Thursday, December 1st, 2011
Turn A Light On
Kathryn Calder and JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangThere’s many great things about the long-running Toronto institution of Nu Music Nites at the Horseshoe – not least of all the fact that they’re free – but the fact that they often feature such random assemblages of acts that each set can feel like its own standalone show and not part of a larger bill is certainly a big part of the fun. Such was the case on Tuesday night when rather than one headline-calibre act, as you’d normally be fortunate to have, they had two – and quite markedly different ones at that.
First you had Kathryn Calder, whom you may remember from her old band Immaculate Machine or know from her current band The New Pornographers but whom you should know for her solo work. Her 2010 debut Are You My Mother? was an unexpected gem displaying a pop acumen that was astonishing, even if she had been apprenticing with some of the country’s finest songwriters for the past half decade and this year’s follow-up Bright & Vivid proved not only that Mother was no fluke, but that Calder was still growing as a songwriter and had even better works in her. Which is to say that it’s as good, if not better, than the first record – and that’s saying quite a lot.
While Calder’s strengths as a singer, songwriter and arranger are self-evident from her records, having missed her solo debut here back in the Summer I still couldn’t comment on her skills as a frontwoman. After all, it’s one thing to do your thing with all eyes on Carl Newman, Neko Case and/or Dan Bejar, quite another to be front and centre yourself. And while she seemed perfectly comfortable in the role, switching off between electric and acoustic guitar and keyboards and offering plenty of low-key charm, you wouldn’t say she’s a riveting performer, at least not yet. But that’s a minor complaint against what she and her band brought to the table.
First off there were the songs, with selections split about evenly between the two albums and well showcasing the range and complexity of her work. It’s no mean feat to fill so many songs with both indelible melodies and emotional depth, but delivering them with her crystalline and dexterous voice – she didn’t miss a move or a note – Calder made it look easy. Points must also go to her band, who were fully equipped with both the tools and talent to recreate the many sonic nuances of the record. They could have easily made it sound good while stripping the arrangements down, but the care they took to make sure all the bits and pieces were there was appreciated.
This show kicked off a three-week North American tour for Calder and company but I almost wish that this was coming at the tail end if just because I’ve no doubt the road-testing would make them sound even better. Make no mistake, they sounded terrific already but if there’s one thing her records have shown, it’s that as good as you think Calder is or can be, she can and will be better.
But wait! There’s more!
It’s probably not fair to expect any kind of funk-soul-rock band to show up and impress when one has just seen Prince a few nights earlier, but for their first visit to Toronto, Chicagoans JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound were sure as spit going to try. Besuited and with Brooks sporting an impressinve Little Richer coif, the five-piece – accompanied by a camera crew – put on a barn-burner of a show. Having just released their second album Want More, they showed off their prowess at classically-styled yet modern-feeling soul – mostly Chicago-flavoured but with forays to Philly to show off Brooks’ ability to slow burn and kill the high notes.
They were at their best when in high gear, though, with the rest of the band being dapper, animated and showing off their impressive chops when called on, all without drawing attention away from their frontman – not that that would have really been possible. Brooks has mastered the fine art of great showmanship without going over the top, engaging the audience without pandering and just basically setting the tone for a wholly impressive show. And while their covers of “Tainted Love” and “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” were set highlights, their original compositions stood tall alongside them – not something you can always say in a genre that’s often more concerned with style and delivery than creation. It’s a shame the audience numbers had thinned from their peak during Calder’s set, but the few dozen that remained got a hell of a show.
Photos: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, Kathryn Calder @ The Horseshoe – November 29, 2011
MP3: Kathryn Calder – “Who Are You”
MP3: Kathryn Calder – “Arrow”
MP3: Kathryn Calder – “Slip Away”
MP3: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – “Everything Will Be Fine”
Video: Kathryn Calder – “Who Are You”
Video: Kathryn Calder – “Arrow”
Video: Kathryn Calder – “Slip Away”
Video: JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – “Everything Will Be Fine”
Video: JC Brooks Uptown Sound – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”
NOW marks Feist’s show at Massey Hall tonight by putting her on this week’s cover; Today Online also has an interview. Meanwhile, Under The Radar reports that she and Mastadon will pair up for a split-7″ single wherein each covers one of the others’ songs as a Record Store Day 2012 release.
The Toronto Star, Star-Observer and X-Tra have features on Austra, playing tonight at The Phoenix and have announced that a deluxe edition of Feel It Break, featuring a second CD of covers, remixes and whatnot, will be available in mid-December. One of the new tracks, a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” which has been kicking around since Katie Stelmanis was still playing as Katie Stelmanis, is available to stream below and the third and final instalment of the unplugged Paper Bag Sessions has gone up at Disco Naivete.
Young Galaxy, who are playing with Austra tonight, are also capping their very good year with a deluxe edition of Shapeshifting, though it’ll be an iTunes-only release and feature early versions of four songs before they were sent to producer Dan Lissvik for reinventing. That’ll be available on December 13 but as of right now, a remix album called Versus is available for free.
The videos for some studio sessions that Kat Burns of Forest City Lovers performed for Exclaim are now available to download as well as watch.
MP3: Forest City Lovers – “Keep The Kids Inside” (Rainy Day Version, live at Exclaim)
MP3: Forest City Lovers – “Tell Me, Cancer” (live at Exclaim)
Video: Forest City Lovers – “Keep The Kids Inside” (Rainy Day Version, live at Exclaim)
Video: Forest City Lovers – “Tell Me, Cancer” (live at Exclaim)
Toronto psych-poppers Heartbeat Hotel are streaming the whole of their new record Intae Woe, while Mechanical Forest Sound has a recording from their record release show for said record last week available to download.
Stream: Heartbeat Hotel / Inate Woe
The Drake Hotel has announced most of the lineup for this year’s What’s In The Box holiday season music series, wherein they line up five acts for each of the five nights following Christmas with a five dollar cover. Still a few “special guest” spots to be filled but there’s at least a couple nights with some acts that I’ve been meaning to check out (Doldrums, Donlands & Mortimer) so I expect I’ll be there at least once that week. You may as well too – don’t pretend you’ve got better things to do.
And another end-of-year institution – New Year’s Eve at The Tranzac – has announced their live music lineup via Facebook and it features The Elwins, Maylee Todd and more. I went to last year’s, it was fun. Tickets are $13 in advance and believe them when they say it sells out every year.