Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Sipping On The Sweet Nectar

Photo by Frank Yang

To suggest that anticipation was high for Jens Lekman’s first show in Toronto in some three years would be a bit of an understatement, and the fact that the originally scheduled two-night stand at the Music Gallery was condensed into a single night at the larger but still not especially large Great Hall gave the show a greater sense of occasion.

The merging of bills also meant that the support acts were combined into a triple-header, so the evening was started off with Katie Stelmanis, whom I’d seen just over a week ago opening up for Basia Bulat. I admitted freely then that I didn’t really understand her craft and I probably still don’t, but this time I found her set to be considerably more engrossing. Still confounding, but more engrossing. There was a strong medieval vibe that I found interesting, and her percussionist Maya Postepski was fascinating to watch. Who knows, a few more shows and I might even find myself on the “yea” side of the fence. But let’s not place bets just yet.

Certainly more immediate was the set from Final Fantasy. Though currently in a writing/recording/non-performing phase, Owen Pallet also shrugged off a sinus infection of some sort to play with old friend Lekman. Accompanied as always with visuals from Stephanie Comilang, his set was a mix of older material from He Poos Clouds and some newer stuff from his forthcoming (this Fall?) Heartland, a record he described as being about “a fictional world in which I am supreme deity”. He was careful to point out that he was still working out the live performance logistics of the new stuff, but even taking that into account, it came across very strongly. Unfortunately the venue’s sound wasn’t nearly as laudable and he (and we) had to suffer from a mix that was both too loud and too muddy. It didn’t quite ruin things, but it certainly made it a struggle at times.

The sound was better somewhat but not ideal when Jens finally took the stage a half-hour late, but all he ever really needs to dazzle is a guitar and his voice… which is good because that’s essentially all he had. It would have been great to hear him with the full band he’d been touring with in the States, but they didn’t accompany him to Toronto so it was just him and a single maiden bongo player and Pallet on violin for a couple songs. But, as I said, that was plenty. He did introduce some pre-recorded backing tracks for the final couple songs of the main set which were a bit jarring, given the sparseness of the set to that point, but there probably wasn’t any other way to do “The Opposite Of Hallelujah” – with inaudible backing vocals from Pallet, Hidden Camera Maggie MacDonald and Comilang – any sort of justice.

That exception notwithstanding, Lekman didn’t try to recreate the orchestrations of his recordings and took a conversational, jazzy approach to things. Of course, he could have just shown up with a DJ and rapped the whole show and the crowd would have swooned – Lekman is one of those rare performers who manages to be enthralling no matter what he does. It didn’t matter that his “A Postcard To Nina” routine was almost word for word what I’d heard from him at SxSW, it was still hilarious and a highlight of the night. One thing I noticed was that when you listen to him on record, his preference for simple, home recording audio fidelity can obscure how strong his voice is but live, the richness of it is impossible to overlook. The man is really an amazing singer and combined with his wonderfully droll and deadpan, yet warm and romantic songwriting, is simply irresistible. Things ran late enough that I wasn’t able to stick around for the second encore, performed in the park outside the CAMH building down the street but I hear it was pretty special.

It should be obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but I can’t say that it was entirely worth the wait. For starters, we’d been waiting for a local show for so long I don’t think it’d have been possible to be not be some sort of let down though having the full band would have gone a long way to fulfilling expectations. The technical issues were also a downer, though moreso for Final Fantasy’s set. The artists should be commended for fighting through it and still putting on a good show, but it could have been so much better… Oh well. Maybe they’ll get it all right when Lekman returns in 2011 or thereabouts. I should also mention the terrific job Comilang did on projections for Jens’ set. Though some of it was a little too literal to the lyrics, it was never less than charming and in the case of the haircutting piece for set closer “Shirin”, brilliant.

And Jens, your man in Chicago is doing a poor job because your Wikipedia entry looks disappointingly factual. Chart and eye also have reviews of the show.

Photos: Jens Lekman, Final Fantasy, Katie Stelmanis @ The Great Hall – April 8, 2008
MP3: Jens Lekman – “The Opposite Of Hallelujah”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo”
MP3: Final Fantasy – “If I Were A Carp”
MP3: Final Fantasy – “Many Lives 49 MP”
MP3: Katie Stelmanis – “In My Favour”
Video: Jens Lekman – “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar”
Video: Final Fantasy – “He Poos Clouds”
Video: Final Fantasy – “This Lamb Sells Condos”
MySpace: Final Fantasy
MySpace: Katie Stelmanis

Sorry if anyone showed up for The Dodos’ in-store at Soundscapes yesterday as it was cancelled due to transportation and timing issues. But maybe the announcement of an in-store from Peter Moren on April 24 at 4PM will make things up a little bit.

Yesterday, I neglected to mention the full album stream for Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, the new album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. There’s also a couple sample MP3s kicking around. I’ve only spun it a few times but it definitely sounds like they’ve brought a few things back to the day job from the Grinderman vacation, and that’s a good thing. The Village Voice has a feature and according to Metacritic, Lazarus could well be one of the records of they year. I can say that because they use science.

MP3: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Bring It On”
MP3: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!”
Stream: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds / Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

Pitchfork talks to The Gutter Twins.

Thanks to Michael from Radio Free Canuckistan for pointing out this Huffington Post piece that tracks the recent history of Rolling Stone‘s R.E.M. reviews. MusicOHM has an interview with Michael Stipe. R.E.M. are at the Molson Amphitheatre on June 8.

CMJ reports that this Summer will bring Sunshine Lies, a new studio album from Matthew Sweet. It’s out July 22 and odds are, it will sound like Matthew Sweet.

Pitchfork has details about the double-disc anniversary reissue of Mogwai’s Young Team, out May 27. They also have a working title for their next studio effort, due out sometime this year – The Hawk Is Howling.

Sam Fogarino catches Billboard up on happenings in Interpol-land.

By : Frank Yang at 8:29 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Chuck says:

    I was one of the poor souls left itching for some Dodos at Soundscapes, guess I should check the appropriate websites before spending subway fare for these kinds of things. I was particularly looking forward to it because my ticket for the OR/NP show at the Phoenix prevented me from checking out the El Mo show.
    Either way, I’ll probably hit up the Peter Moren one.

  2. Chris says:

    thanks for linking to that Bill Wyman piece
    REM are in the critical territory the Stones have occupied for every album since the mid 80s: "Best album since Some Girls!"

  3. John says:

    Frank, I think the world of Matthew Sweet and I love Girlfriend, like 100% Fun, but I just not feelin Matt anymore. Am I alone?

  4. Frank says:

    John – no, I hear ya. Though I must add that "Kimi Ga Suki" was an AWESOME bit of power pop the way only Matthew Sweet can do it, so he’s not wholly out of ideas. But treading water? Yeah. You don’t really need more than a few Matthew Sweet records in your collection.

  5. cy says:

    Frank, i saw Jens with his band in the tour finale in NYC on Sat night, then on Tuesday here. to my ears and eyes, it was a memorable double of first Jens the popster and then Jens the doe-eyed troubadour. The NYC show, with the band, was brilliant. The TO show was, from the balcony (where the sounds was okay, judging by the relative brickbats here and elsewhere), utterly absorbing. he really is a rare performer – okay, i’ll stop, because i’m by no means impartial on this. and yeah, there was no way i wasn’t sticking around for the encore 5-song show on the lawn, 130 in the morning, in front of the mental hospital.
    i’ve been going to gigs, big and small, for 35 years. tuesday night was the most magical i’ve ever experienced.