Quantcast

Posts Tagged ‘Rae Spoon’

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Saturation Complete

Fresh Snow and Mimico at The Boat in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI don’t spend nearly as much time in the clubs scouting out new local acts as I used to – and relative to some who do this, I never spent that much time on that beat anyways – but last Thursday night at The Boat, I was reminded of what I liked and disliked about it. The “dislike” basically comes down to set times that always run at least a half hour and more likely an hour behind and thus being out far later than I’d like, the generally terrible venue lighting, and the greater than usual odds of seeing music that just doesn’t do anything for you. And under “like”, you’ve really only got one point – the prospect of seeing something great emerge before your eyes and ears.

That wasn’t really the case with Mimico, whom I arrived in time to see but would have missed had things been running on time. The stuff I’d listened to from their self-titled EP wasn’t bad in a rough, Kraftwerk-y post-punk sort of way but they couldn’t translate it live. Perhaps if they’d had their MIA drummer, it’d have been more engaging but as a two-piece synth-guitar duo playing over tinny drum machine patterns, it was far more meandering and failed to come together. But the recordings are pretty good for what they are, so I’ll not write them off yet.

I actually shouldn’t pretend that I was simply out scouting for new blood on this night; I’d covered Fresh Snow in this year’s NXNE coverage and had seen them play a couple times in Spring 2012, when they were a much greener act – so decidedly known quantities. But the occasion of the release of their debut album I merited another writeup because a) the album is really quite good, and b) I needed something to blog about.

To the former point, the shorthand on Fresh Snow is that they’re an instrumental, kinda post-Krautrock band – and it’s true that they like the drone and the noise in equal measure. But sandwiched between I‘s bookends of “French Horse Hall Of Fame” and “Saturation Complete” – which amount to almost 30 minutes of the a glorious combination thereof – they also get positively pop (“Helix Pass”) and show off a deft touch for dreamy ambience (“Los Vientos Del Tempo”) en route to a solid initial statement. It’s made up of a lot of things you’ve heard before, but taken as the big picture, there’s enough dynamics and ideas that the Fresh Snow ethos feels remarkably original.

As for the show, it wasn’t far removed from the NXNE performance. Their instrumental intro took too long to coalesce into something coherent, but once they got their feet under them it was full steam ahead. For the numbers of synths they had on stage, they spent much of the show in a decidedly conventional guitar-bass-drums (plus violin) configuration that offered all the loud and driving rockists could want and made for a solid wrestling match of control and chaos. A few interruptions in the flow of the show – though nothing like the power outages in June – kept it from becoming the fully hypnotic experience it could have and should been, but as a record release and coming out party, it was an impressive one.

Photos: Fresh Snow, Mimico @ The Boat – August 8, 2013
MP3: Fresh Snow – “Saturation Complete”
MP3: Fresh Snow – “BMX Based Tactics”
Video: Fresh Snow – “Saturation Complete”
Stream: Mimico / Mimico

Snowblink reveals to NOW that their next release will be a death-themed covers EP called I Am a Hall Of Fame; Post City also has an interview. They play BLK BOX as part of the Summerworks music series on August 14.

MTV is streaming four tracks from Mass:Light, the new solo record from Murray Lightburn; it’ll be out August 20. EastScene also has an interview with the Dears frontman.

Braids are streaming another track from Flourish//Perish, though with its August 20 release date just around the corner, expect the whole thing to start streaming any moment now. They play BLK BOX on November 10.

Stream: Braids – “Freund”

NME introduces their readers to Diana, just in time for the August 20 release of Perpetual Surrender. They play The Great Hall on September 26.

Fucked Up have been announced as the musical guests for the September 5 edition of First Thursdays at the Art Gallery Of Ontario, an event which will also feature a live video chat with artist Ai Wei Wei.

MP3: Fucked Up – “A Little Death”

NPR is streaming one of two new Stars songs which will be released as a 7″ single on September 10.

Stream: Stars – “Wishful”

aux.tv and Beatroute have interviews with Louise Burns, who supports Lightning Dust at The Drake Underground on September 10.

