Hunting Season’s Open: Hands & Teeth @ The Horseshoe 1/17/12

With four members sharing a living space, it could be said that Toronto experimental pop band Hands & Teeth are always working. As drummer Adam Kolubinski puts it, the living situation is “sort of like a conduit for us to get [music] in front of each other faster than if we only had, you know, one day a week or two days a week” to practice.

Maybe that helps explain how, in a relatively short amount of time, Hands & Teeth have become one of Toronto’s most talked-about live acts. Their début EP, Enjoy Your Lifestyle, was released in late 2010 and on its buzz they booked high-profile gigs at both Canadian Music Week and North By Northeast. On Tuesday night at the Horseshoe, they released their highly anticipated follow-up, the full-length LP, Hunting Season. Continue reading

12/10/11 – The Exclaim! Christmas Bash

Last Saturday night, The El Mocambo—a can’t-miss-this fixture in Toronto’s long list of dirty rock clubs–was transformed into a winter wonderland. Long strings of Christmas lights, an audience clad in holiday-themed cardigan sweaters, and a gigantic, inflatable Santa Claus were all brought in for the Exclaim Christmas Bash.

Prince Edward Island-based Paper Lions were back in town, their first Toronto show since wrapping up a September residency at The Supermarket. They headlined after two openers, Ottawa’s The Love Machine and local indie-pop darlings The Elwins. The openers both played well-crafted sets of indie rock—especially The Love Machine, who definitely rose to the challenge of a half-capacity bar and won some serious fans–but it was clear by the time Paper Lions took the stage who the audience was there to see.

Reminding me of other down East rockers Hey Rosetta!, Paper Lions eagerly careened from genre to genre, blending a prototypical indie sensibility with mainstream FM guitar rock and more. Skillfully blurring influences beneath a sheen of strong hooks and tight musicianship, the band’s genre-shifting seemed more a conscious effort to stretch the audience’s ears than a lack of creative focus.

 

If that was what the audience was looking for—a dozen different bands inhabiting the same four members–Paper Lions certainly delivered. With tight harmonies, driving rhythms and some of the best lead-guitar acrobatics I’ve seen in years, the PEI rockers blew away those who braved the cold weather and late start to see them. The band hit hard and fast, beginning their set with “Lost The War,” the first track from their newest record, Trophies. After that they switched moods repeatedly, the harder-hitting songs in their two-album catalog giving way to the kind of spacey, indie-pop reminiscence that first brought them to notice on their self-titled album. “Don’t Touch That Dial” was clearly a fan favorite, with the whole crowd bouncing and singing along as Matthew Sweeney from The Elwins joined Paper Lions guitarist Colin Buchanan with a tambourine and a bag of confetti.

 

Guess which he tossed into the crowd with the help of a big metal fan set off to the side of the stage.

 

The crowd was disappointingly small for the first two thirds of the event, but all the bands played with just as much enthusiasm as if the house was full.  The musicians really seemed to be having fun onstage, with plenty of corny jokes—“What’s in egg nog, anyway? Is it just egg and nog?” the Elwins’ frontman Matthew Sweeney mused in a Seinfeld-esque manner during a break between songs–as well as sing-alongs. All the positive energy crowding the stage fed into the audience, coming back as wide smiles, loud cheers and at least one Christmas dance contest.

The high point of the show was definitely the encore, when Paper Lions had both the other bands as well as the staff of Exclaim, who promoted and put on the show, come up onto the stage to sing Christmas carols. They handed lyric sheets into the audience—“Does everybody have one?” asked Paper Lions’ frontman John MacPhee–and led us all through a few holiday standards. It was that spirit of inclusivity that made the Christmas Bash at the El Mocambo a truly special show. The bands involved were all talented and interesting musicians, yes, but their purpose was above all to engage and share a feeling and an experience with those who attended, rather than just to perform. Which is just awesome. Any time you see Paper Lions, The Love Machine or The Elwins on a bill, ‘Get Up, Get Up’ and GO SEE THEM.

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On a  personal note, my apologies for the infrequent site updates these days. Last weekend, I covered three shows; unfortunately, one of them was terrible, another in Barrie, and the third (this one) never quite made it into print. So, I’ve posted it here for posterity’s sake. I’m working on some very long-term stuff these days, which would be wonderful if I wasn’t going back into the studio this week / next week to rerecord some things. Look for a ‘Studio Diary’ style post in the next few, hopefully with some original music, if it’s fit for human consumption.

