Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review: The Schomberg Fair, the Diableros, Magic Hall of Mirrors, La Casa Muerte @ The Horsesehoe Tavern.

Last Saturday night, 21 February, the Horseshoe Tavern played host to some top-notch rock 'n' roll bands, including two of my favourite live acts, The Schomberg Fair and The Diableros. It was a fun night, and I was impressed with all the bands. More, please!

Up first was Windsor band The Magic Hall of Mirrors. Despite the early hour and small (so far) turnout, these guys brought some energy to their performance and impressed me with their rock 'n' roll range, from grunge to classic rock and soul. The band is the new project of Sean Barry from The Golden Hands Before God, so I shouldn't have been surprised—there's a lot of talent and experience in the group, and I'm glad to see some of the Golden Hands' guys back on a Toronto stage. Highlights included "Hang On St. Lucifer" and "National Boulevard," demo versions of which you can hear on the band's MySpace. (Sean later told me the band never plays songs the same way twice, and I can tell you the live renditions I heard were much louder and punchier than the ones on their website.) Sean's got a great voice and a been-places-and-lived-to-tell-the-tale vibe about him—very rock 'n' roll—and given a later start and larger crowd, I can see this band really tearing it up.

The Diableros followed. As with the other bands on the bill, the Deeb's brand of rock isn't usually what I'm in the mood for. I gravitate toward folk-pop, but there's just something about The Diableros that gets to me in ways most guitar-heavy rock bands don't. It's definitely the band's melodies, but it's more than that: Maybe it's the organ or Pete Carmichael's reaching vocals, or the serious drumming, or . . . I dunno. Guitarist Ian Jackson battled equipment trouble throughout the set, which was unfortunate, but it's the kind of thing that makes me root for a band even more. The band kicked off the set with "Nothing Down in Hogtown," the song off their 2007 album, Aren't Ready for the Country, which first got me hooked on them. They played some more tunes from that record, a couple new songs, and most of their new EP (Old Story, Fresh Road), including "Wandering Dry," "Heavy Hands" (download below), and "Old Story, Fresh Road," which was awesome! After their set I headed over to the merch table and bought myself a copy of their latest on 12" clear vinyl. A total concert faux-pas: I had to carry it around for the rest of the night. I just needed to have it, though. The band is preparing to record an album this year, and I for one am very much looking forward to hearing it.

The night's headliners, The Schomberg Fair, were up next. To my mind, they had a tough act to follow. But I was not worried. When people ask me about the band, the first thing I usually report is that they put on a great live show. The next things tend to be "sweaty" and "whiskey-fuelled." This trio—Matt Bahen (lead vocalist, guitar, banjo), bassist and vocalist Nate Sidon, and drummer Pete Garthside—describe their sound as speed gospel, and the term is a good one. They perform their own fast-paced country rock- and blues-inspired songs as well as traditional spirituals. Their attitude toward live shows—that their fans paid for an experience and not just a live performance—is obvious in their no-holds-barred delivery. The Horseshoe wasn't full, but there was a decent-sized crowd out to cheer on the Fair and get their stomp on. I was happy to hear the band sound great, and they seemed completely at ease on that stage, in matching black button-up shirts and black slacks. The band performed a great set including songs from their two albums. Great stuff, and good vibes all around.

The final band of the night, La Casa Muerte, had lots of friends in the audience, too. They put on a strong performance. Lead singer "Namico" was sporting a presumably self-made (of paper?) mini dress, and though I would have been shy in such a get-out, she let loose, owning the stage and sounding pretty great at the same time. My brain was fried, though: four bands is a lot to take in. So I left, trusting the few dozen dancing bodies on the dancefloor would keep the good vibes going.

Download: The Schomberg Fair, Trouble Will Soon Be Over (Gospel, 2009).
Download: The Diableros, "Heavy Hands" (Old Story, Fresh Road EP, 2009).
Download: La Casa Muerte, "All the Wrong Moves" (La Casa Muerte EP, 2009).

[Photo credit: E.S.Cheah Photography. Thanks!]

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Watch this: The RAA (live), Steve Kado (interview), The Wilderness of Manitoba, The High Dials.

The government of Alberta's tourism department likes the RAA :-)

Looks like the show (with City and Colour) was lots of fun.

Steve Kado from Barcelona Pavilion and many other projects talks about Wavelength, the Toronto scene ca. 2003, and etc.

Head over to Eye Weekly's Youtube channel for interviews with Owen Pallett, Kids On TV, and the Constantines.

My friends the Wilderness of Manitoba have a new video for their song "Manitoba" that was put together by their friend Zuzana Hudackova.

Montreal's the High Dials have a new video for "Killer of Dragons":

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Indie Music 109 (25 Feb - 3 Mar 2010).

