Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hey Predator!, The Denial Tone, DD/MM/YYYY – December 9 at Il Motore

Hey Predator!
Tonight Hey Predator! transitioned from being I band I like because they're good and because they're friends of mine to one that I just like. Maybe it was Il Motore's surprisingly good sound, or because they were in a spot I think they envisioned themselves at their name-release party a couple years ago (before they changed "Hate" to "Hey" and dropped the super-scenester comma), or even because vocalist/poetry-yeller Taylor used to work out. Whatever the reason, they topped even their solid Divan set this past fall.

Opener "This is a Pregnancy Pact" was especially strong, with (one of three) guitarist Tristan's fingers running up and down the neck like it was a fast-paced game of Snakes 'n Ladders, while on the next song, his second tapping hand forced the notes to bounce back and forth in a mathy match of Pong. The tightness of these relatively newer songs even managed to supersede the go-to closer of "Puncture Wounds," whose aggressive group vocals (they scream "fucking"!) always gets people's attention. Hopefully Hey Pred continues to get the Blue Skies Turn Black-level shows they deserve.

The Denial Tone
Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for the high-pitched, mid-heavy barrage of The Denial Tone's garage-punk. They pounded out tight enough tracks, with the guitars often veering into intruiging territory, but it just didn't seem like the band really felt it, and neither did I.

DD/MM/YYYY (pronounced "day month year") excels in cathartic yet contained psych-math explorations. Tonight, they delivered much of Black Square, perhaps their most successful studio outing, in all its instrument-swapping, drum-spattering, echo-y-vocal glory. After the show, guitarist/vocalist/drummer Tomas Del Balso explained that the switching comes from the band's democratic songwriting process ("We wanted a no holds barred approach"), where all five members bring song ideas to the table and determine who plays what accordingly. "It's a problem and a good thing," he said.

Instead of forcing the listener to choose between spacing out or dancing a frantic jig, the band smartly allows for both, showcasing their controlled experiments with playful ease. Del Balso also noted that although the band's complex output still relies on "pretty conventional weapons – guitar, drums, and keys, nothing too obscure – but the way we play them is our personality." As might be expected, for this band the message isn't solely in the vocals, but in the rhythms, too. "We want to leave people thinking for themselves, and about their expectations for what a band should and could be."

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Rural Alberta Advantage and Great Bloomers – November 18 at Club Lambi

Great Bloomers
If your MySpace describes you as talented "beyond your years," that probably means you're young – which doesn't really have to mean anything. Take Toronto's Great Bloomers for instance, whose alt-country Canadiana served as a perfect prelude to The RAA last Wednesday. The band laid down Cuff the Duke basics with a voice that sounds like a twangy CHOM 97.7. They also overcame sound troubles when guitarist Nate Hindle gave up on his hollow body and instead sang on the finale, thought it was clear the poor guy had no idea what to do with his hands. Enjoyable, yes, though it made me yearn for another other band doing the old thing well.

The Rural Alberta Advantage
The first two songs from The RAA had two-thirds of the band restricted to back-up vocals and a floor tom, which was unfortunate because the drum sounded like shit. When drummer Paul Banwatt eventually moved to the kit, I was taken aback by how friggin' tight and loud he was, bringing the punk to tin-can Hometowns foundations like "Don't Haunt This Place" and "Drain the Blood," and the Chemical Brothers back to rock with "Sleep All Day."

Meanwhile, guitarist and real Albertan Nils Edenloff delivered on his Aeroplane-tinged vocals and small town authenticity, expressing genuine interest in meeting people after the set. But for some reason, he did a cover of "Eye of the Tiger." Why?

Before the show, The RAA's pithy, prairielectro-folk hadn't really won me over, but enjoying the set from the fringes of the Wednesday night dance party convinced me to give the tar-loving Canadians a chance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dirty Projectors and tUnE-YaRdS – November 15 at Le National

In a sort of Cagibi coming-out party, Merrill Garbus happily shared the Bird's finest offerings with new and old fans Sunday night. I could attempt to describe her staggering vocal skills, but instead I'll let Drew Nelles: "sometimes she sounds like a eunuch, sometimes like she’s laying down a reggaeton track, sometimes like she’s disembowelling a zebra on the savannah." Garbus often explores all three roles in a single track, while also laying down multi-layered drum loops and ethereal harmonies with ease.

Chances are she could have other people doing these, but it's more fun to see her create full drum beats one morcel at a time, and churning her sung parts into a kind of oral synth. Once, it sounded like a second snare part was a bit off, but with the full beat realized, it became one of the set's most danceable tracks (since she was simply laying down the opposite hand's contribution – forming an backbone akin to acoustic Animal Collective).

It was nice to see half the headliners (Angel, Dave, and Brian) bobbing enthusiastically to the side of the stage. Like the Dirty Projectors' sound, Garbus' little guitar was mainly clean, but turned to a bruised distortion with enough attack. The accompanying men in white offered cute harmonies compared to her powerful wail, and coordinated dance moves to boot. Party on!

Dirty Projectors
It's easy to justify seeing this band multiple times – especially in indie, talent and experimentation are rarely matched to such a satisfying degree.

In this post-album tour, the band switched up the set list (which had remained fairly consistent over the summer), starting with tracks from the U.K.-only 12-inch and "Cannibal Resource," on which Dave Longstreth employed noticeably more distorted tones and new parts. These ended up being a theme of the evening, as his racing right hand sometimes gave way to minor bumps and blips. This is all relative, however, as you'd be hard-pressed to commission anyone to execute these parts' intricacy played with similar proficiency.

Trowing in Bitte Orca closer "Fluorescent Half Dome" into the first third of the set was a nice touch, Brian McComber's dynamic drumming more pronounced than ever. Afterward, Longstreth settled into his new role as a frontman of a Le National-worthy band, offering stage banter beyond monotone "Thank yous" for the first time this year. Plus, it was funny. Fielding two comments at once ("We like you" and "I have to pee"), he reciprocated the first ("Yep, we really like being here too") and responded to the second with a story about having to leave a Harlem Globe Trotters game when he was a kid ("When you gotta go you gotta go").

