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Concert Review: Peter Gabriel, September 19, Air Canada Centre

Posted on by Allison in Concerts | 7 Comments

So 25th Anniversary Back to Front Tour

In an age where many acts come and go within less than five years, it’s difficult to imagine an artist with more interesting first, second, and third career acts than Peter Gabriel. 45 years after posturing Genesis as an art-house babe, Gabriel has managed to saunter through Britain’s new wave scene as a hero instead of a fringe scenester, he’s tinged popular music with the burgeoning world music scene, and done it all in 13 albums. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider his span as a solo artist of 35 years, it is apparent he has chosen to be precise and deliberate as opposed to a factory line. He’s also one of those rare songwriters who’s tread the waters of cult and legitimately broken into the charting mainstream without alienating his fanbase in the process (take a page from this, Bryan Ferry).

So could be classified as the definitive Gabriel album (with the untitled Melt a close second), so it should come as no surprise that what is rumored to be his last tour ever is being billed as a 25th anniversary celebration of the release. But Back to Front is more than than the ultimate kiss-off tour, or a nostalgic rehashing of the “most popular, definitive material” (aren’t we all just a little tired of this cash grab of a touring theme by now?). I was pleasantly surprised that what we got turned out to be so much more than that.

Much of this might be explained by his latest New Blood, in which he takes a cue from Mark Kozelek, using covers of other artists as a creative launching pad for re-visiting and re-creating one’s own material. The evening began this way–with what Gabriel explained would be the first third of the evening– “recording session-like” and acoustic as the audience continued to trickle in.

Gabriel opened with a self-described unfinished song that would sound unfinished:

He wasted no time by going immediately into Come Talk to Me, one of the best tracks off 1992’s Us (my favorite Peter Gabriel album). While Us is significantly less heralded than the first four untitled albums or So, it managed to reincarnate Sinead O’Connor as a talented vocalist instead of the bald girl who ripped up the Pope’s photo, made the teary-eyed effect of bagpipes cool, and spawned some of the most visually stimulating music videos of the era (Digging in the Dirt, Blood of Eden). It’s one of the reasons why the setlist is near perfect while managing to throw us some curve balls. Nearly every sprawling era was represented last night with the only gaping hole being the omission of Games Without Frontiers.

But let’s not quibble. The lounge-y version of Shock the Monkey gave us something we weren’t expecting (one of the values I have grown to most appreciate in live music), with Gabriel opting to hammer away the synth bits with his piano. I personally liked it, my companions didn’t, I suppose my main point is that it certainly elicited a reaction.

The next third of the set focused heavily on Us (Digging in the Dirt and the epically long Secret World) with Solsbury Hill finally rousing the somewhat sleepy crowd to its feet. I did find that once they realized the set wouldn’t just be spin-off renditions of classics but classics themselves, they loosened up quite a bit and allowed themselves to reel up to Gabriel’s efforts to drum-up enthusiasm. He did so by playfully prancing around the stage and joking that he’d been working on the choreography for “months” with a lot of circle dancing and light half-feigned can-can kicking (I shamefully admit that at 62, Gabriel’s dance moves are similar to mine). In the midst of all this, a more elaborate setup was being concocted with spider-armed white lights and geometric swirls. I wasn’t quite sure what he was up to, but I’m not what you would call avant-garde…and besides, the tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery was still there.

peter gabriel's tower

The last third of the set contained what most people were probably waiting for–the first ever “Back to Front” performance of breakthrough So. Red Rain opened things up with one of the strongest renditions of the night, nicely easing us into the album against a (you guessed it) red rain backdrop. Yet not everything was so literal in its visual translation. Yes, Sledgehammer brought down the house with a classic adaptation. Don’t Give Up closely followed in more ways than one–with Gabriel reenacting the second version of the music video (complete with suitcase in hand to signify the “moving towns”) with back-up singer Jennie Abrahmson. While powerful and well-received, Abrahmson’s voice grated me a bit as sounding a bit hollow, but perhaps at the bottom of my heart and mind I was secretly hoping for Kate Bush to appear.

Where things started to change-up was the highlight of the show for me–Mercy Street. At first I wasn’t sure where he was going to go…as he lay on the floor, I thought surely he wouldn’t sing the entire song that way (wouldn’t that effect the esophagus or something?)–but this is Peter freakin’ Gabriel after all. His raspy, distinctive voice was as good vertical as it was horizontal, with flying spider lights going in and out. Things had normalized again when it came to Big Time, which I didn’t mind in the least because it often gets overlooked as a categorical Gabriel song.

