalists. While I do have a soft spot for the old greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, much of today’s fare strikes me as more adult contemporary. It’s perfectly innocuous music that features prominently on many a jazz radio station. Listening to a snippet of it can be like having a popsicle on a nice summer day. Too much and it’s more like cotton candy laced with bubblegum and sprinkles all melting together on an uncomfortable humid day with a smog warning in effect. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate contemporary jazz vocalists out there; as was evident by the first show of the evening.

Elise LeGrow is a Toronto-based songstress that has both the voice and charisma that evokes the great jazz women of yesterday. She sang a mix of both contemporary songs and classics for a small and appreciative audience at the Harlem. I have to admit her stage presence was so captivating that it was a trying affair to concentrate on the music. While making her way through the set, she bobbed up and down and playfully ran her hands through her hair at all the right times. It was so incredibly distracting that I spent the better part of the hour looking around my environment for some kind of materials that I could use to a fashion a makeshift engagement ring. Did I mention her sultriness?

If there was one thing that I was a little lacking in the performance, it had nothing to do with Miss LeGrow herself. While her band provided some solid backing, I could imagine that the addition of some musical reinforcements would really kick things up a notch. Hers is a stylish and elegant music that is perfectly suited to a classy little downtown restaurant like the Harlem. I wonder what she would sound like if we added the authentic woody thump of real double-bass, and swapped out the electronic keyboard with a baby grand? With that kind of setup, a snifter of brandy, and some arts & craft type ring making materials, I’d be as happy as a kid with cotton candy.

The next set at the Harlem was Toronto-based Erin Hunt and her groove-based funk and R&B band. She started things off with a rendition of Crosstown Traffic. I could tell during from the noodling by the guitarist during the band setup that we were in store for some really groovy stuff. Easily the highlight of this set was the work of guitarist Ricky Tillo who showcased both amazing chops and an excellent sense of rhythm. I wish he could have had more freedom to stretch his legs.

In the previous set, the backing band needed some shoring up to match the talent up front. In this set, it was the opposite dilemma. Erin didn’t have the vocals or stage presence that could captivate the audience. What she did have was a kick-ass band that I would not hesitate to go see in a purely instrumental incarnation. Unfortunately she made a few gaffs that weren’t terribly endearing. She forgot the name of her drummer when introducing the band. Then when encouraging people to stay for the next set, she admitted that she didn’t know what band was following her, but was “sure they were good”. Not the classiest move of the evening.

I’d definitely go see that guitarist again in any other setting though.

NXNE Review: Young Galaxy and The Besnard Lakes [June 17, 2010, Mod Club]

Posted on by Gary in Concerts, Everything, North By Northeast, Reviews | 2 Comments

Young Galaxy, NXNE, June 17, 2010, Mod Club

Toronto – Ricky had previously covered the Young Galaxy. Indeed, they sound totally UK and that’s totally OK when they’re from Quebec. When I heard Long live the fallen world I thought Ladyhawke had worked her magic and implanted one of her cat souls. Or maybe they ate a Cranberry that floated across the Atlantic (alright I’ll stop the stupid puns). Unfortunately I had arrived late for the show, and heard only 3-4 songs. One thing I did noticed was that they were very pensive in between, and engaged the crowd intelligently from the periphery. I recall something along the line of “this four word band name conjures up the imagery of X”. The singing was purposeful, not that I was comparing to myspace from the few that I heard, but it flowed well. I will definitely listen to the new album. And they made some great shots during the livelier numbers. There was one shot where it really looked like a galaxy up there.

