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Posts Tagged ‘Real Estate’

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

All Our Summer Songs

Saturday Looks Good To Me decides Saturday still looks pretty good, reforms for new album and tour

Photo via PolyvinylPolyvinylUsually when an interesting press release shows up in my inbox, the contents show up ad nauseum in my RSS, Twitter, Facebook, whatever over the next few hours – such is the nature of the press cycle in the digital age. But one of the best pieces of news over the last few days, at least for me, hasn’t yet found its way into the internet echo chamber, and that’s the anouncement of the return of Saturday Looks Good To Me.

Not that I’m entirely surprised; the Ann Arbor, Michigan outfit never quite set the world on fire despite producing two nearly perfect records of Motown/Northern Soul revivalist pop in 2003’s All Your Summer Songs and 2004’s Every Night and had been basically in drydock since the release of 2007’s Fill Up The Room. Songwriter Fred Thomas and vocalist Betty Marie Barnes regrouped in 2010 as Mighty Clouds and released one decent self-titled effort but remained largely under the radar.

But anyways – back to the presser. Basically, it announced that Thomas had reconvened a new version of the band with long-time bassist Scott DeRoche, Ryan Howard (with whom he formed City Center in SLGTM’s downtime) and new singer Carol Gray for a Spring tour (though no local date), a re-release of All Your Summer Songs on heavy vinyl for Record Store Day and a new album due out in the Fall. There’s no guarantee that it will reach the greatness of their earlier records – the constantly shifting lineup doesn’t always gel and sometimes Thomas’ more experimental urges can be to the detriment of the songs, but I’m optimistic nonetheless. If you’re unfamiliar with them, do get acquainted – there’s MP3s and full album streams below, and a sampler mix over at Soundcloud.

MP3: Saturday Looks Good To Me – “Make A Plan”
MP3: Saturday Looks Good To Me – “The Girl’s Distracted”
MP3: Saturday Looks Good To Me – “Until The World Stops Spinning”
MP3: Saturday Looks Good To Me – “The Sun Doesn’t Want To Shine”
MP3: Saturday Looks Good To Me – “Meet Me By The Water”
Stream: Saturday Looks Good To Me / Every Night
Stream: Saturday Looks Good To Me / All Your Summer Songs
Stream: Mighty Clouds / Mighty Clouds

The Drums, with Brooklyn’s Craft Spells in tow, will make a return engagement on April 27 at The Phoenix – tickets $17.50 in advance – part of another tour in support of last year’s Portamento. They’ve also just released a new video from said record and sat for an interview with The Daily Record.

MP3: The Drums – “Down By The Water”
MP3: Craft Spells – “You Should Close The Door”
Video: The Drums – “Days”

Baltimore’s Future Islands will bring last year’s On The Water to The Horseshoe on May 3, tickets $11.50 in advance.

MP3: Future Islands – “Before The Bridge”

With a new album in Always ready for release next Tuesday, Xiu Xiu have announced a Spring tour with Vancouver’s Dirty Beaches that brings them to Lee’s Palace on May 12, tickets $13.50 in advance.

MP3: Xiu Xiu – “Hi”
MP3: Xiu Xiu – “Hi” (acoustic)
MP3: Dirty Beaches – “Lord Knows Best”

If you’re thinking, “wait – their March 14 show at The Air Canada Centre doesn’t happen for another two weeks”, you are correct – but that hasn’t stopped The Black Keys from announcing another Toronto date for August 4 at the Molson Amphitheatre, this time with The Shins. Tickets for that will be $35 and $60 in advance. What can you say – their El Camino just keeps going and going; The Shins can only hope Port Of Morrow has remotely the same momentum when it arrives on March 20 – The Quietus has an interview with James Mercer about the new record.

MP3: The Shins – “Know Your Onion!”
Video: The Black Keys – “Gold On The Ceiling”

DIY and The Daily Tar Heel interview Bowerbirds, whose new album The Clearing, is out next week. They play The Garrison on March 27.

