Archive for May, 2008

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Dance Me In

Photo via MySpace

I must not have checked my luggage too carefully because I seem to have brought a bunch of British bands with a fondness for the definite article back to Toronto with me. Another salvo of bands for this year’s V Fest was announced yesterday. A few of the names had trickled out in past weeks but this was the first large block of acts since the initial announcement two months ago – no headliner-calibre acts, everyone is rather firmly b-list (if even that) but at least there’s a better idea of who we’ll be seeing September 6 and 7 at the Toronto Islands.

Joining the initially announced Saturday lineup of Foo Fighters, Bloc Party, Spiritualized, Wintersleep and Constantines will be The Kooks, The Fratellis, MGMT, Against Me!, Shudder To Think, The Midway State and The Airborne Toxic Event while Sunday’s roster of Oasis, Paul Weller, Sterophonics, The Weakerthans and The Pigeon Detectives will welcome Silversun Pickups, Robyn, The Cribs, The Wombats, Danko Jones and Sons & Daughters.

The last of those is the only band of all the additions that I’d actually call myself a fan of (hence their photo being used above) so the latest announcement was a bit underwhelming but I’m still looking forward to this year’s festival. I mean, taking the “glass half full” approach, that’s a lot of bands I’ve never seen live before. Not necessarily ones I’ve wanted to see, but whatever. More acts are still to come but anyone holding out hope that there’s going to be anything earth-shaking is probably going to be (more) disappointed.

MP3: Sons & Daughters – “Gilt Complex” (acoustic, live on Vic Galloway)
MP3: The Kooks – “No Longer”
MP3: The Airborne Toxic Event – “Wishing Well”
MP3: Silversun Pickups – “Kissing Families”
MP3: Robyn – “Cobrastyle”

Day one act Spiritualized release their new record Songs In A & E today, and IGN, Billboard, The Irish Independent, The Sun and Drowned In Sound have interviews with J Spaceman about the album.

The NxNE schedule is now up in ugly, annoying, registrant-only and easily-crashable format. It amazes me that in this day and age, people still can’t figure out how to construct a user-friendly online schedule. Anyway, I’ll be trying to parse the sched and making some comments later.

But one of the associated shows will be the “Gay-Way” party at the Phoenix on June 12 featuring The Hidden Cameras. Tickets for that are $25 and presumably some NxNE wristbands will be given admittance. The Cameras are also supposed to be doing some shows in around Pride at the end of June.

Harbourfront Centre has listed their lineup of free festivals for this Summer, if not the actual acts that are playing each. But I know that Ohbijou are there on the 28th of June for “A Rocky Mountain High”, Basia Bulat on Canada Day for, uh Canada Day, and Ladytron with Poni Hoax on July 4 for Beats, Breaks & Culture.

He had to cancel his appearance at Hillside last year, but Alejandro Escovedo returns to the region on July 7 for a show at the Mod Club, tickets $18.50. His new album Real Animal is out June 24.

On July 11, DD/MM/YYYY will play host to The Mae-Shi from Los Angeles, TheDeathset from Baltimore and The Fucking Ocean from San Francisco. That’ll be at Sneaky Dee’s, tickets $10.

MP3: The Mae Shi – “Run To Your Grave”
MP3: TheDeathSet – “Negative Thinking”
MP3: The Fucking Ocean – “Literacy Test”

Though they’d originally said touring was unlikely, She & Him will find the time to visit Toronto for a show at the Opera House on July 23, tickets $23.50. Perhaps Zooey Deschanel anticipates needing some time away from Hollywood following the debacle that The Happening is almost certain to be. Full tour dates at Spin. MTV and NPR talk to Deschanel about the band.

Anyone wanting to see Graham Van Pelt get really tired should be at Sneaky Dee’s on July 26 when he’ll do double duty, first with Think About Life and then fronting Miracle Fortress. Tickets are $12, and maybe bring the man some towels.

Horribly-named British electro-punk outfit Does It Offend You, Yeah? will be at the Drake Undergound on August 4, tickets $13.50.

Final Fantasy will perform at the Danforth Music Hall on August 27, tickets $20.

The reconstituted Squeeze have a date at the Kool Haus on August 28, tickets $44.50.

Tortoise are at the Mod Club on September 5, admission $18.

And re: that pop-up survey thing – apologies if you find it objectionable, it’s a thing for a thing that’s totally benign. You, your information and your organs are not being harvested. Click it or close it, it’ll go away.

