Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tim Baker - Hare on the Hill, Bristol Jan. 31, '20

Nico Paulo

Stepping into The Hare on the Hill I found myself entering a very intimate show already underway. In fact, I nearly trod on Nico's toes as she was stood by the bench seat in the corner of the pub playing her set. With it being ticketed entrance only, the entire bar's attention was fixated on the entertainer, and by proximity me as I intruded on this. The positive to come out of this was the great vantage point that I held for the rest of the night, even if it meant guarding the door for all other latecomers. This being a music blog I should speak about Nico who played some delicate songs on her guitar, with her whisper-strong voice. She was endearing and won over the crowd easily, myself included, even having walked in never hearing her name, let alone her music before.

Mark J. Lee

A dapper, local English musician playing some pretty standard country music. He'd been on the bill so I'd briefly checked him out beforehand and knew that it wasn't really my style, however I'm happy to report it was better live. Especially happy considering there wasn't really anywhere else to go during the set.

Tim Baker

Finally the reason I had rushed home from work abroad and then driven down to Bristol. Tim took to the "stage" with a few different instruments scattered around; a couple guitars, a banjo, and perhaps most importantly, the pub's piano right up against the wall beside him. Starting out expectedly with a few from his first and only solo album thus far, Forever Overhead, he then veered from that (and away from any setlist). Dance is a brilliantly romantic opening tune, both on record and live, that he started with on the piano, while then doing renditions of already-excellent All Hands and Spirit. The thing about a talent such as Tim is that he's not going to play the songs exactly the same way as the album, and dating back to the Hey Rosetta! days no two sets are exactly alike, but you can be damn sure that it's going to be a touching, engaging, and entertaining show. The way that he brought the heartbreak of The Eighteenth Hole alive made you feel it in your chest, while the other kind of heartbreak with respect to the disbanding of Hey Rosetta in Don't Let Me Go Yet touched close to home. But there was joy too - Bandages has the perfect singalong and this rapt crowd was tickled to oblige. Speaking of singalongs, opener Nico seemed to be pulling some strings behind the scenes as Tim tried to make the set list up on the fly and she was roped in for a couple of songs, both as backing vocals and percussion. All of this added a lovely touch to the already cosy show. After a couple of "that should have been the finale" moments felt by both the crowd and Tim (he said so much himself) he was forced to actually close - but how? "May as well play Welcome," suggested Nico, and so he did, to everyone's delight. Early into the stripped back version he messed up the lyrics, quipping "I've played this song a thousand times - actually more than a thousand times!" but we were forgiving and overjoyed anyhow. (And told him as much during a chat afterwards while getting my record signed while he was pinned down in the corner of the pub.)

Monday, April 6, 2020

Menzingers, Spanish Love Songs, Mannequin Pussy - Asylum, Feb 14, '20

Mannequin Pussy

The first to take the stage on this unbelievably stacked bill at The Asylum. We were sure to get there early and yet MP had already just taken the stage, and plenty of people had made their way in for it. A good thing too as all these early-comers were rewarded with a sweet, enthusiastic set of punk rock. Solid as their recordings are, it was agreed that the live set takes that up a notch even. Didn't even think to snap a pic I was so caught up in the show.

Spanish Love Songs

Following their awesome, and undersized headliner last year at The Flapper (R.I.P) these new-emo American guys 'n gal were back in a deservedly bigger room, albeit in a supporting role. The way they play I'd be happy to call them a co-headliner though. With a well-picked setlist of many of the best from 2018's Schmaltz as well as highlights from the new-release Brave Faces Everyone (and probably a smattering of older stuff but I'm not yet as familiar with the back-catalog). The crowd was massively enjoying it and nearer to the end of the set as Buffalo Buffalo began the pit really got moving. Did they steal the night? Don't ask me, I'm a big ol' biased SLS convert.

The Menzingers

Now veterans of the 21st Century punk scene, The Menzingers came on with a polished set to prove it. In the very nearly sold out big room of The Asylum on a Friday, Valentines Day no less, there was a palpable excitement in the crowd. Mind you it did take a few songs for the sound to work in and the set to really get going but by the latter half it was in full swing. When one of my songs of the year (2019) in Anna dropped it was riveting. What a show! I'd happily go back and watch this one again, front to back.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Split Milk Society, Amy Louise Ellis - Sunflower Lounge Jan 17 '20

Spilt Milk Society
Having seen these guys nearly a year earlier to the day in the same spot I was looking forward to the set. It was really odd though have them come out of the gate with a very different sound to what I was expecting. I had a difficult time getting into it and they carried on like this, presumably it's a new direction, for the majority of the show. Only with the final couple of songs did it start to sound like something that I could get into. Interesting changes, I suppose.