The band also took advantage of the headlining slot to re-imagine Bitte Orca tracks with new arrangements, most notably a semi-acoustic version of "The Bride," proving that Nat Baldwin is not lugging around his double-bass in vain. "Two Doves" also had a greater calming effect later into the set (as opposed to opening it), following thunderous renditions of "Gimme Gimme Gimme" and "Thirsty and Miserable." Of all the highlights, however, the Solange-inspiring "Stillness" suffered from guitar troubles and even minute pitch issues, though as always, Amber killed the finale. Overall, Sunday night's set found the band exploring their new role as a bigger-than-Sala act with a longer, re-assembled set showcasing their winsome mix of the deceivingly steady and potently ornate.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Most Serene Republic – November 14 at Zaphod's (Ottawa)

Meligrove Band
...was a no-show Saturday night, apparently down with the swine. Whoever booked the new opening band probably did so at the last minute, because they were pretty awful. Group vocals with no harmonies, boring song structures, drum fills that don't quite fit...all in all, they reminded me of decent high school shows. That also provides a nice segue since high school is where I first saw The Oneironauts (who then became Most Serene).

The Most Serene Republic
It's been almost 5 years since the underwater cinematographers played with The Junction at an indie music night at the Heritage Theatre in Brampton, Ontario. At the time, it seemed like The Junction was slated to break out, bringing their jazz-pop intensity outside the southwestern Ontario scene. Instead, however, a younger version of Most Serene became the first Arts & Crafts signees outside the immediate Broken Social Scene family, and did their best to navigate the hype stowed upon them. Three albums later, their main task seems to be rekindling that initial buzz, though it doesn't seem like they're going back to their earlier incarnation anytime soon. After "Where Cedar Nouns and Adverbs Walk" – whose centrepiece shout-along "I think we all know the words" brought me right back to 2004 – the band mocked the chorus, which they wrote when they were 19.

As Most Serene blew up, The Junction quietly got a distribution deal with Universal, but after a so-so debut – which veered from their cleaner roots toward distortion and screams – got dropped. Though they're back with a sound that better emulates their earlier wonders, there's no tour to back it up. Taking different paths, both bands have found out how tough the industry can be.

Most Serene's Saturday night set could have benefited from better sound, since it's easy to lose track of seven people playing through nightclub speakers. Seeing them at Guelph's Hillside Festival two years ago, I was re-invigorated by their swirling tightness and singer Adrian Jewett's patented kookiness. Though he still employs some impish dance moves, Jewett has traded his high-pitched tomfoolery for mid-ranged normalcy – and the wannabe Emily Haines next to him isn't quite strong enough as a lead. With their musicianship muddied and the main character tamed, the band seems to be sacrificing their energy for an undefined focus.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mark Bragg, Rae Spoon, Wax Mannequin – November 13 at Zaphod's (Ottawa)

Mark Bragg
The exuberant east coaster got the night rolling with a taut set of honest collar rock. Near the start, it sounded like The Coral's debut minus the superfluous instrumentation, and finished with a dose of breakneck bluegrass. For back-to-basics bands, feeling is often most important, so this band's sheer tightness was a bonus – thanks in part to bassist Rajiv Thavanathan of Toronto's Oh No Forest Fires. "This band is smokin'," says Braggs, a St. John's native who's been performing for about 10 years, after the show. "I forgot how tourin' makes bands wicked tight."

With a brief explanation of each song's origin (concluding with "And that's what this song is about"), the fast-talkin' Newfoundlander made a novella out of the short set. I was surprised to learn this type of storytelling was a new component of his live show, "specifically learned from Rae and Wax," Braggs tells me, adding, "I've always been shitty at introducing songs." Apparently he's past this phase. With the new shtick forcing him to re-think the songs' meaning, Braggs is better able to communicate his dark fiction more directly with those before him.

Rae Spoon
Rae makes their unique status as a transgendered country singer known from the get-go, offering an engaging set of surprisingly electrified acoustic numbers with a side of basic Macbook beats. Think Hank Williams with a penchant for minimalist Postal Service. Drawing on experiences living in the Yukon, Halifax, and Berlin, Rae provided funny anecdotes – topics include dial-up internet; queer Country day; and the parallels between being a German cowboy and a trans Calgarian – between (and during) many of their folky, charming tunes.

Why the banter? "When I get on stage, people don't know how to perceive me," Rae tells me, explaining that the personal narrative woven throughout the show comes as a result of consistent touring over the past 10 years. Especially for country – which Rae even remarked as a genre relying heavily on stereotypes – theirs is a bold statement, though it doesn't outweigh the quality of the music. "Come on Forest Fire Burn the Disco Down" is still stuck i
n my head.

Wax Mannequin
After two solid openers, the punky old timer (brandishing both suspenders and an iPhone) ran through a set of fist-pumping Tom Waits in fine fashion, though some songs could be mistaken for CCR or Lou Reed covers. I think that's a compliment.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dan Auerbach – November 8 at Le National

Apparently Le National is a tough venue to fill. Not even post-Veckatimest Grizzly Bear could accomplish the feat this past June, and though the Auerbach-adoring crowd certainly showed its affection throughout Sunday night's show, there was still a little too much room to groove on the down-sloping floor. Plus, it didn't help that the extra white lights – strung in an 'X' from the sound booth to the back of the stage – brought attention to the fact by over-illuminating the room, making it feel like the end of the show several times throughout. Nevertheless, the set was a well-rehearsed, loud-as-hell re-ordered rendition of Keep It Hid, opening with a tender "Trouble Weighs a Ton" brought to life by harmonies shared at the mic.

At a Black Keys show at La Tulipe three years ago, I remember Auerbach providing more than enough guit-gusto through two Marshall stacks – his highs running through four 12-inch speakers and his low-end through eight of them – so I was interested to see how he'd maneuver the stage with five other players, including two drummers. The band certainly put on a good show, but it didn't convince me that the Keys' two-man show is significantly lacking numbers.

The sound was at times clear as a bell – or, in the Fast Five's case, shakers, tambourines, and a triangle – though at others the onslaught of unified fuzz was a little much, making it hard for lead guitars to cut through the mix. Auerbach seemed to remedy the problem by adding an inordinate amount of distortion on some solos, fighting off his own noise as if the band's wasn't the main barrier to him getting heard.

