Archive for June, 2009

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

NXNE 2009 Day Three

NXNE 2009 day three featuring Woodpigeon, Caledonia and Band Of Skulls

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangWoodpigeon shows are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. The first time I saw them live at Pop Montreal 2007, they were a rhythm section-less five-piece, more church choir than pop band but the next time, opening for Calexico last July, they were kitted out as an eight-piece and most certainly capable of bringing the rock. So it was anyone’s guess as to which Woodpigeon would come to roost at the Horseshoe on Saturday night, opening up CBC Radio 3’s showcase for NXNE.

It was a good week by anyone’s measure for the Calgary-based band, scoring a place on the Polaris Prize long list for their latest album Treasury Library Canada & Houndstooth Europa and, as would be revealed after the show, winning the CBC Galaxie Rising Star award, and a triumphant festival performance in front a packed house would have been the perfect way to cap it off. But for all the beautiful simplicity of their orchestral folk-pop, they can still manage to be inherently confounding. Only three members of the core band – singer-guitarist Mark Hamilton, keyboardist-flautist-singer Annalea Sordi and violinist-singer Foon Yap – made the trip to Toronto and they augmented their lineup with fellow Calgarians The Summerlad, also in town for the festival, and Hylozoist Paul Aucoin on vibes.

The use of players not intimately versed with the material guaranteed there’d be some reinvention in the cards, and there certainly was along with a set list that didn’t lean heavily, or hardly at all, on their most successful record – instead they went with songs old and unreleased to go with a few choice Treasury selections. The additional players came and went as needed as the show progressed, not a lot at first but moreso later as the set built from gentle to uncharacteristically but welcome-ly intense with noisy set-closer “And As The Ship Went Down, You’d Never Looked Finer”, sure to be a highlight of their already-recorded next album Die Stadt Muzikanten. Few would have complained if the set had leaned a bit more on familiar tunes or if they’d gotten to the louder portion of the set sooner, but even as it was, few were complaining. Considering how busy the band is conquering Europe, Toronto should feel fortunate that they pay us a visit in any configuration.

CBC has an extensive feature piece on Woodpigeon, Hamilton talks to Beyond The Ear about what it was like making the Polaris long list and CBC Radio 3 is streaming all of the performances from the evening, including theirs.

Photos: Woodpigeon @ The Horseshoe – June 20, 2009
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Knock Knock”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Love In The Time Of Hopscotch”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Oberkampf”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Lay All Your Love On Me”
Video: Woodpigeon – “A Moment’s Peace for Mary Christa O’Keefe”
MySpace: Woodpigeon

After their set, I fled the sweatbox of the Horseshoe and made way to the slightly less sweaty but still pretty packed Bread & Circus in Kensington to see Caledonia, here all the way from Halifax. Their new record We Are America had gotten some last-minute Polaris lobbying from other jurors, despite not qualifying for 2009, and the handful of listens I’d given the record yielded enough highlights to intrigue so it seemed a worthy way to spend an hour or so. And for the most part it was – live, they aren’t quite as interesting as they are on record, instead more polished and with a bar- with a touch of jam-band vibe about them. Going back to the album afterwards still confirmed it was a good listen, so perhaps it’s just a matter of bringing the two mediums closer together. Their next local gig is on August 14 at Rancho Relaxo.

Photos: Caledonia @ Bread & Circus – June 20, 2009
MP3: Caledonia – “We Are America”
Video: Caledonia – “Friday Night Rock Song”
Stream: Caledonia / We Are America
MySpace: Caledonia