Welcome to my weekly roundup of inexpensive indie(ish) musical happenings in downtown Toronto, all for $10 or less. If I'm missing something you think I should list, or you have any comments, let me know. I star (*) shows that most interest me.

Like this list? Join my Facebook group or subscribe to this blog. Make sure to check the rest of my blog for show reviews and photos, giveaways, and downloads. You can get lots of other suggestions at Stillepost, Zoilus, the weeklies, and venue websites, etc.

Apologies for not doing this list for the past few weeks. Here are suggestions for the next seven days. Lots happening, as usual.

THURSDAY (25 feb)

Thursday Night Confidential feat. Hank, Mantler, and The Phonemes @ The Gladstone Hotel (Melody Bar), 10pm, free.

Rah Rah, The Grammercy Riffs, and Best Man @ The Garrison, 9pm, $5.

Download: Rah Rah, "Duet for Emmylou and the Grevious Angel" (Going Steady, 2008).

Groovetastic presents Tiger Bar Groove feat. Volcano Playground, Bitter City, and Charge of the Light Brigade @ Tiger Bar, 9pm, $10 (or $11 for two people).

Download: Volcano Playground, "Waiting" (Waiting EP, 2009).

* Extra Life w/ Tropics, LAN Party, and Holzkopf @ Teranga, 9pm, $8.

Let There Be Light, The Sales Department, and The Ostrich Tuning @ El Mocambo (First Floor), 8:30pm, $8.

Om Tree Folk Collective (CD release) w/ The Loneliest Monks and Dalobbi @ Mitzi's Sister, 9pm, $10 w/ CD.

Rock For Humanity feat. Mooseblood, Rebel Emergency, Organ Thieves, Thunderhawks, and more @ The Horseshoe Tavern, 8:30pm, $10.

FRIDAY (26 feb)

Matthew Barber (in-store) @ Chapters/Indigo Festival Hall, 12:30pm, free.

* Kurt Vile (in-store) @ Criminal Records, 6:30pm, free. Bring a donation for the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Fojeba (Black History Month) @ Gladstone Hotel (Melody Bar), 7-10pm, free.

Kate Rogers @ Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), 7:30pm, pwyc.

Bill Wood and The Old Youth @ Graffiti's, 9pm, pwyc.

Ryan Driver Quartet @ Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), 10pm, pwyc.

Alun Piggins & the Quitters and The Stars Here @ Mitzi's Sister, 9pm, $5.

Fucked Up afterparty feat. Molested Youth and Total Trash, w/ DJs Ben Cook, Actual Anthony, and Mark Pesci @ Blue Moon (Queen & Broadview), 11pm, $5.

* TWM 57 feat. Danger Bay, Mandeverest, and Pants & Tie @ Rancho Relaxo, 9pm, $5.

Two Zebras, Brennan Finlay, Megan Bonnell, and Peter van Helvoort (Acoustic) @ The Imperial Pub, 9pm.

Tradition and Nif-D (split 7" release) w/ DJ Onakabazien @ Double Double Land (209 Augusta Ave.), 9pm, $6.

We Are The Take @12:30p, Michou @11:30p, The Matavaras @10:30p, and Bernadette & The North @9:30p. The Horseshoe Tavern, $8.

Parallels (live, CD release) w/ Trust and DJ sets by Holy Fuck, Jackie Phoenix, Ali Black, and Gypsy Midnight @ Wrongbar, 9pm, $10 (adv tix avail.).

* North of America (reunion) w/ Germans and Boars @ The Silver Dollar Room, 10pm, $10 (adv tix avail.).

SATURDAY (27 feb)

Roman Pilates, The Dead Are Those Who Have Died, and Ptarmigan, w/ projections by Daeve Fellows @ Heartbeat (960 Queen St. W.), 8pm, pwyc.

* Soul is Love @ Holy Oak, 10pm, pwyc. "A band has been formed for the intentions of fantastic soul renditions." The players are Christine Bougie (guitar), Blake Howard, (drums), Matt McLaren (bass & maybe voice), Jesse Levine (piano & voice), and Emilie Mover (voice).

* catl and $100 (duo) @ The Dakota Tavern, 10pm, $5.

Download: $100, "Fourteen Hour Day" (Forest of Tears, 2008).

Outbred Inlaws and Evil Farm Children @ The Bovine, 9pm, $5.

Revolvers, Elk, and Sacred Balance @ El Mocambo (First Floor), 9pm, $6.

Joel Geleynse @12:30p, Voodoo Bunny @11:30p, Shotgun Wedding @10:50p, Jackfish River @10:00p, and Mass Assembly @9:10p. The Horseshoe Tavern, $7.

Cap Guns, Three Seasons & The Move, and Maneli Jamal & Myles Kennedy @ The Cameron House (Back Room), 9pm, $5.

