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Monday, October 5th, 2009

All Delighted People

Sufjan Stevens and Cryptacize at Lee's Palace in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIn a recent interview posted to the Asthamtic Kitty website in which Sufjan Stevens interviewed former bandmate and now labelmate Shannon Stephens, Stevens (note spelling) said, “I’m at a point where I no longer have a deep desire to share my music with anyone, having spent many years imparting my songs to the public”. A curious sentiment that might have seemed truthful a couple months ago, when he was still largely a recluse, choosing not to follow up his 2005 opus Illinois with anything resembling a conventional record, instead favouring multimedia projects and reissues. But you couldn’t say he wasn’t much for sharing with him midway through a short, surprise tour that saw him playing venues many times smaller than his patient and devoted fanbase could easily fill and playing a wealth of new material that wasn’t really ready what you’d call “finished”. Not that anyone in the beyond-sold out Lee’s Palace on Thursday night cared.

Support came from Los Angeles’ Cryptacize, whose second record Mythomania has found its way in and out of rotation over the Summer. Some of it I find beguiling, some of it boring, but it’s generally an interesting listen, like a stack of girl group, surf, Bossa Nova and prog-rock 7″s were left out on a beach in the California sun and melted together. Fronted by the classic and crystalline voice of Nedelle Torrisi, who would also cover keys and backing vocals in Stevens’ band, their set was generally enjoyable – they certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves – but probably ran a bit long for the anxious crowd, many of whom had been standing in line since late afternoon to get a prime vantage point for Stevens.

Stevens’ last two Toronto appearances in November 2004 and September 2005 were full and proper productions for Michigan/Seven Swans and Illinois respectively, complete with costumes and synchronized stage moves, so it was evident that this night was going to be something different when the band came out in regular casual street clothes and roadied their own gear, Stevens included, to the sound of much shrieking. And “casual” would be the key word for the night, followed closely by “beautiful”, “intimate” and, well, “sloppy”. The “beautiful” is a given for anyone who’s familiar with Stevens’ orchestral folk-pop compositions and the “intimate” aspect of the show has already been covered. As for the “sloppy”, well that’s not necessarily a criticism because if anyone can make missed cues and barely-remembered lyrics endearing, it’s Stevens. But even as far into the tour as they were, it was clear they were still feeling out the new material – mostly via extended jamming with Stevens taking the opportunity to show off his electric guitar chops – and getting reacquainted with the old.

As expected, the the nearly two-hour set drew from Stevens’ last four records – including Illinois outtakes collection The Avalanche – and four new songs. I’d originally thought there were five, but the one I thought the best of the bunch, the Simon & Garfunkel-quoting “All Delighted People”, actually dates back to 2000 though the version performed was almost unrecognizable against the original. By and large, the new material, which was described by Stevens as “long-form”, demonstrated that he has lost none of his flair for grandiose musical statements and is enjoying working without the constraints of a theme (or state) to write around. By no means did any of it feel ready – if it were released on an album in their present form, they’d probably be met largely with head-scratching – but as a teaser of where he’s going and what’s possibly to come, it was tantalizing. And the old material was, as stated, beautiful. I’d forgotten how stunning Stevens’ voice was live, so fragile yet powerful, and moments like “To Be Alone With You”, “Casimir Pulaski Day” and the still-chilling encore of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” were jaw-dropping if not quite audience-silencing. With no sign as to when a new record will be forthcoming, let alone when he’ll undertake another proper tour, this show would have to keep Stevens’ fans satisfied for possibly a long time. And as much as you can be satisfied while never wanting it to end, it delivered.

There’s further reviews of the show at Exclaim and Panic Manual. Cryptacize are heading back on tour next month with The Fiery Furnaces and will be at the El Mocambo on November 7. Sufjan Stevens’ film in tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway – The BQE – will be screening for one night only at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto on October 25 at 7:30, tickets $10 in advance online or at Soundscapes. Stevens’ Run Rabbit Run is out tomorrow and the The BQE is out on October 20.

Photos: Sufjan Stevens, Cryptacize @ Lee’s Palace – October 1, 2009
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Movement VI—Isorhythmic Night Dance With Interchanges”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “The Henney Buggy Band”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Casimir Pulaski Day”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Sister”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Holland”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Year Of The Dog”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Year Of The Tiger”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Demetrius”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “A Winner Needs A Wand”
MP3: Cryptacize – “Blue Tears”
MP3: Cryptacize – “One Block Wonders”
MP3: Cryptacize – “Mini-Mythomania” (C Spencer Yeh remix)
MP3: Cryptacize – “Tail And Mane”
MP3: Cryptacize – “Cosmic Sing Along”
MP3: Cryptacize – “No Coins”
Video: Cryptacize – “Tail And Mane”
Video: Cryptacize – “Blue Tears”
Video: Cryptacize – “Cosmic Sing Along”
MySpace: Sufjan Stevens
MySpace: Cryptacize

The Riverfront Times talks to St Vincent’s Annie Clark, who released the first part of a tour video, compiled from footage taken over the Summer.

