Tag Archives: Mike Haliechuk

Concert review: Elsa, Smartboys, and Wish @ The Piston | Nov. 21, 2013

Elsa and Smartboys give four long-incubated records a hometown release
Tom Beedham

Elsa's Jonathan Rogers (left) and Matthew Goldman (right) playing their band's Toronto EP release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Smartboys also released three seven-inch records at the concert. Photo: Tom Beedham

Elsa’s Jonathan Rogers (left) and Matthew Goldman (right) playing their band’s Toronto EP release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Smartboys also released three seven-inch records at the concert. Photo: Tom Beedham

Although it soft released at a support appearance for Lee Ranaldo & The Dust at the beginning of October, Toronto dream-pop quartet Elsa slept on giving their debut EP I Do a proper hometown release until it could play the intimate stage at the back of The Piston on Nov. 21 – a month after it dropped officially on Oct. 22.

In the same spirit, glam-punk revival act Smartboys brought three long-uncelebrated seven-inches that helped earn the concert the title of a “quadruple record release show.” A project from Fucked Up’s Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk that began writing amid recording sessions for Hidden World (2006), Smartboys never really found the personnel it needed to reify what was on paper until it acquired vocalist Tim Westberg (U.S. Girls), Molested Youth’s Warren Calbeck on guitar, and Steven Foster (Omhouse, Snowblink, Moon King, Donlands and Mortimer) on bass. That happened in Spring 2012, and their “RSVP b/w Cutting Through Life,” “Receiving the Bribe b/w The Wrench of Recollection,” and “A Different World Now b/w Stacked” seven-inches followed this year in May, July, and September, respectively, but between its members fulfilling various commitments to other bands and projects, Nov. 21 was the first concert they had to vend their records to a public it could interact with.

So when the two bands finally brought their multi-release gig to The Piston, it seemed appropriate that their records were given a show that upheld the casual promoting they received.

(review continues after photo thumbnails)
Elsa's Jonathan Rogers (left) and Matthew Goldman (right) playing their Toronto EP release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa bassist Jesse Mirsky at the band's Toronto EP release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa guitarist Matthew Goldman at the band's Toronto EP release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa singer/guitarist Jonathan Rogers playing the band's Toronto EP release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Smartboys singer Tim Westberg at the band's triple 7" Toronto release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Smartboys bassist Steven Foster providing backing vocals at the band's triple 7" Toronto release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013 (Warren Calbeck playing guitar in background). Photo: Tom Beedham
Smartboys guitarist Warren Calbeck at the band's triple 7" Toronto release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Smartboys singer Tim Westberg at the band's triple 7" Toronto release show at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Smartboys at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Kyle Connolly of Wish at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Wish live at The Piston on November 21, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Opening things up was Toronto dream-pop outfit Wish, who – after all is said and done – deserved a bigger audience. A foursome featuring Kyle Connolly and Josh Korody of Toronto shoegaze contingent Beliefs on guitars (Connolly also provides lead vocals), Emily Frances of Milk Lines on bass and backing vocals, and Peter Gosling of Decades on drums, Wish is a Toronto supergroup, and one that resists domination by any of its already respectable parts. While Connolly and Korody and their offset-body Fenders are at the front of it, the noise collages of their other project are kept to a minimum here and instead the band focuses on crafting a neo-psychedelia with a softer touch.

Then Smartboys took the stage. Driven by Falco’s kit, textured with Haliechuk’s angular guitar melodies, and finding a theatrical voice in frontman Westberg (aided by some often-present gang vocals), the group pounded through a set that made rousing pop-punk anthems of slice of life proletariat defenses. And while it was curious seeing this group wedged between a couple of dream-pop acts, the still growing audience didn’t seem to mind.

The band’s set went well beyond the offerings of the six songs spread across the 45s  it released that night, so perhaps we can expect a full album (or at least some more 45s) soon.

