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Posts Tagged ‘Superstitions’

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Virgin Festival Ontario Day One

Virgin Festival Ontario day one with Pixies, Franz Ferdinand, Grizzly Bear and more

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangFor a while early last week, it looked like fate wasn’t going to be satisfied with just making the Summer leading up to this weekend’s Virgin Festival Ontario at the Molson Amphitheatre miserable, but it was going to apply the proverbial final kick to the groin by dumping upwards of 40mm of rain on the fest on its first day. Mercifully, the forecast improved incrementally each day and by Friday, it was looking like the rains would fall overnight and miss the festival entirely. By no means did this preclude the possibility of locusts descending during Franz Ferdinand’s set, but at least it would be dry if they did.

Thankfully, sun was the order of the day for the most part, and even if the could cover hadn’t broken then the festival’s first act – Mates Of State – would have done their best to warm up the sparse early birds with their general adorable-ness. The husband-and-wife keys-and-drum duo filled their half-hour set with oughta-be hit after oughta-be hit, wrapping with what was either a Daniel Johnston or Tom Waits cover – they put it to a crowd vote and I wasn’t sure which won out, nor did I recognize the tune. But pretty much everything else in the set came from their terrific last two records – Bring It Back and Re-Arrange Us – and really, made for the best way to start the day I could think of.

Photos: Mates Of State @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: Mates Of State – “My Only Offer”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Fraud In The ’80s”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Think Long”
Video: Mates Of State – “My Only Offer”
Video: Mates Of State – “Get Better”
Video: Mates Of State – “Like You Crazy”
Video: Mates Of State – “Fraud In The ’80s”
MySpace: Mates Of State

One of the perks of having had most/all the acts consolidated on the mainstage, save those on the top 40-friendly Virgin Radio stage, was that generally speaking, I didn’t have to run around between stages – I could just camp out at the main Amphitheatre stage and let them come to me and also watch entire sets for a change. And so while under other circumstances I probably wouldn’t have bothered seeing Lights, that there wasn’t really anything going on anywhere else was enough to keep me around. I’d seen her at last year’s V and while it was clear that I wasn’t the target audience for her wide-eyed, synth-pop, there was no denying her charm. And that was pretty much the take-away from her set on this day as well, all sugary pop confections delivered via keytar. But on a couple of tunes that she introduced as coming from her new record The Listening, out September 22, she broke out some decidedly big beats designed for the dance floor and I realized that if she wanted to, she could be Little Boots. The similarities between their two personas are striking, all Lights would need to do would be to ease up on the sugary, PG-rated balladry made for malls. Of course, that tact has served her quite well so far so the reinvention probably isn’t necessary – I’m just saying that it wouldn’t take much.

Photos: Lights @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
Video: Lights – “Drive My Soul”
Video: Lights – “Saviour”
Video: Lights – “February Air”
MySpace: Lights

The last time I saw Grizzly Bear was in August 2008 opening for Radiohead, also at the Molson Amphitheatre. And this time, like that time, they played to a small crowd scattered throughout the venue. But while it’d have been nice to have seen more people on hand to take them in, the open expanse did compliment their airy sounds and ghostly harmonies, allowing them to drift out over the field and lake (and highway). I’ve accepted that I like Grizzly Bear as much as I’m ever going to – which is not nearly as much as most, not even their much-fawned over new record Veckatimest – but I’ve always enjoyed seeing them live and just seeing four talented individuals work, today being no exception.

Photos: Grizzly Bear @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Cheerleader”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks” (live on Letterman)
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Deep Sea Diver”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “While You Wait For The Others” (live at KCRW)
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “He Hit Me”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “On A Neck, On A Spit”
Video: Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”
Video: Grizzly Bear – “Knife”
MySpace: Grizzly Bear

I had to double-check past lineups to verify that this was indeed Sloan’s first appearance at a V Fest, which surprised me considering their “elder statesmen” stature in the firmament of Canadian music. But here they were to bring the first proper dose of rock for the day, and with an expanded lineup to boot. It wasn’t deliberate that they were performing as a seven-piece, but necessity – singer/bassist Chris Murphy had broken a collarbone less than a month ago after being hit by a car and was recovering from surgery (surgery? I’ve broken both collarbones and didn’t need no surgery. Of course, I also now have deformed collarbones) so while he was able to sing, his bass and drum duties were handed out to friends of the band. And while the extra players probably added a sense of fun for the band, it also increased the amount of slop in the performance significantly. They managed to keep it mostly together through a set made up of hits from throughout their career, a solid reminder that they’ve written some of the best pure pop songs this country has had to offer in the past 15 years or so, but by the time they made it to set closer “Money City Maniacs” – featuring a genuine manually-operated air raid siren – they were basically falling apart, missing cues, playing to different tempos and generally making a hash of it. Naturally the crowd ate it up, though not quite to the point of offering a, “SLOOOOOAAAAAAAN” chant. Still not enough of them out there to build up the necessary critical mass.