Spending much of the set establishing rolling, mid-tempo grooves drenched in organ, faster tracks ("My Last Mistake") came as a welcome, crowd-pleasing relief. Regarding the former, "Street Walking" was definitely a highlight, as was the let's-get-this-party-started "I Want Some More." A good time, but right now I'm more excited for Drummer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hey Predator!, The Bronzed Chorus, Antarctic, Please Don't Put Charles on the Money – Monday, October 27

Hey Predator!
Every time I see Montreal's finest veritable guitarsenal, I feel like I get closer to hearing the songs as they hear them. This time, the sound at Divan Orange did justice to their swirling, midtempo nerd punk with bigger bass, sharper guitars, and more excitable drums courtesy of ex-Danger Danger Mammoth Hunter guitarist (and lone francophone) Matt. Gone are the tinny MySpace recordings of yesteryear, the time for howled poetry over 22 interwoven strings is now.

The Bronzed Chorus
Hailing from Greensboro, North Carolina, this how-are-they-just-a-two-piece carves out groove-heavy, hard-hitting instrumental escapes that create a common space for post-rock fans sick of waiting for the climax and hardcore admirers who forgot how to dance. Drummer Brennan O'Brien pulls a Def Leppard on half the tracks when he doubles up on keys, though you wouldn't notice by the recordings. And with the help of two amps and (just) a half-dozen pedals, guitarist Adam Joyce calmly explores the nooks and crannies of the duo's stereophonic limits.

These Floridians' specialize in mathy, full-throttle novellas that attack as much as they persuade the listener into admiration. When they really let loose in all their two-hand-sprint-tapping sincerity, they take the jaded music lover in me by surprise. What's truly bewildering is how otherwise acutely intricate sections sound tame in the presence of these extremities. Within the context of their sound, it sometimes feel like they're holding back when, compared to most 'aggressive' bands, they would already reached the zenith of musicianship.
And if you don't care about all that, keep in mind that their songs are also damn fun.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

POP Montreal – October 1

Hey Ocean
Given the too-early 8 p.m. time slot in a too-big room that adheres strictly to the first part of its name, Vancouver pop mélangers Hey Ocean! did what they could at the sterile Club Soda. Though they dealt mostly within the range of safe, coastal dance-pop, the group was at its best with a Feist-y jazz number about finding a better bicycle, and when singer Ashleigh Ball busted out her flute like the "As It Happens" theme ain't no thang. Also of note: following his family-friendly drum solo, the band's could've-been-a-male-model stickman went topless.

Joel Plaskett & The Emergency
After seeing Joel Plaskett twice, once solo and another half-solo and half-family band, I had high expectations for his first Pop show. The trio's rendition of "Work Out Fine" at Sala Rosa a few months ago in support of Three stands out as a particularly stellar concert moment, and from then on I was yearning for a full set of The Emergency.

Despite Plaskett's trademark jittery energy and tight guitar playing -- not to mention his tendency to meandre off into nearly-nonsensical-but-oh-so-smart spoken word before the attention shifts back to the band's solid rock 'n roll -- something was off at the Club Soda show. Maybe it was the empty balconies, the chairs and tables faux-filling up the floor, or the people talking throughout the show -- the only exception of which came when during new song "Old Friends." People shut up, and Plaskett's exquisitely arranged chords overlayed with familiar words that play off clichés in the most endearing way reminded everyone part of the reason why they came.

Nevertheless, the high point of the set again came with "Work Out Fine," after which the band trotted along satisfactorily, playing essentially the same set as their last Sala Rosa show. And I'm surprised to say that I didn't need to see it twice. At the risk of becoming formulaic in his middle age, Plaskett really should consider broadening his live tracklist.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

POP Montreal – September 30

Leif Vollebekk
Adorning the Wednesday night volunteer wristband, I entered a somewhat emtpy-feeling O Patro Vys to see Leif Vollebekk for the first time. Evoking many of the same musical qualities as fellow Montreal folk-pop phenom (and collaborator) Charlotte Cornfield, Leif is also reknowned for his truly kickass name, and was accompanied by the ever-smiling Hans Bernhard on upright bass and "feelin'-it" Phil Melanson on percussion.

Throughout the set, pulled mostly from his album Inland, Leif grew more confident both with his brand of earnest bluesy folk, and his banter. As the room filled up, he uttered, "Oh look at all you, thanks for multiplying," and the ever-expanding crowd seemed grateful to hear it. Many of Leif's songs were on the importance of place – "Quebec," "Don't go to Klaksvil," "Cairo Blues," the list goes on – and Hans's plugging bass only added to the feeling of motion, whether it be via a river, road, or delectably looped electric guitar and violin on Leif's next-to-closing track. Looking forward to more Vollebekk around the corner.

Oxen Talk
The soundperson just had to play Grizzly Bear before Oxen Talk took the stage, didn't they? For a difficult-to-classify band, identifying them with a currently popular and mildly similar multi-vocal-and-instrumentalist indie chamber pop outfit would just be too easy. That's not to say Oxen Talk are without Bear-esque undertones – they are – but without the same atmospherics, the comparison lacks depth.

The two are similar in the sense that the combination of McGillans Bob, Luke, Adrian, Riley and Mallory makes for one dextromentalist (to borrow a friend's terminology) and highly talented group, though their focus is more on intricate wordplay set upon a more bare bones yet complex musical backdrop with shift-on-a-dime tempos. Oxen Talk's sense of humour was also on display, for instance with a grossly awkward but enjoyable finale to one number: as the lights faded, their wry smiles intensified, waiting for the last possible moment to release control over the keys...and we laughed. Heh.

The Youjsh
Cycling up St Laurent to Il Motore, I was pleased to catch a significant portion of The Youjsh's torrent of tight, mathy hyper-Klezmer. Think Battles, but replace the guitars and robot rock with mostly one-handed keys, trumpet, and woodwinds bent into entirely new contortions.

Though band leader and Steve Day admirer Malcolm Sailor told me after the show that while he too resorts to describing it as Klezmer, he said the band's sound draws heavily from Eastern European music in general – the most familiar of which being accordion-based Bar Mitzvah jams. "I'd rather refrain from categorizing my music, and let it speak for itself," Sailor said. And I recommend you listen.

Bruce Peninsula
Up next came Bruce Peninsula's mix of weighty growls and soothing choiristas; throbbing, bass-heavy romps bookended by softening a cappella. The band's neo-traditional sing-a-alongs best transcended through an extended version of "Satisfied" and a rollicking "Jack Can I Ride?", the final track on their eponymous 7-inch.

After the show, band co-founder, guitarist and vocalist Matt Cully explained that much of the inspiration for the band's unique approach to hard-hitting folk rock came from the archives of Alan Lomax, a musicologist whose field recordings preserved the music of artists like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters just as industrialization threatened to wipe out folk culture completely. I'm grateful we have this Toronto lot breathing new life into old hymns.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fleet Foxes – August 3 at Metropolis

"Thank you so much, it's really great to be here."