Paste and The Quietus profile Andrew Bird, whose new album Break It Yourself is out Tuesday. You can watch a video performance of one of the new songs at PitchforkTV.

In conversation with DIY, Howler reveal they’ve already begun work on the follow-up to America Give Up; they’ll showcase that first album at The Drake on April 5.

The AV Club has got the artwork and tracklist for the Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions box from Billy Bragg and Wilco, as well as the official release date of April 21.

Ben Curtis of School Of Seven Bells talks to Spinner and picks some of his favourite records for The Skinny. They’re at The Hoxton on May 2.

The Retribution Gospel Choir is in a giving mood, offering a new EP entitled The Revolution for free download from their website in exchange for an email address.

MP3: Retribution Gospel Choir – “The Stone (Revolution!)”

NYC Taper is sharing a recording of Sharon Van Etten’s New York show this past weekend, while Blare and The Calgary Herald have interviews.

Clash has a feature piece on Real Estate.

Toronto Standard has an interview with yours truly about the topic of blogging in advance of a panel I’m on this Friday evening for the Toronto Music Industry Association, also on the topic of blogging. I will be fielding any questions about anything except blogging.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Reappear

Review of School Of Seven Bells’ Ghostory

Photo By Justin HollarJustin HollarI had actually forgotten how weird Alpinisms, the 2008 debut from New York’s School Of Seven Bells was. It basically inverted the balance of pop-to-experimentalism of the Deheza sisters’ former outfit On! Air! Library! and made itself it much more accessible than O!A!L!’s self-titled effort but was still willing to forgo the pop in parts to play with textures, exotic sounds and the interesting harmonies that their twin frontwomen could create.

2010’s Disconnect From Desire was decidedly slicker, dancier and more straight-ahead in comparison – at least relatively speaking in a dream-pop/post-shoegaze frame of reference. It successfully grew their audience but not without cost – keyboardist/vocalist Claudia Deheza left the band in the middle of a Fall tour that year, leaving the official band lineup as just sister Alejandra and guitarist Ben Curtis, replacing the musical chemistry between the two with another singer being pretty much impossible.

You would think that losing a third of the band would have more dramatic impact on their sound, but had you no knowledge of the personnel changes and just came to their just-released third album Ghostory with a familiarity of their previous efforts, you would be forgiven for assuming that everything was business as usual. Losing their keyboardist hasn’t meant losing the keys as the album still leans heavily on sequenced rhythms and synthetic atmosphere and through the magic of overdubs the band’s signature harmonies are superficially intact if less inherently magical. In fact, though the band is officially now a pair of guitarists, Ghostory is arguably less guitar-driven than before, instead favouring a more ’80s-era 4AD sheen than any overt ’90s shoegaze aesthetic; anyone who still wants to pigeonhole them as such is working with outdated information.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Ghostory is how steady on it finds the band in what they do despite the upheavals. Parsing the lyrics, which ostensibly center around a young girl literally haunted by ghosts, you can find traces of deeper, more personal emotions – loss, regret, what have you – but this is not music meant for soundtracking deep introspection. It’s for drifting, dreaming, dancing. No more, no less. The school may experience staff turnover but the lesson plan remains the same.

Ghostory is out today and available to stream in full at Spinner. After a jaunt in Europe, their North American tour brings the band to The Hoxton in Toronto on May 2. Alejandra Deheza talks to Spin about her interest in tarot cards and to Rolling Stone about the just-released first video from the album.

MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Lafaye”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “The Night”
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “Lafaye”
Stream: School Of Seven Bells / Ghostory

Blurt chats with Amber Papini of Hospitality, in town at The Horseshoe on February 29 and The Garrison on May 4 in support of Tennis and Eleanor Friedberger, respectively.

Stereogum is streaming in whole The Clearing, the new album from Bowerbirds, out next Tuesday. They play The Garrison on March 27.

