Posts Tagged ‘Franz Nicolay’

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I Saw You Blink

Stornoway and Franz Nicolay & Major General at The El Mocambo in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSome, like myself, felt that Stornoway and their debut album Beachcomber’s Windowsill were the perfect soundtrack to Summer. Others find their rich yet subtle orchestral pop to be more Autumnal than anything else. For the Oxford, England quartet’s visit on Tuesday night, the seasonal backdrop neither – instead, they made their Canadian debut on a wet and dreary eve right on the cusp of Winter.

With them was a face who’d visited many times before, though not in his current guise – Franz Nicolay, formerly of The Hold Steady but now of himself and his band Major General. Some have wondered what would possess someone to leave a band as popular and fun as The Hold Steady, but as terrific as his contributions to that band were, his musical (and sartorial) style always seemed at odds with The Hold Steady’s unabashed bar rock-ness. And just a few songs of what he’s done on his own made the reasoning for leaving abundantly clear; his own artistic ambitions can’t play second fiddle to anyone. Fronting a five-piece band of upright bass, drums, violin and keys, Nicolay himself would rotate through guitar, accordion and banjo whilst running through material from his new album Luck & Courage that was rich with old world influences while retaining a pop immediacy – more DeVotchKa than Hold Steady, to be sure. And music aside, Nicolay clearly enjoyed the frontman role, offering up almost as much banter as music – someone as loquacious as he staying in Craig Finn’s shadow for long? Not likely.

For as good of a record as Stornoway released this Summer, they seemed to have flown largely under the popular radar and as such I wasn’t sure how many people would turn up for this show – Toronto’s inherent Anglophilia would certainly help, but I’ve also seen English bands play to empty rooms before. That wouldn’t be the case here, though – whatever numbers were dispersed throughout the ElMo for the opener ignored the rules of Toronto concert-going etiquette of feigning indifference and converged immediately at the front of the stage when Nicolay and company began their tear-down; everyone who was in attendance was seriously keen.

Much of the charm of Beachcomber’s Windowsill comes from its beautifully understated aesthetic, so it was a bit of a surprise that the show opened not with the band shyly taking the stage, but with violinist Rahul Satija offering up a plaintive looped violin solo before the rest of the band, with multi-instrumentalist Adam Briggs making their number six, strode on stage and launched into a reading of “The Coldharbour Road” that was markedly more dynamic and dramatic than the recorded version. And really, that was the recurring theme of the show – everything you liked about Beachcomber’s Windowsill was very much in evidence, but instead of just being good, it was great. Despite or perhaps because of his somewhat awkward banter and stage presence, Brian Briggs was an engaging and curiously magnetic frontman but was clearly far more confident when actually performing, and why not? His voice was a much more powerful instrument than certainly I ever expected.

Equal credit must also go to his bandmates, though. One of the talking points of the album was that over 100 instruments were utilized in its creation and while not that many were brought on tour, an impressive number were pressed into service over the course of the show, all in the name of recreating as much of Windowsill‘s rustic yet sophisticated textures as possible, to say nothing of their contributions on backing vocals. All of which is to say that Stornoway sounded incredible up there. Why they’ve not gotten more attention is a mystery to me – perhaps because they haven’t been seeking it out – but an upside to this is the sense of surprise that can result when you see and hear for yourself how good they actually are, and beyond just having made a terrific record are in fact an even more terrific band and will surely make even better records in the years to come. And if anyone had any doubts of this, then they didn’t stay for the encore when the band played a pair of songs almost completely unplugged (bassist Oliver Steadman remained tethered for one song but plucked gently), the audience inviting themselves into a call-and-response with Briggs on a stirring “The End Of The Movie”.

Earlier in the show, Briggs expressed amazement that so many people had come out to see them and knew their material so well, but would later declare – and sincerely, I believe – this to be the best show of their tour, a sentiment equally held by the devoted audience. I won’t lie, I’ve been kind of burnt out on going out and seeing bands for the last little while – not unusual for this time of the year – but shows like this recharge my batteries and renew my faith in live music.

