Category Archives: Concert Reviews

Concert Review and Interview: Jeff Barkman (Nov, 19 2012 @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto)

Jeff Barkman @ Horseshoe Tavern

Jeff Barkman @ Horseshoe Tavern

There’s something amazing about shows at the Horseshoe Tavern. As one of the most historic live venues in Toronto, its atmosphere is rarely matched. Jeff Barkman and his brand of indie singer-songwriter music did not disappoint in maintaining that atmosphere. His set consisted almost entirely of new songs that will be on his next album, tentatively titled Ghosts. With his talent for songwriting on display, Barkman presented the crowd with some of the most emotional songs in his repertoire. In our last review, we said that the lyrics behind his first album Assembly Line Surgery were sincere; if this show is any indication of how his second album will sound, it will be nothing short of mesmerizing. The soulful approach to his new set of songs was captivating. With a stripped down set including just Barkman’s raspy voice and acoustic guitar, it was a moving set.

The opening acts started the night off on a high note. Exceptionally talented Montreal band The Damn Truth, fronted by the charismatic Lee-La, opened the night with an awesome hard-rockin’ blues sound that is rare in today’s music. Local band Tomahawk Love also brought an entertaining set with a good mix of covers and original tunes. The crowd was dancing through the whole set, right from the opening riff of their cover of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”.

Compared to the high-energy opening acts, Barkman’s set was quite intimate, something that works well at the Horseshoe. The audience was engaged as soon as Barkman’s voice was heard at the start of the first song “Chains.” With a setlist full of meaningful songs, Barkman kept it light by joking with the crowd and doing shots of whiskey in between songs, ending one of his most emotional songs with the comment “It’s really hot up here. I’m pretty sure I can smell every band that’s ever played here. Seriously, it smells like the Rolling Stones.”

Barkman capped the night with some of the most popular songs from his first album, including “Safe from Hell,” “Without You Within,” and the soulful “Assembly Line Surgery.” With much of the crowd singing along, it was a perfect way to end the night.

We got the chance to speak to Jeff about his first album Assembly Line Surgery, and how he has been influenced as a musician:

The first thing I noticed when I listened to Assembly Line Surgery was that every song really feels like it has its own personal story behind it. Is this how you always approach song-writing?

Yeah, when I write, I can’t write anything that’s just mindless or meaningless. Every single song that I will ever take the time to record and promote and play live will have a story attached to it. Some of them are snapshots of certain moments in time. I’ve had guys jam with me that say “Man, I like how all your songs are about something.”

Watching some videos from your old shows at The Drake Hotel, I thought it was really cool that you started every song with a story about where it came from. Do you always try to have that connection with your audience?

Well that was a really cool gig. I definitely find that it’s something important, and something I want to do more. The Drake really lends itself to telling stories because the sound in there is so beautifully crisp that the audience can actually understand every word that you say. You can connect with your audience on a very real level.

Who has had the greatest influence on your music?

It’s hard to pick a greatest influence. I’ve had so many different influences at different times in my life, but my first big influence was probably Kurt Cobain. I got Nirvana’s MTV Live Unplugged record when I was about twelve. Man, I killed that record. I played it absolutely to death, then I put it down for a couple of years, but I still go back to it. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

With the state of the music industry today, what do you think is the best way for prospective musicians to gain exposure?

Write your ass off. And play shows. Play all of the worst shows you possibly can, where you’re playing for a completely empty room, and just learn to play regardless. Believe it or not, I’ve played something like 200 shows. A lot of those were some of the most heartbreaking shows you can imagine. Seriously, just me and the bartender. And the worst is afterwards when the bartender says “Dude, you’re amazing!” and all you can say is “Thanks… Glad you enjoyed it… Kill me now…”

So do you have any plans for recording and releasing the new album?

I haven’t really even hit the production stage yet. I want the next one to be a lot more low-fi and dirtier sounding. With Assembly Line Surgery, the songs are just a collection of stories. A lot of times, with first records, you end up having a collection of all the songs you’ve ever written. You pick the best ones and make a record. With the second record, the theme is a lot more coherent. I hit a writing block a little while ago and started talking to some friends about it. I had a really rough childhood and my friend said that maybe I should try writing from there. I was really daunted and intimidated at writing from those really horrible places, but they turned out to be real songs with real emotions, and that’s something I care about. I want the production to match that feeling.

Lastly, if you were stuck on a desert island with a CD player, a ton of batteries, and one album, what would it be?

I’ve got this record by Ari Neufeld. It’s called Old Man Songs By A Boy (For A Girl). Seriously, my opinion of this album is like “you’re welcome for telling you about it.” I got a chance to see this guy perform at someone’s house, and I got the chance to make friends with him. It’s amazing. This album is seminal for me.

