Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

In The Middle Of The Night

Photo by Frank Yang

While I’m the last person to look a gift stat holiday in the mouth, I don’t think I’m such a fan of those that drop in the middle of the week. Having Canada Day fall on a Tuesday this year not only eliminated the conventional long weekend (it would have cost me a vacation day to get the four days off), but made Wednesday feel like Monday when it should have been Sunday since Tuesday felt a lot like Saturday. And it’s to this topsy-turvy week that I attribute the relatively light turnout to the annual Canada Day festivities at Harbourfront Centre.

I’d like to think that it wasn’t the quality of the acts on the bill that kept people away – though relatively new to me, Martha Wainwright is a fairly big name both nationally and abroad and her just-released sophomore effort I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too is getting its share of glowing accolades and as anyone who’s been visiting here for at least the past year, I think the undercard, Ms Basia Bulat, is as good as a basket of kittens. In other words, there was serious talent on display, and for free.

None of this is to say there wasn’t a very healthy crowd Tuesday night – there definitely was when Bulat took the stage to an almost comically botched introduction (every name that could possibly be mispronounced was, and Oh My Darling has not been shortlisted for the Polaris Prize… yet). Though she’d performed earlier in the day in Ottawa, Basia showed no sign of tiredness from the jet-setting, leading her band through an effervescent set of material old and new. While this certainly wasn’t the largest crowd she’d played in front of – if nothing else, that day’s Parliament Hill show surely had a larger head count – it was probably the largest crowd I’d seen her play in front of and, consequently, the loudest applause I’ve heard her get, and deservedly so. A basket of kittens, I’m telling you.

As stated above, I’m a newcomer to Martha Wainwright having missed out on her self-titled debut and only hearing her for the first time with the new album. My net impression is a positive one, though not without caveats. One the plus side, she does have a marvelous voice and a sharp songwriting pen. In the cons column, she does have a tendency to over-sing where some restraint might serve better and the eclecticism of musical styles on offer can sound as unfocused as they do bold. But the shining moments – which generally happen to be the bigger pop numbers and a terrific Eurythmics cover – more than compensate for the weaker ones.

And in the pro column, you can add an undeniable live charisma and a penchant for amusing if perhaps family-inappropriate banter (which I won’t repeat here). Though she claimed to have jet lag, having just played at Glastonbury the preceding weekend, she didn’t seem at all off her game. If anything, her voice is more powerful live than on record, though the aforementioned flaws in her material were also more amplified – the middle section of the set where her band left her to play solo allowed her to indulge her most diva-like qualities. I’m sure it’s impressive to some, but vocal acrobatics have never done as much for me as a restrained but emotive delivery. But like the record, the positives of the show outweighed the negatives and she sealed the deal with an encore of a French operatic piece that I couldn’t possibly identify, but was dazzled by nonetheless.

With the release of her new record, much ink has been given to Martha Wainwright. The Mirror talked to the Glastonbury veteran about her tips for surviving the fest, Canadian Press discusses her famous family, The Independent inquires about being sexy (I’d call her more striking than sexy though you can’t argue with the legs on display on her latest album cover), Get Reading catches up with her on tour, Black Book and ClickMusic go for general Q&As while CD Times and The National Post offer longer features.

Photos: Martha Wainwright, Basia Bulat @ Harbourfront Centre – July 1, 2008
MP3: Martha Wainwright – “Bloody Mother Fuckin Asshole”
MP3: Basia Bulat – “In The Night”
MP3: Basia Bulat – “Snakes & Ladders”
Video: Martha Wainwright – “When The Day Is Short”
Video: Basia Bulat – “In The Night”
MySpace: Martha Wainwright
MySpace: Basia Bulat

I was a touch surprised to see a familiar face on stage in Wainwright’s band – Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman. Bartlett has just released a new album available for download free on his website – a cover of the entire soundtrack to the Kevin Bacon star-maker, Footloose. But before you chalk this up as an indulgence in ’80s irony, check out the very real and touching dedication for the collection (also on the site). It’s all there, rendered in Doveman’s distinctive rasp and slow-motion keyboards, from the Kenny Loggins theme song through the rather over the top “Holding Out For A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler to the for-the-ages duet between Heart’s Ann Wilson and Loverboy’s Mike Reno. Oh man. I’m actually very familiar with the soundtrack as it was part of my brother’s cassette collection when I was a kid and for good or for ill, was probably very formative in my musical development and it’s a little unsettling just how well I still know the songs. Doveman will be on tour with Nico Muhly in August and be in town at the Danforth Music Hall on August 27 along with Final Fantasy.

MP3: Doveman – “Footloose”
ZIP: Doveman / Footloose

Eddie Vedder, sans Pearl Jam, will be playing two nights at Massey Hall on August 12 and 13.

Bob Dylan is coming… to Hamilton. He’s at Copp’s Coliseum on August 20.

A Place To Bury Strangers are at Lee’s Palace on September 19 with Sian Alice Group.

NOW, eye and The Montreal Gazette question members of Ladytron – very much excited for tomorrow night’s free show at Harbourfront Centre. That’s three visits to Harbourfront in a week, surely some kind of record for me.

Pitchfork has details on Of Montreal’s next album Skeletal Lamping, due out October 7.

And the hits just keep on coming at Aquarium Drunkard – next up, an interview with Will Johnson of Centro-Matic.

The Guardian decides that the best career move that bands can make these days is to break up.

MTV picks their top albums of the year so far.

By : Frank Yang at 8:39 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Anupa says:

    Monday night, the Sirius stage was RAMMED for the free Lee Perry show. We went late thinking we might not get a seat, but we’d be able to see anyway. Nope. I’ve never seen that many people at one of their free concerts (paid shows not counting)… I’m sure Crystal Castles this Saturday will be rammed.

  2. lisa says:

    "Dis, Quand Reviendras-Tu?" by Barbara is the cover song that Martha sang for her encore.

  3. max says:

    i saw basia earlier on canada day in ottawa and she stunned me with her enthusiasm and beautiful singing… i heard similar reactions from others at the free show who were seeing her for the first time.