By the end of the night, the small venue at the back of The Piston was filled up mostly by acknowledged friends and family that came out to support Elsa, and for songwriter Jonathan Rogers, the familiar faces solicited a candour that couldn’t have been found (or called for, really) at the band’s Ranaldo gig.

“Let’s get this done so I can get more drunk,” Rogers exclaimed.

But the celebratory cheek wasn’t without an acknowledgement of the significance of the night through some humour: “Hey this is the first time I’ve said this, but now I can, so – buy a record?”

And I’m sure many did.

Although the band played through the entirety of its four-track debut as well as some newer, yet-to-be-released material, the audience made it audible that it wanted more, only to hear that the fuzzy cover they were given of Guided By Voices’ “Game of Pricks” at the end of the set “was the encore.”

Another Long Winter

Inauguration of Long Winter’s second year hints at a less Fucked Up forecast
Words and photos by Tom Beedham

Doomsquad performing in the Samuel J. Moore restaurant on the main floor of The Great Hall on Nov. 8. November 8 marked the first time Long Winter used the restaurant as a venue for its programming. Photo: Tom Beedham

Doomsquad performing in the Samuel J. Moore restaurant on the main floor of The Great Hall on Nov. 8. November 8 marked the first time Long Winter used the restaurant as a venue for its programming. Photo: Tom Beedham

When Long Winter returned to The Great Hall on Nov. 8, it came too with the suggestion that audiences would receive a different version of the monthly melting pot-facilitating evenings than they might have come to expect from it last year.

To wit, the one reliable feature Long Winter regulars have become familiar with is the dependable lack of predictability tied to each night of the season spanning (and extending) arts and culture community event, but the first night of this season came with a significant rebranding.

The cover of Long Winter's program for Nov. 8. Noticeably absent is mention of Fucked Up, the band slated as the presenters of last year's Long Winter events. Photo: Tom Beedham

The cover of Long Winter’s program for Nov. 8. Noticeably absent is mention of Fucked Up, the band slated as the presenters of last year’s Long Winter events. Photo: Tom Beedham

Ushered into fruition just one year ago by Mike Haliechuk and Josh Zucker of ever-enterprising Toronto punk outfit Fucked Up, the monthly night of music, art, food, film, poetry, photography, dance, speakers, and (eventually) video games began as something that would allow Haliechuk and Zucker to program a local event. Throwing each of the nights to impressively broadened masses as all-ages, pay-what-you-can affairs, Long Winter established itself as a beacon for fairly accessible multi-media entertainment programming (unfortunately the Great Hall is only accessible by stairs; there is no elevator service), and as the events snowballed in scope as well as popularity, its varied offerings came to tessellate more and more of the rooms and hallways that make up the building accordingly.

The events relied on the somewhat small community of connections their band had both established and immersed itself in, and Fucked Up headlined most of the five shows, appropriately cited on Long Winter programs, posters, and online event pages as the force that “presented” each of the series’ instalments.

But as it returned this year with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council, although Haliechuk and Zucker continue to run the show, Fucked Up’s name was nowhere to be found.

Speculation could go on forever as to why the band’s pedigree has been removed from the ephemera surrounding the series, but in terms of the void they left to be filled by another headliner – this time a slot arguably shared by psychedelic Guelph rock veterans King Cobb Steelie in the main hall and siblinged Toronto/Montréal darkwave trio Doomsquad in the newly Long Winter-dominated Samuel J. Moore restaurant on The Great Hall’s ground level – it’s worth noting that the series’ website includes a statement from Haliechuk boasting a commitment to diverse programming and calling for outside submissions.

“Everyone is welcome, and everyone who attended last year should feel as much a part of this event as we do. We aim to be a reflection of all the great things that people do in Toronto,” Haliechuk says – emphasis on the “all,” no doubt. It would be no great surprise if Fucked Up’s reduced identity were implemented in favour of that virtue.

