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Monday, February 25th, 2008

Little Jabs


Photo by Frank Yang

Ah, musical comfort food. There’s really something to be said for hitting a show where you know the bands and you know what to expect and that’s what they deliver. For example, Saturday night’s CBC Radio3-sponsored to-do at the Horseshoe featuring Charlottetown’s Two Hours Traffic, on tour across Canada, and locals The Wooden Sky and My Shaky Jane. All of whom I’d seen in the past six months or so and who offer their own distinct but easily digestible varieties of the pop song.

My Shaky Jane serve theirs up with more than a little rock. I caught them in December opening up for The Lowest Of The Low’s final show and while I was impressed by their energy and showmanship, it was the headliners who obviously occupied all my attention that night. This time they were coming off a cross-country tour and were little more subdued but also extremely tight and gave it their all in delivering songs akin to ’60s British invasion pop dressed up in the decadence of ’70s classic rock.

By contrast, The Wooden Sky had a rougher set and not just from their more country-hewn songcraft. Their show at Tiger Bar in November showed me how good they could be but this night they just seemed out of sorts. Their set started a bit late and while their slow burn approach with a nice shift from My Shaky Jane’s all-out approach, they didn’t quite manage to get out of second gear though they did try – “North Dakota” sounded great. But full points for finishing on a high note with a solid cover of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” (there’s not nearly enough Tom Petty covers out there) though I have to make a half point deduction for not trying to tackle the outro solo. Come on.

Two Hours Traffic seem to have come a long way since I caught them at this same venue in July, and not just in terms of the odometer in their van. For starters, they packed the place this time and perhaps more tellingly, the first few rows of fans were made up of enthusiastic young girls. I can imagine the band looking out on the audience and thinking, “yes, this is why we started a band”. And what’s not to like? The PEI foursome are just a shave and a quick haircut from a cover shoot for Non-Threatening Boys magazine and they write some of the most perfect, sing-along pop songs you’ll ever hear. And while they hadn’t picked up any wacky Monkees-like stage antics – though the Magnetic Fields cover was most unexpected – there was definitely more energy and engagement than last time. But I suppose there wasn’t much need for the band to be dancing up there because the fans down front were definitely picking up the slack.

Like a big serving of musical Shepherd’s pie.

Photos: Two Hours Traffic, The Wooden Sky, My Shaky Jane @ The Horseshoe – February 23, 2008
MP3: Two Hours Traffic – “Backseat Sweetheart” (live at the Horseshoe – June 9, 2007, via CBCR3)
MP3: Two Hours Traffic – “Better Safe Than Sorry” (live at the Horseshoe – June 9, 2007, via CBCR3)
MP3: Two Hours Traffic – “Heat Seeker” (live at the Horseshoe – June 9, 2007, via CBCR3)
MP3: Two Hours Traffic – “Stuck For The Summer”
MP3: The Wooden Sky – “North Dakota”
MP3: The Wooden Sky – “The Wooden Sky”
MP3: My Shaky Jane – “The Books That She Carries”
MP3: My Shaky Jane – “Dark And Bright”
MP3: My Shaky Jane – “Youth”
Video: Two Hours Traffic – “Nighthawks”
Video: Two Hours Traffic – “Stuck For The Summer”
Video: Two Hours Traffic – “Jezebel”
Video: The Wooden Sky – “When Lost At Sea”
Stream: Two Hours Traffic / Little Jabs
MySpace: Two Hours Traffic
MySpace: The Wooden Sky
MySpace: My Shaky Jane

So Much Silence has the audio from a session The National recently recorded for WBAA. They’re apparently playing SxSW (my money’s on Saturday night at Stubb’s) and are in Toronto on June 8 at the Molson Amphitheatre opening for R.E.M..

The Hold Steady are so enthused about finishing up the recording of their fourth album, possibly titled Stay Positive, that they had to call up Pitchfork and tell them all about it.

The New York Daily News and News & Observer talk to Tift Merritt about her new album Another Country, out tomorrow. She’s at the El Mocambo on April 1.

The Times contemplates the UK music press’ habit of alternately loving and despising artists over the course of their career using the Manic Street Preachers (currently loved) as a case study.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

Stuck For The Summer

I always find it a bit tough previewing a show or reviewing an album just days before I see said act live, and then have to write up a review. After all, I’d have surely used up all my good material in the first go-around, leaving me with… what for the follow-up? Just a review of the show, I guess.

