Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Osheaga – July 31 at Parc Jean-Drapeau

Another year, another almost-worth-it lineup at Osheaga. A formerly back-to-school event held in early September, I have fond memories of watching Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play at noon like it was midnight in 2006, and of Explosions in the Sky doing their blissful best on what's now the Green Stage the year after. But for the past few summers, I haven't quite been able to justify the expense for the daytime extravaganza.

Osheaga lacks the hour-plus set times and late-night wonders of festivals like Bonnaroo – an unfair comparison, to be sure, since noise restrictions are probably a little different in rural Tennessee than close-to-downtown Montreal – but there must be a way to bring that $160 weekend price tag down a notch. True, no other Canadian festival has been able to accomplish what Osheaga has in the past five years, so after what seems like a successful year, maybe the organizers could examine other city fests, like Seattle's Bumbershoot – which this year introduced smaller stage tickets starting at $22 per day, or $40 if you want to see the main acts – and make the festival experience more accessible.

Not being one to sneak into things, I was still able to enjoy many of the shows for free, standing on the other side of the fences in plain view of the stages. What I'll call my "p'tit blog pass" only lasted until Saturday evening, however, at which point security clued in to this glitch, and either moved the fences back or asked me not to stand directly behind them. A couple metres seemed to suffice – it was like the 5-metre rule at the G20, only more arbitrary.

Owen Pallett
From my view beyond the Green Stage's fence near the water overlooking Old Port, the violin fiend formerly known as Final Fantasy sounded crisp and comforting as he played his loop-heavy, warm-voiced arrangements for the afternoon crowd. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the Curse of Festival Sound: Pallett complained about the monitors on his penultimate track, and ended the last song half-way through, saying he couldn't hear himself at all on stage.

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Positioning ourselves on the other side of the big hill behind in view of the main stages, I asked my fellow free-festival-goer what the deal was with this particular ampersand band. "They're like a 70s band only not from the 70s." Turns out that's a pretty accurate characterization, especially in the festival setting, where they were to Osheaga what the shared-vocal, big-bandiness of Jefferson Airplane were to Woodstock '69.

Jimmy Cliff
It's nice to get a sense of what concerts your parents have just seen – and with The Harder They Come having just come into life this past year, I was interested to see the resurrected reggae hero. Though I didn't recognize the tunes, I believe Cliff's anti-war message was the only one of the day, making wonder why indie music doesn't often broach such topics. After all, we're too busy coming up with justifications for not paying for music.

Touring behind the second of their five-part single series, Brian and David from Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada once again seemed to be wrapping up a string of shows in Montreal. I suppose all their "We love it here" banter is true, because they did everything they could to make their set in the midday sun work with their late-night shenanigans – building things up with what seemed like two intros before launching into "The Boys Are Leaving Town" and "Rockers East Vancouver", the Post-Nothing fist-pumper that started the pit that lasted the whole show. Does the lack of said shoving at their Club Lambi last summer show suggest Montrealers are more rowdy outside? Probably not, but it might help that the newer songs are more post- than pop-punk, while still incorporating their simple guitar-only moments and stepping things up on the drum front.

Again, the sound on the Green Stage was surprisingly good – you could feel the low 'E' as Brian built up the gigantic "Heart Sweats". As evidenced by the impeccably cued pause before yet another outburst – filled only with the a light-hearted "David?" to signal the return of their wall of sound – the chemistry between these two is palpable. Let's just hope they don't have the same luck with girls, so we can keep hearing more of their rebound rock.

Avi Buffalo
Darn security, not letting me stand behind the fence in front of the smallest stage. The experience was much different five, rather than one, metres from where paid entrants were standing. I'm new to Avi Buffalo, so I won't offer much other than to say that they're workin' that lo-fi alt-grunge thing pertty well, with gender-bending vocals and dynamics to boot. I felt bad for them, though, when the soundguy forbid them from playing their last song – despite the fact they had just given the crowd the "we have two songs left" warning, and that they actually had a couple minutes remaining before their 6:30 finish line.

So, a message to soundpeople everywhere: bands think very carefully about what song they will end with. Don't fuck that up for them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Kurt Vile & the Violators, Real Estate, No Joy – July 22 at Il Motore 

No Joy

This L.A.-via-Montreal band's noisy nostalgia sort of works, and it sort of doesn't. When it does, the feedback-heavy waves emanating from their shiny guitars, boutique pedals and vintage-reissue amps coalesce to form an agreeable orb, while at other times each player's contribution seems to just get in the way of the other frequencies, muddying the whole experiment.