The Chicago Tribune and Metro get to know Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz. They play Wrongbar on September 17.

Islands have premiered a second taste of their new album Ski Mask via Spin ahead of its September 17 release, while Chart also has a video session. They play The Garrison on October 10.

Stream: Islands – “Becoming The Gunship”

Folks looking for an excuse to hang out in the park before Autumn well and truly rolls around should know about the Bloor Ossington Folk Festival, happening on September 21 and 22 at Christie Pits and featuring live music from the likes of The Golden Dogs, Memoryhouse, and Beams and two special secret headliners who – let’s face it – are almost sure to be Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene. Unless they’re not.

MP3: The Golden Dogs – “Travel Time”
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Quiet America”

Stereogum has an interview with Katie Stelmanis of Austra. They play The Phoenix on September 27.

Run Riot talks to Basia Bulat about her new record Tall Tall Shadow; it’s out October 1 and she plays The Polish Combatants Hall on October 10.

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan has announced details of their second album as well as sharing the first track, and Pitchfork is on it. Uzu will be out on October 29.

Stream: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan – “One”

Arcade Fire haven’t announced the title of their new album, out October 29, but the internet rumour mill is saying Reflektor and this website is certainly Arcade Fire-y in its crypticness. They’re less coy about the fact that they’re also scoring the new Spike Jonze film Her, because Pitchfork said so.

Dan Bejar is taking Destroyer back on the road this Fall with Pink Mountaintops as support but without a band. He’ll be exploring his songbook in solo style and also promises some new songs in the mix. Exclaim has full dates and details, including a November 9 date at The Great Hall.

MP3: Destroyer – “Chinatown”
MP3: Pink Mountaintops – “Vampire”

Spin has premiered the new (and first?) video from Born Ruffians’ latest album Birthmarks. They play The Danforth Music Hall on November 22.

Video: Born Ruffians – “Needle”

Rose Cousins has released a new video from last year’s wonderful We Have Made A Spark.

Video: Rose Cousins – “For The Best”

Evening Hymns have posted a complete livestream of a show in Kelowna, British Columbia last week. There’s also interviews with Jonas Bonetta at The Gate and The Edmonton Journal.

Chad VanGaalen fills in Exclaim on what he’s been up to.

Jim Guthrie road trips down to NPR to play a Tiny Desk Concert.

Earshot interviews Gold & Youth.

Dan Boeckner talks to Exclaim about his new project Operators, which he’ll presumably be more focused on once Britt Daniel puts Divine Fits on the back burner to concentrate on the next Spoon record.

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Toronto Urban Roots Fest Day One

She & Him, Camera Obscura, Joel Plaskett, and more at TURF 2013

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI don’t know if the troops who manned Fort York in the 18th and 19th centuries necessarily knew that they were potentially laying their lives on the line so that future generations could wander the grounds, tall boy in hand and Ray-Bans on head whilst listening to live music, but if they did, they’d be proud. After serving intermittent duty as an outdoor venue over the past few years, Fort York and Garrison Commons has become the go-to site for music festivals in downtown Toronto, effectively replacing the picturesque but logistically problematic Olympic Island. And while it’s not large enough to host something on the scale of Lollapalooza or Osheaga, or even necessarily our own late and qualifiedly-lamented V Fest, it’s a convenient, scenic, and effective space for events like the inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Fest this past weekend.

Unlike the Arts & Crafts anniversary Field Trip in June, the Lolla-Osheagea-drafting Grove Fest in early August, or the Replacements-reuniting Riot Fest later that month, TURF comes out of the gate homegrown – put on by local promoters Collective Concerts – and extra-ambitious, stretching over four nights and two full days plus club shows at The Horseshoe and Lee’s Palace, and with a definite eye towards becoming an annual Summer tradition in the city, filling a glaring need in a town that’s otherwise pretty generous for its live music-going patrons (for more background on the festival, check out interviews with founder Jeff Cohen at The Toronto Standard, The Grid, The National Post, The Toronto Star, and The Toronto Sun).