Photos: Sloan @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: Sloan – “I’m Not A Kid Anymore”
Video: Sloan – “Witch’s Wand”
Video: Sloan – “The Other Man”
Video: Sloan – “Money City Maniacs”
Video: Sloan – “The Lines You Amend”
Video: Sloan – “The Good In Everyone”
Video: Sloan – “Coax Me”
MySpace: Sloan

After Sloan’s set, the order of the day became finding something to eat and getting as far out of earshot from Paolo Nutini as possible. To that end, I headed over to the Boardwalk Stage, a euphemism for the third stage set up in the vendor’s concourse for some of the smaller bands on the lineup to perform. It amounted to little more than a vinyl tent, smaller than the space allotted to the on-site hairdresser, but did have location going for it being located right in the middle of a lot of foot traffic. I got there in time to see The Superstitions, a fresh-faced new band whom I’d almost caught at NXNE (but didn’t, obviously). Musically, they were pretty good, trading in garage-ish pop tunes with a good balance of hook and grit, but performance-wise they didn’t have the charisma or confidence to really deliver them effectively. If they manage to develop the proper attitude (preferably a bad one), they could be an act to watch.

Photos: The Superstitions @ The Boardwalk Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: The Superstitions – “Mercy Line”
MP3: The Superstitions – “Of Sound Mind”
MP3: The Superstitions – “Deceiver”

I think I’ve mentioned the sparse crowds in every band writeup so far, and it’s too bad that that’s necessary but it was hard to miss the expanses of empty seats with any glance back at the audience. Normally, you’d focus on the people actually in attendance but in this case, the vacancies were a constant reminder of how many people were not The problem wasn’t necessarily in the numbers but where those numbers were gathered. You had the general admission pit and 200s pretty well filled and the same for the lawns, but the 300s and 400s in between were like a dead zone – hardly anyone there and really dampening the communal vibe that you’d normally expect at a festival. . This wasn’t a surprise – that’s how the seated venues go – but one couldn’t help thinking that if you’d taken everyone in attendance and dropped them, oh, in a big field, it’d have looked and felt a lot better.

And by the same token, I couldn’t help thinking that if Franz Ferdinand were bigger than they are and the size of the enthusiastic crowd up front was multiplied two or three times over, it’d have been an epic-sized party. The Scottish foursome, back for their third Toronto show in less than nine months, clearly knew how to play a festival set, packing their set with hits and a rarity or two for the hardcores and delivering it all with massive amounts of attitude and energy. I had largely lost track of their recordings since their self-titled debut and hadn’t seen them live since their Toronto debut at the Horseshoe back in February 2004 but watching them up there, absolutely destroying their set (literally, in the case of the drum kit demolition at set’s end), I had to ask myself why these guys weren’t my favourite band in the world? Super-tight, confident and utterly in their element, Franz were the first to make the day feel like a proper festival. Brilliant.

Photos: Franz Ferdinand @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Can’t Stop Feeling”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Ulysses”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Jeremy Fraser”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Wine In The Afternoon”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Eleanor Put Your Boots On”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “This Fire”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “The Dark Of The Matinee”
MySpace: Franz Ferdinand

Though Pixies were only the penultimate act of the main stage, to many/most they were the real headliners (all due respect to Ben Harper). And while I was bummed to not have been granted photo accreditation for their set, I was still happy to sit back and take in the whole of their 90-minute set. Some seemed disappointed that this wasn’t going to be one of the much-ballyhooed Doolittle sets, with that album played in sequence, but there was no way they weren’t going to play all the highlights from it along with the rest of their repertoire so whatever. It’s not like they’ve got any new material to air out.

This was the first appearance for the Boston legends since 2005 at this same venue, and while I missed that show I did see one of their dates at Arrow Hall on their first reunion tour back in November 2004 and this set had very much the same feel as that one – it sounded great and felt almost completely heartless. This isn’t necessarily a slag – it’s no secret that they got back together for the money and they’re by no means phoning it in, they’re playing everything the customer wants to hear and playing it really well. But if you were looking to feel some love or get a sense of occasion from their show, you probably wouldn’t have found it. They were up there to do a job – play some classic-ass songs to crowds who may not have had the chance to hear them before – and do it well. In a sense, it’s preferable to those reunions where they purport to be taking care of unfinished business or have buried all hatchets, and yet you can see them looking daggers at each other on stage. And so another 10,000 people or so can say they heard “Head On”, “Wave Of Mutilation” and “Gouge Away” live and Pixies can make another payment on their houses. Everybody wins.

