Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Stepping Stone

Photo by Frank Yang

I was a bit curious what attendance was going to be like for UK soul starlet Duffy’s Toronto debut on Tuesday night. I’ve often joked that even a C-list British artist could sell out a room in Toronto, but tickets for the holder of the #1 album and single in the UK seemed surprisingly easy to get, right up until the day of. But by the time the doors were open it was properly sold out so that was one potential restructuring of my reality avoided. With no opening act, there was a lot of standing around and waiting but when Ms Duffy finally strode out on stage around ten minutes past nine to great applause it was evident no one was holding the delay against her.

Now it’s not too often I see the same performer twice in the span of three days, but happened that I was in attendance after seeing her the previous Saturday in Austin at SxSW so a little compare and contrast was inevitable, and to that end, impossible. Because save for the venue and the banter – “Hello Toronto!” rather than “Hello Austin!” – the show was very similar. A bit longer but still barely an hour with encore and covering pretty much the whole of Rockferry (out in North America May 13) and a b-side. No fault there – she only has so much material, some of it superb. Chart-topper “Mercy” really is a standout and a half and the slow-burning “Stepping Stone” is also exceptional.

But as much concentrated live Duffy as I’ve had in the past few days, a few things stand out to me. First, her voice – while strong and soulful – is unmistakably of the blue-eyed variety and, for lack of a better word, rather chaste-sounding. Very proper. Similarly, her stage presence is a bit stiff – I got the sense that despite being all smiles and politeness, she wasn’t completely comfortable onstage. I’ve read a few things about earlier performances to that effect and while I don’t doubt she’s made great strides as a performer, her (few) stage moves seemed overly rehearsed and not especially spontaneous. None of this should be surprising when you consider the speed of her ascendancy from nowhere, however. Great performers are made, not born, and while charisma is to a large degree innate, it can be obscured by shyness. Time will tell if Duffy’s got it. Lord knows with the amount the girl is going to be working this year, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to find it and in the meantime, well, she’ll have to settle for selling tons of records and selling out shows everywhere she goes. Tough life.

And to the guy seeking an autograph in the middle of the show… dude – time and place.

KCRW has audio and video of a Morning Becomes Eclectic session Duffy recorded at SxSW and IC Wales has a profile of the singer.

Photos: Duffy @ The Mod Club – March 18, 2008
Video: Duffy – “Rockferry”
Video: Duffy – “Mercy”
MySpace: Duffy

The other single-named British soul singer whom Duffy can’t seem to escape sharing column-inches with, Adele, will make her own Toronto debut with an already sold-out show at the Rivoli next Wednesday night. JAM and NOW have interviews with her and Billboard reports her album 19 will get a North American release later this Summer.

According to Spinner, Matt Pond is preparing to reclaim his name by ditching his name. With the release of their next album, Matt Pond PA will be no longer, instead operating under the name of The Dark Leaves. But for now, they’re still Matt Pond PA and will be as such when they play Lee’s Palace on April 2 opening for Carbon/Silicon.

Band Of Horse-man Ben Bridwell gives Filter the two-dollar tour of South Carolina.

With his archives well and properly cleared out, Billy Bragg will release his first new record in six years with Mr Love & Justice, out April 8. The album minisite has got album info and some live performance videos and Billy will be in town to promote it on June 17 with a show at an unexpected but welcome venue – Harbourfront Centre. Digital Spy talks to Billy about the new record.

Elvis Costello has a new album – Momofuku – slated for release on April 22. This appears to be a set of all new material and not another sneaky attempt to get you to buy My Aim Is True for a twelfth time.

Aimee Mann talks to Billboard about her synth-tacular new record @#%&! Smilers, out June 3.

John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats talks to New York Press about drums, Philadelphia Weekly about Black Sabbath and Pitchfork about various things in list form.

eye and The Toronto Star spend a little quality time with The Raveonettes, in town tomorrow for an acoustic in-store at Sonic Boom at 6:30 and a fully fuzzed-out electric show at the Opera House later that evening.

The Boston Phoenix, Nashville Scene and New City Chicago talk to Stephen Malkmus.

Bob Mould speaks with

The Times profiles Josh Ritter.

Drowned In Sound wonders why 1997 is looming so largely over this year’s festival circuit. Anyone know what was Jack Johnson doing in 1997?

Because no one demanded it – not one, but two Cure tribute albums! Though I have to say, between the two of them those are some pretty good artists taking part. Which will be the Armageddon and which will be the Deep Impact of Cure tributes? Only time will tell.

New York Magazine speculates that playing Scott Pilgrim in the forthcoming film adaptation might be the best thing for Michael Cera’s career. Yes, that’s right. Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim. Maybe. I don’t know how I feel about this.

By : Frank Yang at 8:25 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Mark says:

    Your observation about Duffy’s stiff stage presence is accurate. But that’s what I found endearing about her at the Mod Club concert. It’s almost like she’s not sure what to do with herself, where to put her arms, how to move her body. With just a couple dozen concerts under her belt, she still has to learn about the theater of live performance. But she’s got the vocal chops, and her songs — many of them were co-written — are strong. It will be interesting to see if she can live up to the hype. It will also be interesting to see Adele next week. But my of all the young British women emerging this year, my favorite is still Laura Marling. Her style isn’t northern soul, but folk. Easily the most talented of the lot. Mark

  2. Granger says:

    you shouldn’t be too surprised at the Bragg venue. He played at Premiere Dance Theatre on those grounds about 20 yrs ago. Seen him there, Ontario Place, Danforth, Concert Hall, Phoenix, a long-defunct club in Mississauga, probably forgetting a couple other places. :-)

  3. Frank says:

    don’t get me wrong – it’s a very pleasant surprise. I think seeing him there would be great, I just assumed he’d go through a LiveNation venue as always (I think his shows have always been HOB/LiveNation?) rather than one booked independently (if we can call Harbourfront Centre independent… I think they do theirs themselves).


  4. Eugene says:

    Here’s more info on the Elvis release. The info on his website is even more strange.

  5. mike says:

    Do you have any info about the Billy Bragg show? I have a feeling it’s a ticketed show, not a free one. Regardless if it’s not free, I’ll make every effort to purchase tickets as long as the price is reasonable.

  6. Frank says:

    I would bet that it’s a ticketed show and not a cheap one at that – Harbourfront shows generally run around $25 or so. But on the plus side, you can always just hang out outside the ticketed area and listen for free…