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Friday, May 20th, 2005

More Adventurous

It’s been an eventful eight months for Rilo Kiley since they were last in town at the Horseshoe in October. Their profile and fanbase has grown immensely, More Adventurous has shown up on plentiful best-of lists for 2004, they’ve signed to a major label (Warner Bros) and will be playing the biggest venues of their careers later this Summer when they open for Coldplay across North America. In fact, I fully expect this to be perhaps the last time I see them – if they continue this trajectory, they’ll be playing far larger venues at far higher prices than I’ll probably be inclined to pay. Having gone to a number of bigger shows in the last few months, I know for a fact that I really prefer the smaller ones. I was fairly disappointed in Rilo Kiley’s Horseshoe show – the performance was decent (more on that in a bit) but the sound was awful (at least from where I was) and I had some pretty high expectations of that one that were not met. I was certainly hoping to bring some more positive gig memories away with me last night.

The bill last night was oddly similar to the one that came through last Fall. Two openers – the first one a saccharine-sweet co-ed pop collective (The Brunettes instead of Tilly & The Wall) and the second a mildly brooding but sensitive indie-rock outfit fronted by a really skinny guy (Nada Surf instead of Now It’s Overhead). Deliberate? Coincidence? I do not know.

The Brunettes were such an unexpected treat when they opened for The Shins last month that I did wonder if they’d be as beguiling the second time around. One thing was certain, anyway – they were smaller. Last time, they were touring as a 7-piece – this time, there were only five. Maybe two of them got confiscated at the border? Their set was an abbreviated and somewhat stripped down version of the one they played with The Shins and it went over wonderfully. I suspect much of the crowd had already been converted at that Shins show (same audience demographic) – the response had the zeal of the converted. They were much fun and knowing some of the songs this time around made it that much more enjoyable. Yay, Brunettes.

The last time I saw Nada Surf was the last time I was at the Opera House – a year and a half ago opening for Death Cab. I thought it a little odd that they were touring without a new record to push and almost two years since Let Go came out, but hey – you gotta pay the rent, I guess. I’m not a huge fan of the band. I like them alright on record – Let Go was a pretty good pop album – but live, they scored pretty low on the charismo-meter and pretty high on the bland-o-tron. Well after having a couple years to work out the kinks and refine their live show… they’re still rolling threes. Their overly-long set drew mostly from Let Go and also included a couple of new numbers from their next album, out in September. I didn’t really mind them, per se, but when you’re standing on the most painful floor in Toronto, you don’t want to spend any more time waiting around than is absolutely necessary. I’m sending the bill for my Robaxacet to Nada Surf.

While my next-day review of the last Rilo Kiley show wasn’t especially harsh, my long-term memories are a little less kind. Besides the craptacular sound at that show, I recall that the band seemed a little grumpy. Not a lot of smiling or good vibes, and the performance, while polished, seemed more perfunctory than passionate (oh, the alliteration!). So as I said, I was hoping this one would make up for it. And that it did – in spades. It’s rare that I end up prefering the large venue gig to the small club one, but this show simply stomped all over the Horseshoe show from last October. The band has gotten much tighter and more confident – there was a swagger in their performance that certainly wasn’t there before and they took full advantage of the additional onstage real estate. That they seemed to really be enjoying themselves this time around probably helped the mood of the show as well. The set list was an almost perfectly-paced mix of numbers from More Adventurous and Execution Of All Things (as well as one new song). It took them a couple songs to get the mix sorted out but when they did, it sounded fantastic. At long last I was able to hear Jenny Lewis’ voice loud and clear and it really is a marvelous thing. I’m a little sad that Rilo Kiley’s star is rising so fast and so high. They’re moving onto bigger and better things but I had selfishly hoped that they could stay underground not forever, but just a little bit longer. But if they have to go – and go they do, stardom beckons – then last night’s show was one hell of a farewell gift.

I didn’t make it up to the front for this show – whole lotta tall folks in line ahead of me – so I was shooting from the front of the mezzanine, maybe 15 metres back. The pictures turned out somewhat better than I expected, but not great. Noisy, a lot of crowd in the shots (the stage at the Opera House is low!) and not especially dynamic in composition. Not terrible, but certainly not worth staying up later than I already did to go through them. Check back tomorrow if you wanna see.

Oh yeah, note to the Opera House – bathroom attendants? What the fuck?

