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Monday, July 6th, 2009

Shine A Light

Constantines and Chad Van Gaalen at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangFor the last few years, Harbourfront Centre has been the go-to spot for Canada Day celebrations in Toronto. Each year, they put on a free show on the lake with some of the top domestic acts of the moment, but on a year-to-year basis they’ve also been doing a pretty great job of representing all the facets of what we’d call Canadian indie rock. Back in 2007 (I missed the 2006 show featuring The Dears), they showcased the more avant garde end of the spectrum with Final Fantasy and Do Make Say Think, and last year put the spotlight on the female and folky with Martha Wainwright and Basia Bulat. For 2009, they traded the estrogen for some testosterone, bringing in hometown heroes Constantines and Calgary’s Chad Van Gaalen.

Van Gaalen I’ve honestly done my best to get into his records in the past – after all, with the sheer amount of love he gets from all quarters, he must have something going for him – but have never really managed to do it. There’s just something about his particular DIY sonic aesthetic that doesn’t do it for me. And so it’s ironic that I’d find someone who’s generally regarded as a home studio auteur to be so much more enjoyable in a live setting. He started the evening in interesting form, first coming out with a broom and sweeping the stage clean, then saluting the national anthem by way of dropping his pants, and then finally making funny but probably family-inappropriate gestures with his finger and his fly. Yeah. Musically, he led his band through selections from all three of his albums and damn if they don’t just sound much fuller and more realized than they do in their studio incarnations? Maybe it’s the extra oomph of the live rhythm section (helped by the fact that I had planted my ass right in front of the PA bass bin) or the fact that his voice sounds less reedy and the guitars fatter, but it was just so much more satisfying an experience and allowed me to see and hear the artist that others do – I just prefer his more direct and less idiosyncratic side. Odds are I won’t care so much for his next studio record but if he puts out a live album, I may pay more attention.

Constantines, on the other hand, I’m fully guilty of not having paid enough attention to since day one. That was resolved somewhat last year, when I got my first Cons record in Kensington Heights and saw them live twice – the first time at a super-intimate club show and the second at the somewhat less-intimate but still awe-inspiring V Fest. Both shows, though quite different, certainly confirmed their long-standing reputation as an incredible and intense live act. I expected nothing less from them this time out.

My education hasn’t reached too far into their back catalog, however, so aside from the Kensington material their set was only familiar from past live experiences and so rather than comment on what was played, I’ll focus on how it was played – in a word, exceptionally. The Cons have been at it a long time and as such, are about as tight a rock machine as you’ll find anywhere. Their songs are lean, but not thin – within each hard-charging piece are myriad little songwriting and arrangement details that give their sound extra complexity. But really, live, what you’ll hear – or more correctly FEEL – is the swirl of the guitar and keyboard riffs, the unrelenting thump of the rhythm section and most importantly Bry Webb’s big, raw rasp, occasionally augmented by guest Jennifer Castle’s gentler backing vocals. It’s just rock, yeah, but it’s rock done right.

And while they started things out dressed up for the occasion – Webb’s white suit over tropical shirt ensemble was particularly inspired – the intensity of the performance and sweat generated quickly got them looking less natty and, consequently, more appropriate. Clean and proper just doesn’t suit them. And the greatness of their show was pretty much encapsulated by a moment in “Shine A Light”, towards the end of their set, where one by one the Cons pointed out across Lake Ontario and the audience clued in and turned around, just in time to see fireworks going off. A magical moment. If you’re looking for ambassadors for Canadian rock or, as it turns out, a soundtrack to Canada Day, you can’t do much better than Constantines.

