Tag Archives: setlist

Hillside Reviews: The Super Friendz @ Island Stage – July 26, 2014

By Tom Beedham

The Super Friendz @ Island Stage - July 26, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

The Super Friendz @ Island Stage – July 26, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

“Thanks a lot everybody, we’re doing a workshop later tonight on grunge dynamics: ‘When You’re Mad It Gets Louder; When You’re Sad It Gets Quieter,’” Super Friendz bassist Charles Austin quipped after the band played the final notes of “Rescue Us From Boredom” at Hillside’s Island Stage yesterday afternoon.

To his left, guitarist Matt Murphy resembled some kind of indie superhero sporting a guitar strap improvised out of a Sled Island tote bag that didn’t look unlike a cape. Indeed, for the special part of the crowd eagerly assembled under the Island Stage tent specifically keen on catching the Halifax, Nova Scotia band’s only scheduled gig of the year, the Super Friendz definitely played the part.

Austin, Murphy, and Drew Yamada spent the 45-minute set democratically trading mic duties as they ran through the better half of 1995’s ‘Mock Up, Scale Down,’ and Murphy’s “cape” was just one of the blatant signifiers that spoke to the ongoing adaptable nature of the indie rock veterans, performing at Hillside 20 years after their formation.

“Never borrow a bass you don’t know,” Austin advised from behind a three-stringed loaner while Yamada cracked a smile.

Kieren Adams rounded things out filling in for drummer Dave Marsh directly after playing a half-hour set for his regular gig, DIANA, and there were a couple more cracks about Adams being “pooched,” but he did just fine managing Marsh’s kinetic Keith Moon vs. Topper Headon primitivism.

They were nearly rushed off the stage at the end of ‘Slide Show’ opener “Up and Running,” but they managed to swindle another two minutes out of the stage managers in order to wrap things up with a face melting guitar jam. The brevity of that performance and the set that contained it all served to highlight the fact that 20 years on, the Super Friendz are still capable of proving that you don’t need a big production or an arsenal of effects to make interesting guitar music: just grab whatever guitar you have lying around, play it loud, and make it work.

Setlist:
“Better Call”
“Come Clean”
“Rescue Us From Boredom”
“Girls and Their Boys”
“Fireflies”
“When They Paid Me”
“Undertow”
“Down In Flames”
“Karate Man”
“10 Lbs”
“Up and Running”

(Review originally published at HillsideFestival.ca)

WL14 reviews: Weaves @ Adelaide Hall – Feb. 14, 2014

Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 – Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

By Tom Beedham
Having released just four recorded tracks so far, Buzz Records rookie act Weaves are already gaining attention for their singular live gigs. Their WL14 performance was no exception.

Forced to take the stage without drummer Spencer Cole for the evening, the remaining trio of singer Jasmyn Burke, guitarist Morgan Waters, and bassist Zach Bines was forced to tie together the loose ends with a drum sampler, but the playful improvising that was conducive to made it all the more interesting to watch go down.

For those that don’t know, Weaves is a psychedelically bubbling bog of a band that makes impressionistic sound paintings out of what some might call songs. As far as their singles are concerned, “Motorcycle” is a gasoline chugging journey into the sunset; on “Hulahoop” Waters keeps Burke’s wavering vocals in orbit with strategically leaned noise flourishes, and like all too many failed attempts at hoop records, it comes to an abrupt and screaming halt when Burke and Waters get out of synch.

They brought four new songs—“Buttercup,” “Sunshine Road,” “Candy,” and “Know About It”—to Adelaide Hall, so expect more recordings in the near future.

More photos:
Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham Weaves @ Adelaide Hall for WL14 - Feb. 14, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham

Weaves setlist:
“Crumble”
“Buttercup”
“Sunshine road”
“Candy”
“Know About It”
“Take A Dip”
“Hulahoop”
“Motorcycle”

Originally published by Aesthetic Magazine.

Concert Review: Pixies @ Massey Hall – Jan. 15, 2014

Pixies pave a motorway to weirdness at Massey Hall
By Tom Beedham (originally published via Aesthetic Magazine)

The last time Pixies graced a Toronto stage was in April 2011; the performance came under undeniably different circumstances. At the tail end of a globetrotting, two-year-long 20th anniversary tour for the band’s first international release, 1989’s Doolittle, fans piled into Massey Hall two nights in a row to celebrate a uniquely deranged album that frothed noisily at the mouth regarding subjects like surrealist painters and filmmakers, Biblical violence, and Japanese businessmen initiating murder-suicides with their families over failed business ventures. Having played Virgin Festival two years prior, the Molson Amphitheatre four years before that, and Mississauga’s Arrow Hall twice as part of their 2004 reunion tour, Massey Hall was the most intimate venue the band had played in or near the city since it graced The Silver Dollar in 1988.

The April 18, 2011 concert began with a standing ovation.

When original members Black Francis, David Lovering, and Joey Santiago returned to the same theatre last night sans Kim Deal, fans were less generous.

Despite balancing the first handful of songs between cuts from their earliest recordings and newer material, it wasn’t until Pixies got to popularly adored trunk song “Here Comes Your Man” — six tracks in — that the audience got to its feet and showed any real enthusiasm about the show. Granted, standing praise that welcomes concert sets is something of a rare event, but that the band was coming into town without the bassist and vocal harmony supplier to Black Francis’s caterwauling vocals couldn’t have boded well for the collective headspace the audience entered Massey Hall with. Maybe it was uneasiness over the elephant in (or missing from) the room that was bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) stationed at what would have been Deal’s mic; maybe fans were waiting for their drinks to take their effect; maybe they were just comfortable in those nicely cushioned seats their concert-going behinds were not accustomed to. But the band’s approach to the gig was fairly uncompromising.