The next stop – and the final one for the night, though I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself at the time – was just around the block at the venerable El Mocambo for English outfit Band Of Skulls. The trio had been doing a number of gigs around town throughout NXNE to build excitement for their debut Baby Darling Dollface Honey, which is being released domestically on July 28, and I’d been hearing good things. Though the samples I’d heard going in showcased many sides of the band’s sound, ranging from quiet to loud, it was the loud that was on display for this show. They tap deep into a vein of pure garage and blues-rock but while most drawing on that for inspiration end up little more than retro-revivalists, Band Of Skulls manage to sound decidedly fresh in their approach though you’d be hard-pressed to identify exactly what it is they’re doing different. The riffs are raw and heavy and the attitude no-nonsense, but they’ve also taken the time to write good songs and acknowledge that it’s as important to be melodic as it is heavy. Having co-ed frontpersons, both with excellent voices and a surplus of charisma certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Chart declared them the best thing they saw at the festival – I’m certainly not going to go that far, but they were excellent and were a good way to close things out. Fazer has an interview.

Photos: Band Of Skulls @ The El Mocambo – June 20, 2009
MP3: Band Of Skulls – “Blood”
Video: Band Of Skulls – “I Know What I Am”

And that was it for NXNE 2009. I guess one more way in which it was like its SxSW cousin was even though I grumbled about the lineup, calling it weaker than in past years, I probably had the best time of all the NXNEs I’ve attended thanks to the chance to just run into and hang out with friends in town for the fest. That and things were unquestionably better organized and run this year than in the past, helping create a genuine sense of excitement about stuff happening around the city. Would have been nice if the weather had cooperated a little bit more, but you can’t have everything.

Ca Va Cool turns their spotlight on Bruce Peninsula, talking to Matt Cully and Neil Haverty.

Spinner reports that My Morning Jacket are currently on hiatus, though it sounds like a proper temporary break rather than an open-ended, “see you in ten years” one.

Metro talks to Patrick Wolf.

NPR has an interview with Bat For Lashes.

If you hadn’t heard, tonight’s Dirty Projectors show at Lee’s Palace as well as tomorrow’s in Montreal have been cancelled on account of the band flipping their van whilst en route to Toronto. Everyone is alright and while the shows are outright cancelled and not postponed – refunds available at point of purchase – hopefully they’ll be able to make them up sooner rather than later.

And anyone looking to add to the list of artists who will NOT be playing Ontario/Toronto’s V-Fest this year, take note that in addition to being the same weekend as Reading/Leeds and Outside Lands, our V will also be competing for talent against Baltimore’s Virgin Mobile Free Fest which will, as the name implies, be FREE. Wow.

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

CONTEST – Sunparlour Players @ The Horseshoe – June 26, 2009

Photo via MySpaceMySpaceI hope it doesn’t sound like faint praise when I say that Wave North, the new album from Toronto’s Sunparlour Players, is much, much better than I’d expected it to be. I’d always figured that their strength would be in their sound, a raucous and clattering sort of country-groomed barroom gospel-rock which made for great live shows. But with this album, they’ve also proven they can write some pretty impressive songs with lyrical depth and emotional heft to say nothing of their surprisingly anthemic delivery. This isn’t to say these facets weren’t there before – maybe they were and I didn’t pick up on them – but on Wave North they’re impossible to ignore.

They band are doing an in-store at Soundscapes Wednesday night, June 24, at 7PM and will play a CD release show at the Horseshoe on Friday night, June 26, with special guests The Hylozoists and Wayne Petti, and courtesy of Outside Music, I’ve got two pairs of passes to give away for the show. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see Sunparlour Players” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Contest closes at 5PM, June 25.

MP3: Sunparlour Players – “Battle Of 77”
MySpace: Sunparlour Players

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009


Presenting Reverie Sound Revue's blog tour part one, "Arrows"

In my post last month wherein I sought to introduce you to Reverie Sound Revue, I likened the band – formerly of Calgary and now based mostly in Toronto – to a unicorn or your mythical creature of choice, on account of their extended hiatuses and exceedingly slow pace of working. But they get significantly more real as of this week when their debut, self-titled album – over a year and a half in the making – is finally released.

And while they’re still declining to tour or generally be seen in the harsh light of day, they have deigned to record a series of live studio performances and embark on an online tour of sorts, and I’m pleased to be able to present the first installment. It features guitarist Patrick Walls and singer Lisa Lobsinger performing “Arrows”, rendered in even more delicately subdued tones than the recorded version, if that’s possible.

