Monday, January 05, 2009

My favourite things, 2008.

2008 was a good year for me. If you know me well or follow this blog closely, you might know that I moved away from my former hobbies and hangouts, and got more entrenched in the indie music scene here in Toronto. It's been amazing, and a completely positive change in my life. Rather than a couple of "best" lists, I thought I'd do a rundown of some of my favourite things. Most of these will be indie music related, of course. (I wouldn't call my dissertation a fave at the moment, haha.)


Great Lake Swimmers. Back in June I went to my first NxNE. On the Friday I spent all afternoon at the Kelp Records/Saved by Radio BBQ, and while there introduced myself to Gentleman Reg's drummer, whom I recognized (probably because he's adorable). He told me he was playing that night with GLS. Come later that night, I was enjoying Oh No Forest Fires with a friend, and GLS were on right after, in the venue just next door. He is a big fan, and although I wasn't familiar with the band at that point, I figured what the heck, and off we went. Great Lake Swimmers had the 10pm slot at the Reverb, a dark, mid-sized room with floor to ceiling glass-block windows. There was a wicked thunder and lightning storm outside, and as the band performed a tight 35-minute set of beautiful folk music, I could make out thunder claps and see lighting flash. It was surreal. Amazing. I have been listening to GLS albums ever since, and was front and centre for their Lee's Palace tour ending show which I took myself to on my birthday. GLS also makes my list for 2008 because one of my favourite t-shirts is one of theirs. It looks good on me.

Born Ruffians. I spent more time missing Born Ruffians in concert than I did seeing them perform in 2008, but I finally saw a full set of theirs at their sold out Opera House show on 1 November. Let me explain: I had to leave not far into Born Ruffians' set at Lee's Palace back in March (for a good reason; no regrets). And I had to miss almost all their performance at Soundscapes in the summer (for a good reason; no regrets). But come the fall I was determined nothing could get in the way of me seeing this band, who put out one of my favourite records of the past year. The two openers put on good showings, entertaining the all ages crowd musically and otherwise, and filling the stage with their many members each. (Eight or nine, I believe.) But Born Ruffians commanded the stage that night. The band's three members put on a fantastic show. One of the top performances I saw in 2008, with records I spend a lot of time with.

$100. I am obsessed with this band, and have been for a few months. Tyler introducted me to them when we played a song of theirs on our podcast in June. I went to their packed CD release show at the Horseshoe a month later, and have been seeing them every chance I get since then. The set they played in the basement of Sonic Boom was perhaps my favourite one of theirs, but Sneaky Dee's and Silver Dollar were great, too. I bought their album off Zunior in October because I just needed to have it. This is a rare thing for me. Such a great band.


Fucked Up w/ Final Fantasy, $100, Vivian Girls, and Katie Stelmanis @ Sneaky Dee's; afterparty feat. Lullabye Arkestra and LSDoubleDCup @ Rancho Relaxo, 30 Oct. I didn't really get Vivian Girls, though they were entertaining. The rest of the lineup was fantastic, though! This show was my introduction to hardcore, and it was awesome! Crazy night.

Think About Life
w/ Miracle Fortress, Ruby Coast, and Adam & the Amethysts @ Sneaky Dee's, 26 July. Holy crap. I came home after this show and quite literally collapsed onto the floor of my apartment. (And I hadn't had a drop of alcohol all night.) Multiple mosh pits and crazy dancing and great performances from these Montreal and Toronto bands made for one insanely good show which completed wiped me out. The crowd went insane during TAL. I had never seen anything like it before. I really need to see this band again, but I really need to stay away from the front when I do. The other bands I'd all seen before, and in the case of Ruby Coast, since as well. The Miracle Fortress album was one I listened to a lot in 2008.

Cuff the Duke w/ Bruce Peninsula and The Stables @ The Horseshoe Tavern, 22 Aug. I bought the Cuff the Duke album at Criminal Records from (as it turned out) the band's lead singer Wayne Petti himself in late 2007, just on a whim, after having heard good things. I don't think I bought a single CD at a record store in 2008, so really this was a rare thing for me to do. When I got home and listened, I knew I'd made the right decision. I didn't get a chance to see the band perform until August, however, when they had a two-night stand at the Horseshoe. I went on the Friday, to a show which featured openers the Stables (hockey stick upright bass! suitcase drum kit!) and Bruce Peninsula (!!). The reviewer for NOW Magazine though Bruce Peninsula upstaged the headliners, but I disagree. Cuff the Duke... man, those guys are awesome. Just awesome. It was exciting to see one of my favourite bands play at the Horseshoe, a fantastic venue for the right bands, and I was of course front and centre, taking it all in. And if I didn't have a crush on Wayne Petti before (not true), I certainly did after (still true).

