September 3-5, 2011, Seattle, Washington — To say that I enjoyed myself at Bumbershoot 2011 would be an understatement. In their four years co-producing the event, One Reel & AEG Live have truly achieved something special incorporating numerous venues inside the seventy-four-acre Seattle Centre over labour day weekend. Bumbershoot’s greatest assets are its use of space, the variety of musical acts, presentations of other mediums of art, Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, and beer gardens with great stage views.

On the first day, Seattle sextet Pickwick played two dazzling shows filled with their mixture sultry garage hodgepodge, while Swedish act Little Dragon had the crowd dancing on the Fisher Green stage. Adorned in gold clothing and electric blue shoes, vocalist Yukimi Nagano pranced around the stage, perfectly in sync with the synthpop being generated from her bandmates. Ray LaMontagne and his backing band the Pariah Dogs closed the evening with their soulful folk, playing hits such as ‘Jolene’, ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’, and ‘Trouble’.

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— , September 19, 2011    2 Comments

August 26, 2011 — Given that this was Conor Oberst’s last tour under the Bright Eyes name and the relative dearth of acts to make their way through London this summer, it seemed only logical to make the trek down Richmond Street. Prior to the show, I was only a casual Bright Eyes fan, but they managed to exceed my expectations and shatter my concept of what a Bright Eyes concert was. Well, if you ignored the legion of teens that were in attendance, which forced me to sip my beer behind a velvet rope. Serving as openers were Toronto’s own purveyors of old-school rock, Zeus.

I had seen Zeus twice before, with only passing interest, but it seems the third time is the charm with them. The members swap instruments and vocals with nearly every song, giving their brand of classic-style rock a great deal of variety. The one-two punch of ‘Greater Times on the Wayside’ and ‘River By the Garden’ was the highlight of their set twice before, and nothing has changed there. By the end of their set, the crowd seemed to have warmed to Zeus as much as I had.

Conor Oberst emerged shortly after, to the expected joy of the crowd, and Bright Eyes opened with ‘Another Travelin’ Song’. The band was touring as a seven-piece, along with a giant drum that the man standing next to me could not get his head around. Despite having a conception of him as a brooding, mopey songwriter type, Oberst, was particularly animated, frequently turning into a whirling dervish on stage, and playfully miming along to his lyrics. Banter was limited, with the most memorable being Oberst claiming that this was his favourite London, and introducing a song with “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.” Much of the set list was culled from Bright Eyes’ final album, the surprisingly good The People’s Key, but the biggest response was given to fan favourites like broken-heart anthem ‘Lover I Don’t Have to Love’, ‘Bowl of Oranges’, and ‘Four Winds’.

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— , September 11, 2011    2 Comments

Photograph by Sabrina Diemert

Toronto’s North by Northeast – or NXNE – is the younger cousin and orienteering opposite of the behemoth Austin music extravaganza South by Southwest. Over its 17 years, the festival has swollen to 7 days of concerts (ranging from cozy church acoustic sets to sprawling punk moshing at Yonge and Dundas Square), films (mostly music-centric documentaries, including this year’s highly touted Better Than Something: Jay Reatard) and interactive conferences (if you were a musician and could get advice from Brian Wilson, wouldn’t you?).

As with any event attempting to cram >600 bands into a few rock-filled days, it has its downsides. As per the SXSW model, the majority of sets are hosted by bars instead of outdoor stages; between dreaded line-ups, safety capacity, and city sprawl, show hopping presents some challenges. Some shows had limits on wristband admittance, require patiently camping out in cue or purchasing additional tickets for entry.

The festival concert becomes a new challenge for the hometown crowd. Unlike insouciant visitors – free of other responsibilities and able to party through the night and recover in the daytime – locals have to play the balancing act between maximum music absorption and minimal sleep/work disruption. Thus, we opted for a version of NXNE for the slightly risk-averse Toronto music fan: mostly music we knew, with a couple of wildcards. As a change of pace, this festival is presented through two points-of-view (sometimes coalescing, sometimes contradicting): Kevin Kania and Sabrina Diemert. We tried to keep our snark to a minimum.

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— , July 28, 2011    3 Comments

All Photographs by Jan Kucic-Riker

Primavera Sound is an overwhelming and vastly stimulating music pilgrimage made each year to Barcelona, Spain. Over two hundred bands across eleven stages and timetables that schedule sets well past five in the morning make the musical mecca a monstrous undertaking. Fortunately, 140,000 music lovers joined me over the course of the three main days and two satellite events to dance, sing, and even swim at the Parc del Fòrum and Poble Espanyol. The eclectic line-up saw everything from unabashed hip-hop to captivating folk ballads and electronic DJ sets. Though the scheduling and sheer volume of music can make it difficult, somehow we found time to sleep amid the madness.

Getting any rest was a predicament owing to the tension of anti-government protests consuming Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya over the course of the week. Demonstrators voiced their concerns over the political and economic situation in Spain emphasizing the growing problem of unemployment amongst youth in the country. Primavera Sound also overlapped with the UEFA Cup Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. As a result, the Saturday night schedule saw a two-hour gap in music as fans flooded the Llevant stage to watch the match on enormous screens. Whether or not you were a football fan, Barcelona’s victory was instantly apparent as celebrations ripped through the streets and onto La Rambla well past the closing sets at Primavera that night.

Outside its musical aspects, Primavera held an array of meanings. The festival had its transformative qualities, for instance, the colour and amount of wristbands one donned was the founding rule of social hierarchies over the duration of the week. Wrist apparel, stickers, and swipe cards, clung, stuck, and hung off fans as they hustled across the festival grounds. The photo areas provided amusement by way of disgruntled Spanish photographers who complained of poor lighting throughout various sets. Ultimately, the true meaning dawned as I watched a communal dance break out during ‘Summertime Clothes’ by Animal Collective as they closed out the festival at 2AM on the San Miguel Stage. It is my hope that the following images, sounds, and commentary will help convey the innumerable untellable sentiments of Primavera Sound 2011 with you.

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— , June 20, 2011    Comments Off on Primavera Sound Festival 2011

Photograph by Liam Maloney

May 16, 2011, London, England – Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and I can relive fantastic events over and over again for eternity. If this were ever to happen to me I would insist on including a Handsome Furs gig in the mix. The Montreal husband and wife duo of Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry certainly know how to perform and I defy anyone to find a live act with more passion and energy. Essentially, if they were to become a routine part of my life I may be able to quit caffeine.

Handsome Furs played the Lexington, a small pub in London’s North End known for showcasing acts with a little edge that have yet to break into the overwhelming London scene. The venue itself boasts incredible sound and atmosphere, which amplified the band’s penetrating sound. The fascinating thing about the Handsome Furs is that they play every show as if it were their last ever. They own the stage and sweat more than I have ever seen at a live show before.

With a new album Sound Kapital set to be released on June 28, the show was almost entirely dedicated to new material. On occasion this can be disappointing, but on this night it couldn’t be further from the truth. From what I’ve heard, the new album promises to be very good indeed. The new material is fast, hard and much more electronic than previous offerings. Some tracks are void of guitar and rely heavily on pulsating beats. A few songs from Face Control, including ‘I’m Confused’, ‘All We Want, Baby, Is Everything’ and ‘Radio Kaliningrad’ were scattered throughout the new material while songs from 2007’s Plague Park were noticeably absent. It seems the Handsome Furs are moving on, and in all fairness their earlier more sparse music might have dampened the energetic mood.

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— , May 28, 2011    Comments Off on Handsome Furs: The Lexington