Monday, November 22, 2010

Spring/Summer/Fall Concert experience 2010 - Part 2

Here lies the second part of my outrageously belated multi-part Spring/Summer/Fall concert round-up. I'm doing something different this round and adding youtube videos for each artist so that you can get a visual and audio companion to the review. Let me know what you think:


DIRTY PROJECTORS September 15 @ The Opera House
Dirty Projectors. The lighting was pretty dim so it was difficult to get a good shot of the whole group. All photos by Colleen Hale-Hodgson.
It was an uneven but ultimately magical performance from my favourite harmony-infused, melodically fascinating band. I was eager to see how Dave Longstreth would pull-off the complex guitar-work prevalent on the album I'm most familiar with, Bitte Orca (2009). The answer: not perfectly, but about as close as anyone could hope to get. I don't just throw the word "complex" out there willy-nilly - the Dirty Projectors are known for their experimental instrumental and vocal arrangements. The female three-part harmonies on Bitte Orca are fascinating (I especially love the somewhat dissonant, ringing tones produced when the girls only sing a semi-tone apart), and they translated well to a live setting - although, possibly because I've become so attached to the vocals on the album, I couldn't stop from cringing whenever they missed (or purposefully altered) notes or held on for a beat too long. In a review of Bitte Orca, The Quietus described Longstreth's voice as "Marmite-like" - ya, I had to look it up too - meaning that you either love his voice or hate it; I fall on the side of love, but I really enjoy strange and often off-putting vocals. I don't think that Longstreth's vocals are off-putting at all, they just sound like a lot of work. 

The night's surprise guest was none other than elite Toronto experimental violin virtuoso Owen Pallett. He was accompanying Angel Deradoorian on the sparse yet beautiful "Two Doves" (a personal favourite). It was the icing on a show that was already filled with outstanding energy and dynamics. 

Dirty Projectors, "Stillness Is The Move" from Bitte Orca

CARIBOU September 17 @ The Phoenix Concert Theatre
Caribou. You can just spy some of the brass/wind band in the background.
One of my favourite trends in music these days is the mixture of traditional "analog" instruments with intense, meticulous electronic arrangements. This is possibly why I love Holy Fuck so much (more on that later), but Caribou takes it to a whole other level. His set up at the Phoenix included a live brass and wind section (clarinet, saxophone, flute, and trombone), along with a guitarist, bassist, seriously skilled drummer, and Caribou (Daniel Snaith) himself working the synths, keyboard, and other digital toys.

There were moments where it felt like the I had stumbled upon a space-out jam session; Snaith would present extended cuts from this year's record, Swim, along with his Polaris Prize-winning Andorra (2007), letting each musical phrase splay out into every sonic corner he could find. Snaith has a sort of rhythmic precision that permeates throughout every layer of live instruments/electronic instruments/voice, all the way down to the traditional rhythmic elements. Everything feels so well placed on the album that I thought messing with the structure live might detract from their overall story arch (and, for a few tracks at least, I was right), but Snaith's handling of "Bowls" off of Swim exemplifies how his live tinkering can really open a piece up, and engulf an audience in the process.  

Caribou, "Sun" from Swim


BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB April 1 @ The Phoenix Concert Theatre

Kind of disappointing. To be honest I really haven't been keeping up with this band in the past few years, and I know them best for their 2005 breakout Howl, which they only played a couple of songs from. Howl is a grinding rock and roll opus, with wailing harmonicas and old-school laid-back vocals. Think The Black Keys before there was The Black Keys. So, being a few years behind on the bandwagon didn't help me enjoy the show much, but it should be said that despite my general disinterest in their new material, they are a solid live band. The guitar and bass prowess that made them so attractive in '05 is still there, but (from what I remember of the concert) there wasn't much innovation in their sound since then.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Beat The Devil's Tattoo" from Beat The Devil's Tattoo


This was an early one, but certainly set the stage for a string of surprisingly good small concerts I saw this year. My Brightest Diamond is essentially just Shara Warden belting out her unique brand of moody folk rock. There have been rotating members in the past, and she has performed with a band before - Worden kept mentioning that her drummer was out for a smoke (must have been some long smoke because he never showed up) - but this was a very intimate show with a small crowd. This was particularly baffling for me because when I had seen Worden last year with The Decemberists she completely owned the stage whenever her solos came around. Her voice is simply incredible. Powerful, keen, and full of natural character, Worden's voice is easily one of the best in indie rock music today (maybe even history - just check out her cover of the 'oft covered "Feelin' Good"), so I was surprised to see that this performance wasn't a bigger deal. For this performance Worden played the electric guitar over a drum machine, and used some creative digital effects to loop her vocals on one of the eerier songs.

With an act that became something of a trend for some of my concert experiences this year, I hadn't actually heard any of My Brightest Diamond's music before buying my ticket. Everything (besides the "Feeling Good" cover, which closed the night) was new to me, which may not be the best way to get into MBD. As I said, Worden's voice alone was worth the price of admission, but the songs themselves require more patience. My current favourite blogger, contemporary composer and sass aficionado Nico Muhly, compared the uniqueness of Worden's pipes to that of Bjork's (a real compliment), so that should give you an idea of how "acquired taste" MBD may be for some.

(I should note that at the time of the show, Worden was very pregnant - she had little Constantine Jamesson Worden in July. That's apropo to nothing, really. I just remember thinking how rough it must be to shlup around the country with a baby weighing down your belly. Kudos to Shara Wordon for being a cool mom, though).

My Brightest Diamond, "Inside A Boy" from A Thousand Shark's Teeth

THE WEAKERTHANS May 26 @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
The Weakerthans. I love how in my best shot none of them are actually looking at the audience.
A last minute concert decision that turned out to be a pretty fun night. The Weakerthans are something of a Canadian indie rock staple. They have a well-deserved reputation for crowd pleasing, and I would definitely recommend catching them live for a solid good time. I don't know their catalogue so well, but the songs I do know - "A Plea From a Cat Named Virtue" and "I Hate Winnipeg" are two of my favourite Canadian songs ever written - were all played - to my great delight.

The Weakerthans, "Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)" from Reconstruction Site

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