Like "Hello, [X city]! Everybody havin' a good time!?" before it, this cordial reciprocation of a crowd's cheers has become something of a concert requisite, often delivered with as much veritas as the initial too-cool audience response. Not so for the Fleet Foxes epic return to Montreal last Monday night, however. Before the band played a single note, the energy in oft-anonymous Metropolis was electric, as preemptive howls and applause seemed to startle the mug-sipping, toque-wearing (and of course, plaid-clad) lead Fleet, Robin Pecknold.

Having spent countless hours with their Sun Giant EP and self-titled debut LP over the past year, I had high expectations for the Seattle quintet's beautifully orchestrated folk-pop. And when the sound arrived, it came bigger and bolder than I ever expected – four voices hymning about leading life through the seasons, slower and more poised than the original start of their extended player. Kudos to Metropolis's top-notch sound for cranking both the bass and the intimacy knob, as every breath and beat on the Pecknold's guitar neck during the a cappella moments made the experience about more than just harmony. The red lights were also nice touch, evoking the ghost of La Sala Rossa – where one might assume most successful indie acts to play on their second tour through the city.

But the thing is – get ready for some ripe old cheddar – Fleet Foxes are not like most bands. Last summer, they played Le Divan Orange, with a capacity of about 100, if not 75. Without releasing any new material, they bypassed the middle two stages of the city's usual 4-Step Venue Program (as described by Leslie Feist at her Metropolis show supporting Let It Die a few years ago). Not only did they play the big venue, the filled it with the most enthusiastic audience in recent memory. Throughout the show, the acquiescent band-crowd vibes only intensified, with every thank-you or drink offering (and, at one point, interception) making the room feel a bit closer to "that coffee shop" the Foxes played last year.

And their new tunes strongly suggested it won't be the only time Montrealers wield such positive reinforcement. The first one began with an alluring harmony followed by sections of galloping folk and a clever outro, rung out with the confidence of a band discovering its sound the second time around. The only sign of road wear-and-tear came during the verses of "Ragged Wood"– after the even-higher-than-the-album intro "woh-oohs" – when Pecknold pulled back the mic slightly, knowing the highest pitches were just out of reach. With the only flub behind him, however, he gave a staggering "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and morphed into White Antelope for a sublime "False Knight on the Road." With the reformed full band playing the end of the pre-encore set, J Tillman broke his behind-the-kit presence by singing the lead "Wherever you go today"'s at the end of "Mykonos." (Also of note: the only non-vox Fox, Skyler Skjelset, with whom Pecknold has been playing the longest, added to his beardless and care-free image by skanking off stage.)

Then, after perhaps the loudest ground-shaking encore plea imaginable, the crowd provided the rhythm by pounding on the 2's and 4's during "Oliver James," making the guitarless parts all the more powerful. Fitting with the group aesthetic, Pecknold brought on his favourite band (and show opener) Dungen to shake stuff during closer "Blue Ridge Mountains." Before the tune, however, Pecknold let out a euphoric "I couldn't be happier in the world right now!" – doing all he could to reverse the usual blahness exuded by aforementioned crowd appreciation – eliciting big, unadulterated smiles all 'round. Like their lyrics' landscape poetics, live Fleet Foxes served to accentuate the music's hills and valleys, with the real end of the show coming from the inter-band bear hugs to the side of the stage. Let's hope they stay on the happy side.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Osheaga - August 1 and 2

Just kidding - I didn't actually go, but through the friendvine I did hear that Saturday's standouts were Lykke Li, K'naan, and Girl Talk, whereas Sunday notables are still TBA.

Other than the almost-worth-it lineup, the other drawback to the festival was that the STM forbid bikes on the metro over the weekend. For shame.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dirty Projectors – July 21 at Theatre Plaza

Before the post-crash Dirty Projectors could take the stage for their first headlining Montreal show supporting (album-of-the-year?) Bitte Orca, the three jangly noise-makers known as Skeletons provided the crowd both with 40 minutes of jubilant math-rock-meets-chamber-pop and the shortest, tightest pair of shorts worn by a guitarist, possible ever. Other than wondering if those were really comfortable, the question on everyone's mind was, of course, are they better than BODIES?

Dirty Projectors
Instead of once again riffing on the musical prowess spilling from Brooklyn's sexiest indie sextet, I'd like to start with two firsts: one, the first photo on this weblog, showcasing a rather happy fan with vocalist Haley Dekle holding the first ever sign brought to a Dirty Projectors concert (as confirmed by Angel Deradoorian when the young fellow cried out for the band to play "The Bride").

One of the more obtuse tracks from Bitte Orca, it turns out that "The Bride" hasn't translated well live, what with all that weirdness getting in the way of pitch. In other words, they didn't play the song, but Mr. Sign didn't seem too fazed by it.

As for the songs they did play, the super-stereo vocals-imitating-instruments placed at the head of "Remade Horizon" proved a solid segue from the now-standard opening duo of "Two Doves" and "Cannibal Resource." Soon after, the straight-forward beat(z) on "No Intention" were a little fast, but as strong as ever, providing just enough space for the rippling strings to work their worldly magic.

Though the 4-piece version of the band played the same three tracks from Rise Above at their Bonnaroo set, they switched things up by smoothly transitioning from "Gimme Gimme Gimme" to "Thirsty and Miserable" on a next-level noise wave. Oh, and then the vocals on "Stillness is the Move" were just alright (joke), and most likely out-R&B'd the full-fledged Beyoncé bonanza (she played "Say My Name"!!) happening across town the same night.

All in all, the sound could have been better (if more bodies and accompanying skeletons had been wise enough to fill Theatre Plaza to capacity), the drums and bass were as loud, tight, and possibly as taken for granted as ever (as it happens when the vocals steal the show), though the finer points of what makes a live Dirty Projectors show so great were all there: musical/spiritual leader Dave Longstreth's awkward-yet-magnetic presence and the squeaky fret noises emanating from his white Strat; the band's sheer exuberance when finally letting loose on relatively simpler songs; and the not-so-secret triple-threat of Amber, Angel, and Haley. Call them...Amgeley.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Japandroids + invites – July 14 at Club Lambi

Slim Twig
As I strolled into Lambi last Tuesday, Play Guitar were dismantling their gear, and in their place arose a single skinny white dude and a mass of pedals. To my delight (and thanks to ambiguity of "+ invites") this turned out to be Torontonian Max Turnbull, aka Slim Twig – who quickly summoned the crowd's spirit with a stream of rich backing beats, sermon-y sing-yelps and value-added live keyboard loops.