MP3: Bowerbirds – “Tuck The Darkness In”
MP3: Bowerbirds – “In The Yard”
Stream: Bowerbirds / The Clearing

NPR is streaming the whole of Milk Famous, the new one from White Rabbits, a week ahead of its March 6 release date.

MP3: White Rabbits – “Heavy Metal”
Stream: White Rabbits / Milk Famous

Young Prisms will warm up for their March 10 show at The Drake Underground with an in-store at the Kensington location of Sonic Boom that afternoon at 5PM. Their second album In Between is out March 27 and Stereogum just premiered the first video.

MP3: Young Prisms – “Floating In Blue”
Video: Young Prisms – “Floating In Blue”

James Mercer of The Shins stops in at The Alternate Side for an interview and video session. Port Of Morrow comes out March 20.

Spin has posted online the Sleigh Bells cover story from the all-new, redesigned magazine, and dang is it pretty. The magazine, not the story, but if Alexis Krauss does it for you, then it’s both. There’s also features at eMusic, AltSounds, The Guardian, and The Stool Pigeon. Sleigh Bells are at The Phoenix on March 26 and The Air Canada Centre on April 27 and 28 with Red Hot Chili Peppers.

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session and The Fly has an interview with with Chairlift, who are at The Horseshoe on March 28.

Pitchfork has a +1 interview and video session with Perfume Genius while Stereogum gets Mike Hadreas on the phone for an interview about Put Your Back N 2 It. He plays The Drake Underground on April 8.

Maps & Atlases have made a May 16 date at The Horseshoe in support of their forthcoming album Beware And Be Grateful; the album is out April 17, tickets for the show are $11.50 and the first MP3 is available to download courtesy of Rolling Stone.

MP3: Maps & Atlases – “Winter”

It’s happy news that the Luna back catalog is finally going to be reissued on vinyl, at least some of it. Record Store Day will see their last two albums, Romantica and Rendezvous, come out on wax (that’s April 21) and there’s plans to press my personal favourite Bewitched in early Summer and Penthouse will eventually follow. I said I was largely done re-buying albums I already owned on LP, but this is an exception. Oh yes. And coincidentally, the band played their final show seven years ago today. Sigh.

MP3: Luna – “Black Postcards”

Lower Dens have released a video for the first single from their forthcoming album Nootropics; it’s out May 1.

Video: Lower Dens – “Brains”

A visit to France has yielded some live Blouse videos worth watching; a full show at arte.tv and a session for Faits Divers; there’s also one recorded stateside at Yours Truly and an interview with the band at Drowned In Sound. Blouse are at The Garrison on May 5.

The original release has since been redacted – someone broke embargo, apparently – but it seems likely that the new Beach House album will be out on May 15 and be called Bloom. Unless, of course, it’s not – in which case, it’s another case of “oh, internet!”.

Girls have gone to Conan O’Brien to premiere the new video from Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

Video: Girls – “My Ma”

Bon Iver has released a new video from Bon Iver.

Video: Bon Iver – “Towers”

NPR has got a World Cafe session with Real Estate.

Daytrotter has posted a session with CANT.

CBC Radio 3 and CNN have conversations with The Kills, who are streaming the Velvet Underground cover that appears on the “Last Goodbye” 10″.

Stream: The Kills – “Pale Blue Eyes”

Annie Clark of St. Vincent talks to The New Zealand Herald, The Guardian, and Drowned In Sound while the director for her “Cheerleader” video explains the clip to Pitchfork.

Culture Mob talks to Ume.

Pitchfork talks to James Murphy about his life post-LCD Soundsystem.

Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs talks to Spin about the band’s reunion. No word of lie, there is no show announcement I await more eagerly than this one.

