Archive for August, 2009

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Virgin Festival Ontario Day One

Virgin Festival Ontario day one with Pixies, Franz Ferdinand, Grizzly Bear and more

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangFor a while early last week, it looked like fate wasn’t going to be satisfied with just making the Summer leading up to this weekend’s Virgin Festival Ontario at the Molson Amphitheatre miserable, but it was going to apply the proverbial final kick to the groin by dumping upwards of 40mm of rain on the fest on its first day. Mercifully, the forecast improved incrementally each day and by Friday, it was looking like the rains would fall overnight and miss the festival entirely. By no means did this preclude the possibility of locusts descending during Franz Ferdinand’s set, but at least it would be dry if they did.

Thankfully, sun was the order of the day for the most part, and even if the could cover hadn’t broken then the festival’s first act – Mates Of State – would have done their best to warm up the sparse early birds with their general adorable-ness. The husband-and-wife keys-and-drum duo filled their half-hour set with oughta-be hit after oughta-be hit, wrapping with what was either a Daniel Johnston or Tom Waits cover – they put it to a crowd vote and I wasn’t sure which won out, nor did I recognize the tune. But pretty much everything else in the set came from their terrific last two records – Bring It Back and Re-Arrange Us – and really, made for the best way to start the day I could think of.

Photos: Mates Of State @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: Mates Of State – “My Only Offer”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Fraud In The ’80s”
MP3: Mates Of State – “Think Long”
Video: Mates Of State – “My Only Offer”
Video: Mates Of State – “Get Better”
Video: Mates Of State – “Like You Crazy”
Video: Mates Of State – “Fraud In The ’80s”
MySpace: Mates Of State

One of the perks of having had most/all the acts consolidated on the mainstage, save those on the top 40-friendly Virgin Radio stage, was that generally speaking, I didn’t have to run around between stages – I could just camp out at the main Amphitheatre stage and let them come to me and also watch entire sets for a change. And so while under other circumstances I probably wouldn’t have bothered seeing Lights, that there wasn’t really anything going on anywhere else was enough to keep me around. I’d seen her at last year’s V and while it was clear that I wasn’t the target audience for her wide-eyed, synth-pop, there was no denying her charm. And that was pretty much the take-away from her set on this day as well, all sugary pop confections delivered via keytar. But on a couple of tunes that she introduced as coming from her new record The Listening, out September 22, she broke out some decidedly big beats designed for the dance floor and I realized that if she wanted to, she could be Little Boots. The similarities between their two personas are striking, all Lights would need to do would be to ease up on the sugary, PG-rated balladry made for malls. Of course, that tact has served her quite well so far so the reinvention probably isn’t necessary – I’m just saying that it wouldn’t take much.

Photos: Lights @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
Video: Lights – “Drive My Soul”
Video: Lights – “Saviour”
Video: Lights – “February Air”
MySpace: Lights

The last time I saw Grizzly Bear was in August 2008 opening for Radiohead, also at the Molson Amphitheatre. And this time, like that time, they played to a small crowd scattered throughout the venue. But while it’d have been nice to have seen more people on hand to take them in, the open expanse did compliment their airy sounds and ghostly harmonies, allowing them to drift out over the field and lake (and highway). I’ve accepted that I like Grizzly Bear as much as I’m ever going to – which is not nearly as much as most, not even their much-fawned over new record Veckatimest – but I’ve always enjoyed seeing them live and just seeing four talented individuals work, today being no exception.

Photos: Grizzly Bear @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Cheerleader”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks” (live on Letterman)
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “Deep Sea Diver”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “While You Wait For The Others” (live at KCRW)
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “He Hit Me”
MP3: Grizzly Bear – “On A Neck, On A Spit”
Video: Grizzly Bear – “Two Weeks”
Video: Grizzly Bear – “Knife”
MySpace: Grizzly Bear

I had to double-check past lineups to verify that this was indeed Sloan’s first appearance at a V Fest, which surprised me considering their “elder statesmen” stature in the firmament of Canadian music. But here they were to bring the first proper dose of rock for the day, and with an expanded lineup to boot. It wasn’t deliberate that they were performing as a seven-piece, but necessity – singer/bassist Chris Murphy had broken a collarbone less than a month ago after being hit by a car and was recovering from surgery (surgery? I’ve broken both collarbones and didn’t need no surgery. Of course, I also now have deformed collarbones) so while he was able to sing, his bass and drum duties were handed out to friends of the band. And while the extra players probably added a sense of fun for the band, it also increased the amount of slop in the performance significantly. They managed to keep it mostly together through a set made up of hits from throughout their career, a solid reminder that they’ve written some of the best pure pop songs this country has had to offer in the past 15 years or so, but by the time they made it to set closer “Money City Maniacs” – featuring a genuine manually-operated air raid siren – they were basically falling apart, missing cues, playing to different tempos and generally making a hash of it. Naturally the crowd ate it up, though not quite to the point of offering a, “SLOOOOOAAAAAAAN” chant. Still not enough of them out there to build up the necessary critical mass.