And it all got underway last Thursday evening, under sunny and sweltering skies, with Barr Brothers, the multi-instrumentalised, harp-enhanced quartet from Montreal ably represented the “roots” end of things. Being largely unfamiliar with the band, their musical personality felt somewhat broad, but as the set progressed, settled into an enjoyable range, dwelling largely in the intricate and lovely folk end of things but with confident forays into rougher, bluesy territory, all of it elegantly and impeccably executed.

Photos: The Barr Brothers @ Garrison Commons, West Stage – July 4, 2013
MP3: The Barr Brothers – “Beggar In The Morning”
Video: The Barr Brothers – “Old Mythologies”
Video: The Barr Brothers – “Beggar In The Morning”

No such stylistic figuring out was needed for Scotland’s Camera Obscura, up next at the other end of the park. I’d seen them what seems like a million times – most recently their second-last visit in June 2009 behind My Maudlin Career (they circled back for another show that November) – but it had still been far too long. But now they were back with a charming new record in Desire Lines and back on the road. And, had there been any doubt, they confirmed that in addition to being top-class purveyors of indie-pop tunes, they could still look unsmiling and dour even on a beautiful Summer’s evening. That’s just them, though, and with a couple touring players utility filling things out on percussion, horns, and steel guitar, they were able to string together all the bright and jaunty pop numbers in their catalog – with a few of the slow burners dropped in for variety – for an ideal smile-inducing, hand-clapping festival show.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe have features on the band.

Photos: Camera Obscura @ Garrison Commons, East Stage – July 4, 2013
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Fifth In Line To The Throne”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “My Maudlin Career”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “If Looks Could Kill”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Suspended From Class”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Come Back Margaret”
Video: Camera Obscura – “The Sweetest Thing”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Honey In The Sun”
Video: Camera Obscura – “French Navy”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
Video: Camera Obscura – “If Looks Could Kill”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Tears For Affairs”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Teenager”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Keep It Clean”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Eighties Fan”

It stands to reason that if you open up something of local importance, like say a shopping mall, you’d have the mayor on hand to cut the ribbon (maybe not Toronto’s mayor, but I digress). So if you’re inaugurating a new music festival in Canada, you bring out the de facto mayor of Canadian music, which is to say Joel Plaskett. Following an introduction from fellow sort-of Canuck icon, sportscaster Dave Hodge, Plaskett and the Emergency got to work with a set not too different from the one I saw at The Horseshoe in December, with a solo acoustic set sandwiched between classic rock-outs, but angled more for broad crowd-pleasing than just the die-hards. It’s pretty safe to say there’s no size stage that Plaskett doesn’t feel right at home at, whether playing the rocker or troubadour. And it seemed fitting that having largely missed Canada Day earlier this week because I was in the US, I was now marking Independence Day with as concentrated a dose of Canadiana as you could hope to find.

The Gate has an interview with Plaskett.

Photos: Joel Plaskett Emergency @ Garrison Commons, East Stage – July 4, 2013
MP3: Joel Plaskett – “When I Go”
MP3: Joel Plaskett – “Deny Deny Deny”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Somewhere Else”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “Through & Through & Through”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “You Let Me Down”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Fashionable People”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “Happen Now”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “Natural Disaster”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “Paralyzed”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Work Out Fine”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Come On Teacher”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “True Patriot Love”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Maybe We Should Just Go Home”
Video: Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Clueless Wonder”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “She Made A Wreck Outta Me”
Video: Joel Plaskett – “News Of Your Son”

On an evening of TURF firsts, She & Him had the distinction of not only being the first headliner, but the first ones to reveal the very existence of the festival to the world when it was listed in their tour itinerary in support of Volume 3 back in January. It was a personal first for me, as well, seeing them for the first time outside of SXSW where I caught one of their earliest shows in 2008 and again in more seasoned form in 2010. It looked to be Matt Ward and Zooey Deschanel’s same six-piece backing band in place as at that second show – nice to see they’ve kept the unit together over the years – and also in place was their strict “no photos” policy, applied to the entire audience and most of the media. This was a source of some grousing from those hoping to leverage the star power on display into more Instagram likes, but for those who accepted it and watched the show with their eyeballs, it was a pretty enjoyable show.