There will be five more videos being rolled out over the coming weeks, one per week, at various tubes around the internets. To find out where the next one will surface, check back at or

MP3: Reverie Sound Revue – “Arrows”

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

NXNE 2009 Day Two

NXNE 2009 day two featuring Coeur De Pirate, The Magic, Parallels and more

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangJust before the start of NXNE, I was asked a few questions by The National Post for a festival preview piece along the lines of how NXNE differed from and was similar to SxSW. My answers were basically that there was no comparing the two, acronyms notwithstanding, as nothing anywhere really compares to SxSW in terms of scale and importance, but that in recent years NXNE has come a long way to being a worthy event in its own right. Friday evening, however, I got to experience a couple of shows that were quite reminiscent of March in Austin, both in the positive and negative sense.

To the former, there was an in-store set – the closest we’ve come to creating the massive day show culture of Sx – at Sunrise Records from Dark Mean. The Hamilton outfit is a relatively new one, but has already made an impression in some blog circles – that’s where I first heard of them – and this unconventional showcase was their Toronto debut. They’d made a very good first impression via their Frankencottage EP, which they’re offering for free download on their website, and I was initially disappointed to not see them on the official NXNE lineup – this gig made up for it. Short as it is, the record is bubbling over with promise, pop at the core but not afraid to get its country on nor dabble in unconventional sounds or arrangements and delivered with a confidence lacking in much more veteran acts. Live, they seemed to need a little work. Though the band is ostensibly a trio, they’d augmented themselves into a 6-piece for this show, including keyboards and a second drummer and while the songs weren’t buried under the extra manpower, they didn’t really benefit all that much either. They also came across tamer than on record, perhaps out of consideration for the shoppers, building a sort of lower-key Whiskeytown vibe throughout. Certainly not a bad angle, but one that didn’t do them full justice. They will make their proper Toronto debut on July 18 at the Polish Combatants Hall – maybe some liquor will loosen them up.

Photos: Dark Mean @ Sunrise Records – June 19, 2009
Video: Dark Mean – “Lullabye”
Video: Dark Mean – “Frankencottage”
MySpace: Dark Mean

The SxSW phenomenon I was less pleased to see surface at NXNE was the booking of an act getting an enormous amount of attention into a venue far to small to contain all those who’d want to see them play. In this case, Coeur De Pirate at the Dakota Tavern. The stage name of 20-year old Béatrice Martin from Montreal, Coeur had been slowly but steadily building buzz outside the Francophone circles but that seemed to hit a sort of critical mass when her debut self-titled album was named to the Polaris Prize long list earlier last week. That was certainly what finally got me off my duff and listening to the record, and like so many others, enchanted by it. It’s all in French, and thus I don’t understand about 95% of it, her evocative voice and the sprightly yet haunting piano-led arrangements ensure that the emotional heft is not lost in translation. Arriving at the club 20 minutes early proved to be not nearly enough as there was a lineup already and word was it wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon. Happily, I managed to get into the club just before show time – it helps to know people who know people – and was in position for this performance, her first ever in Toronto. Martin played as a two piece but all eyes and ears were on her, as she proved as beguiling live as on record and all disarming charm between songs. The only point at which the magic was dispelled was with the final song, a cover of the Katy Perry song which shall not be named – the rendition was fine but I can’t endorse any action that helps prolong her pop cultural reign of terror. That said, it may have been a bit of a hassle to get into the show, but it would have been worth it at twice the effort. It’s quite disappointing that at the moment, there’s no other Toronto shows on her tour schedule – an appearance at Hillside is as close as she’s coming – but if the stars align, perhaps I’ll see her perform again at the Polaris Prize ceremony.