Case in point, PEI’s Two Hours Traffic, whose new record Little Jabs I gave the once-over on Sunday and in celebration of the record’s release yesterday, they played a free show at the Horseshoe last night before a pretty full and enthusiastic room. And anyone who wasn’t paying attention at first was before long, their perfect pop is just that irresistible. As a live act, Two Hours Traffic aren’t going to win any awards for on-stage antics or excess charisma. Instead, the quartet concentrated intently on playing their songs and playing them well and in this, for thirty-plus hook-filled, harmony-laden minutes, they succeeded. They sounded exceptionally tight, yet played with just enough looseness to offer some extra bounce relative to the studio recordings.

And what this show did more than anything was give me an even deeper appreciation for Little Jabs‘ perfect blend of breeziness and earnestness, and I already liked this record quite a bit. Songs that were stuck in my head from listening to the record repeatedly last week came even more alive and I’m actually a bit worried that they won’t be leaving anytime soon (I went to bed with “Nighthawks” in my head and woke up with “Heroes of the Sidewalk”), though there’s far worse cranial soundtracks one could have. It’s always exciting to see a band as young and fresh-faced as these guys are achieve as much as they already have. It’ll be fun to watch where they go from here (I mean that figuratively – literally, they’re going to play continuing to tour Southern Ontario including a Saturday afternoon set at Hillside in Guelph).

The band talks to Exclaim! about the origins of their band name (Shakespeare!) and life in the littlest province (expensive but relaxed!) while Durham Region News asks them about recording the album. Director Ron Mann talks to Chart about making the band’s video for “Jezebel”. They’re also featured this week at I Heart Music.

Photos: Two Hours Traffic @ The Horseshoe – July 24, 2007
MP3: Two Hours Traffic – “Stuck For The Summer”
Stream: Two Hours Traffic / Little Jabs
Video: Two Hours Traffic – “Stuck For The Summer” (YouTube)
Video: Two Hours Traffic – “Jezebel” (YouTube)
MySpace: Two Hours Traffic

Drowned In Sound has info on Land Of Talk’s new album… except it’s their old album. Except not. The band will re-release Applause Cheer Boo Hiss in the UK on October 22 – by my count the fourth release of this album – but with three extra tracks, thus bumping it up from mini-album status to official full-length. But where are these tracks from? Freshly recorded and a preview of the next record? Cast-offs from same? Dug out of the vaults? Ask them when they play the El Mocambo on September 4.

Some digging has revealed that Nicole Atkins & The Sea will indeed be on the bill with The Raveonettes at Lee’s Palace on October 14 – this comes from tour dates posted by Gliss, who themselves are also on the tour. Indisputable proof? Not really, but enough that I’ve added it to my calendar. And so should you.

Ryan Adams returns on September 21 to play a venue a little more spacious than last time… Massey Hall. Full tour dates at Pitchfork.

Ohbijou will be playing a free show at Harbourfront Centre on August 10 as part of the Hot’N’Spicy Food Festival. Because if there’s two adjectives I think of when I think of Ohbijou, it’s “hot” and “spicy”.

Sloan and The Golden Dogs will make up one power-poptacular bill at the CNE Bandshell on August 25. I’ve no idea if these shows are extra admission or included with entrance to the Ex.

Exclaim offers a quick guide to all of this year’s Polaris Music Prize nominees including The Dears, who tell Chart that after this weekend’s festival double-header at Hillside on Saturday and the Rogers Picnic on Sunday, they’re done playing live for the year and are working on their next album.

The Guelph Tribune previews Hillside.

Muzzle Of Bees gets nine questions with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. Droste and the Bear will be in town on September 20 for a show at the Mod Club – full Fall tour dates at Pitchfork.

The Village Voice tries to talk to Voxtrot, gets a fire drill instead. They’ll be at the Mod Club October 10.

Pitchfork has details on Jens Lekman’s new record Night Falls Over Kortedala, out in North America on October 9.

AOL Music Canada and The Toronto Star consider the current reunion trend, using Smashing Pumpkins and The Police as case studies, and not necessarily in a good way.