Photos: Sloan @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: Sloan – “I’m Not A Kid Anymore”
Video: Sloan – “Witch’s Wand”
Video: Sloan – “The Other Man”
Video: Sloan – “Money City Maniacs”
Video: Sloan – “The Lines You Amend”
Video: Sloan – “The Good In Everyone”
Video: Sloan – “Coax Me”
MySpace: Sloan

After Sloan’s set, the order of the day became finding something to eat and getting as far out of earshot from Paolo Nutini as possible. To that end, I headed over to the Boardwalk Stage, a euphemism for the third stage set up in the vendor’s concourse for some of the smaller bands on the lineup to perform. It amounted to little more than a vinyl tent, smaller than the space allotted to the on-site hairdresser, but did have location going for it being located right in the middle of a lot of foot traffic. I got there in time to see The Superstitions, a fresh-faced new band whom I’d almost caught at NXNE (but didn’t, obviously). Musically, they were pretty good, trading in garage-ish pop tunes with a good balance of hook and grit, but performance-wise they didn’t have the charisma or confidence to really deliver them effectively. If they manage to develop the proper attitude (preferably a bad one), they could be an act to watch.

Photos: The Superstitions @ The Boardwalk Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: The Superstitions – “Mercy Line”
MP3: The Superstitions – “Of Sound Mind”
MP3: The Superstitions – “Deceiver”

I think I’ve mentioned the sparse crowds in every band writeup so far, and it’s too bad that that’s necessary but it was hard to miss the expanses of empty seats with any glance back at the audience. Normally, you’d focus on the people actually in attendance but in this case, the vacancies were a constant reminder of how many people were not The problem wasn’t necessarily in the numbers but where those numbers were gathered. You had the general admission pit and 200s pretty well filled and the same for the lawns, but the 300s and 400s in between were like a dead zone – hardly anyone there and really dampening the communal vibe that you’d normally expect at a festival. . This wasn’t a surprise – that’s how the seated venues go – but one couldn’t help thinking that if you’d taken everyone in attendance and dropped them, oh, in a big field, it’d have looked and felt a lot better.

And by the same token, I couldn’t help thinking that if Franz Ferdinand were bigger than they are and the size of the enthusiastic crowd up front was multiplied two or three times over, it’d have been an epic-sized party. The Scottish foursome, back for their third Toronto show in less than nine months, clearly knew how to play a festival set, packing their set with hits and a rarity or two for the hardcores and delivering it all with massive amounts of attitude and energy. I had largely lost track of their recordings since their self-titled debut and hadn’t seen them live since their Toronto debut at the Horseshoe back in February 2004 but watching them up there, absolutely destroying their set (literally, in the case of the drum kit demolition at set’s end), I had to ask myself why these guys weren’t my favourite band in the world? Super-tight, confident and utterly in their element, Franz were the first to make the day feel like a proper festival. Brilliant.

Photos: Franz Ferdinand @ The Virgin Mobile Stage – August 29, 2009
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Can’t Stop Feeling”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Ulysses”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Jeremy Fraser”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Wine In The Afternoon”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Eleanor Put Your Boots On”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “This Fire”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out”
Video: Franz Ferdinand – “The Dark Of The Matinee”
MySpace: Franz Ferdinand

Though Pixies were only the penultimate act of the main stage, to many/most they were the real headliners (all due respect to Ben Harper). And while I was bummed to not have been granted photo accreditation for their set, I was still happy to sit back and take in the whole of their 90-minute set. Some seemed disappointed that this wasn’t going to be one of the much-ballyhooed Doolittle sets, with that album played in sequence, but there was no way they weren’t going to play all the highlights from it along with the rest of their repertoire so whatever. It’s not like they’ve got any new material to air out.

