Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans with Sunparlour Players - The Mansion - Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011, Barrie, Ontario

I went to The Mansion last Wednesday to check out a couple of bands that looked interesting. The Mansion is basically Barrie’s best sounding venue where you can catch original music. I found out about this show from a Facebook message and followed up with the promoter, Brad Dingle so I could come in and do my review. Unfortunately, I missed the opening solo act, Daniel Ledwell.

I arrived to hear Sunparlour Players, a Folk/Rock trio of multi-instrumentalists from Toronto. Their stage was an interesting setup of: two stripped-down drum kits with three kick drums of different sizes, a bell, a cowbell, a tambourine on the hi-hat and an xylophone. Other instruments also present in the performance were an accordion, a Yamaha DX7 keyboard, a Fender Jazz Bass, a banjo, a Gibson SG, a steel string acoustic guitar and even a violin bow for the xylophone.

Lead vocalist Andrew Penner is a very expressive singer and the whole band is exciting to watch. Penner’s lyrics are very much in tune with nature, with the band getting its name from Andrew’s hometown of Windsor, or more specifically Leamington; which according to Wikipedia “lays claim to being the "Sun Parlour" of Canada due to its southern location”. The band’s name is well suited to their music with all three musicians also being well suited; donning matching black suits looking somewhat like Mennonites in their Sunday best. I would call Michael Rosie Rosenthal the drummer of the group with Dennis Van Dine as mostly the bassist and keyboardist and both members add vocals to the band’s eclectic sound.

Headlining the show was Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans. I was unable to stay to the end to speak with the band and find out the exact identities of this showcase’s lineup, however the core members are Jim Bryson, Jason Tait, Greg Smith, and Stephen Carroll with other occasionals cited on the band’s Facebook page. Jim is a dynamic performer and his fingerstyle guitar really makes use of the subtle nuance of the tubes in his little Tex combo amp. The other guitarist had a very nice guitar with a Bigsby tremolo that he played through a Garnet head into a Fender Deluxe Reverb, which produced some really nice tone. The pedal steel also added richness to the band’s performance and although the drummer’s style was simple, he had some tasty tricks playing maraca in hand with drumstick and incorporating brushes and mallets into his performance.

I would say their sound is a combination of Wilco, Lou Reed and the Cowboy Junkies. My only comment is that I think Jim sings a little close to his microphone, none the less he is just as comfortable playing without any accompaniment except for his own guitar as he is with a band. Jim is also comfortable with his sometimes-anticipative awkwardness in speaking to his audience and brings his fans right up to the stage, clapping along to the music.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Elastocitizens with The Ruby Spirit and The Ninja Funk Orchestra - Friday, October 29th, 2010, Toronto

Lee’s Palace always seems to be the venue for spectacle. I remember seeing a show years ago where there were fire jugglers and a seven-piece band performing the theme song for Super Mario Bros. Well, there were no fire jugglers, but there was a barrage of costumes for this Halloween event and I was fortunate to catch two out of three of the acts performing.
The Ruby Spirit 
The Ruby Spirit is a five-piece rock theatre outfit from Toronto, who are somewhere between psychedelic and post-punk with Paige Boy on vocals, Alex Pulec on guitars and vocals, Mickey Donnelll on bass, Jay Cipparrone on drums and Juliana Eye on keys. Formerly called Sadie May Crash, the band has been playing as The Ruby Spirit for a couple of years together, with newly added keyboardist Juliana Eye and for six years since the inception of Sadie May Crash.

The band members are performing arts schoolmates who have obviously followed through as performers. Singer Paige Boy was quite confident in rhyming off her musical influences when asked, mentioning David Bowie, Captain Beefheart, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan among others. I could definitely see the David Bowie influence on their stage show.

The Ruby Spirit has moved past the basic development stages and really focusing on the energy they are delivering to their audience. Paige told me they practice a lot. They are an exciting group to watch and although I can see hints of Emo/Goth influence, the music is much more up beat. Listening to Paige’s portamento vocal style, I couldn’t help thinking of “Ballroom Blitz.”


The Elastocitizens
The Elastocitizens need a big stage to perform on. With three female singers/dancers in carnival costumes, a three-piece brass section, a lead vocalist, a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer with matching makeup, and even a flautist, they really filled the stage with personnel, and the venue with sound. They Elastocitizens had the sound guy working, and although I caught him plugging his ears to hear the mix, overall he did a decent job. The pit is louder than the rest of Lee’s Palace and the layout is better for viewing than for sound quality.

