Posts Tagged ‘toronto’

SLCR #245: Hawksley Workman & the Art of Time Ensemble (May 13, 2016)

May 27, 2016

This was a pleasant surprise. There was no big announcement for this show – at least not one that I saw. Instead, I heard about it on Twitter – really, just offhandedly retweeted – a unique one-off concert with a favourite singer joining forces with the Art of Time Ensemble to perform an evening of covers of one of their biggest inspirations. I didn’t seriously think I could go – I mean, I’d have to hop on a plane for it – but I checked the ticket availability just to satisfy my own curiosity and dang if there wasn’t one seat still available in the very front row. It was a sign from a god that I don’t believe in except for when I need justification for doing something extravagant.

So yeah, I got on a plane and spent a week in Toronto, which should not surprise you if you read the other reviews I’ve been posting this week. And if you didn’t, you’re probably not reading this one either, so I don’t know why I’m addressing you. At any rate, after a week of touristy stuff and hanging out and the Hydraulic Press Channel and record shopping and food, it was time for the show that set this whole week in motion.

Steve and I took the subway and then the other subway and then failed to take a streetcar to the show. We waited in line at the stop for about 20 minutes while the sign told us that the next streetcar was 7 minutes away, then 6, then 5, then 7 again, then 5, then 12 somehow? Steve checked the transit tracking app thing and it looked like there was something stopping up all the streetcars – presumably an accident. Hopefully nothing serious. By this point, there was a pretty significant number of people waiting for the streetcar, so we abandoned our transit plans and set out on foot.

The good news is that this took us past the beaver tail stand. The bad news is that I was still so full from supper that I just couldn’t do it. Steve seemed a little disappointed. I was disappointed in myself. It would be closed by the time the show was over, and we would not be able to return. Godspeed, fried dough.

The Harbourfront Centre is a lovely place and I arrived feeling underdressed for the occasion, despite wearing one of my very limited number of shirts with “buttons” and a “collar.” Could have at least tucked it in, I guess, but if I’m going to bother with that, it’s only out of fear of fire, and I figured that my scare from the night before would keep me alert. And I didn’t catch fire even once so this worked out swimmingly.

Steve got us tasty sodas and we hung out in the lobby until it was time to go our separate ways. I got my front row seat on the day tickets went on sale, but having procrastinated when it came to getting Steve’s ticket, he wound up with an “obstructed view” seat in the balcony. At least it was cheap. And also, they don’t know what “obstructed” means, as he was at a bit of a weird angle – basically viewing the stage from the side – but could see quite well. And while I was closer to the stage, I was far right and Hawksley was far left, so I spent most of the show looking off to the side. No matter. I persevered.

It was clearly a special night for Hawksley. I believe his wife was in attendance (more on that later) and he mentioned that his brother was there too. I’ve heard him say before that Cockburn was a major inspiration in his decision to become a musician. He talked about how that all started for him, talked about meeting him, reading his memoir, and recently interviewing him for the Globe and Mail. Hawksley always tends to go off on delightful tangents and this night was no exception. The tangents just had a theme.

I am familiar with Bruce Cockburn singles, and not so much the back catalogue. There wound up being four songs I knew: Call it Democracy, If a Tree Falls, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, and Waiting for a Miracle. There are a few obvious exclusions there (Wondering Where the Lions Are, Tokyo, Lovers in a Dangerous Time) but this was meant to be a night of protest songs and not so much a greatest hits collection. The rest of the songs – I know this because they listed them in the program – were Beautiful Creatures, Burn, Gavin’s Woodpile, Going Down Slow, Red Brother Red Sister, Rose Above the Sky, Stolen Land, and The Trouble with Normal.

Of all of them, the only one I’d heard Hawksley sing before was Call It Democracy, which he played on the Strombo Show last year. You can see the video here  – this is all you get, sorry. The Art of Time shows have a “no photography” rule and while I don’t know how seriously they take it, sitting front row left me too exposed to take chances. Though it would be hilarious to fly three hours to go to a show and get thrown out for an illicit 15-second smartphone video clip. I took a picture of what the stage looked like before everyone came out and that’s it.