Billboard talks to Bob Mould about Sugar’s Copper Blue, which he’s taken to performing in its entirety for a handful of mostly European shows.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

When No One's Watching

Craig Finn lets Full Eyes stream

Photo By Jeremy BaldersonJeremy BaldersonAt first, it’s hard to imagine what need there is for a Craig Finn solo album. After all, he gets to run roughshod over The Hold Steady records with as many words as he can manage to pair with their classic rock attack – has he really got a backlog of ideas that don’t fit that broad and welcoming template? As Clear Heart, Full Eyes, out next Tuesday but now available to stream in whole at NPR demonstrates, yeah he does.

It’s not as though any of these songs couldn’t have easily been made into Hold Steady numbers; Finn’s character-driven songwriting style is still immediately recognizable. But the mood is more thoughtful and the musical accompaniments chosen are simpler and slower – though not acoustic and strummy, it should be made clear – and allow Finn to occupy enough of a different timbre and cadence to clearly distinguish him from the manic character who fronts The Hold Steady. It’s the sort of record that fans will enjoy for its own merits but also make them appreciate the next Hold Steady record even more.

Clash gets into the literary inspiration that goes into his work while Pitchfork and Hitfix talk to him about going solo and what’s next for The Hold Steady.

MP3: Craig Finn – “Honolulu Blues”
Stream: Craig Finn / Clear Heart Full Eyes

School Of Seven Bells have revealed details of a Spring tour in support of Ghostory, out February 28. The Toronto date is May 2 at The Hoxton.

MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Lafaye”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “The Night”

Hospitality were just here last week but they’ve already scheduled a return date for February 29 when they’ll be supporting Tennis at The Horseshoe. Their self-titled debut is out January 31.

MP3: Hospitality – “Friends Of Friends”

Beirut have announced a July 19 date at The Sound Academy, part of a Canadian tour in support of last year’s The Rip Tide. Tickets are $35 general admission, $50 VIP.

Video: Beirut – “Santa Fe”

NPR has a World Cafe session with Real Estate, who play a sold-out show at Lee’s Palace this Friday. The Boston Globe and Montreal Mirror have interviews.

Nada Surf has made their new record The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy available to stream ahead of its release next week over at NPR. They play the Opera House on April 4.

MP3: Nada Surf – “When I Was Young”
Stream: Nada Surf / The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy

Stuff like iTunes sessions don’t typically get my attention, but one coming out on January 24 does – because a) it’s by Wilco and b) it’s all of eight songs long, picked from all throughout their existence and featuring a cover of “Cruel To Be Kind” with Nick Lowe. So yeah, maybe I’ll buy that. Details on the release at Consequence Of Sound, and there’s interviews with Jeff Tweedy at The Denver Post and Glenn Kotche at The Los Angeles Times.

The Stool Pigeon talks to Chairlift about their new record Something, out January 24 and followed by a show at The Horseshoe on March 28.

Stereogum checks in with Sharon Van Etten about the state of her new album Tramp, out February 7. She plays Lee’s Palace on February 21.

Opening up that show are Shearwater, who’ve offered up another track from their new one Animal Joy. It’s out February 14.

MP3: Shearwater – “You As You Were”

The first official preview of Sleigh Bells’ forthcoming Reign Of Terror is now available to hear. It’s out February 21 and they play The Phoenix February 18.

Stream: Sleigh Bells – “Comeback Kid”

Another tune from the new Lambchop record Mr. M is available to download ahead of its February 21 release date.

MP3: Lambchop – “Gone Tomorrow”

The Boston Herald, Boston Phoenix, and Metro talk to Joe Pernice about the Scud Mountain Boys reunion tour, which kicked off this week in Boston and hits Lee’s Palace on February 25.

The Decemberists will be entering their hiatus in grand fashion, with the released of their first live album, the double-disc We All Raise Our Voices To The Air (Live Songs 04.11-08.11). It will be out on March 13; Rolling Stone has specifics.