And on the topic of the band getting bigger, Jenny Lewis talks to Boston.com about the indie/major tightrope they’re trying to walk (via LHB). Update: The National Post’s Adam Radwanski also covers the topic with Ms Lewis.

Pop (All Love) calls me the Canadian indie blogosphere’s “own Bill O’Reilly. Only less evil”. Thanks, man! I’ll work on those sexual harrassment suits as soon as I can. It is now my mission to have someone register www.sweetjesusihatechromewavesdotnet.com. Oh, and there is a context for his comments, thanks.

PopMatters starts to talk to Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers about The Holy Bible‘s 10th anniversary, and then… digresses.

np – Godspeed You Black Emperor! / Yanqui U.X.O.

Monday, October 4th, 2004

It's A Hit

To quote Danny Glover, “I’m getting to old for this shit”. The last of three shows in three nights was queued up for last night, and it was probably my most anticipated of the three. Rilo Kiley can lay claim to having released one of my favourite records of the year in More Adventurous so I was obviously hoping the live show could enhance the musical experience.

Interestingly, the bill for the tour read like a snapshot of Saddle Creek through the ages – you had Rilo Kiley, who left the label, Tilly & The Wall, currently on the ‘farm team’ imprint, Team Love. Not that that means anything, I just found it interesting.

Tilly & The Wall are a 10-legged tap-dancing diabetic coma waiting to happen – they are so cute it borders on sickening. Taking the stage with a “T! I! L! L! Y!” chant, the combo immediately got their game on tapping, stomping and singing. As was pointed out to me, only Jamie Williams actually taps – Neely Jenkins and Kianna Alarid just stomp along while singing. But whatever you want to call it, whenever you get three cute girls in short skirts dancing and singing, a good time is going to be had. Their music is buoyant and happy and infectious like ebola, and while it is gimmicky (they tap dance for pete’s sake), it’s never jokey. They played a short 40-minute set, and while the crowd wanted more (they took a little while to comprehend what they were seeing), it might be for the best that they kept it brief. I’m not sure how much a body could take without needing an insulin shot.

The middle slot belonged to Athens, Georgia’s Now It’s Overhead. If you want to know what they sound like, just imagine what you’d think college rock in the mid 1990s would sound like. You’re pretty much there. NIE are a jangly, riffy, electronic-tinged, earnest and no doubt sensitive amalgam of everything you’d think a US college radio station would have played during the Clinton years. Live, their material was stronger than the samples I got off the website had hinted at and any act that brings uber-cutie Orenda Fink to town has my gratitude (leave me alone, I’ve had a crush on her since her Little Red Rocket days). Curiously, her Azure Ray cohort and NIE keyboardist Maria Taylor wasn’t along for the trip. Overall, I didn’t mind their set at all though follwing the nuttiness of Tilly & The Wall and leading into the hotly anticipated headliner, they came off as a little bit bland. They could be going onto bigger and better things, though – after they wrap up this tour, they will be supporting fellow Athenians REM on a leg of their North American tour.

If nothing else, Rilo Kiley can say they drew an exponentially larger audience this time around last time around – instead of the seven people or so who caught them at their Toronto debut in 2002, there were at least 49 in the audience last night, probably more. The band wasn’t to be outdone, though, doubling their on-stage contingent to eight – in addition to the core band there was a 2-piece string section, Orenda from Now It’s Overhead on trumpet and a third guitarist. The setlist drew mainly from More Adventrous and The Execution Of All Things, though they reached back to Take-Offs And Landings for “Small Figures In A Vast Expanse”. A nice treat was having the introduction to “The Execution Of All Things” rearranged for plucked strings, to great effect, and the charming-if-not-entirely-successful false ending of “I Never”. For the encore, Blake performed “Ripchord” solo, stopping between verses to gently chide a couple audience members for talking while he played (“This isn’t like TV, I can hear you!”) and then bringing the band back on to close things out.

All in all, a great and energetic performance that was sadly marred by the atrocious sound – everything was excessively loud, the mix was bad and the show suffered for it. This isn’t just my old man ears complaining, I know loud but my ears were almost in physical pain from the sonic assault. The vocals were barely audible at the start of the show and only improved incrementally as the night went on. The biggest culprit was the third guitarist who apparently felt that being number three meant having to be louder than one and two put together. I tried putting the earplugs in for the louder numbers and taking them out for the quieter ones with limited success. Note to self – get some proper fitted earplugs. NOW.

