Seeing Matt Mays for my first time ever on a small stage was one show I couldn’t miss out on and after seeing Matt May’s performance last night at the Horseshoe I felt the compulsion to describe it’s awesomeness. Ladies of the Canyon were the openers, a country rock group of female musicians from Montreal that definitely set the mood for a night of real Americana music appreciation.
When Matt started playing after some banter with the ‘Shoe’s owner, I discovered that despite my obsession with photography, I had to restrain myself and leave my camera down throughout the majority of the show. Not because of how crowded and tight it was from all the people trying to get as close to Matt as they possibly could, no I simply had to lower my camera out of respect and awe of such an unbridled performance. I just needed to relish the moment and refuse to partake in the all too familar persistence of recording devices blocking the actual view of who we all came to see.
The night began with “Indio” followed by “take it on faith,” and “tall tress” which I could not resist dancing to so that’s about the time my camera said goodnight. Slower numbers created a mellow vibe. “Loveless” turned into an unexpected long jam session that was euphoric and I couldn’t stop bopping up and down to the bold beat of “rock ranger record.” I had to close my eyes and get lost in the feel of “city lakes.” During “Chase the light” I wonder if anyone else got the overwhelming urge to pull out their lighters. As the night drew to a close we all got to hear fan favourite “Terminal Romance” and we were awarded a collaborative cover performance of The Band’s “The weight” with Mays and Ladies of the Canyon which was epic! I don’t think anyone left the ‘shoe feeling dissatisfied.
The standing only factor is always so perfect combined with the intimacy and familiarity of the Horseshoe Tavern. Such a legendary but small venue for a musician who can easily draw in a much larger crowd. I couldn’t help feeling incredibly lucky to see Mays there and celebrate the longevity and greatness of the Horseshoe as a live music venue.
Ok so just a warning first…I do NOT typically listen to Taylor Swift nor have I ever thought she was an artist I would like to see perform one day. Not because I have an elitist taste in musical genres or a tendency to favour obscure artists from indie labels. I just never listened to her much because I never gravitated towards the modernized country, quirky bubble-gum pop sound she tends to embody. However, I always thought she possessed a unique, and impressive vocal range with just a little more depth and integrity to offer than other typical Pop princesses. Still, despite believing she had slightly more substance than Katy Perry et al. I never felt the urge to purchase any of her albums.
So that being said, I thought maybe I should try listening to something I had never given a fair try before. It’s important to keep an open mind and I admit I was curious to see why she’s so prominently featured on the cover of Rolling Stone’s October issue. After much consideration I must say her fourth studio album, Red wasn’t all bad. Much more good, than bad in fact. The opening track State of Grace is one of the albums best, with soaring vocals and an upbeat melody that makes you feel as if life is one big wonderful experience, full of surprises you can never see coming. It’s inspiring and uplifting all at once. The next track Red is very predictable and full of cheesy metaphors and one-liners that lack any real emotion such as the one about how “loving him is like driving a maserati down a dead end street.” But it’s hook is still catchy enough to become a hit I bet. Each song is fairly different and Swift proves she isn’t afraid to experiment with this album. Her confessional songwriting style has a way of captivating your attention as you contemplate which celebrity she dated was capable of making her feel as if “a new notch in your belt is all I’ll ever be.”
Her track, I knew you were trouble even leans towards dub-step, which I can’t say she entirely pulls off but she gets points for bravery. Ever since I heard her track, Safe and Sound performed along with The Civil Wars for the Hunger Games soundtrack, there was no denying that Swift really does have talent instead of just being another marketed pretty face. On heavier songs like All too well, I almost Do and The Last Time I remember what separates Taylor from the rest, she maintains some country subtleties amongst the collection of Pop songs on this album. Not a horrible mixture, instead it’s a refreshing change. Her voice has an indescribable quality that changes from sweet to angry and raw in an instant. All too well contains real emotion that carries a heavy impact when you realize you can connect as a listener to all her past relationship turmoil and unanswered questions. This album is full of memories and experiences that seem incredibly honest and authentic and I think that’s why Swift is so appreciated and admired. But just in case you feel the floodgates opening the arrangement sets up a perky, boisterous diddy like 22 and Holy Ground to follow every serious tune to remind you life isn’t all sorrow and heartache. These songs serve as a reminder that you will smile again after all the hurt and pain of a breakup. You might even be able to laugh about how dramatic and stupid it all was, which Swift definitely does on her catchy overplayed single, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.