The Mountain Goats have released a first video from The Life Of The World To Come, out tomorrow. The record is also up to stream:

Video: The Mountain Goats – “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace”
Stream: The Mountain Goats / The Life Of The World To Come

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session with Death Cab For Cutie.

Dog Day are releasing a super-limited, vinyl-only EP entitled Elder Schoolhouse, out in late October. No digital versions of the songs are planned, save for the MP3 and live video below, so if you want, get yourself a turntable. Dog Day play the Horseshoe on November 5.

MP3: Dog Dag – “Synastry”
Video: Dog Day – “Neighbour” and “Sleeping Waiting” (live at Elder Schoolhouse)

Swedish electro-pop outfit Little Dragon have booked a North American tour in support of new record Machine Dreams, out domestically on October 20, and that includes a date at Wrongbar in Toronto on November 18.

MP3: Little Dragon – “Blinking Pigs”

Zero 7 have set a date at the Phoenix for December 3 in support of their new record Yeah Ghost.

Saturday, October 8th, 2005

Black Metallic

Going into last night’s Rob Dickinson show at the Horseshoe, there were a few questions that remained unanswered. Who was opening? When they promised Rob solo, did they mean solo from Catherine Wheel or solo from anyone else, acoustic troubadour style? And who, more than one person asked when I told them what I was doing last night, was Rob Dickinson?

I won’t bother addressing the last question, because it makes me feel old. And to the first question, I have no idea. I arrived just as Rob’s set was starting and the sandwich board out front only read “& guests”. Not even “special guests”. No one I talked to knew who I missed. Finally, as for the configuration, the answer was both and neither. Rob was indeed playing acoustically, but he brought along a second guitarist and keyboardist and was definitely not above running his Taylor acoustic through a bank of pedals. This unconventional configuration necessitated a rearrangement of most of the songs from Rob’s new album Fresh Wine For The Horses, but it worked really well. There wasn’t a lot of hard, fast material in the set so the bed of acoustic guitars and thick keyboards did a fine job of laying the musical bed for Rob’s amazing vocals to soar over.

I had forgotten how powerful his voice is – though it broke and rasped at a few points, Dickinson managed to remind everyone that he probably has one of the best voices anywhere in rock music. Warm and chatty with the adoring crowd (the ‘Shoe was near packed – Toronto has always been freakishly adoring of the Catherine Wheel), he was able to switch it into raw intensity as soon as the music started. Goosebump-inducing. The bulk of the set was drawn from Fresh Wine, which is actually a better record than I had expected, but he naturally closed things out with Catherine Wheel material – the main set with a gorgeous “Heal” and the encore with “Future Boy” and “Black Metallic”. Even with the stripped down band configuration, they managed to create a convincing wall of sound that retained all the majesty of the fully amplified album versions. I don’t know if Rob is going to get the tour support from Sanctuary to continue touring his record, but even if he doesn’t, I’m sure it’s comforting to know that he’ll always be able to pack a house with the faithful in Toronto.

Since I arrived late, there was no fighting my way through the wall of big dudes to get up front. I did manage to squeeze close enough in to get some decent pics. They really had Rob lit up really well on stage – and he was sweating buckets as a result. That’s the price of rock, Rob.

Zoilus’ secret identity of Carl Wilson has a piece in today’s Globe & Mail about the re-emergence of the storyteller in indie rock, using upcoming shows by The Decemberists (October 13th @ The Phoenix), The Fiery Furnaces (October 10 @ Lee’s Palace) and Destroyer (October 9 @ The Phoenix) to make his point.

Starting this week and running every week through December, American Analog Set will be making available demos for every song from their new album Set Free on their website. Go to the “recordings” section of their site to grab the first one, for “Immaculate Heart”. And thank them by going to see them at the Horseshoe on November 13. Thanks to Andy from the Galaxie 500 mailing list (and a defunct AmAnSet fanpage) for the info.