Photos: Coeur De Pirate @ The Dakota Tavern – June 19, 2009
Video: Coeur De Pirate – “Comme Des Enfants”
Video: Coeur De Pirate – “Ensemble”
MySpace: Coeur De Pirate

I wasn’t done with the Francophones, heading next to Supermarket (or should that have been Supermarché?) to see Parlovr, currently promoting their debut self-title. Even if I hadn’t known the trio was from Montreal, I’d have been able to guess from their sound – an energetic and just slightly unhinged blend of pop, rock and new wave. It wasn’t a new sound, in fact it’s a sound that’s probably approaching dated (Shouting! Synths! Quirky!) but their execution – along with some damn funny stage banter – endeared themselves to me enough that I’ll wait for the next band to call someone out as stylistically unfashionable. BlogTO has an interview.

Photos: Parlovr @ Supermarket – June 19, 2009
MP3: Parlovr – “Pen To The Paper”
MP3: Parlovr – “On The Phone”
MP3: Parlovr – “Hiccup”

I don’t actually know why Dublin’s Kill Krinkle Club were on my schedule – the samples of twee-pop on their MySpace must have struck a chord or something. But I wrote them down and so hoofed it down to Holy Joe’s just in time to witness them start off with a spoken word piece – never a good sign. The first tune was strangely skeletal and tuneless, but as it turned out the keyboard wasn’t working so they took a mulligan and re-played their opening number with much better results, but not enough to count as compelling. I gave their set a few more songs, but just wasn’t in the mood for something this precious and decamped.

Photos: Kill Krinkle Club @ Holy Joe’s – June 19, 2009
MP3: Kill Krinkle Club – “Little Men”
MP3: Kill Krinkle Club – “White Trees”
MP3: Kill Krinkle Club – “Lakes”

At this point I had a few options, all of which involved cross-town club hopping and none of which were particularly appealing so instead I took an hour off to hang out on a stoop with a friend, downing some Gatorade. I think I made the right choice.

By this point, I’d heard more than a few people expressing great excitement for the act slated for midnight at The Reverb, the Guelph-Toronto act simply named The Magic. Seeing as how I was already at the venue and intended to be there for 1AM, I gave them a go and was very pleasantly surprised. It’s tempting to describe them as a disco band but without any of the typically retro or kitschy accoutrement that usually go with that (aside from co-frontpersons Geordie Gordon and Sylvie Smith’s yacht-captain suit and silver glitter dress, respectively). What they were was fun, funky and superbly tight with enough trade-off between the male and female lead vocals to keep things varied. NOW has an interview.

Photos: The Magic @ The Reverb – June 19, 2009

And finally was Toronto’s Parallels, an outfit whose bio makes much of drummer Cameron Findlay’s tour of duty behind the kit for Crystal Castles but whose own tastes in electro-pop veer much more in the direction of New Order with some Yazoo in the mix. ’80s uber alles, in other words. That’s certainly a sound that’s been in heavy rotation around these parts lately, so I was somewhat let down that Parallels didn’t really do it for me. They sounded alright – the songs were alright and the use of live drums a big bonus in giving them some dynamicism, but I found their overall stage presence to be underwhelming and lacking personality. Singer/keyboardist Holly Dodson has a good voice and makes the effort at filling the frontperson role, but didn’t have the charisma to really succeed as a focal point for the show. When their set wrapped, I was more than happy to call it a night.

Photos: Parallels @ The Reverb – June 19, 2009
MySpace: Parallels

To call yesterday a good day for concert announcements would be a wee bit of an understatement. First off, was the reveal of a show I’ve pretty much been waiting for all year – Yeah Yeah Yeahs at the Kool Haus on August 4. Those of you who have committed to the sit-rock of Fleet Foxes that night at Massey Hall have a tough decision to make, I understand. Me, I will hopefully be enjoying a double-shot of Karen O, catching her at Osheaga the preceding weekend and then this Toronto show. Tickets are $32.50, on sale Thursday. The Times has a feature piece on the band.

Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll”
Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Zero”

The Breeders will be at Lee’s Palace on August 15, tickets $23.50. I will admit I haven’t heard much of what they’ve done since reforming a few years back, but I’m pretty sure that “Cannonball” remains in their set list so that, right there, could be worth the price of admission.

MP3: The Breeders – “Fate To Fatal”
MP3: The Breeders – “Bang On”

Though they could surely play bigger rooms, The Hold Steady like the sweaty little ones so it’s going to be a several degrees past insane when they wrap up their just-announced cross-Canada tour with a September 27 date at Lee’s Palace. Tickets are $21.50 and go on sale this Thursday, though a presale goes today at 10AM with the password “POSITIVE”.

MP3: The Hold Steady – “Chips Ahoy!” (live)
Video:The Hold Steady – “Stay Positive”

Dinosaur Jr, whose Farm is ready to harvest at your local record store today, has announced a massive Fall tour that includes a stop at the Phoenix in Toronto on September 30. The Skinny has a massive, multi-piece feature on the band including a history of the band, interview with Murph, another with Lou and one with J. They also talk to Adam Franklin about the impact of the band. Drowned In Sound also has a typically awkward interview with J.

MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “I Want You To Know”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Over It”

But the cosmos cannot exist without checks and balances, so I sadly have to report that it seems the Elbow show at the Phoenix, originally unofficially announced for July 29, does not appear to be happening after all. Don’t blame me, blame Letterman.

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

CONTEST – Royal City artwork giveaway

Photo via MBVMBVGuelph’s Royal City were a band who were just ahead enough of their time to miss out on the great Can-rock explosion on the early 2000s, singing their swan song in 2004 with Little Heart’s Ease, just as many of their contemporaries, collaborators and followers – at one time or another, their roster included the likes of Leslie Feist and Owen Pallett – rose to far greater heights both at home and abroad.

But they’ve never been lost or forgotten, their three records held with great affection by those who were fortunate enough to have seen or heard them over their too-short, half-decade existence. Their sound was deceptively simple – folk-pop with occasional excursions into noisier territory, led by singer Aaron Riches’ charmingly creaky voice – but beneath the seemingly placid surface were deep waters of musical, lyrical and spiritual complexities, frequently as unsettling as beautiful. It’s hard to put one’s finger on just what made Royal City so special but few would deny that they were.

The band will get some measure of posthumous recognition this week with the release of Royal City, a limited-edition compilation of rare and unreleased material, and here in their hometowns, a pair of concerts entitled “Burning Torch: A Tribute to Royal City” will be held later this week at the Ebar in Guelph on June 24 and at the Tranzac in Toronto on June 26 and will feature performances from friends, fans and former members. Details at Exclaim.

For my part, I am very pleased to be able to offer, in conjunction with the band, their former label of Three Gut Records and my blog compatriots at MBV Music, a very special commemorative giveaway. They’ve created a super-limited run of approximately 6.5″ x 6.5″ prints featuring the artwork of the three Royal City albums created from Tyler Clarke Burke’s original artwork files – view them large size – and I have one of the thirty to give away to a lucky fan. To enter, leave me a comment below with a Royal City anecdote, either related to a record, a song, a live show, a traffic altercation with Nathan Lawr or that time you caught Jim Guthrie with his hand in your pocket, whatever. Make sure to include your email so I can contact you and have that in before midnight, June 30. And also, for those seeking to increase their odds, another set is being given away at MBV Music and Said The Gramophone will be giving a set away very soon as well. MBV is also streaming the album right now and The Guelph Mercury talks to Guelph-based CBC personality Vish Khanna about the band’s legacy.

MP3: Royal City – “Can’t You Hear Me Calling”
MP3: Royal City – “A Belly Was Made For Wine”
MP3: Royal City – “Bring My Father A Gift”
MP3: Royal City – “My Brother Is The Meatman”
MP3: Royal City – “Bad Luck”
MP3: Royal City – “I’m Taking The Train”
MP3: Royal City – “At Rush Hour The Cars”
Stream: Royal City / Royal City