Video: Pixies – “Here Comes Your Man”
Video: Pixies – “Velouria”
Video: Pixies – “Dig For Fire/Allison”
Video: Pixies – “Alec Eiffel”
Video: Pixies – “Debaser”
MySpace: Pixies

Post-Pixies, it was time to head out but not before a nightcap back at the Boardwalk Stage for The Rural Alberta Advantage. I had been afraid that the crowds would have settled in at the main stage for the big names of the night and wouldn’t be roaming the other stages, but there was a large crowd around the tent even before the band had started to play. This was my first time seeing the Hometowns heroes since they broke big back at SxSW in March and while I had been following their whirlwind rise to buzz-dom since them, it was great to be able to actually see them play again. And while they turned in basically the same set I’ve seen them play many times before, they still seem to take real joy in playing and in turn, never fail to make me happy. But even better was seeing how excited the audience watching them were – there was a real sense of discovery on many of the faces, doubly-pleasing because big festivals like this are generally assumed to be about the hoary old veteran acts rolling out the hits. To get people stoked about something new, to see them lining up to thank the band after the set, invite them to play their cities and ask about buying a CD, was immensely satisfying.

Photos: The Rural Alberta Advantage @ The Boardwalk Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”
MySpace: The Rural Alberta Advantage

And then I went home and wrote all this up before day two. God I need some sleep.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Now You Like Me How?

Polaris Prize long list announcement and NxNE preview, both featuring Woodpigeon

Photo By Mason HastieMason HastieIf there’s one thing I learned from being on the Grand Jury for last year’s Polaris Prize, it’s that the duties of being a regular jurist are far, far, far, far less stressful. There’s a real burden of responsibility when you’re one of the 11 whose duty it is to choose Canada’s “best album of the year”, forcing you to consider each nominee on the short list objectively, checking as much as possible personal biases towards genre, personality, history, whatever. It’s a lot of work.

And while in theory, the regular jury is supposed to apply that same criteria to their ballots, but it’s more of a free-for-all, some choosing to vote strategically to try and get lesser-known acts some exposure, others opting to ignore more commercially successful artists (though that’s probably the same thing). I took the same approach as in past years – essentially a combination of 85% personal favourites and 15% critical merit – and went with the following picks and rationale:

1) Woodpigeon / Treasury Library Canada & Houndstooth Europa
– one of my favourite albums of 2008, it hasn’t lost any of its winsome charm in the subsequent months. Expansive in scope yet exceedingly intimate-sounding, it’s simple and heartfelt and just beautiful. Dose.ca has an interview with bandleader Mark Hamilton.

MP3: Woodpigeon – “Knock Knock”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Love In The Time Of Hopscotch”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Oberkampf”
MP3: Woodpigeon – “Lay All Your Love On Me”
Video: Woodpigeon – “A Moment’s Peace for Mary Christa O’Keefe”
MySpace: Woodpigeon

2) Land Of Talk / Some Are Lakes
– I’d originally pegged this as a bit of a disappointment as it didn’t have the same buzzsaw intensity as their debut EP, but in time I’ve realized that the restraint and nuance of the full-length reveals them to be a much more sophisticated band than you might have originally expected. And it still kicks hard when it needs to.

MP3: Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Corner Phone”
Video: Land Of Talk – “Some Are Lakes”
MySpace: Land Of Talk

3) Rae Spoon / Superioryouareinferior
– The latecomer, dark horse, call it what you will, I’ve explained how this record from an artist completely unknown to me prior to a few months ago quickly became one whose melodies and emotional content would come to haunt the corners of my brain.

MP3: Rae Spoon – “Come On Forest Fire Burn The Disco Down”
Stream: Rae Spoon / Superioryouareinferior
MySpace: Rae Spoon

4) Bruce Peninsula / A Mountain Is A Mouth
– That the recorded artifact even comes close to capturing the intensity of the live Bruce Peninsula experience should earn it some sort of prize. That it dropped a couple of spots where I might have placed it a few months ago is more testament to the quality of the competition than a slight on the record itself.