So before you judge me for actually liking this album, (Yes, I do like it) just try listening to Holy Ground a fast paced, feel-good tune. Or Everything has Changed, a hopeful simplistic ballad about wanting to know someone better. Or Begin Again, a melancholic yet sweet tune. I know how annoying it can be to hear one of Swift’s hits played repeatedly in stores, on the radio and everywhere else in the public, but it is merited because she does have talent, as well as a wholesome image. And she did recover from an angry, indignant, pompous, drunken Kanye West in her face with measured grace and class. So would I be appalled if my nieces decided they wanted to go to a concert of hers? Not quite as appalled as I would be if they decided to emulate Katy Perry. Honestly, at least Taylor acts her age.
The voice of lead singer/song-writer Victoria Legrand captivates and comforts many dedicated fans. Unsurprisingly, her stage presence is just as hypnotic and speaks volumes of her talent that is unlike any other singer-songwriter I can think of. I felt incredibly privileged to see Beach House perform live this past Saturday, since I have loved their sound for quite some time now and never thought I’d be able to witness them on tour. But as soon as I saw their name on the list of upcoming shows in Toronto, I had to get my tickets right away. Even though it seemed a little silly to buy them way back in June, my decision turned out to be a wise course of action since their show inevitably sold out amongst the numerous fans who can identify really good music within a mainstream culture saturated by Pop music, uninspired lyrics, all about visual aesthetics and lacking actual substance.
So being able to unite with a chill crowd who didn’t shove or push me despite being super excited was a new experience for me. It was good enough just to sway back and forth and be swept away with warm feelings and genuine appreciation of beautiful music with soaring vocals and emotion. As much as I love the track, A walk in the park, I was actually reluctant to sing along for once and ruin the beauty and simplicity of Legrand’s mournful refrain as she sings “More…you want more…you tell me…”
I can only imagine, that had I sung along loudly, the look of awe and rapture that seemed so common on so many faces would quickly change to frustration and hostility aimed in my direction. So I refrained from the urge to belt out the lyrics (that are so easily identifiable with anyone who has ever been in a relationship) and spared my fellow Beach House fans from my atrocious vocals.
There tends to be a real sense of connection amongst the crowd, at so many shows but this one had a really special vibe. The energy was content, introspective appreciative and mature even though it was an all ages show. People just seemed to experience the same emotions at the same moments. Hearing Victoria sing “Real love finds you somewhere, get back to it” just seemed so incredibly brilliant and insightful. I’ve never been into the deification of celebrities but she truly seemed ethereal, androgynous yet beautiful and fascinating on so many levels. I felt like attending this show was a real gift.
Finally what struck me most about the show was the performance of the closing song. Irene is a song off their latest album In Bloom, that I had somehow managed to overlook. So I was lost when they started playing and I couldn’t figure out which song this could possibly be. The discovery of how lovely it was seemed like an incredible bonus added to the splendor of the night, and when Victoria did a perfectly synchronized execution of head banging and thrashing and twirling with that trademark mass of curls to the beat of the music, it was the PERFECT ending to a striking performance. I really believe that everyone left the koolhaus thoroughly satisfied and convinced that Beach House is the real deal.
A powerful, familiar beat fills the air, I recognize the sound of the Kanye West hit Monster as the crowd packed into Queen st. west’s Wrongbar eagerly anticipates what’s going to happen next. Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper enter stage left with huge grins on their face, and the audience cheers as they introduce Lovely cup and burst into song. They proceed to deliver one of the most passionate, energetic shows I’ve ever been privileged enough to witness and I’m blown away by their genuine happiness and appreciation of playing at a packed venue like this. The amount of people who have come to see Grouplove have far surpassed my expectations. I guess word spreads fast in Toronto when you hear some positive music for once. The band seems flattered, and impressed by the size of the crowd. If I had known it would have been so packed I would have arrived in time to see the opening band Reptar.
Grouplove’s new tour companions Reptar seem to be respected immensely and praised by Christian throughout their own set onstage. It’s nice to see mutual support of fellow indie bands. Highlights of the show included a wicked drums solo where drummer Ryan Rabin pounds away with glowing drumsticks and intensity amidst flashing strobe effects. An unexpected Whitney Houston tribute by Christian broke out when he spontaneously started singing “I wanna dance with somebody” that had the whole audience enthused, bouncing around and singing along.
After the crowd starts earnestly chanting Grouplove in order to bring them back onstage for an encore, I half expect them to come back turning cartwheels and performing back handsprings. They really are that exuberant and joyful. I can’t imagine them ever arguing or being overly critical with one another. Their energy is palpable and infectious. Everyone around me has huge smiles on their faces. They all share the spotlight as each member gets introduced and applauded. I love that each member seems to be an essential component to making the band work. Hannah and Christian have the sort of chemistry that seems to inspire each other as well as the crowd. When they finally played Tongue-tied and closed with Colours, the crowd was pulsing with good vibes. Never have I been to a show where I dropped my bag and my sweater and multiple phones lit up in order to help me search for my lost items. It was as if they influenced us all to be more considerate, peaceful and happy. I really could not have asked for a better show although it did seem much too short. Most likely because I could watch them for hours on end and remain riveted by their stage presence and charismatic uplifting tunes.
