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Monday, December 10th, 2007

The Horseshoe

All of the local media articles commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Horseshoe Tavern (officially celebrating its birthday yesterday) have run off a list of the unforgettable shows that have earned the Queen West institution its adjective “Legendary” – Golden Smog, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Rolling Stones”, to name a few. And while I’ve seen my share of great shows there over the years – hell, over the past week – the venue’s own birthday party on Thursday night was one for the ages.

Though the performers were kept secret when the invite-only party was announced, it got out pretty quickly that it was going to be Chicagoan country-rock shitkickers The Waco Brothers – an outfit beloved by the Horseshoe owners – and the closest thing the ‘Shoe has to a house band, Toronto’s own Sadies. And, of course, where go The Sadies, special guests are sure to follow.

And follow they did. Their set could well have been released as the follow-up to their In Concert: Volume One live set as they called friends and family onstage to play with them including the Good brothers’ parents, Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor, The Skydiggers’ Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson, Waco Brothers (from different mothers) Jon Langford and Tracy Dear – all of whom came as no huge surprise – and one who did: The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie. I wouldn’t say I’ve been any sort of Hip fan for over a decade but there’s no denying the band – and especially their frontman – hold a special place in Canadiana so you could feel the energy levels in the bar, already well into the red, soar when he bounded onstage.

In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have been a shock to see him – he had played with the Sadies just last month in a performance for CBC’s Fuse and here they reprised some of that set, opening with “Fire In The Hole” from 1994’s Day For Night and closing with an absolutely searing cover of The Stooges’ “Search And Destroy” (a reasonable-quality video of which you cans see below). Maybe it’s been a while since Downie’s played a stage as small and intimate as this one but he absolutely tore it up. It’s not often that it’s the audience that needs to take a breath after a performance while the band just won’t stop.

Calling The Sadies a tough act to follow is the very definition of understatement, but the Waco Brothers are no slouches in owning a stage. I was only minimally familiar with the Wacos before this night – basically I knew who they were and what they did, on paper anyways – but thankfully there’s not that much to get. If you can appreciate the magic of country and old-school rock’n’roll welded together by sweat and margaritas, you can appreciate the Waco Brothers. With an all-request set list made up of originals and covers, they were the perfect band to play a birthday party for a bar with the musical pedigree that the ‘Shoe has. I had to bail at 1AM but have no doubt they kept their word to keep the music and beer flowing till 2AM.

Happy 60th, Horseshoe.

Glide and The Vancouver Sun have interviews with The Sadies, who will once again be at the Horseshoe for their annual New Years Eve celebrations. And the final show of the Horseshoe’s 60th anniversary celebrations, scheduled for next Monday December 17, is set to be announced today. I’ve already basically told you who it is, but when the official word is out I’ll update accordingly.

Photos: The Waco Brothers, The Sadies @ The Horseshoe – December 6, 2007
MP3: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: Gord Downie with The Sadies – “Search & Destroy” (live at the Horseshoe)
MySpace: The Waco Brothers
MySpace: The Sadies

And after a pretty packed week of ‘Shoe shows, I capped things off with Jose Gonzalez’s in-store at Sonic Boom on Friday evening. I’ve no doubt his show that same night at the Mod Club was good but I found the intimate atmosphere of the in-store, with its wood-paneled rec room vibe and polite and attentive audience, to be the perfect setting for Gonzalez. Cross-legged on the floor is the right way to enjoy his music, which was hypnotically lovely over his short set.

JAM! and The New York Daily News have conversations with Gonzalez about the political and religious undertones of his music.

Photos: Jose Gonzalez @ Sonic Boom – December 7, 2007
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop” (live)
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Crosses”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Down The Line”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Killing For Love”
MySpace: Jose Gonzalez

Spinner interfaces with Jens Lekman

CMJ talks a bit to The Acorn’s Rolf Klausener about Glory Hope Mountain, which is set for a US release on March 4 of next year and will apparently feature a bonus track, presumably not tied into the narrative thread of the rest of the record.

The New Pollution features Plants & Animals, in town Friday at the Mod Club opening for Patrick Watson. Their debut full-length Parc Avenue is out March 25 and you can check out an MP3 from said record below.

MP3: Plants & Animals – “Faerie Dance”

Win Butler of The Arcade Fire tells The Australian that getting hit in the head with a shoe can really put a damper on one’s evening.

Stay Thirsty gives Feist some travel tips for Japan.
Losing Today talks to Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy, along with Laura Barrett and The Blankket, will be performing at the Gladstone on January 9 as part of a release party for Carl Wilson’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series of books, the much-anticipated tome Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste. And yes, all the performers will be doing Celine covers. Of course. The book is out this week.

Crawdaddy talks to author Jim Walsh about his book The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History.

