Sunday, May 29, 2011

CONCERT REVIEW: Lissie at The Phoienix in Toronto

Until a few days ago, I had not heard of Lissie. I ended up coming upon a contest for free tickets to her Toronto appearance and I thought 'why not.' I won the tickets and I ended up at the Phoienix concert hall last night to see her preform. Lissie's concert was, in short, amazing. As you might have guessed from reading my earlier blog entry on K.T. Tunstall, I have a bit of a weakness for bands with strong female vocalists and Lissie definitely satisfied that.
Lissie is an American singer/electric guitarist from Rock Island who rocks hard. She noted that she was a pool of sweat by the end of the first song (she used a towel between songs to dry out) and it was notable. Every minute of the night, Lissie was dancing or singing or talking to the crowd or switching guitar or taking a drink of water to keep hydrated. Her music live is hard to describe. It jumps, sometimes in the space of one song, from rock to country to punk. I'd call her a sort of cross between Neko Case and Adele who plays a Kid Cudi cover.
Her backing band is astounding as well. Her outfit is a three piece with her playing guitar, with a bassist/drummer and another guitarist. The room shook with the power of their playing. The crowd wildly cheered after every song Lisse played, as well talking through the Abba covering openers. Even those who seemed dragged along by the end were as into it as the rest of the fanatic crowd by the end of Lissie's set. At the end of the night when, in her words, Lissie said she was leaving before coming back again, the crowd wildly chanted her name. One of the best songs was one of her three covers which was of a song that she described as 'muzak', the kind of thing you hear played in gas stations and elevators. She made that song that you usually would ignore, hard rocking and danceable. This is applicable to the rest of her music and image as well. When I first looked her up after winning the tickets, she seemed like a sort of bland, country pop singer amoung many others but when I actually listened to her play I realized that she was so much more. Her music has a huge amount of enjoyability and depth to it. The playing and singing is amazing. She rocks.

(I will add video to this post soon but for now just search Lissie up on Youtube. If she's near you, go see her. You won't regret it. I know I didn't.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 5 Concerts Of 2010

Basia Bulat @ Soundscapes from NOW Magazine on Vimeo.

1) Basia Bulat at Soundscapes: Acoustic and magic. Bulat managed without any bells and whistles (just some foot stomping) to do the most compelling and powerful set of the year.
2) Arcade Fire at the Toronto Island: The biggest band of the year playing at their strongest less then a week after playing Madison Square Garden in a pleasant Toronto outdoor venue on a summer night.
3) Stars at The Mod Club: Despite the show starting an hour late in an unconditioned club, once the lights went down and Amy Millan and Torqil Campbell started singing Dead Hearts I knew it was more then worth the wait.
4) Broken Social Scene at Sound Academy and Soundscapes: Yeah, this is a bit of a cheat but both times I saw Broken Social Scene were good. They played acoustic at Soundscapes and, well, loud at Sound Academy. They are a band that can be thoroughly different in sound live from album and, even, as in this case, concert to concert. The highlight of both shows was 7/4 (Shoreline) with Feist and Amy Millan at the Sound Academy. I still haven't seen them do Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl yet (had to leave early at the sound academy). I guess I'll have to see them again yet.

5) Metric at Union Station: The most crowded concert I've been to this year (it was free, sponsored by a cell phone company), Metric played a short set of their hits at full tilt.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top 10 Films Of 2010 (in no particular order):

It seems we have suddenly been plunged into the peculiar depths of the year ending. When you go into a store, there are lines of people buying Christmas gifts at the checkout that are near unimaginable and when you open a magazine or the New York Times, you are instantly greeted with a best of the year list. I would like this blog to be no exception. Firstly though I must stress my key limitations, firstly I am not inhuman. I have not read every book, listened to every album and seen every movie released this year. Second, even if I was inhuman, I do not necessarily share your taste. I will be publishing lists all the way to New Years of the best of 2010. Without further adieu....
Top 10 Films Of 2010 (in no particular order)

1) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: It is rare that I see a movie more then once in the theater yet alone three times. I saw Scott Pilgrim first in an advance screening at the AMC in Toronto, then in New York and lastly a free screening at the Bloor Cinema, Toronto's most iconic rep theater. While the film has some flaws (the fights get repetitive, the ending is mismatched with the rest of the movie), Scott Pilgrim is the most consistently enjoyable and original film I've seen this year. Scott Pilgrim retains the spirit of the comic while also adding some unique touches from the director Edgar Wright. It is consistently entertaining and clever. Most importantly, it stays in Toronto. From Sonic Boom to Pizza Pizza, from Broken Social Scene to Metric, the whole city and its culture is here.
2) This Movie Is Broken: This Movie Is Broken is the second Toronto set movie on this list. I enjoyed seeing a new approach to the concert film using the experience of three concertgoers as the backdrop to the music. Also, it has the most unexpected ending of the year.
3) Carlos: Seen as a five and a half hour whole at the Bell Lightbox, Carlos was consistently engaging with some of the best use of music of anything I've seen this year. I would say Oliver Assayas is one of the most interesting and varied (compare this film with the understated and beautiful Summer Hours) directors working today.
4) 127 Hours: Another one of the most interesting directors working is Danny Boyle. In this film, his first after Slumdog Millionaire, he manages to create an intense, moving and very watchable film from an event which one would believe to be impossible to make a film from.
5) The Social Network: I think many would find the creation of software around as difficult to film as the events of 127 Hours but David Fincher and Aaron Snorkin through some small fictionalization achieve it. This is an interesting and engaging film about who we are now in the Facebook age.
6) Kings Of Pastry: I would have never thought that someone dropping a cake would make a whole film audience gasp in shock and upset but this wonderful new film by D.A. Panabaker and Chris Hedgens achieves that. It takes a subject so far mostly seen in Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen and turning it into a strictly human story about the desire to create something beautiful. It creates drama with a slow burn but coming out with a delicacy as carefully made as anything in the film.
7) A Small Act: I was kinda dragged to this film but was pleasantly surprised. The film tells the gripping story of the Kenyan man who starts an organization to educate Kenyan kids naming it after the holocaust survivor who paid for his own education. The film shows both the struggle of the kids but also the hope of small acts and the effect they can have.
8) Please Give: Please Give is about when the desire and guilt that leads to give to charity means that you can never give to yourself or those around you. Please stars one of my favorite actresses Rebbecca Hall as well as Cathrine Keener and Oliver Platt who are also pretty good. Sarah Vowell cameos as well.
9) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead: It's Shakespeare with vampires, a score by Sean Lennon, a twisted indie romance and a vamping Hamlet. What's not to like?
10) The King's Speech: I enjoyed The King's Speech which is jolly good. Any movie that has as one of it's key moments, Colin Furth yelling various curse words in rapidfire as King George the 2nd has got to be fun. There is still a depth to it though. Rush's character's backstory of giving soldiers speech is quite powerful and Furth gives a great performance as the king unable to speak who is finally given speech.
11) I Am Love Riveting with Tilda Swinton giving the performance of the year-in italian no less.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Praise Of K. T. Tunstall

I was at this dance where they were blaring non-stop bland dance music. You know what I mean. Totally uninteresting inhuman overplayed stuff. Then I went to my room and turned on the TV and randomly there was K.T. Tunstall playing her guitar with a strong voice. I was in love. Admittedly, she does really on loops and is pretty pop but still..she has a personality and a voice that I don't find in many pop stars. Later, I started looking up some of her other performances and she continued to amaze me. She really works on every single song, she plays often by herself with loops. She has a true commitment to her music. Best of all though, as with all great bands (e. g. Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura), she has a Scottish accent.

K. T. Tunstall playing the best Dylan song ever.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Notes on an I.F.O.A.

Now that International Festival Of Authors (the readings festival at the Harborfront center in Toronto) is over, I thought I would do some writeups of some of the most interesting moments of the week as well as the atmosphere of the festival. I should note however that all of the quotes are from memory and should not be taken as absolute.