Odd Soul
This really was an ecelectic bill as Odd Soul played a jazzy brand of soul. As they admitted, it was a lot of their old standards that made the setlist and even resting on their laurels, with a few hardcore fans scattered amongst the crowd, it was just alright. I was hoping to get grabbed and carried away and when I still ended up stood in the basement of the Sunflower I was a little disappointed.

Cherry Cherry
A five piece playing some "modern indie rock" I believe I stayed for the whole set, but writing this less than a month later I can't recall anything standout.

Amy Louise Ellis
This young chanteuse sure has the pipes. Though the first couple of songs, set over her friend's electric guitar, didn't blow me away there were a couple near the end the really showed her voice off. The Lauren Hill (or was it The Fugees?) cover was also excellent. Raw, local talent that just needs to find her place.

Pkew Pkew Pkew, No Bro, Eamon McGrath - Horseshoe Tavern Jan.10 '20

Pkew Pkew Pkew

The reason for the night came onto the stage like a hometown crowd should - to cries of joy. It wasn't some intense, outpouring or anything - they did play this exact venue less than a year ago - but the ovation from the full, but not sold out house was strong. Similarly, the set was very enjoyable and appreciated but they are not setting new highs with their small-town Ontario tales of drinking, skating, and hanging out. The crowd did get into it and by third song, I Wanna See a Wolf, I was compelled to join the fray. To our credit we moshed the entire way through, enjoying strong tracks like Asshole Pandemic and 65 Nickels, with an incredible amount of body surfing too. There were 3 or 4 people going up at a go, one of whom decided to test the strength of the plumbing pipe that runs across the ceiling; fortunately for us all it held. Near the end there was a song or two not from either of their album releases which didn't quite get as much love as the well known tunes. After 45 minutes of short, ripping songs they waved goodbye, with their perpetually grinning bassist departing last. But in the preorchestrated world of concerts, even without much of a roar (more of an expectant pause), they returned to the stage gushing their thanks to us. They did a couple, finishing with Glory Days, which was the correct call if you ask me, and sent us out into the early morning hours sweaty and happy.

Man, or should I saw "Woman!" - what a treat this was. This four-piece, using secondary percussion including bongos and electronic drums were stellar. They also had a great guitarist though the singer was stronger with vocals, naturally, they all did some instrument swapping along the way. Even as the second band on the bill, after a snoozy (good snoozy) opening from Eamon these gals got the pit moving so kudos to that. For the finale they really decided to kick out the jams. One to watch, I'm glad I got to catch them on their way up.

Eamon McGrath
Accompanied by another fellow, also playing acoustic guitar they went through a solid folk set that even had the filling-in crowd respectfully quiet. A standout display of songsmanship was seen on especially on Guts.

Warming the way jsut before PPP! this four-piece, all-male francophone band played some bludgeoning punk rock. It wasn't bad but was all a little samey (I hit the john). At one point they bantered, in English, "we're singing in French but you don't care do you? It doesn't matter."

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Top Ten 2019 - Year in Review

1. Dave - Psychodrama
Marvellous. As in, every time I listen to this album I marvel at how exquisite it is. Nothing is overlooked, from the varied and interesting beats, to the high production value, the quasi-concept album thematic, and most importantly Dave's astounding word play. It's impossibly clever and impeccably delivered, including hooks, social commentary and downright funny jokes; I discover something new each time without even consulting Genius.com. Lesley may be the best tale in a tune of the year - please, sit down and listen. Santan Dave's wisdom, vision, execution, skill, voice, and, yes, piano-playing are all on display in this damn-near masterpiece of a rap album.

2. default genders - main pop girl 2019
I couldn't get enough of this album and still cannot describe properly why. It is a super-pop album that swaps genres at blistering speed, many of which I wouldn't normally find myself listening to but here it just works. Lyrically it tells some tales, again things that I wouldn't necessarily relate to, but there I was putting it on for my morning run for the 50th time months later. Just give it a try.
(Not available on Spotify but grab it from Bandcamp PWYC, including free)

3. Snotty Nose Rez Kids - Trapline
Late to the party, I'm glad to have caught onto this blazing band this year. With their unreserved Reservation-rap (okay, I made that term up) they pull no punches in upping their lives and their lifestyles through song. It is fresh, eye-opening and altogether ass-shaking. Unfortunately I haven't yet caught them live but their Insta-stories sure do make it look like it absolutely goes off! It's a good time to grab hold as these high-fliers are taking off.