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That video doesn’t give you the full experience, though. The Art of Time Ensemble consisted of six musicians, including Artistic Director Andrew Burashko on piano – he was there in Calgary for the Sgt. Pepper show a few months back. I can’t speak to the songs I was hearing for the first time, but the singles, at least, had been creatively arranged. Of the four, I only picked up on If A Tree Falls from the very first notes; for the rest, I needed to get to the lyrics. The musicians were incredibly talented and it was a really interesting way to hear (or discover) these songs. Great stuff and I really hope they recorded the show. I have some other Art of Time CDs with folks like Steven Page and Sarah Slean and would love to add this one to the collection.

There were a few extra tunes as well. There were two sets with an intermission, and at the start of each, the Art of Time performed an instrumental piece based off an old chain gang song. And Hawksley is not known for protest songs, but for the encore, they played his take on the genre with We’re Not Broken Yet, his own song from last year’s Old Cheetah album.

We stuck around after the show so that I could chat with Hawksley for a bit. Waiting, I picked up a vinyl copy of For Him And The Girls, Hawksley’s first album and my leading contender for all-time favourite album. I already have it on vinyl; this was for Steve and Audrey. I gave them strict instructions that they had to listen to it twice because once doesn’t work. It won’t click for you the first time. It takes two times. This was true for me and that, of course, means it is true for everyone.

Of course, if they like it straight away, they can stop listening to it after the first time.

Hawksley came out after a little while and wound up entering near where we were standing. I’ve talked to him after shows a few times, though I usually don’t bother because what could I say that anyone would care about? But the guy and his music means a lot to me after so long, and it’s good to say that sometimes, you know? I mean, and I said this much to him, what Cockburn was to him, he is to me. I don’t fly across the country for shows by just anyone. I mentioned coming in from Regina for this and Hawksley gave me a big hug.

Then I brought up titty-fucking cakes.

Did I explain this after the last Hawksley show? I can’t remember and I can’t be bothered to go look right now. Here’s the thing. On his newest album, Hawksley has a song (I Just So Happen to Believe) with the line “you’ll gorge upon the starters, you’ll titty-fuck the cake” and I was not expecting that on first listen! Then I started wondering how this would work. I mean, you need two cakes for this, right? Can’t do it with one cake. Then I pestered Hawksley (and Deserée) about this on Twitter for the better part of a day. Strangers got involved. Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat and Mounties was liking tweets. I discovered that I was devoutly committed to opinions that I had never considered. I don’t want to hear about novelty cake pans. We’re talking about normal cakes here. Several people suggested you could titty-fuck the layers of a layer cake. No. You cannot. Then you’re just fucking a cake. There are STANDARDS.

note to self: bookmark this review for the next time I apply for a job that requires a writing sample

Anyway, I mentioned how much I enjoyed our time discussing titty-fucking cake logistics and he doubled over laughing. That day made an impression on both of us, it seems. I was greatly amused. He called a lady over.

Hawksley: “This guy came in from Regina for this, and one time, he had a tweet about titty-f-”

the aforementioned lady: “Titty-fucking cakes!”

SO greatly amused.

I am assuming this was Hawksley’s wife, because really, who else do you talk about titty-fucking cake tweets with? At any rate, we chatted for a bit and she was a delight.

Steve and I left shortly thereafter – I didn’t want to take up a ton of their time and I said all I wanted to (and probably more than I should have – the next time I go to a Hawksley show, I expect to see my picture at the door on a sign reading “DO NOT LET THIS MAN IN (RE: CAKE)”). I think I told that joke in the last Hawksley review too, and also, that punctuation got real wonky. I think it is time I hit “save” and go to bed.

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SLCR #244: Danny Michel (May 12, 2016)

May 24, 2016

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“Shit is crazy, isn’t it? Shit’s bonkers.”

I don’t usually take notes while a show is going on. That mostly happens either between sets or, more often, after I get home. But I made a point of writing down that quote from Danny Michel, and I’m glad I did. It was in reference to the current political situation in the US, and it sums that whole thing up nicely, but it was also fitting for a night where Danny Michel saved me from catching fire.

I always seem to have some weird or awkward moment at a Danny Michel show. More than my own innate awkwardness would suggest, I mean. I have never before, however, come close to catching fire in front of him.

