Monday, September 21st, 2009
Ladyhawke, Semi Precious Weapons, Woodhands and Anjulie at the Opera House in Toronto
Frank YangOne can’t help but feel some satisfaction that the gossip king’s much-ballyhooed tour should be undone so quickly by the sort of offstage drama that’s typically the bread and butter of gossip bloggers. Not even a week into the tour and co-headliner Ida Maria was already generating the wrong sort of buzz, playing gigs drunk and disinterestedly, then walking off the stage in Boston and cancelling New York due to “illness”, to say nothing of weak attendance throughout. So it wasn’t much surprise that on Thursday, the day of the Toronto show, it was announced that Ida Maria had left the tour due to that same “illness” and substitute acts would be added to the bills of the next few dates.
Any degree of schadenfreude, however, was tempered by the fact that the lineup was now down one good headliner – I’ll just add this to the ongoing list of Ida Maria near misses (two cancelled SxSW appearances in March due to visa issues and her dropping off the Glasvegas tour early in April – and it was really the people who were going to show who were losing out. I was still committed to attend thanks to the continued presence of Ladyhawke on the bill. Semi Precious Weapons also remained in the lineup and the Toronto bill was rounded by a couple of hometown acts, Woodhands and Anjulie.
Anjulie I knew from the posters for V Fest, where she’d been one of the Radio stage performers, and that was enough to make me think I wasn’t going to be particularly interested in her. And no, while urban/r&b pop is not my thing, there’s no discounting that this girl is good at it – great voice, great look and thankfully not given to oversinging or the diva hand, and a #1 Billboard single to boot. Playing with a tight band and backing singers, she delivered a short but varied set covering a good range of styles and had enough old-school Motown and soul nods to please, which still sounding wholly contemporary. Hometown girl done good, indeed.
So while I kind of suspect Anjulie would have been a special guest whether Ida Maria had been on the bill or not, Woodhands were almost certainly an eleventh-hour addition to fill out the bill. And while a Perez Hilton show might seem a weird place for the local indie synth-rock heroes to show up, sonically they actually fit in quite well with the sort of dancey pop theme of the evening/tour – big beats, fat synths and frantic and fun delivery from Dan Werb. Though they’ve got a reputation as one of the most enjoyable live acts in the city, I’d never actually seen them in full, plugged-in fashion before and now that I have? I’ll give ’em the thumbs up.
The audience had been slowly filling in through the evening and while not nearly sold-out – I would put attendance at around 450 tops, and that includes the local acts’ probably-sizeable guest lists – it was pretty jammed up near the front for Semi Precious Weapons and why not? This was the first act of the night that the people would have actually paid to come and see (besides Hilton himself, who was not in attendance. Instead, we got weird little video-screen introductions with him looking like Max Headroom). Which went well with the Perez-curated video clips that constituted the between set music, giving me a look at top-40 music that I really didn’t need. Anyways.
I’d been told that if nothing else, Semi Precious Weapons were fun to photograph and yeah, they would have been if the entire night hadn’t been defined by horrid backlighting that made getting anything decent pretty much impossible. Which meant that I head to enjoy them on their musical merits which, I have to saw, were few. They offer transgressive glam-rock for the mall-punk set, which basically means a lot of swearing and sophomoric pottymouth banter about boobs, sex and general self-aggrandizing interspersed with high-energy if unremarkable rock songs and shout-along choruses, all delivered with over the top costumes and on-stage antics. If that sounds specifically formulated to get a response, that’s because it is and it does. This isn’t to say it wasn’t entertaining and the excitement elicited from the crowd a real boost to the evening’s energy, but not necessarily something I need to see or hear again.
Unsurprisingly, the crowd did thin out some following Semi Precious Weapons but it was still a decent-sized and enthusiastic audience on hand to welcome Pip Brown for her first Toronto appearance – and hey, less people means more room on the floor to dance. I had seen her play at SxSW and while the quality of the tunes from her self-titled debut – recently re-released with more goodies – were unimpeachable (if you like hook-laden, ’80s-flavoured synth-rock), the performance itself was generally workmanlike and not especially noteworthy and as such, my expectations weren’t the highest. It was a pleasant surprise, then, to see that Brown has upped her game in the live setting or perhaps that night at Stubb’s had been an off one – either way, her show this time out was much better. It’s hard to quantify how or why, exactly – she’s still not the most animated or charismatic performer – but she seemed much more comfortable on stage and that looseness carried over into the music. Delivered by a five-piece band, the Ladyhawke material sounded much more guitar guitar-driven live than on album – all the necessary synth parts were accounted for, but the guitars were louder and rawer. They dished out all the singles and “up” tracks from the record plus an old b-side for about 50 minutes of pop bliss. Never mind the sponsor, never mind the circus, this show was Ladyhawke’s show and it was great.
There’s a review at ChartAttack. City Sonic has a video feature on Woodhands and the Don Valley Brickworks, site of one of their most memorable – and illegal – gigs. Long way from that to Perez Presents.
Photos: Ladyhawke, Semi Precious Weapons, Woodhands, Anjulie @ The Opera House – September 17, 2009
MP3: Ladyhawke – “My Delirium”
MP3: Semi Precious Weapons – “Semi Precious Weapons”
MP3: Woodhands – “Dancer”
MP3: Woodhands – “I Wasn’t Made For Fighting”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Paris Is Burning”
Video: Ladyhawke – “My Delirium”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Dusk Till Dawn”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Back Of The Van”
Video: Semi Precious Weapons – “Magnetic Baby”
Video: Semi Precious Weapons – “Rock N Roll Never Looked So Beautiful”
Video: Semi Precious Weapons – “Her Hair Is On Fire”
Video: Semi Precious Weapons – “Semi Precious Weapons”
Video: Woodhands – “I Wasn’t Made For Fighting”
Video: Anjulie – “Boom”
Video: Anjulie – “Love Songs”
Video: Anjulie – “Day Will Come Soon”
MySpace: Semi Precious Weapons
Also free at the ‘Shoe the following week – October 27 – is Seattle garage rock outfit The Blakes, whose new record Souvenir is out October 13. Check out a track from the new record courtesy of Under The Radar.
Which segues nicely into the fact that the Polaris Prize is being awarded tonight. Exclaim ran a feature last week wherein the examined the possible gender and geographic biases that exist within the jury, though I have to say that as a Toronto-based male, I don’t see what all the hubub is about. Har Har. Oh, I am also the latest (last?) subject of the “Better Know A Juror” feature on the Polaris website. Read it and know my most innermost thoughts and feelings. So let’s talk about your feelings. Who do you think will win? Should win?