4. Sigrid - Sucker Punch
Diamonds, sapphires, rubies - this album is full of pop gems. A rising star, Sigrid has the voice and the musical sensibilities to burn long and bright. Anytime I was looking for an accessible and mostly upbeat shot of music this year, Sucker Punch was an easy fix, and it held up on the repeatability too. But there's a depth to it as well with emotional songwriting that tackles real feelings without drowning the listener in sorrow. Sigrid's versatility makes this a complete album.

5. Sir Babygirl - Crush on Me
Unabashed retro-beats pop music - I'd read someone liken it to a pumped up Britney Spears album for 2019 - and Sir Babygirl plays with expectations with glee. Starting with that gender-fluid name they don't hold back on the glorious 26 minutes of this album (I looked it up, it's not an EP), including two reprises! Haunted House is the standout, with that chorus raising more questions than answers, and the album is perfectly punctuated by the tongue-in-cheek closer, Crush On Me. All I want is more.

6. Black Midi - Schlagenheim
Defying conventions, these music-school nerds have gone ahead with a gloriously indulgent album that brings many influences together to make something so new. Based around their impressive individual instrumental skills they've managed to flaunt their musicianship appropriately. The math-rock elements, the "unique" vocals, and the varying signatures make for an eclectic mix that keeps the listener guessing but it's a challenge worth taking.

7. Tim Baker - Forever Overhead
Fronting one of my all-time favourite Canadian bands, Hey Rosetta!, could be either a blessing or a curse when it comes to the first solo offering. Would Tim be able to live up to the heightened expectations without the six super-talented musicians supporting him in both the songwriting and performing? I'm happy to report that this is a very worthwhile offering that doesn't try to recreate the magic of HR! but maintains the eloquent lyrics in an appropriate, slightly stripped-back, singer-songwriter context (still showcasing some of Tim's piano too).

8. Better Oblivion Community Centre - Better Oblivion Community Centre
This combination of a couple of true, through-and-through songwriters has struck gold symbiosis. Coner Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Phoebe Bridgers could both play their way out of a troll's trap alone so when they joined forces for BOCC it was like giving both of them a turbo boost. The songwriting is impeccable and the interplay is excellent. Released early in the year it has been an album that has never really left the rotation and still plays frequently and with much adoration.

9. Sacred Paws - Run Around the Sun
An upbeat, carry-you-along album filled with quirky and catchy ditties highlighted by the back-and-forth vocals of this cross-UK-border, female duo. It's music for any bright occasion, or even to make a not so bright time, like dusting the living room, into an bopping dance party.

10. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride
An album that I'd been looking forward to in the long interim between releases that just gave and gave and gave. Yes, it's long but it hardly falters and finishes on a gem. Bringing in the duets and accompaniments throughout manages to keep the songwriting and delivery fresh, for repeated listening (it showed up all over my Spotify year-end breakdowns). Very pleased to have VW back in town.

Honourable Mentions

Shotgun Jimmie - Transistor Sister 2
Jimmie has captured lightning in a bottle again on this revisitation to the Transistor Sister that set a benchmark in his earlier career. Simple, yet catchy and effective, this album can fit most moods.

Pup - Morbid Stuff
Who'd have known that Pup could squeeze so much traction and love out of this genre? Here they are once again giving a damn fine performance and encouraging the kids to get out there and catch them live where they really ignite.

Tallest Man on Earth - I Love You. It's a Fever Dream.
Quietly this album ended up in my year-end conversation by being a lovely accompaniment to those moments of reflection and tranquility.

JOHN (TIMESTWO) - Out Here on the Fringes
Discovering this duo late in the year I was sold from the get-go with their guitar-to-the-wall brand of rock.

Press Club - Wasted Energy
An energetic burst of Aussie punk that enthuses a freshness into the genre.

Sandro Perri - Soft Landing
Similar to In Another Life, this album is anchored by a ploddingly excellent opening track, Time (You Got Me) with a still-strong B side.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Futureheads - Institute Dec. 6 '19

Cut Glass Kings
It was so odd to be in a nearly desolate Institute. Seriously, it seemed like there were 25 people in the whole place when we entered at 6:20pm on a Saturday night in December. Too bad for those that had tickets because the two-piece guitar and drum duo were putting on a decent show. Loud and full of classic rock (not Classic Rock) riffs they powered through the set, seemingly not put off by the attendance that didn't even double during their short set.