Sun Ra Ra Ra, Magic Cheezies, Queen Licorice, Holy Mount, and Ghost Trees, w/ DJ Tim Perlich @ The Silver Dollar Room, 8:30pm, $6

Quarry Records/Down by the Point Records Showcase feat. Matt Paxton, Kensington Prairie, Ben Somer, Paul Anderson, Cowlick, Before the Flood, and The Abbreviations @ Rancho Relaxo, 9pm, $10.

SUNDAY (28 feb)

Shawn Clarke w/ the Strip @ Cloak & Dagger, 8pm, pwyc.

* Muskox w/ Lisa Conway @ Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), 10pm, pwyc.

MONDAY (1 mar)

This is Awesome (every Monday) @ Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), 7pm, pwyc.

gangLion comics presents Whistlestop, LUM (members of First Rate People), Ghost Trees, and Grandmother Willow @ The Boat, 9pm, $5. "The Toronto Comics Jam is lending us a few artists to provide you with on-the-spot portraits and sloppy caricatures. Portraits by donation - get one free with admission!" Admission also gets you a free comic.

TUESDAY (2 mar)

Dave Bookman's Nu Music Nite feat. The Stiff Wires @11:40p, People In Grey @10:50p, Outernational, @10:00p, and Dirty Analogue @9:10p. The Horseshoe Tavern, free.

The Sure Things (3 sets) @ The Dakota Tavern, 10pm, $5. Every Tuesday in March!


* Tinariwen (in-store) @ Sonic Boom, 6:30pm, free. Bring a donation for the Daily Bread Food Bank.

Antler and Buckets Of @ Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge), 10pm, pwyc.

The Weathermaking Challenge, Oral C, Saskatoon Guitar Destroyer, and Ryan Mandelbaum @ Tiger Bar, 8:30pm, $5.

SynthFest Showcase #2 feat. Deadlines (EP release), These Electric Lives, pH (Ottawa), and Alphabot @ The Boat, 9pm, $5.

Drunk Woman w/ Proof of Ghosts and Nathan Rekker (from Sports: The Band) @ Mitzi's Sister, 9pm, $5?

* TWM presents We are the City, Aidan Knight, and Little City @ Rancho Relaxo, 9pm, $5.

Download: Aidan Knight, "Jasper" (Versicolour, 2010).

Wombat Wednesday feat. Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra, Arkana Music, Michael Holt, and Dane Swan (poetry) @ Tranzac (Main Hall), 8:30pm, $7.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Watch this: Grand Analog, Two Hours Traffic, the Bicycles, and Constantines.

This is awesome! I miss Sneaky Dee's!

More Grand Analog---"Her Daddy (Don't Like Me)"---over at Southern Souls. Grand Analog!

Two Hours Traffic are also awesome! So cute!

Justin Beach captured ALL of the Bicycles' set at Sneaky Dee's on Friday as part of the Wavelength 500 festival. Here's part one, including Jonny Dovercourt's introduction:

The Constantines also performed during the Wavelength festival. Instead of just a regular set---which would have been awesome---they did something even awesomer: performed their 2001 self-titled album in its entirety plus a whole bunch of encore songs. Wow. Here they are in a CBC studio playing "Young Lions":

Introducing Sticky Magazine.

Hello blog! Usually this time of week I'd be posting my show listings for the coming week, but the last few weeks I've found myself really busy and haven't been able to get this done. Many apologies. I know some of you have gotten into the habit of checking at least once in a while. I can't promise to be back at it anytime soon. To partially make up for it, though, I've started contributing a weekly "best bet" affordable show tip to Sticky Magazine. The latest one is here.

So now you might be wondering what Sticky Magazine is. It's a new website run by concert photographer and blogger Pete Nema. I am one of several contributors. The site is ambitious---show and album reviews, features, news, and recommendations, plus great concert photography, of course---and I'm excited to see it get up and running. New content is being added every day. I hope you'll have a look!

All this is not to say I won't be writing on this blog (Narratives) anymore. Quite the contrary. I'm still going to do show reviews, "shout out" features, interviews, post videos, and have other content. Maybe listings again if there's time. You can also find my writing on, though most of what goes there will go here, too.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Watch this: Eric Warner, Steamboat, Forest City Lovers, From Fiction (reunion).

Eric Warner is so cool! This one comes from the Untold City. See also the Q & A with Eric over at Signal Magazine.

Here's Steamboat performing live. I'm stealing this direct from Colin Medley (and

Kat Burns from Forest City Lovers dropped in at the Edge studios recently, and played this new song for us. This band is on the rise---good!---and 2010 is shaping up to be a stellar year for them.

Matthew from BlogTO captured the beginning of From Fiction's reunion set at Sneaky Dee's during the Wavelength 500 festival. See his photos of nights 1, 2, 3, and 4 on BlogTO.

For more live coverage of the festival, check out Joe Strutt's recordings and reviews (to come). So far he's posted a song by Rockets Red Glare, the Bicycles, Holy Fuck, and Bruce Peninsula.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Q & A with Mitch Fillion of Southern Souls.