Stylus has finished compiling their week-long countdown of the 50 best movies of the ’90s ’00s. If you don’t feel like scrolling down, The Royal Tennenbaums takes top spot, to no one’s surprise considering Stylus’ demographic. I’m not challenging the selection, just saying that when I saw it, I though, “figures”. Myself, I’ve seen 30 of these 50, more than I’d expected. I guess that explains why I can never find anything to rent at the video store. I’ve already seen most of the good stuff.

np – Bob Dylan / The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964 – Concert at Philharmonic Hall

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

Watching The Dark

I think it would be an exercise in futility to try and offer up any sort of proper introduction to Richard Thompson for those unfamiliar with his work – kind of like trying to introduce Bob Dylan to someone but without at the least being able to say, “Blowing In The Wind – surely you know that one?”. What I can say without an ounce of exagerration or hyperbole, is that Thompson is one of the finest singer/songwriter/guitarists alive today. From his early days with 60s English folk-rock legends Fairport Convention through his present-day solo career, Thompson has released countless records featuring his droll, dry English wit, dark and incisive songwriting, distinctive baritone and searing fretwork on both acoustic and electric guitars.

I read somewhere that apart from maybe Neil Young, no one else ever arrived on the music scene as such a fully-formed creative entity. Young is actually an excellent parallel for Thompson, as both are equally at home in folk and rock idioms, forged their own often-unfashionable career paths and have been gifted with incredible longevity for it. Granted, Neil is a little bit more of a household name, but the comparisons are valid. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’m such a fan of both. I’d like to go so far as to say that RT’s been a big influence on my guitar playing but that’d be grossly overstating my abilities – his bagpipe/Celtic-influenced style is so singular I don’t think anyone could say they’ve copped his style. Instead, I’ll just mention that I bought my acoustic guitar based largely on how much it looked like Thompson’s Lowden and my Telecaster has the same odd pickup configuration as his custom Ferrington. And I used to have a Fender Vibroverb reissue like him, but couldn’t get it to sound any good. Win some, lose some.

While he always has and probably will always remain beneath the radar of the mainstream, it’s nice to see he’s getting some attention on the eve of the release of his new album Front Parlour Ballads (out next Tuesday) – The media page at Thompson’s website does a fine job of rounding up RT-related links on the interweb. He tells The Times about coaching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son in football and the joys of working in the cultural void that is Los Angeles, while The Sunday Herald finds out about the problems of being a Muslim – even a white one – in the current political climate. And a few months ago Being There ran a piece on one former Thompson-hater’s proverbial moment on the road to Damascus.

Thompson’s bio offers a better summary of the man’s work than I ever could. Interested parties could start with his Watching The Dark three-disc compilation, Action Packed!, which collects his work for Capitol in the 80s and 90s, or wait for the 5-CD box set (plus a bonus disc with early pressings) planned for release in early 2006.

Here’s a sampling of both the folk and rock sides of Thompson’s work in a live setting – “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” comes from his Rumour & Sigh album and may be as close to a signature song as he has (though I’d still vote for “Shoot Out The Lights”). “Hard On Me” comes from 1999’s Mock Tudor and has some truly terrifying guitarwork. And don’t worry – his songwriting is strong enough to appeal even to non-guitar geeks.

MP3: Richard Thompson – “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” (live)

MP3: Richard Thompson – “Hard On Me” (live)

Guitar Player, incidentally the first place I heard of Thompson (natch) proves to be a good source of blog-fodder too, with interviews with Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker and New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Phil Cunningham.

And continuing on theme – The Washington Blade talks to Bob Mould, avowed Thompson devotee. Check out the mp3 of the week, if you haven’t already. Link via Bob.

For a minute this post over at Brooklynvegan got me all excited because it looked like the National/Clap Your Hands Say Yeah tour had actually been rescheduled a bit such that the Toronto show was now on September 3 instead of the 18th – in other words, when I was still in town! Unfortunately, closer inspection shows that CYHSY will be in town at the Horseshoe on September 3 for their own show, and will not be accompanying The National across the border a couple weeks later. Boo. Clap your hands and say whatever. Also boo – For The Records reports that Jens Lekman has cancelled his October 18 show at the Music Gallery, but hopes to make it up here in November for a solo show. Again – boo. But finally, a yay – The Fiery Furnaces will be at Lee’s Palace on October 10. I’m not the hugest fan of their records but am convinced that the live show is something I must see.

The Nonist has published a helpful brochure to assist those suffering with Blog Depression. My God, I thought I was the only one! Thanks to Lots Of Co for the pointer. I’m not alone! I can be free! I quit!

See you tomorrow.

np – Uncle Tupelo / No Depression