But that was after the show. Before the show, Steve and I went from subway to streetcar to the Lula Lounge, a venue that was new for both of us. Now, when I travel, I usually go through my wallet before I leave and ditch everything I won’t need on vacation – things like my city bus pass and library card. Well, somehow, I thought “I won’t be driving, I won’t need my driver’s licence” and left it at home too. Luckily, I brought my passport to use as ID at the airport, and even more luckily, I thought to keep my passport with me in case we went to one of those venues that cards everyone. And I did need to present photo ID at the Lula Lounge, since there were no tickets – just my name on a list. The guy working at the door loved this and took the opportunity to ask if I was importing any fruits or vegetables into the venue.

The coda to this whole stupid story is that my driver’s licence was in my wallet all along – I’d been looking at the empty space where my bus pass normally goes, not my licence.

Luckily, this whole situation distracted the bouncer from my footwear – Lula Lounge has a dress code of no ball caps and no running shoes. I’m glad he didn’t enforce the shoe situation, as all of my other shoes were in Saskatchewan. We’d have been in enough trouble if they’d been back at Steve’s place at the other end of Toronto.

We walked into the place and I immediately spotted Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies. I half expected Danny to have some surprise guests at this show – he does a semi-regular series of shows in Toronto called School Night Mondays where there’s always a special guest and the shows end at a reasonable hour – but no, Ed was just there to enjoy himself. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever spotted a celebrity in the wild. We saw him again two days later going into the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, so clearly I know all the best places to go in Toronto and rock stars look to me for recommendations.

For all the times I’ve seen Danny, I’m pretty sure this was the first time he had a band with him. It’s always been just him and a guitar and maybe some sampler pedals. There was no opener – instead, he and his band basically opened for themselves, playing a short set, taking a cake break, and then coming back out for more.

Cake! This show was the record release party for Michel’s new album, Matadora, and a rep from Six Shooter Records showed up with a giant cake with the album cover on it. Danny got a taste of the icing, and his guitar neck did too (he was still finding icing on the guitar the next day, judging from his Instagram). Steve figured that if you got the slice where Danny poked the icing, that meant good luck, like if you got the wax-paper wrapped quarter in the birthday cake. We got cake between the two sets, and though we didn’t get the lucky piece, it was very tasty cake. On Instagram, Danny later said that he didn’t actually get a slice, which was too bad for him, but he and the band did get a round of shooters in the middle of the show. I’d say that’s just as good, but he said it tasted like gasoline and later blamed it when he let a cuss word or two slip out, so yeah, that’s probably a step down from tasty cake.

Of all the Michel shows I’ve seen, I think this was the best one – the band had lots of energy and seemed to be having a really good time. They played lots from Matadora, of course, but there were songs from throughout Danny’s career. He opened with Wish Willy (didn’t tell the delightful story from last time) and White Lightning before getting into the new tunes. After the show, I tried to get a picture of Danny’s red guitar, the one painted with “this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” The picture didn’t turn out that well, but since I was there anyway, I snagged Danny’s setlist. As such, I have a list of what was played, but even so, it still takes some translation to deduce that “RUBY” means he played Rubicon, or that “TENNIS” is Tennessee Tobacco, things like that. They also started into Suspicious Minds after making an Elvis reference, but Danny called a stop to it pretty quickly, to the seeming disappointment of his bandmates.

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After the show, I went to buy a vinyl copy of the new album, which seemed like the thing to do at an album release party. Amid the cluster of people near the door, I wound up standing next to Ed from BNL, so I chatted with him for a few seconds. Dude was very friendly.

I got close to the front of the line and saw that there was a sign next to the stack of stuff that suggested that the records and money had been unmanned for the evening and that we were on the honour system. That kind of faith in humanity made me smile. And also if you want some Danny Michel CDs, email me, I have a few dozen to get rid of.