Monday, May 26th, 2008

The Sights And Sounds Of London Town

Photo by Frank Yang

So it’s a battle between me and the jet lag and the jet lag is winning, so today will be a probably rambling account of the rest of my London jaunt, and back to the good stuff tomorrow. I think. My first, Richard Hawley-powered day in London has already been covered so I’ll start with last Wednesday. Basically, I had vague notions of covering a portion of the city a day and by the end of my trip, have at least set foot in most of the major areas of the city. For I didn’t really have any other plans besides “look around”.

And so the looking began over in Notting Hill, not for any Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts pilgrimage but to visit the Rough Trade store, which I’m sad to say was rather a disappointment. I don’t know what I expected, but certainly something larger or better/more interestingly stocked. Similarly, a walk through the markets of Portobello Road didn’t yield much of interest, but to be fair Wednesday morning isn’t exactly prime market time and I’m not really into antiques… yeah, in hindsight I’m not even sure why I went. Oh well. Thing picked up when I headed east into the West End, meeting places like Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden – these were bustling like I’d hoped and offered some fine people-watching opportunities. As did Trafalgar Square, where I headed next for a visit to the National Gallery and then skirting Westminster (saved for a later day) en route to the wonders of the South Bank. This is one of the areas that’s held up as an example of what can be achieved in the way of civic rejuvenation when discussion of Toronto’s derelict waterfront is raised, and if we could get things to even a fraction of the liveliness that London has… wow. I sort of wanted to wait till sunset before crossing Waterloo Bridge back into the city but that was a few hours off yet and I’d been at it for some nine hours by this point. Time to call it a day.

Having covered a lot of ground on Wednesday, Thursday was a lot less ambitious and leisurely. Started out with a stroll through Hyde Park, including a stop at the disappointingly tasteful Diana Memorial Fountain. I expected something festooned with flowers, teddy bears and gewgaws, not something so elegant. Happily, Harrods more than made up for things in terms of ostentatiousness. Really ridiculously opulent, and telling in the fact that the shirts I looked at didn’t have price tags. If you have to ask, right? I actually did end up spending some money there, though, at the pet department – my cat is getting better gifts than anyone else – and the HMV branch where the accidentally tried to charge me £1010 for a couple Richard Hawley CDs… Accidentally. Yes. From there, it was to the Natural History Museum for some dinosaur and dodo-spotting and a tube over to Westminster to run the mandatory tourist gauntlet of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Then, for the evening, a meet-up with the proprietor of London-based blog Amplify This! for drinks and a tour of Camden Town – an area that had taken some disrespect when I was asking around before the trip but which I found a nice respite (relatively speaking) from the unrelenting bustle of Soho.

So that takes us to what, Friday? Friday. Friday I gave Rough Trade another chance at their east end store, the one that was supposed to host a Radiohead in-store back in January (but didn’t). That shop was more impressive than its west end counterpart, both visually and in terms of selection. I also rather liked the mosey up and down Brick Lane, much for the same reasons I liked Camden – though busy, it moved at a much more manageable pace than London proper and I found it easier to actually see things in something resembling detail. Likewise for my next stop of Greenwich, to which I took the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames. It’s a lovely little area that feels completely removed from the city of London and which, of course, features the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian. And yeah, I did the whole “standing one foot in the eastern hemisphere, one foot in the western” thing, but was totally understated and cool about it. Not like the other tourists. After a relatively sedate day, I took the tube back into the city and had all the relaxedness I’d achieved wiped out with a single walk through the bedlam of Charing Cross Road. But on the plus side, I found Denmark Street which, besides its history, is like Disneyland for guitar geeks – even recovering ones like myself. The evening was up in the air after waiting too last minute to get last minute tickets to Spamalot, but I managed to hook up with a friend so wandering around Leicster Square was a perfectly fine way to spend the night.

For the final full day in London, I’d saved the South Bank and The City. Started with the London Eye, which I found as amazing for its engineering as the sights it offered when I was aboard. The Tate Modern was a cool blend of art I liked, art I didn’t understand and seemingly random performance pieces in and around the crowd. Certainly not the National Gallery. It was a long and casual stroll across the South Bank until I crossed back across to the north side of the Thames via the Tower Bridge, alongside the Tower Of London, which ironically is less towering than it is sprawling, but certainly imposing – even without the lions in the moat. Much of The City was deserted on account of it being Saturday, so it was an easy walk to the last “tourist” stop on my list, St. Paul’s Cathedral. By this time it was far too late to get in on a tour so I didn’t get to experience the whispering gallery or check out the view from the dome, but as ginormous churches go, it certainly holds its own. And with nothing really left to do except grab dinner and wind out the day, it was back to Covent Garden to watch the street performers and Piccadilly Circus to watch the neon signs.