One interesting addition to the evening’s performances was the video mixing on the screen behind the stage. This added visual impact was suited to an act that must have drawn flow charts for stage directions. The lead vocalist used a megaphone several times during the show, the carnival singers held up the letters “F” “U” “N” “K” to accent one of their songs and there were also changes in the lineup so some members could do costume changes.

Most of The Elastocitizens material follows in the tradition of Parliament/Funkadelic with a dance beat as the driving force. There were a couple of songs where only the core four members were on stage playing, one being a Zeppelinesque, long-black-wavy-hair sounding tune and another with slap bass that reminded me of Red Hot Chili Peppers. The guitarist has a bluesy style, adding lots of tasty licks in between songs with lots of wah-wah and even some slide guitar. He even sang a couple of songs himself, which helped facilitate the costume changes. There was even a drum solo, which was lots of fun but the encore that followed went too long in my opinion.

The core group of musicians are Steve McCarthy on lead vocals, Brandon McGibbon on guitar, Jason O'Brien on bass and Mackenzie Longpre on drums. The female vocal section consists of Joanne Boland, Monica Dottor and Melissa Jane Shaw. The brass section is Gordon Hyland on sax, Carolyne Maraghi on trumpet/flugelhorn and Brian Walters on trumpet. Rob Piilonen played the flute.

Ninja Funk Orchestra

I was invited to see the Ninja Funk Orchestra, who opened but unfortunately missed their early performance. Although I can’t comment on their show, I found out they had donned ninja costumes. The Ninja Funk Orchestra are a Jazz-Funk-Rock quartet consisting of Neil Whitford on guitar, Gordon Hyland on sax, Mackenzie Longpre on drums and Andrew Roorda on Bass.

Photo Courtesy of Igor Vidyashev Photogarphy 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Barrie New Music Fest 2010 - September 16th - 19th, 2010, Barrie

There’s nothing better than a music festival in your hometown. I actually thought the talent overall was better than what I found at NXNE earlier this summer. I suppose that is partly because it’s primarily an Indie Rock showcase whereas Barrie NMF had artists from several different genres. It was also much easier for me to catch shows back to back since the venues are all within walking distance of each other in the downtown core with the exception of the Georgian College venue The Last Class. Wristbands were $15, which got you into all the events all weekend (much more affordable than NXNE’s wristband prices). Here are the artists I saw:

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Avery Island
This is a rock outfit from Toronto led by vocalist and gear-head Lauren Heenan. Sporting a microKorg and a tray full of effects pedals, Lauren teamed up with her brother Brandon on guitars, bassist/multi-instrumentalist Jordan Plishewsky and drummer Kyle Rawn to create the alt-rock sound that is Avery Island. Lauren, Brandon and Jordan all trade instruments around with all of them playing guitar at some point. One song they performed, ‘Jive Talking’ reminded me of Rush with the synth and straight-up rock drumbeats. They incorporate guitar arpeggios into many of the songs, they’re skilled enough for some interesting time changes and they have some good vocal harmonies. The overall tone of their songs is a bit somber, however.

Paisley Jura
With two A-list musicians accompanying this upright-bass-playing songstress, the Mansion was filled with sounds of Jazz-Pop and I couldn’t get over how good the keyboard player sounded. I spoke with the drummer who usually plays for Sarah Slean and he mentioned that he feels his vintage 24” bass drum compliments upright bass, and fills in the spaces where there is no upright bass, as was the case for a couple Paisley’s numbers. Paisley mentioned that it was tricky to learn how to sing and play together, having come from an orchestra background. She also mentioned that her newest album was produced by Barenaked Ladies’ producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda. Good for you Paisley.

River City Junction
This band was a solid Blues Rock trio from Brockville, Ontario. Vocalist Caroline Addison said she has only been playing for 3 years; she could have fooled me. It’s not often you see a female lead vocalist playing drums. These guys were tight and I had quite the conversation with guitarist Jason Fryer about gear. Caroline reminded me of Alannah Myles and Jason sounded a bit like Richie Sambora on the few songs I heard. Hooters is not the worst venue in Barrie for sound as there’s a lot of wood in the room.