Nowhere near as categorical by comparison, to In Your Eyes, popularized to my chagrin byJohn Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler (Say Anything is my favorite movie–but the boombox scene is my least favorite scene…side note…as Cameron Crowe was writing that scene, he struggled for months with finding the right song to pipe into the stereo as Diane Court’s torch song, but came across an old mix-tape he’d made for a wedding he’d taken part in with the song on it). The song got an extended remix makeover in this version, with more African flavor and an extended sing-along introduction prominently featuring the deep booming back-up answers to the chorus parts.

As with the other dates, the same encores were given. The first, a controversial choice and fairly rocked out The Tower that Ate People. The second the legendary Biko, which Gabriel dedicated to “all the young people facing injustice”, going on to briefly describe Steve Biko’s brutal death in South Africa. What followed was an enthusiastic plea to sing and move along collectively, eventually ending as member after member exited the stage. His final words to us were, “It’s up to you”.

Setlist

Acoustic
Unfinished Song
Come Talk to Me
Shock the Monkey
Family Snapshot

Retro
Digging in the Dirt
Secret World
The Family and the Fishing Net
No Self Control
Solsbury Hill
Washing of the Water

“So” (as Josh noted, the performance followed the “remastered” CD sequence as opposed to the original LP track order)
Red Rain
Sledgehammer
Don’t Give Up
That Voice Again
Mercy Street
Big Time
We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)
This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
In Your Eyes

Encore
The Tower That Ate People
Biko

Concert Review: Circle of Buzzards, Sentridoh, Sebadoh, August 21, Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Allison in Concerts | 2 Comments

Sebadoh

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
– Oscar Wilde

If anyone subscribes to this mantra onstage, it’s Lou Barlow. Barlow, Jason Loewenstein, and drummer Russ Pollard Bob D’Amico (thanks to the commenter below) were back in Toronto for the second time in as many years. This time with a triple-loaded billing starting with Loewenstein’s Circle of Buzzards, followed by Barlow’s solo act (this time under Sentridoh), and finally Sebadoh.

Walking in towards the end of Circle of Buzzards’ scream-laden set, I was pleasantly surprised at how the show appeared to be running ahead of schedule. The Buzzards were slated for 9:00 and wrapped at 9:40; Barlow was scheduled for 10:00 and went on before then; the same goes for Sebadoh. No prolonged sound check, on the fly tuning–this is the way the veterans do it.

The Sentridoh segment was probably the most comfortable I’d seen Barlow. When I saw him in 2010 with the Missingmen, it took him quite a while to loosen the juices to get the storyflow going during his solo set. This time, he launched into it right away–how years of masturbation had not hurt him (as documented through songs like Pound My Skinny Head, which he said was the only one he refused to play), how weed inspired the best songwriting at 19 years old, how his first crush crushed his heart, how happy he was to be away from his wife and kids on tour. His best story was about inadequacies he felt about his career, accomplishments, and physique dropping off his daughter at their posh L.A. neighbourhood school, leading into the song “Calves of Champions” (penned for a comedian and fellow father at his daughter’s school that he was in awe of).

I think the reason Lou’s such a great storyteller is because he lays it all out there. The self-image issues, the inadequacies, the embarrassing teenage memories (one of the funniest stories of the night came in telling us about how he naively thought he would impress his first crush by showing up with contact lenses, which promptly fell out) are unedited. In an age where everyone is pretending to lead perfect, busy lives, this is refreshingly melancholy stuff to say the least.

Barlow plucked away at his ukulele (the instrument he used to write his first songs), which he joked “saved me $25 in baggage checking fees”. Everything of course led into a story, which led into a song–it was revealed that the original Dinosaur Jr. drummer “Murph” had sat and broke his ukulele–and it was only recently that he realized he’d forgiven him for it (revealed to him by the fact that Murph was living with his wife and kids while he was touring).

The ease with which the stories rattled out was alarming, and there was a nice ebb and flow between stories, audience laughter, and songs. Barlow should consider a storytelling tour with a bunch of other 90’s giants.

As for the Sebadoh set, I was happy to see the release of the first new material from their new Secret EP, being hocked on the band’s Bandcamp page, and physical copies being sold only on tour by the band themselves (no merchandising girl for these guys). I’ve said this a lot before and I’ll say it again–it can only be so stimulating for so long to play the same “classics” over and over and over again. After 20 years, I can see how the lustre could fade. The new songs sounded better to me–fresher and more energized. Barlow’s harmonization changed for these songs too, sounding more solid and on the nose than the changed up tune of the older catalogue.