It may be an overstatement to say that had She & Him been exactly what they are musically but without the principals being who they are, they wouldn’t be where they are now – okay, any outfit with someone of Matt Ward’s guitar and arrangement skills would demand to be heard – but you can’t argue that having someone of Deschanel’s profile fronting them offered a pretty big leg up. She’s not an astonishing talent as a singer or a songwriter, but she’s certainly good enough to pull off the uncomplex but endearing retro-pop songs that she writes, particularly when surrounded with the players that she is. And considering that between the release of their first record in 2008 and now, she’s gone from an indie film darling to legit network sitcom star, the her commitment to She & Him remains as strong as it is actually pretty impressive.

Also impressive is how much she’s grown as a frontperson and performer. She’s not Juliette Lewis, by any measure, but considering how deer-in-the-headlights terrified she was at that first SXSW show, the assuredness she’s got on stage now if nice to see. Ward, also, was more engaged with being the titular Him in the band, stepping out of the shadows for some showy guitar moves and to elicit swoons with his gravelly vocals on the duets. Together, Ward and Deschanel have a charming if decidedly PG sort of chemistry, perfectly suited to the chaste, sock hop-esque concepts of romance that they specialize in. High points were the Chapin Sisters-harmonized rendition of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” against a backdrop of stars, a sweet version of Ward’s own “Magic Trick”, and a fiery guitar duel between Ward and Mike Coykendall to close out “In The Sun” and the main set. And also that the first day of the first TURF ever went off beautifully.

Photos: She & Him @ Garrison Commons, East Stage – July 4, 2013
MP3: She & Him – “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
Video: She & Him – “I Could’ve Been Your Girl”
Video: She & Him – “Don’t Look Back”
Video: She & Him – “Thieves”
Video: She & Him – “In The Sun”
Video: She & Him – “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”

Exclaim has a conversation with Louise Burns about her new album The Midnight Mass as well as an advance stream of said record ahead of its July 9 release date.

Stream: Louise Burns / Midnight Mass

Exclaim gets Diamond Rings to play an acoustic video session. He’ll be fully plugged-in when opening up for OMD at the Danforth Music Hall on July 11 and 19.

Exclaim talk changes in direction with Lightning Dust, in town at The Drake on September 10.

The Grid checks in with Dallas Good of The Sadies, whose new album Internal Sounds will be made external on September 17.

Exclaim has the first batch of live dates from Rae Spoon in support of his new record My Prairie Home, coming August 13, and they include a September 18 date at The Gladstone in Toronto.

MP3: Rae Spoon – “Crash Landing”

The Montreal Gazette and Spin have feature pieces on Austra, who play a hometown show at The Phoenix on September 27.

The Grid talks to Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras about their new 7″ “Gay Goth Scene” and the new album, Age, that it precedes. That is due out sometime this Fall.

Evening Hymns have released a new video from their Polaris-longlisted album Spectral Dusk.

Video: Evening Hymns – “Song To Sleep To”

Stars have premiered the newest video from The North at The Huffington Post.

Video: Stars – “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It”

Huffington Post talks to Al Spx of Cold Specks about collaborating with Moby on his new record and where she’s going with her own next album.

The Guardian has a video session with Rachel Zeffira, wherein she performs her version of The Beatles’ “Because”; she plays one of her own songs in session for Chart.

aux.tv has an interview with Odonis Odonis.

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

The First 5 Minutes

The Sadies have a new record and all is right with the world

Photo By Rick WhiteRick WhiteGiven that if you live in the Toronto area, it may seem like The Sadies never go away – they’re gigging machines whether they’re on a touring cycle or not, playing any number of festivals, one-offs, support slots, backing gigs – it’s actually been over three years since their last studio album, 2010′s Polaris shortlisted Darker Circles, was released. Sure, in the interim they’ve also put out Night & Day backing Chicago blues-R&B veteran Andre Williams and Dallas and Travis helped make The Good Family Album with their parents, but responding to the announcement that they’ve got a new album done and en route with anything less than great enthusiasm is unacceptable.