And that, in a nutshell, was my past week (I already covered the Dublin leg of things). I absolutely loved London, but being there in all its epic scale and intensity made me appreciate Toronto, and how it manages to generate a great energy without being as head-spinning. Though I’m sure I could adjust and will certainly take every opportunity to visit, I couldn’t imagine living somewhere as perpetually “on” as London is. Or expensive, though I actually bought more CDs in the past week there than I have in the past couple months here. Seriously. It seems that though new releases are marked way up over North American retailers, they deep discount older albums and back catalog a lot faster than here. Nick Cave’s double-disc Lyre Of Orpheus/Abattoir Blues set for £5? Yes, please. And judging from the amount of inventory held, they definitely still love their vinyl in the UK. I’d said that part of the purpose of this trip was to de-mythologize England for myself, to make it a real place rather than this mystical isle from whence so much of my favourite popular culture comes from, and I think I accomplished that but still love the place just as much. Though I should add that I hope to hell that the tube is air conditioned in the Summer.

So after having essentially four plus months of planning work out so nicely, it feels really good to be home now. No more travel on the immediate horizon though I’m starting to contemplate a jaunt somewhere in the Fall. Just warm weather – Toronto seems to have picked up about ten degrees in my absence – and a full slate of shows next month. Bring on the Summer.

Still three days worth of photos to go through, but my Flickr gallery has now got photos from Northern Ireland as well as the first couple days in London.

Update: And I should mention that it didn’t rain once while I was there. A tiny bit of drizzle in Dublin and a little more the morning I left, but otherwise – sunny (or partly sunny) skies. Not a typically British experience at all.

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

The Door Opens

Photo by Allison Smith

Serving the dual purpose of saving me the trouble of digging and getting me excited, Touch & Go has released some details on the third album from The New Year. The self-titled record will run ten tracks and be released on September 9, meaning those of us who attend the Kadane Brothers show at Sneaky Dee’s on July 14 will get an almost two-month sneak preview of the new material… probably more substantial than this video trailer which starts out with a cymbal track from the new record but segues into an old song. The band talks a bit about the new record on their MySpace blog and have also, in their typically efficient fashion, just released a new video… for a song from their last album.

And I love how the band consistently puts out publicity photos that are too wide for my format… anytime I make a New Year post, someone’s head gets cut off. Sorry, guys.

Video: The New Year – “The End’s Not Near”

Pitchfork seems not to have read any of the numerous mentions Okkervil River have made about releasing a companion disc to The Stage Names this year, because they treat the news of the release of The Stand Ins, the aforementioned companion disc, as the band’s new studio record. But whyever they’re confused isn’t important – new Okkervil River release September 9. Mark it down.

Also new with a release date – Lykke Li’s full-length debut Youth Novels will get a North American release on August 19. The Times engages her in conversation.

BrooklynVegan, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Portland Mercury, PopMatters and Wired play catch-up with Swervedriver, whose reunion tour kicked off last night and who will be at Lee’s Palace on June 13, where the lineup will also include The Besnard Lakes, Sweden’s Last Days Of April and Uncut and where I will (hopefully) be buying this shirt.

The AP, via JAM, talks to Radiohead. They’re at the Molson Amphitheatre on August 15.

Pitchfork solicits a list of stuff from Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson. LiveDaily also has a video session with the band.

The Gutter Twins are both optimistic and non-committal about their future in conversation with Billboard.

Chart reports that stalwart Hamiltonian shoegaze outfit A Northern Chorus have decided to call it a day. They will play a couple of farewell gigs, one on June 27 at the Horseshoe in Toronto, the other June 28 at the Casbah in Hamilton.

Music For Gourmets interviews Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William about China Mountain, her new solo album released under the name of Lotte Kestner.

PopMatters and The Guardian interview a couple of ladies with a penchant for cover songs – Laura Cantrell and Cat Power, respectively. Cat Power will play Rogers Picnic at Historic Fort York on July 20.

Wilco are streaming the audio from all three nights of their recent stand in St Louis.

JamBase talks to Constantines, playing day one of V Fest on September 6.

Le Blogotheque, The Telegraph and Wireless Bollinger interview Bon Iver, in town at Lee’s Palace on July 22.

New Band Of Horses video.

Video: Band Of Horses – “No One’s Gonna Love You”

White Hinterland will be on the bill with Eef Barzalay at the El Mocambo on June 27.