Indoor Pets

Still playing to a cavernous (and cold!) space, this four-piece put on an enteraining set of poppy, indie rock somewhere in the realm of Weezer Green-era, though perhaps that was just the singer's Rivers glasses that got me thinking that. His glasses sat upon his nose which did most of his singing, in a very distinct, minorly annoying, nasal fashion. It was definitely unique but once I got over it I was happy to report that the boys did a fine job of beating their recorded-music expectations.

The Futureheads
Celebrating a fifteen-year anniversary of their beloved self-titled debut the Sunderland quartet, that often sing a-cappella like a barbershop quartet, were playing it in its entirety on this evening. Having caught them way back in the day, originally as Franz Ferdinand openers and after that whenever they toured through Toronto, it was definitely a night rooted in nostalgia. And even though they did play through the old tunes it isn't a band strictly revelling in the glory days as they still have the musical interplay that always set them above the rest. Not to mention comical interplay too as they interluded songs with origin stories and any chance to get a lick in on each other. One such story did both in telling how The City Is Here For You To Use was about the then-sixteen year old drummer crying in a tube station in London when they first started gigging there. Another revealed that the singer used to have to write the bass parts as well since the bass player wasn't good enough yet and they remarked that one with a particuarly "fruity bass line" (their words) must have been as a punishment for pissing him off. "Here, try and learn this, ya tall c*nt." From opener Le Garage, through highlights such as Decent Days & Nights, "not every song needs to be about something" Alms, nearly instrument-free Danger of the Water, and frenetic First Day they proved that they've still got the magic. Yet it was in the closing two tracks that they absolutely won me back over. As always the split-chanting crowd gave their amazing take on Hounds of Love true glory but equally good was Man Ray to close it all down. Their quote-unquote lead singer was battling a throat infection so they rightly took a break following the album but were gracious enough to return and burn through a few more for us. Fittingly they played three highlights from the recently released Powers that you'd think they would be touring, and the material held up. I'm particularly partial to Good Night Out but Jekyll and Electric Shock were good too. As a finale they threw another classic, Beginning of the Twist, before waving us off having surely pleased longtime fans and excited those catching them for the first time alike.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Fontaines DC - Institute Nov 25, '19

Fontaines were.. rather disappointing, I have to say. Hardly any words were spoken - he might have said 'thank you' after the final song and he did grumble something about we they do encores before it but literally those were the only words (and I couldn't understand them anyway). The first half was all the shitty songs from their only album (starting with Hurricane Laughter, followed by Chequeless Reckless) which are basically one-riff on repeat and 1 line repeated over and over until line 2 which gets repeated and then back to line 1. They stood stock still except the singer who acted like a bored little boy, pacing in small circles and looking at his nails and stomping his mic stand. That was literally the "show". They did add an unreleased song in Televised Mind which was interesting for its novelty, at least.

The second half was only saved 'cuz it was better music, songs that had more than one chord each, but the on-stage was the exact fucking same. Zero interaction with us, or with each other, except when the singer cut not one but two songs from their already brief set. Following the previously mentioned new tune they were presumably going to play another new track (seeing as they played all 11 Dogrel songs) but it got axed. Then the guitar tech had already tuned them up for a track but the singer called an audible and then told us this was their last song meaning he cut another one right at the end. The whole thing came in well under an hour which if you're headlining a massively sold out gig in a decently big hall you've got to give us something more. Musically it was fine - the sound wasn't that great in this venue though. Stand-outs like Too Real, Boys in the Better Land, and closer, Big, got the crowd going and rightfully so, but to me it shouldn't have taken much given the anticipation to get people into it and yet the crowd seemed rather reserved for much of the night (from my vantage point just off the edge of the sometimes-pit.) One standout track was the slightly more nuanced Television Screen that at least showed the guys had a different gear.

I can see if they had opened for Idles and just straight rocked for 30 minutes and only played the good stuff that it would have been a great "surprise" but as headliners I'll give 'em a bit of a "fuck off". At the End of the Road festival this summer they also got a pass from me 'cuz they were in a massive fucking tent in the middle of the day and I was stuck at the back trying not to be anti-social. I just assumed that if I was up front that it would have been great but, alas, now I know my answer - No.

Warm Drag opened and while I only caught the final song and a half (having previewed them before arrival) I think I got the gist of it. Playing music akin to The Kills the male worked a synthesizer over a drum machine while the woman sang and shrieked into the mic. Not entirely bad it wasn't anything for me to get excited about.