Nicole Krauss
The first event I went to at IFOA was Nicole Krauss's interview. Krauss was not the most charismatic speaker of the IFOA. Toward the beginning of her interview she asked the audience if they could hear her saying "I'm pretty hard to hear." Despite this, she did prove fairly interesting. She described living as a second generation American with strong roots familiarly in Israel and England. She discussed publishing a story about publishing a story in the New Yorker in the New Yorker. She explained the weirdness of writing unintended autobiography when you are trying the hardest to write something fictitious using the example of writing a story about her desk without realizing it was her desk. I was especially interested in this point. I've always found that my stories often act, when I look back on them, as unintended horoscopes. I knew things about myself and the world in my writing that I wouldn't figure out until months or years afterword.

Comics Panel

On his work at present:
"It's just old people arguing"-Seth
On the perfect work of literature
"It would be Moomins with sex"-Dylan Horrocks

Featuring the ever dapper Seth, Dylan "Hicksville" Horrocks and the very calm and considered Charles Burns, this panel ended up in a discussion of commercial comics work. Seth and Burns had both worked in commercial illustration which they both described as being separate from their comics work. "I would never draw a commercial comic because otherwise I would get confused" said Seth. Horrocks however had worked for several years drawing Batgirl for DC comics and emerging drained and unable to create anything else.

Adam Gopnik, Elenor Catton, Adem Lewis Schroder and M.T. Kelly
This was unquestionably the most canadian and thus not canadian reading of the IFOA. Catton, born in London, Ontario, has lived in New Zealand for most of her life. Gopnik was born in Montreal but writes and talks almost exclusively as a New Yorker. Schroder writes about his time in Asia. M.T. Kelly writes pure canadiana poetry but he was the exception to the rule.I think it says a lot about our culture that the majority of Canadian writers don't write about Canada.
Catton read from her novel The Rehearsal which I had finished just prior to IFOA. It is a wonderful read and she proved to be a fantastic reader. Without having to even appear to try, she was able to invoke her characters beautifully and highlight the theatrical unrealism of the book.
Gopnik read from his kids book which I can not imagine any kid reading. While clever (the main character goes into a fantasy world which includes Times Square Squared which is what it sounds like), it was still fairly unbelievable that any six would be terribly interested in a smoking dwarf with a New York accent and jokes about progressive education. In fairness, he did say it was for whoever would read it so not just kids.
Schroder read with huge amounts of characterization and verve. He was a very enjoyable reader with my only difficulty being that I wasn't sure how well his work would hold up without him reading it. With Catton, her work was good enough that she didn't have to act to bring it to life. I'm not sure if the same was true of Schroder.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

YOUR AMAZING THING OF THE DAY: Jenny Lewis sings with Belle And Sebastian

I guess I should just call this Belle and Sebastian week. I thought about not posting this because I've already posted some Belle and Sebastian stuff already but it's just too awesome not to share. Ever since I listened to Jenny And Johnny on NPR earlier this summer, I knew that Jenny Lewis is amazing and she pairs wonderfully with Belle and Sebastian here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

ANGEL HEADED HIPSTERS: thoughts on Howl (the movie)

Howl starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg is an unusual movie in that instead of taking the standard approach to a biopic and including fictionalized conversations and events, the film makes virtually every second of the film directly off historical record. The film includes a reenactment of the obscenity trial for Howl, an interview with Ginsberg and Ginsberg reading Howl to an animation of the poem. All of which could be in a documentary on Ginsberg. This might be explained by the fact that the filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have previously only worked in documentary film.
Despite how seemingly bland this might sound, this film is constantly riveting. Franco reads the poem well scored with blues music and having a unique musicality and aliveness. The animation too brings the poem alive. The trial seems (at least to me) by the end of listening to the poem like theater of the absurd. Ginsberg's poem seems thoroughly valid and true as you hear Franco read it and discuss it in the interview segments. The interview segments give Ginsberg a chance to explain, almost line by line what drove him to howl. We have fully experienced and had explained the poem. In the end of the film, one realizes that we have truly seen a filmed version of the poem which would seem impossible due to the poems abstract nature. Also at the end of the film, we see Alan Ginsberg in his later years and are shocked by how unlike Franco he looks because by this point we have accepted fully and without doubt, Franco as Ginsberg.