MP3: Bruce Peninsula – “Crabapples”
MySpace: Bruce Peninsula

5) Metric / Fantasies
– This one might surprise some people who know I’m not even remotely a rabid Metric fan, but I’d be lying if I said that Fantasies didn’t have some of the best hooks and choruses of any record from any country this year. Spinner.ca, North Country Times and Decider have features.

Video: Metric – “Sick Muse”
Video: Metric – “Gimme Sympathy”
MySpace: Metric

And to my surprise, all five of my picks made the official long list, announced yesterday, which means that not only can I rest easy knowing that my tastes broadly align with the rest of Canada’s music critics (or maybe I should despair of that?) but that I now no longer need to do anything between now and the official ceremony in late September, when I will have to help myself to cheese and crackers. The short list of ten finalists will be unveiled on July 7, and I’m not going to speculate as to how many of the above choices will still be standing when the dust settles there. Hopefully at least a couple, so I have someone to root for.

I don’t know if the timing of the Polaris long list announcement was deliberately set to coincide with the start of NXNE this week, but it certainly makes my segue easier. I took an early pass at the lineup a while back, and now that the schedule has mostly worked itself out, my picks for the week are becoming somewhat clearer. Each night would seem to have what I’ll call an “anchor” act for me to either plan around or use as a starting point for the evening. Thursday night at 10PM at Neutral for Austin’s Ume, Friday at the Dakota at 8PM for Coeur De Pirate, with whom Singing Lamb has an interview, and Saturday at the Horseshoe, 9PM, for the aforementioned Woodpigeon.

Options for the Thursday night include Kensington Prairie at C’est What or The Balconies at the Drake for 9PM, Kittens Ablaze at the Rivoli or Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head at the El Mocambo at 11 and probably The Darcys at midnight.

With Coeur De Pirate being an early show, Friday is kind of wide open. Will almost certainly hit up Parlovr at Supermarket at 9, hope Swedes via Ireland Kill Krinkle Club are better than their name at Holy Joe’s for 10 and if not, there’s The Superstitions playing just downstairs at the Reverb. The UK’s Koogaphone have piqued my interest for 11PM – they’re upstairs at the El Mocambo – and seeing as how I’ve meant to see Provincial Parks for some time now, midnight at Rancho Relaxo seems as good an opportunity as any. 1AM will probably send me back to the Reverb for Parallels, though having The Sadies at the El Mocambo at the same time is about as sure a bet as you can get.

Saturday starts at the Horseshoe for Woodpigeon, and while staying at the ‘Shoe for NXNE for the stacked CBC-sponsored lineups is always an option, I will likely head to Bread & Circus to see Caledonia – though they didn’t make the long list, they got some substantial last-minute Polaris nomination buzz. Speaking of buzz, Band Of Skulls is getting enough that I’ll likely check them out at the El Mocambo but staying at Bread & Circus – with their lovely bright lights – for Olenka & The Autumn Lovers is also an option. Post-midnight is still entirely up in the air – suggestions are welcome, though they’d have to compete against the “go home and go to sleep” option, which is always a compelling one.

And if the official showcases aren’t enough to keep you busy, there’s always the unofficial ones, which generally take the form of in-stores. I haven’t seen anything slated for Sonic Boom, which is a bit unusual, but Criminal Records has a nice little lineup this week – Apostle Of Hustle at 7PM tonight, Said The Whale and The Daredevil Christopher Wright on the 19th, starting at 6PM.

As mentioned before, Ohbijou are doing an in-store at Soundscapes on Wednesday, June 17 at 7PM to mark the release of Beacons, a record you can probably expect to see me talking about when I do my Polaris Prize writeup for 2010. They talk to CBC Radio 3 and The National Post about the new album. They’ll also do a full show at the Opera House on June 25 – still have passes and prizes to give away for that.

The National Post has a Soundcheck video feature on Dog Day.

Someone obviously thinks I need to visit Montreal again. Today, Pop Montreal, taking place September 30 to October 4, revealed their initial lineup and as rumoured, the list includes the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Chairlift, Destroyer and the Dalai Lama (what?) – all fine acts, but their presence in Montreal almost certainly augurs a trip down the 401 to Toronto within a day or two. But more compelling is the addition to Osheaga (August 1 and 2) of Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When the initial lineup was announced and it was obvious they were importing chunks of All Points West’s roster wholesale, I bemoaned the fact that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs weren’t among them. Well apparently it was just a matter of time, because now with them and Elbow performing along with The Decemberists and Lykke Li amongst a host of others – and the fact that until V gets their act together and gives me a reason to head up to Orillia – 2009 is looking festival-free and that simply will not do.