Even if it allowed fans to hear Surfer Rosa’s “Brick Is Red” and “Nimrod’s Son” from the Come On Pilgrim mini-LP early in the program, these songs didn’t come until after some confrontation. The concert kicked off with a gloomy, plodding “Silver Snail,” a track that remains so far unreleased even though Pixies have issued two four-track EPs since Deal’s sudden departure from the band in June last year. They followed that immediately thereafter with an interpretation of Peter Ivers’s “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song), first recorded by the band for its first demo in 1987.

How the second of these proceedings could be read as confrontational requires some elucidation, but it comes down to the delivery: now a regular fixture of Pixies live shows, when the band started playing “In Heaven” live, Black Francis sung it; Kim Deal eventually took over those duties in concert upon the band’s reunion, but Francis has now reassumed lead vocal duties. This implies that even though Pixies favoured recruiting a bassist/singer that was also a woman to maintain the diversity (sonic and otherwise) that Deal once brought to the table, it doesn’t mean that the band will continue to exist or act as it did with Deal still participating, nor should we expect it to.

This wasn’t the only moment of the concert coloured with perceivable (misdirected?) audience contempt: when Pixies got to the uber-popular “Where Is My Mind?” they sped through it at an accelerated pace, effectually making a listener’s darling into an inaccessible experiment in fast-forwarding. Other bands like Dinosaur Jr. have applied similar methods to popular songs such as “Feel the Pain” and made it work, but when Pixies did it last night, it just came off as sloppy: Francis stumbled over lyrics and some key note progressions were botched or missed entirely. Beyond raising unanswered questions about artistic responsibility to their songs and the fans that loved them, it made some wonder at why the band bothered playing it at all.

Maybe it was a joke. It still received what was probably the loudest and longest sustained applause of the entire night.

It wasn’t all disappointing and soul crushing, of course. Even without Kim Deal, this was the Pixies. They played a 33-song, hour-and-45-minute set that was heavy on cuts from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, they debuted EP2 cut “Snakes” and the other new songs sounded great, new inductee Lenchantin rightfully shined under the spotlight (literally and figuratively) on bass-propelled tracks like “Hey,” “Bone Machine,” and “Gouge Away,” and during “Vamos,” guitarist Joey Santiago facilitated an epic, two-and-a-half-minute noise solo from the centre of the stage, swinging his guitar around and playing it backwards against his body, waving at fans as he fiddled with his pickup toggle while the feedback played out. It just got a little… weird. But that’s what makes the Pixies so great.

Pixies Setlist
1. “Silver Snail”
2. “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” (Peter Ivers cover)
3. “Andro Queen”
4. “Nimrod’s Son”
5. “Brick Is Red”
6. “Another Toe in the Ocean”
7. “Here Comes Your Man”
8. “La La Love You”
9. “Indie Cindy”
10. “Motorway to Roswell”
11. “Bone Machine”
12. “I’ve Been Tired”
13. “Tony’s Theme”
14. “Levitate Me”
15. “Bagboy”
16. “Magdalena”
17. “Snakes” (live debut)
18. “Ana”
19. “Cactus”
20. “Monkey Gone to Heaven”
21. “Hey”
22. “Greens and Blues”
23. “Where Is My Mind?”
24. “Gouge Away”
25. “Debaser”
26. “Broken Face”
27. “Head On” (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
28. “What Goes Boom”
29. “Blue Eyed Hexe”
30. “Something Against You”
31.“Vamos” (2.5 minute noise solo)
32.“Tame”

Encore:
33. “Planet of Sound”

Originally published via Aesthetic Magazine.

Mazzy Star fades into view four times at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall

Good behaviour earns fans three encores when Mazzy Star pulls into Toronto with a phone ban
Tom Beedham

Mazzy Star's candlelit stage setup at the Danforth permeated an intimate atmosphere made only more intimate by a strict phone ban at Toronto's Danforth Music Hall on Nov. 16.  Photo: Tom Beedham

Mazzy Star’s candlelit stage setup permeated an intimate atmosphere made only more intimate by a strict ban on phone use throughout the concert at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Nov. 16. Photo: Tom Beedham

The triple-encored, 100-minute concert Mazzy Star gave Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Nov. 16 was definitely one it will have to live up to next time (and Hope Sandoval sort of promised a next time).

The first audiences that received Mazzy Star in the late 1980s and throughout the ’90s met it as a band that wed the devices of alternative rock’s then-contemporary vanguards with a minimalist version of psychedelic rock and the longstanding traditions of folk and bluegrass. They were champions of a gaping melting pot, and that melting pot sounded sweet – pun intended.

But in spite of the darling status Mazzy Star’s music earned, it wasn’t long after the band drifted into the public arena (and arenas) when audiences could decipher how the engrossing atmospheres the band was concerned with producing sonically didn’t make accommodations for rabid fans or snap-happy photographers. While Hope Sandoval’s narcotic pouts are prominent across the band’s catalogue, the singer displayed an early aversion to the spotlight: notoriously introverted onstage, Sandoval would rarely interact with fans, and the band responded to her hesitancies by playing in near-darkness.

successful concerts ride on so much more than physical presentation. And that is especially true for reactivated bands bringing new albums in tow.

So when security warned Toronto fans lined up early for the concert of a strict policy against camera and cell phone use in effect for the night (they instructed fans that simply must send text messages do so from the hall’s lobby), most accepted the band’s negotiation of modern “Instagram everything” concert culture as par for the course.