The new long-player is called Internal Sounds and will be out September 17, with a first track available to stream now. From note one it sounds exactly like what you expect The Sadies to sound like – psychedelically twangy rock highlighted by tight harmonies and ridiculous musicianship – but the songwriting is stronger than its ever been. It’s an aspect of the band that probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves, overshadowed by all the bands’ other strengths, but compare anything off their last few records with their earliest and marvel at how good they’ve gotten compositionally without ceding any ground in the performance. Go on, marvel.

Exclaim has details on the new release and a brace of Fall tour dates; their hometown commitments are currently limited to two Toronto Urban Roots Fest appearances – July 5 at Lee’s Palace and July 7 at Garrison Common – but sure as the sun rises in the east, they’ll have more to come this Fall and I’ll leak this one right now – they’ll be at The Horseshoe on New Year’s Eve. A-yup.

Stream: The Sadies – “The First 5 Minutes”

With the release today of Fantasy, the new album from Vancouver’s Lightning Dust, the band has just announced another batch of Fall tour dates which include a stop at The Drake Underground on September 10; tickets for that are $12.50 in advance.

MP3: Lightning Dust – “Diamond”

It’s a double-dose of new METZ – a new Chad VanGaalen-animated video from their self-titled debut and a new song from the Adult Swim singles series which you can stream at Consequence Of Sound. Their next local show is July 12 at Downsview Park opening for Weezer.

Video: METZ – “Get Off”
Stream: METZ – “Can’t Understand”

Rae Spoon has announced the August 13 release of his new record My Prairie Home. Hit Exclaim for specifics and stream one of the new songs below.

Stream: Rae Spoon – “I Will Be A Wall”

Kieran Adams and Joseph Shabason of Diana discuss their debut album Perpetual Surrender with Under The Radar. It comes out August 20.

Tone Deaf talks to Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz, who also talks a bit about the cockroach-heavy new video from Impersonator with NPR. He brings his hopefully roach-free show to Wrongbar on September 17.

Video: Majical Cloudz – “Bugs Don’t Buzz”

Jenn Grant is the latest Canadian artist to assume a new synth-rock persona; she talks to CBC Music talks to about her new project Aqua Alta, a few songs from which you can stream at their website. Grant performs as Grant previewing new material at Lee’s Palace on September 21.

Exclaim has posted online this month’s cover story on Austra; Tone Deaf and The Guardian also have interviews with bandleader Katie Stelmanis. They play The Phoenix on September 27.

We’re still waiting on details of Basia Bulat’s third album, but that she’s added some Fall dates to a smattering of Summer commitments implies that it’ll be here soon enough – perhaps in time to make her October 17 date at The Polish Combatants Hall a record release show?

MP3: Basia Bulat – “Gold Rush”

Consequence Of Sound talks to Colin Stetson, who also talks about the new video from New History Warfare Vol 3: To See More Light at The New York Times.

Video: Colin Stetson – “Who The Waves Are Roaring For”

DIY and NBC San Diego have interviews and NYC Taper a recording of Hooded Fang’s show at The Mercury Lounge in New York at the start of the month.

The Calgary Herald interviews The Besnard Lakes.

Friday, July 13th, 2012

There All The Time Without You

Review of Kestrels’ A Ghost History

Photo via Sonic UnyonSonic UnyonWere the magical little elves in charge of categorizing music – be it in record store bins or the meta tags on MP3s – would like to take Halifax trio Kestrels and file them under “shoegaze”, pointing to the heyday of Creation Records in describing their second album A Ghost History. And I’m not necessarily going to argue the point – it definitely owes more than a debt to the sounds of the early ’90s, what with its roaring guitars and liberally reverbed vocals, but those expecting some Maritime take on sonic cathedral construction or hazy dream-pop had best check their expectations.

