Category Archives: Concert Reviews

Some of the best bands you might not yet know at Canadian Music Week 2014

2014 Canadian Music Week


Canadian Music Week takes over Toronto May 6th-May 10th this year, hopefully leading to significantly nicer patio weather than when it was held in March in previous years. With hundreds of bands across dozens of venues downtown, CMW is one of Canada’s largest and oldest annual music festivals. If you’ve got a wristband and a pocket full of TTC tokens, here are a few of the best acts you can find off the beaten trail:

Paula Gomez – Singer/Songwriter

Hailing from across the pond, Irish singer-songwriter Paula Gomez combines her skillful percussive guitar work with dark and soulful vocals that fill one with longing. This captivating sound is hypnotizing and intimate in a way that feels like she could be playing in your living room or on the small stage at your favourite bar. Versatile and unrestricted by the boundaries of genre, Gomez’s music ranges from blues to country to folk, creating a sound that can be enjoyed by any fan of acoustic music. Gomez is kicking off CMW as the opening act of one of the strongest folk showcases of CMW. Check her out at 7 PM at the Cameron House on Tuesday May 6th.


The Rathburns – Rock/Blues

Toronto natives The Rathburns embrace the whiskey-soaked, smoke-filled lifestyle of dark, grungy blues. Passionate and raw, the band forces their high-energy set on anyone in the room, making it almost impossible not to groove along with them. Built on a simple foundation of classic blues rhythms, the band throws impressive guitar licks and shrieking vocals on top, which help them stand out from pack, thrusting their musical skills into the forefront. The result is an aggressive but addictive sound of musical ferocity. If you’re looking for an intense, sweaty show, check out The Rathburns as they tear apart the Bovine Sex Club, May 6th at 1 AM.


The Beer Patrice – Hardcore Funky Punk

St. John’s band The Beer Patrice combine hardcore punk rhythms with funk music and doo-wop vocals, resulting in an intense sound that somehow manages to get you snapping your fingers and tapping your feet. With more than half their songs coming in at under two minutes, the band often adds high levels of distortion and wailing vocals to cram five minutes of energy into a two minute blast.  However, they also have a lighter side where they embrace the vocal aspects of traditional doo-wop music, putting their punk-rock spin on the lyrics to create a sound of chaotic tranquility. From the lighthearted “Zombie II” to the destructive “Changin’ the World, Doin’ Stuff,” the band’s contrasting sounds from song to song keep the show interesting and dynamic. For one of the most versatile bands at CMW, check out The Beer Patrice at Rancho Relaxo, Thursday May 8that 11 PM.

 Maylee Todd – Pop/Soul

Local artist Maylee Todd takes the stage Thursday May 8th at 9 PM at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Todd draws from soul and blues, as well as electronic and pop, to create a sound that I can only describe as modern and full of nostalgia. Her lyrics are full of honesty and creativity and her vocal talent is simply mesmerizing. With her quirky and fun attitude, Todd’s live show reflects a feeling of sincerity. It’s been several years since the debut of Todd’s first album Choose Your Own Adventure, and she has since received international recognition from a variety of sources. With the talent to make every show and every song feel like its own intimate experience, the chance to see her live at a venue such as the Horseshoe is almost too good to pass up.

GRUVE – Funk/Rock

GRUVE has been a familiar name on the Canadian music scene for several years. Their funk/rock style and raspy distortion live up to their name, resulting in a sound that is infectious. Think of the best band you’ve ever seen in a dirty basement bar after midnight and you’ll have an understanding of GRUVE and their style. Combining heavy guitar riffs with rumbling vocals, they take the essence of hard rock FM radio and pour it into everything they do. Their live show has been polished over years of touring, leading to what will likely be an epic experience at the Underground Garage on Friday May 9th, at 2 AM.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Psychedelic/Punk

Coming to Toronto from down under, Australian rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are a massive seven-piece band with influences ranging from the early punk revolution and psychedelic rock to modern garage and surf music. Full of reverb and distortion, the band’s set feels like one never-ending explosion of psychedelic passion.  Despite having seven contributing members, the band’s sound is graceful in its complexity, showcasing the true skill these guys have as musicians. With a repertoire filled with sing-a-long tunes and crowd-surfing gems, King Gizzard shows are one big party. Playing a whopping three times at CMW, King Gizzard can be seen Friday May 9th at the Hideout at 10 PM. If you dig their sound, you can check them out twice on Saturday May 10th, first at 4 PM at the Horseshoe for the Aussie BBQ Showcase as well as at Wrongbar at 11 PM.