Besnard Lakes, NXNE, June 17, 2010, Mod Club

The more I look at that picture above the more it looks like a crusader clash; and that’s probably not a bad imagery to have when listening. The word “Nickelback” somehow always floats behind in that cesspool of my mind when Besnard Lakes is mentioned, like some unwanted 1980s relic tv-show. It’s demeaning to even make that connection, but the word association survives the concert. Maybe my brain works on a broken syllabic rhythm. There were more things out of expectations for me. Neither the guitarist Jace Lasek nor his wife, bass/vocal Olga Goreas, looked their voice. That surprise is actually very welcome – Lasek had an even-tempered voice that always hits the notes he writes for, and Goreas fluently shaped her voice to the songs. And I was happy that the concert was never overly rock-n-roll in attitude. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall a really nutty number that the pair rocked out and acknowledged each other endlessly on stage (maybe in the middle of one song… And you lied to me?) Rather, Besnard Lakes methodically worked through their emotional but restrained songs, breaking with ease in-between to check on the audience and time. I think that was actually a very smart move – too often you’re stuck in a string of doleful twists and walk out of the concert feeling like you need to spend another $40/hr to see a psychiatrist. There was a 30 seconds discussion on how the audience would not want them to play too long (for fear that Goreas will come out wearing something funnier than those glowing ACDC horns?) Plus I don’t believe they are overly melancholy. Like most stories, they usually have an uplifting ending. Mod club, at this point, was gradually filling up with people… and smoke. The fog machines were put to good use this night, and together with the resplendent lighting, successfully set the melodramatic atmosphere required to enjoy this music. Sitting down at the tables in Mod Club WHILE taking pictures was a luxury I often do not get to enjoy. I would see them again – they are going to European tour in August – so that might be awhile. Check them out CBC radio3 – Disaster, Albatross, and Devastation are several good ones that they played at this concert.

NXNE Review: Jaffa Road, Kobo Town, June 17, Bread & Circus

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, North By Northeast | 2 Comments

Toronto – Now in its 16th year, it’s clear that NXNE has become an increasingly important landmark on the musical calendar. Just trying to decide what shows to go to on any given night is a daunting task. This year it was important for me to make sure that I not only checked out bands I had never heard before, but preferably at venues I had never seen before. As great as the old stomping grounds are, it’s nice to check out what the other Toronto spots have to offer.

This made it a natural fit for me to check out a bit of the world music line-up at Bread & Circus. As someone who regularly frequents Kensington Market, I’m sadly unfamiliar with many of their night spots. The Bread & Circus is the kind of cozy place that immediately resonates with me. There’s a small but well put together bar in the front, and at the back there is a separate room with a stage. The seating at the back allows people to get their dance-in-the-chair groove on, and there’s enough standing room in front of the stage for others to get their dance-in-their-shoes groove on.

Jaffa Road is world music that fuses poetry in Hebrew, Spanish, and English. They’re sound is an eclectic one that draws upon Indian, Arabic, and Jewish themes. The band has been garnering a lot of attention lately with the release of their debut album Sunplace receiving a Juno nomination for world music album of the year. It certainly felt like lead singer Aviva Chernick was letting her hair down after these recent successes and just enjoying playing a low-key community venue. As eclectic as their musical influences are, it all just seemed to work. The blend of instruments like the stringed Middle-Eastern Ud combined with some Indian-inspired flute made for a fun and exploratory set of music.

Jaffa Road will be playing a free concert at Nathan Phillips Square at 5 pm on Sunday June 27 as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival.

The next band was Kobo Town, fronted by Trinidadian-Canadian Drew Gonsalves. This band draws its influences from traditional calypso, roots reggae, and dub poetry. As a Canadian with Trini roots myself, it was absolutely essential that I check this show out. I love calypso music, and am still figuring out how exactly I’m going to get plugged into the West Indian community in Toronto. Checking out this show seemed like a pretty good start.

The music that Kobo Town creates is both fun and dance-friendly. It’s got the syncopated beats of Caribbean music, combined with some tasteful brass that warms up the sound. The lead singer is an easily likeable musician with a good sense of ukulele rhythm. After dancing for the entire set, the crowd was more than a little disappointed with the strict 40 minute time limit imposed by these types of showcases. Like the rest of the crowd, I was hoping for some more of this Island music. I look forward to seeing Kobo Town play a proper set where they can stretch their legs.