No Joy certainly put out some desirable components, but there's a barrage of reverb-heavy garage rock currently re-imagining the music we were too young to experience the first time around, and there's no particular reason why I should care about No Joy over any other band former by former Thurston Moore fanclubbers. Failing that much-needed substance, their 4th gen Yo La Tengo stylings will be about as useful as the heel-and-toe-exposing boots sported onstage.

Real Estate

I love this band because they do something no one else can: they make me not hate the suburbs. Forget the oil addiction, the social isolation, the close-minded classicism – without the cul-de-sac, there would be no Real Estate. For that, I'm forever grateful, and at least a little conflicted.

While I would consider these born-and-bred New Jerseymen's self-titled debut to be an example of great art coming from dark places, something tells me they wouldn't agree with that description of their origins. Real Estate reflects the aimlessness of four friends moving back to Jersey after college, but as bassist Alex Bleeker explains, there is a natural tendency to glorify nostalgia, emphasizing the rosier parts of Jersey life.

There's also a humble yet reactionary pride that rumbles along with their thoughtful reverberations on suburbia. "[That pride is] accentuated by people telling you that where you come from sucks," Bleeker says. I've always felt a similar reason for sticking up for Georgetown, Ontario – a town as white as it sounds – even though, more recently, I feel like its most vocal critic. No regrets about my comfortable, fresh air'd upbringing, of course, though it would have been nice to ride the subway a few more times before going away to school.

Just as perceptions of our pasts change, so does the band's current batch of songs, which so wonderfully serves as a gateway to revisit patchy childhood perspectives. When I first saw them opening for Woods at Club Lambi in the spring, I wasn't expecting the tempo and vocals on "Green River" to reach such anthemic levels, but this time I was ready. The "woah-oh" rush bled straight into the poolside drawl of "Suburban Beverage," and then into perhaps the bravest contribution to their repertoire, "Atlantic City." Ostensibly, a less than two-minute instrumental track (that sounds like an alternate ending for other songs) might seem out of place – but if the suburban mythology is going to hold true, it has to be open to everybody, or in this case, every song.

With every passing chilled out lyric or sepia-toned memory, it would be easy to criticize Real Estate for poaching the few bucolic aspects of suburbia for their own benefit. The important thing with this band, however, is that the experience is shared.

Kurt Vile & the Violators

[coming soon]

Photos courtesy of Véronique Coté. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Yeasayer and Sleigh Bells – May 2 at Le National

Sleigh Bells
The latest Brooklyn-based noise-crunk-whatever band borrows equally from out-there hip-hop as they do from 80s arena metal, so when some of their simple, boombastic beats reminded me of early Dizzee Rascal, it seemed only fitting that the London MC's first single sampled a song called "The Big Beat". Song after song, this is just what the duo gives you, adding epic guitar slides and riffage to the sound of their new friend M.I.A. with an ever-changing display of vocalist Alexis Krauss's throat contortions, from her mom-friendly head voice to long, piercing releases inspired by kids slowly letting air out of a balloon.

Guitarist and songwriter Derek Miller's time with hardcore Poison The Well makes him no stranger to hugely distorted lead guitar, and the power coming through on the string side of things sometimes reminded me of Jack White fighting for soaring leads through shitty gear – except Miller has a fully-functional Marshall stack behind him. There were a few moments when their fully-formed wall of sound was a little much, and tracks like "Crown On The Ground" could have benefited from the clarity their lighter fare offers. It'll be interesting to hear what they choose to explore on their 'real' recordings.

"They're really good at their machines," a friend of mine said when I asked what she thought of Yeasayer's set Sunday night. It's true, and it's also why I prefer All Hour Cymbals to ODD BLOOD. Both albums create the band's worldly psychedelic pop, though their debut is decidedly more human, whereas their video-prone second album finds the band letting the electronics doing more of the feeling – and, judging by the Animal Collective-esque light set-up, seeing – for them. (The decision to have the robot voice on "The Children" open ODD BLOOD and their live set could be a reminder that Yeasayer's heads are always in the future – see "2080" – for me it only served to make the natural harmonies that come in part way through the song all the more rewarding.) Their dependence on tools isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it may have something to do with their debut still sounding fresher than their sophomore LP.