This is the fourth installment of my interview series with people in and about the Toronto music scene. Previous ones featured Mike Smith (Muskox, etc.), Randal Ball (WreckingBall Entertainment), and Ben Mueller-Heaslip (What's All This Then?! podcast).

Young Hamilton-based videographer Mitch Fillion is the man behind the ambitious and wonderful Southern Souls project. Unlike many other video projects, this one makes me especially all warm and fuzzy because it features so many bands I know and love. My blog is nothing but a testament to my love for the Toronto music scene, and while Southern Souls isn't quite so narrow in its focus, it almost feels like the perfect (but so much better!) video accompaniment to this site.

Fillion films bands and solo artists performing, well, wherever seems appropriate at the time, but never a rehearsal space or traditional music venue. The visuals are often beautiful and the performances unique. On Southern Souls you can watch Maylee Todd sing to children and an excited otter at the Toronto zoo; experience the Wilderness of Manitoba at Hart House's Great Hall and in the gorgeous Knox College cloister; catch Steven McKay singing and strumming in an lovely yet forgotten urban space; and see Burn Planetarium in a bookstore. The list goes on: Olenka & the Autumn Lovers in a lighting store, Leif Vollebekk in a rustic backyard garage . . . so many favourites.

There are, as of right now, 75 bands featured on the site, many of them represented by two videos. So, if you haven't been watching, you better get started. [Photo credit: Alex Cairncross.]

Jen: How did the Southern Souls project start? Where does the name come from?

Mitch: It originally started out as an attempt to make a Hamilton music DVD. As I started getting interest from bands outside the Hamilton area I thought about naming the film Southern Souls after artists from Southern Ontario. And I guess seeing them play in an intimate setting gives you a better glimpse at their souls than a live show or listening to the album would. Not that I'm claiming souls are real or something, or maybe I am?

As I got better I started not liking some of the other videos as much, at least quality-wise, and I knew that it would drive me crazy having varying qualities throughout the film. So came the idea for the site.

Jen: Did you initially envision it being as big as it's become? You've filmed a lot of bands!

Mitch: I knew when I started that I wanted to make it a huge ongoing project but I didn't think it'd be as popular as it is, as quick as it happened. It's been amazing the amount of support from everyone helping spread the word.

Jen: This must be a really time-consuming project, and one that requires a bit of financing to keep it going. What’s in it for you? How can admirers contribute some funds to help you out?

Mitch: It is very time consuming but I can't imagine doing anything else with my time now; it's really changed my life being able to meet and hang out with all these great people. Really that's all that's in it for me, because in total I have probably only made about $200 in donations and gas money since the start of the project. Since the beginning of May I've spent close to $15,000 on gear and operating costs. I'm currently unemployed so I can be out shooting everyday and I don't ask anything from the bands other than telling them they can make a small donation through PayPal. (There's a link at the bottom of the site to my donation page). But unfortunately none have taken advantage of that other than a few big fans of the site.

Jen: Most of the bands you feature come from around here, here being Toronto. Is this a conscious choice?

Mitch: I started with Hamilton since it's where I'm from and it's the scene I'm most familiar with and now I've been working my way out to surrounding cities. I eventually hope to go to Montreal for a week or weekend and shoot as many bands as I can there. Really the possibilities are endless.

Jen: How do you decide who to feature?

Mitch: I've been a musician all my life, I know what makes a good band, even if I couldn't make one myself. Since I work for free, I get to be selfish and choose the bands I think are the most rad and that will put on a great performance.

Jen: What are some of your favourite moments, or bands that most surprised you by their performance?

Mitch: They really all share a special place in my heart it's hard to say which were my favourite to shoot although the most fun I have is when I spend a good portion of the day with the bands---like Maylee Todd or Phil Williams at the Science Centre. A lot of the times I'm just in and out and don't really get to hang much with the artists which kinda sucks.

Jen: What's in store for this project and yourself in the future?

Mitch: At this point who can say . . . bigger artists, better sound, travelling to new cities, some bloggers to accompany me on shoots, possibly a second director to take some of the filming off my hands (if I would allow such a thing) . . . and only time can tell the rest.

Jen: Thanks for taking the time to do this, Mitch! Good luck with the project. I know I'll keep watching; I'm excited to see how the project develops.

Watch this: Wavelength nostalgia.

If you're out of the loop on why Wavelength is such an important institution in this city, there's plenty of stuff you can read. (Including my own reminiscences.) Or you can just watch this:

Holy Fuck is the headliner of the Thursday Wavelength show at Steam Whistle Brewing.

Here are some videos that document Wavelengths past.

Rozalind MacPhail, Oct 2009 @ the Garrison, :

The The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores, Aug 2009 @ Sneaky Dee's:

Boars, Aug 2009 @ Sneaky Dee's. The duo is performing on Sunday night at the Garrison, the final regular Sunday-night WL show.