Sly Violet
Sly Violet is a strong vocalist and decent guitarist. She plays folk music occasionally incorporating harmonica Dylan style into her performance. I told her she reminded me of Bruce Cockburn because of her earthy vibe and her open tuning and finger style guitar pieces. Although her music is not as complex as that of Bruce Cockburn, she does write her lyrics from personal perspective and has a Canadian flavor with songs about experiences from different places she’s lived in Canada. Sly has two albums and is very comfortable talking to the audience.

Cold Jack
This 7-piece band features lead singer/songwriter John Fraser, Michael Kernen on sax, flute and clarinet, and Daryl Yaeger on trumpet and flugelhorn. In searching around the Internet for tidbits about this band, I found it difficult to locate the names of the current members of the band. I don’t want to say Cold Jack is a funk band, but I think their sound is somewhere between Tower of Power and Steely Dan.

It was a treat to walk into the Mansion and find these guys playing something out of the ordinary for this venue. The bass player was slapping out a groove while the keyboard player had a wide selection of sounds to choose from with a keyboard stack consisting of a Korg Triton, a Hammond XK-3c and what I believe was a Yamaha stage piano. Apparently, the guitarist was a new graduate from Mohawk and he had some bits of African guitar flavor along with the other kinds of licks you might expect. Congratulations on receiving the 2010 NMF Best Jazz Award.

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Ten Feet Deep
This band came all the way from New York City to play the Barrie New Music Festival. Telling the audience they didn’t have work visas, they gave away copies of their album. They played covers of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and R Kelly’s Ignition, along with their original material. They have a tight sounding pop rock feel with strong vocals. An interesting piece on the stage was a Gibson/Trace Elliot cabinet upholstered with red velvet. It’s unfortunate they didn’t get a better sounding venue as The Last Class has a layout with low ceiling at the bar and a gigantic ceiling above the raised stage with all windows and hard surfaces, requiring more of a sound tamer than a sound engineer. Hats off to J.C. for getting the best out of the room.

For The Birds
Barrie local band For The Birds has a full-force, hard rock grunge sound that flooded the ears of their moderate fan base showing up to see them at The Last Class. One die-hard fan returned a fallen guitar pick to singer Caitlyn McCann, another enthusiastic, burly dancing fan worked up quite a sweat rocking out to the performance. Unfortunately, the money the drummer will have to pay to replace the cymbal he smashed would have more than covered the cost of a metronome.

He is exciting to watch however, sort of a combination of Animal from the Muppets and Keith Moon after several Red Bulls. Caitlyn is very confident with the audience but her vocals are hiding behind two Marshall stacks that were on stage. The sound guy pointed out that they were both solid-state heads, which would partly account for why neither Fender Telecaster was discernable from the other. Their stage performance was well rehearsed, however, the performance came pretty close to the decibel levels heard at the Silver Dollar when I saw Teenanger.

The Grey Owls
These guys were my personal favorite for the festival. Sometimes I wonder if bands have forgotten what Rock ‘N’ Roll sounds like. Well, The Grey Owls haven’t. Songwriters Jordan Faye and Brian Scarth both sing and harmonize with Jordan reminding me a bit of Jerry Garcia both vocally and with the curly hair and glasses. The lyrics are mature, mid-20’s relevant, and without references to anything too trendy, which could lend themselves well to a band with staying power. Bands that came to mind while watching the performance were The Rolling Stones and Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

I was actually more excited hearing them live than listening to their MySpace, which is a good thing. Jordan’s vocals are a bit nasally and the drummer, Travis Thoms’ drumming style is not terribly exciting, although he keeps solid tempo as they all do. I like how, although both guitarists were playing telecasters, they chose amps with different tonal qualities (Vox and Fender) so each guitar was a distinct voice, in contrast with the two Marshall stacks used by For The Birds which blended into mush. The bassist also had some nice melodic bass lines to complement the whole sound. The Flat Iron Grill doesn’t give much stage room but the sound isn’t too bad compared with other venues in Barrie. It didn’t hurt that The Grey Owls were able to keep their decibels at a comfortable level for the room.

Cameron Austin
I made it to Oscars to catch the last show of the evening where Singer/Guitarist Cameron Austin and percussionist Rick Roy were performing. Oscars is a small room where small ensembles play near the entrance, or as I have seen before, the back dining area can be converted into a stage for larger bands that need more elbow room. Cameron’s intimate folk/world fusion or rhythm and groove as he puts, it is suited for this venue with him playing acoustic guitar, singing and playing harmonica. Rick played a snare drum with brushes and a caj√≥n. I really liked his tune Storm Winds & Lifeboats, which he mentioned was a crowd favorite, and another one he played with a 12-bar structure and call and answer style lyrics. Cameron has a very enjoyable performance with diverse musical influences and a strong voice.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Balconies at the Five Points in Barrie - Busking For Change War Child

This Canada Day long weekend I decided to spend my Saturday afternoon checking out some of the bands performing at the five points in downtown Barrie. This event was a benefit for War Childfeaturing bands from noon until 11pm. Barrie’s Promenade Days’crowd would appreciate that not even a heat wave like this would stop these bands from performing.

