Posts tagged toronto

1 Notes

Grizzly Bear - Massey Hall 

Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear brought their stunning new record Shields to life in one of Toronto’s most revered live music venues.  Neil Young released a live album of his landmark performance at the venue and the legacy of Young’s haunting renditions was not lost on Grizzly Bear singer/guitarist Daniel Rossen, commenting after their opening song ‘Speak In Rounds’ that Young’s live-album was a particular favourite of the band.

Everything is a touch more grandiose about the Brooklyn four piece on this tour. The harmonies more dramatic, the lights brighter, sound is more mesmeric and intricate,  – so much so, their ambitious arrangements require an extra set of hands. Aaron Arntz (Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros) has joined the band for the tour, adding auxiliary flair to the already dense mix with synthesizers and horns.

The visual and lightning setting was stunning. Floating at the back of the stage was a series of jellyfish-styled orbs that moved hauntingly throughout the set. The Shields material translates seamlessly to a live setting. New visual effects take on a far stronger role than previous tours, but as a musical enhancement rather than a main element. ‘Sleeping Ute’ relies heavily on the well-synchronized quiet/loud structure.

In addition to an extra member on keys and horns, the band also invited some special guests to share the stage. Mid-way through their set, the band was joined by Owen Pallett, adding violin swells on ‘Half Gate’ and the slow-burning ‘What’s Wrong.’ 

 It’s a big; hallowing hall, which presents a space where some bands could get lost, but Grizzly Bear can play loud. On ‘Yet Again,’ Shields' second single and a song about the inevitabilities and routines of life, the group took their time with the lengthy rendition, building slowly to crescendo from an off-putting, undefined collection of wiggling guitar strums and drum beats into a huge, precise sing-along-like experience. The same happened with ‘Ready, Able.’ Gliding from an introspective sound into something so much more thundering and expansive, swallowing up the auditorium in a twisting, almost visceral soundscape, vocalist Ed Droste howled, “There go we go, I want you to know, what I did I did.”

Unsurprisingly the breakout singles from 2009’s Veckatimest received the loudest cheers including the haunting ‘Foreground’ and strong harmonies and whistling on ‘Shift’ from 2004’s Horn of Plenty. Droste’s vocals floated through the venue on ‘Yet Again.’ Droste was happy to share the spotlight however, swapping lead duties with guitarist Daniel Rossen on a few tracks while bassist Chris Taylor and drummer Christopher Bear chimed in on the microphones as well. Every member multi-tasks in a labyrinth of effects pedals, pianos, and guitars strewn about the stage. Grizzly Bear then welcomed another special guest Feist, fresh from her recent Polaris win, to the stage to sing back up vocals on ‘Two Weeks,’ which brought the crowd to their feet.

Grizzly Bear finished off the night with a barely amplified acoustic rendition of ‘All We Ask’ which into a crowd clap-a-long. Their impeccable harmonies and soaring vocals sweep around the venue, washing over the audience bringing the evening to a euphorically received end and one show the crowd will remember for a long time to come.

Notes

Metz-Live Review Toronto

On the live circuit METZ have been Toronto’s best kept secret for a few years now, with show stealing support slots and finessing their pulsating live show in tiny venues across the city. Tonight is the launch party of the their self-titled Sub Pop debut which has already gained a lot of well deserved international praise. The venue is brimming over with anticipation and the trio receives a huge hometown welcome as soon as they walk onstage.

Full of energy, passion and angst, they smash through their songs at a blistering pace; they are much more aggressive live than they are on their recordings. Working with Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh and Crystal Castles producer Alex Bonenfant, the trio reined in their sound, amping up the inherent hooks of their songs while ensuring that the noise isn’t present just for noise’s sake. Drummer Hayden Menzies attacks his kit with menacing fury. Bassist Chris Slorach pogoes rhythmically, even during moments of screeching feedback that fill the gaps between songs. And guitarist/vocalist Alex Edkins is like a man possessed, furiously hopping around the stage.