After about a half-hour of his freak-Dylan hip-hop routine, Slim finally picked up the Fender Jaguar he'd set aside at the beginning of the show, and closed with strongest (and loudest) tune of the evening. Maybe the former of his apparent influences deserves some more attention.

The hard-rockin'-and-oft-laughin' best friends from Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada took the stage and soon drove into a exhuberant "The Boys Are Leavin Town" – until the fresh, deep wound in drummer/singer David's right hand made his sticks too hard to handle. (He claimed it didn't hurt, but that all the blood made it impossible to grip anything.) After a couple more false-starts, someone (tour manager?) came onstage and bandaged him up real good, and nary was a stick dropped for the rest of the night. Still, it's not often that a percussionist keeps on keepin' on with such a bloody gash – which his better half, guitarist/vocalist Brian explained happened as they loaded in their gear that day. (Despite all the money saved on those pesky CD pressings, they're still touring sans roadie.)

Their willingness to play on may have been due to the pure joy of being back in their homeland, as Brian also reminded the crowd how lucky it was to live in Montreal instead of the middle-America they'd just escaped. As for the set, "Heart Sweats" reached new fist-pumping proportions, "Crazy/Forever" evoked more Sabbath than what's usually healthy (little), and "Wet Hair" rolled along with all its adolescent fervour. So yes, the hopefully-not-over-hyped west coasters delivered on their self-described "maximum rock."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stevie Wonder at Jazz Fest

"Free Stevie Wonder concert" – what a great idea (on paper)! Pick a music legend in which the entire world has at least a passing interest, throw away the cover charge, and see how many people try to cram themselves around screens smaller than Westmount home theatres. While I'm all for democratizing live music, the hugeness, ineffeciency, and danger this wondrous shitshow manifested had more in common with the main sponsor's former cashcow than an actual concert. Thanks GM, now please go back to what you're good at (i.e. going bankrupt; killing the planet in the name of getting to work, etc.)

So, how did such a great idea turn bad? The first problem is actually one of Montreal's best traits: density. There just isn't enough room downtown to have 100,000+ people see a concert. That's why festivals happen in deserts, and on farms. (The sight of a stretcher trying to make its way into the area that took us two songs to maneuvre through was a little off-putting.)

Realizing there was no way for everyone to be within earshot or the main stage, Jazz Fest organizers smartly synced up screens on every possible stage. These ended up functioning like roadblocks to those vying for a spot near the main stage (not once did the steady two-way traffic in front of me cease to waddle), though it was difficult enough to even catch a glimpse of these why-didn't-I-just-wait-for-the-DVD-to-come-out-so-I-could-watch-this-on-my-Macbook-in-my-underwear projections. Near the one where I stood, dozens of people decided it'd be exceedingly intelligent to jump on a temporary wood wall, and subsequently onto the roof of the building next to it. But hey, they looked cool doing it, and that's always a good reason to do something.

Right then, so about the music. Before we got any, we were treated to the obligatory headliner half-hour delay, and a speech during which Stevie asserted that anyone producing anything about Michael Jackson should give all the profits to the urr-vray-day-I'm-strugg-a-lin' Jackson family. Though something tells me MJ's back catalog might be worth something someday. Like, today.

Despite fibbing over the first line on opener "I Can't Help It" from Off The Wall, Wonder was in fine form, his voice growing stronger with every signature smile to the side of the mic. I'm glad I got to "see" him, though it really just made me want to actually see him. Granted, if, like Ken the commenter, I'd stayed for the whole show, my opinion could've well been a little sunnier. (Rain joke!) Regardless, like Gaby says, the Gazette review really sucks. What's with those ellipses?'s to Jazz Fest 2009!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bonnaroo - Sunday, June 14

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
In the first of what turned out to be many fruitful half-sets I caught Sunday afternoon, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists brought the weekend's best gracefully-aging melodic punk to The Other Tent, and they brought it hard. Busting out mostly new tracks interspersed with old favourites (I've never listened to a Ted Leo album, so this is purely judging by the reactions of the into-it dudes and dudettes around me), Ted and his band covered everything from simmering midtempo jams to more standard punky-pop blitzkreigs. Plus, when introducing "Even Heroes Have to Die," he explained, "The point is, everybody is human...that's not usually the point, but I thought it was appropriate for Bonnaroo."

The Dillinger Escape Plan
Sunday's lineup at That Tent was likely a Bonnaroo first, consisting exclusively of metal bands. Oh how quickly things change. It's not clear whether this new direction paid off, as the crowd gathered for Dillinger's theatrical math metal was noticeably sparse compared to other midday acts – though the pit seemed to be in a fine form. I was mainly there to see lead vocalist Greg Puciato jump into/on top of the crowd, which indeed happened on their epic closer. And boy can they shred!

Brett Dennen
For the last couple years, I've kept Brett Dennen at arm's length, expecting to quickly bore from what I assume to be a body of heard-it-before work hidden below his satisfyingly unique voice. And yet, I found Dennen and his California boys' somba-inspired khaki rock to be danceable and enjoyable in the non-ironic kind of way. I have to agree with an equally impressed attendee beside me, who announced to a friend, "This guy's got some soul!" That, and it was more ska than folk. Go figure.

Erykah Badu
Despite being just the second – and first officially scheduled – act to play the What Stage on Sunday, it wasn't until a half-hour into her scheduled set that Badu's band opened with "A Milli"' followed by an utterly pointless intro funk track. That chord progression sure got tiring after a dozen repetitions. When Badu finally strutted onstage sporting a cool-as-fuck tophat and Public Enemy sweatshirt, the real show began, showing off her off-kilter harmonies and power-woman sensibilities. For the most part, the crowd seemed to really enjoy it.

Andrew Bird
Bird is one of those artists with a big enough fanbase and praise for his live show that his albums should be a safe bet. I even had a "holy shit what music is this this is great" moment midway through Armchair Apocrypha working late one night last fall, yet further pre-Bonnaroo listens of the same record proved strangely uninspiring.

Thankfully, Bird's voice was far stronger and more dynamic – and his multi-stringamentation more pronounced – live than on Armchair or even the arguably-superior Noble Beast. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for loops of beautifully plucked violin lines. Let's go with that.