Kestrels’ record collections may have their shares of of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive records – “There All the Time Without You” is pretty damn Shields-y in a great way – but those records clearly share shelf space with plenty of college rock from this side of the Atlantic. And from those records, they learned valuable lessons – Superchunk taught them how to channel their energy into pogo-ready punk-pop anthems, Dinosaur Jr taught them how to rip a guitar solo like a mofo, and Sloan… well it might be a bit cliche to cite the proto-Halifax rock band, but there’s more than a little Smeared – both in its fuzzy textures and indelible hooks – in Kestrels’ DNA.

For those of us who grew up with these influences will find Ghost History familiar yet invigorating and those who didn’t, who are perhaps of the same generation as Kestrels themselves, well maybe we should consider this a gateway drug.

The Chronicle Herald and The Telegram have feature pieces on Kestrels, whose North American tour hits Rancho Relaxo in Toronto on July 20.

Stream: Kestrels – “Dumb Angel”
Video: Kestrels – “The Past Rests”
Video: Kestrels – “There All The Time Without You”

Spinner talks to Grimes ahead of her show at Historic Fort York tonight as part of the Full Flex train tour thing.

Radio Free Canuckistan continues to get excited for the Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet reunion show at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night by interviewing drummer Don Pyle as well as band patron/friend Bruce McCulloch of Kids In The Hall fame. NOW and The AV Club also have feature pieces and Exclaim also has another video session of the 2012 incarnation of the band playing a tune for St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club in Toronto.

It was a sad day when Forest City Lovers called it a day back in April, but frontwoman Kat Burns did promise that she’d still have a new record out soon – and indeed she does. Now recording as Kashka and exploring the electro-pop side of things, she’ll release her debut album Vichada on July 17 – stream a track below – and has already begun playing some shows but nothing of the hometown persuasion just yet.

Stream: Kashka – “This Machine”

Spin, Dazed, and The Line Of Best Fit talk to Purity Ring about their debut album Shrines, which is due out July 24 and from which they’ve just released a new video.

Video: Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”

CBC Music sends author Grace O’Connell to ask some questions of Great Lake Swimmers main man Tony Dekker. They’re at The Molson Amphitheatre on August 18 opening for Blue Rodeo.

Like bikes? Like music? Maybe you’ll like the Toronto Bicycle Music Fest which happens at Trinity Bellwoods on September 15. The music side of things will feature performances from Snowblink, Gentleman Reg, and Rae Spoon and the bicycle side of things… well I guess you’re encouraged to bring your bike? Snowblink will be presumably be playing material from their new album Inner Classics which comes out September 11, Reg will showcase his Leisure Life material which is being released incrementally through the Summer and collected into album form in the Fall and Spoon’s I Can’t Keep All Of Our Secrets came out at the start of 2012.

MP3: Snowblink – “Black & White Mountains”
MP3: Gentleman Reg – “We’re In A Thunderstorm”
MP3: Rae Spoon – “Crash Landing”

The Wilderness Of Manitoba have announced a September 18 release date for their second album, Island Of Echoes. Hear – and see – a new song that doesn’t actually appear on the new record in this video session filmed by Southern Souls.

Video: The Wilderness Of Manitoba – “Forest City Love” (live)

METZ has released the first taste of their self-titled debut, due out October 9.

MP3: METZ – “Headache”

DIY and Rolling Stone interview Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric, playing a show at The Air Canada Centre on November 14.

PopMatters, The Vancouver Sun, and The Georgia Straight profile Patrick Watson, doing his thing at Massey Hall on December 6.

Spin has the new video from PS I Love You, taken from Death Dreams and named for Hogtown!

Video: PS I Love You – “Toronto”

Artrocker has a short interview with and Pitchfork a short documentary film featuring Japandroids.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

SXSW 2012 Night Two

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band and more at SXSW

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSo – did I mention that I won a ticket to see Bruce Springsteen for the Thursday night of SXSW? I did? Okay then, just checking. The show was held in conjunction with The Boss’ appearance as the keynote speaker at this year’s conference and admission being doled out via lottery open to badgeholders. The actual location of it was kept secret, but minimal sleuthing pretty much guaranteed that it would be at the almost-brand new (opened last year) Moody Theater, where they held the tapings for Austin City Limits.