Paste and Metromix catch up with The Submarines, who are at the Drake Underground tomorrow night with Headlights.

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008


Photo by Frank Yang

Since February – Valentine’s Day, fittingly – I’ve had the 20th of May circled on my calendar. Not just because it would be the day that I finally, after 33 years, made it to London, but because I would kick off my visit in potentially the best possible way – seeing Richard Hawley at the legendary Royal Albert Hall. A quintessentially English artist at the ultimate English venue. What could be better? Maybe the fact that the venue was just a leisurely 20-minute walk across Hyde Park from my hotel? That I’d gotten photo accreditation for the show just before I left for Europe? Sure.

Fittingly, the RAH is a really majestic venue. Visually stunning both outside and in, and it sounds even better. I arrived a little after openers Kitty Daisy & Lewis had taken the stage and the band’s flawless recreation of sounds from the first half of the 20th century came across stunningly loud and clear. The trio of siblings, augmented by a guitarist and bassist, did an amazing job at every style they tackled, from jazz to R&B to country to blues to early rock’n’roll, trading instruments, taking turns singing and harmonizing, it was like a USO troupe had stepped out of a time machine to entertain us.

And as such they were a fitting support act for Richard Hawley, who also unabashedly draws inspiration from the past in channeling the likes of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley through his deep, rich baritone and magnificent guitar playing into his love(lorn) letters to his hometown of Sheffield. With the same band that accompanied him to the much-smaller Horseshoe in Toronto last December, Hawley strode onto the stage and welcomed all, fr one night only, to the “Royal Albert Hawley”. And starting with “Hotel Room” from Coles Corner, Hawley and band kicked off a magnificent two-hour plus set spanning his discography. I had initially hoped, obviously a bit unreasonably, that they’d play with an orchestra or at least a string section to fill in the sweeping arrangements of songs like “Coles Corner”, but the five of them needed no help in filling the Hall with a huge sound, particularly on the swelling grandeur of “Valentine”, from last year’s
Lady’s Bridge.

As befit as befit an occasion such as this, the show was also full of surprises, both planned and not. The unexpected consisted mainly of some technical difficulties with his guitar rig that necessitated a short, mid-set intermission to get sorted out though when it was, Hawley wryly noted that they did it on purpose so that they get the applause of walking onstage twice. As for the planned, Hawley chose to share the special night with some friends and family. On the friends side, there was ’70s British singer Tony Christie, whose next album Hawley is producing and who delivered a rather dynamite, Bond theme-esque number from said record and also a not-unexpected but still thrilling appearance from Jarvis Cocker. He sang a number he’d done the lyrics for in the earliest days of Hawley’s solo career that had never been recorded but from the sound of it, really should have been. It was only one song and definitely Hawley’s night, but I can’t say that Cocker’s appearance didn’t make me extra giddy.

And the encore was very much a family affair. First, after noting that his grandfather had sung in a choir over eighty years ago in this very venue, he invited his mother out to sing with him on an old folk song she’d taught him to sing as a child. He then let his uncle Frank White lead a blues jam before stepping back up for Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and closing with a searing reading of “The Ocean”. Before leaving to a standing ovation, Hawley declared this night to be “the best evening of my life” and for many it seemed, and me for certain, we could agree.

The Daily Mail solicits thoughts on manly matters from Hawley while NME has a review of the show as well as the set list.

Photos: Richard Hawley, Kitty Daisy & Lewis @ The Royal Albert Hall – May 20, 2008
MP3: Richard Hawley – “The Nights Are Cold” (acoustic)
MP3: Richard Hawley – “I’m On Nights” (acoustic)
MP3: Richard Hawley – “It’s Over Love” (acoustic)
MP3: Richard Hawley – “Precious Sight” (acoustic)
Video: Richard Hawley – “Tonight The Streets Are Ours”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Serious”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Valentine”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Coles Corner”
Video: Richard Hawley – “The Ocean”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Just Like The Rain”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Born Under A Bad Sign”
MySpace: Richard Hawley

And get this – while there was no place else I’d rather have been last night, it did pain me a bit to find that Elbow were doing an in-store at the Apple Store in Oxford Circus at the exact same time that Hawley was playing. Hawley, if you didn’t know, duets with Guy Garvey on their new record The Seldom Seen Kid. LAist has got an interview with Garvey.

A few new album streams to note – Spinner has The Ting Tings’ We Started Nothing, which is out June 3 in advance of their Mod Club show June 16, and The Wedding Present’s El Rey, which is out now, while MySpace is streaming Spiritualized’s Songs In A & E. That’s out next week and they play day one of V Fest on September 6.