The lead single ‘Headache’ perfectly exemplifies the band’s sound. Delivering a raw power that has to be experienced live, the METZ sound has melodic riffs and lyrics to match. There’s a surface graininess that amplifies the corrosive qualities of the band’s sound not to mention the strep-throat rawness of Edkins’ voice. ‘Wasted’, with its slow intro, is deceptive as it smacks you with full force, while other tracks like ‘Rats’, ‘Nausea’, and ‘Sad Pricks’ provide a handy summation of Edkins’ bleak lyrical concerns, but that cynicism never weighs the intense set down.

Delivering “the longest set we’ve ever played” according to Edkins and manipulating the crowd to maximize dynamic impact, they come back onstage for the encore to be greeted by a sea of converse and dangling legs as the crowd began to let loose. Edkins, vibrating at a serious frequency at this stage, together with the rhythm section of Menzies and Slorach are thunderous, all moving in destructive tandem.

METZ still play as if they have everything to prove, and the crowd is more than happy to reciprocate with heated enthusiasm and no one is really sure what hit them. It is artfully rendered chaos. The trio are one of those rare bands that can balance the tightrope of noise and melody with aplomb, and their sound is a testament to raucous, live music. Now that they’ve got studio evidence and one of the biggest independent labels behind them they’re poised to take the world by storm. They will be rattling the walls of some bigger venues to come.

Notes

Frank Ocean

Venue: Guvernment, Toronto

The eyes of the media world have been on Frank Ocean lately after he made some personal revelations about his sexual orientation. None of this should matter but it does provide more intrigue to an artist who is on the rise and one that stands out in a genre that can be so generic. Regardless of the added attention of late, Ocean lets his music do the talking and this gig was sold out months before any gossip was revealed or even his album ‘Channel Orange’ was released, (his first or second full album depending on your view point, I tend to fall into the latter).

Despite the rapturous reaction to Ocean’s appearance onstage, he seems to not be phased on his first full tour as a solo artist and unassumingly sits on a stool and crooned his version of Sade’s ‘By Your Side’. There was a group of musicians accompanying Ocean onstage with a guitar, bass, keyboard and drums but Frank’s voice was the real instrument on show. His take on the song was raw and heartfelt. He could sing the whole set acapella and it would still engage the audience.

It was midway through the set’s second song, ‘Summer Remains’ that the backdrop lit up with a multitude of spinning television projected with a barrage of images flashing before us, appropriate given the added media focus around Ocean these days.  Ocean and his band then moved into the first song on ‘Channel Orange’, ‘Thinking About You’, and the shrieks from the fans were deafening as they sang back every word and melody. 

The set list encompassed new songs from ‘Channel Orange’, and songs from his mixtape ‘Nostalgia Ultra’, and a couple of covers including Coldplay’s ‘Strawberry Swing’ which segued into, the Jay-Z and Kanye West ‘Watch the Throne’ track ‘Made in America’.

Ocean’s voice reached thrilling peaks, and his songs clearly resonated with the crowd especially ‘Super Rich Kids’, ‘Sweet Life’, ‘American Wedding’ and the ambitious, seven minute plus epic ‘Pyramids’, which morphed from a dance anthem into something more soulful seamlessly.

Before launching into the confessional, heart-wrenching gospel tinged ‘Bad Religion’.  Ocean spoke to the crowd and gave one of the few endearingly shy speeches sprinkled throughout the performance. Ocean admits that “This past month has been wild, this song speaks to a particular situation for me and means a lot to me, and hope you can just vibe with me and give me love back”, he said to a thunderous roar of support. When his falsetto hits during the line “brings me to my knees”, it sends shivers up your spine. It felt like a therapeutic release, manifesting through Ocean onstage.

Ocean’s stage presence differs from contemporaries; it is less about posturing to the crowd but seemed calm and disconnected with the concept of stage moves or disingenuous banter. There was something decidedly pure about his presence and behaviour on his first tour. There was no need for theatrics and his energy and genuine gratitude for being given the opportunity to perform in front of people held the crowd captivated.