As always, lighting at the show started out great and got progressively darker. Sigh. Stupid Horseshoe. Pics here.

The New York Times profiles Nonesuch, the little major label that actually believes in crazy things like artistic integrity and good music. What a concept.

News from Pernice Brothers-land. They are prepping a DVD for release next month and have a new CD ready to drop in late January/early February of next year which will feature the recording debut of the current touring lineup.

Sad sad day for Canadian baseball yesterday. The Expos played their final game in Montreal and the Jays capped their worst season in over two decades with another loss which was likely the final game of longtime franchise player Carlos Delgado. All that seemed inconsequential, however, with news that former Jay pitcher John Cerutti was found dead at the age of 44 in his hotel room before the game. Cerutti was a mainstay of the pitching staff in the late 80s when the Jays captured the AL East pennant in 85 and 89, when I started watching baseball, and had been Jays commentator for CBC and SportsNet since the 97 season. Rest in peace, John. Dave Perkins of The Toronto Star has a eulogy.

np – Tilly & The Wall / Wild Like Children

Saturday, August 14th, 2004

Small Figures In A Vast Expanse

The Forests Have Feelings Too show at Magic Pony was pretty dang cool. Showcasing the work of Nathan Jurevicius, almost the entire shop was filled with figurines large and small, original artwork, prints and sketches from his Scarygirl comic strip. There was also a collection of figurines decorated by local folks (including Graig and Carla), some fantastic, some disturbing. His work definitely has a Tim Burton influence, but with a more whimsy and less creepiness and a definite Japanese flavour. I like his stuff a lot. I bought a little figurine thingee that you assemble yourself in grand Mr Potatohead fashion. Some pics from the exhibition, which runs through September 18, here.

Magic Pony is a neat shop – I am definitely going back to pick up some of the Kozyndan prints they have for sale (and very reasonably priced, too). I’ve loved their work since they designed the artwork for the two Postal Service singles (The District Sleeps Alone Tonight and Such Great Heights) but didn’t know that the prints would be available locally. Yay. This one, titled “The Household”, is the one I want, though I wouldn’t be surprised if I got this one as well – just look at the detail on them. Amazing. I’m not sure where I’d put them up yet, the walls in my apartment are weirdly-shaped and not necessarily conducive to hanging artwork, but I’ll find somewhere.

After the show we headed over to the Horseshoe to catch some local music. There were four bands on the bill but we were only collectively interested in two of them, The Frontier Index and The Parkas. There’ll be no comment on the other two bands – Supergarage I didn’t stick around for and Stirling… Well, if you can’t say anything nice (and I could say a lot not nice), then we’ll leave it at that.

Carla had been telling me about Frontier Index since I missed them (but she hadn’t) opening for Preston School Of Industry earlier this year. The stuff on their website sounded promising so I made a note to try and catch them the next time the opportunity presented itself. They trade in fairly standard ‘cosmic American music’ (read: alt.country) but with some particular attention paid to the ‘cosmic’ part of that. The unconventional spacey and textural lead guitar work was distinctive as well as their glorious three-part harmonies which weren’t used nearly enough. It looks like these guys are on an upward trajectory, if the remarkable attendance in place for their early set is any indication. Furthermore, word is they’re on the verge of signing with Rainbow Quartz though their country-esque sound would probably be more at home on their Turquiose Mountain imprint. Good stuff, and worth watching.

Then Stirling played. I blacked out for about an hour.

I saw Thunder Bay-via-London’s The Parkas last year at an Endearing Records showcase at CMW last year, and while I think I liked them alright, I don’t remember anything about them. They certainly made more of an impression last night, though. Going through some recent lineup flux, they were playing with a couple of ringers to fill in for a departed guitarist/vocalist but if that had put them off their game at all, I certainly couldn’t tell. The guys are a quintissentially Canadian rock band (in the Joel Plaskett vein, not April Wine) and sure know how to throw a party and work a crowd. I didn’t know any of their stuff and still had a great time at the show – that’s not an easy feat. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the band that had to follow them.

I got pics of the Frontier Index and Parkas sets here.

The Rilo Kiley/Now It’s Overhead/Tilly & The Wall show has a venue – you will want to be at the Horseshoe on October 3 to take in the show.