The old studio on the University Of Texas campus – where I’d been fortunate enough to see a Wilco taping in 2007 – was nice enough, but very much a soundstage/studio. The new facility, located right in downtown Austin, was easily one of the nicest modern concert venues I’ve ever been to, with stadium sightlines, comfy padded seating and an amazing sound and light system yet still relatively cozy with a capacity around 2800 people. Which by Springsteen standards may as well have been a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar. Yeah, this would be pretty special.

Openers came in the form of Rhode Island’s The Low Anthem, whose last release was 2011′s Smart Flesh. I’d seen them way back in December 2008, just before their star began to rise, and recall being impressed with their musicianship and intricate folk-pop songcraft, though apparently not quite enough to keep up with their career. Now a five-piece rather than a trio, they had even more musical options and I think each song in their set featured a different instrumental configuration than the last. A bit showy, perhaps, but they were quick about it and the focus remained on their elegant and ornate Americana sound that explored and maintained the trails blazed by Bob Dylan over the course of his career, but with smoother vocals and harmonies. It was a charming set but if we’re being honest, I doubt I’ll be following them any closer than I did after the last time I saw them.

Next up was Austin roots-rock mainstay Alejandro Escovedo backed by The Sensitive Boys & Girls, and those in the audience who were complaining about The Low Anthem putting them to sleep – and there were a few within earshot – certainly would have had the cobwebs blown out of their ears by Escovedo and company. Their lean, no-frills rock’n’roll was slick yet raucous and filled with evocative songwriting and ripping guitar solos. That the man is regarded as a legend in a city that’s turned out more than its share of musical legends is saying something.

But if we’re talking legends, then Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band would have to be at the top of anyone’s list. Now I think it’s important to note that though I fancy myself appreciative of Springsteen and reasonably familiar with his work, I would not file myself as a huge fan nor have I ever seen him live; tickets for his shows are pretty damned expensive and even then, sell out about immediately. I’ve just never gone to the extra effort to secure some, and so to have this one fall into my lap – or onto my arm, as the admission wristband did – was pretty exciting. There was a bit of a wait between the end of Escovedo’s set and the start of Bruce’s but then setting up a 16-piece band is no small task, even for pros. But a little past nine, the lights went down, a roar went up and they got underway.

The show started not with any of Springsteen’s own classics, but a solemn, gospel-tinged reading of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home”, gussied up with brass and chorus to mark the centenary of the original protest singer’s birth. From there, the lights went up, the Telecaster went on and the band tore into the anthemic “We Take Care Of Our Own” and the title track of their just-released new record Wrecking Ball; I haven’t paid attention to how the album has been received but damn if these two songs didn’t sound like fiery classics in the making. They pulled out one I did know – “Badlands” – next before returning to the new material and bringing Tom Morello out to guest on “Death To My Hometown”; Morello would return a few more times through the night, including an utterly incendiary jaw-dropping duet with Springsteen and solo on “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”.

And you know what? Billboard has the set list with their writeup of the show, and running through things song by song is pointless. Hell, reviewing a Springsteen show seems pointless – its been done thousands of times and its probably safe to say that there’s rarely if ever a bad Bruce show, and if there were it wouldn’t be this one. I just stood there marvelling at the charisma of the man and the power of the band; they were really the epitome of a rock band, of which all others were just reflections and shadows, with moves and routines that would have been hokey coming from anyone else but coming from Springsteen, totally genuine and uplifting. One couldn’t help thinking back to his keynote address earlier in the day where he named off dozens of subgenres of rock and it was easy to see why he found it all so amusing – the man only dealt in the original article.

The show seemed to mostly be made up of selections from Wrecking Ball and The Rising, which might not have been ideal for one like me who really only knew the hits – or at least the 20th century material – but it was understandable. Despite having a career spanning four decades, Springsteen remains creative and vital and the furthest thing from a nostalgia act – I didn’t expect to hear many or even any of the hits, so there was no sense of disappointment. And how could I be? I was finally seeing one of the great artists and entertainers in the history of rock music and in a setting that others would give their eye teeth for. It was amazing.