Finally, I made it to the front and bought my record. I got him to sign it and the setlist, which he took a picture of before I was allowed to abscond with it. I probably should have offered to give it back to him, seeing as how it was actually, y’know, HIS, but oh well. Anyway, I was leaning in to chat with Danny, talking about one of our previous wacky occurrences, when he pushed me back a bit and pulled a candle away – my untucked shirt (so slovenly!) was dangling around the flame. I thought he was just being overly cautious until I touched said shirt tail and “oh, shit, that’s actually hot.” So yeah. Nearly caught fire. It derailed whatever I was trying to tell him but I am pretty sure that nearly catching fire was more interesting than anything I could have said anyway. After the first time I saw him, I joked that he owed me a Sharpie; after a more recent show, he said he’d buy me a drink. But after preventing my untimely demise in some sort of one-man inferno, I think we’re square.

SLCR #243: Ben Folds & yMusic (May 11, 2016)

May 23, 2016

Hello. I am back home after my week in Toronto. I went to many shows, and while I took many notes (usually on my iPad before bed), I somehow found that doing “anything else” was preferable to writing reviews while I was there. I was too busy hanging out with pals and doing touristy things and eating delicious foods and walking 120,000+ steps, if my Fitbit is to be believed. My legs and feet suggest that it is accurate. But now I am home and have been home for a week and it is time to knock these guys out so that they’re done before the next shows come.

What generally happens with Toronto is I book a trip for one reason (in this case, a rash ticket purchase for a special Hawksley Workman show) and then other stuff magically happens to happen. In this case, I got an email from Ben Folds (well, presumably not directly from Ben Folds) announcing tour dates, and I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be rad if he was playing Toronto when I’m there?” And this is where Jeff says “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuuuuu.”

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this picture got a “fuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuuu” as well

In honesty, I hadn’t booked my plane tickets yet. The original plan was to fly in on Thursday, fly home on Sunday. Folds’ Wednesday show extended the trip a bit; I ultimately settled in Monday to Sunday, as Monday to Forever wasn’t financially sustainable. I wish it was. So many shows! So many tasty foods! To think that I could also have gone to see Pearl Jam AND Sloan AND Ring of Honor wrestling AND a Canadaland taping and goodness knows what else. I can’t tell what would happen if we moved to Toronto – would we either be busy and broke all the time? Or would the novelty wear off, resulting in us never leaving the house?

Hahahaha I said “house.” As if we wouldn’t be living in a refrigerator box. Toronto isn’t cheap.

Anyway. After a day spent touring Casa Loma, eating a fancy burger, record store browsing, and taking one last spin through Honest Ed’s, I took the subway back to meet up with my delightful hosts, Steve and Audrey. We took the train to a BBQ place for dinner, where I had a fried chicken sandwich, and it occurs to me that I ate chicken before all three concerts this week, so I can go back to making that a requirement for an official concert, until I forget or don’t care or whatever.

From there, we were a short walk to the Danforth Music Hall. Steve used to work there, so I was seeing a vital part of Steve history. We got inside and I pined over the list of upcoming shows, particularly case/lang/veirs. Toronto, you get all the nice things. Like when we went into the hall proper, it had TWO bars; East Bar and West Bar. We debated drinking at both bars so as to sample the regional differences.

The opener was Dotan (and Mark), a Dutch singer making his first-ever appearance in Canada. It was a stripped-down set; he mentioned that normally he has a six-piece band, but on this day, there was Mark. Mark had a guitar. Dotan also had a guitar. It was a short set – about 30 minutes – but delightful. Dotan (and Mark) was touring in support of his record 7 Layers, and played us some tunes from it, including the title track, which he said was the most personal song he’d ever written. If I wrote a song with that title, it would be about having to pick the black olives off your nacho chips. That is why I am not a songwriter. That and my complete lack of musical aptitude. He closed with the song Home, which had a crowd singalong bit, which most everyone took part in. It was a very nice crowd, I thought – more on that in a second. But yeah, Dotan (and Mark) was a fine opener. Would see again.

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Dotan (and Mark) – this was the best picture I got

So the crowd. Remember how I went to Sloan and everyone was shovy drunk dickheads? Well, everyone here was… nice. We had a drunk near us – there always has to be at least one – but even he was just really excited to see Ben Folds. Okay, so he accidentally smacked into someone. That wasn’t great. But it seemed to me like it was out of musical enthusiasm and not just dickishness. So that’s something. And at one point, he asked Audrey to hold his spot (so he could get another beer) (which he really did not need at this point), and there was no need – the space just didn’t fill in. The vultures in Winnipeg would have trampled innocent bystanders for those few square feet of unoccupied floor. And I know vultures don’t trample things, technically, but it is a METAPHOR. One that says that Toronto is lovely and Winnipeg is a dump.