Other great sets. The Acorn @ Lee's Palace, 27 Nov; The Golden Hands Before God... @ Rancho Relaxo, 22 Dec; Two Hours Traffic @ WhipperSnapper Gallery, 28 Nov; Laura Barrett w/ Ghost Bees @ Tranzac, 21 Sep; Bruce Peninsula, Muskox, and Timber Timbre @ St.-Andrew-by-the-Lake, 20 Jul; Basia Bulat @ Lee's Palace, 29 Mar; any and all Tin Bangs shows; any and all Woodhands shows.

Shows in backyards, living rooms, record stores, and on rooftops and sidewalks. I need to do more of this kind of thing. There are a handful of regular, alternative venues in the downtown core, as well as special events which bring with them increased use of alternative spaces. Venues that aren't bars but play host to shows, like the Music Gallery and WhipperSnapper Gallery, are great and allow for fans of all ages to enjoy good music. But for me it's extra great when you get to see a great band in someone's backyard or living room. I never got out to Delaware House in 2008, but one of my best show memories is when I sat on the grass and was enthralled by Ketch Harbour Wolves and Howl (Provincial Parks) at The Oxford Hotel in Kensington Market. The one Extermination Music Night I got to was pretty much over when I arrived---the police were already in evidence. I saw a good number of bands at Sonic Boom, Criminal Records, and Soundscapes. In-stores are great for a free introduction to a good band.

Shows in other cities. Woodhands in Pittsburgh, and Okkervil River w/ Shearwater in Berlin. I went to Pop Montreal this year, and that was cool (obviously). But what I mean here is really when Max and I drove to Pittsburgh to see Woodhands (because we are crazy) and when Farzana and I saw Shearwater and Okkervil River in Berlin. The Woodhands road-trip was super fun, the highlight of which was us looking completely out of place in a Pittsburgh venue. To those US kids we looked like crazy uber hipsters or something. But we didn't care and busted out some prime dancing moves for their opening slot. We stayed for the rest of the show, and loved Ra Ra Riot, too. The show I went to in Berlin featured two American bands from Austin who used to share members, but who had not played a show together in years. This was a special night for them, and one I will not soon forget. Amazing. Shearwater impressed me and left me wanting more. Okkervil River was just dazzling. Will Sheff is a force of nature on stage. What a great night of music. And now I know that Berlin indie kids look pretty much like Toronto indie kids, but that there aren't too many indie kids in Pittsburgh, at least not on a Tuesday night. [The photo is of Max, me, and Paul Banwatt from Woodhands.]

Festivals. I missed the Drake's What's In the Box?, but I loved what I saw of CMW (1 show: Sloan, Meligrove Band, Pony Da Look, and Will Currie & the Country French), Pitter Patter Fest (1 show: Classic Indie Albums Live: Neutral Milk Hotel's Aeroplane Over the Sea, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Great Bloomers, and Sister Suvi), Over the Top (1 show: Woodhands, Bobby Birdman, and Skeleton Me), NxNE (lots, but especially Great Lake Swimmers, The Diableros, The Pack A.D.), and Pop Montreal (lots, but especially The Sunparlour Players and Woodhands). The Wavelength anniversary and the TWM fest were great, too.

Rancho Relaxo. In 2008 this venue, with Dan Wolovick as booker, solidified its place at the premier venue in the city for local indie music. There are more thoughtfully curated $5 shows here every week than at any other venue, making this a haven for indie fans, the kind of place you might drop in just to see what's what. You won't find the fringes of the indie music scene on display here, but you will find a welcoming atmosphere and lots of friendly faces week after week. In recent months I haven't gone as much as I used to, but I always feel at home at Rancho, and a lot of other people do too. I saw some fantastic performances here in 2008, either booked by Dan (The Speaking Tongues, the Golden Hands Before God..., The Details, Tin Bangs, Oh No Forest Fires, The Schomberg Fair, Beth in Battle Mode), or by Lauren Schreiber under the No Shame banner (the RAA, Green Go, The Magic, Laura Barrett, Ghost Bees).

Wavelength @ Sneaky Dee's, every Sunday, and the whole WL gang. This long-running weekly music series gets me out of my apartment way too often on Sunday nights when I really should be dissertating or getting my listings finished and posted. But I just love it so. The four bookers of the series are each big boosters of the local music scene, and they define indie the way I do, to include a wide range of music, from the experimental fringe to punk to young pop and everything in between. One never knows what to expect at Wavelength, and that's one of the main reasons to keep going, week after week. That, and I love the Wavelengthers and the regulars. (They like me back. Check it out. And again.)


Paul Banwatt. Paul is one of my favourite people, and he just so happens to be in two of my most favourite bands: Woodhands and the Rural Alberta Advantage. I've see these groups many times---pretty much whenever they play in town, and sometimes when they play out of town---and hope to see them both again many more times in 2009. Woodhands is amazing. Hands down the best live dance band right now that I know of. And the RAA put out one of my favourite albums of 2008, in Hometowns. I listen to it a lot, and pretty much everyone I know does the same. As they should. The RAA's been playing a couple new songs at recent shows, so I'm hoping a new album is (perhaps slowly) in the works. Paul is also half responsible for the Trekzac Festicon, which was kinda the most fun I had all year.

Tyler Wade. Ah, Tyler. He is my podcast co-host, and a welcome addition to my (and my roommate's) life! Please come over more often, with sushi, ok? Tyler was on my case to do a podcast with him for a while before I gave in and agreed to it. And, hey, it's totally fun! Tyler is perhaps the most normal person I know, and also one of the coolest.

Keith Hamilton. Keith is the booker for the Boat, Kensington Market's best indie music venue and my favourite place to go dancing, and is one of the city's consistent supporters of local musical acts as well as DIY touring bands. Keith's the best dance party host a DJ could hope for, cutting it up on the dance floor with the best of them. In early 2008 Keith joined the ranks of one of my favourite live bands, The Diableros, and he leads the misfit indie choir, Hamilton Trading Co. Whether rocking out to the Deebs, chilling out at a Sunday night Gather Round show with HTC, or dancing myself silly at Yacht Rock, Goin' Steady, or one of the other great dance parties at the Boat, Keith in my life meant good times in 2008.

Lauren Schreiber / No Shame. Some of the first shows I went to back in 2007 were No Shame ones at Tiger Bar. It was to this basement venue that I first ventured out by myself to a show. Since then I have become a pro, and have been to many more No Shame events. Not enough, really. When she booked at the Drake in early 2008, I went there a bunch of times, and truth-be-told, I have only been back once since she stopped working there. I then followed Lauren to Rancho Relaxo, and have loved seeing her get involved in booking bigger shows at other venues. Every No Shame show is one worth attending. Lauren's introduced me to a lot of great bands, and she manages to create a welcoming environment for me and lots of other people interested in going out and discovering new music. I was proud to be known on occasion as the most shameless No Shamee. My first No Shame in 2008 was with Amos the Transparent; the last, with the D'Urbervilles. Not bad.

Candace: My roommate. She is tops. Anyone who puts up with my constant indie stories and, well, me, is awesome.

Favourite Toronto albums:

The Bicycles, Oh No, It's Love
Born Ruffians, Red Yellow & Blue
The D'Urbervilles, We Are The Hunters
Laura Barrett, Victory Garden (and I also really liked her 2008 EP, Earth Sciences)
$100 (One Hundred Dollars), Forest of Tears
The Rural Alberta Advantage, Hometowns
Woodhands, Heart Attack

There's lots more out there, some of which I've heard in bits and liked, and others which I haven't given enough time to. A selection:

Andre Ethier, Born Of Blue Fog
The Coast, Expatriate
Forest City Lovers, Haunting Moon Sinking
Hooded Fang, Hooded Fang
Ketch Harbour Wolves, Calm Dead Horizon
Provincial Parks, Iron Ponies
The Magic, The Magic
Slim Twig, Dialect Derelict / Vernacular Violence


Bobby B said...

Great list Jen and your Woodhands in Pittsburgh story made me literally larf out loud! (dang, I keep forgetting that Andre Ethier has a new album out.!!)

Anonymous said...

Yes, The Coast! Great album. "Killing Off Our Friends" from their album 'Expatriate' was one of my favourite songs in 2008. The Coast are playing the Horseshoe Feb 28 with The Diableros [as per The Diableros' MySpace]. If I'm not busy, I'll try to hit that show.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the props Polk! We don't see as much of you as we used to but when we do I know I'm doing my job damn well!

Darling Magpie said...

"Fucked Up w/ Final Fantasy, $100, Vivian Girls, and Katie Stelmanis @ Sneaky Dee's; afterparty feat. Lullabye Arkestra and LSDoubleDCup @ Rancho Relaxo, 30 Oct"

That show was probably one of my favourites of the year too!

Doc Pickles said...

You're on my top 8 of 2008!

minxyvixen said...

aww shucks, polk. none of us would enjoying doing this half as much without you!

Anonymous said...

tears - streaming down my face...I'm finally normal!

PETE NEMA said...

Cool article written from the one who is always front and centre! Good, fun read.

The R.O.B. said...

You and your favourite things...

you are truly the Oprah of the Toronto music scene. Is it possible that you're going to start putting out your own 'J' magazine?

historyjen said...

Thanks for the all the love, peeps!

Avery said...

Shit JP you've come a long way from a shuffling run in an overcoat. Keep on rocking out in 2009.