Mike Farris
I was sucked into the Sonic Stage for the positively penetrating pipes of Mister Mike Farris. I didn't mean to spew alliteration all over your screen like that, but that's the only way to describe this bluesman's tenor. Great stuff.

Neko Case
Despite my and other audience members' repeated heckling for songs from the Virginian redhead and New Pornographer's back catalog, Neko Case and the Sadies stuck to material mostly from Middle Cyclone – the blander/poppier (take your pick) follow up to Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. No matter, Case's talent has always superseded her songwriting, and it was wonderful to hear her vocal harmonies reproduced so scrupulously.

And to compliment her and her backing vocalist's good-humoured banter, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog joined her onstage to tell some clichéd-but-chuckle-inducing Bonnaroo jokes and sing an astonishingly in-tune duet. It was a nice moment, her and the guy with his hand up a dog puppet's ass.

Distinctly mellower than their Friday kicking out of the jams, Phish's first Sunday set trotted along comfortably and capped off with a well-documented appearance from Trey Anastasio's "boyhood hero, and still hero" Bruce Springsteen. Their version of the archetypal cover band track "Mustang Sally" put me right back to Father's Day car shows in the park, except only better and at Bonnaroo. Then, after an intense weekend of music and little-to-no rest, I fell asleep during their second set. But I bet it was fun.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bonnaroo - Saturday, June 13

Heartless Bastards
It's shitty to say, but I was happy to be done with Friday. With the most overwhelming day out of the way, I was happy to be in a more exploratory than To Do List-type mode. And the soaring near-stoner jams provided by the Heartless Bastards around 2 p.m. made for yet another good start. While their most recent LP, The Mountain, is a fine record in its own right, returning to it after hearing the Bastards play live has made for a more intriguing listen, most of all for Erika Wennerstrom's bluesy vocals.

Bon Iver
Justin Vernon et co.'s set in Toronto last summer was something special. I was prepared to enjoy the show; I wasn't prepared to get floored by one of the best vocalists in indie music. While others use falsetto to patch their limited range, Vernon's cut deep at Lee's Palace, filling the room like a group of soulful ghosts.

This, my second time seeing him support essentially the same material (save for the For Emma-wasn't-a-fluke Blood Bank e.p.), saw Bon Iver sound exponentially more like a full band, and less as Vernon-with-other-dudes. He introduced everyone by their first name, and had the newest member sign a Yo La Tengo cover ("I Feel Like Going Home," from the formidable I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass). On it and "For Emma," the band's sound was boosted by Elvis Perkins in Dearland's horns. Overall, the multi-percussion parts that drifted toward the redundant on their Letterman appearance were appropriate in the more dynamic full-length set, during which the band rarely doubled up on instruments.

Just as on their releases, Bon Iver tracks have a way of melting guitars, voice, keys, and percussion into one other, creating a unified force sometimes charging, sometimes strolling toward the end. On the quieter side, "Re: Stacks" was once again stunning (the "drunk as hell" line may have been specifically directed to the idiot who pissed on the ground before the show, causing the woman beside him to insist he get the fuck away from her, as that was a rather unpleasant experience). The band's recurring closer, "Wolves Part I and II," reached new heights with the jam-packed midday crowd's insistent contribution to "What might've been lost..." A nice powerful outro for the middle of the afternoon. Plus, the other guitarist looks like a blonder, younger Shia LaBeouf.

Del McCoury Band
Real bluegrass. Superb old-timer grooves.

Finally – Wilco can open every show with a song about themselves! From the first strums of "Wilco (The Song)," Jeff Tweedy and the boys rocked and rolled through their two-hour late afternoon set in fine fashion. Drawing rather evenly from Being There to Yankee to their last two meh releases to Wilco (The Album), the band was more on the jammy side of the festival's reported jam/indie divide. It's not like [insert most indie band ever] would ever end with a guitar duel.

Of Montreal (?) parade
Of Montreal's show started pretty poorly – or maybe I was just too far back – so I wandered over to hear Gov't Mule cover "Creep," that British one-hit-wonder band's song. Instead of catching the end of Mars Volta or Decemberists, I got sidetracked by one of those many moments unique to the festival: a marching band of sorts, complete with burlesque dancers, costumed folk on stilts, and a guy who was extremely happy to be in the midst of it all. Surrounding them were three people watching, 18 taking digital photos.

Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band
Like everyone else who never grew up with "The Boss," the only thing I know about them is that they're from Jersey, kicked ass at the Super Bowl, and stole the drummer from Conan O'Brien's band. The only question was, would it really be live? Well, after a half-hour delay and a huge first song, that's exactly what Bruce asked the crowd – "I said is anybody out there aliiive tonight!?" – so I went to get some dinner. When I returned, I saw moms and dads dancing, and thought to myself, yeah, they should be able to enjoy music festivals, too.

Slotted for a relatively brief 45-minute set before MGMT at That Tent, these harmonizing techno-beatniks were a perfect warm-up for the sardine-can jump-a-thon to come. Their worldly beats and lofty synths did justice to the much-loved All Hour Cymbals on live versions of tracks like "Sunrise" and "2080." It was clear large swaths of the crowd were in for a first-time listen, and those in my immediate vicinity let out innumerable "this is like, really good"'s. So good for them.

Somewhat strangely, the "backing" vocals offered up by guitarist Anand Wilder and bassist Ira Wolf Tuton actually felt stronger than lead singer/synthist Chris Keating, who's more about being unique than holding notes. At least he's got the former down pat.

How does a band with three great songs and a half-dozen decent ones meet the expectations (and the set length) of a late-night Bonnaroo bonanza? Well, first they play all the songs you know but forgot about from Oracular Spectacular, mix in some newbies, sandwich two of their best tracks ("Time to Pretend" and "Electric Feel") together, and come back for encore with the third ("Kids") and the mellower eponymous track from their forthcoming album, Celebration – and bask in the adoration of the mighty masses before them.

Overall, the show aligned more with the band's psych-rock tendencies than the club-funk of the aforementioned Big Three, and the new songs pushed even further in the direction of upbeat 60s pop. In reaching for a mellower sound, MGMT – aka Ben Goldwasser and the long-lost Jonas Brother – will likely appeal to a new breed of pop enthusiasts, but at the same time risk losing the sound that got them one of the most packed late-night audiences of the festival.