But clichéd discussions describing Mazzy Star’s set as “a blast from the past” or “an indication that absence makes the heart grow fonder” would fail to recognize that what Mazzy Star brought to the table was so much more than a validation of long-whetted nostalgia.

Candlelit and flanked by a wash of purple backlights, the intimate stage awaiting fans inside the Danforth was enchantingly reminiscent of the MTV Unplugged concerts other bands played in Mazzy Star’s heyday (especially Nirvana’s, which turns 20 this week) – another thing the cell phone ban helped facilitate – but successful concerts ride on so much more than physical presentation. And that is especially true for reactivated bands bringing new albums in tow.

Although they held off on revealing any proof of it until two years after Hope Sandoval teased it to Rolling Stone in 2009 when doing press behind her solo project with The Warm Inventions, Mazzy Star and its Sept. 24-released Seasons of Your Day has been in gestation since 1997.

Even if you walked into the show knowing this and you hadn’t heard any of Seasons of Your Day (which would be your own fault, given that almost a third of it was issued ahead of the album over the double A-side “Common Burn” / “Lay Myself Down” single in 2011 and then the video for “California” in August this year), you might have been surprised by how well the new material works with the old.

In fact, you were sort of forced to realize it when Mazzy Star opened with successive double representations of the releases that chronologically bracket their 2000-interrupted 1997-2010 hiatus: “Look on Down from the Bridge” and “Cry, Cry” from Among My Swan, and Seasons of Your Day cuts “In the Kingdom” and “Lay Myself Down.” (Full setlist below.) Placing these specific selections at the top of the setlist was actually sort of genius, really. It meant that in the first 15 minutes, Mazzy Star played the final song on Among My Swan and the opening track on Seasons of Your day, effectually serving fans a naked reminder of (first) exactly where they left off, and (second) how the band’s general dedication to continuity shines through from the very beginning of its new record.

It also made fans take in the shear cohesion of Mazzy Star’s musicianship.

The organ-prominent “Look on Down from the Bridge” and “In the Kingdom” forced fans to soak in perhaps-underappreciated keyboardist Suki Ewers’s skills, while the chord-restrained minimalism of “Cry, Cry” and “Lay Myself Down” might have persuaded guitar geeks craving the incendiary impressionism of psychedelic rabbit holes like “She Hangs Brightly” to turn their intention instead to pedal steel player Josh Yenne and his mournful bottleneck gliding.

And if you weren’t close enough to take in the finer details of the stage’s goings-on, there were always the projections of starry skies, stormy seas, and vintage photos to feast your eyes on as Mazzy Star cranked out its smoldering themes for lucid somnambulism all night long.

The whole set was a thing of delicate balance, with an especially memorable presentation of “Into Dust” at its centerpiece. Personnelled just by Sandoval on vocals, Roback on an acoustic guitar, and the bassist for the night (Seasons of Your Day features My Bloody Valentine drummer and Hope Sandoval’s Warm Inventions bandmate Colm Ó Cíosóig on bass and Cíosóig continues to receive credit as the band’s bassist, but MBV’s recently concluded tour and Mazzy Star’s current one overlapped significantly, so who this was is anyone’s guess [update: Mazzy Star drummer Keith Mitchell has confirmed the bassist and violist for the night was his son, Paul Mitchell]) on violin, it permeated ambience so still you could hear whispered interactions from the Danforth’s bar. The intimate performance – and the night in general – was arguably made even better by the general respect fans demonstrated by heeding to the band’s wishes surrounding photography.

The band certainly seemed to appreciate it, too.

Although they denied fans a performance of Seasons of Your Day closer “Flying Low” – a track that’s closed the regular set portions of most of this tour’s recent setlists – what the band provided in the aftermath did more than make up for it, returning for not one, not two, but three encores.

Fans got the seemingly planned encore of Keith Mitchell’s hand drummed “California” and Sandoval’s witchy conjuring “So Tonight That I Might See,” and then, after the band returned from offstage for a second time, the reluctantly optimistic “I’ve Been Let Down.”

But the biggest payoff fans got for their behaviour easily came when the band returned for a third time and delivered a jammed out cover of The Colours Out of Time’s 1981-recorded “Rock Section,” which was a significant milestone. Infamously recorded in 1993 in front of a live audience as a “Black Session” for the C’est Lenoir show on French radio station France Inter, the band is rumoured to have played this song live even as far back as 1988 – the year in which Hope Sandoval joined David Roback in Opal before it was later renamed Mazzy Star – and has turned it into something of its own, but the band hasn’t been reported as having played it live since 1997 – the year of its break up. (So Toronto, feel lucky.)

When the band reached the coda of the heavily improvised, Richard Wright-like keyboarded rendition of the song, Sandoval approached the mic to give what was perhaps the most stage banter she’s ever given.

“See you guys later.”

Regardless of whether or not that’s true, I hope she follows up on it.