This may also be a function of the band letting more their songs comfortably seep into the background, whereas the Yeasayer of 2007 came to the fore and stayed put. Live, this results in more a subdued experience, though I would say that they're stronger when they play to their extremes – whether that's the sing-and-dance-along singles ("O.N.E." and "Ambling Alp") or the beatless "I Remember" – as opposed to wading somewhere in between.

Bassist Ira Wolf Tuton (whose loose-fitting tank had a tough time keeping his nipples concealed) also provided a good example of the human-machine dynamic the band seems to be straddling on Sunday night. Toward the end of the show, when his nimble near-shredding became the main attraction for a few bars, the notes sounded like they were coming more from a flute than the fretless F-hole bass he was actually playing. While his effects pedals warped his sound, he was still conscious of the crowd surfers not falling to the crowd, and thanked the crowd for keeping the people safe.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Bulletproof Tiger – April 14 at Bar St Laurent 2

Within 20 seconds of stepping inside that other establishment at the corner of St Laurent and St Viateur Wednesday night, I immediately felt equal parts untalented and unworthy – before the second-wave reaction to The Bulletproof Tiger set in, reminding me that not everyone can (or should) play the way these Windsor math-rock wonderchilds do. Because that would get boring, and because the world's ears would bleed.

From the depths of southern Ontario, this four-piece skirts vocals for calculated yet tuneful waves of tapping-heavy phrases that stay true to slightly dirty, pretty reverby, kinda middy tone that the genre has come to monopolize: enough for the notes to have some teeth, clear enough to make sure all the dexterous string mangling actually gets heard. And having long ditched the picking hand/fretboard hand binary, the band's decidedly egalitarian approach is not only expressed on their guitar necks, but through their frontman-free take to stage presence.

Bulletproof Tiger spends a ton of time running through melodies and bouncing around subtle time experiments – so when they resort to actually strumming their guitars, the unified force is enough to put you to rest, Memorial-like. You might not get that idea on their Stab the New Cherry EP, which keeps to the cleaner side of their sound, even adding some electro moments. To keep things interesting next time around, the band could take a cue from contemporaries Maps and Atlases, who have successfully embraced other sides of the mathy coin. Otherwise, they might be the ones getting bored with what the sometimes restrictive genre can do for them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Yukon Blonde, Turbo Fruits, Surfer Blood – March 5 at Il Motore

Yukon Blonde
This is just getting ridiculous. First I missed Yukon Blonde's POP Montreal show for a stunningly underwhelming Joel Plaskett show, then on Friday I waltzed into Il Motore at a gentlemanly 9:45 p.m., only to find Nashville's Turbo Fruits midway through their set. "Great!" I thought, not only do I get to catch a half-dozen ex-Pet songs, but I'll see the other two bands on the bill as well. How little did I know.

Apparently due to some odd scheduling situation, a completely separate DJ set was planned to start at midnight at Il – making this the first and presumably only show to ever start at 9 p.m. in Montreal ever. I won't hold it against BSTB, though that decision is made easier considering the Vancouverites will be back 'round these parts in late April.

Maybe I should explain why I even care. If you've clicked on that first link, you'll see I snuck in the easy comparison Canada's other great '60s-ish simple-done-well pop-rockers, Sloan. True, that's what they sound like. But there's something else going on that makes it worth listening to. After the show, guitarist Jeffrey Innes summed it up like this: "We want to be different without sounding different." See – honest without being lame, just like their E.P.'s "Free Your Mind" and debut L.P.'s "Wind Blows".

While Exclaim! contends that the band's debut "could be the finest Canadian pop rock album by anyone other than the New Pornographers since Sloan's Twice Removed," I'd say One Chord to Another would be more apt. But only because I want to give the recently re-birthed band some room to breathe.

Turbo Fruits
Right around the time that lead moustache Jonas Stein took to the floor to spout out his tight three-piece's take on heavy Nashville rockabilly, I found a way to Focus on the Now and Forget the Regrets (wise advice I learned from a drunk on the train one morning last winter). When Stein attempted to tune, however, I couldn't tell if he couldn't hear himself or if he pretended not to care – because shit was off, my friend. No matter how scrappy the sound, every touring band should have some air of tunefulness, a though that only served to re-open the YK scab.

Surfer Blood

It seems like these fresh-faced Floridians read their press. Being compared to the Pixies and the more straightforward side of Sonic Youth is one thing, but actually using a drum stick to make guitar noise is a whole 'nother level of early-90's indie rock revivalism. As for the Weezer comparisons, the band wisely refrained from playing more than 8 bars of "The Sweater Song" during their encore. Still, the drummer had to get that intro fill in for the audience's pleasure (see first four seconds).