In any case, there was plenty to keep everyone happy–Ocean, Vampire, Beauty of the Ride, they were all there.

Here’s the setlist from their Cambridge, which looks to be more or less what we got:

  1. Flame
  2. Skull
  3. Rebound
  4. Ocean
  5. Arbitrary High
  6. Magnet’s Coil
  7. The Freed Pig
  8. Got It
  9. Mind Reader
  10. S. Soup
  11. Drag Down
  12. Love to Fight
  13. Keep the Boy Alive
  14. Vampire
  15. Homemade
  16. Forced Love
  17. Beauty of the Ride
  18. Sixteen
  19. Drama Mine
  20. Careful
  21. Crystal Gypsy
  22. I Dont Mind
  23. My Drugs

Happily, there weren’t any encores. Not because we didn’t want any, but because we’re too old for them now.

Toronto Jazz Festival-inspired Mixtape by DJ Agile

Posted on by Mark in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment

The Toronto Jazz Festival starts this Friday June 22 and runs till July 1st with music all over the city. There will be something for everyone: rockin’ funk and soul shows, vocal jazz, fusions of all kinds, vibraphones, and intellectual instrumentalists.

What better way to get a snapshot of the music than by listening to a mix tape that features some of the artists in the festival? None. There is no better way. Toronto-based DJ Agile has put together just such a mix. It’s a great sampler for some of the more exciting shows coming up.

Check out the mix tape here.

Concert Review: Peter Hook and the Light, September 24, Phoenix Concert Theatre

Posted on by Allison in Concerts | Leave a comment

I have to write a few disclaimers before I dive into this review, as I feel it may arouse some impassioned opinions. First, as conflicted as I feel about some band members embarking on tours without others, it’s within all of the songwriters’ rights to tour such material without other members (particularly when one of its key members is dead). Second, it’s not up to me to decide whether a tour should or shouldn’t happen. I can only report on what my thoughts were.

Let me preface this with Panic Manual’s love of Joy Division, albeit in varying degrees, through various phases of our lives. I would say for me, finding this band had more to do with timing in impressionable adolescence. The music was poetic, dark, and rebellious, but on top of everything else there was a dreary upbringing, unhappy marriage, and of course the dramatic finish of a suicide. One needs grand things to explore in youth…be it Star Wars or Joy Division, and this is probably the closest I ever got towards music fanaticism, having collected every album, boxed set, poster, book, vinyl, and t-shirt that I could afford.

That said, I haven’t actively listened to them since I was in 12th Grade. Art is funny that way–the stuff you discover in high school sticks with you forever in spite of abandonment. Your formative years can make a book, album, or film feel like your life is hinging on its consumption. I would imagine that I’m no exception here–being a teenager is all about brooding poetry, after all.

So…onto my thoughts about the show. This past year, Peter Hook has been touring the posthumously-released Closer (my favorite of the two official albums), and he continues on the success of those shows by performing Unknown Pleasures with The Light, which includes his son on bass. The backing band certainly sounded louder and more stadium-rocky than anything I had remembered…that in itself is fine, seeing as a tour should be supporting a new and different ambition towards past material to make it a worthwhile endeavor. I just felt like Hook was scream-singing most of the lyrics, struggling to keep up with the breakneck punk tempo of the songs (however at age 55, we should all be so lucky to be pulling off rock shows passably at any level).

And what was up with those aggressive ceiling and audience points?

On the one hand, I had to admire Mr. Hook’s enthusiasm for rocking out with his cock out. On the other, I couldn’t help but wonder if a different approach to the material might have given us more to enjoy and think about. I’m hard-pressed to suggest what that approach might be (acoustic??), but it just seemed as if the album was turning into a parody of a prototypical ‘punk’ sound when so much of what made Joy Division appealing in the first place was its hollow percussional scarcity.

Some of the songs went off better than others. Shadowplay, Transmission, and Dead Souls, which made me wonder whether I might have felt differently about an instrumental version of the tour because it would have stayed true to Mr. Hook’s true talents. To me, the poetic lyrics are really the foundation of the group’s appeal–something I really felt was missing from New Order. New Order of course had other strengths in electronic music.

I would suspect that given Peter Hook’s interviews about how he thinks anyone who disapproves of these shows should fuck off, he won’t care much about what I have to say. Perhaps you don’t either, but at the end of the day I expected something better from the man who created one of the best singles of 1997.

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