The first of a series of split seven-inch records Scion Sessions is giving Long Winter audiences for free upon entry to the monthly event this season. Photo: Tom Beedham

The first of a series of split seven-inch records Scion Sessions is giving Long Winter audiences for free upon entry to the monthly event this season. Photo: Tom Beedham

The first 350 patrons entering November 8’s Long Winter would have immediately noticed one other big change as they passed through the doors, each of them granted a free split seven-inch featuring Doomsquad and Lido Pimienta, whom also performed that night. Contributed by the Hand Drawn Dracula-courting Scion Sessions, the record was the first of a series of Long Winter artist-featuring splits slated to be offered to guests for each of this year’s instalments.

From there on, though, it was mostly business as usual for one of Toronto’s most immersive entertainment programming series: there was music, there was art, there was food, there was theatre, there was comedy, there were video games, and there was music. Did I say there was music?

If guests ventured further upstairs to the hall’s balcony level and coat check, they would have approached and become a part of Steve Reaume’s art/light installation projecting some truly debilitating algorithmic patterns into a corner, and once they’d recovered from the dizzying effects of that, there was William Andrew Finlay Stewart’s “Fall” – a looping video project – waiting for them on the ground.

If you skipped dinner to get there early or just wanted some late night munchies, the main hall hosted all-vegan food offerings from Windowshade Delicatessen, who’s reuben sandwich variant will certainly earn their west College street location a personal visit from myself and everyone else I successfully peddle it on.

At any given point throughout the night you could also fill your time by drawing on (and having your picture taken with) one of 1078 disposed coffee cups with “Disposable,” a consumption-considering interactive installation from Anrea Wrobel and Brian Cauley.

Wake Island's Philippe M at Long Winter in The Great Hall's main hall on Nov. 8. PhotoL Tom Beedham

Wake Island’s Philippe M at Long Winter in The Great Hall’s main hall on Nov. 8. PhotoL Tom Beedham

Things really got rolling with Wake Island, though. Opening up the multi-stationed concert portion of the night in the main hall, the Montreal rock foursome hammered things home with some expert delivery, cementing its set as something other performers should have worried about following with guitarist Nadim M’s final tooth-picked solo.

Nevertheless, performer Ben Kamino took the stage once they’d finished, instructing the main hall to slow-dance eyes shut in a herd, urging participants to touch each other – not just with their hands but with all parts of their bodies – and by extension, “everyone in the universe.” You can imagine how that went. It was awkward. Kamino repeated this experiment twice more following bands in the main hall.

 Esther Grey at Long Winter in The Great Hall's Conversation Room on Nov. 8. Photo: Tom Beedham

Esther Grey at Long Winter in The Great Hall’s Conversation Room on Nov. 8. Photo: Tom Beedham

Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 1 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 2 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 3 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 4 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 5 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 6 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 7 Esther Grey. Long Winter. Tom Beedham. 8
Next was Guelph garage rock act Esther Grey, warming up the Conversation Room. Bringing sometimes-member and saxophonist Dan Paille in tow, guitarist Steph Yates and bassist Nathan Campagnero’s plodding progressions were juxtaposed with some extra texture that I didn’t get to hear when I last reviewed them for their Kazoo! Fest show back in April. Paille’s sax is presented pretty sparingly in comparison to the core group’s output, so it works with the group’s minimalist explorations of instrumental spacing.

From Ben Kamino and Matt Kelly's

From Ben Kamino and Matt Kelly’s “Conflict. Resolution. Conflict,” an absurdist Beckettian skit performed in front of the crowd dissipating after Esther Grey’s set in the Conversation Room at The Great Hall for Long Winter. Photo: Tom Beedham

Fixed with elongated cardboard masks, Ben Kamino and Matt Kelly ambushed the crowd remaining in the room at the end of Esther Grey’s set with a guerilla theatre performance called “Conflict. Resolution. Conflict.” Their characters mostly just argued over an onion, but eventually they made up with a sweet(?) embrace that saw them sharing bites out of the very real, very potent vegetable and then scuttled out of the room.