Chart also has a review of the show. The Georgia Straight profiles Stornoway while, The Phoenix and The Minnesota Daily talk to Franz Nicolay. Stornoway’s North American tour runs another two weeks. Really do go see them.

Photos: Stornoway, Franz Nicolay & Major General @ The El Mocambo – November 30, 2010
MP3: Stornoway – “Fuel Up”
MP3: Stornoway – “On The Rocks”
MP3: Stornoway – “Zorbing”
MP3: Franz Nicolay – “This Is Not A Pipe”
Video: Stornoway – “Zorbing”
Video: Stornoway – “I Saw You Blink”
Myspace: Stornoway
Myspace: Franz Nicolay

NME reports that Richard Hawley has completed work on an album with guitar god Duane Eddy. No word on when it’ll be released but that thing is going to have some deeeep twang.

Baeble Music is streaming video of a full show from Blood Red Shoes at New York’s Bowery Ballroom.

A North American release date has been set for The Joy Formidable’s full-length debut – The Big Roar will be out on this side of the pond on March 15 of the new year, some time after its January 24 UK release. And in addition to the normal CD (and hopefully LP) formats, there will be a fancy pants box set edition that throws in a live CD, two DVDs and assorted sundry tchotchke including, for the first 300 orders, a piece of Ritzy’s smashed guitar.

The New York Press talks career ambition and lack thereof with The Radio Dept’s Johan Duncanson. They’ve made an acoustic reading of “Heaven’s On Fire”, recorded for KEXP earlier this week, available to download and will release their career-spanning Passive Aggressive on January 25. They play Lee’s Palace on February 7.

MP3: The Radio Dept. – “Heaven’s On Fire” (acoustic)

Spinner talks to Lisa Milberg of The Concretes. They have a date at The Horseshoe on January 17.

Blurt engages Nick Cave and Jim Sclavunos of Grinderman in conversation, The Georgia Straight gets Warren Ellis on the phone and The San Francisco Chronicle and LA Weekly talk to Cave alone, the latter sending Henry Rollins to do their dirty work.

Keren Ann’s new album 101 will be out on March 22.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Heathen Child

Review of Grinderman’s Grinderman 2

Photo By Deirdre O'CallaghanDeirdre O’CallaghanThe lines between Grinderman and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds aren’t always very clear. Quantitatively, you’ve got a few less members (which must make for some awkward scenes at the rehearsal space – “oh, I thought it was a Bad Seeds day… I’ll show myself out…”) and Cave strapping on a guitar and avoiding the piano, and qualitatively, you’ve got an even rawer, darker sound than the Bad Seeds craft and they’re hardly all sunbeams and unicorns.

Their seedier-than-Seeds 2007 debut Grinderman was soaked in the blues and testosterone and was a welcome jolt of energy from a group of players whose works had become increasingly ornate, particularly relative to their more anarchic Birthday Party origins. And when the reawakening of their rocking, raunchier side carried over to the next Bad Seeds record, 2008’s scorching Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!, it would have been reasonable to think that Grinderman had served its purpose and run its course. But no, Cave’s not done with the six-string as a songwriting tool and so we get Grinderman 2, out today.

Though still noisy and guitar-driven, 2 dials down the front-to-back pelvic thrust of its predecessor in favour of a more fully-produced sound that feels less beholden to a rigid aesthetic. And while it’s hard to imagine a video as ridiculous (in a good way) as that for “Heathen Child” being released under the Bad Seeds marque, any one of these songs could easily pass as having come from that main project, particularly the glorious “Palaces Of Montezuma” which has to rank as one of Cave’s best pop compositions in years. I’m sure that in the heads of their creators, there’s a clear distinction between these songs and those, but from the listener’s point of view all that really matters is that there’s another set of intensely and inimitably Cave compositions to absorb. No matter what the band is called.