The Boston Herald chats with The Fiery Furnaces, in town at Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night.

Jonathan Richman will be in town February 28 for a show at the Phoenix – quite a step up from his usual digs at the Lula Lounge. Update: Never mind – Pollstar was wrong, Jonathan Rice opening for Matt Costa, which is more logical but less interesting.

The new Harold and Kumar film has a new title – Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay – and a new, decidedly non-PG trailer. It’s in theatres April 28.

Trailer: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

CONTEST – Jose Gonzalez / In Our Nature

Argentinan-born, Swedish-bred nylon-string enthusiast Jose Gonzalez is about as good an argument for allowing your music to be used in commercials as there is. While it’s not to say that he wouldn’t have made made waves exclusively on his own impressive talents, there’s no denying that allowing his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” to soundtrack a Sony Bravia commercial gave him the sort of exposure that you can’t put a price on. I’m not ashamed to admit that was the first place I heard his music.

And so now, a couple years on, he’s followed up his breakthrough debut Veneer with In Our Nature and, like its predecessor, it’s a skeletal, acoustic record built on hypnotic guitar figures and Gonzalez’s emotionally ambiguous vocals. The music is pretty, but curiously distant and guarded. Even though it draws you in with its sonic intimacy, it still keeps you at arms length. It’s a paradox that intrigues and frustrates me, but thankfully more of the former than the latter.

Gonzalez is currently on tour in support of In Our Nature and arrives for a trio of Canadian dates this week, including a stop at the Mod Club in Toronto on Friday, December 7. That same evening, he’s playing an in-store at Sonic Boom at Bloor and Bathurst, starting at 6:30PM.

And, since this is a contest, after all, I’ve got stuff to give away. Courtesy of Mute, I’ve got a grand prize consisting of copies of In Our Nature on both LP and CD, a signed poster and a bookmark. For marking books. And I’ve also got four runner-up prizes of autographed posters. For hanging on walls. To enter, email me at contests AT chromewaves.net with “I want the Jose Gonzalez stuff” in the subject line and your mailing address in the body. Contest will close at midnight, December 5.

Check out a live version of his cover of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, rearranged and properly recorded on the new record, as well as a track from Veneer and some videos from the new album. Retread has a video session and you can read an interview with Jose at Washington Square News.

MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop” (live)
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Crosses”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop” (YouTube)
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Down The Line” (YouTube)
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Killing For Love” (YouTube)
Video: Jose Gonzalez EPK (YouTube)
MySpace: Jose Gonzalez

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Know Who You Are

By rights, it should not have been nearly this difficult to write up something to describe Halifax’s Dog Day. I mean, as nebulous a descriptor as “indie rock” is, it absolutely fits as the shortest distance between two points for their latest record Night Group. With janglesome guitars, co-ed vocals, classic pop sensibilities and a stripped-down, no note wasted aesthetic they fall perfectly in line with their Maritime forebears like Sloan, Eric’s Trip, jale and Hardship Post.

And while that’s all well and good and accurate, but I hate to leave it at that because it sells Night Group far short. I’ve spun the album a lot in the last while trying to gather my thoughts and each time, something new or different jumps out at me – like rolling a 20-sided die (RPG geeks unite!) and having a different result each time. But what I find most fascinating is the way they try to balance their innate pop instincts, which recall the likes of The Go-Betweens and mid-era Wedding Present, with their obvious affection for heavier, noisier and decidedly minor-key styles in the vein of Sonic Youth. As a result, more than a few songs start out ominously before exploding in a hail of razor-sharp hooks, yet still delivered with a straight face. I’m not sure if this recipe is deliberate or incidental but either way, the tension it creates is delicious.

I was going to finish that last paragraph off with something like “…and it sets this Dog apart from the pack” but didn’t. You’re welcome. JAM! and The Toronto Star get to know Dog Day, who are into the home stretch of a three-month North American tour and stop in at the Drake Underground in Toronto on Saturday, December 1.

MP3: Dog Day – “Oh Dead Life”
MP3: Dog Day – “Use Your Powers”
Video: Dog Day – “Oh Dead Life” (Blip)
Video: Dog Day – “Lydia” (YouTube)
MySpace: Dog Day

The Airfields have finally finished work on their debut full-length, or at least intend to very soon as they’ve got a CD release show scheduled at Sneaky Dee’s for February 2 of next year. Happy Groundhog Day indeed.

JAM! talks to Pete Carmichael of The Diableros.

Joel Gibb briefs Exclaim! about what 2008 has in store for The Hidden Cameras and mentions that the band will be playing the Hart House at U of T on December 13 for an AIDS benefit.

Chart brings holiday tidings from The New Pornographers in the form of a digital-only Christmas EP out on Tuesday in the US and on December 11 in Canada.