Rolling Stone has an MP3 from Threads, the new record for Minneapolis’ Now, Now. It’s out March 16 and they may or may not be opening for The Naked & Famous at The Sound Academy on April 5 – I’ve seen both that they are and aren’t.

MP3: Now, Now – “School Friends”

Rolling Stone has got an MP3 from the new Justin Townes Earle album Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now available to download. The record is out March 27.

MP3: Justin Townes Earle – “Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now”

DIY profiles Howler, who are at The Drake Underground on April 5. They’ve also released a live session video recorded at the Rough Trade store in London.

Video: Howler – “Back Of Your Neck” (live at Rough Trade)

Wayne Coyne talks to Rolling Stone about a new The Flaming Lips record that will be made up of collaborations with other artists such as Bon Iver (who, let’s be honest, would probably agree to collaborate with anyone who asked) and which may be out as soon as April.

Lower Dens have announced a new record – look for Nootropics on May 1 – and also released the first MP3 from it, which is kind of great.

MP3: Lower Dens – “Brains”

DIY has a feature piece on Guided By Voices, who aim to release their second reunion album Class Clown Spots A UFO in or around May.

Ryan Adams has released a new video from Ashes & Fire.

Video: Ryan Adams – “Chains Of Love”

There’s also a new video from Death Cab For Cutie’s Codes & Keys.

Video: Death Cab For Cutie – “Underneath The Sycamore”

aux.tv talks to Annie Clark of St. Vincent.

Dean Wareham gives an interview to Music Times Two and offers some thoughts on a Luna reunion (not likely, but not impossible).

Filter has a two-part feature piece on Tom Waits.

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Back To The Grave

Review of Howler’s America Give Up

Photo By David McCrindleDavid McCrindleA rumour that will undoubtedly surface over and over again over the next few months about Minneapolis young toughs Howler is this – drummer Brent Mayes is the scion of one Prince Rogers Nelson. Even if it were true, it would be irrelevant as future-funk is the furthest thing from Howler’s mandate as you can get. The fivesome face unabashedly backwards in time, staring straight at the ’50s rock and ’70s punk – in particular the garages and dive bars across America where rock’n’roll was being cultivated.

And if they do it all through the lens of the ’00s and in particular The Strokes, well that’s fair game as well. The band are absurdly young – frontman Jordan Gatesmith is all of 19 years old – and Julian Casablancas and his gang are probably as much a part of the classic rock canon to them as Elvis or The Ramones. This isn’t in any way to suggest that Howler will be taking their place amongst the aforementioned anytime soon, if ever. Though their debut album America Give Up has plenty of rough energy and enthusiasm and some immediately likeable tunes but loses some points for striving a bit too hard for some nebulous “authenticity”, particularly when Gatesmith tries to ape Casablancas’ more throat-shredding moments; they fare better when they sound more relaxed and like a bunch of kids having a good time. Still, they manage to stay on the right side of the ledger by keeping the tempos up, guitars loud, hooks sharp and running time short – under 32 minutes and they’re done.

Unsurpisingly, Howler are already critical darlings in the UK – The Guardian has a profile piece on the band. America Give Up is out next Tuesday and streaming in whole at NPR. They play The Drake Underground on April 5.

MP3: Howler – “Back Of Your Neck”
Video: Howler – “Back Of Your Neck”
Video: Howler – “Told You Once”
Stream: Howler / America Give Up

Not so long ago, Crocodiles were super-conspicuous for their absence from Toronto stages – now they’ve practically moved in as they’re back for their third show in eight months (sixth if you count all three NXNE gigs), playing Lee’s Palace on February 23. Tickets are $13.50.

MP3: Crocodiles – “Sleep Forever”

Chairlift’s new record Something will be out on January 24 and they’ll follow that up with a show at The Horseshoe on March 28 – tickets $12.

MP3: Chairlift – “Sidewalk Safari”

North Carolina’s Lost In The Trees continue to work 2010’s All Alone In An Empty House, returning to town again for another date at The Drake Underground on April 6, tickets $11.50. Update: Their new record A Church That Fits Our Needs is out March 20 and NPR is streaming the first song.