This was the first appearance for the Boston legends since 2005 at this same venue, and while I missed that show I did see one of their dates at Arrow Hall on their first reunion tour back in November 2004 and this set had very much the same feel as that one – it sounded great and felt almost completely heartless. This isn’t necessarily a slag – it’s no secret that they got back together for the money and they’re by no means phoning it in, they’re playing everything the customer wants to hear and playing it really well. But if you were looking to feel some love or get a sense of occasion from their show, you probably wouldn’t have found it. They were up there to do a job – play some classic-ass songs to crowds who may not have had the chance to hear them before – and do it well. In a sense, it’s preferable to those reunions where they purport to be taking care of unfinished business or have buried all hatchets, and yet you can see them looking daggers at each other on stage. And so another 10,000 people or so can say they heard “Head On”, “Wave Of Mutilation” and “Gouge Away” live and Pixies can make another payment on their houses. Everybody wins.

Video: Pixies – “Here Comes Your Man”
Video: Pixies – “Velouria”
Video: Pixies – “Dig For Fire/Allison”
Video: Pixies – “Alec Eiffel”
Video: Pixies – “Debaser”
MySpace: Pixies

Post-Pixies, it was time to head out but not before a nightcap back at the Boardwalk Stage for The Rural Alberta Advantage. I had been afraid that the crowds would have settled in at the main stage for the big names of the night and wouldn’t be roaming the other stages, but there was a large crowd around the tent even before the band had started to play. This was my first time seeing the Hometowns heroes since they broke big back at SxSW in March and while I had been following their whirlwind rise to buzz-dom since them, it was great to be able to actually see them play again. And while they turned in basically the same set I’ve seen them play many times before, they still seem to take real joy in playing and in turn, never fail to make me happy. But even better was seeing how excited the audience watching them were – there was a real sense of discovery on many of the faces, doubly-pleasing because big festivals like this are generally assumed to be about the hoary old veteran acts rolling out the hits. To get people stoked about something new, to see them lining up to thank the band after the set, invite them to play their cities and ask about buying a CD, was immensely satisfying.

Photos: The Rural Alberta Advantage @ The Boardwalk Stage – August 29, 2009
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”
MySpace: The Rural Alberta Advantage

And then I went home and wrote all this up before day two. God I need some sleep.

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

"West End Girls"

My Morning Jacket covers Pet Shop Boys

Photo via AmazonAmazonEven though it wasn’t really all that out in left field, many thought My Morning Jacket had lost their marbles when they released their 2005 genre-agnostic opus Z – where was the big, reverb-drenched southern rock that they’d broken out with? Well while the Kentucky outfit certainly acquired a large portion of their fanbase with their hair-whipping, foot-on-monitor rock excursions, they’d been pushing the envelope since their early days, as documented on the two Early Recordings compilations, the second of which – Learning – yielded this unexpected yet rather straight cover of the Pet Shop Boys. Which just goes to show – no matter where you’re from, be it London or Kentucky, the inner-city pressure? Everybody feels it.

My Morning Jacket are on a bit of a break right now but Jim James is busy, both releasing solo material as Yim Yames and as one of the Monsters Of Folk, with whom he’ll be at Massey Hall on November 2. As for Pet Shop Boys, they released Yes earlier this year and will be the penultimate act of the second day of V Fest tonight at the Molson Amphitheatre. Think they’ll play this tonight? Hell, I bet even the Nine Inch Nails fans would riot if they didn’t.

MP3: My Morning Jacket – “West End Girls”
Video: Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls”

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Oasis split

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSo here we are on the first day of Virgin Festival 2009 and what’s everyone talking about? The headliners of Virgin Festival 2008Oasis – and the fact that Noel Gallagher has quit. Illness was blamed when the band cancelled their headlining slot at the UK’s V Fest last Sunday, but this time the official word is there was “an altercation” between Noel and brother Liam and that Noel walked out on the band on the eve of a show in Paris, with all subsequent European dates cancelled.

Now normally when 1/5 of a band leaves, it doesn’t necessarily mean the band is done but when that individual is the primary songwriter, it doesn’t bode well. But on the other hand, Noel has quit the band at least twice before – or was it thrice? – so there’s as much reason to think that it’ll be temporary as not. But until word comes that the Gallagher brother have reconciled or at least realized that they have no marketable skills besides being in Oasis, let’s reflect on happier times for the band like the one depicted in the photo – taken shortly after Noel was attacked onstage in Toronto last year.