Here’s a show announcement that’s a little odd, a little unexpected and a lot welcome – February 9 at the Mod Club, Keren Ann and Dean & Britta. Will Keren Ann rock it up a bit or will Dean & Britta mellow out some? We’ll have to wait and see. Full tour dates are available here and head over to A Head Full Of Wishes for details on Dean and Britta’s limited-edition (500 pieces) Christmas 7″ single, available to pre-order now.

Crawdaddy looks at how everything old is new again, talking to The Hold Steady, The Pipettes and Jack Penate as research.

The Cleveland Free Times and The Georgia Straight talk to Jose Gonzalez, in town next Friday for an in-store at Sonic Boom and a proper show at the Mod Club.

The Tripwire reports that a release date has finally been set for the new Portishead record – they say record number three will be out in the UK on March 31 and speculate that means April 1 for North America. Of course, we all know what April 1 is, right? That’s right. TUESDAY.

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Lola Who?

Montreal label Secret City Records has had a charmed, if brief, existence. When this year’s Polaris Music Prize nominees were announced, their entire catalog was on the short list and one of them, Patrick Watson’s Close To Paradise, would end up taking the top honours.

So understandably, expectations are high for their third domestic signing, Montreal’s Plants & Animals. I caught them at Hillside back in July and found their psych-country-but-not sound intriguing but now, as I listen to their debut Avec/With EP, I’m trying to reconcile the band that I saw that afternoon with the one on this record and not quite managing to do it.

Though only four tracks deep, Avec/With covers a lot of stylistic ground and ranges so broadly that it’s hard to get a handle on exactly what Plants & Animals actually sound like. On the plus side, opener “Lola Who?” is a sumptuous bit of acoustic pop that builds like a steam train taking aim at the Beatles with the ghost of Jeff Buckley in the engineer’s cabin. On the negative side, their closing cover of the spiritual standard “Sinnerman”, done Latin-style, sounds like being trapped at a particularly heinous hippie jam with Santana’s band. Not a good place to be.

There is a common thread that runs throughout, though, and it leads right back to The Byrds circa Fifth Dimension, and their heady blend of psychedelia, folk and pop. It’s a deep well to draw from and Plants & Animals have certainly got the chops and creativity to take it somewhere interesting though I’d recommend steering clear of jam-land in the future. Their full-length Parc Avenue comes out next year and I’m going to hold back on laying Polaris 2008 odds until I hear it, see if they get their identity a bit more cohesive-like.

Chart has run a couple pieces on the band recently and eye has a feature this week on account of the band being in town to play not one but two shows this weekend. The first at Lee’s Palace tomorrow night as part of the Wood Wires & Whiskey tour with Elliott Brood and the second on Saturday night at the Drake Underground with Forest City Lovers and Great Bloomers.

And courtesy of Secret City and No Shame, I’ve got two pairs of passes to give away to the Saturday show. It’s an early show (doors at 7) so if you’ve got a late evening planned (or no evening at all) and want to check this out, email me at contests AT chromewaves.net with “I want Plants & Animals” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Contest closes at midnight tonight.

MP3: Plants & Animals – “Feedback In The Field”
MySpace: Plants & Animals

Neil Young discusses Chrome Dreams II, the Archives project and the ongoing tour which brings him to Massey Hall in a week and a half with USA Today.

Want to help out a worthy local band? Head over to www.superviseandscore.com and vote for The Coast to perform on the Around The World For Free reality show thing. I don’t know what this is, but The Coast are good so go there and make with the clickly. The Coast are just finishing up recording their full-length debut which I’m looking forward to hearing in the new year.

Carl Newman talks to Wireless Bollinger about New Pornography.

A Broken Social roundup: Pitchfork reports on Metric’s forthcoming live DVD – Live At Metropolis out February 12 – and iTunes EP with material from the same show. Gothamist talks to Kevin Drew and Chart finds out how the Stars early digital release strategy for In Our Bedroom After The War worked out.

The fourth and final installment of Soft Focus’ sit down with Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine is now up. And via Drowned In Sound… TOUR DATES. I hear Glasgow is lovely in July…

In-store news – The Acorn’s set at Soundscapes on November 24 has been moved from 4PM to 5PM and Sonic Boom will host Jose Gonzalez on December 7 at 6:30, before his show at Mod Club that same night.

The bonus EP for Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is now available. If you already own a copy of the CD, just pop it into your computer and follow the instructions to download the goodies. Easy as falling off a log.

I picked up Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together yesterday… so good. I think more than anything else right now, this comic makes me proud to be a Torontonian though I do wish my life was a fraction as interesting as the Scott Pilgrim’s is. Comic Book Resources has an interview with creator Bryan Lee-O’Malley.