I’ve only ever seen one Ben Folds solo show, but I’ve also been to a Ben Folds Five reunion concert, and I saw Ben twice Ben with the Edmonton Symphony. This show, with yMusic (and a drummer who was neither Ben Folds nor part of yMusic and thus was uncredited), was different still – somewhere between Ben Folds Five and a symphony show. yMusic is an orchestral six-piece from New York; Ben partnered with them for his last album, So There. Of course, they played almost all the pop songs from the album – seven out of eight – but didn’t get into Ben’s piano concerto, and they skipped the smutty musical pun F10-D-A.

After the show, the drummer handed out the performers’ setlists, and I was lucky enough to get one. As such, I can give you the detailed breakdown of what they played, but be warned that this set list isn’t quite right:

1. Beautiful Mechanical – yMusic
2. So There
3. Long Way To Go
4. Not A Fan
5. Effington
6. Yes Man
7. Phone In A Pool
8. Mess
9. Music In Circles – yMusic
10. I’m Not The Man
11. Erase Me
12. Song For The Dumped
13. Capable Of Anything
14. Steven’s Last Night In Town
15. You Don’t Know Me

Evaporated
Army
Not The Same

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or, you know, just look at this

To start with, Evaporated was played earlier in the set, and Still Fighting It took its place as the first song of the encore. This worked out well – Audrey, who wasn’t super familiar with Ben Folds going into the show, late said that Fighting was her favourite song of the evening.

Being a Ben Folds show, some of the changes were impromptu. Obviously, someone had to yell out for Rock This Bitch – this came fairly early on, I want to say it was after Effington. This particular version of Rock This Bitch (it’s different every time) made reference to traveling from the West Bar where they serve Budweiser to the East Bar where they serve Budweiser. This was tremendous and made my night right there. He then went on to sing about crossing into Canada and getting the dreaded Canada-style cavity search at the border. The crowd loved it. “Encore!” yelled some guy (possibly the guy who had called for Rock This Bitch in the first place), so Ben immediately launched into another minute or two of the East Bar West Bar Cavity Search Rock This Bitch. Tremendous.

Later on, someone (and I really hope it was just the same guy over and over) yelled for Bitches Ain’t Shit. “They don’t know that one,” said Ben, “but it’s a special night so I think we can figure it out.” I don’t know if someone yells for this at every show (it’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen), but Ben went through the motions of quickly teaching yMusic a few necessary chords before launching into the song – and then when it got to Snoop’s verse, the drummer took over and nailed it. So there mayyyy have been some advance preparation, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. This show was great! I suppose that is unsurprising as I always think Folds’ shows are great. The crowd seemed to love it. The whole thing was a big singalong, with the usual aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAA during Not The Same and a slower version of Song for the Dumped being particular favourites. I thought the song of the night was a killer version of Steven’s Last Night in Town. And each member of yMusic (and the drummer) had a chance to shine – the clarinet player, in particular, stole the show. I have never heard anyone (same guy again?!) yell “that was some badass clarinet!” at a rock show before but there is a first time for everything.

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Ben, leading the aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAA part – note the badass clarinet

Goddamn laptop touchpad just made me delete like two paragraphs so I shut it off. Let that be a lesson to everything else in my life that irritates me. If I can figure out where your shut-off button is in the control panel, you’re in for it.

Oh well, all that was left was the closing. After the show ended, we hung out a bit to let the crowd disperse, which gave me time to snag that setlist from the drummer. On our way out, Dotan (and Mark) was selling albums at the stuff table, so Audrey and I each bought one and got them signed. Nice guys. Handsome too. Before the show, Audrey put a picture of herself, Steve, and I on Facebook saying we were waiting for the show, and a friend in Edmonton – early SLCR favourite Spiky Tom – said he was jealous. I said he’d have an hour to make it to Toronto if he didn’t mind kissing the opener. This, of course, was an autocorrect, but I think that maybe my iPhone might have been onto something. Siri, you’ve done worse.

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handsome signatures