Stream: The Ting Tings / We Started Nothing
Stream: The Wedding Present / El Rey
Stream: Spiritualized / Songs In A&E

NOW Q&As The Long Blondes, who are at Lee’s Palace tonight. The Montreal Gazette also has a brief chat.

Wireless Bollinger interviews Portishead.

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

The Surge

Photo by Frank Yang

So before I get too caught up in all things London, I should recap the first leg of my trip to the Emerald Isle. After a relatively comfortable overnight flight, I arrived in Dublin on Friday around noon and made it into town relatively quickly – would have been quicker if I hadn’t turned around about 100m before reaching the hostel and gotten lost for about 20 minutes, but whatever.

Point is, I arrived and with my traveling companion for this city – childhood friend Enrico who would probably cease to be such if I didn’t name-check him here – not due to arrive till the evening, I went for a mosey through the city. Checked out the rather underwhelming and inappropriately-named Dublin Castle (not a castle at all), the more impressive Chester Beatty Library, the notorious Temple Bar, which is decidedly more benign in the day, and stopping in at the Dublin Gallery of Photography which featured a rather depressing exhibit on cluster bomb victims. After that it was some aimless wandering until evening, when Enrico arrived and it was back to Temple Bar for a pint and to fully understand why Temple Bar on a Friday night is such a bad idea. Hen parties. Shudder.

For the first full day in town, we started at Trinity College, home to the Book Of Kells, then a little shopping down Grafton Street. A first attempt to hit the Guinness Storehouse was aborted because of an excessive lineup. After lunch, we met up with a native Dubliner friend for more wandering around town, spending the afternoon at St Stephen’s Green and the National Gallery. The evening was spent having more pints. When in Rome.

And beer was again the order of the day for Sunday, getting to the Guinness Storehouse early enough to beat the lineups but not so early as to be drinking the free sample pints before noon. I think. Or it was close. We followed that up with a visit to the Kilmainham Gaol, a Victorian-era prison steeped in Irish history. After this my feet were rightly killing me so we retreated back to the hostel to rest up before meeting up with a friend from home, also gallivanting across the British Isles, and another wander through the downtown for the evening.

Sunday was an early night because Monday was an early morning – 5AM early, to be precise. The last full day in Ireland was going to be spent in Northern Ireland on a bus tour, so we had to catch a bus up to Belfast before heading up along the northern coast of the island. First was a stop at the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge which wasn’t tempting enough to pay admission to cross but did offer some spectacular scenery for free. Likewise, the Giant’s Causeway was a rather stunning bit of nature, all hexagonal basalt columns leading into the Irish Sea.

And though that was originally the main attraction of the trip, the highlight turned out to be the stop in Derry, where we got a crash course in the roots of “The Troubles”, including a visit to the site of Bloody Sunday and Free Derry Corner. Granted, the recounting was from the point of view of someone who obviously had little love for the British, but even taking that into account it was a stirring experience. Rarely have I had the opportunity to stand on the site of such recent historical events. And I should mention that though my mental preconceptions of Northern Ireland were of the post-apocalyptic nature – all I’d even known about the region were reading about bombings in the news – both Belfast and Derry were quite handsome and non-destroyed cities. The peace process does appear to be working, and it’s something to see.

And that closed things off for Ireland. Dublin was really a lovely little town, surprisingly compact and very friendly. I don’t know if or when I’ll find the occasion to visit again, but I certainly had a good time of it. Some photos from the first couple days are already up on Flickr – hope to have some more up soon, but it may be a while depending on how busy the next few days are.

And some… whatsitcalled? Oh yeah, music stuff.

The New York Times profiles Death Cab For Cutie and Stereogum handed the reins over to the band for a day yesterday. Chaos ensued. Death Cab play the Olympic Islands on June 7.

Pitchfork talks to Paul Westerberg about The Replacements legacy. Also worth reading is the piece on the band in the new Spin, which should be available on their website in their electronic version, but I can’t find boo on that site… If you do dig it up, it’s worth the hunt.

Billboard talks to Built To Spill about taking the whole of Perfect From Now On on the road this Fall.

The debut full-length from Ra Ra Riot will be entitled The Rhumb Line and be out August 19 on Barsuk.

New York profiles Mates Of State, whose new album Re-Arrange UsDaytrotter sessions up with Islands, whose Arm’s Way was released yesterday and who are at the Phoenix on May 29.