Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fatal attraction

Bloomington, Indiana combo Murder by Death finished the night off in excellent form. They played show No. 1,000 a little while ago, so you can say they're experienced. Their music is an unusual stew of gothic Americana, punk, rockabilly and Tex-Mex instrumental sounds – a band whose taste runs along an axis stretching from Joy Division to Calexico, ending in a series of vaguely apocalyptic concept albums. I also get a strong Nick Cave vibe off them, which I suspect is due to Adam Turla's religious studies. They're one of the few bands out there that, while you can say you hear their inspirations and antecedents, there's not a whole lot else that sounds similar.

Piano attack!

Then Sarah Balliet switched over to cello.

Ducking and weaving action!

Adam leans in ... this may also be my best photo of bassist Matt Armstrong.

Drummer Dagan Thogersen eschewed the cloth cap this time around. Can you tell this photo actually hails from later in the set?

Adam works the neck veins.

What're you lookin' at?

More leaning. And dig that crazy Minarik guitar.

Prepare for extreme clapping!

They went off briefly, then Adam came back for a solo turn at Shiola.

Big crazy instrumental finish!

Darn fine, but it seemed to me that by the time I turned around at 1:30 a.m. or so a good chunk of the audience had sneaked away - to get up early for church, I guess.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deadly intention

I've been looking back over previous Murder Plans writeups, and they all seem to say they put on a great show opening for (fill in the blank) and remind me of Orange Juice and Whipping Boy (the Irish one). Well, er, nothing new to report on that front, though now I'll add that I can see them on a bill with The Wedding Present or The Wrens as well. Murder by Death wasn't the first band I'd put on the same bill, but if nothing else the similar names are good for a laugh.

Joel Jacques works the keys.

Connor rocks the Tele.

Nick Descarie looks up.

Singalong action with Michael Simon.

And so on!

Does it count as lap steel if it's not in your lap?

Big rock finish!

They previewed a few new songs, so can that long-promised new album be long in coming?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vintage sounds

Last night I went over to Zaphod's to see The Polytones, That's The Spirit and a band I was unfamiliar with, The Village Bicycles. This was sort of a label promo show for Ottawa indie Antique Room., which is That's The Spirit mainman Ben Wilson's baby. I believe it was also recorded for CBC2, so if you couldn't make it hopefully it will be appearing on radio or online soon.

First up were The Village Bicycles ... "The Sluts were taken," bassist Simon "pDik" Wright explained. And here I thought it might be a reference to The Prisoner. There music blends in rock of the spacey, hard and stoner varieties, but they also through in a reggae tune. You can't make it out in this photo but lead singer Tyler "Teatime" Knowlton is wearing a "Listen to Bob Marley" shirt. They also played what they claimed was an update of a Ukrainian folk song. It was a fun show with some really good guitar and keyboard sounds, and I can definitely see them appealing to Ottawa's rock lovers. Also, they really like skateboards, and have a tune dedicated to one confiscated by the police. They finished things off with a cover of Van Halen's Jump.

The Village Bicycles, Zaphod Beeblebrox, April 27, 2009

The Polytones played their usual energetic set, with lead singer Lesia Manchulenlo whirling about nonstop as usual. They were invited to play by That's The Spirit - mainman Ben is of course also in The Polytones. "I don't want to call it nepotism ..." joked Lesia.

The Polytones, Zaphod Beeblebrox, April 27, 2009

It's been more than three years since I saw Ben do his That's The Spirit thing - before he had an album and before it turned into something more than a solo project. He still does perform solo, but for this occasion he had Brennan Pilkington from Department of Foreign Affairs (in which he also performs) and Jake Lovetart on drums, steel guitar whiz Tom Thompson, Nicholas Dyson on trumpet and Village Bicycle Simon on bass.

That's The Spirit, Zaphod Beeblebrox, April 27, 2009

He'll be off to Scotland, England and Ireland for a few shows in a couple of weeks.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Peanut butter and jelly

I'm a big fan of Peter, Bjorn and John's music, having been introduced to them by their smash album Writer's Block and its whistling hit Young Folks. I was quite excited to hear they were coming to town to play the Capital Music Hall and quickly booked the day off and bought a ticket. Then I began to hear evil rumours about the band blowing a SXSW gig (though in hindsight this seems to have more to do with technical problems and fickle hipsters) and whispers that the band wasn't all that great live. I can see how their melodious pop might not translate that well outside the studio, but worries that my $23.50 was money ill-spent began to nag at my nights and days (not really).
That said, opening act Chairlift did not buoy my hopes for a night of fabulous entertainment. I found the band's synth pop fairly anemic. Singer and keyboardist Caroline has a nice voice, and despite her weird decision to wear a trash bag and workboots as a costume seems like a capable stage performer. Unfortunately her Nord was sounding decidedly rinky-dinky, and wasn't getting a boost from guitarist Aaron's boring fretwork and processed guitar tones. Drummer Patrick was good though. Collectively they weren't bad, and I could see them working as a Sunday morning chillout band. When things started turning upward in volume I started to think they might really have something, but at the end of their set I was feeling distinctly underwhelmed.
I have a few beefs with Peter Bjorn and John's performance as well, but not on account of the amount of energy they put into it. Peter joked after the first few songs his pants were starting to slip off "I need to eat more!" He must burn off a lot of calories jumping around and running about. Bjorn's three-day beard and hangdog expression suggest a serious hangover, but he rocked out as well - when not affixing the crowd with a distant stare. John was stuck behind his drum kit - an unusual setup with the snare front and centre, a floor tom on either side and the kick drum off to his right - but worked up a fair sweat himself.
It was pretty clear that the audience was most excited about the tunes off Writer's Block: They whooped as the melody of Amsterdam emerged early in the set and were thrilled by the appearance of Young Folks - with Peter managing some very credible whistling.
I don't think any band could have worked the crowd harder than PBJ as they wound up their main set with rocking versions of Let's Call It Off and Objects of My Affection (featuring some guest bongo playing by Chairlift's Patrick). The main set felt fairly short, but they came back for a long encore, capped with Nothing To Worry About. and some fairly pointless rock ramalama.
This brings me to my main beef (I'll spare you my declaration of jihad against strobe lights and smoke machines): Too much rocking at the expense of melody. PBJ are a great pop band, not a great rock band. If I hear their next tour involves some extra hired hands to better replicate their studio sound, I'll be there in a flash. Heck, I'll probably go anyway: they're an exciting band live, though I really do wish they reproduced their studio tunes with a little more fidelity.
Mind you, that's definitely a minority opinion judging by the enthused comments from the rest of the audience after the lights went up. Incidentally, if you want photos from the show, go check out Ming Wu's site ... I forgot to get a photopass.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Prelude to a murder (or two)