Setlist
“Look On Down From The Bridge”
“Cry, Cry”
“In The Kingdom”
“Lay Myself Down”
“Ride It On”
“Does Someone Have Your Baby Now”
“Into Dust”
“She Hangs Brightly”
“Halah”
“Fade Into You”
“Blue Flower” (Slap Happy)
“Disappear”
Encore 1
“California”
“So Tonight That I Might See”
Encore 2
“I’ve Been Let Down”
Encore 3
“Rock Section” (The Colours Out Of Time)

Concert review: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust and Elsa @Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, ON | Oct. 11, 2013

There’s plenty of noise, but Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley’s new band doesn’t play Sonic Youth
Tom Beedham

Lee Ranaldo takes a cello bow to one of his infamously hot-rodded Fender

Lee Ranaldo takes a cello bow to one of his infamously hot-rodded Fender “Jazzblaster” Jazzmasters during one of his mid-song noise jams with The Dust at Horseshoe Tavern on Oct. 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Blame it all on the Thanksgiving gravy spilled this long weekend, but for a pair of acts sharing the Horseshoe’s stage Oct. 11 as a platform for the albums they’re each in the throes of sending off as their first official releases, it was easy to see Elsa and Lee Ranaldo & The Dust were pretty appreciative of the situations that brought them there.

Concert photos: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust and Elsa at Horseshoe Tavern

Sure to get some attention on “Local Bands to Watch” lists yet to come, it’s little surprise Elsa was called on by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo to deliver some unbuttoned dreamgaze at the start of his show. And Elsa couldn’t have been more grateful for the opening set blessing imparted on them for the night; they made it known – both literally and figuratively – with some earnest stage thanks and a set fit for gifting.

Having evolved and quadrupled in size since songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Rogers brought the project into realization as a bedroom demo some time ago, Elsa now features second guitarist Matthew Goldman, bassist Jesse Mirsky, and drummer Angie Wong.

The band seized the exposure of their supporting slot and used the event to soft release their premiere 12” single, I Do (officially due Oct. 22 via Fucked Up guitarist Mike Haliechuck’s 12” singles boutique One Big Silence), but their set went well beyond the four-track listing on that EP, hinting it shoudn’t be long until Toronto hears a proper album from these folks.

If that follows, so might a sound that is markedly different from their EP preference.

While Jesse Mirsky’s bass has a subtle presence on most of I Do’s mix, emerging only at times from the lapping wash of hazy guitars provided by Rogers and Goldman – Rogers strums chords while singing, and Goldman demonstrates a strong right hand by plucking through whirling arpeggios on his Rickenbacker – at the Horseshoe, Mirsky was distinct and pervasive, his propulsive finger picking often evocative of a laid-back Peter Hook with a thing for disseminating Quaaludes.

They closed their set with a smoggy cover of lo-fi indie pioneers Guided By Voices track “Game of Pricks.”

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust didn’t forgo paying respects to their influences, either, cranking out covers of The Modern Lovers’s “She Cracked” and Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues” throughout the night.

The bulk of their hour-and-a-half-long set was otherwise a pretty even jumble of cuts from The Dust’s premiere, Oct. 8-released Last Night On Earth and Ranaldo’s last solo release, Between the Times and the Tides (full setlist below). That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, however. Although Ranaldo’s new group features bandmates from Sonic Youth and Text of Light – Steve Shelley on drums and Alan Licht on guitar, respectively – as well as jazz bassist Tim Lüntzel (Bright Eyes), The Dust is largely personelled by musicians that put in studio time on his last solo release, which distances itself from the guitarist’s previous noise-rock exploits with more conventional song-led structures in its sights.

Even when The Dust returned for an encore and a fan shouted a request for “Mote,” a Ranaldo-led cut from his and Shelley’s more avant-garde pinioned band’s 1990 album Goo, Ranaldo chuckled and dismissed it, citing its absence from the setlist for the night. But songs relying on such perpetual barbed clangour for escort don’t really come up in the guitarist’s new work, and as a result don’t find easy segues in the new material; it is a band more vocal about influences found in the contemplative folk rock ventures of songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young (hence the covers). Besides, Ranaldo doesn’t need validation for work that’s already proven successful.

Still, The Dust sated Sonic Youth-bred noise fans’ thirsts for Ranaldo-brand pandemonium when it wandered into some spontaneous and resourceful noise jams during the heavier sections of a few of the new songs; Ranaldo took a bow to his guitars during “Xtina” and “Hammer Blows,” and even smashed a jumble of Tibetan bells against his axe during “Lecce, Leaving”; Licht spent the night reigning over the eleven pedals he had surrounding his space on the right side of the stage and even tested the stage’s light rigging and bulkhead as neck slide devices during “Key/Hole.”

Fans even glimpsed some classic Sonic Youth nostalgia onstage. In addition to a more recently acquired (remarkably pristine – for Ranaldo) purple Deimel Firestar (not to be confused with the green 12-string Deimel seen on the cover of the Corporate Ghost DVD) and Jarell JZH-1x, the guitarist’s artillery included the signature Jazzmaster model Fender consulted Ranaldo on and manufactured in his name, the Saul Koll custom-built cherry F-Hole Jazzblaster Ranaldo’s used since tours in 2000, the Telecaster Deluxe that Kurt Cobain once borrowed (even though he played right-handed) to perform a cover of Fang’s “The Money Will Roll Right In” live with Mudhoney (!), and a motley herd of “Jazzblaster” hot-rodded Jazzmasters – almost all slapped with labels for unconventional tunings – among the ranks.

While the press concerned with Ranaldo and the rest of his Sonic Youth bandmates’ various solo endeavours continues to flog the jilted relationship of former partners Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore and the resulting hiatus of their band, the new groups have so far proven to mean cities are seeing its  members more often and, for longer combined periods of time. And with each of the members putting on different hats to explore and expand their separate careers, it’s worth noting that the time off to pursue other interests could result in stronger interests in Sonic Youth – so we can’t really complain, can we?

Sure, we’ll continue longing for a day when all members grace the same stage at the same time again, but until then, at the risk of sounding groaningly topical following Canadian Thanksgiving, we’re getting plenty to be happy about.