Spinner, The Australian, The Herald and The Courier-Mail have interviews with Cave and The Line Of Best Fit talks to drummer Jim Sclavunos while The Quietus and Montreal Gazette chat with them both. The New Yorker has a profile on both The Bad Seeds and Grinderman by Sasha Frere-Jones and Pile Of Vinyl has got demos fo the first album available to download. Their North American tour starts November 11 at the Phoenix in Toronto.

Grinderman 2 is available to stream this week at Spinner.

MP3: Grinderman – “Heathen Child”
Video: Grinderman – “Heathen Child”
Stream: Grinderman / Grinderman 2
MySpace: Grinderman

Last week I was bemoaning the fact that Superchunk were crossing the border next week for a show in Montreal but weren’t coming down the 401 to play their first Toronto show in some nine years. Turns out the reason why is they’ll be here on December 9 opening up for Broken Social Scene at the Sound Academy. Yay, Superchunk, boo Sound Academy. Tickets will be $30 and go on sale Friday. In other ‘Chunk news, they’ve taken the editorial reins at the Magnet website kicking off with a Q&A and there’s features on the band at The Daily Tarheel, Billboard, The Washington Post and Chicago Reader. Finally, Videogum has premiered the hilarious first video from Majesty Shredding, out today.

Video: Superchunk – “Digging For Something”

In other announcements, Johnny Flynn’s second record Been Listening has been given an October 25 release in North America and he’s doing some solo dates to support, including an October 18 date at Lee’s Palace. About. Time.

Video: Johnny Flynn – “Kentucky Pill”

Bruce Peninsula must be about done their second record as they’ve scheduled an October 28 date at the Horseshoe. Tickets $10 in advance.

MP3: Bruce Peninsula – “Crabapples”

John Stirratt and Pat Sansone of Wilco will bring their Autumn Defense project to the Drake Underground on November 9. Their new album Once Around is out November 2.

Oxford’s Stornoway, whose debut album Beachcomber’s Windowsill was enthused about in this space back in July, have put together their first North American tour and it includes a November 30 date at the El Mocambo. Former Hold Steady moustache Franz Nicolay supports. There’s a session with the band up at NPR’s World Cafe.

MP3: Stornoway – “Zorbing”
MP3: Franz Nicolay – “This Is Not A Pipe”

After a goodly number of supporting dates, Freelance Whales will be playing their own show at the El Mocambo on December 7, tickets $15. They’ve also just premiered a new video from their debut album Weathervanes.

MP3: Freelance Whales – “Generator Second Floor”
Video: Freelance Whales – “Hannah”

The Radio Dept. getting political? This new song is apparently “directed at the swedish election coming this sunday”. Of course, the salient point here is new. Radio. Dept. Their “Never Follow Suit” EP is out November 9 and a double-disc of rarities – of which this track qualifies, I think – is out in January.

MP3: The Radio Dept. – “The New Improved Hypocrisy”

The Fly, Clash and eMusic have interviews with Interpol.

The Georgia Straight talks to Matt Berninger of The National.

Another track from Sufjan Stevens’ new album The Age Of Adz is making the rounds. Stevens is at Massey Hall on October 13.

MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Too Much”

The Irish Times interviews Joanna Newsom.

Monday, January 25th, 2010


Dinosaur Jr at Sonic Boom and The Phoenix in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangHad you the opportunity to go back in time and tell the 23-year old me that, in just over a decade, I’d be so fortunate as to see two of my all-time guitar heroes – Johnny Marr and J Mascis – live and awesome in a one-week span, I’d have told you to shut the fuck up. And then asked why, if you had the power to go back in time, you’d offer me that bit of information instead of, oh, stock tips or sports scores. But yeah, seeing The Cribs last week and then Dinosaur Jr not once but twice on Thursday was pretty ridiculously cool.