Video: Oasis – “Don’t Look Back In Anger”

In more positive superstar British frontman news, Exclaim reports that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke will be releasing a super limited-edition solo 12″ single on September 22. And when they say super-limited, the mean it. Word is there will be only 4000 copies allotted to North America and only 300 in Canada.

Check out the first track from Bad Lieutenant, the new outfit let by former New Order frontman Bernard Sumner and backed up by Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage. Wait, what?

MP3: Bad Lieutenant – “Sink Or Swim”

Billboard talks to James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers about their new record Journal For Plague Lovers, which has a September 15 North American release date and will bring the band back to this side of the Atlantic for the first time in a decade (not counting that gig for Castro in Cuba in 2001), including a date at the Phoenix in Toronto on October 4.

The Manics’ Nicky Wire, along with Emmy The Great, Micachu’s Mica Levi and a host of others awash in indie cred talk to The Guardian about their favourite top-40 pop songs.

Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan talks to Spinner about jamming with Wilco during their show together in Brooklyn earlier this Summer. Yo La are in town on October 3 in support of Popular Songs, out September 8, and are Wilco here for two nights at Massey Hall not a fortnight later on October 14 and 15.

Spinner has an Interface session with The Dodos. The Time To Die is out September 15 and they are at Lee’s Palace on October 17.

And apparently Pixies played a warm-up club gig in Hamilton last night at the Casbah, to around 150 lucky folks, thus ensuring they are properly warmed-up for their oughta-be-headlining-but-not slot at V Fest tonight.

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

CONTEST – VTech S9181 WiFi Internet Radio

Photo via vtechphones.comvtechphones.comUsually when I post a contest or giveaway, I try to frame it with some sort of context or relevancy to the zeitgeist at large (as I see it, anyways). Other times I don’t bother because the prize is self-explanatory and cool. This is one of these times.

And the prize is this. A VTech S9181 WiFi internet radio appliance. As the name implies, it’s a device that connects to your wireless internet connection and picks up over 11,000 (their claim) online radio stations that you can listen to through its own speakers or run through your stereo. It’s also got a built-in FM tuner for if you’re feeling old school and, if I read the specs correctly, can also play MP3s from a media server PC. In short, it’s cool and I kinda want one. But instead, courtesy of Filter, I’m giving one away. Someday someone will explain to me why that is.

To enter, leave me a comment below with your favourite radio station – online, terrestrial, satellite, whatever – and why. Make sure to leave your email so I can contact you if you’re a winner. And in keeping with the borderless-ness of the internet, this is open to anyone anywhere BUT a couple caveats: First, though the AC adapter can probably handle international voltages up to 240V (as most decent electronics can) it has a plug for North American plugs so if you’ve got those crazy-big European plugs (on account of being in Europe) you’ll need an adapter. And second, this thing is shipping from the US and will presumably have an accurate value noted on it for the customs folk – if you get dinged with duty and/or brokerage fees, you’re on your own. If you’re in America, you have no worries whatsoever.

Contest closes at midnight September 7.

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Love Love

Everything All The Time, The Magic and The Balconies at The Horseshoe in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangYou need only look as far as Monday’s post to see what I was doing at the Horseshoe on Wednesday night. What I hadn’t mentioned in the writeup of The Balconies’ debut album – out officially September 15 – was that I had been trying to catch the band live for some months now, based on numerous rave reviews, but while they’d played no shortage of shows in the 416 I’d not been able to make any of them until now. The fact that I’d been able to familiarize myself with their album was just a happy coincidence.

And to everyone who’d offered those rave live reviews and perhaps set up unreasonable expectations… you were right. The trio, playing their first gig as a Toronto-based band, performed with an energy and tightness that belied their relatively short existence together. Songs that I wasn’t sure about on the album sounded great, as really their whole set did from start to finish. As impressive as the recorded document is – it really does manage to reproduce their on-stage sound – The Balconies live came off with a certain swagger that wasn’t quite captured in the studio. Blessed with an abundance of tunes, talent and charisma, The Balconies may be new in town but if you haven’t made their acquaintance yet, just wait – they’re too good to stay any kind of secret. They play a free show on Saturday night at The Recording Arts Academy and will be at Lee’s Palace for a CD release show on September 25.

I’d seen middle act The Magic back in June during NxNE and they turned out to be one of the best new things I saw during the festival. While that show put the spotlight on their disco-fied side, this time they played things a little cooler and damn if they didn’t sound even better for it – less with the camp and kitsch, more with the deep groove and the slow burn. These are relative statements, mind you – it was still all about the party, but this time the lights were turned down a little more. The band, who released an EP last year that doesn’t nearly do the fullness of their sound justice, continue to work on their full-length debut. Mirror balls twinkle in anticipation.

