To preface this review, I should admit I'm a little bit biased: my adoration of Phil Elverum's music started when I was 13 listening to the Microphones' The Glow Pt. 2 before I even really knew what it was to love music. It's been a part of my sonic landscape for a very, very long time and has been internalized in ways I probably don't even realize.
I missed the first band, but caught the second opener, Wyrd Visions. A friend of mine who has seen him before described it as "mesmerizing". I can't really think of a better word than that. I was transfixed with the dreamy reverb to the point where I wished I had a chair to sit down in while I listened, and it left me humming "W-Y-R-D V-I-S-I-O-N-S across the sky-y-y" for days afterwards.
I was almost a bit afraid to see Mount Eerie. When you have such unrealistically high expectations for a band/person/film/anything you're usually let down, I mean how can reality live up to the absurd ideas that you build up in your head?
Except that they did. Mount Eerie was completely, totally amazing. They were not pretentious, rude, or dismissive of the crowd, nor did they gloat and over indulge in applause. They nailed all the pretty, lovely songs, like "The Place I Live" and my personal favourite off the two new albums Clear Moon and Ocean Roar, "I Walked Home Beholding", as well as the loud, rock and roll, "death metal" inspired stuff, like the last track of Ocean Roar simply titled "Instrumental". I was totally enchanted and happy and could have listened all night, as the guy beside me yelled when Phil announced they would be playing their last song, "Play 50 more!" It was dreamlike without being too sweet, and abstract without getting too spacey, and I left feeling completely blissed out and transcendental.
-- Leilani Fraser-Buchanan
Once in a while you manage to witness something you may never get to see again: a star on the rise captivating an audience in such a way that it's clear the entertainer has some serious star quality. More substance than hype, Odd Future-related singer Frank Ocean managed to silence naysayers with a terrific 70-minute set at Club Soda that saw him display his full vocal abilities.
Ocean started off the evening with a faithful rendition of Sade's "By Your Side," which left the majority of the younger crowd lost. Backed by a pair of acoustic guitars, the LA by way of NOLA native then slid into the tune "Summer Remains." The real sing-along started on third song "Thinkin Bout You." Loud piercing shrieks accompanied the first few notes of the song, and the crowd was finally excited to hear something familiar.
Backed by a simple screen showing smaller television sets that played different clips, the man born Christopher "Lonny" Breaux could have taken the easy way out by booking a DJ for the tour. Instead, Frank Ocean chose to work harder at his stage show and was backed by a four-piece band. This added an interesting dimension to beat-based songs, including the set highlight "Swim Good." Songs that normally felt club-ready suddenly had a sprawling, crescendo-like element to them, exploring the musical peaks and valleys absent in the original recordings.
The set list cherry-picked the better songs off of 2011's mix tape nostalgia, ULTRA, and his recently-released first proper studio effort channel ORANGE. The nostalgia, ULTRA cut "Strawberry Swing" was placed in the middle of the set, with the vocal hook from the Watch the Throne track "Made in America" tacked on the end. Pausing only for a second, the band began playing "American Wedding." Originally performed over the instrumental to the Eagles track "Hotel California," the newly-reimagined song stripped away the familiar guitar riff in favour of emotive atmospherics, placing Ocean's vocals at the forefront even more than the studio track could.
The 10-minute opus "Pyramids" was the perfect way to close out the set, and had the entire venue moving to a hypnotic bass line leitmotif that shook the walls. The song moved from catchy section to catchy section and the majority of the crowd was dancing and singing along without missing a beat.
The only downside to the show had little to do with Ocean himself; the young crowd had their cellphones in the air for the majority of the show, preferring to capture the event instead of living in the moment. It was a bit harder to see the stage when a wall of iPhones and Android phones were held high, blocking the view. Such are the perils of living in the digital age, and it was a small trade-off to witness such a great spectacle.
By Your Side (Sade cover)
Thinkin' About You
Super Rich Kids
Strawberry Swing > Made In America tag
Pink Matter (encore)
Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images
You don't need to be talented in order to become successful in today's music industry. This was established back when we were bombarded by chemically-engineered teeny boppers, boy bands, powerful voice equalizers, and dubbing. Technology is amazing, no doubt. I don't know what I would do sans iPod, but unfortunately the magic of computers has lessened our standards when it comes to real talent. While technology in the production booth enhances the skills of the gifted, it also masks the incompetence of those who are less "endowed" with an ear for music.
Going to a live a show is supposed to enchant the audience and heighten the musical experience, not diminish it. There have been times where I fell completely in love with an album ONLY after seeing the band perform live. Unfortunately, Sleigh Bells (or as I currently call them, "Slay Bells") was not a fun concert experience. I was, and still am, so disappointed. So much so, I have not been able to play their record since.