Grouplove is as honest as it gets. No gimmicks, attitude or affected boredom and pretentiousness with these guys, just genuine happiness and unity all around. Listening to their music is awesome in itself but seeing them perform live is like being swept up by a hurricane that transports you someplace far better than you ever were before.
A Blunderbuss is…
A) Dr. Seuss character?
B) A chaotic state of confusion?
C) Some sort of British slang?
The answer is none of the above. It is in fact an outdated muzzle-loading firearm and much more importantly the title of Jack White’s debut solo album.
Just like the stunningly loud report of the short-barreled blunderbuss, Jack White’s album is a surprising assortment that will definitely impress his fans. White has created a complex and diverse collection of songs that have been deemed “brilliant” by Rolling Stone regarding the trials of loss and the disillusionment of all that unfolds in the aftermath of a successful partnership.
The dissolution of his marriage to Karen Elson and the end of The White Stripes may have been the push he needed to venture out on his own. Always one to collaborate with others, White has performed incredibly well within The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and of course, The White Stripes. So it’s relieving to see he’s just as talented as ever on his own. Already a master at singing the blues, this time you can expect some more country and piano than ever before. Recording in Nashville definitely influenced the sound of this record, although White’s style remains recognizable.
Blunderbuss opens up with Missing Pieces that provides a bit of insight into how he’s been feeling lately…
Sometimes someone controls everything about you
and when they tell you that they just can’t live without you
They aint lying, they’ll take pieces of you
and they’ll stand above you and walk away,
that’s right and take a part of you with them
Those who have previously loved White’s guitar riffs will love the familiar sound of Sixteen Saltines and Freedom at 21. For those who crave something different prepare to fall in love with Love Interruption. A song that reminds us all that love can feel as horrid as it once felt good, how it can change suddenly from grabbing your fingers gently to slamming them in a door. The frequent piano playing heard on the album is a nice alternative to the heavy garage rock and electric riffs, White has become known for. The album titled track, Blunderbluss is a soft, wistful and beautiful track that contains a Neil Young vibe. Hypocritical Kiss is a short and powerful track that is also my personal favourite. Slow paced, beautiful and vengeful, White lashes out at those who pretend to be something they’re not.
Although this album is a solo effort, receiving some support never hurts. White surrounds himself with an assorted band of talented women, Ruby Amanfu is responsible for most of the background vocals and Karen Elson herself participates in “On and On and On.” Brooke Waggoner plays piano beautifully and Carla Azar and Olivia jean rock out on the drums.
This record has already gained numerous reviews full of praise and excessive flattery, so I will not bother with any acclamations of my own. I’d much rather you give the album a listen and learn to appreciate it for yourself. There’s probably a good reason why so many critics seem fascinated by Blunderbuss and even better reason as to why Jack White has reached the No.1 slot on the Billboard 200 for the first time ever.
Anyone who decides to name their band, The Naked and Famous probably isn’t taking themselves too seriously and expecting to become famous unless they really are planning to strip down to their birthday suits and flash unsuspecting civilians. But there was no need for the members of TNAF to succumb to porn or flashing to gain attention within the indie rock scene.
In case you didn’t know TNAF are a post-punk/synth-pop quintet from New Zealand, whose name was inspired by one of their musical influences Tricky. Their name itself is attention grabbing enough and chosen because of a line in one of Tricky’s songs where he repeats that everyone just wants to get naked and famous. Yet it’s their catchy, electric tunes that will make them a memorable fixture in your head. The band originally formed in Auckland’s MAINZ music college when Thom Powers met Alisa Xayalith, and from there everything just fell into place. In 2010, they delivered a strong debut studio album Passive Me Aggressive You that has received several nominations and awards. Their music has been featured on television series like Gossip Girl and the Vampire Diaries, in video games and sampled by other artists. Their huge commercial hit Young Blood was even sampled by the likes of Machine Gun Kelly which created some bad blood between the musicians about copyright infringement via numerous tweets from MGK and TNAF. But the samples could never compare to the real thing, the album is worth listening to if you haven’t heard it yet. The energetic fast paced electric tunes accompanied by insightful lyrics has definitely become a favourite of mine.