-Micheal Vipond Contributor

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Concert Review: Megan Bonnell (February 15 2014 @ The Drake Hotel, Toronto)

Megan Bonnell performs in Toronto

Playing for what was announced as a sold-out crowd, Caledon native Megan Bonnell brought her folk-pop sensibilities to a receptive crowd at Toronto’s Drake Underground as part of her final tour date with labelmate Emilie Mover. Without need for affectation, Bonnell and her four backing members (including the co-producers of 2013’s Hunt & Chase, Chris Stringer (guitar/electronics) and Joshua Van Tassel (drums)) delivered an hour-long set that magnified the openly heartfelt nature found on Bonnell’s recordings, creating an exceptionally intimate atmosphere for the crowd and band, alike.

Bonnell and her band (also consisting of a female backup singer/tambourine player, and a bassist) not only successfully translated the potently emotional nature of her studio recordings for a live environment, but also surpassed my own expectations through the sheer richness, explosiveness, and clarity of the sound. Her personality was on display as well, as she made an effort to connect with members of the crowd, gathering them close in order to better connect with everyone. Her engaging, playful, and amusingly awkward personality found great success, while her vocals were as dynamic and breathy as heard on Hunt & Chase.

The pensive nature of ‘We Are Strangers Now’ was heightened through the visual of Bonnell seemingly isolated on-stage from the rest of her band, while the standout of the night, ‘Hunt and Chase’, was an exercise in taking an otherwise energetic track, and blowing it up with a level of loudness and speed not otherwise found on the album. It is this dual quality to the performance—the ability to accentuate the soft, sad undertones of the slower-paced songs, and intensify the hard, upbeat atmosphere of the higher-tempo songs—which truly turned it into a spectacular night for Bonnell.

Bonnell also performed multiple unreleased tracks, the tone of which seem slightly harsher than her previous material’s folk-pop nature. ‘The Web’, in particular, possesses a fury that might be considered unthinkable for an indie, folk-pop songstress. It is precisely this ability to surprise, however, which marks Bonnell as being a crow left of the murder, an attribute which established and potential listeners alike, will feel drawn towards.


Lucky Man*
Off the World
Say My Name
Found You
Hunt and Chase
Out and Away*
Coming Home
We Are Strangers Now
The Web*
The Wind
You Are the One*

* Denotes new track

-Tim Nicodemo Contributor

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Concert Review: Head of the Herd (November 16 2013 @ Rivoli, Toronto)


Vancouver rockers Head of the Herd took over the sold-out Rivoli Saturday night, flooding the place with their modern blues sound. The great sounding venue was a perfect showcase for the pure musical chemistry and talent of the band. Playing a set full of blues-rock songs and some soulful covers, the band reminded everyone in the building what the genre is all about.

The band kept the crowd engaged for their entire set and their stage presence is palpable. Their look, featuring matching ties and suspenders, gives them a classic vibe similar to something you might see in a blues bar decades ago. At one point, lead singer Neu Mannas even had the entire crowd crouch down and take a knee for a verse before eventually having them jump up and blast into one of lead guitarist Clayton Frank’s most lively solos. Later, their cover of the Johnny Cash’s “25 Minutes to Go” had the crowd hypnotized with its captivating but haunting sound. Check it out:

The band ended their set with hit song “By This Time Tomorrow,” thrusting the crowd into a headbanging sing-a-long. Joined on stage by Finger Eleven rockers James Black and Rick Jackett – who helped produce the album – it was the perfect culmination of a night full of pleasant surprises.

Head of the Herd gave the crowd at Rivoli a stellar combination of classic blues with a modern vibe. They’re sure to do the same when they play Sound Academy on Dec. 6th. I suggest you be there, I know I will be.

-Micheal Vipond Contributor

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Concert Review: Torres and Okkervil River (September 29 2013 @ Phoenix, Toronto)

Torres live in Toronto

Despite the physical height of Torres‘ Mackenzie Scott, her clean-cut appearance and pleasant demeanor are unassuming. It’s her voice that commands attention. Veering between a smooth-lower register butter knife and a machete of emotion in the highs, it’s something that sets her and Torres apart from many similar sounding bands. Driven by solid percussion from Chris DePorter and guitar-work from Scott herself, the set started off on the strength of “When Winter’s Over”, an indie-rock track with a riff reminiscent of early Weezer. The highlight of the set was the hauntingly beautiful “Honey”, a track that was featured by Pitchfork as “Best New Track”:

Scott exclaimed a few times in her set that she was impressed by how nice everyone in Canada has been towards her. If the Nashville band continues to produce music like that, they’ll have a welcome place at any of the venues here for a long time to come.