Ranaldo, at least, seemed content simply to air his satisfaction with hitting the Horseshoe’s long-lived stage at the end of his show.

“It’s nice to finally play this place.”

It was nice to have you, Lee.

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust setlist
“Tomorrow Never Comes”
“Ambulancer”
“Off The Wall”
“Angles”
“Last Night On Earth”
“Xtina”
“Key/Hole”
“Hammer Blows”
“Home Chds”
“The Rising Tide”
“Revolution Blues” (Neil Young)
“Lecce, Leaving”
Encore
“She Cracked” (The Modern Lovers)
“Fire Island (Phases)”
“Waiting On A Dream”

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Concert review: Nine Inch Nails (Tension 2013 tour) @Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON | Oct. 4, 2013

Trent Reznor and newest iteration of Nine Inch Nails hit the ACC for Tension 2013
Tom Beedham

Part of a dynamic light show, an LED wall separating fans from Nine Inch Nails blasts fans with the band's minimal "NIN" logo toward the end of the Toronto stop of its Tension 2013 tour at Air Canada Centre  on Oct. 4, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Part of a dynamic light show, an LED wall separating fans from Nine Inch Nails’ stage blasts the audience  with the band’s minimal “NIN” logo at the Toronto stop of its Tension 2013 tour at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 4, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

They came back haunted.

In the time of Coachellapalooza-commissioned band reunions, derision, detraction, reduction, accusation, and speculation looms heavy over the actualization of any band reboot or reunion – especially those with cult followings.

But if the current band Trent Reznor is bussing around the world as Nine Inch Nails has been feeling the pressure, you will not have guessed it – especially upon witnessing the Toronto stop of its Tension 2013 tour.

When Reznor announced in February of this year that the band was “reinventing itself from scratch,” it was with a recipe that enlisted ingredients long claiming presence in NIN’s stew. Reznor had collected intermittent guest contributor and King Crimson frontman Adrian Belew, Year Zero/Ghosts I-IV/The Slip-era NIN multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Cortini, Things Falling Apart contributor Josh Eustis, and Ilan Rubin, who toured with NIN in 2009 for its Wave Goodbye touring drummer – all contributors to NIN’s Aug. 30-released Hesitation Marks.

The one exception was bassist Eric Avery (Garbage, Jane’s Addiction), who before NIN’s 2013 touring would kick off, departed from the band in May.

Quick to fill the void in the lineup, Reznor summoned guitarist Robin Finck, a longtime pillar of NIN since the band required a touring member in 1994.

With the re-addition of Finck, Eustis took on the principal bass duties Avery relinquished, but when Belew echoed Avery’s move and quit the band in June, Reznor was left short a guitarist for the band’s 2013 festival, and a dynamic one at that.

While festival audiences (and the amateur audio and video bootlegs that followed) gave listeners a dose of the new NIN, when the band exited the festival circuit in September with a fresh album to promote on the Tension 2013 tour, Reznor revealed Hesitation Marks bassist Pino Palladino amongst the band’s lineup, and with him a personnel closer to what he had initially intended.

At the Toronto stop of Tension 2013, Reznor used that new, once again shuffled army to breathe as much life into the new album as could be considered respectful in a city that would perhaps rather approach the show as a reunion instead of a commercial endeavour.

And dynamic it was.

Opening with Hesitation Marks single “Copy of A,” Reznor framed a performance that – although still acknowledging fan favourites through “Head Like A Hole,” “Terrible Lie,” and concert closer “Hurt” – would favour the new album as well as The Fragile (with nine and five tracks from each, respectively), recognizably withholding numbers from earlier albums like Pretty Machine and The Downward Spiral (full setlist below).

If any were wondering why the new material warranted – in addition to Reznor himself – three guitarists onstage, they soon learned the reason: Cortini, Finck, and Eustis spent the show trading off principal guitar duties as they stationed themselves at bass guitars, drum pads, erhus, keyboards, synthesizers, or violins on tracks like “Disappointed” or “Find My Way.”

Can’t imagine getting bored in that audience, can you?

Even if the instrumental juggling failed to engage you, Reznor and co. brought in tow one of the most engaging light shows the Air Canada Centre has ever seen.

Once the band had closed out “All Time Low,” “Dissappointed” a series of stage-long LED fences lowered onto the stage, fencing the band off from the crowd. At first they featured dancing lines of light moving from side-to-side, but eventually, as if to illustrate the boundaried freedoms that are the subject of the song they accompanied, created the illusion of a three-dimensional box prowling around the band it surrounded.

It didn’t stop there.

During “Terrible Lie,” the band lined up Kraftwerk-style as each bandmate stood in front of their own narrower light walls and their shadows projected over screens of blindingly white cyberpunk static.

Although the light show was newer than ones of old (and impressive to say the least), it wasn’t entirely unexpected, especially for those that caught the band live in the more recent years before their circa-2009 hiatus.

Perhaps more surprising and mind-blowing were the standout soul backing vocals provided by singers Sharlotte Gibson and Rolling Stones touring backing vocalist Lisa Fischer, a move that offered fans exhilarating new ways to experience songs both new and old, from songs positioned as early on in the set as “The Wretched,” all the way through “While I’m Still Here.” A personal favourite of their vocal performances was on Hesitation Marks cut “Various Methods of Escape.” Find yourself a recording of that on the Internet. Do it.