So needless to say I was incredibly excited to see their name posted amongst new concert listings at Rotate This. I snatched up my tickets fast before they sold out and waiting in agony for April 5 to arrive so I could witness the awesomeness of TNAF live. I wasn’t disappointed. They opened up with All of this, one of the best tracks on the album and the crowd loved it. Singing along, hands waving in rhythm to the beat, people pressed forward and got lost in the performance. I was amazed by how many people knew the words and I watched transfixed as they sang my favourite part…
As the plans turn into compromise
the promises all turn to lies
the spite builds up
and it can’t get through
Passive me, Aggressive you
I know I nag, I moan I know
but with a plan like this
it’s way too slow
in the time it took to get this here
I could have made this work
but all I had was…
the hope that pieces would take shape
and we could watch them all fall into place…
a complicated sing-along to pull off but I guess when you have devoted fans like these, it can be done. Alisa was flawless, conveying meaning through expressive hand gestures and sidling up to Thom. Head bobbing to Punching in a Dream and swaying to The Sun I was in a perfect state of bliss. Especially when Thom sang a heart wrenching delivery of Girls Like You. The whole set seemed to fly by much too fast although they played every song from the album. Impressive yet I was hoping that they’d interact with the audience more. But I guess they preferred to express themselves through their music and expressive hand gestures and melodic swaying. The light show definitely helped increase the excitement and kept the crowd happy. I even heard they’d be autographing merchandise after the show but after the spectacle of their encore where they closed with Young Blood I was satisfied. Nothing could have made it a better night. I came, I saw, I left on cloud 9.
“I’ve come to realize that so much about this job doesn’t have to do with skill, but about the way you perceive yourself and the way in which you make other people perceive you. If you tell someone you’re doing something innovative, they’ll think you’re doing something innovative. If you tell someone you’re playing a flawless show, they’ll think you’re playing a flawless show.”
Truer words could not be spoken by a musician who has achieved critical success and is steadily gaining popularity without any proper vocal training or musical education. Claire Boucher is gaining quite a bit of attention as an emerging Canadian producer/singer and she’s pretty much doing it on her own. Her sound has been likened to Enya on steroids or the Cocteau twins on rohypnol, but avoiding blatant comparisons, Grimes music embodies an ambient dream like state of a future Utopian world. Labeled as shoegaze-bedroom pop to electro-goth and all that’s in between, Grimes is a genre bending musician who beautifully blends all her influences seamlessly. The Vancouver born Montreal-based musician has previously released two albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa yet it is her third studio LP, Visions that is generating the most buzz.
Released on Feb 21 by labels Arbutus and 4AD across North America, Visions has been receiving favourable reviews and Grimes is being heralded as one of the most compulsively listenable albums of 2012. She has received amazingly favourable reception for an experimental musician from the Montreal indie scene. She sings in a moody falsetto that is childlike and airy, not at all what you’d expect from someone with Grimes as their stage name. But she defies expectations, delivering an album that is both beautiful and dark. Boucher has opened for Lykke Li, a suitable match since both young women share a similar passion for eerie dark melodies. On Visions, Grimes commands your attention with whispery vocals and smooth compositions. Listening to her album is like letting oneself drift out to sea without a care in the world, getting lost in the beauty and never wishing to return. Her music is a much needed vacation from standard dream pop and the dreariness of a monotonous life.
‘Genesis’ kick starts the album with a melody that captivates. Keyboards and Boucher’s angelic voice transport you to another world. ‘Oblivion’ is a lo-fi ambient jam whereas ‘Eight’ reminds me of chipmunks who have tripped out on acid at a rave, the song has a distinct raver feel but works in a crazy, hallucinogenic sort of way. Experimenting with her vocals never diminishes how awesome this record is. The New York Times even named Visions “one of the most impressive albums of the year so far.”‘ ‘Circumambient’ is one of the best tracks this album can offer, with a killer dance beat and intense energy drawing from dubstep, electronic and goth influences. At times reminiscent of Zola Jesus and Fever Ray, Grimes album is moody but often infuses uplifting beats and atmosphere. Visions plays out like a mish-mash of layers and loops, whispers and sighs, indecipherable lyrics, electronic bliss and energy. ‘Be a Body’ makes me want to dance on a crowded subway with my headphones on. Her album is nothing if not infectious. Anyone who was lucky enough to grab a ticket for her sold out performance March 19 at The Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St. West will not be disappointed. After Pitchfork named Grimes in their Best New Music section, I doubt many will get the privilege to see Grimes in such an intimate setting again.
Her album is much like her aesthetic appeal, cutting edge and attention grabbing. Her sound is easily identifiable and her voice is clearly distinguishable as are her omnipresent, perfectly cut, baby bangs.