Singing Other People’s Songs

As a general rule, I don’t like covers. Too often, it’s just lazy musicians trying to get attention by playing songs people already know. But sometimes, it’s just really great to hear a familiar song played by someone who was pretty awesome anyway.

St. Vincent is generally pretty awesome. Her albums are very good, and her live show is superb. And while she’s great at big, loud, artsy numbers, she’s also pretty darn fantastic when playing a single guitar. This cover earns bonus points because the original, by Nico, was used prominently in The Royal Tenenbaums, one of my favourite movies.

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May Music: BSS, Land of Talk, Mono, Lucky Soul

Sometimes, I worry that I’m not Canadian enough. I don’t like a lot of things that Canadians are supposed to like, like Rush, Hockey, or Paul Gross. So I hate to be judgemental about this sort of thing, but I’m going to do it anyway: If you don’t like Broken Social Scene, you are a Bad Canadian.

It’s not just that they’re Canadian. It’s not just that they make really good music. They also seem to be a genuinely nice group of people; while their shows are indisputably excellent, they still maintain the casual feel of a bunch of friends hanging out.

That quality was on display on Sunday when the band played a series of intimate gigs in record shops across Toronto. I snagged a ticket for their show at Soundscapes and got to see the acoustic debut of several songs from their latest album, Forgiveness Rock Record.

That “debut” thing proved to be a bit tricky, as the band prefaced many of the songs with a brief conference in which they figured out how to play it. The show also featured sing-alongs, clapping, and a killer melodica solo by Charles Spearin.

Broken Social Scene is good enough and popular enough to be headlining big shows, but they still feel perfectly comfortable playing in a record store for 75 people. That’s one of the reasons I love them so much.

(I also managed to see them playing at Q, which was a pretty good show as well.)

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Music: Campesinos!, Lucky Soul, Gaga, Palmer

Have I ever told you that I love Los Campesinos? They’re such a delightfully fun band, poppy and spunky with lots of clever singalong bits that get even better when you start paying attention the lyrics. Now Hold On Youngsters… is one of my favourite albums of the last few years. Their new album, Romance is Boring, hasn’t entirely grabbed me yet, but I’ve only been listening for a few days. There are definitely a few winners so far – “We need more post-coital and less post rock; the buildup takes forever, but you never touch my cock” – and I am in love with the title track.
The video, incidentally, is directed by Alex de Campi, who has written some pretty good comics like Smoke with Igor Kordey.

Speaking of favourite albums, Lucky Soul‘s The Great Unwanted is a modern classic, a gorgeous mix of stylishly updated retro pop. They have a new album coming out some time this year, and the first single, White Russian Doll, is fantastic.

For a while, it seemed like everyone was talking about Lady Gaga, and I had no idea what anyone was talking about. I really didn’t get it; yes, she wore some weird stuff, but the music sounded like every other pop song out there. (I’m sure you’ve already seen it, but Christopher Walken’s Poker Face is excellent.)
Then Bad Romance came out. I found myself compelled to watch the video because everyone was talking about it and I felt I should at least know what I was ignoring. But holy shit: this is some crazy performance art rock star stuff. There’s being weird, and then there’s this.
It helps that the song is killer.

Lastly, let’s chalk up another win for the Power of Twitter. I really dig Neil Gaiman, and he was one of the first people I followed on Twitter when I started using it. At some point, started dating Amanda Palmer, of the Dresden Dolls, who I’d heard of but wasn’t particularly familiar with. This inevitably led to them tweeting back and forth, and eventually to them getting engaged. They are really as adorable and interesting a Twitter couple as you are likely to meet, and it’s not just because I really dig Neil Gaiman: Palmer is engaging and entertaining on her blog and on Twitter, and I was following before I’d really listened to her music. Her account of attending the Golden Globes with Gaiman is great fun.
Anyway: It turns out her music is pretty darn good, too. No one sounds quite like she does – who else plays Radiohead covers on a ukulele? I’m particularly enamoured of Oasis, which is gloriously insane and toe-tappingly tragic. It’s probably not safe for work, if you work for Sarah Palin.

(There is, unsurprisingly, a story about the reaction to the song & video, if you’re interested.)

I love this comic so very much

As if I weren’t already excited about the new Phonogram series, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie have posted a preview of the first issue.
And it looks good. Like you’d expect. But it gets even better when Penny’s friend Laura appears:

Yes, apparently Gillen & McKelvie have been stalking my blog, or perhaps my dreams, because they’ve given me Kate Jackson in comic book form.
Close enough, anyway.
This is like winning the lottery on Christmas morning.

Like peanut-butter and chocolate, kind of

If you’re like me – and if you’re not, you should try a little harder – you dig samurai movies. And you have at least a passing interest in electronic music. But you’ve always wondered – how can I combine these two things together?

Finally, I have found the answer.

I think it’s pretty neat.