And so of course I left early.

Well actually I stayed for almost the entirety of the two-hour main set, though I kick myself for missing “Thunder Road”, but I also really wanted to catch the Jesus & Mary Chain and at that point it seemed like I was allowing enough time for that to happen. Of course it didn’t. I ended up standing in a line outside The Belmont for almost 90 minutes, eventually ceasing to move with 40 or so people ahead of me, while Bruce played on and was joined by Jimmy Cliff and Eric Burdon for the encore and Arcade Fire (and a slew of others) for the show-closing reading of “This Land Is Your Land”. But hey, I heard “Head Down” from the street, so not a total loss…

And maybe things really did land butter-side up considering that I managed to get over to St. David’s Historic Sanctuary for a good portion of Patrick Watson’s set. Now I’ve never been much of a Watson fan, but have slowly been warming to him over time and based on this performance, his new one Adventures In Your Own Backyard may be the one to get me fully onboard. Beyond the songs, which sounded great, and the setting, which with shifting and pulsing strings of lights draped around the church was rather magical if a nightmare photographically, there was the fact that I think I finally begin to get what Watson is about. The same way that band treated the stage more like a playground than a performance space, Watson’s compositions are lovely little things that exist simply from the desire to create something beautiful. It sounds a bit silly but it was a real mental shift for me with respect to him – hey, not every artist has to be exorcising demons in their work – and sent me back into the night feeling pretty damn good. And needing a hot dog.

Rolling Stone reports that a new Neil Young & Crazy Horse record not only exists, as rumoured, but that it will be called Americana, consist of reinterpretations of classic folk and protest songs and be coming out on June 5.

The Victoria Times Colonist, The Province, and Jambands profile Plants & Animals, in town at Lee’s Palace on April 21.

NOW, The Toronto Star, Boston Phoenix, The Telegraph, and Loud & Quiet talk to Grimes, whose show at The Horseshoe Monday night was cancelled due to illness and rescheduled for next Tuesday, but is still sold the fuck out.

Rolling Stone is streaming the new Zeus record Busting Visions ahead of its release next week; they play The Horseshoe March 23 for Canadian Musicfest and The Phoenix on June 9.

MP3: Zeus – “Anything You Want Dear”
Stream: Zeus / Busting Visions

On that bill with Zeus at The Horseshoe will be Snowblink, who are officially labelmates as of their second album, due out later this year. To mark the occasion, the band have uploaded a bunch of covers of dead artists – well, Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse – to Soundcloud. Don’t worry, they’re respectful.

DIY chats with Kathleen Edwards, who has been announced as one of the performers at this year’s LuminaTO arts festival in June.

Rae Spoon has put out a new video from I Can’t Keep All Of Our Secrets.

Video: Rae Spoon – “Ocean Blue”

The Waterloo Record talks to Al Spx of Cold Specks, who has made a track from her debut album I Predict A Graceful Explosion available to stream; it’s out May 22 and she plays The Music Gallery for Canadian Musicfest on Thursday, followed by an appearance opening for Great Lake Swimmers at The Music Hall on June 2.

Stream: Cold Specks – “Winter Solstice”

An unexpected but wholly welcome entrant in the ’90s Can-rock reunion ring? Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet. Exclaim reports that the instrumental and influential surf-rock legends are getting back together for a couple shows to mark the reissue of their catalog on vinyl; 1988′s Savvy Show Stoppers comes out in June and the other two will follow at approximately six month intervals. As for those shows, the Toronto date is July 14 at Lee’s Palace and as for the fact that bassist Reid Diamond passed away in 2001, they’ve got a pretty good ringer lined up – Dallas Good of The Sadies. Fun fact – my band in high school would cover “Having An Average Weekend” in our sets. It did not make us popular.

Stream: Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet – “Having An Average Weekend”

And here’s your Osheaga 2012 lineup. Not. Bad. At. All.