After the swell Von Drats/Mississippi Grover/Shanker + Romps show at Irene's I laid low for a couple of weeks - not by choice, but due to an unfortunate show cancellation. When I resurfaced, it was to go and see Murder by Death at Mavericks. I knew I was going to like Sadie Hell and Murder Plans (though a cynical streak in me suspect that the latter's name played an outsize role in their being on the bill), as I'v seen them both before and know they're both killer live acts. But Sadie Hell in particular is a an ideal opener for the MbD crowd ... really, they should do a tour together.

Smiley Ben action!

Flailing action!

The inevitable shouty Ben action!

Singalong with Sam and Ben action!

After a while Ben ditched the Fresh Prince style jacket. It was a bit toasty.

More singalong action!

Fingersnapping action with saxophonist Dave Halabisky.

And so on!

I usually get the pictures of other members, such as drummer Sean Laframboise, a little earlier; this time it happened during some last-minute running around.

And a bit more Sam.

And finally a bit of bending Ben.

There next scheduled show is at the Cock & Lion Pub May 30.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday night noise

Here's a preview of some of tonight's action, starting with a house show featuring Sleeping Pilot (shown below), Cloven Hoof and Mountanaka at 439 McLeod. It's been quite a while since they've played - last time I saw them was at Babylon more than two years ago.

Sleeping Pilot, Babylon, February 14, 2007

Elsewhere, Evil Farm Children and Marie-Josee Houle (plus her band) play Elmdale House; Hey Ocean! and Said The Whale perform at Zaphod Beeblebrox; Loki, The Hometown Hecklers, Only Way Back, Snatchback and Gusto Fiasco rock Cafe Dekcuf; The Boogiemen and River City Junction boogie into The Rainbow; The Exalted Piledriver, JoeThrasher, Bastardator, Aggresor, Spewgore, The Catalyst and Abusor deafen an all-ages crowd at Mavericks. Lonesome Paul performs at Irene's. Ben and Me romp about at the Avant-Garde.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Drat patrol

Let's take a trip in the wayback machine to Irene's three weeks ago, and from their to about 1962, from whence The Von Drats musical inspiration hails. These striped hellions like their surf gnarly and their garage rockin'. Not much else to say except there was a super-enthusiastic crowd to make this set even more exciting. Good times all around.

Here we have Steve Von Drat, Leonard Von Drat and Dano Von Drat.

Over on keyboards, we have Dave Von Drat. There's also a Trevor Von Drat, but he wasn't around for this gig.

And over stage left we have Holly Van Drat on shakin'.

Steve plays some fuzzy licks.

Holly rotates somethin' fierce.

Shocking vocal action!

Singalong action!

Bending action!

Dave is in some kind of bag.

Dano gets fangy (you may have to click through to the big picture for the full effect).

Guest dancing action!

Leonard was in charge of most of the banter.

Big finish!

It was a whole lot of fun - a common experience at Irene's garage gigs, I find. As mentioned earlier, they'll be back in town at The Elmdale House for a show with Lefty McRighty and Buzz Deluxe May 29, and have a date but no locale for an Ottawa performance June 20.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Here they come

The lineup for this year's Bluesfest is out, and as often the case, it's a combination of cool, ho-hum, and what the @#$! were they thinking? This year Neko Case and Drive-By Truckers are the big score for me. Hopefully I'll be able to snap a better photograph than the one below this time.

Neko Case, Ottawa Bluesfest, July 8, 2005

I'm certainly going to check out British prog titans Van der Graaf Generator, odd pop Californians The Dodos, Okkervil River, Mali diva Omou Sangare; blues offspring Cedric Burnside and Lightning Malcom, Aussie guitar champs The Church; The Zombies are allegedly still cool, and I figure I'll have to see the latest iteration of The Yardbirds as well. It's never a bad thing to catch Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings; Papa Mali put on a killer performance last time around too, and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women and Crystal Castles should be fun. Hollerado are back, which is also cool. There are also several local bands I'll be glad to check out again. As for main stage headliners ... well, I want to hear Jeff Beck.
They don't seem to have switched the layout around much this year, so I'm hoping they're working the schedules so sound-bleed isn't as much of an issue - I don't want to think about how might affect Iron and Wine's performance ...
There doesn't seem to be too many acts I haven't heard of on this year's list, but can anyone suggest a performer I might want to check out?