In sum, it was a fantastic opportunity to catch a renewed Nine Inch Nails performing both new and old material in entirely new ways. And while it is true that the band held back mercilessly on performing its earlier material, let’s not forget that a certain Downward Spiral reaches its 20-year-anniversary next February. If NIN were to cash in on that occasion with the lineup and the risk taking it brought to the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 4, I wouldn’t just forgive them; I’d say bring it on.

Setlist:
“Copy of A”
“1,000,000”
“Terrible Lie”
“March of the Pigs”
“The Frail”
“The Wretched”
“All Time Low”
“Disappointed”
39:00 “Came Back Haunted”
“Find My Way”
“Various Methods of Escape”
“Into the Void”
“Survivalism”
“Running”
“A Warm Place”
“Somewhat Damaged”
“Wish”
“Only”
“The Hand That Feeds”
“Head Like a Hole”

Encore:
“Even Deeper”
“In This Twilight”
“While I’m Still Here”
“Black Noise”
“Hurt”

Concert review: Chelsea Light Moving and Speedy Ortiz @Horseshoe Tavern | Sept. 15, 2013

Angular, avant-aggro guitar explorations take centre stage as Thurston Moore showcases new material and reimagines older songs at the Horseshoe

Thurston Moore breaking out text from John Donne for Chelsea Light Moving's reworking of the 16th-century poet's "The Ecstasy." Photo: Tom Beedham

Thurston Moore breaking out text from John Donne for Chelsea Light Moving’s reworking of the 16th-century poet’s “The Ecstasy.” Photo: Tom Beedham

“We’re the Ghetto Priests from Nova Scotia. It’s nice to be back,” quipped Thurston Moore about 25 minutes through Chelsea Light Moving’s set. Towering over the crowd from atop just the modest stage at the back of the Horseshoe, it was the first time the Sonic Youth founder had acknowledged the Toronto audience directly that night. But with a strap reading “THURSTON” cradling the forest green Jazzmaster that Fender hot-rodded out in its wearer’s name – as if appearance was the only thing fans could go on – there was no question as to who was standing before them. The guitarist’s presence is not the kind to escape recognition; even when he hung back at stage left to concentrate on assaulting his amp with a load of feedback, Moore’s situation at the Horseshoe was undeniable, especially with his new band.

Whereas Sonic Youth offered listeners a dialogical sound democracy of which Thurston Moore was just one of four loud voices, Chelsea Light Moving is a puppet (albeit a dynamic, multi-brained one) under Moore’s guitar testing hand, and the live show made that resonate with a roaring ferocity.

Chugging through a set filled with songs culled from the group’s eponymous debut, as well as new tracks “Sunday Stage,” “No Go” – apparently the “theme song” to a new board game to “be made from wood, plastic, and meat” that the band is working on “since nobody buys records anymore,” if you take Moore’s word for it – and an interpretation of 16th-century poet John Donne’s “The Ecstasy,” (full setlist below) the band’s set was heavy on noise improv, but all under the directive gaze of its most famous member. Even when guitarist Keith Wood was slashing away with picks that struck below the bridge, above the nut, and anywhere else that could render sounds from his own Jazzmaster, it was while awaiting nods and “1, 2, 3”s from Moore.

When the time came and the crowd collectively clapped for an encore, whether intentionally or not, one fan articulated their leader’s surname into a double-entendre, incessantly screaming “Moore!” (or “More!”). This continued until the icon ducked through the steps and back up to the stage to answer the supporter with, well, more Moore – and not exactly the Chelsea Light Moving kind; with CLM bassist Samara Lubelski switching to her violin (an instrument she was called to play on Moore’s Demolished Thoughts), the band’s encore performance was focused exclusively on churning out extended jams of “Staring Statues” and “Ono Soul” from their leader’s ’95 solo effort, Psychic Hearts.

Moore fans who arrived early for Speedy Ortiz (if unaware of the 2013 alt-rock breakout act) got a surprise double dose of noisy, angular guitar exploration, and one that was notably disparate to the Northampton, Mass. band’s debut LP, Major Arcana in terms of the mix, with guitarist Matt Robidoux seemingly turned up to 11 and getting as much attention as Speedy Ortiz founder and frontwoman Sadie Dupuis. Sourcing a stack of cassettes gifted to him at the venue, the guitarist found a toy to slide across his strings when he wasn’t shaking his guitar in front of an amp or plowing away at it for the noise pop outfit’s signature rhythms. After his strap failed multiple times throughout the set, Robidoux said something to Dupuis and it was time to announce the last song after just 20 minutes of set, but at least the crowd got a chance to hear Speedy Ortiz’s sludgy slacker anthem “Tiger Tank.”

Chelsea Light Moving setlist
“Groovy & Linda”
“Empires Of Time”
“Sleeping Where I Fall”
“Alighted”
“Frank O’Hara Hit”
“Sunday Stage”
“Lip”
“The Ecstasy” (John Donne)
“No Go”
“Burroughs”
Encore:
“Staring Statues” and “Ono Soul” from Thurston’s Psychic Hearts

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Hillside reviews: Sarah Neufeld at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013

Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre violinist performs music from solo debut in Guelph

Sarah Neufeld (left) brought life partner and Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre bandmate Colin Stetson (right) onstage for a special performance of "Breathing Black Ground" amid a set of her solo material at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. July 28. Photo: Tom Beedham

Sarah Neufeld (left) brought life partner and Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre bandmate Colin Stetson (right) onstage for a special performance of “Breathing Black Ground” amid a set of her solo material at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. July 28. Photo: Tom Beedham

Positioned on the Island Stage at the tail end of a program of solo performances from fellow Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre bandmates Richard Reed Parry and Colin Stetson, experimental violinist Sarah Neufeld used her own time at Hillside to give a rapt audience a preview of the bulk of her upcoming solo debut, Hero Brother.