MP3: Lost In The Trees – “All Alone In An Empty House”
Stream: Lost In The Trees – “Red”

Amidst a lineup of some of the biggest – and loudest – names in indie rock of the past two decades, not many expected the delicate piano songs of Seattle’s Perfume Genius to stand out, but inexplicably, it did. Now with a second album in Put Your Back N 2 It ready for a February 21 release, Mike Hadreas will hit the road with it and stop in at the Drake Underground on April 8. Tickets for that are $13.50 in advance.

MP3: Perfume Genius – “All Waters”

Real Estate have rolled out a new Scharpling-directed video from Days. They’re at Lee’s Palace on January 20.

Video: Real Estate – “Easy”

Pitchfork has another MP3 from Of Montreal’s forthcoming Paralytic Stalks, out February 7.

MP3: Of Montreal – “Dour Percentage”

Clash talks to Eric Bachmann and Mark Price of Archers Of Loaf. The Vee Vee reissue is out February 21.

White Rabbits have announced a March 6 release date for their new record Milk Famous. You can grab the first MP3 at their website in exchange for an email address.

The Shins have released a stream of the first tune from their new record Port Of Morrow, out March 20.

Stream: The Shins – “Simple Song”

Memory Tapes have put out a new video from Player Piano.

Video: Memory Tapes – “Trance Sisters”

Village Voice interviews Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack of Wye Oak.

Billboard chats with Carrie Brownstein of Wild Flag and other stuff.

I don’t know if this video for Wilco’s “The Whole Love” is technically official, but seeing as how it was directed by Spencer Tweedy – son of Jeff – it’s at least officially acknowledged.

Video: Wilco – “The Whole Love”

PitchforkTV has a video documentary on The Flaming Lips’ masterpiece The Soft Bulletin.

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Walk Off

The National, Neko Case, and Wye Oak at The Air Canada Centre in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI’m not really sure how to frame this show. Arena-sized, indie rock summit featuring acts from three of the finest independent labels going? Victory lap capping an incredible 18-month run for one of the best bands, anywhere? Early Christmas gift? Yeah, I may go with that last one. And a surprise gift at that, because even though there’s little arguing about the strength of a bill featuring The National, Neko Case and Wye Oak, placing it in an arena – even one configured to one-third of its full size for a more intimate theatre setting – would give most people pause. After all, both The National and Case had just recently reached the echelon of acts who could play the rarified setting of Massey Hall and prove they belonged; even if they could draw more people, would the presumed trade-off in atmosphere and sound quality be worth it?

Of all of them, it was Baltimore duo Wye Oak who’d had the most experience punching above their weight class as far as venues were concerned. This would be their fourth Toronto show in the calendar year and the third as support for a much bigger act – that’d have been The Decemberists back in February and then Explosions In The Sky in October, both at the Sound Academy and both proving the band had no fear in playing to large audiences that were not necessarily their own. That wasn’t actually the case this time around, as the early set time meant that while the crowd was decidedly sparse, those who were there had made the effort to be there in time to see them play. And, as they’d done each time out, they wholly impressed with their confidence, dynamics, and songcraft – I’ve only listened to Civilian a moderate amount this year, but seeing them live three times this year have really made me appreciate how talented they are.