-Micheal Vipond Contributor

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#SXSW Recap: March 17th, 2012

My final day at SXSW Music started off at popular Austin venue The Mohawk to see a hell of a lineup for the party. Unfortunately, this RSVP-less free show also meant there was a hell of a lineup to get in. Gary Clark Jr. started off the day and was electric. His bluesy sound and unparalleled guitar work blew me away even while I was standing in line to see him from outside the venue. Definitely one of my favourite discoveries of the festival.

Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs followed with a swell indie rock sound. Kurt Vile and co. got the crowd moving and, at times, their sound was bit like a stripped down Arcade Fire. Excited to hear more from them.

Blitzen Trapper was next and having not heard their recent material, I was surprised to hear that they switched from their folksier sound to more of a classic-rock vibe. Though throwback is in right now (re: Sheepdogs), I kind of feel like it all sounds a bit generic. After a few songs, I headed over to the other stage to check out the much-hyped Cloud Nothings.

Cloud Nothings did not disappoint. Their brand of low-fi indie punk is impossible not to get caught up in (unless you were the crowd at The Mohawk that day, but I digress). Yelling out “I thought I would be more than this!” reminds me of when I first yelled out “You will always be a loser!” at my first Titus Andronicus show. Just awesome.

I was so caught up in that euphoria that I missed most of Bob Mould’s set but not being familiar with his work, I decided to leave that up the mass of older folks who were clearly there for him and him only.

The Roots closed out the day and everything I had ever heard about their live performances rang true. They were incredible. From tuba solos, to busting out classic tunes like “Sweet Child Of Mine” on guitar, to seeing legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff join ?uestlove on stage for a drum solo, to the impeccable delivery of Blackthought, they blew the packed crowd away. Consummate professionals. Possibly the best band I saw in Austin.

I decided to close off my night at one of the coolest venues I’ve ever been to, the Moody Theatre (where they film Austin City Limits). The acoustics in there were unbelievable and I was lucky to get a great spot on the balcony.

The crowd was ready for a loud night as Sleigh Bells strutted out in front of 12 massive amps. The noise was loud enough to drown out everything, including any clarity in Alexis Krauss’ delivery. That was probably for the best as I don’t think that she was offering much. Now this might sound a bit like “Get Off My Lawn” talk but I just don’t get it. The problem with this sort of music is that it feels a bit superfluous if the lead vocalist isn’t either: a) completely magnetic or b) contributing to the instrumentation. There were songs when she was solo on stage singing to a backing track, something normally reserved for “singers”. Instead we were stuck with what seemed like a poor man’s Alice Glass (of Crystal Castles).

But don’t just listen to me ranting. Judge for yourself:

My anticipation for the act after Sleigh Bells probably didn’t help her cause. Nas followed up by performing all of his groundbreaking album “Illmatic”. Joined on stage by DJ Premier, Pete Rock and AZ, it was Nasty Nas in his element. Songs like “It Aint Hard To Tell” and “The World Is Yours” seemed to cross off a line on most of the crowd’s bucket lists. He also played some new material which sounded promising and other classics from his discography (“One Mic” and “They Shootin'” were standouts). Overall, an incredible way to end my SXSW experience.

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Concert Review: Phife Dawg at APK Live (London, Ontario) (Feb. 16, 2012)

Phife Dawg performing live in 2012

The currently-enigmatic Phife Dawg played a concert at APK Live in London, Ontario last night and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. Before the show, I tried to look up his past setlists, tried to find out about his other upcoming shows, wondered what the hip-hop legend was doing in a smaller venue in a smaller town but found few answers. I had no idea what to expect but seeing as how Tribe put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen (2006 at Kool Haus), there was no way I was missing this.

Opener after opener hit the stage as is often the case with bigger shows in London but when Phife finally hit the stage around 12:30 AM, it was everything we had hoped for. Playing many classics from his Tribe Called Quest days, the packed venue was on fire. Scenario, Electric Relaxation, Award Tour, Can I Kick It, Bonita Applebaum, and Stir It Up (Steve Biko), were just some of the numbers that he brought out. He even let the crowd do the Q-Tip verses. He also unveiled some new solo tracks which had decent production (and also some of his old solo tracks like “Flawless”).

After seeing Beats Rhymes & Life, I was unsure of how he would hold up for a whole set due to his health issues. I noticed that he did lose some energy as the set went on but he hid it well and the crowd was more than willing to fill in the missing verses. Overall, an amazing experience. Super humble, he even stuck around for autographs and photos after the show.

He’s playing Toronto tonight (February 17th, 2012) at Revival at a Hip-Hop Karaoke event.

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Concert Review: Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) at Trinity St. Paul's Church, Toronto, August 2011

When Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) announced a dozen shows out of nowhere, I knew that I had to be at one. Luckily enough, two of those shows were Toronto dates. Not having luck online, I was lucky enough to score tickets in person at Soundscapes for Saturday August 13th. This is the review of that night.