The hardcore synth-pop duo may not be musically inclined, but are they ever smart. Especially lead singer Alexis Krauss. The former fourth-grade teacher was pursuing a Rhodes scholarship when she happened to meet fellow band-mate Derek E. Miller. The two performed at a CMJ showcase in 2009, released an EP, and two successful full-length albums followed within a few short years. The songs were good, had original beats, and the combined forces of power chords and pop lyrics.
Krauss and Miller understand what screams (no pun intended) success in today's music industry: bright lights, flashy outfits, edgy images, loud harmonies, screaming, and lots of bass. Oh, and lest we not forget, the oh-so cool pretense of not giving a flying you know what. Talk about selling one's image to the extreme. However, you know something is up when everything except the music is being "sold."
I admit I've enjoyed all of their releases. Sleigh Bells albums are fun and nearly everyone I know who has heard one of their songs becomes a fan. Notice I say "albums" and not "live performance" or "show."
I dragged a friend of mine along because concerts are way more fun when you're not alone. I don't think I've ever been more thankful to have someone with me at a concert. She became a witness, and also one of many unsuspecting victims, of the Sleigh Bells. The show was a massacre of the senses because the band literally destroyed every single one of our five senses.
Sight: Bright strobe lights. The intensity was so great that my eyes actually hurt. It was so painful; I considered wearing my sunglasses in the venue. Everywhere I looked, people were holding their hands out in front of their eyes. Squinting and looking away from the stage, we tried to shield ourselves from the non-stop flashes of temporary blindness. I like light shows, but this was too much. It was overdone, obnoxious, and destroyed the show before the band even took to the stage.
Sound: LOUD.NOISY. BAD. Seriously, that is how I would describe the sound at Corona Theatre that night, and Sleigh Bells is purely at fault. Every song sounded the same, and we could barely hear Krauss singing over the overly-loud bass. The floorboards were vibrating from the power of the stereo system, and it was not cool. If you read reviews of the duo you'll notice a lot of music journalists and writers describe them as "noise-pop." That is pretentious garble if you ask me. Noise is noise. The Raveonettes know how to successfully combine noisiness and beats so it fits into their melodic songs, but Sleigh Bells is pure noise when it comes down to it. If you enjoy seeing them perform then you will absolutely love the white noise of your television set.
Taste: You know a show is bad when you overhear people saying things like, "I really need to get drunk" and "Damn, I need a drink." The band left a sour taste in one's mouth, to say the least, and not even alcohol was able to quench our thirst for something audibly bearable. A bad residual taste clung to our wallets as well. The cost of the tickets was really overpriced, the theatre was less than half full, and I don't think people were very happy with their purchase.
Touch: I was so unmoved by the performance that I left early and I usually don't do that. I was deeply disappointed because I really liked Sleigh Bells. I've always enjoyed playing their album at parties or on my show, but their performance was dismal and seemed like a money grab. Krauss is a great entertainer, and she was fun to watch as she thrashed around stage. However, her prancing and head banging did not make up for the poor sound quality.
Smell: The show stank.
Would you believe that Corona Theatre is getting the reputation as a venue that holds crappy concerts? It's such a beautiful venue and in a great part of the city, what with awesome pubs and bars surrounding it. Whoever is in charge of shows there better get with it before it's too late. My ears and eyes stung the following day. My friend and I actually discussed the show and talked about what an awful experience it was. She admitted she did not know the band but is now completely turned off by them and refuses to even listen to their album. You can't really blame her. I, on the other hand, am impressed by Sleigh Bell's producers and record label. Good job guys! The album is great but the band, not so much.
I give Sleigh Bells 1.5/5 Starrs for overall experience. I would have given them an even 2 if the show was cheaper.
Photo: Le Devoir
A few years back, I decided to make a solo trip to one of my second homes, New York City. While I was there I had the joy of catching Fela! The Musical, and we all know that New York knows how to do Broadway. Needless to say, all my senses were blown, but it was actually a book that I bought after the performance that left a strong imprint in my mind for all these years; Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore.
This beautiful and unconventional biography of the Nigerian icon Fela Kuti was so poignant and well written that it really had my soul travelling back in time and over seas. The book often referenced the club that Fela opened called Afro- Spot, which was later renamed to The Shrine. This "Shrine" became the place where many of the most amazing musicians of this world played in rotation, where Fela performed regularly, where dancers dazzled eyes, where heat dominated, where political truth was spoken, where minds were opened, and where souls were exposed. As Fela himself explained, "Why Shrine? 'Cause I wanted someplace meaningful, of progressive, mindful background with roots." That quote resonated in my mind for years because I craved such a place for us in Montreal, and in this era.
This year my wish became reality. For three unbelievable nightcaps during the Montreal Jazz Festival, Le Savoy du Metropolis became what I would call "The Shrine", and Kalmunity Vibe Collective (KVC) electrified over 1200 souls with incredible musical talent, skill, depth and energy.
Many of you may already know this nine-year veteran collective held down residencies up at Sablo Kafé, and now offers two great nights of live organic improvised music at Les Bobards on Tuesday nights, and Dièse Onze on Sunday nights. Revered for being the best live acts, jazz acts, hip hop acts, and more in this city, it was about time that they got to rock it at the Jazz Festival. My expectations were more than sky high from my prior experiences seeing this collective, and yet KVC still managed to blow my mind off this sphere. I initially planned on attending only the first of three nights, but I ended up needing a fix each night.
The first night had an under "The Congo Square" theme, so I made sure to have on my dancing shoes. When I strolled in at around 12:15, the Savoy was packed but I didn't have to wait in line, which means it was probably right under capacity at 400 heads. It took me a minute to squeeze my way to the front of the stage where I was pleasantly surprised to see each member of the band repping hard in their beautiful masks, beads and feathers.
The outfit award definitely goes to saxophonist, Vincent Stephen-Ong, who was rocking crisp white Jordans, an impeccable white suit, and a white skeleton painted on his face. The getups and lighting were a beautiful touch to help the audience get into that festive vibe, especially for the KVC newbies who might have needed that extra push. I was completely drenched within the first few minutes of getting there, partly because the Savoy is a carpeted room that really captures all human heat, but mainly because Jahsun (founder and lead drummer of KVC) was laying down rhythms so hard that my hips could barely even keep up.
Being the backbone of this collective, instrumentally and logistically, I feel that Jahsun often leaves more room for the other instruments and vocalists to take their space. Staying true to the Congo theme, we got to experience drums as a highlight, which was such a treat. Another musical highlight that stuck out to me was Christopher Cargnello on guitar. Truth be told, I'm rarely a fan of guitar because I think it's a little overrated (I may have fell for too many guitarists back in my teens), but Cargnello really reignited my love for the instrument with all of his soul vibrating solos, and particularly with the strong lead he took on a few of the pieces that really set a nice tone for the other musicians to build on.
Vocally, the wonderful Sam I Am blew me away. She strolled on stage sporting a long bright yellow mesh dress and big Donna Summer hair. She just killed us with her power notes and extensive vocal range; not to mention she's a magnificent dancer who can really break down in six-inch heels.
Everything was shaping incredibly well until around 1:30 when the band took a much-deserved break, and poof! The Savoy emptied up faster then a jar of Nutella at a day camp. I knew the break would make KVC lose a couple of people, but it was outrageous because a good two-thirds of the audience left in search of their festival fix. That's when I really saw how much KVC really is a give-and-take experience. With all that empty space in the room, even though the musicians were still giving their everything, the vibe had lost its strength.
The second night of the series was truly the one for the books, though. KVC didn't fall for that break trick again and decided to push through two and a half hours of performing straight, which is an amazing feat on its own, but when you think about how this is all live improvisation it's really extraordinary. The night was dedicated to the great J Dilla, so you know you that every musician was bringing their A-game. The energy in the room that was so magical that night, words really can't do it justice, but what I can say is that everything was perfectly aligned. From Jordan Peter's guitar strums, to DNA's knowledge dropping to Blu-Rum 13's rap flow, to the Nomadic Massive guest appearance, everything was right. I particularly applaud the Fredy V & Jonathan Emile duo; these two multi-talented vocalists are just natural born entertainers who have you hooked on every eye blink they make. As a duo, wow, they just owned the stage.
At one point in the night we were all two-stepping and singing along to the live remix of "Find A Way" (ATCQ) and my musicoholic friend from New York turned to me and said "Montreal hands down owns the live music scene, New York could not possibly compare." As I looked around the room I knew we all felt the same. People's eyes were glistening with emotion, everyone was swaying on the right beat, and all the connotations were straight hitting people's minds. Even an earthquake could not have shifted the audience's focus that night. Just writing about it is swelling my heart all over again.
After such an epic night, I just had to make it to the last of the series. I was glad to be carrying my media pass because the line-up was insane. Once again, KVC was all for the people and their enthusiasm was thrown right back at them. Attending all three nights back-to-back really brought to my attention how in-sync the musicians are with each other and the audience. Many of the musicians and vocalists had never even performed together, yet they managed to create pure brilliance right before our eyes. I must say one of the most memorable moments of the third night was when Beatbox extraordinaire X-Wam built an outrageous four-minute beat that he finished off with a beat medley mix of Michael Jackson. I've never heard so many ladies scream so high at the same time. None of us could compare to the high range of Ms. Malika Tirolien though, who just ripped it up with her insane scatting skills.
I could continue this play-by-play of the most epic musical experience I've seen in Montreal... ever, but I would rather leave the incomplete imagery in your mind so you can go fill it in by checking out the Kalmunity Vibe Collective yourself on Tuesdays at Les Bobards, or Sundays for more of a jazzy night at Dièse Onze.
I really must raise my hat to the soundman at the Savoy for serving us such impeccable sound, the Jazz Fest for making the three nights possible, the 30-plus poets, singers, MCs, and musicians of KVC for sharing their talent and soul with us, and of course to Jahsun for being the backbone behind this amazing collective.
Truly inspired by it all,
Fiona Apple has been performing an impressive string of shows in support of her latest album The Idler Wheel..., which in the eyes of many fans indicates a rebirth for the artist, and also a chance to make up for the time she's missed since her last release seven years ago.
An ambiguous cloud shadowed the Montreal show during the weeks leading up to it: would concert-goers and fans be willing to dish out a whopping seventy dollars (and upwards of ninety dollars for assigned seating) to see her perform after such a long hiatus? Clearly the Grammy Award-winning artist is a phenomenal talent, but that price tag sort of stuck out like a sore thumb. Either way, if one is an above-average fan of any musician there's a good chance they will pay the high price-tag to see them; and for this show, L'Olympia de Montréal was at three-quarters capacity.
Apple took the stage a couple of minutes before 9:00 accompanied by her five-piece band that included guitarist Blake Mills and bassist Sebastian Steinberg—the duo also served as the night's opening act playing a handful of numbers, including a few cover songs. A dim-blue light cast over Fiona Apple as she came out to a hero's welcome and slid right in to the song "Fast As You Can".
The sixteen-song set relied heavily on tracks from her first three albums Tidal, When The Pawn..., and Extraordinary Machine. It was slightly surprising that Apple did not play more material from her latest release, considering it has been getting rave reviews from nearly every paper and blog on the planet. However, Apple aficionados were left absolutely mesmerized by her presence, and by her choice to feature her older material. By the third song "Shadowboxer", Apple had the crowd in the palm of her hand and anything she performed easily pleased her audience.
Memorable moments included the crowd's first proper sing-along to the title track from 2005's Extraordinary Machine, along with new songs "Werewolf", "Anything We Want", and a drawn-out version one of her strongest tracks "Sleep To Dream" from the deluxe edition of The Idler Wheel....
One thing that could have upset a few fans was that Apple seemed more of a front woman to her band than a singer-songwriter seated at the piano. Known mostly as the latter her entire career, Apple played piano for merely three or four songs. This could definitely have been a legitimate complaint for someone who paid a hefty fine to see more of her hammering down on the keys.
On the contrary, Apple's stage presence was quite impressive. She ran around directionless and danced uncontrollably, much to the crowd's delight. It felt more like a rock show, despite the intimate setting. A familiar scene for those who remember the notorious video, Apple performed the majority of the song "Criminal" crouching on the floor, which almost felt nostalgic. The encore was a pleasant rendition of Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe", and her performance ended with a loud ovation from the highly-entertained crowd.
For a person who is not that knowledgeable of Fiona Apple's work (besides knowing all the words to "Criminal"), they would have definitely enjoyed the show. For die-hard pundits of her work, this could have been one of the best shows they have ever seen since Apple treated them to a career-spanning set. For someone who really wanted to see more of the new album and more piano, they could have easily left disappointed. It all depends on how one looks at it. Regardless, Apple definitely brought her best game to Montreal, even if she might be steering in another direction.
I had the privilege of seeing the Melvins, currently known as Melvins Lite, perform on July 3rd at the Corona Theatre for their recent album and tour. I've seen the Melvins twice before, and each time was memorable for wildly different reasons. Would the third time be as memorable?
Not so great first impressions...
The first time I saw the Melvins was October 26th, 1993 at Metropolis when they opened for Primus (touring for Pork Soda). At the time, I didn't know the band well, but I was a massive Primus fan, and I was stoked to see them for the first time. I guess most of the crowd was there to see Primus too, because they started heckling the Melvins and chanting "Primus!" The band proceeded to play an entire set of feedback and droning noise to drown out the audience. I remember it being pretty terrible; but then again, their antagonistic response made it one of the most memorable shows I've seen. The Melvins must have thought it was memorable too, as they included part of the set on their next album Prick in a song called "Montreal."
The second time I saw the Melvins was the last time they were in Montreal at Club Soda September 3rd, 2010. They were touring for The Bride Who Screamed Murder, and had their regular recording/touring dual-drummer lineup. It was a great show, except that I inexplicably broke out in hives about halfway through their set. That can get a little distracting when trying to enjoy a concert. To this day, I still don't know what caused the outbreak.
What would make this third time memorable? Perhaps a plague of locusts?
There was no plague, but opening act RETOX did feature Locust members Justin Pearson on vocals, and Gave Serbian on drums. Their songs are a mix of punk, hardcore, and metal, and almost all of them are around a minute long. I thought that they were much more interesting live than on record, but after four or five songs, it was getting hard to distinguish one song from the next. Their set ended awkwardly when the lead singer jumped in the crowd, lost sound, got back on stage, gave up, threw his microphone on the ground, and left the stage while the rest of the band finished the song.
Melvins Lite is a new configuration of the band featuring Roger "Buzz/King Buzzo" Osborne on guitar/lead vocals, Dale Crover on drums, and Trevor Dunn on double bass (hence the "lite" version of the Melvins). For those who don't know, Trevor Dunn is an incredibly prolific bassist, best known as being a frequent collaborator with Mike Patton as part Mr. Bungle, Fantômas (also featuring Osborne), and most recently as a new member of Tomahawk.
The show started with Dunn alone on stage playing the bass intro to "Eye Flys" (the first song from the Melvins first album Gluey Porch Treatments) using a bow. Audience applause greeted Buzz and Dale as they joined on the particularly slow and sludgy opening number. They extended the introduction to around 10 minutes, which tried the patience of one particular concert-goer who started whooping and yelling "enweye!" (let's go, hurry up, come on!). It was at this moment where I had visions of that first show at the Metropolis: this was going to turn into an hour-long free-form feedback show. Just in time, thankfully, the main part of the song started, and my fears were allayed.
Just like their new album Freak Puke, the show started slow, had small interludes of weirdness, but otherwise, it rocked. As expected, they concentrated heavily on the new album, but also included interesting renditions of tracks from their increasingly large back catalog of albums. New songs "Mr. Rip Off" and "Baby, Won't You Weird Me Out" were particular highlights, as was the surprisingly good cover of the Paul McCartney and Wings song "Let Me Roll It."
My favourite part of the show was their rendition of the "A History of Drunks" from A Senile Animal. The double bass added an interesting touch to song, which didn't hamper the driving catchiness of it. The music then deviated near the end to a slow jam before picking up where it left off and when it ended, I found myself grinning from ear-to-ear.
Buzz Osborne, wearing what can be best described as his space muumuu (as my friend Michelle succinctly put it), was his usual surly self. He had little interaction with the crowd, but he made up for it with his guitar playing and distinctive singing. Also, hands-down, the best hair in rock ‘n roll.
Dale Crover, wearing what looked like a sleeveless Danish soldier jacket, is in my opinion one of the most underrated drummers in rock. Amazing chops.
Trevor, dressed like geekier version of Angus Young (shorts, short-sleeve dress shirt, tie, taped-up horn-rim glasses and a ball cap) was impressive on double bass; his reputation as a talented bassist is well-deserved. Switching between using a bow and using his fingers, he added a unique twist to the usual Melvins sound. He may be the best bassist the band has ever had, and I hope that this album and tour is not the last we hear of him.
The show ended with "Shevil" from Stoner Witch, and there was no encore, nor did I feel there needed to be one. I walked away quite happy.
I saw the Melvins and it was memorable for the music and the performance, and not for some other event that overshadowed it. And at least I now know it wasn't the Melvins that caused me to break out in hives.
I had the privilege of seeing Henry Rollins perform a spoken word show on June 15th at the beautiful Corona Theatre on Notre Dame Street West.
For two and a half hours, the former lead singer of Black Flag and the Rollins Band stood on a bare stage, legs akimbo, mic to his face punk-rock style, rarely ever breaking his pose. Never once did he take break, even for a sip of water, of which there was none present.
He started his show by briefly talking about the Montreal student demonstration without going into great detail. He did express his support of those who believe that education is an important right, rather than a privilege. More specifically, he noted that it was vital our society continue to strive to be better through available mechanisms, education in this instance, rather than traveling down the rabbit-hole of dumbing-down participants that make up society.
He turned his monologue to the cultural and political state of United States. From bath salts to homophobia to Planned Parenthood to American foreign policy, Rollins ran the gamut of what we can see as an interesting time for our neighbors to the south.
Rollins let us in on the joys of turning 50, and how it pains him when people tell him that he's made the halfway point of life ("What, are you Mr. Metric?!"), even when he knows the American average is in the 70s and that he's hit "field goal range".
"I'm not a workaholic... I'm a work slut"
Henry Rollins hasn't done much musically since 2002's Rise Above: 24 Black Flag Songs to Benefit the West Memphis Three and the tour for that album, which I am so sorry I didn't get to see. That's not to say he hasn't been busy.
Besides the lengthy spoken word tours he embarks on, Henry Rollins runs his own music label and publishing company, 2.13.61 (named after his birth date), hosts a weekly radio show on Los Angeles radio station KCRW, hosted his own TV show on IFC, performed various voice-over work, has made numerous appearances in movies and TV shows. He seems to be interviewed for every punk documentary ever made (seriously, find me one he isn't in!). The self-proclaimed "work slut" tends to take any job offered to him, but as he mentioned during the show: "I say yes to employment, because inactivity will not do for me. I don't like sitting around. I don't want to watch the grass grow, I don't want to watch the parade, I want to be the damn parade". And so with that, he began describing his latest adventures as host for the National Geographic show Animal Underworld. From eating rats and drinking cow urine in India to wrestling alligators in the south, he entertained the crowd with stories from his latest adventures around the world. Especially amusing were the ways his cameraman would torment him, for example, making him drink the cow urine twice since "he didn't get the shot".
The show ended with two fascinating stories: one being a recent visit to North Korea and the other, Tibet. Both stories were somewhat disheartening considering what little you can do to help the locals while visiting. Lead around by North Korean guides, and fed propaganda during the entire visit, you got the feeling that a visit to that country was little more than a check mark on his bucket list of countries to visit. The story about his visit to Tibet involved watching Chinese soldiers bullying local Tibetans, and being powerless to help.
Henry Rollins is intense. This is not an overstatement. This is what makes him a compelling a story-teller. His show was a non-stop battering wave of statements, anecdotes and experiences, bursting with both humor and gravity that never ebbed, enticing listeners to want to hear more. This was my second time seeing Rollins perform his spoken word, and I wouldn't hesitate to see him a third time.
Formed in Portland, Oregon in the early 1990s, the Dandy Warhols achieved moderate mainstream success later in the decade with hit singles like "Bohemian Like You" and "Everyday Should be a Holiday", the latter featured on the soundtrack for the enormously popular comedy There's Something About Mary. While the group's brush with Top-40 stardom was relatively short-lived, their music has stood the test of time for college radio crowds and those who justifiably or inexplicably lean towards 90s nostalgia in their musical preferences. The group's signature psychedelic revival meets Brit-pop sound with a hint of glam rock posturing make them an interesting and notable cultural artifact of the period, as well as a great addition to a party-bound mix tape. All that being said, why on earth would this group be touring in 2012? Could seeing the Dandy Warhols live well past their prime (in my case, last Saturday at the Corona Theatre) be an absolutely depressing waste of time?
What may be considered depressing about this situation is the fact the Dandys are touring to support their latest release, This Machine, lukewarmly received by critics due to its attempts at sounding more 'grown up' and 'sober'. If you've never seen Ondi Timoner's documentary Dig!, you probably won't fully grasp the absolute self-absorbed immaturity and drug-addled mania that inspired the group when they were churning out their most well-received material. This insanity is also part of what makes the group such interesting characters, at once absolutely repulsive (for example, Courtney Taylor-Taylor's constant cracked-out boy-model posturing on stage and off and general dick-head attitude) yet completely alluring. Considering they've lost this spark in their new music, I was concerned that their live performance would be lacklustre at best.
Opening for the group were 1776, a standard, three-piece band that sound like a combination of every monolithic rock group to ever grace a Bluenotes rock tee. Too self-aware to be charming and without a hint of stage presence, passion or attempts at musical innovation, I found the group to be a depressing reminder of who, to this day, has a stronghold over the music industry (cough, baby boomers).
Second openers were shoegazers Psychic Ills, whose frontman Tres Warren is absolutely mesmerizing and has a great voice for the drone-y sounds they produce but the group's live performance isn't exactly a forte. I really enjoyed the group's sound, but would suggest picking up a record instead to trekking out to see them in the flesh.
The Dandy Warhols' set, much to my surprise, was very engaging and sounded kind of great. While Courtney Taylor-Taylor's falsetto has become a little sad in his middle-age, he managed to pull it off a couple of times with ease; largely, the vocals had been re-arranged to accommodate his lower vocal range. The group had great energy as they performed selection of hits in chronological order, mixing in new material towards the end of the night. Crowd-pleasing hits performed included "We Used to be Friends", the oft-requested "Horse Pills", "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" and Taylor-Taylor's solo rendition of "Every Day Should be a Holiday" (a personal favourite of the night). The Dandys kept their material fresh, linking old favourites together with unexpected, spacey jamming keeping tough critics, like yours truly, entranced in the performance instead of watching the clock, waiting for the set to end. The group had great stage presence and seemed to have a good sense of humour about what they were doing. Overall, a surprising and impressive set.
A noticeable energy surged through the city of Montreal with the political activism and unrest building with the student protests, the associated protests over Bill 78, and of course the news of an international manhunt for a suspect in a gruesome killing. However, the crowd that filled Club Lambi on June 1 would forget the outside world for a couple of hours to witness a mind-altering bill of local talent.
A recently formed Hiroshima Shadows opened the night's entertainment with a performance that set the bar for the rest of the evening. Although it was perhaps the least polished band of the night, their performance gave an indication of how great this band will likely become, and further demonstrated that everything Roy "Choyce" Vucino touches is gold. Hiroshima Shadows features Hannah Lewis on vocals and keyboards, Kieran Blake on vocals and guitar, Pierre-Luc Boily on drums, and Montreal's underground guru Mr. Vucino on bass (also serving as a musical equivalent of a foundation stone). Their set adrenalized the crowd with a punk rock / "shadow" disco hybrid, heavy in the low end of Roy's bass and Pierre-Luc's drumming. With vocal duties shared between Hannah and Kieran, the songs were plucked from several musical palettes, never pigeonholing this new band into one specific sound.
"It will be like any other Red Mass gig, but jammier..." explained Roy outside Club Lambi prior to performing his second set of the night. Adding "Disco 3000" to the Red Mass name for this gig was an indication that something would be different. It was a little more groovy, soulful (thanks to Taylor Hoodlum Stevenson guesting on vocals for a couple of songs), and yes a lot more "jammy". This was still the same shape shifting punk rock 'n’ roll beast that never fails to capture and energize an audience. In fact, I'd say the audience was left catching their breath.
With a new album due later this year, the band gave a little taste of what is to come. The set was made up primarily of new songs, jams, and familiar gems such as “Male Models”—a song that has been performed over the last couple of years, but never officially released. "Le Soleil De Glace" started the show with a build-up worthy of the invited two man horn section. The second song "U New U" emerged with a 60's pop patina. Hannah took lead vocals on "Sharp", a dark and moody disco song that seduced the audience, also indicating that Roy has found a perfect female foil in Hannah Lewis. The horns once again returning for a cacophonous breakdown resulting in what appeared to be an improvised jam.
One of the highlights of the set was "Dancing In My Grave". Guest-vocalist Taylor Hoodlum Stevenson nailed the track and perhaps raised the temperature in the room. His performance had soul to spare and was without a doubt the funkiest song of the evening. Every song was propelled by Yseal Pepin's throbbing bass lines and he was a pure pleasure to watch. This time around Pouf the Magic Drummer kept time with one of the most brutal displays on drums I have seen in a while, proving to these eyes, that he may well be the best drummer this band has ever had. Roy's guitar work never disappoints, and to hear him play you get the impression that between sleeping and eating he never really stops playing.
If this performance was any indication of the album to come, I'm hard pressed to come up with any other word but EPIC to describe it.
Although familiar with their albums, Anthologie Des 3 Perchoirs and In A Fung Day T!, this was the first time I had seen Duchess Says perform live. Damien "Sexual Chocolate" Edwards from the Long Beach, California band Crystal Antlers piqued my curiosity a couple of years ago when I met him in Toronto. He wore a Duchess Says pin on his jacket. When I explained I was from their hometown, he went on to say that after seeing them perform at a festival they were now his favorite band.
When I watched the headliners take to the stage, I thought of how hard it must be to follow Red Mass. But Duchess Says lived up to their reputation and did not disappoint. I would say I was converted, and now understood the praise put upon them. In Annie-Claude Deschênes, Duchess Says have a front woman whose stage aura is beyond hypnotic.
This band made sense to me as a live entity, their songs bopping and weaving with motorized precision. Guitar and synths meshed together to form a musical backdrop for Annie-Claude’s shamanistic performance. Keyboardist and guitarist Ismael Tremblay, guitarist and bassist Philippe Clément and percussionist Simon "Simon Says" Besre, concentrated on keeping everything in motion with little-to-no time stopping in between songs plucked from their two-album catalogue.
Annie spent a good portion of the set in and crowd-surfing above the crowd, eliminating any sort of boundary caused by having an actual stage. The cardboard chapel backdrops, after having fallen several times onto Ismael, eventually collapsed into the hands of the audience, which ensured proper destruction. As the props bent and tore to the crowd’s every move, so did the songs. At the end of their set, the band announced that they had a gift for all those in attendance, and a giant tarp with the band’s logo was revealed and laid out over heads of the crowd, providing a magic carpet from which Annie could once again join the audience and finish her punk rock sermon.
After seeing The Strange Boys, White Fence, and Ty Segall perform in May, I was left wondering if any other show this year could even come close to matching that line-up. My question was answered in the form of three local acts.
"Nothing will ever, ever top this show. Nothing!" –Overheard by a concert-goer outside, after the show.
Gogol Bordello is one of my all-time favorite bands, and yet I never had the chance to see them perform live. This pained me for many reasons. One: I absolutely love Gogol’s lead singer, Eugene Hütz. He, I believe, is the only man who can pull off a moustache like that and look better than good. Two: their albums are amazing. They're unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Their music is a ‘clash-ical’ mix of upbeat gypsy’esque reggae paired with punk rock tunes. An unlikely and very satisfying match up. The lyrics question authority, political issues, and democratic rights. So, you have these other worldly beats and lyrical poetry playing in your ears, encouraging you to dance, sing and be smart. What else could you ask for in band? The answer is nothing. Hence my need to see them live. But would they disappoint or make me love them even more?
Throughout the years I’ve overheard friends talk about the "Gogol experience". I was told that their energy level was beyond normal, and that they had the power and musical drive to turn any venue they performed at into one giant dance party. I had very high expectations, to say the least, and guess what? Gogol Bordello not only exceeded those expectations, they bypassed them by a Google (lots and lots of numbers exceeding everything).
For Gogol Bordello beginners: those melodic catchy beats you hear are influenced by the likes of Romania (Hütz’s homeland) and other parts of the southeastern Europe. The band members are from all walks of life. We’re talking multicultural haven.
Gogol Bordello was formed during a conspicuous time, on the cusp of the millennium in 1999, in Manhattan's Lower East Side. The band got its name from Nikolai Gogol, a Ukranian-born Russian novelist who inspired prolific writers such as Kafka and Dostoyevsky. The band wanted to pay tribute to Gogol because he had successfully integrated Russian and Ukrainian culture within his works of literature. Hütz was inspired by the multicultural inclusion and hoped their music would ultimately do the same.
The band has been sweeping the continents with their ongoing tours and lively music ever since. They have even performed alongside Madonna. Gogol Bordello’s songs have appeared in both mainstream and independent films, which has helped their music gain more recognition in the North American part of the world.
As I impatiently waited for Gogol to take the stage, I decided to scan the crowd and see what sort of people this gypsy punk band attracted. I stood there for a couple minutes mesmerized. I probably creeped out a couple people with my staring. The audience was as diverse as they come: young and old, big and small; you name it. Kids and teens were there with their parents and crust punks and ska fans were excitedly downing beers together. Aww.
A near sublime moment occurred when Hütz and the band finally took the stage. The amount of energy that was bouncing through the venue that Monday night—yes MONDAY—was insane. Everybody, and I mean everybody, everybody was dancing. It was the biggest dance party I’ve ever witnessed. That includes TV flash mob gaiety. Everywhere you looked people were clapping, dancing, smiling and singing along to "Wanderlust King", "Start Wearing Purple", "Not a Crime", and a bunch of other fan favorites.
The venue was at full capacity, tickets were sold out, and the sweat in that place was beyond gross. However, the show was so amazing I doubt anyone really cared about the overcrowding and near elbows to the face. It was the best concert I’ve ever been to and there really aren’t many words to describe it.
These guys basically played to a crazy enthusiastic crowd for two straight hours! Three encores later, Hütz and band mates are still onstage running around and singing like it’s their first number. Never have I been to a show where the artist has out-danced, and out-energized an audience. Gogol Bordello is pure magic. As I left to catch the last metro Hütz was still onstage, this time performing solo and I overheard a bouncer say, "He’s singing again, someone get him offstage!"
Concert tickets are pricey today, and I must say not all shows are worth the high price. However, when you get the chance to see Gogol Bordello live, you get much more than your money’s worth (such a rarity), you get an unforgettable experience and a great cardio workout as well. Seriously.