This lighter sound also seems to have influenced their playing of their most danceable tracks. "Time to Pretend," for example, was less focused on the fuzzy, throbbing synth that kicks in after the intro, and more about the smooth guitar lines put deeper in the mix on the band's debut. Still, there remains plenty of hope for these fresh-faced four-letterers, as Oracular tracks sitting firmly in the decent pile, like "Weekend Wars" and "Handshake," had a far grander presence live.

Bonnaroo – Friday, June 12

After settling in to the festival's otherworldly atmosphere with a stellar first night of music, I left the campsite at noon on Friday excited to navigate one of the most absurdly stacked days of music ever (ever ever, ever ever). That, or the day with way too many overlapping sets – take Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Grizzly Bear, and Santigold all playing around 5 to 6 p.m. as one example.

Though this is an unfortunate reality – and perhaps the only unsolvable logistical issue at Bonnaroo – it's also what I'd call the best kind of dilemma. "Oh no there are several fine musical artists whose performances I'd enjoy seeing but they're taking the stage all at once. Woe is so fucking me." Plus, I'd taken a proactive approach by catching both TV on the Radio (who were upstaged by the Dirty Projectors' impeccable opening set) and Grizzly Bear in Montreal the week before. You do what you can.

Dirty Projectors
Otherwise known as the royal family of virtuosic experimental indie, or Dave Longstreth & the Power Pipe Girls, or just a really tight band that does what others can't (except fly? debatable), the Dirty Projectors showcased their talents and niceties to a packed early afternoon crowd at the David Byrne-curated That Tent. The group began the show the same way as their opening set for TVOTR – with the acoustic duet "Two Doves," showcasing Angel Deradoorian's soaring alto and Longstreth's fluttering, intricate finder-picking, followed by Bitte Orca opener "Cannibal Resource" – to expectedly superb effects.

Next, the striking vocal interplay that lifts the "Remade Horizon" to a new stratosphere in the bridge of its recorded version again found its place at the forefront of its live rendition, arousing mid-song cheers from what seemed to be an audience largely unfamiliar with the band. Midway through the set, bassist Nat Baldwin and new vocalist Haley Delke left the stage, leaving the Rise Above-era Dirty Projectors to play perhaps the three finest cuts from that album: "Gimme Gimme Gimme," "Thristy And Miserable," and "Rise Above." Though it was nice to see the band as they'd been at their incredible Sala Rosa show last year, the band is simply stronger as a 6-piece thriving on new songs.

Baldwin and Delke returned for Amber Coffman-fronted "Stillness is the Move" – you know, the one where the petite blonde bounces about and sings like Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, or maybe both. Whatever comparisons they're drawing from their most straight-forward R&B track, the fact is that few things are more satisfying than hearing Coffman let loose after the last chorus – right around the 4:10 mark on the album. Good, comma, god.

Soon after, the half-sung-mostly-yelled three-part harmonies near the halfway mark of "Useful Chamber" pitted the girls' voices against the boys' slogging rhythm, until the song dissolved into a slower, calmer version of itself. And during this, its most potent live moment, is the only time that the band makes its gender parity truly felt.

The set ended in typical "it had to happen" fashion. Longstreth announced they had one more song, and that they were going to sign it with their friend David – that Byrne guy with whom the band contributed "Knotty Pine" to the Dark Was The Night charity comp. So Mr. "White Suit" Byrne ran on, jumped around, sang a verse and a chorus, and life was good.

St. Vincent
Pity the pretty-faced songstress who plays at the same time as Animal Collective in the "My Girls" era. So was the fate for Annie Clark and the four multi-instrumentalists behind her, who started with the slowish "Marry Me" before heading into the buoyant Actor highlight "Save Me From What I Want." Both her playing and that of backing band were noticeably precise, and a pleasure to see in a live setting.

The band added life to Marry Me cuts like "Now, Now," making the harmonic guitar lines funkier and more pronounced, and by purposefully setting the melody slightly behind the beat in the verses. The guitar spazzout that closes the song was also less dissonant, and more rewarding, than on the album. And as much as I wanted to hear "Jesus Saves" I didn't want to yell that out loud in Tennessee.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
I've seen Grace Potter twice – once at a noon Bonnnaroo set in 2006, and again at the first Osheaga (the music festival that didn't always suck) – and there is no way around it. They rock, and she is awesome. I could use a thesaurus to make that point more explicative, but that'd take away from the straight-up realness this band exudes. A highlight may have been the five-person convergence onto Mr. Stache's drumkit, a point when you could feel the fun this down-to-earth, ass-kicking band has playing music together.

A combination of soul, jam, and pure rock 'n roll, theirs is a positively blissful live show amplified by Potter's signature hair-flipping headspins. Now they just need to capture that in the studio.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Oh Karen O. So Karen O. The mic-swallowing, the costume changes, the ferocity and the gentileness, all rolled up into a ball of the ultimate frontwoman. Despite my early 00's subscription to SPIN, I'd yet to the YYYs play. So Bonnaroo was a good excuse, especially after they'd released their most fun record to date.

On soon-to-be Korova-mainstays like "Zero" and "Heads Will Roll," the band opted for darker, heavier tones than the disco finesse on It's Blitz! And for one of the more intimate moments on the awkward too-big-for-a-tent, too-small-for-a-main-stage feeling of the Which Stage, guitarist Nick Zinner's tuning issues lead the band to do an acoustic version of "Maps." Visibly frustrated as the last notes of the set rung out a couple songs later, Zinner threw his guitar down and walked off stage, as Karen then smashed her mic in sync with the final drum hits. "We don't usually break stuff at the end of shows," Karen said, "but we thought, 'Hey, what the fuck?'"

Grizzly Bear
I only caught the last three songs of Grizzly Bear's set at This Tent after fleeing the YYYs show, but it sounded surprisingly good for an open-air event. The four-part harmonies were spot-on, and the climax of "Fine for Now" exhilarating as ever. Another highlight was the clean-footed, VIP-clad 40-somethings behind me, one of whom explained to the others that, "This band is really indie rock. They're like, the Big Thing right now." Somehow, his friends still seemed unimpressed.

Bela Fleck and Tounami Diabate
After missing their earlier, hour-plus-long set, I was lucky to catch Bela Fleck and his new finger-picking partner weave beautiful textures over which single notes could prop up their pretty heads. Too bad Al Green was playing at the same time – meaning the bass and horns wafting over from the What Stage at times overpowered this rather quiet duo.