But if I don’t see you, have a great holiday and take some time off work! You’ve earned it!

Big Sugar’s Revolution Per Minute

I’ve long thought of Big Sugar as having a lot of reggae influence. But now, I’m wondering if they might simply be the BEST, DIRTIEST SOUL BAND IN THE WORLD.

On Tuesday, June 28th, it’s going to be a good day for stereo systems everywhere. Revolution Per Minute, the first album Big Sugar’s put out in 8 years, is hitting stores, and it’s going to make some noise. Here’s the first track, “Roads Ahead.”

In the intervening years since we’ve had a new Big Sugar release, singer Gordie Johnson—for my  money, one of the best frontmen working—has been busy co-writing and producing hit songs across North America and playing in his country-metal outfit Grady. Continue reading

NXNE 2011: New Country Rehab @ The Dakota

Scene: The Dakota Tavern. Almost 2 am. The crowd’s moving, dancing like you almost never see at a rock show, when the singer drops the fiddle to his side and steps back to the microphone.

“Who likes old-time country music?”  he asks. Scattered applause from behind me; a few hands may have shot up, but I was too far forward to see.

“That many, huh?” He smiles wryly, exchanging looks with his bandmates.

The band: New Country Rehab. As they launch into the next tune—a cover, rare in the ‘original showcase’ environment of NXNE—the guitarist takes a few minutes to change a broken string, right onstage in front of the packed house at the Dakota.

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S#@T You Should’ve Heard Before: Elliott Brood

Elliot Brood was one of the first bands I found when I moved to Toronto, and they’ve remained one of my favorites since. A three-piece featuring two singers, ukulele, banjo, guitars, one of those Moog Taurus synths you play with your feet, and, up until last year, a Samsonite suitcase for a bass drum, these gentlemen are nothing if not unique. And that’s not even counting the unmistakable Mark Sasso on lead vocals.

Their first record, “Tin Type,” is very much kitchen party music.  It sounds like it was recorded in someone’s living room, which is perfect, because I’m pretty sure it was. The very first time I saw them, hidden amidst four or five crappy FM blooz-rok bands in the Horseshoe, they stood out like a grizzly at a polar bear party. Imagine these three guys in suspenders and suitjackets, sweating like crazy under the stage lights, festooned with fedoras and bowler hats–and all the previous bands in jeans and t-shirts with sunburst Stratocasters just standing there, looking confused.

Here’s “Oh Alberta.”

Well, the years passed, and I saw Elliott Brood for free at Nathan Phillips Square, not-free at the Horseshoe, and other venues, any time I heard they’d be playing. Then I found out they’d recorded another record.

“What?!” I asked. “There’s MORE of this wonderful stuff?”

And there was. And, like so many other groups, the Brood decided their second record needed to be a concept record–but theirs was not one built around a nebulous idea, like trying to recreate the sounds of clouds. No, the Brood wrote their second record about a bridge.

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15-15 Interview With The Elwins

You remember The Elwins!

Or, should I say, ‘The Nelwins?’

Whoever they are, I’ve spoken of them before–click here to read–and this month, I got a chance to sit down with them for an interview. Listen to Matthew Sweeney, Travis Stokl, Feurd, and Nathan Vanderwielen give me a hard time about liking Kylie Minogue more than the Spice Girls on this month’s 15-15 at The Break.

And did someone say, “live session?” Listen in to the new track from their forthcoming LP, “Sittin’ Pretty,” which we were able to coax them into playing for us. There’s a link there; I think it’s somewhere in the middle.

This Wheel’s On Fire: Evolution Of The Cover

It’s not an uncommon thing for an artist to license one of his own songs–or even ghostwrite one–for a less-talented… but perhaps more photogenic artist. There’s nothing wrong with it, unless you feel that only the writer–as the one who originated the work and therefore has the true depth of it to speak with–has the valid performance, with all others being… well, covers.

Anyway, here’s ‘This Wheel’s On Fire,’ written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko. This isn’t the version you’ve heard. But bear with me. We’ll get to it.

Continue reading