North by Northeast 2008

This weekend was the annual North by Northeast festival in Toronto, a city-wide feast of bands playing in tiny, sweaty clubs. It’s been a few years since I took in the whole festival, so this year I dove in.


This night didn’t start out too well, as I couldn’t get into the main club where most of the bands I wanted to see were playing. So 10:00 Thursday, and I’m already annoyed. I saw a fairly generic band at the Rivoli, but then made the discovery of the weekend: The Oholics, a Swedish psyche-rock band. They were pretty fantastic, and you really don’t know rock music until you’ve seen a Swedish hippie rocking out on a sitar.

The Oholics @ NXNEThe Oholics @ NXNE

The other band I saw on Thursday was also kind of forgettable – they were good, but seemed really bored. If you’re going to be super-serious artists, you’d better be super-good, too.


Friday night started at the Silver Dollar at 9pm, with OK City OK, from Tokyo. They were… OK? I mean, really, they were pretty good, but they lacked that certain something that elevates a band from skilled and talented to really attention-grabbing.


As I left the club for my next destination, the thunderstorm started. In theory, this shouldn’t have been a problem, as the next club was just around the corner. Unfortunately, I thought it was 10 minutes down the street. By the time I got to where I thought I was going, realized I didn’t want to be there, figured out where I wanted to be, and then got there, I was pretty wet. And there wasn’t much dryness to be found: I am convinced that Rancho Relaxo is the sweatiest place to see a concert in Toronto. After being introduced by a Victorian-style stripper, London’s The Gin Riots seemed to agree – everyone was dripping with sweat after about two songs. Apparently their lead singer is fairly attractive to the fair sex, as every time he mentioned how hot it was, a chorus of female fans suggested he’d be more comfortable if he took his shirt off. At any rate, they were pretty good – reminiscent of the Strokes, and a fun, energetic show.

Gin Riots @ NXNE

Back into the rain, and then the thankfully less-sweaty Sneaky Dee’s (home to several scenes in Scott Pilgrim, for you comic fans who wish I’d stop writing about music) for BC’s Young & Sexy. I saw them the first time I did NXNE, five or six years ago, in an epically sweaty show at Rancho Relaxo. Anyway, they’re still very good. I have no specific comments, other than “they’re very good”, and definitely did some nice rocking out.

Young & Sexy @ NXNE

Back out into slightly less rain to see the Oholics again. They were awesome again, playing for a packed club this time. They even did an encore, which you don’t usually see at NXNE. No photos this time, as I was near the back of the club.

No travel was necessary for the next band, Toronto’s own The Diableros. One of my favourite local bands – heck, one of my favourite bands, full stop – and they didn’t disappoint, with a full-on rocking-out show. Standing up at the front made for some good photos, but my eardrums probably regret it.

The Diableros @ NXNE


Slept until 1:30. Woke up, ate breakfast, went back to bed for a series of lengthening naps. Finally woke up around 8pm, which was too late – I ended up missing most of Rebekah Higgs’ set at the Horseshoe. But what I heard was excellent, with two-and-a-half songs being enough to persuade me to buy her CD. (No Photos. I was late, and way at the back.)

Spiral Beach certainly wins the prize for most energetic performance of the festival, and probably the youngest, too. It makes me very sad that they are this good, this young.

Spiral Beach @ NXNE

Saturday’s show at the Horseshoe was a showcase for CBC Radio 3, which I should apparently start listening to more because they put together some excellent acts. The next band was Hey Rosetta from Newfoundland, and they were pretty darn good, too, though I have to question the wisdom of starting with a quieter song after following Spiral Beach’s manic show. It’s also possible the beach balls Spiral Beach threw out into the crowd had become more of an annoyance by the time Hey Rosetta took the stage.

The next stop of the night was the Rivoli… except it wasn’t, as they’d reached capacity. But it was midnight, I’d already seen two and a half great performances, and that was enough. Considerable awesomeness and some new bands to listen to, even if it came with the attendant sweat, sore feet, ruptured eardrums, and general exhaustion.

Full photo gallery at Flickr.

The Long Blondes @ Lee’s Palace

I actually wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this show. Unlike British Sea Power, whose new album is definitely concert-friendly, the new Long Blondes album has a decided studio feel: Lots of electronics, some quieter songs, and more experimental. It’s good, but would it play live?

Yes. By golly, yes. Most of this is thanks to the lovely Kate Jackson, who’s probably one of the more entertaining performers I’ve seen in recent years. But the band as a whole is really good, too, and adapted the new material quite nicely. “Round the Hairpin” was particularly impressive.

Fewer people in attendance than I might have expected – I think it was busier the last time I saw them – but the up side is that I was able to move around and take a lot more pictures than I might have otherwise.

Did I mention I’m in love with Kate? It’s rather obvious, I suppose.

The Long Blondes @ Lee's Palace
The Long Blondes @ Lee's Palace
The Long Blondes @ Lee's Palace
The Long Blondes @ Lee's Palace

More photos at Flickr.