I arrived at Trinity St. Paul’s approximately 30 minutes before doors were to open and was about the 100th person in line. I could already tell that I was amongst true fans and that was a great feeling.

The church itself was a beautiful venue and the fact that it was a dry event really didn’t hinder the fun. The only issue, and it was a major one, was the lack of air conditioning. As each row filled, the church became more and more like a hipster sweat lodge. But when the music started, it became easier to ignore.

Openers Andrew, Scott and Laura (Members of Elf Power & The Gerbils) had an interesting sound. Each vocalist had a different vibe, from Kimya Dawson to The Decemberists, and overall, it was a great way to start the night. The highlight of the set was “Two Skies“. As good as they were, I couldn’t help constantly checking my watch as the set went on in anticipation of what was to come.

Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) live in Toronto

Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) live in Toronto

The crowd exploded when Jeff Mangum came onto the stage but quickly fell silent when he opened with “Oh Comely”. These were the songs that many have played and replayed for the last decade and the last thing people wanted to do was annoy the labeled-recluse Jeff Mangum, complete with his recluse hat.

Except he wasn’t how many expected. His banter with the crowd was humorous and friendly (responded to a “we miss you!” with a “but I’m right here…”) and after it was clear that he was encouraging crowd participation, the vibe of the concert became even more intimate and special.

You could almost feel the people swaying in the pews during his rendition of “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” and that same crowd became a loud gospel choir, bellowing “III LLLOOVVEEE YOOUUU JEESSUUSSS CCCHHHRRIIISTTTT” during his “King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 2”. Jeff Mangum isn’t the best singer in the world but the rough edges of his vocal range yield a sort of endearingness that I cannot compare to another musician. Any concerns about rust from his period of non-touring were completely unnecessary.

The night finished off with “Engine” as an encore and though the crowd had participated throughout (even humming an extended note which Jeff Mangum used as a backdrop for a song verse), it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. The vulnerability of his voice paired with guitar was simply magical. To leave that church was to feel renewed (though I’m sure the moksha yoga temperature had a bit to do with that too).

During his set, he even encouraged questions to be asked from the crowd. When someone asked him “When are you going to next record?” he answered that he wouldn’t record until his heart is ready. For all our sakes, let’s hope that happens soon.

Here is audio of his rendition of “A Baby For Pree” from his first album “On Avery Island”:

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Concert Review: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (March 13, 2011 @ The Old Vic Tunnels, London England)

The Old Vic Tunnels

When I realized that I was going to be in London England at the same time as a set of performances by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros at a place called “The Old Vic Tunnels”, I knew I had to be there. I had no idea about the venue but I immediately tried to get tickets… only to find that they were all sold out. Luckily, they announced an unprecedented 5th show for Sunday March 13th and we were in luck. Having seen Edward Sharpe before, I thought I had a bit of an idea about what I was getting me and my friends into. Little did I know that I was about to experience a night that could be best described as a trip into the mind of a still-on-drugs Charlie Sheen.

Upon entering, I was grabbed by a space cowboy who said, “Welcome to Mars”, while handing me a plastic baggie with what appeared to be… drugs. I was then confronted by a woman with a clipboard who asked me what I had gotten up to since getting to Mars. When it was clear that I was just handed drugs (which ended up being sugar), a friend and I were accosted by space police who made us spin around in circles until they disappeared. We then had a chance to take a look around only to find the moon, the sun, a space bar, caskets, and… well, the night was just getting started.

The spectacle was unexpected but it meshed well with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ whole get-up. They’re hippies and they embrace that. When we met Jade and Nico from the band before the show, they seemed extremely down to earth and approachable. Then there was the aftershow, but I’ll get to that.

When we settled in with our kick-in-the-face punch that tasted a lot like porch climber, we were in for even more entertainment. I can say, without a doubt, that this is the most entertained I’ve ever been before a headliner has performed their set. Various circus performances involving fire, rings, and acrobatics followed and kept the crowd awestruck.

There were modern art installations involving film, illustration and lights and various performers mingling throughout the crowd. We actually missed the opener because we were too busy taking everything in.

When Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros took the stage, it was magic, expected magic. The performances of hit songs “40 Day Dream” and “Home” were electric to say the least. The set was consistently good with the only lowpoints being a few new songs, some of which I wasn’t a fan of (mainly the saccharine “We Are Each Other” which involved repeating the phrase “every part of you is just another part of me”). It was also unfortunate that nothing was played from Alex Ebert’s recent solo release, though I suppose that was to be expected. But all in all, it was a hell of a show.

Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros performing at The Old Vic Tunnels

When the show is analyzed in the context of how it was presented, I must say that it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever experienced. After the show, milk and cookies were served to people as they left the show and the band performed in the tunnels outside for the smaller crowd that was left. In that glorious moment sitting on the pavement in a tunnel, arm in arm singing Lean on Me and other classics, we all became hippies.

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