I’d actually forgotten that Neko’s last headlining show in Summer 2009 was at Massey Hall; I’d caught her decidedly more cozy show a few months earlier at Trinity-St. Paul’s and that evening of magic was enough to keep me going for some time. Quite some time, as it’d turn out, since Neko hadn’t released anything since 2009’s Middle Cyclone, keeping busy with The New Pornographers’ touring schedule and this set of shows being at the invitation of The National rather than having anything new to promote. And while she didn’t exactly dress up for the occasion – jeans and a hoodie, thanks – she still brought her full band (with Calexico’s inimitable John Covertino on drums) and her A-game. Despite an erratic mix that often put Paul Rigby’s guitar ahead of Neko’s vocals, she was still able to make use of the expansive space to soar and remind those who needed reminding of just how powerful a performer she was. Amidst the set laden with old favourites, Case previewed a couple of new songs which will presumably be going onto a album – both continuing on in the country-pop hybrid vein in which she’s found her stride – as well as a gorgeous cover of The Awkward Stage’s “We Dreamt Of Houses” that I genuinely hope makes it onto the record. And, of course, there was plenty of joking around with longtime foil Kelly Hogan, frequently at Rigby’s expense. It doesn’t seem quite accurate to be welcoming Neko back when she hasn’t really been away and she hasn’t got a new record yet, but still. Welcome back.

When The National played two nights at Massey Hall last June, it felt like a pinnacle of achievement for the Cincinnati by way of Brooklyn five-piece; a room to match the stately sophistication of their sound and presumably their new home in Toronto for years to come. But those shows came at the very start of the cycle for High Violet and even long-time fans such as myself couldn’t predict how much bigger the band would get over the next year and a half. And while it’s true that the Air Canada Centre wasn’t nearly sold out, even in the theatre setup, there were still considerably more people in attendance than Massey could have contained so the upgrade in venue wasn’t so much hubris as necessity.

For anyone who was at those Massey shows, it may be hard to imagine a better National performance than those. They may have just scored a #3 album but as one of the first performances in support of High Violet, they still carried an enormous weight of expectation on their shoulders. But rather than buckling under the pressure, they used it as fuel and turned in the best show of theirs I’d seen to date (and I had seen them lots). As it turned out, the key phrase there was “to date”.

Their set began not onstage but backstage, as handheld camera footage from the green room was projected onto the backdrop and showed the band and entourage clowning and lounging around for a few minutes – hardly the gloomy crew that some might infer from their music. And after a few minutes of that, they rallied the troops and began navigating the labyrinths of the ACC, eventually striding off the screen and onto the stage. I’m sure other bands have done similar entrances before, but to do something so overtly anti-mystique to open their biggest show in the city seemed a bold move.

As they did that first night at Massey Hall they opened with a slow burn in “Runaway”, perhaps seeking to establish a more intimate vibe in the arena which, while well-filled in the stands, had room to spare on the floor. The set followed a similar trajectory through their catalog as last year’s show, favouring the last three albums but reaching right back to their self-titled debut for “Son”, sonically renovated just enough to fit well alongside its more recent brethren. And really, the broad strokes of what constitutes The National live experience haven’t changed too much since those first shows at The Horseshoe; there’s obviously better stage production, lighting, and Matt Berninger isn’t likely to give up his suits for Cincinnati Bengals t-shirts anytime soon. But ultimately it’s about Berninger alternately meditating at the mic or roaming the stage while the Dessner twins flank him interweaving guitar parts and the Devendorf rhythm section hangs back and keeps things together. Even Berninger’s random bursts of violence – typically against mic stands – have always had a certain zen serene-ness at their core.

So what made this show so exceptional? Despite the scale of the room, it still felt surprisingly personal thanks to the exceptional sound – yes, the ACC sounded loud and clear and great, believe it – and a band that were clearly feeling loose, confident and chatty, not to mention honed to razor-sharpness from near-constant touring through shows and festivals even bigger than this over the past 18 months or so. Augmented as is now the norm by a couple of horn players, they turned out more powerful and dynamic versions of “Squalor Victoria”, “Slow Show” and “Conversation 16” (dedicated to the cannibals of Cincinnati and not zombies, as I’d always assumed) than I’ve ever heard before deciding the space in the general admission needed to be addressed. After an energized “Abel”, Berninger strode into the stands at house left and invited everyone down into the floors; the other sections of the ACC needed no such personal invitation and as the band tore into “Sorrow”, every aisle was overflowing with fans upgrading their seats. Eventually the floor filled up and Berninger was forced to ask those left behind to return their seats to keep the aisles clear (in direct contradiction to his earlier, “Fuck safety! Health is lame!” pronouncements). But the task of getting the previously over-respectful crowd worked up and extra-energized was done.