The other side of their sound, of course, is their ultra-overdone afro-shoegaze. (Joke.) But that one song, "Take It Easy", certainly finds the band at their most VW, and came across really well early in the set. Before the show, I was worried that maybe it was the studio-rendered reverb – rather than the band – that made standouts like first single "Swim" really pop on Astro Coast (especially with bland-yet-well-recorded videos like this floating around). But as the band jubilantly prodded along, their quasi-unpolished indyisms felt pretty fun. So whatever, throw your artfully tatooed hands in the air.

Photos courtesy of Eric Schreiber, who was nice enough to pass them along even though he was really there on behalf of leacocks.com.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ismism – February 6 at O Patro Vys

What does electro-acoustic post-rock even mean? Probably nothing. That's because arguably made-up genre classifications often fall short of the sounds they try to envelop in a few short words. It can be tough to admit, but sometimes academic (and, if I may, audiophilic) catch-alls aren't the best way to describe sounds that seem a bit out of the ordinary, or even a bit out of the Top 40.

To play a little name comparison game, Ismism can at times sound like what Boards of Canada would record after listening to & Yet & Yet and OK Computer on repeat. And repetition, it so happens, plays a large role in the earnest melodic developments that make the band's debut e.p. so inviting. This is not texture for texture's sake, aimless improvisation, or self-indulgent experimentation. The Ismism e.p. covers plenty of new iterative, slow-building ground without delving into an uninteresting abyss that can sometimes make instrumental rock a turn-off.

The disc's peak-and-valley structure mimics that of individual songs, making it easy to conceptualize the self-titled output a unified package, rather than a collection of stand-alone tracks. Fitting, then, that the five-piece's release show contained two extended halves, with songs flowing into one another through appropriately-timed lulls. Band members routinely dipped down to control samples through their floor-bound mixer, swapped or teamed up on instruments (vibraphone!), and exchanged numerous smiles and head-bobs, adding to the group effort that successfully put the music and the mood above any individual attention. (One unintentional exception may be bassist Alex LeBlanc's habit of walking on the spot to the beat – but that probably just means he's really into it.)

This collective, all-for-one feeling also helps to set the band apart from acts who focus solely one member, or that one unique aspect of their sound. Another largely unimportant peculiarity is the the fact that "the drummer" (also known as multi-instrumentalist, composer, and all-round nice guy Matt Daher) writes all the music. And after watching these songs build over the past year, I'm really looking forward to new works from Daher and friends. And did I mention they lug a fucking vibraphone to every gig?

Photos courtesy of Danya Z.

Emma Frank Quartet - February 3 at Dièse Onze

"Let It Go," the standout track on Emma Frank's humble online home, starts with a few soft chords, offbeat hits against a snare's rim, and a simple kick to reminds us where the cycle starts. For the next three minutes, the local vocalist blissfully explores the nuances of notes she seems tied to only at arm's length. Blending ever-tasteful vibrato, natural scats, and soothing melodies, the song shows off the best parts of whatever neo-soul meant to be, its restraint more rewarding with each listen.

When I first complimented Emma on her ability to add depth to sometimes straightforward vocal lines, she wrote it off as being "just Jazz," effectively downplaying her talent and the fact that she applies similar techniques to her multiple pop forays. Online, this is evident in the first single from her newest project, She's Got a Habit, in which spacey synths and rolling beats provide the backbone for the adaptable songstress's musings. And in real life, the jazz-pop amalgamation came to the fore during the Emma Frank Quartet's second set at Dièse Onze earlier this month. Highlights included a prodding cover of Bjork's "Unison", and of course busy-stickman Phil Melanson's facial expressions. ("Feeling" doesn't even approach an accurate description of the experience that is watching Phil coax his drums.)

During that set, the band balanced experiments beyond jazz's realm while staying true to the purpose of the dimly lit Saint-Denis lounge. Following the stirring build-up around said cover's "I never thought I would compromise", the Frank-penned "Go Running" led the band into a disco-jazz territory before a remarkable dose of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Alright". While the original relies upon a subtly simple yet powerful chord pattern, the Quartet brought the changes to an undefined but oft-cited 'next level'. But what's really exciting about this band is there ability to play off each other, each musician serving an equal (and between the vocals and saxophone, sometimes indistinguishable) role in the sound. See them when you can.