Ocean sat at a piano for his encore, ‘I Miss You’, a song he wrote for Beyonce for her most recent album. His poignant version was a satisfying end to a wonderfully self-assured performance from a man who has only just begun to find his true voice and it was a real aural experience. One could not help but wonder if this was a small glimpse of an immense talent before the sold out stadium shows come. 

1 Notes

Documentary Review: Paul Williams Still Alive

I’m a huge fan of the 2010 documentary feature Who Is Harry Nilsson? and generally anything that tells a story once legendary but now lost musicians and Paul Williams Still Alive is no exception. How else to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon then to dust down the story of a 5” 2’ chubby blond 70s songwriter and icon?

The parallels between Paul Williams and Harry Nilsson are numerous. They both wrote chart-topping songs for 60s and 70s pop groups that topped charts both then and continue to do so now. The most notable songwriting achievement for Paul Williams was the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun, but along with this he is an Oscar and multi-Grammy recipient, meaning that he surpassed the many of the achievements of Nilsson. The other key similarity when it comes to both these characters is that, at their pomp, they were both heavy class A drug users, leading to inevitable extreme behaviour and hilarious on-screen consequences. While the similarities in subject are abundant, documentary style is less so.

The film’s director, Steven Kessler, during the movie explicitly stated that he would not make a PBS documentary, and from that point forward, the movie struggled in style while striving to fulfill this promise. This led to a structure where Kessler attempted to cut Williams’ back-story throughout present day interviews and fly-on-the-wall coverage, to mixed success. After about three quarters of the movie, it began to settle, but the effort to break from documentary convention meant that it completely missed the most important component of this genre – the discovery stage - the uncovering of the icon, full of classic rare tv footage and stories of leading A-listers astray.

In the end, the narrative caught up with itself and revealed a tale of redemption for a once fallen star; and if you are a fiend for little known music industry references, this movie is still pretty unmissable.

How is Harry Nilsson trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IXwPgnLmGBs

Words by David Kirkpatrick

2 Notes

Festivals, Floods and Fort York: How does Toronto not have its own weekend festival?

As can be seen by the time you get to 15 seconds of the above time lapse video of Lollapollooza, it most certainly is no fun if you are in the middle of a music festival and a monsoon of south-east Asian proportions rushes over you. In fact, this storm over Chicago was so intense that it caused the evacuation and temporary shutdown of Lollapolooza.

But there is probably one thing worse than the water levels reaching your ankles in Chicago, and that is not having a festival to go to at the central point of the summer. And this is the predicament that Torontians find themselves in again this summer even though the city is pretty well book-ended by this 3-day mega-festival and by Osheaga 5 hours up the road in Montreal. The stubborness of Toronto’s promoters in realizing a multi-day festival is baffling to say the least, even more so when there are literally hundreds of world class acts within a two hour flight radius of the city. 

One only has to look at the cancellation of the V festivals in Canada to begin to understand the realities of what dynamics are in play here. While V was cancelled after 2010, supposedly due to lack of talent available to book. This reason may come across as slightly obselete given that Muse, the Foo Fighters, the Arctic Monkeys, to name but a few showed up in Lollapolooza that year.  Possibly a lack of consistent well-liked venue could be a factor. In 2009, V fest Toronto was placed in the popular and picturesque Toronto island, but for one reason or another the 2010 version ended up in the Molson Amphitheatre. This change must undoubtedly had a negative effect on the festival – why would anyone want to go to a festival where the main arena is 80% seated and holds 20 other gigs a summer?

Finally though, and most critically, maybe there is a demand issue. While the list of bands playing Toronto this week who also played one of the big two festivals is long [think Sigor Ros, Snoop Dogg/Lion, Black Keys, Shins, Tuneyards, etc, etc], when it came down to the outdoor music events that were put on over this holiday weekend, they were far from full. This is despite strong line ups in both Fort York (which I have to admit was a lot of fun) and the Amphitheater.