While precognition is only slightly more plausible than temporal displacement, it’s still quite a coincidence that I selected this photo for my not-yet-failed Photo 365 project a couple weeks ago and then framed last week’s cover of the week as I did – it’s almost as though I knew that Dinosaur Jr was going to be at Sonic Boom in more than pre-recorded form. Which, of course, I did not so the almost last-minute announcement on Monday morning that the trio would be playing an in-store in the Annex record store before their sold-out show at the Phoenix was a WTF of the best kind. And one that would surely require a lot of advance planning and waiting in order to get a good spot.

I’m sure some had hopes that this would be a fully-plugged in, foundation-shaking rock extravaganza that people would be talking about for generations to come, but those sorts of expectations were just a bit unrealistic, what with all of their gear already set up and soundchecked at the Phoenix. What they did bring when they finally arrived at the packed house a half hour later than scheduled – traffic, dontcha know – was a semi-acoustic setup that wasn’t going to damage anyone’s hearing, but would provide a unique experience. They also didn’t bring Murph – apparently border issues left him at home in the land of the free and a replacement drummer in Kyle Spence, who played with Mascis in The Fog. Mascis came bearing a Gibson acoustic rather than one of his signature Jazzmasters but the fuzz pedal and tube amp that accompanied it ensure that things wouldn’t be too polite. And you could call their six-song set a bit mellow and certainly unprepared, it was not polite – a J Mascis guitar solo, even one on acoustic guitar, is epic, rambling and awesome but not polite. They may have come without a set list, but the selections they did decide on offered a pretty good representation of the Dino jr canon – three from the original trilogy of records, one from their latest Farm and most excitingly to me, a couple from the non-Barlow years, which through no real fault of Lou’s, are my favourite. Knowing that material from those records was in the mix for this tour was pretty damned exciting.

And the belief that they were focused only on Lou-era material was part of the reason that I had yet to see the resurrected Dinosaur Jr live, even though this was their third time coming through town since 2005. The first time out, my understanding was that they were only playing material from the first three records since the touring was in support of the reissues and I missed their Summer 2007 visit in support of Beyond on account of scheduling. And I’d seen the charity J Mascis/Broken Social Scene gig back in July 2006 so it’s not as though I hadn’t borne witness to J Mascis’ guitarwork before. These rationalizations were, however, entirely moot when I got to the Phoenix Thursday evening. The in-store was a delicious appetizer but this was the main course. The unbelievably loud and wholly electrified main course.

I hope that anyone who found the Sonic Boom set too low-key for their tastes had tickets for the Phoenix show. While they opened up relatively slowly with Green Mind‘s “Thumb”, the energy accumulated quickly and by the time they got to “Out There” about mid-way through, this Dinosaur was moving at full speed and leaving a trail of sonic destruction in its wake. I’d always thought of Lou Barlow as the sensitive mope-rocker of his solo career, so it was a bit odd to watch him absolutely rock out on bass, lurching and hair-whipping through the set. In contrast, J Mascis stood relatively placid at stage right, safely ensconced in his fortress of amplitude while spewing massively fuzzed-out guitar solos from his fingers and lazily drawled lyrics from his mouth.

It was a personal thrill to hear “Feel The Pain” from Without A Sound, not their most celebrated record but my gateway drug into the world of Dinosaur Jr, and “The Wagon” which closed their in-store set in grand style but was even better delivered at a billion decibels. For the finale they went back to the (more) classic material with a blistering “Freak Scene” and a Living All Over Me-centric encore of “Kracked” and “Sludgefeast” before inviting Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham onstage to close things out with early b-side “Chunks”. It was an epic show and, knowing that this no longer really counts as a reunion or a farewell, there’s no reason to not expect more of the same in the future.

The Ottawa Citizen and have interviews with J Mascis. and For The Records were in attendance at the in-store while Chart, eye and The Music Slut report back from the Phoenix show. NYC Taper is sharing a recording of the Dinosaur Jr show in Brooklyn last week.