Pick A Piper, Jun 2009 @ Sneaky Dee's:

Evening Hymns, Mar 2009 @ Sneaky Dee's. Evening Hymns is one of the bands performing at the sold-out Wednesday night show at the Music Gallery:

Slim Twig, Feb 2009 @ Wrongbar during last year's anniversary festival:

Friendlyness & the Human Rights @ Sneaky Dee's, Mar 2008:

^ this video's giving me trouble. Watch it on YouTube.

John Kameel Farah, April 2007 @ Sneaky Dee's:

Katie Stelmanis, at that same show:

Ghost Hands (André Charles Thériault), Dec 2006 @ Sneaky Dee's:

The Adam Brown, Jan 2006 @ Sneaky Dee's:

Singing Saws' Shadow Show, Jan 2004 @ Sneaky Dee's:

The Sick Lipstick, Nov 2003 @ Sneaky Dee's:

Rhume, Jan 2002 @ Lee's Palace (I think):

Monday, February 08, 2010

Review: Martha & the Muffins (reunion), Wilderness of Manitoba @ The Music Gallery.

Being a bit too young and certainly far out of the loop on such things, I'd never heard of Martha & the Muffins before this year. The Toronto new wave/pop-rock band formed in 1977, and never completely went away, though things had petered out in the early 1990s. Now, 18 years after their last release, original members Martha Johnson and Mark Gane are back with a new album, Delicate. On the weekend they, with help from Evelyne Datl, Brian Kobayakawa, and Hill Kourkoutis, put on two reunion shows at the Music Gallery, the daytime church turned nighttime concert venue. I went to the Friday show.

In the opening slot was the local vocal-heavy folk group The Wilderness of Manitoba, performing sans drummer. They were riveting. I'm a big fan of the band, and knew the church setting would have to work in their favour, but this was really something. The scene and appropriate sound system ensured there were no muddy vocals, annoying chatter, feedback, or the sound of breaking glass. Instead the band's harmonies were crystal-clear, and all the more impressive for it. The short, seven-song set included "Bluebirds," "Great Hall," "Evening," and "Dreamcatchers" from their 2009 Hymns of Love and Spirits EP, not-yet released St. Petersburg and the Fleet Foxes-esque Orono Park, and ended with a moving, beautiful cover of the great Crosby, Stills & Nash song "Helplessly Hoping," originally released in 1969. I suspect very few audience members had ever heard of the WOM, but my sense is that the foursome won new fans with both their music and their easy manner. What a treat. I don't think it a stretch to say that they've perhaps never sounded better.

The darkened church, already full, was peopled by audience members a good chunk of years older than me: couples, small groups of friends, and other people remembering their going-out years, all excited about seeing Martha & the Muffins. The band got started just after 9pm with "Black Stations/White Stations" from 1984's Mystery Walk---a "good year," explained Martha. Although the band's configuration didn't allow them to rock out (no drums, for one), their funky bass lines and guitar rhythms came through nicely in these "interpretive versions." Next up were a couple songs off their new album, "Drive" and "One In A Million." Martha struck me as a bit stiff, but not doubt that's due to her on-going battle with Parkinson's disease. She looked great, and nowhere near her true age, in black leggings, leather booties, a patterned mini-skirt, and black top. Martha sat down during "Swimming" (This is the Ice Age, 1981), sung by her husband, Mark, himself looking much younger than his years. "Danseparc (Every Day It's Tomorrow)" (Danseparc, 1983) was next. Martha attempted to solo on a small plastic saxophone, but the instrument made no sound come the appropriate time. (Later on during the show she had trouble with another instrument.) No matter, really. By now it was apparent to me that this show wasn't really about the music but about a celebration of music once-loved and fondly remembered, and the two people who were such an important part of Canadian music in the 1980s.

Reaching back to 1981, "One Day In Paris" was performed next, then the new "Life's Too Short To Long For Something Else," featuring Evelyne on grand piano. After the next tune, Mystery Walk's "Cooling the Medium," Martha told us she was pleased with how things were going. I can only imagine that the audience members felt the same. And newer songs like Delicate's "Crosswalk," up next, didn't feel out of place. After another oldie we got---finally, 11 songs in---"Echo Beach." This is the band's biggest hit, and received the most excited reaction from the crowd. (Subdued and quiet, the audience members were not shy about wooping when they heard the first notes to their favourite songs.) Up to now I'd been enjoying the show, but not so much because of what I was hearing. The last handful of songs impressed me, though, and I started to really get into things. Talk about a long-defunct, tiny venue called the Mud Club helped give me some context to the band, and it was nice to hear a story from their performing days.