Which made it the perfect time to invite out hometown hero Owen Pallett to guest on one of two new songs premiered earlier in the day for CBC Radio, “I Need My Girl”, and then assist on perhaps the most epic version of “England” heard in this city to date. No word of lie, save for the club-level intensity of those first Horseshoe shows, this was the best I’d ever seen them. So why did I skip out on the encore, leaving as set closer “Fake Empire” echoed off the arena walls? Tell you tomorrow. But about today, all I can say that as The National head back to New York for a series of shows that close the books on High Violet, they do so as not only one of the best bands going, but still seemingly with unlimited potential… but if, on their next return to town, they’re again at the ACC rather than two nights at Massey, don’t let the venue put you off. Just be sure it’s the theatre and not the full arena – everything has its limits.

NOW, The Toronto Star, Examiner.com, The Globe & Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Sun, and BlogTO also have reviews of the show. The National Post has an interview with Matt Berninger while Scott Devendorf takes The Grid through the anatomy of their set list. And to hear those new songs the band unveiled on CBC that morning, head over to Q for streams.

Photos: The National, Neko Case, Wye Oak @ The Air Canada Centre – December 8, 2011
MP3: The National – “Twenty Miles To NH (Part 2)”
MP3: The National – “Exile Vilify”
MP3: The National – “Think You Can Wait”
MP3: The National – “Afraid Of Everyone”
MP3: The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
MP3: The National – “So Far Around The Bend”
MP3: The National – “Fake Empire”
MP3: The National – “Son”
MP3: The National – “Beautiful Head”
MP3: Neko Case – “Middle Cyclone”
MP3: Neko Case – “People Got A Lotta Nerve”
MP3: Neko Case – “Hold On, Hold On”
MP3: Neko Case – “Star Witness”
MP3: Neko Case – “If You Knew”
MP3: Wye Oak – “Holy, Holy”
MP3: Wye Oak – “Civilian”
MP3: Wye Oak – “Take It In”
MP3: Wye Oak – “Warning”
Video: The National – “Exile Vilify” (1st Place)
Video: The National – “Exile Vilify” (1.00000000001th Place)
Video: The National – “Think You Can Wait”
Video: The National – “Conversation 16”
Video: The National – “Terrible Love”
Video: The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”
Video: The National – “So Far Around The Bend” (live)
Video: The National – “Mistaken For Strangers”
Video: The National – “Apartment Story”
Video: The National – “Abel”
Video: The National – “Lit Up”
Video: The National – “Daughters Of The Soho Riots”
Video: The National – “Sugar Wife”
Video: The National – “Son”
Video: Neko Case – “People Got A Lotta Nerve”
Video: Neko Case – “Maybe Sparrow”
Video: Neko Case – “Furnace Room Lullabye”
Video: Wye Oak – “Holy, Holy”
Video: Wye Oak – “Fish”
Video: Wye Oak – “Please Concrete”

The Antlers step into The Guardian‘s studio to describe and demonstrate how they wrote their song, “Parentheses”. They also chat with DIY and NYC Taper has a recording of their show at Webster Hall on Saturday available to download.

Austinist talks solo works and baseball with Craig Finn, whose solo debut Clear Hearts Full Eyes is due out on January 24.

Benjamin Curtis takes Spin behind the themes of the new School Of Seven Bells record Ghoststory, due out February 28.

Filter gets to know Real Estate, who’re playing Lee’s Palace on January 20 of the new year.

Janelle Monae tells Back To Rockville that she has a big 2012 planned, with two completed albums in the can and ready for release next year and grandiose touring plans to go with them.