Photos: Dinosaur Jr @ The Phoenix – January 21, 2010
Photos: Dinosaur Jr @ Sonic Boom – January 21, 2010
MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “I Want You To Know”
MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “Almost Ready”
MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “Freak Scene”
MP3: Dinosaur Jr – “Forget The Swan”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Over It”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Been There All The Time”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Feel The Pain”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Get Me”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Start Choppin'”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “The Wagon”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Freak Scene”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Just Like Heaven”
Video: Dinosaur Jr – “Little Fury Things”
MySpace: Dinosaur Jr

Spinner talks to Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook about a Sonic Youth feud that never really was. F’ed Up’s Couple Tracks comp is out this week and they play the Opera House on February 26.

St. Louis Today talks to James McNew of Yo La Tengo.

Wilco are doing their bit for Haiti relief efforts by offering a couple of complete live recordings from last year – Keyspan Park in New York and HMV Forum in London – in exchange for a minimum $15 donation to either OXFAM or Doctors Without Borders.

The New Have Advocate, Chart, The Duluth News-Tribune and The California Chronicle have interviews with Alan Sparhawk of the Retribution Gospel Choir, in town at the Drake Underground tonight.

The Hold Steady are a moustache down – keyboardist Franz Nicolay has officially left the band.

Fans of free shows and record store ambiance have a tough decision to make on February 5 – to see Great Lake Swimmers at Sonic Boom at 6:30PM or Hawksley Workman at Criminal Records at 6PM. Of course, both have their own proper shows coming up – Great Lake Swimmers at Trinity-St. Paul’s the following night and Workman at Massey Hall on April 24 – but they’re not free and you can’t shop for Animal Collective LPs while they play. Okay, maybe that last bit’s not such a bad thing.

MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Pulling On A Line”
MP3: Hawksley Workman – “Maniacs”

Aussies The Temper Trap are setting out on a North American tour that includes a date at the Mod Club on March 30 with Danes The Kissaway Trail. The former’s debut Conditions came out last year while the latter’s second album Sleep Mountain is due out in March.

MP3: The Temper Trap – “Down River”

Good Friday will be a day of hard choices for Toronto dream-pop aficionados. In addition to A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s show at The Garrison on April 2, Norwegian sonic apocalypse merchants Serena Maneesh will be just a short hop away at the Great Hall that night to showcase their new album S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor, out March 23. This may not necessarily be an either-or proposition – the venues are just a kilometer apart and if set times are obliging, you could do parts of both. That was the case the last time Serena Maneesh were here at Lee’s Palace in September 2006 and Early Day Miners were a couple blocks away at The Tranzac – Serena Maneesh managed to utterly demolish their set both figuratively and literally in under 45 minutes and I made it to the EDM show in plenty of time. Here’s hoping they haven’t learned any lessons in endurance in the past few years. Tickets for the show are already on sale for $15.

MP3: Serena Maneesh – “Ayisha Abyss”

If you, like I, are missing seeing Sharon Van Etten open up for Great Lake Swimmers at the aforementioned Trinity-St. Paul’s show on February 6, you’ll be pleased to know she’ll be back on April 5 for a show at the Horseshoe with Megafaun. I’m not so familiar with Megafaun but Van Etten’s Because I Was In Love is a quiet gem of a record – The AV Club and On Milwaukee have interviews with the singer-songwriter.

MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “For You”
MP3: Megafaun – “The Fade”
MP3: Megafaun – “Kaufman’s Ballad”

SubPop punks Pissed Jeans are at the Horseshoe on April 12, tickets $12. Their third album King Of Jeans came out last Summer.

MP3: Pissed Jeans – “Dream Smotherer”
MP3: Pissed Jeans – “False Jesii Part 2”
MP3: Pissed Jeans – “People Person”
MP3: Pissed Jeans – “I’ve Still Got You (Ice Cream)”

With their new album Romance Is Boring out tomorrow, Los Campesinos! have plotted a North American tour that kicks off with an April 20 show at The Phoenix. Clash has an interview with the band and Gareth Campesinos tells Drowned In Sound why he’s auctioning off his glockenspiel (and donating the proceeds to Haitian relief).