Opening her set the same way her album does, Neufeld kicked things off with hypnotic album cuts “Tower,” “Hero Brother,” and “Dirt,” then skipping over a few she’d save for the finale to jump into the contrasting “Wrong Thought” and “Right Thought.”

Having recorded the album with site-specific acoustics in Berlin, at recent performances Neufeld has requested that venues supply wooden boxes or cookie sheets for her to kick while fiddling away. But positioned atop Hillside’s Island Stage, a hollow plywood construct, Neufeld found an entirely new environment to route her songs through, by way of much more than geography.

A student of the revered Suzuki method – the highly intensive school of violin – Neufeld weaved intricately around the strings while pounding the stage with her deliberate heel blows, delivering it all from behind a deeply concentrated gaze. But the show broke highbrow when one particular stomp coincided with a small explosion to the side of the stage and Neufeld quipped about causing it with her foot.

The violinist also sliced any pretension by getting casual with the crowd in between songs.

Breaking to take a drink after “Right Thought,” Neufeld lifted her Hillside mug and drained a handsome gulp, claiming, “I need to let the muscles in my arm unseize before I play again. That’s what the beer is for, I guess.”

She quickly retracted the statement, however, to make reference to her other occupation, yoga instruction.

“No! That’s yoga!”

It all made for a fitting segue leading into “Muscle Till Death,” a song that doesn’t appear on Hero Brother’s tracklisting and suggests Neufeld’s solo album might not simply be a one-off.

She followed the track with the album’s “Forcelessness,” featuring a guest performance from Richard Reed Parry on guitar (a collaboration Neufeld announced she’d never been able to perform live before).

After that, Neufeld closed the set with Hero Brother centerpieces “Breathing Black Ground” and the beautifully melancholic “They Live On,” bringing life partner and experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson onstage with his century-old bass sax for the former and relating the experience of recording it in an abandoned geodesic dome “with lots of reverb.”

It wasn’t the last the crowd saw of Neufeld and her associates at Hillside, though; Neufeld, Parry, and Stetson all performed a special collaborative workshop with Lee Ranaldo & The Dust as well as special guests that closed out the festival at the end of the night.

Hero Brother releases August 20 via Constellation.

Setlist:
“Tower”
“Hero Brother”
“Dirt”
“Wrong Thought”
“Right Thought”
“Muscle Till Death”
“Forcelessness” (w/ Richard Reed Parry)
“Breathing Black Ground” (w/ Colin Stetson)
“They Live On”

Related:
Richard Reed Parry showcases his “Quiet River Of Dust” project at Hillside
Hillside reviews: Colin Stetson at the Island Stage – July 28, 2013
Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, Colin Stetson perform workshop with Lee Ranaldo &The Dust
The New York Times’ Style Magazine has the video premiere for “Forcelessness”

Hillside reviews: Colin Stetson at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013

Colin Stetson performed at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. July 18. Photo: Tom Beedham

Colin Stetson performed at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. July 18. Photo: Tom Beedham

Having released the completion to his New History Warfare trilogy in April and subsequently earned a second shortlisting for the 2013 Polaris Prize, it came with no surprise that the Island Stage tent at Guelph Lake was packed for Colin Stetson’s Hillside performance.

Even if the festival horde that assembled around the stage at Hillside had done so on the grounds of base curiosity and the ambiguity of the invisible sounds provided by Stetson’s recordings failed to establish him as a force to be reckoned with in their minds beforehand, his live performance likely confirmed his status as a one-man orch-rock army.

With less than an hour of stage time at his disposal, Stetson delivered only a handful of his surreally affected sax drones at Hillside Festival, but he still managed to showcase three songs from each of the latter two volumes of the New History Warfare.

Opening with “Among the Sef,” the mournful alto-sax supported ode to octopi that didn’t have much luck coming on land, Stetson set the tone for the ironically elate crowd that would receive his afternoon performance.

He followed the song by picking up his century-old bass-sax and strapping on his throat mic for a medleyed version of the New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges title track, a rendition that also delivered portions of “Home” and “Fear Of The Unknown And The Blazing Sun.”

Next was another bass-sax rendered number, “High Above A Grey Green Sea,” introduced with just a brief mention of the infamous 52-hertz “Loneliest Whale In The World” cetacean whose song cannot be registered by other whales (he instructed the crowd to do their own research). Stetson has dedicated the song to the sea creature since a friend told him it called into mind the whispered stories of the elusive whale.

Perhaps as a nod to the closing of his trilogy’s narrative, Stetson closed the set with the title track from New Histroy Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light.

At the end of the day, Stetson also participated in an improvised collaborative workshop with Sonic Youth member Lee Ranaldo and his new band The Dust, as well as Little Scream, fellow Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre bandmates Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry and Stefan Schneider  (read the review here).

