By: Hilary Johnston August 22nd, 2013
The New Pornographers, (sans Neko Case), emphatically took the stage last Saturday and reminded indie fans why they found themselves at a venue as kitsch as The Ex. With the sounds of contaminated cronut artery clogging and Whack-A Mole still distantly audible, the gang covered favourites from all corners of their catalogue. Despite a few stumbles in the first half of the set – a guitar string break and a cable replacement (one Pornographer joked, “Did anyone bring a guitar to the CNE?”), a lyric flub and a set list kerfuffle – the performance remained sparkly.
Dan Bejar sauntered on stage as summoned, bringing with him a slightly wacky presence that was balanced out by Catherine Calder’s perpetual sweetness. AC Newman hung out between the two, offering clumsily dry between-song banter while the remaining Pornos provided a cushy backdrop. Their whole performance was lovably casual, like that cozy shirt you still wear even though it has a few holes in it. By the time they reached the end of the set, all of the best things about The New Pornographers came out to play. The group’s knack for weaving fluid melodies through as many vocal lines as possible was beautifully evident on “Testament to Youth in Verse”, while “Bleeding Heart Show” rocked enough to make llamas in the building next-door dance (or so I was told).
My summer craving for indie power pop has officially been satisfied and, after “Twin Cinema” was chosen as an encore, I know the guy screaming out his request from way in the back feels the same way. The crowd filtered back into the midway madness; not a frown in sight.
By: Sean Carsley August 20th, 2013
By: Hilary Johnston August 13th, 2013
Born Ruffians released their third album, Birthmarks, back in April and have been showing off their increasingly sleek sound all summer. The record is satisfying, affording a more mature direction for the quartet while maintaining their steadfast Ruffian spirit. The release of the video for “Needle” is timed favourably to build some hype for the last few North American stops before the band takes off for Europe in the fall.
The video features all of the obvious choices, from the quintessential Brooklyn Bridge shot to performance clips and the seemingly obligatory girls in a photobooth. Albeit visually entrancing, it’s nothing new. The consistent Instagram-esque stock effect gives the impression that the disjointed events are occurring as part of some sort of reverie. Either way it’s a blur, imaginably due to all of the rooftop champagne carousing. To directors Istoica and James Cooper’s credit, there is some connection between the video and the song. By bouncing between shots of lead singer Luke Lalonde wandering the streets and mingling with sociable twenty-somethings, an insular feeling is implied, visually complimenting the refrain “I belong with no one / You belong with me”. What’s more, New York may be the perfect setting to bring a song about being part of a larger whole to life. Sure, it’s another obvious choice, but I think this one is forgivable.
By: Myles Herod August 8th, 2013
Squished between a glut of musical events that spanned two Provinces and a State, the inaugural Grove Music Fest this past Saturday haplessly fell victim to over-saturation, although not succumbing without its merits, mind-you. Sure, there was no scene stealing Kanye moment, seemingly parachuting into Drake’s OVO soiree. Likewise, the sheer girth of Montreal’s Osheaga and Chicago’s Lollapalooza talent pool dwarfed Fort York’s hosting efforts by good measure.
That aside, Toronto’s newest day-long fest served as something for everyone – guitars, synths, samples and a dollop of hip-hop. Bottom line, my musical tastebuds were allotted equal moments to savour the flavours. Here’s what I saw.
An assortment of sun-baked dudes who set out to create a homage to the sounds of Weezer and the No-Wave genre. Results varied.
Grove’s rock-centric stage may not have been the best atmosphere for Earl Sweatshirt, but there was enough raw charisma and fresh tracks to keep his minimal set buoyant, if not bubbling. Certainly Earl would have excelled at a fest with more clout, perhaps. Take for instance his Coachella team-up with Tyler the Creator, resulting in a positively bumping affair. Then again, keep in mind he’s just 19. Time is on his side.
What’s there to say: my admiration is slight, even though Gaslight Anthem seem highly competent musicians who wear their earnestness on their inked forearms.
Truthfully, I saw their high-spirited paeans as quietly phoney. I recall an anecdote that concerned Bruce Springsteen (to whom these chaps are often associated) where upon arrival to a sold-out arena, ‘The Boss’, dressed in a suit-and-tie, swapped his rigged apparel for a dirtied white tee and a pair of ripped jeans minutes before his performance. Make-believe? Perhaps. Unfortunately, this infiltration of corporatism was a persistent thought as I watched these riled up New Jersey rockers. It all seemed like an elaborate put on – the tattered clothes, the perfect combination of grease and hair gel – as if their entire image was concocted in some office in downtown Los Angeles.
I digress. Getting back to their Grove slot, they sounded like a hodgepodge of The Killers, Bruce Springsteen and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. They came, they played, they left. Let’s move on.
The Toronto stereotype is that of a head-bobbing or arm crossed hipster, unequipped with dancing software.
As Hot Chip swooned with their brand of electro-dance pop, something must have malfunctioned because one was hard pressed not to see beards and horn-rimmed glasses dancing in the dark. Not moshing, not bouncing. Full-on boogying.
On record, Hot Chip’s funky bleeps can sound as if they’re made by a Nintendo console – hmm, let’s say Super Nintendo. Yet, the quirkiness of the studio work was strangely absent at Grove Fest. Instead, with two percussionists, the septet remained a dense, rhythmic, playful, mechanical kraut-house outfit.
Props to dweeb frontman, Alexis Taylor, with his unabashed persona as well. I’m confident his image, along with Hot Chip’s undervalued music, will be revered upon re-evaluation years from now, citing them as forerunners to some geek infused musical movement.
Forgive their late arrival, which subsequently ate up an already short stage time, Phoenix entered with swagger – grand in posture and performance – exalting themselves over all those who graced Fort York earlier. With a crystal clear sound, something that never seemed shellacked with gloss, even forgettable tracks from their new Bankrupt disc managed to carry weight (and not hefty like a hippo, but anthemic like a Who performance circa 1971). My comparisons come sincere as Thomas Mars leaped across the stage in defiance, swirling his microphone like an unfortunate Clay Aiken look-a-like emulating The Who’s Roger Daltrey, leading the march of booming drums, crisp synths and burning guitars.
With a helpful serving from their breakthrough LP, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the crowd erupted, particularly the early appearance of ‘Lasso’, arguably the band’s finest composition, punctuating the smoky air as it were playing straight from the speakers of a turntable.
Alas, it’s too bad they didn’t put out a better, if not comparable, album this time around. Either way, I was left happy and certain – these Frenchmen had given me faith that rock and roll ain’t dead yet.
By: Hilary Johnston August, 6th 2013
Recorded on the West Coast with Nigel Asselin (Half Moon Run, Faded Vanity), Air Marshal Landing’s full-length debut has arrived with poise, and candidly, one I’ve been waiting to hear for quite some time.