Photos: Constantines, Chad Van Gaalen @ Harbourfront Centre – July 1, 2009
MP3: Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
MP3: Constantines – “Nighttime Anytime It’s Alright”
MP3: Constantines – “On To You”
MP3: Constantines – “Love In Fear”
MP3: Constantines – “Soon Enough”
MP3: Constantines – “Arizona”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Willow Tree”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “City Of Electric Light”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Graveyard”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Clinically Dead”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Somewhere I Know There’s Nothing”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Flower Gardens”
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Echo Train”
Video: Constantines – “Credit River”
Video: Constantines – “Our Age”
Video: Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
Video: Constantines – “Working Full-Time”
Video: Chad Van Gaalen – “Flower Gardens”
Video: Chad Van Gaalen – “Clinically Dead”
Video: Chad Van Gaalen – “Red Hot Drops”
Video: Chad Van Gaalen – “Molten Light”
MySpace: Constantines
MySpace: Chad Van Gaalen

Summerworks has released the lineup to the music component of their annual theatre/performing arts festival, and with acts like Miracle Fortress, Think About Life, The D’Urbervilles and Forest City Lovers amongst the artists performing, you really should plan on spending much of the week from August 6 to the 15th at The Theatre Centre at The Great Hall.

dose.ca interviews Matt Cully and Vue talks to Neil Haverty, both of Bruce Peninsula, who are embarking on a western Canadian tour this week.

Arts & Crafts has released some official information on the next Hidden Cameras record – Origin:Orphan will be released on September 22 and they’re offering a free download of “Walk On” in exchange for your email.

Emily Haines of Metric tells The National Post about some of her favourite things about Toronto in the Summertime. Curiously, navigating piles of uncollected garbage on the city streets because of the city worker strike does not make the cut.

MBV Music has the second installment in the Reverie Sound Revue blog tour – a bit later than expected, but maybe they got held up at the border or something. This video is a stripped-down studio rendering of “Off Rooftops” from their just-released self-titled debut.

The results of those TARA Secret Sessions which have been taking place at The Audio Recording Academy – perhaps you’ve seen the ads somewhere online – are being made available online to download and enjoy, including some by Oh No Forest Fires and Great Bloomers. The sessions continue through the month of July and admission to all is free. Oh No Forest Fires have blogged a bit about their session.

Spinner.ca – née AOL Music Canada – has posted the first of a multi-part feature on the history, present and future of independent music in Canada, featuring conversations with journalist types and members of Sloan and The Stills.

Congratulations go out to Eric’s Trip and Rheostatics, the inaugural inductees to the Zunior Canadian Independent Music Hall of Fame, whose aim is to select and salute two trailblazing Canadian independent artists each year and for which I was honoured to be a juror for the 2009 edition.

If you missed or enjoyed Amazing Baby opening up for Phoenix last month, you will be pleased to know they have their own show scheduled for August 4 at the Drake Underground in support of their new album Rewild – tickets $13.

MP3: Amazing Baby – “Bayonets”

Modest Mouse have added as second Toronto date to their Summer tour – they’ll be at the Sound Academy on August 22 in addition to the 21. Tickets $30.

The Cave Singers and Lightning Dust have a date at the Horseshoe on September 14, tickets $12. Both have new albums coming soon – the former with Welcome Joy, out August 18, and the latter with Infinite Light, out August 4.

MP3: The Cave Singers – “Beach House”
MP3: Lightning Dust – “I Knew”
MP3: Lightning Dust – “Never Seen”

The Hold Steady are also rolling into town a little earlier than planned – there’s a second Lee’s Palace show set for September 26 to go with the September 27 one, so if you’d rather rock yourself into oblivion on a Saturday night, you’re all set. Tickets $21.50.

Icelandic electro-dream-poppers (is that still an accurate, if broad description?) Mum return with a new album due out on August 24 entitled Sing Along To Songs You Don’t Know and will follow that up with a Fall North American tour that includes an October 27 date at The Phoenix in Toronto, tickets $20.

By : Frank Yang at 8:21 am
Category: Concert Reviews

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  1. nick says:

    i agree frank – even though he practically lives in his bedroom studio, van gaalen is best enjoyed live. he was killer opening for feist on her national tour last year.