The sun was beating down and the sweat was rolling off Daniel Allen, drummer for Indian Handcrafts. Brandyn Aikins extended his guitar amp with a massive 8" x 10" bass cabinet and a barrage of guitar pedals to produce some chew-up-and-spit-out Jack White guitar tone. The duo has a harder edged sound than when they played with Fox Jaws, who I wasn’t able to catch (I forgot my hat and just had to get out of the sun). 

Next was Sandman Viper Command from Burlington. I caught them previously opening for Brett Caswell and Marquee Rose several weeks ago. They sounded much more melodic this time as the previous venue’s acoustics were not so good. Guitarist Dan Reardon gave me a copy of the album to listen to and it captured everything they had to offer. Here’s my recipe for cloning Sandman Viper Command:

1 parts Sonic Youth – separate out distortion
2 parts Tokyo Police Club
1 part Super Friendz
2 parts early Beatles
1 part Sloan

Puree in blender.Serve with Strawberry Quick.
After my siesta, I returned to catch The Balconies. This trio has a solid performance with lots of energy and Jacquie’s and Steve’s vocal/guitar counterpoint sets them apart, along with lots of smiles and eyelash batting "The Sio" reminds me of a Quentin Terantino movie. Here’s a clip of a song that I don’t know the name of.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

NXNE for Saturday, June 19th, 2010

I went to Toronto to catch some of the NXNE shows this year. I set out to conquer a list, and I soon realized leaving the car parked by Bloor & Ossington wasn’t the best decision if I was going to meet my tight itinerary. Before departing, I used the NXNE guide that you find at many of the venues in combination with the NXNE website. It’s great how they have all the bands searchable on the site so you can plan your night. I did carry my festival guide in my back pocket for reassurance and ended up using it when I realized how long Queen Street really is.

First I saw The Jessica Stuart Few at The Piston on Bloor West.  I caught the end of the show with vocalist Jessica Stuart playing guitar, Dan Fortin on upright bass and Nico Dann on drums. I had hoped to hear the sounds of the koto, which was on stage, but was nonetheless pleased with the trio’s pop/jazz fusion flavor. This was a refreshing change from much of the usual NXNE fare. Jessica is a strong vocalist who reminds me of Ivana Santilli. Jessica Stuart is an accomplished jazz guitarist and plays in several other groups. Who says 80’s retro theme songs can’t be showcased at the same event as Iggy and the Stooges? I also received a really cool free button.

I tried to make it to the Velvet Underground for the next band, but I was too late. I then proceeded to Bread and Circus in Kensington Market to check out Airheart. They were well received by the audience, but the duo’s performance seemed a bit immature with singer Stacy B clicking on a PlayStation controller for vocal effects. Mason Bach, DJ and gizmo-whiz guy sported a single turntable, an electric violin, a mixer and a laptop from which he produced big techno sounds with crackly 1940’s spoken-word samples. Very danceable but check your decibels.

Speaking of decibels, I checked out Teenanger at the Silver Dollar and I’m not sure why anyone would put a Telecaster through a Fender Twin at that volume. Next time it’s earplugs. Teenanger has a solid performance though. This not-exactly-punk band reminds me of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols. Easy on the vocal reverb Alex, your voice doesn’t cut through the other instruments. These guys and gal have been practicing for their showcase however, and have an exciting, road-worthy performance.

I did make it to the Horseshoe Tavern for what ended up being my last show of the night where I saw Huron. Cam Malcolm and Aaron Goldstein provide vocal and guitar harmonies, add pedal steel and organ with drums and bass guitar and you have a solid performance at probably the best venue in town, with the best timeslot for a rock band in Toronto. Huron is versatile, with both bassist Adam “Hank” Melnick and Drummer Peter Hall providing additional vocals and Adam handling the organ. These guys don’t sound like Wilco or Tom Petty per se, but I’d put them on the same playlist. Peter Hall your drumming is solid.
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