Okkervil River

Okkervil River followed with a passion-filled set, enhanced by both brass instrumentation and the charisma of guitarist Lauren Gurgiolo. Personal highlights were tracks off of River’s classic “Black Sheep Boy”, particularly “Black” and “For Real”:

Overall, the concert was punctuated by both the exciting possibilites of Torres and the nostalgic memories of Okkervil River. Another great night of music at Phoenix Concert Theatre.

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Concert Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs (July 1 2013 @ Echo Beach, Toronto)

As heavy grey clouds loomed over Echo Beach, threatening to turn sand into mud and Canada Day fireworks non-existent, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ entrance on-stage marked the sudden cessation of spittle only moments prior. This good omen signaled the 90 minutes to come, as the New York art rock trio (with touring member, David Pajo, as second guitarist) treated the audience of 2,600 to one of the most energetic and captivating performances to come through the city in a long while.

The exuberance of the group is due in large part to frontwoman Karen O, whose skipping, dancing, gyrating, and giggling could make even the most reserved smile and move their feet (and this has been the case for years, see our review of their show at Kool Haus in 2009). Her playful sexuality mixed with an aura of badass-bitch recalls an era where Deborah Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, and Joan Jett ruled the stage. It’s this energy, along with drummer Brian Chase’s wide grins and drumstick flair, and stoic guitarist Nick Zinner’s occasional audience interactions with a digital camera, which should have caused a frenzy with the Toronto crowd. Should have.

And herein lies one of the central issues with the concert: the discouraging lack of energy from the audience. Only when some of the band’s most dance-able (and radio-friendly) songs were played—‘Zero’, ‘Heads Will Roll’, ‘Turn Into’ of note—did those around me seem to perk up, shifting from a bobbing of the head to a wiggling of the shoulders. Tellingly, upon the group’s rendition of ‘Subway’—arguably the most slow-tempoed song of the night—, audience members became restless, ignoring the poignancy and startling intimacy between O and Pajo, instead breaking out into chatter for most of the song’s duration. No better was the rapidity with which many audience members left after the band’s first encore (which included ‘Cheated Hearts’ followed by the sexually-charged ‘Tick’), only to tentatively return upon realizing there was still a second encore (‘Date with the Night’, disputably their song most indebted to the New York punk scene) to come.

This fault lies outside the realm of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ actual performance which was undoubtedly robust, engaging, and lively. Confetti shot out of cannons, Chase twirled his drumsticks, and O shoved her microphone down her pants, back out through a hole in the crotch, and into her mouth, the latter a trademark action of their shows for many years, now. Dressed in a hybrid outfit of glam (white sequined pants) and punk (a leather coat with ‘KO’ studded on the back), O commandeered the stage, and even off- as she beckoned front-row audience members to sing along to the bridge of ‘Cheated Hearts’. The setlist also proved impressive, the band offering five tracks from their 2013 release, Mosquito, combined with a nearly equal amount of material from their previous three albums. While most of their most well-known singles were played (‘Maps’, ‘Zero’, ‘Heads Will Roll’, ‘Gold Lion’ among them), the Yeahs offered up lesser-known choices (‘Black Tongue’, ‘Down Boy’, and even Mosquito’s hidden track) to balance the setlist with equal amounts of anticipation and surprise.

Sonically, the group further proved to be on point a decade on from their first LP release, A Fever to Tell, with Chase’s drums tuned to heighten the bass in particular, thus becoming just as much of a driving force as O’s show(wo)manship. In the night’s only other flaw, the sound mixing seemed a bit off at times, specifically during moments when O’s vocals were barely audible over Zinner’s crunching riffs or Chase’s booming percussion. The issue was not consistent from song-to-song, but popped up enough to become noticeable.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have long been known for their engaging, dynamic performances, the disparate personalities of the trio playing off one another in a manner that exudes pure fun. Outside of the fairly minor crowd and technical issues, the group proved to still exude confidence and, most significantly, lots of energy, even as they age into their mid-to-late thirties. It is this ageless quality of the core members which is perhaps the most impressive aspect of a group which continues to remain on the border between mainstream and the periphery of music culture. Let’s hope this longevity will grant us more tours in the future; Karen, meet Deborah Harry.

Just for fun, here’s a video of them performing “Maps” at that Kool Haus gig many years ago:

-Tim Nicodemo Contributor

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