Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: OOTS 3rd Anniversary w/ The D'Urbervilles, Forest City Lovers, Evening Hymns, Jenny Omnichord.

Toronto label Out of this Spark celebrated its third anniversary at the Garrison in Toronto Friday night. The party was a showcase for all four of the label's current bands: The D'Urbervilles, Forest City Lovers, Evening Hymns, and Jenny Omnichord. Three of the groups have new albums coming out this year, so we were treated to many new songs.

Jenny Omnichord is the solo project of Jenny Mitchell, a Guelph musician who also plays with other bands, including the Burning Hell. Mitchell is a great songwriter and lyricist. Her songs are often quirky, sometimes serious, but always earnestly delivered. It's also pretty neat to watch her manipulate her omnichords, an electronic instrument based on the autoharp that allows the performer to mix together a wide array of sounds using only her fingers.Friday night Mitchell performed some new songs off the album she's current working on---it'll include songs about "babies and skeletons." She entertained us with songs about a bout of bad luck in NYC, "Blankets & Bones," her young son, Elvis impersonators in London, ON ("The Kings of London"), her "baby daddy," skeletons in love ("Skeletal Love Song"), and a final one about "polyamorous skeletons," which included the singalong verse "How would anyone know whose are whose bones?" All in all, it was a nice, short set that afforded Mitchell enough time to show off her talents.

Download: Jenny Omnichord, "The Kings of London" (Cities of Gifts and Ghosts, 2008).

The slow jams Friday night were provided by Evening Hymns, a band featuring songwriter Jonas Bonnetta backed up on this occasion by the marvelous Sylvie Smith and Tim Bruton from the Magic, Shaun Brodie, and a drummer. The set started with an atmospheric buildup, perfectly setting the tone for what was to follow. I prefer my music a little more fast-paced, but there's no denying the appeal of Evening Hymns: pretty, meaningful songs with compositional complexity and interesting soundscapes. The set included several songs from Spirit Guides: "Lanterns," "Dead Deer" (my favourite), "Cedars," and "Mountain Song," among others. The band put on the night's best performance. Sylvie Smith has to be the perfect backing vocalist for this band. Her beautiful, clear voice is the ideal accompaniment to Jonas' vocals. Brodie's trumpet and accordion added much to the set, too. Though the chatty crowd kept to the back, this is a band best heard in a quieter environment, or listened to through good headphones.

Download: Evening Hymns, "Cedars" (Spirit Guides, 2009).

Forest City Lovers is the most prominent band on Out of This Spark's current roster. With two full albums already under their belt, and a another one coming this year, they've created a niche for themselves in the crowded Toronto folk-pop scene. I tend to prefer listening to their recordings than seeing them live, and Friday didn't change my mind. I don't know what it is, but it's true. It may be that I was standing too close, or the mix was off---the bass was more prominent than I would have liked. Still, Kat Burns was in fine form, and playing with her full band, including violinist Mika Posen, bassist Kyle Donnelly, drummer Christian Ingelevics, and extra guitarist Tim Bruton. They performed songs off Haunting Moon Sinking (2008) and The Sun & the Wind (2006)---I recognized "Don't Go," "Song for Morrie," "Watching The Streetlights Grow," "Sullen Seas," "Pirates (Can't All Sail the Indian Ocean)"---plus a couple new tunes, including "If I Were a Tree" off their recently-released 7". I eagerly await adding their next album to my list of favourites.

Download: Forest City Lovers, "Two Hearts" (Haunting Moon Sinking, 2008).

In the headlining spot were the D'Urbervilles. This is a great band, exuding cool and bursting with talent. Their 2008 debut full-length, We Are the Hunters, is still high-up on my list of favourite albums. The band's been recording on and off since the summer, and the new songs I heard Friday night bode well for their next album. What I like about this band's sound should still be there: funky bass lines, strong guitar melodies, top-notch vocals, and precise, interesting drum beats. Front-man John O'Regan is the stand-out performer here, but he's backed up a stellar team in guitarist Tim Bruton (The Magic, Forest City Lovers), bassist Kyle Donnelly (Forest City Lovers), and drummer Greg Santilly. John and the others tried to get the crowd revved up, but the audience was resistant. Too bad. Even spirited performances of "Spin the Bottle" and "The Receiver" weren't met with the enthusiasm I'd have predicted. With the right energy in the room the D'Urbervilles can deliver an explosive performance. Here's hoping that album of theirs comes out soon and I get another, proper chance to party with them.

Download: The D'Urbervilles, "Spin the Bottle" (We Are the Hunters, 2008).

As a special treat, at the end of the show, members of the D'Urbs and FCL got together with Jenny Omnichord to perform three more songs, one from each of their respective repertoires. Not quite the "family band" experience that we got in the summer, but hearing one of Jenny's songs played with a full band made it plain once again that she's far from a novelty act.

Happy birthday, OOTS. Here's looking forward to those new releases.

[Photo credits: Frank Yang. Awesome shots, eh? More here.]


sam said...

i personally thought fcl were great, the highlite of the nite for me. what about them do you prefer in their cds?

historyjen said...

FCL are one of my favourite bands. I dunno what it is. Live just doesn't have the same magic as the recordings do for me. They sound sparser to me in a live setting. Or something. It's weird; I usually prefer live music to the recorded stuff.

It might be the places I've seen them play: Garrison was chatty and is a newer venue where sound issues are still being worked out; Tranzac main hall kills me; Theatre Centre isn't normally a music venue; etc. I thought they sounded great at Lee's Palace, though.