With most of Toronto empty for the holiday weekend, it is very clear that Toronto has voted with its feet and been drawn by country lakes rather than risk a wet outdoor festival. This may all change though, if a suitable, unique venue can be found.

Notes

The xx
Venue: The Phoenix, Toronto
The xx are on a brief North American tour to preview songs from their forthcoming second album ‘Coexist’. Two years have passed since the trio last toured their Mercury Prize winning self titled album and the band look and sound more confident and relaxed on stage than ever. Co-vocalists Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim, and multi-instrumentalist/producer Jamie Smith spend the show cloaked in a thick fog of smoke, with occasional white beams of light penetrating through the darkness. The atmospheric stage setting with the band in silhouette all evening was a perfect complement to Croft and Sim’s delicate interplay and quiet vocals.
The xx opened with new single “Angels,” which perfectly exemplifies the haunting minimalist soundscape that endeared them to so many on their debut album. Croft’s sweet, breathy vocals rang out. “Light reflects from your shadow; it is more than I thought could exist,” she whispered, like Croft was telling a capacity crowd her most intimate secrets.  
This was the first glimpse of what to expect on the new album but the set list soon transitioned into a long stream of songs from ‘xx’. “Islands,” goes straight into “Heart Skipped A Beat” and everyone in the crowd sings along with every word, which is sometimes a rarity in this city to have that level of devotion from the crowd. Croft’s vocals surprisingly never got lost in the volume of their instruments throughout. 
Another new track, “Fiction,” had Sim ditching the bass and shifting centre stage with his glowering, slow-prowl vocal style looming over the crowd. The night’s wealth of ‘Coexist’ material was quite impressive on first listen, particularly “Reunion”, (a hushed duet that sinks into an ether of twinkling guitars and Smith’s percussive mix of bass drops and steel drums) and “Sunset”, (elusive duet between Croft and Sim with sexually charged lyrics around “tired of playing games” and wanting to be “more than friends” backed by a thumping beat.)
However the new material didn’t deviate greatly from their previous album. Most of the songs are still concerned with The xx’s traditional themes (e.g. sex, love, heartbreak, regret), but they take the band’s characteristically harmonic riffs and pair them with upbeat dance rhythms. This influence can be attributed to Jamie xx’s solo work over the past few years. Previously Jamie felt like a silent partner onstage, but was busy during tonight’s performance, switching from synths and rhythm and beat modules to a variety of drums resulting in the band’s sound becoming fuller and more intricate in the process with more electronic depth and percussive variation than before.
While they used to basically replicate their studio tracks live, they now seemed to have a newfound confidence in their abilities, Smith’s big beats kicked the proceedings up a notch, particularly during older songs like “Infinity,” and “Shelter”. On “Basic Space,” Croft and Sim sang parts of it a cappella. When Sim resumed playing his instrument, it was still faint while the two lonely voices intertwined around each other.
Instrumental and crowd favourite, “Intro”, began the encore before “Tides,” another new song, featured Sim and Croft harmonizing on the words “I wouldn’t just leave us alone,” utilizing The xx’s glorious use of space and silence.
The older songs still sounded intimately epic while the new ones sounded like both a consolidation of their strongest elements and a creative progression ahead of the album’s release in September.

The xx

Venue: The Phoenix, Toronto

The xx are on a brief North American tour to preview songs from their forthcoming second album ‘Coexist’. Two years have passed since the trio last toured their Mercury Prize winning self titled album and the band look and sound more confident and relaxed on stage than ever. Co-vocalists Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim, and multi-instrumentalist/producer Jamie Smith spend the show cloaked in a thick fog of smoke, with occasional white beams of light penetrating through the darkness. The atmospheric stage setting with the band in silhouette all evening was a perfect complement to Croft and Sim’s delicate interplay and quiet vocals.