Last up was Everything All The Time, presumably named for neither the album by Band Of Horses or the song by Styx, but who were acting as hosts for the evening. The occasion was the release of their new EP, a follow-up to their 2008 self-titled debut but the first to properly capture their current incarnation as fronted by Alanna Stuart. With her impressive vocals up front, the keyboard-loaded sextet resided squarely at the intersection of synth-pop and soul-pop, circa the mid-1980s – utterly danceable and with lots of familiar sounds, but blended together in a decidedly fresh manner.

I saw the band play last August and while it was clear what they were going for, it didn’t sound like it had quite coalesced into what it was meant to be. A year on, that’s no longer a problem – their set was delivered with loads of confidence and as much energy as a band where 5/6 of the personnel are rooted to their instruments can possibly have, thanks largely to Stuart’s voice and presence, which was irresistible without being overbearing – a diva with only the positive connotations of the word. Their next gig is a CD release show on October 23 (I think that’s what they said) at the Drake Underground. Odds of it being a dance party are approximately one to one.

The Singing Lamb has an interview with Everything All The Time.

Photos: Everything All The Time, The Magic, The Balconies @ The Horseshoe – August 26, 2009
MP3: Everything All The Time – “Love Love”
MP3: The Balconies – “300 Pages”
MP3: The Balconies – “Smells Like Secrets”

Peaches has a date at the Phoenix on November 18.

MP3: Peaches – “Talk To Me”

Dirty Projectors are heading back on the road this Fall in support of Bitte Orca and will be at the Opera House in Toronto on November 14. Full dates at The Music Slut. The band will also be releasing a new EP in the UK on September 29 called Temecula Sunrise – details at Pitchfork.

MP3: Dirty Projectors – “Rise Above”
Video: Dirty Projectors – “Stillness Is The Move”

Chairlift have released a new video from Does You Inspire You. Last time I was in New York, I saw the health club poster with the phrase that the album title is lifted from. I’m actually back in New York next weekend – anything going on? Actually Chairlift is playing. Maybe it’s a sign. Or a poster. Aaaaah.

Video: Chairlift – “Ceiling Wax”

Pitchfork talks to Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips about the edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties they’re curating in New York’s Catskills from September 11 to 13. There’s also interviews at The Fredericksburg Freelance-Star and The Washington Examiner. Their new album Embryonic is out October 13.

Richard Hawley talks to Spinner about getting into the necessary headspace to write his latest album Truelove’s Gutter, out September 22.

Pitchfork gets to know The xx, while The Quietus examines how the state of technology allowed the band to come to be. XX is out October 20 and they play The Phoenix on December 2.

Spin asks tough questions of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. They play the Kool Haus on September 29.

Both eye and NOW talk to Ohbijou’s Casey Mecija and James Bunton about the Friends In Bellwoods project, the launch parties for which go tonight at Lee’s Palace and all day tomorrow at The Tranzac.

Canadian Interviews interviews Canadian Kat Burns of Forest City Lovers, who will be playing the Friday night edition of the aforementioned release parties. Look for a new 7″ this Fall and work continues apace on album number three.

V Fest is finally here this weekend and The Toronto Star examines some of the problems that have beset this year’s edition of the festival and NOW looks at some of the acts that will be playing this weekend at the Molson Amphitheatre.

eye talks to Trent Reznor of day two headliner Nine Inch Nails about his decision to hang it up after this final round of touring.

JAM has an interview with Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys. I’ve never even thought of myself as a Pet Shop Boys fan, but they may be the act I’m most excited about seeing this weekend. I don’t think there’s any way they won’t put on a great show.

Montreal Mirror, JAM and Uptown interview Franz Ferdinand, playing the festival on day one.

With Sloan’s Chris Murphy still recovering from a broken collarbone, NOW reports that the band will have a few ringers covering bass duties on Saturday afternoon. No word on a designated scissor-kicker.

NOW and The Toronto Sun talk to Datarock. They’re up early Sunday afternoon. “Up” as in playing. Not as in awake.

Spinner has posted up the next (and last?) in its series on the state of independent music in Canada, this piece looking towards the future with the likes of Fucked Up, Crystal Castles and some fresh-faced kids who go by Metric.