Recovering from Kamino and Kelly’s adventure in Beckettian theatre and wandering back into the main hall, Rheostatics founder Dave Bidini’s new group Bidiniband guided audience through a literary-minded tour of rock history, only playing four stream-of-conscience-y “long ones” to negotiate the restraints of their set time.

If you rushed from Bidini’s set to the conversation hall, you would have caught a very confrontational Abyss, whose frontman spent the majority of the group’s grindcore assaults sharing the mic with one listener’s face, whether he liked it or not.

Lido Pimienta performing in The Great Hall's main hall on Nov. 8 for Long Winter. Photo: Tom Beedham

Lido Pimienta performing in The Great Hall’s main hall on Nov. 8 for Long Winter. Photo: Tom Beedham

Next up in the main hall was Lido Pimienta, who should really get props for exacting some very hands-on parenting all while singing and dancing onstage.

“Single mothers in this city are gangster, y’all,” Pimienta said. She proved she wasn’t wrong with her highly danceable genre-benders.

Vish Khanna (right) interviews 2013 Polaris Music Prize nominee Zaki Ibrahim as Exclaim! Editor-in-Chief James Keast (left) sits in for additional perspective during 'Late Night with Vish Khanna,' a new talk show-style addition to Long Winter's  monthly programming. Photo: Tom Beedham

Vish Khanna (right) interviews 2013 Polaris Music Prize nominee Zaki Ibrahim as Exclaim! Editor-in-Chief James Keast (left) sits in for additional perspective during ‘Late Night with Vish Khanna,’ a new talk show addition to Long Winter’s monthly programming. Photo: Tom Beedham

Meanwhile in the basement, the last really big new thing for Long Winter was in full sway with former Long Winter MC Vish Khanna hosting his own late night talk show Long Night with Vish Khanna in the BLK BOX theatre. Complete with the house band stylings of The Bicycles and Light Fires’ Regina Thegentlelady wandering onstage to the show featured talk show style interviews with guests including musicians Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh) and 2013 Polaris Music Prize-nominated Zaki Abraham, as well as author and The Grid Senior Editor Edward Keenan, and Exclaim! Editor-in-Chief James Keast. While I missed Barlow entirely and only just made it downstairs in time for the tail end of Keenan’s portion of the show discussing his new Toronto political history Some Great Idea and recent developments involving Mayor Rob Ford, I did get to sit through Zaki Ibrahim, who also offered insight on the mayor, but more interestingly, her take on Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s treatment of its Polaris prize win. (“I felt like I had egg on my face,” Ibrahim said, after commenting that GYBE’s treatment of the prize and the gala was “cool.” Ibrahim also related GYBE to the Grateful Dead, provoking some (not very successfully) suppressed laughter from Keast.)

Doomsquad performing in the Samuel J. Moore restaurant as part of Long Winter on Nov. 8. Photo: Tom Beedham

Doomsquad performing in the Samuel J. Moore restaurant as part of Long Winter on Nov. 8. Photo: Tom Beedham

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Last for me were Doomsquad – giving the Samuel J. Moore restaurant its first Long Winter performance – playing their new age-evocative electronic music in some cavernous darkness (save for a salt lamp affixed to guitarist Trevor Blumas’ sampling table). The Blumas siblings challenged the physical resilience of the restaurant’s wall-to-wall window with crippling bass, offering only the soft textures of a pan flutes as a possible remedy.

From everything I was able to take in before calling it a night, The Great Hall seems properly primed for another season of Long Winter, even with the SJM restaurant added into the chaos (despite the potential for sonic disaster in the new venue, only some quickly resolved mixing issues that initially placed Trevor Blumas’ sampler way too low in the mix presented themselves over the course of the set). And from what I could make of the faces I saw on Friday, I think audiences are ready, too.