The set ended with "Even In The Rain"---a lovely tune off the new record, "Mess," also new, and a satisfying, rousing rendition of the band's 1981 hit, "Women Around The World At Work." After a standing ovation which seemed more appropriate than most, we got an as-yet unrecorded duo between Martha and Mark titled "Remembrance Day," and one final song from Delicate. Well, that was fun!

Although the show was more "cute," "neat," and "nostalgia trip" than anything else, the band clearly put effort into arranging their older songs for this weekend's drummer-less lineup. And they were celebrating a new record, and performed many tracks off it. Toward the end I warmed up to what I was hearing, and now---after having listened to many of the original recordings so I could write this review---I find myself rather a fan.

* You can listen to some of the songs mentioned here at the band's CBC Radio 3 page.

[Photo credit: Martha and Mark, photographed by their daughter, Eve Gane.]

Review: Gentleman Reg Heavy Head Residency w/ Hooded Fang, Kite Hill @ The Drake Underground.

Every Wednesday this month "Gentleman" Reg Vermue & his band are in residency at the Drake Hotel. The occasion? To celebrate their recently-released digital EP (Heavy Head), the 1-year anniversary of the release of Jet Black, and to cap off a year of heavy touring. Last week's kick-off show featured two strong local acts, Kite Hill and Hooded Fang. I was there.

Kite Hill was up first, offering up orchestral pop, but of the tuneful rather than bizarre variety. The band is a project of keyboardist Ryan Carley (Ohbijou); his stellar backing band---Tyler Belluz (upright bass), Anissa Hart (cello), Steve Lappano (percussion), and Mika Posen (violin, backing vocals)---provided wonderful accompaniment. Carley's songs are pretty and a little melancholy, and with the string backing the effect is really quite lovely. This being my first time hearing anything from the band (other than a song that appears on the 2009 Friends in Bellwoods compilation), the songs tended to blend into one another. Another listen might help highlight differences. The band's debut album is in the works.

Next up was Hooded Fang. I've seen them a few different times since 2008, and consider them the city's top sunny, straightforward pop act. I was eager to see them perform, but a bit apprehensive: they don't always live up to my expectations. This night, they exceeded them. Yay! The band started off with "Land of Giants," the first track off their self-titled EP. Other than "Highway Steam," their contribution to the FiB project, the band performed all new songs. And they really looked and sounded like they were having a great time up there. The audience was a little shy of dancing, but I did my best to represent. What a fun set. A full-length should be out later this year. I'm looking forward to it.

Gentleman Reg have been busy over the past year, touring with A Camp, the Hidden Cameras, and here at home opening for the likes of Tegan & Sara, Zeus, Amy Millan, and Islands. I've seen this band a bunch of times, but, as Reg pointed out, they are usually the opener, and on reflection I'm not sure that I'd ever caught them in a headlining role. So it was about time!

The set started up with Reg performing a moving cover of Sam Phillips' "I Need Love" all by himself. Although the dancier tracks on Jet Black are my favourite ones, in his quieter moments, Reg can turn out moving performances, and this was one of those times. A good beginning to what would turn out to be a fantastic set. His backing band---these days only Jon Hynes (bass, not pictured) Kelly McMichael (keyboard, pictured left), and Dana Snell (drums, pictured right)---then joined him on stage. Over the next hour or so they offered up a good selection of tunes off the album, including all my faves: "Coastline," "To Some It Comes Easy," "You Can't Get It Back," "How We Exit," "We're In A Thunderstorm," and "Falling Back." The live versions seemed, in the moment at least, more spirited and fun than the recorded ones, though I missed the second guitar line. The band also performed "Wild Heart," the Stevie Nicks' cover off the Heavy Head EP, "For Trust" (from the FiB compilation, and Michael Stipe-approved, so Reg told us), plus a couple new original songs, including one that had never been performed before. Guests Shaun Brodie (trumpet) and Jessica Tollefsen (keyboard, tambourine, backing vocals) added extra layers to some of the songs. Everything sounded great, was performed with verve and, well, I was just thrilled to be there. *Gush*

Toward the end of the set, everyone around me was dancing. And so there was no way we'd let the band go without an encore, late on a Wednesday night though it was. Reg came out and sang a song he'd recently written "for a man I met in Winnipeg." As he introduced the song he told us he'd recorded a demo and emailed it to him, but hadn't yet heard back. "Story of my life." (Oh, Reg!) His band-mates then came back, too, and we were treated to an extended version of "The Boyfriend Song." Awesome!

Reg is one of my favourite pop artists, and I always enjoy seeing him perform. Wednesday's set was particularly great; I was practically giddy the whole time, and left with a big smile on my face. Reg is both charming and awkward, funny, likable on stage, always warmly acknowledging the inevitable friends in the crowd, and willing to be himself. It's all very endearing, and would work well even if the songs weren't as great as they are.

Download: Gentleman Reg, "We're In A Thunderstorm" (Jet Black, 2009).