Toubab Krewe
I meant to see the cheery world musicers from Asheville, North Carolina earlier in the day, but missed them as I stood in line for 40 minutes waiting to get into Centeroo (which culminated in a searchless entry after organizers realized they couldn't keep it up all day). Thankfully, Toubab Krewe graced the small stage after Bela, and the band channeled their African-inspired grooves through the healthy, enthusiastic crowd. It all ended with an appearance from Mr. Diabate, the kora master from Mali.

Amadou & Miriam
From rolling grooves to djembe solos, the Amadou & Miriam live show was one of the most energetic of the weekend. That's really all you need to know. Fantastic backing band. Energy. Lots.

Beastie Boys & David Byrne
No, they didn't play together. But after a full day of music and full night ahead of me, I wasn't particularly alert for either band's pre-headlining (and overlapping) sets. Which is a shame, because I hear both of them are pretty decent live, and may have a real good shot at this whole music thing.

Highlights included "Sure Shot" and "Root Down" from the Beasties, and watching them pick up their instruments to play a hardcore punk song from their pre-"Fight For Your Right" days – an audience request, no less – soon followed by a guest appearance by Nas. While they apparently closed with "Intergalactic" and "Sabotage," I was getting hypnotized by David Byrne and his coordinated-yet-interpretative dancers, all dressed in a white. "Once In A Lifetime" was nice.

The much-loved and oft-derided (by those who listen to them, and those who don't, respectively), the quintessential jam band played a plain ol' incredible set Friday night. As a relatively casual Phish fan, I was expecting to recognize maybe a couple songs over the course of the evening. Instead, Trey et al. played a set that resembled more of a greatest hits collection than a typical live show – including but not limited to "Divided Sky," "Down With Disease," "Stash," "Free," "Wolfman's Brother," "Golgi Apparatus," and the closer "You Enjoy Myself" > "Wilson" > "You Enjoy Myself" before "A Day in the Life" for an encore. Other than the songs, it was Trey's genuine happiness to be on stage playing for the huge festival crowd that made the show so enjoyable.

The other nice part about the set was that people like their dancing room, meaning the front area – emptied out after every show in front of the main stage – was easily accessible for up-close grooving, as were the grasses outside for a short mid-set nap. I mean, it was three hours long.

Girl Talk
Bonnaroo wouldn't be Bonnaroo without the infamous late night/early morning jam-or-dance-or-both sets. (Actually, it'd be Coachella.) I'd stupidly missed Girl Talk on his two most recent tours through Montreal, so I figured a decent way to see him would be with a few thousand other people from 2 to 4 a.m. Like Passion Pit, it was TOFF. The most memorable highlights from Feed the Animals and Night Ripper were there, albeit in different sequence and form, and they made for a spectacular (not a) DJ set celebrating a generation's short attention span.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bonnaroo - Thursday, June 11

Emerging from our sweltering tent at 8:30 a.m., the downsides of probably the best music festival on the planet quickly introduced themselves: lineups at the ice truck and porta-potties, the vile smell of hard-boiled egg emanating from the Sulfur-tainted water trucks, torrential Tennessee downpours, and not being able to sleep past 8:30 in the morning. We got acquainted with our friendly neighbours (word to Troy and Amy from Pennsylvania) as the relatively brief-but-intense bouts of rain made relaxing at the campsite more appealing than exploring Centeroo – which, in short, is where all the music and stuff happens.

Though later in the weekend I overheard some faithful What Stagers deride the Thursday lineup as "always pretty lame" (which I suspect has more to do with their poor music taste and/or social skills), it easily ranked among the best of the weekend. Each year, the healthy Thursday night sets at This, That, and The Other tents present a rare opportunity to see a half-dozen up-and-comers play for what are yet the biggest crowds of their careers – and the audience's palpable energy helps them out at every beat along the way. Here's how the night went:

Alberta Cross
These Brits' take on hard-rocking Americana provided a solid start to the four-day extravaganza, evoking the ghost of the sorely missed (yet still living) Jim James. Despite the lack of reverb, the crowd really enjoyed the set. Why can't Montrealers be as enthusiastic as pre-burnout Bonnarooers?

White Rabbits
Learning that Delta Spirit would be arriving late, I headed over to This Tent to catch the piano-and-percussion-driven rock of White Rabbits. Balancing out their sound with folky undertones, these New Yorkers foreshadowed the upbeat sets to come.

Portugal. The Man
Wasilla's finest made the first of what would be several steps into airy, 70s psych-rock jams over the weekend. The crowd loved the big riffs, and the mellower breakdowns let everyone relax before spontaneously erupting into yet more half-note hand-claps. My notes summed up their set fairly well: "AWESS."

Often the only way to get a good spot for a band – without weazeling through a dense and sweaty crowd – is to see the band before them. Thus my attendance at Chairlift, who were scheduled before Passion Pit – the obvious late-night choice for anyone uninterested in the country-jam-rock of the Zac Brown Band or Mindite's roots reggae. While these New York hispters' dark 80s electro can at times be endearing, as the rain poured down, my attention shifted to the mud that soon engulfed my Birkenstock knock-offs. As is the plight of the white dude at a music festival.
And then I kept waiting for Passion Pit.

Passion Pit
One of my top TOFF (tons of fucking fun) picks of the weekend, the band brought tons of energy to a crowd ready to jump and dance like they're partying with a few thousand people to full-bodied, falsetto-drenched dance tunes under a big tent in Tennessee. Oh wait.

To no fault of their own, the band's sound was a little variable, but the crowd didn't seem to notice much, and Manners highlights – take for instance the one-two punch that opens the debut LP – felt fresher and somehow more joyous than they do on record. Apparently all you need to get a crowd amped is dueling keyboards and a chorus of children yelling "higher, higher and higher."

Passion Pit were also one of many bands to seem genuinely happy to be playing to such a large, eager crowd. Good thing singer Michael Angelakos's voice is as strong live as it is on the album (and steadier than on the Chunk of Change EP). Out-of-tune high-as-shit melodies can't good for anyone.

Delta Spirit
To round out the fantastic first night, the soulful instrument-swappers in Delta Spirit made a strong case for breaking out of the bar band/opener role they've satisfied over the past couple years. Lead vocalist John Stamos Matthew Vasquez sang as much through his facial expressions as he did with his throat, yielding an oddly enigmatic and captivating effect over those lucky enough to stick around for their set.
And by that I mean he can really wail.