The xx opened with new single “Angels,” which perfectly exemplifies the haunting minimalist soundscape that endeared them to so many on their debut album. Croft’s sweet, breathy vocals rang out. “Light reflects from your shadow; it is more than I thought could exist,” she whispered, like Croft was telling a capacity crowd her most intimate secrets.  

This was the first glimpse of what to expect on the new album but the set list soon transitioned into a long stream of songs from ‘xx’. “Islands,” goes straight into “Heart Skipped A Beat” and everyone in the crowd sings along with every word, which is sometimes a rarity in this city to have that level of devotion from the crowd. Croft’s vocals surprisingly never got lost in the volume of their instruments throughout. 

Another new track, “Fiction,” had Sim ditching the bass and shifting centre stage with his glowering, slow-prowl vocal style looming over the crowd. The night’s wealth of ‘Coexist’ material was quite impressive on first listen, particularly “Reunion”, (a hushed duet that sinks into an ether of twinkling guitars and Smith’s percussive mix of bass drops and steel drums) and “Sunset”, (elusive duet between Croft and Sim with sexually charged lyrics around “tired of playing games” and wanting to be “more than friends” backed by a thumping beat.)

However the new material didn’t deviate greatly from their previous album. Most of the songs are still concerned with The xx’s traditional themes (e.g. sex, love, heartbreak, regret), but they take the band’s characteristically harmonic riffs and pair them with upbeat dance rhythms. This influence can be attributed to Jamie xx’s solo work over the past few years. Previously Jamie felt like a silent partner onstage, but was busy during tonight’s performance, switching from synths and rhythm and beat modules to a variety of drums resulting in the band’s sound becoming fuller and more intricate in the process with more electronic depth and percussive variation than before.

While they used to basically replicate their studio tracks live, they now seemed to have a newfound confidence in their abilities, Smith’s big beats kicked the proceedings up a notch, particularly during older songs like “Infinity,” and “Shelter”. On “Basic Space,” Croft and Sim sang parts of it a cappella. When Sim resumed playing his instrument, it was still faint while the two lonely voices intertwined around each other.

Instrumental and crowd favourite, “Intro”, began the encore before “Tides,” another new song, featured Sim and Croft harmonizing on the words “I wouldn’t just leave us alone,” utilizing The xx’s glorious use of space and silence.

The older songs still sounded intimately epic while the new ones sounded like both a consolidation of their strongest elements and a creative progression ahead of the album’s release in September.

1 Notes

Hot Docs Toronto Week 2 Review: The People’s Choice!

Despite my self-proclaimed herculean effort to hit 20+ movies over the 10 days of this years Hot Docs festival, this still represents a drop in the documentary ocean of the 189 movies available in this year’s selection. And, despite watching what I would consider a host of excellent documentaries in my sample of the festival, when I take a look at the updated “People’s Choice Award” list of the most popular movies of the festival (http://www.hotdocs.ca/docignite/project/2012_peoples_choice_award/blog), it makes me feel like I have been at a different festival! Here is  our take on the runners and riders so far:

 I can’t believe it didn’t make the list!

 While it was all the way back on the opening day of the festival, I am not sure how the outstanding Ai Weiwei did not make the cut with voters, but as I have swooned over this movie already this week (http://weird-waters.tumblr.com/post/22128074661/hot-docs-toronto-opening-weekend-review-the-good-the) I need not go into further depth but to say that it was truly the character of the man that was the making of this movie.

I don’t think Ping Pong should be at the top of the People’s Choice but it damn well should have got onto to it somewhere (and by time of writing it could have). This hilarious look into the world of the over-80s table tennis world championships had the capacity crowd in the Bloor cinema cheering and laughing in equal measures.  

Should be higher!

I caught Brooklyn Castle in the Regent in Davisville early on Saturday and while it sits at #5 as of last night, I really think it could be competing for the highest spot. It was almost the complete doc, it had: the socially quirky, the hysterically funny (see the nerdy white kid losing his temper after a loss in the national finals), and a wider social cause. This movie sits firmly at the top of the unusual but growing group that is high quality chess docs

Can’t believe I missed it!