The Wednesday-night "Regidency" continues throughout the month. This week's special guests are By Divine Right and the Balconies. On 17 February Gentleman Reg are joined by Sheezer (Weezer cover band including Laura Barrett, Robin Hatch, Alysha Haugen, Magali Meagher, and Dana Snell) and Dance Yourself to Death. The final show of the residency (24 Feb) includes Evening Hymns and other "special guests." Every night sounds like a winner. Tickets for each show are $10 in advance from Soundscapes or Rotate This, or $12 at the door. If you get your ticket online from GalleryAC ($12.50), you'll also get yourself a copy of the (digital-only) Heavy Head EP.

Hmm . . . I might have to go again (and again and again)!

Watch this: The RAA, Robots////Us 2, Dinosaur Bones party, Bahamas.

The Rural Alberta Advantage performed at Soundscapes a few days before their sold-out Lee's Palace show back in the fall. Here's "Don't Haunt This Place." See the store's YouTube page for more videos of the event.

Next, here's a couple videos from the Untold City. The first one is a mini-documentary of sorts of the recent Robots////US 2 party at Wrongbar feat. Bocce, These Electric Lives, OPOPO, and others. The second is from the semi-secret Dinosaur Bones 7" release party that also featured Uncut, Sandman Viper Command, and Hollerado. Looks like it was a blast.

See the Untold City's website for more video docs.

Bahamas performed at Hillside Inside on Saturday. Wish I could have gone! So many great bands were there. This song doesn't appear on the album... but I've heard it before. (<-- Click that link and listen. It's worth it!) I'm gonna guess it's called "It's My Fault."

Friday, February 05, 2010

Q & A with Mike Smith from Muskox (and many other things).

This is the third installment of my interview series with Toronto music scenesters. Read the first (with Ben Mueller-Heaslip) and second (with Randal Ball) ones.

Mike Smith is nearly-ubiquitous in Toronto's music community. Find him at Soundscapes most days, and performing with his main band, Muskox, as well as appearing and recording with a slew of others. In 2009 Muskox put out its fourth EP, titled 5 Pieces (Standard Form). You can pick up a copy at Soundscapes, or from the band at a show. The other three---Gallantries (2008, self-released), Fever Dream (2007, self-released), and Caveman Caveman Crystal Skulls (2006, self released)---are available in digital format from wherever you like to do your online music shopping. Visit Muskox's "hindquarters" here.

Jen: First off, I know that in addition to musical projects in which you play a big part---Muskox, of course, but also the rock 'n' soul band Steamboat, and your freelance work as a composer---you've contributed to the live and recorded output of many, many bands and solo artists. Want to give us a list of some of these?

Mike: This is a tricky question, as I'm bound to forget some. 2009 has seen the release of albums from Muskox, Steamboat, Canaille, Isla Craig, Bruce Peninsula, Lisa Bozikovic, TorQ Percussion Ensemble, and MV/EE, all of which I was involved with in some capacity. I've been performing with all those folks, plus Mark Laver's Earthtones, Gabe Levine, Jessie Kussin, and I Am Robot And Proud. More casual performances abound as well, mostly in the improvised music and jazz departments.

Jen: How do you characterize the Toronto music scene? I call it expansive, mostly-unknown, ever-changing, and inspiring, but my perspective on and relationship to it is pretty different than yours.

Mike: The music scene in Toronto is never-ending! There are so many sub-pockets and communities around that you could see a different band play every night for a year without ever listening to the same folks play twice. I mean, you may have to go East of Spadina to pull that off, but you've had your shots, right?

Jen: You spent some time in Montreal. Comparisons between the music scenes in the two cities are often made. Do you have any thoughts on this? Or how things have changed in Toronto in the past few years?

Mike: I'm not so sure I can be judge on that, as most of my time in Montréal was pretty anti-social. I dipped my feet into the jazz scene a little, and was playing some early music, but I didn't really get out to many shows or establish any lasting musical relationships. I moved there right when Arcade Fire went bananas and got a little weirded out by the entire bands that moved to town together to get something happening. I was definitely more into staying at home and pretending to write music.

I came home to Toronto in 2006 with a bit of a mission to reinvent myself as a musician and become more involved with the music community as a whole, as I had previously been attempting a sort of super-pro career thing that really didn't fit with my actual personality. I kind of dove in to the Toronto scene and have been getting deeper ever since. I don't know if it's changed at all---I've kinda been too busy trying to take everything in to notice any sort of trend.

Jen: What's your motivation for participating in all these projects?

Mike: I love playing music, and I love spending time with musicians. There are so many people making beautiful sounds in town, and I'm learning that if you hang around long enough, you may get to make those sounds with them. Also, I have a total inability to say no.

Jen: I want to know more about Muskox. How do you classify the band's sound? (I like labels.)