Setlist:
“Among the Sef”
“Judges” (including “Home” and “Fear Of The Unknown And The Blazing Sun” medley)
“High Above A Grey Green Sea”
“To See More Light”

Related posts:
Hillside reviews: Supersonic (Lee Ranaldo and The Dust, Colin Stetson, Richard Reed Parry, Sarah Neufeld +guests) at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013

TURF reviews: Belle & Sebastian at Fort York – July 7, 2013

Belle & Sebastian band leader Stuart Murdoch charmed the crowd at Fort York as Belle & Sebastian closed out Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Belle & Sebastian band leader Stuart Murdoch charmed the crowd at Fort York as Belle & Sebastian closed out Toronto Urban Roots Fest July 7. Photo: Tom Beedham

Kicking things off with an instrumental that amasses more sounds and contributors as it progresses, the sprawling B-side that is “Judy Is a Dick Slap” and its late ’80s/early ’90s game show theme comparisons provided a fitting opening number that also allowed Belle & Sebastian’s roster modest introductions to the crowd. For the most part, it operated simply as a vehicle allowing the band’s members to enter the stage as their contributions were cued into the mix, saving formal introductions for later and allowing their musical capabilities to speak for themselves.

The one slight exception was Belle & Sebastian founder and band leader Stuart Murdoch’s entrance, which involved the ceremonial closing of an umbrella. That action simultaneously signaled the end of the downpour that affected previous sets on TURF’s last day and the beginning of Belle & Sebastian’s. For anyone out of the loop, it also confirmed Murdoch’s place as the band’s central entertainer.

From there on, Murdoch was behind the wheel of one of the most charismatic, charming, and crowd involving concert performances Toronto has experienced this year so far.

That a Belle & Sebastian concert earns that title is probably directly due to the fact that so many of Murdoch’s pretty songs double as character profiles and critiques that mash up omniscient storytelling, dark humour, and twee instrumentals. It’s a delivery formula that sort of just necessitates audience familiarity, investment and captivity.

The real-life size of Murdoch’s subjects allows Murdoch to inject a heavy dose of literalism into his performances, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he follows up on the opportunity.

The portion of Belle & Sebastian’s set perhaps most illustrative of such dramatics was its vaudeville performance of Murdoch’s bully-lamenting anthem about a boy that wore mascara, “Lord Anthony.”

Setting things up for the song, Murdoch had crowd members with access to the VIP pit pass off a tube of the aforementioned makeup to a girl in the front row. Later on, the singer left the stage, passed through the VIP crowd, and approached the girl only to have her theatrically apply it to his eyes, then climbing atop the barrier to pantomime the closing portion of the number and the words, “leave two fingers in the air” by doing just that with his middle digits.

Prior to an earlier performance of “The Model,” Murdoch called upon a girl in the VIP pit to join him onstage. Mentioning he was supposed to go on a date with the girl after the show, the two sat at a table and engaged in what the singer called “indie Scrabble,” playing a speedy, un-scored round of the game. Not letting the show go on without music for too long, Murdoch soon left his seat to start the song as other band members joined his “date” at the table to push the game along. At one point left to her own devices, the girl too left her seat to dance along onstage, even pretending to flash the crowd when Murdoch half-whispered the song’s line about “The girl next door who’s famous for showing her chest.”

Other tactics Murdoch enlisted in his TURF M.O. involved inviting a couple handfuls of fans onstage to dance during “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” dedicating “The Stars of Track and Field” to Wimbledon champion and fellow Scotsman Andy Murray, relating an alleged recent facial surgery that left him unable to whistle and thusly requesting the audience’s participation on “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner,” calling on an audience member to get onstage and provide former band member Isobell Campbell’s spoken part on “Dirty Dream Number Two” (she sang the part when the band got there, but such is a risk that comes with the territory of selecting crowd participants at random), and taking asides in the middle of songs to censor his more colourful lyrics because of the festival’s “all ages” demographic or alternatively to greet remarkably well-behaved babies in the VIP pit (learning parents take note: Belle & Sebastian’s bedroom pop is newborn friendly).

Of course, Murdoch doesn’t have to engage in kissing baby campaign tactics to win over his audiences; it all just cements his place as the favoured Belle & Sebastian frontispiece.

Fans tend to puff up at songs from Belle & Sebastian’s more democratic period featuring lead vocals from any member that is not Stuart Murdoch, and as if in a display of sympathy, the only related offense the band committed at TURF was facilitated through “To Be Myself Completely,” led by guitarist Stevie Jackson. Murdoch didn’t seem to mind the break from the spotlight, but you could catch him receive an authoritative elbow from violinist Sarah Martin after delivering one of his backing parts on the song, so maybe he has a thing against letting Jackson do what his existential number is about.

The band rounded off the regular portion of its set with If You’re Feeling Sinister closer “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” only to return with an encore they insisted they were merely providing at the insistence of a man that stopped them from making their way to their van (festival founder Jeff Cohen, perhaps?). They played “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” as if to reify Murdoch’s intent to finish with material from what he’s referred to on-and-off as his best collection of songs, and that was it. Toronto Urban Roots Fest was over.

Touring just ahead of Aug. 26-due collection The Third Eye Centre, it might have come as a surprise (and maybe a disappointment) to eager fans that Belle & Sebastian didn’t delve into some deeper cuts – the closest they got to promoting their “new” product was with “I’m a Cuckoo” and “Your Cover’s Blown,” only appearing on the compilation as Avalanches and Miaoux Miaoux remixes (respectively) – but it would have been difficult to argue with the band’s self-aware and sweeping representation of its back catalogue.

Setlist:
“Judy Is a Dick Slap”
“I’m a Cuckoo”
“Another Sunny Day”
“The Stars of Track and Field”
“Dirty Dream Number Two”
“To Be Myself Completely”
“Lord Anthony”
“The Model”
“Piazza, New York Catcher”
“The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner”
“Your Cover’s Blown”
“I Didn’t See It Coming”
“The Boy with the Arab Strap”
“Legal Man”
“Judy and the Dream of Horses”

Encore
“Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”

Originally published by The Ontarion.