Okay, wait a minute – THIS is the guy who beat me for best music blog this year? Only Moby could make a night out with strippers, cocaine, booze and all-night sex sound utterly lame and pathetic. Bitter? Me? Nah. From 10:51am Toronto.

np – Sonic Youth / Daydream Nation

Wednesday, August 11th, 2004

Wires And Waves

Rilo Kiley may have left Saddle Creek to release More Adventurous (out next Tuesday) on their own Brute/Beaute label, but they still seem to like partying with the Nebraskans. Joining them on their Fall tour will be former labelmates Now It’s Overhead (featuring Maria and Orenda from Azure Ray) and tap-dancing Tilly & The Wall. The October 2 Toronto date still hasn’t been confirmed, but I’d imagine they’ll be playing Lee’s Palace. Apparently the last time they played Canada it was to a whopping 5 people… That apocryphal factoid was taken from the preface of this interview with Jenny Lewis, and isn’t a direct quote. I don’t know what they’re talking about, their last time in T.O. was Fall 2002 at Lee’s Palace opening for Idaho, and while I wasn’t there I have to think that there was more than just the bar staff in attendance. (Photo by Wendy Lynch for Under The Radar)

Speaking of Saddle Creek, Bright Eyes will be releasing not one, but two new albums in January, one “traditional and folksy”, the other “more digital and poppy”. The incomporable Emmylou Harris does backing vocals on three tracks on the first album – now there’s a bizarre combination of voices. Anyway, both albums are intended for release on the same day next year. For the record, Bright Eyes are still on my shit list for cancelling their show in town last summer out of SARS fears, doing absolutely nothing to dispell Conor Oberst’s reputation as a scaredy cat. Hear that Conor? You’re on my shit list. Gonna cry? Gonna write a song about it?

The Morning News had a terrific round-table discussion about MP3 blogs with some of the top names in the game, including Sean from Said The Gramophone and Dave from Largehearted Boy, two of my daily reads. There’s a lot of good discussion about the value and influence mp3 blogs have to promote new music and each blogger’s personal aesthetic. There’s even a shout-out from Dave to your’s truly (thanks, Dave!). If nothing else, it reminded me why my site will never properly qualify as an mp3 blog – I’m lazy and they sound like a helluva lot of work. I have my hands full with daily posting and a weekly mp3.

The Online Film Critics Society has compiled their 100 Most Overlooked Films of the 1990s. I don’t know exactly what their definition of “overlooked” is – I see films that have amassed great critical acclaim and more than a few Oscar nominees on the list – but it’s probably just meant as a list of “films we like that weren’t blockbusters”. I’ve seen a mere twenty of these selections, perhaps I’ve found a new list for when I hit the video store without a clue of what to rent? Oh yeah, glad to see Truly, Madly, Deeply ranked so high up on the list – that’s been a long-time favourite of mine. Alan Rickman’s best role and he’s not even playing a villain! It’s what Ghost could have been if it didn’t suck so hard. If you haven’t seen it, do so. And if you’re making fun of me for liking a chick flick, fuck you.

The Bourne Supremacy was solid – not in the 70s Blaxploitation film hero/heroine sense, but in the ‘that was entertaining and did not have massive plot holes that offended my very being’ way. It’s much less character-driven than the first film and much more action-oriented. Matt Damon pretty much has one facial expression through the whole film, that of stony-faced determination, Julia Stiles cries like a little girl, Brian Cox is a bad guy and Franka Potente probably gets the easiest second-billing she’ll ever have. Much has been made of Paul Greengrass’ hyper-kinetic direction, with super-fast cuts through all the action sequences, and for the most part it works. The shaky-cam does get annoying at times but it’s not so overbearing as to be disruptive. Somehow your brain is able to process all the images being thrown at it and assemble a coherent idea of what is transpiring. That or I was just imagining the car chases out of Ronin instead.

David O Russell’s new film I (Heart) Huckabees will be playing at the TIFF in September. It will be gala premiere, so I would think it’s reasonable to assume that some of the cast will be in town for the festivities – Helloooo Naomi Watts. I’ve found my #1 choice for ticket selections.

So… the Olympics start on Friday, right? I like the Olympics. These sorts of sporting events are pretty much the only time you’ll find me being all “rah rah” patriotic, ever. Not face-painting foam-finger “rah rah”, but following sports and results for Canada that I usually have absolutely no interest in. “How did we do in table tennis?!?”

And finally, witness – Best. Ad. Ever. From TMFTML.

np – Paco / This Is Where We Live