We are Wisconsin: in my selection of movies, I managed to miss out on many features around the “America is broken” narrative, and this one, documenting further tales (if we need them) of right wing craziness just south of the great white north has received some big reviews, and here’s hoping it will get a wider release sooner rather than later.


 

Hot Docs People’s Choice Award list as of May 6th:

 

1. CHASING ICE
2. BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!*
3. G-DOG
4. WE ARE WISCONSIN
5. BROOKLYN CASTLE
6. 5 BROKEN CAMERAS
7. JASON BECKER: NOT DEAD YET
8. LIFE IN STILLS
9. MARLEY
10. THE WORLD BEFORE HER
11. THE FINAL MEMBER
12. SCARLET ROAD
13. INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE
14. ONE DAY AFTER PEACE
15. MCCULLIN
16. CALL ME KUCHU
17. BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
18. LEGEND OF A WARRIOR
19. THE INVISIBLE WAR
20. CHARLES BRADLEY: SOUL OF AMERICA

 

3 Notes

Hot Docs most anticipated:

4. Ai Weiwei

Simply reading short exerts of Chinese artist and activist’s Ai Weiwei’s story can send shivers down your spine. The Time magazine’s 2nd most important person of last year’s recent past features a litany of human rights abuses:  imprisonment, government monitoring, false tax evasion allegations and police beatings (from which he suffered a hemorrhage). The disappearance of his co-workers and the demolishing of his studios mark his most recent years, and these continuing actions against him have come to overshadow his 50 year art and architecture career, that includes the Olympic bird’s nest, something that he has attempted to distance himself from in the proceeding years.  Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry set out to attempt to expose an artist’s lack of freedom in one of the biggest economies in the world, unfortunately it is just this, the making of the documentary, that unfortunately became the catalyst for the actions taken against him.


Check out this recent piece form the Guardian:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/08/soul-needs-free-physical-being-spirit

1 Notes

Hot Docs most anticipated:

3. Beware Mr Baker

This is probably the doc I’m most looking forward to in Hot Docs 2012, a good old fashioned bio of a deranged drummer from the world’s first supergroup. What’s not to like?! But this isn’t a tv movie in disguise - it took home the best feature documentary award at this year’s SXSW and the early reviews reveal it to be the riot that the trailer sets it up to be (http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/sxsw-12-review-beware-of-mr-baker-is-a-rollicking-dangerous-and-ultimately-transcendent-ride-with-cream-drummer-ginger-baker).

Famous for being the drummer of 70’s megagroup Cream, Ginger Baker appears to exactly the type of character one would expect to be consuming truck loads of heroin with Eric Clapton as they dominated the rock world over those few halcyon years. While most (including myself) would be more familiar with the escapades of the Bonhams and the Moons of this era, the major difference here is that this is one drummer who is somehow still alive and here to tell the the tale - or at least attack the film’s maker Jay Bulger! This one looks unmissable…

Notes

Hot Docs most anticipated:

2. Dreams of a Life

Late last year, upon its UK release, this movie caused quite a stir, having been featured in many mainstream platforms across the pond - including the BBC’s Film 2011, along with a top review in The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/dec/15/dreams-of-a-life-film-review).

The movie follows the discovery of the corpse of a 30-something woman in an apartment in north London, the woman had died there 3 years previously, her remains found sitting on the sofa, in front of the television that was still turned on. The movie goes about trying to understand the circumstances around the death and track down the people near to the deceased. There seems to be two overriding narratives for this documentary: 1) How did no one coming looking for her in three years? How did no one even notice, what about the smell? and 2) What does this tell us about the worlds we live in and the society’s approach to the individual. There has been a good deal of hype around this feature in the UK, but while this may not have travelled over here yet, I am sure this will see a wider release over the coming months.