Mike: Man, I'm so terrible at this. I've had this band for three and a half years, but I still haven't come up with an elevator description of our sound. Andrew Zukerman called us prog-americana, which made me laugh a lot, so I used that for a while. A gentleman named Curran Folkers called us post-folk, which was pretty cool too, although that "post" shouldn't really mean post, but rather it should be a nod to the "post" in "post-rock". Is this difficult? Yes.

Generally I just spout off the list of instruments (banjo, harmonium, saxophone, vibraphone, cello, double bass and electric piano), then make a vague reference to Steve Reich or something. Ideally, the band should sound like an over-caffeinated Town & Country plus this awesome record that Ensemble Ambrosius made of Frank Zappa music on baroque instruments. It sounds like I'm trying to be obscure, but this is the real deal. Reviews seem to say we sound like Tortoise or Sufjan Stevens. We don't.

Jen: Are their other bands or artists you know of that are doing similar things as you do with Muskox?

Mike: No! I want to!

Jen: At one point I know you were putting out your EPs on these little mini disc things. How come? Are you still doing that?

Mike: Nope. The 3" Muskox CDs are gone gone gone. I have a few left of the first one, but Fever Dream and Gallantries are out of print. Mostly, it is because I'm sick of assembling them, but also it is because that format is really difficult to deal with. No one has CD players anymore!

I was drawn to that format with the concept of releasing twenty minutes of music every three months. It totally didn't work that way, but I did my best. The music will reappear sometime soon, however - I am very proud of Gallantries and would like to have it available---either as a 10" record or an LP with a rerecording of Fever Dream on the other side. Anybody got any money?

Jen: What's on the agenda for 2010, for Muskox and for you, personally?

Mike: 2010 is going to be amazing! I'll slowly be writing stuff for the next Muskox record, which is going to be a crazy studio kind of project with some new sounds involved - particularly in the keyboard department. Steamboat is already recording tracks for a full length record, which is thus far moving a long beautifully. I'm very very excited to be working with Sandro Perri on his new project along with all my favourite musical pals in town---Tiny Mirrors is one of my favourite albums of the past ten years, so it's a real trip to get in on the next one. Brodie West's tropical-music supergroup Eucalyptus is recording next week, and should be performing fairly regularly as well. AND I Am Robot And Proud is heading to Japan in April. My mind is blown. Plus, plus, Caitlin Smith and I are launching an insane 21-piece pop orchestra with strings and fake Jordanaires and everything that should be playing sometime in the fall.

There are a few very exciting recordings on the way, as well---Gabe Levine's album was recorded in the fall and should be appearing in the spring. From what I've heard it sounds amazing, and is probably the best experience I've ever had recording. I got to do some string arrangements that turned out super, and that really jazzed me up since I love doing that sort of thing, but folks rarely ask.

Muskox collaborated with Bruce Peninsula on a new version of their tune "Shanty Song" which is coming out as a 7" backed with a collaboration between the Gertrudes and PS I Love You. Both tracks sound amazing, and Muskox on wax makes my toes curl. It's at the plant at this very moment, so keep your ears open . . . .

Jen: Will do, thanks Mike! Good luck with everything this year. Sounds like life will, as you say, be bananas!

Download: "Ghost Ride" (5 Pieces, 2009).

Catch Mike performing next at Holy Oak on 13 February as part of a calypso band.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Watch this: The Diableros (interview), Madrid, Forest City Lovers (live), Princess Century.

Pete Carmichael and Keith Hamilton from the Diableros talk with the guys from's Juicebox Manor. Awesome!

Local electro duo Madrid has an album coming out this spring, and a single out now. Here's the video for the single, "Iron Ways."

Head on over to Stereogum for the video of a live version of this song, performed in-studio. And that website's hosting a download of the .mp3 for the song, soo.

Mitch Fillion caught up with Forest City Lovers on tour, and filmed them performing "Don't Go."

Head on over to Southern Souls for more awesome, awesome videos, including FCL performing "If I Were A Tree."

Princess Century (AKA Maya Postepski) is performing at Wavelength 499 on the weekend. Here's a bizarre/cute little preview video:

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Watch this: The Rest, The Hylozoists, Sandman Viper Command, Hooded Fang.

The Rest are a Hamilton band. Here's a new video of theirs. Although the video is titled "The Lady Vanishes," the song is called "Walk on Water (Auspicious Beginnings)" on the version of their 2009 Everyone All At Once album that I have. Hmm.

The Hylozoists have released a video for "Bras D'Or Lakes." The song comes off their 2009 album, l'Île de Sept Villes.

Young Burlington band Sandman Viper Command are at C'est What every Tuesday night in February. These guys put on a great live show. Have a look for yourself:

Their album will be released on 2 March.

Tomorrow I'm going to go see Gentleman Reg. One of the opening acts is Hooded Fang. Here they are performing on CBC radio's 'Q' program last year: