Frank YangNeither of Toronto’s club-level music festivals do especially well at recreating the day show culture of the likes of SXSW – NXNE obviously has the edge in this department on account of being in the Summer and not the trailing edge of Winter, but that’s not stopping Canadian Musicfest from trying, at least a little. Case in point, the Aussie BBQ that took over both floors of the El Mocambo on Saturday afternoon and offering a second (or third or fourth) showcase for many of the acts in town from Down Under. And while the “barbecue” end of things could stand with some improvement – somehow I don’t think that slightly undercooked sausages wrapped in a piece of white bread is how they do things in Canberra – the musical component did just fine.
I got there in time to see Husky, a foursome from Melbourne who had the fortune of arriving to the festival on the back of having just signed a deal with Sub Pop – the legendary Seattle label would be giving their debut album Forever So a North American debut on July 12. And though they don’t hail from the Pacific northwest, it’s not hard to see the outfit – named not for the dog or their size but for frontman Husky Gawenda – fitting in just fine with the more plaid-clad portion of the label’s roster. They take the ’60s beard-folk sound into ’70s, incorporating jazz, prog, and classical elements alongside their rich, three-part harmonies. Expect some Fleet Foxes references when the album comes out, for though Gawenda’s voice doesn’t soar like Robin Pecknold’s – it’s more of a warm blanket – the parallels are there.
Photos: Husky @ The El Mocambo – March 24, 2012
MP3: Husky – “The Woods”
Video: Husky – “The Woods”
Video: Husky – “Dark Sea”
Playing immediately after and upstairs was Teeth & Tongue, whom from press photos I’d assume were at least a duo but was in fact just transplanted New Zealander Jess Cornelius, her keyboard, and a bushel of electronically-crafted pop. The backing tracks were well-arranged to make things sound full without crossing the line into karaoke territory, and Cornelius kept the attention on her with a big voice that was impressive without being showy. Moody and just a bit shy of goth-y, I imagine Teeth & Tongue excel in a full band setup but still did quite well on her own.
Photos: Teeth & Tongue @ The El Mocambo – March 24, 2012
Video: Teeth & Tongue – “Unfamiliar Skirts”
Video: Teeth & Tongue – “Sad Sun”
Stream: Teeth & Tongue / Tambourine
Next up were Perth’s Voltaire Twins, who may have been siblings – at least professionally, Jaymes and Tegan share the Voltaire surname – but were most definitely not identical twins; they couldn’t look less alike with her a pixie-like blonde and he a Michael Cera lookalike. But superficial nitpicking aside, they put on a fun and energetic set of electro-pop heavy on synths, percussion and hooks. The songwriting felt a bit shallow but this wasn’t sit, stare into your drink and ruminate music – it was bounce around tuneage and in that department, the band led by example – even when Jaymes lost power to his setup for half of the last song, he didn’t miss a step.
Photos: Voltaire Twins @ The El Mocambo – March 24, 2012
MP3: Voltaire Twins – “Animalia”
Video: Voltaire Twins – “Animalia”
I think a lot of people have pre-conceived notions about how a two-piece, guitar/drums band will sound – blame The White Stripes, I think – but Melbourne’s Big Scary refused to fulfill those stereotypes. Rather than bombast, they focused on tightly-arranged vocals and instrumentation with Tom Iansek moving from guitar to keys and Jo Syme holding down the kit and both singing rather soulfully. Their songs were earnest and full and covered territory from moody ballads through bluesy – but not blues – rockers.
Photos: Big Scary @ The El Mocambo – March 24, 2012
MP3: Big Scary – “Autumn”
Video: Big Scary – “Leaving Home”
Video: Big Scary – “Gladiator”
Video: Big Scary – “Mix Tape”
Video: Big Scary – “Tuesday Is Rent Day”
Stream: Big Scary / MixTape
At this point it was nice – and necessary – to take a little break from the live music, but the proverbial second wind arrived just in time to carry me down to Parkdale to see The Weather Station at The Drake Underground. I knew Tamara Lindeman as one of the newer members of Bruce Peninsula but also knew that her second solo album All Of It Was Mine was getting as much praise (if not more) than that band. And rightly so; though it’s a simple recording, it’s also intricately detailed both literally and metaphorically and the arrangements may be spare but they’re also meticulously considered. Both on record and on stage, where Lindeman played guitar or banjo and was accompanied only by lap steel, a couple backing singers and drums for a couple songs, it’s evident there’s tremendous depth to the songs and the space left around them just afforded a better view and when they ended suddenly, as they sometimes did, it’s because they said what they needed to and nothing more. A remarkable set and a remarkable record. Pitchfork has an interview with Lindeman, who plays The Mod Club on April 13 in support of Bahamas.
Photos: The Weather Station @ The Drake Underground – March 24, 2012
MP3: The Weather Station – “Everything I Saw”
It was then down the street to Wrongbar for the last venue of the night and the festival. First up was Montreal five-piece The Breezes, who were a last-minute addition to the fest when Iceland’s Bloodgroup pulled out. My understanding is that the band have been somewhat… chameleonic in their musical stylings in the past, but it seems that they’ve settled – for the moment at least – on a classic guitar pop template for their sound. With their three lead vocalists, comparisons to Teenage Fanclub came to mind but are offered only with the caveat that The Breezes bring a little more swing to things and aren’t as brilliant as those Scots but that’s not really a slight – who is? They were genial performers despite the slim crowd in the early going, and really got most interesting towards the end of their set with some of their noisier or more experimental tendencies began to bleed into their songs. If they decide to shift gears again, that might be one way to go.
Photos: The Breezes @ Wrongbar – March 24, 2012
MP3: The Breezes – “Promethean Eyes”
Video: The Breezes – “Oceans”
Video: The Breezes – “Count To Eleven”
Having known Reg Vermue for some years and seen Gentleman Reg countless times, adjusting to his new identity as Regina Theegentlelady in Light Fires, his/her new project with Ohbijou’s James Bunton, has taken a little time. But that’s also because it’s taken a little time for it to coalesce from concept to execution and based on this show, it might be just about there. Though Reg/Regina’s vocals are still as distinctive as ever, their disco-ish electro is a far cry from the guitar-pop of Gentleman Reg and oh yeah, seeing him/her pulling off some fairly elaborate and aerobic dance routines to go with the songs – though climbing on top of two wobbly barstools to sing would not have topped my list of smart things to do – was also new. There’s only been a single released but an album is in the works, and if you’re waiting for more Gentleman Reg material, it might be a while – Light Fires would seem to be the priority right now.
Photos: Light Fires @ Wrongbar – March 24, 2012
Video: Light Fires – “Ten Feet Tall”
And finishing things off in grand fashion were Parisian duo Housse de Racket. Their elevator pitch would sound something like, “Phoenix meets The Strokes” and while that’s not wrong – their second album Alesia certainly has some of that eminently danceable guitar/synth-pop with that distinctive Gallic sheen to it – it wouldn’t have done the intensity of their live show justice. Pierre Leroux had synths at the ready but spent most of the show attending to – or abusing – his Telecaster while co-conspirator Victor le Masne dazzled with his heavy, yet nimble drumming. Not dancing was not an option, and while the room wasn’t nearly full – if this show had taken place outside a festival or if they’d been rightfully identified as one of the must-sees of the week rather than be overlooked, I wager at it’d have been at least 50% better attended – those there took advantage of the extra space to bust a move or two; you couldn’t not. With plenty of French charm, they worked the room like it was a much bigger crowd and by set’s end, having built up a real head of steam, were damn near heroic-sounding; a grand and dazzling end to the festival. The Georgia Straight has an interview with the band.
Photos: Housse de Racket @ Wrongbar – March 24, 2012
MP3: Housse de Racket – “Roman”
Video: Housse de Racket – “Chateau”
Video: Housse de Racket – “Roman”
Video: Housse de Racket – “Oh Yeah!”
Video: Housse de Racket – “Synthétiseur”
Video: Housse de Racket – “1-2-3-4”
And before I collapse into the weekend, which I need to do – writing up festivals is arguably more tiring than actually attending them – there’s some show announcements you should really know about.
Sweden’s We Are Serenades used to be called just Serenades but presumably they ran into some legal troubles on that front. In any case, it’s still Adam Olenius of Shout Out Louds and Markus Krunegard and their rather Euro-pop debut Criminal Heaven gets a North American release on April 17. In support, they’re putting together a North American tour and will be at The Garrison on May 14. They were one of the bands I wanted to but failed to see at SXSW, so I may try and hit this one up.
MP3: We Are Serenades – “Birds”
MP3: We Are Serenades – “Oceans”
Video: We Are Serenades – “Oceans”
One of the show announcements I’ve been waiting for all year is finally here. As Eric Bachmann promised last Summer, the Archers Of Loaf reunion is coming to Toronto on June 16 at The Phoenix as part of NXNE. Tickets are $24.50 in advance and go on sale today. Yeah I know you’ve bought Radiohead tickets. Your loss.
MP3: Archers Of Loaf – “Harnessed In Slums”
MP3: Archers Of Loaf – “What Did You Expect”
MP3: Archers Of Loaf – “Wrong”
Nashville’s JEFF The Brotherhood – just here in February – are coming back for a show at Wrongbar on June 23, tickets $13 in advance.
Video: JEFF The Brotherhood – “Whatever I Want”
And I never listened to Swedish hardcore punks Refused back when they were still around – almost the definition of not my thing – but apparently they were big enough that their reunion tour can support not one but two nights at The Sound Academy, with OFF! – themselves sporting impressive punk credentials – as support. Those dates are July 22 and 23 and tickets are $35.99 in advance.
MP3: OFF! – “King Kong Brigade”
Video: Refused – “New Noise”