Posts Tagged ‘toronto’

An Education

June 17, 2010

For the past two years I have been teaching Grade 12 English at a questionable private school in downtown Toronto. The majority of the kids come from China, with vague hopes of getting into a Canadian University. The amount of hard work and dedication my students have shown throughout the years was incredible. I was truly blessed to be surrounded by these future leaders.

Many of them were addicted to various computer games which they played late into the night. Reading anything longer than two pages was a painful struggle which most could not complete before falling asleep.

These kids had some interesting English names. Here are a few of my favourite: Ocean, Rock, Sky, Fish, Magic, Energy, Lancer, Aquamarine, Trance, Plantain, Crane, Seven, and Rick.

Their grammar was a fantastic jumble of confusion. Their habits of rampant plagiarism and cheating was unparallel. Catching a student cheating and then wildly berating him/her in front of the entire class was perhaps my only pleasure. But to be fair, they weren’t all bad. A whopping ten percent of the 200+ slack-jawed monsters that slept and farted in my classes were impressive. Ambitious, creative, and intelligent kids, with a genuine willingness to LEARN. Thanks to the few among many.

And now I have happily quit this job, never to return, and quickly to forget. I will be going back to skoool in the fall to get me some more educations so I can get a real job and finally become one of them real live adults I see walking around everywhere. Wish me luck.

Jóhann Jóhannsson at The Mod Club in Toronto

May 8, 2010

4 May 2010

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson played his long-awaited Toronto debut at The Mod Club this week to an intimate yet enraptured crowd. Joining him on stage were three violinists, a cellist, and his long-time collaborator Matthías Hemstock, who manipulated sounds and live samples, and the result was a subdued, and beautiful set of neo-classical ambience. Playing compositions from his critically acclaimed Fordlandia, and In the Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees, Jóhannsson sat pretty much motionless behind his gear, allowing the roving emotions in his music to speak for themselves. The string quartet helped make the live show a much more organic experience, and Jóhannsson’s music is so very much alive, this would have been lost if it had been just him up there with his laptop and electric piano.

The set began with the title track from Fordlandia and they played much of the quieter material first. Black and white films played on the wall behind the musicians, which was odd considering there were two large projection screens set up to the left and right of the stage, which remained blank. Tables and chairs were set up for us to sit comfortably through Jóhannsson’s minimal yet swirling arrangements. The highlight of the night was “Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device” which relies on a loop of bassy synth and patiently grows into an orchestral frenzy, the strings building to a feverish climax, as Hemstock created head-bobbing percussion through live samples.

It was a beautiful show on a warm Tuesday night in Toronto. Very nice.

Trans Am at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto

April 22, 2010

21 April 2010

Thrill Jockey’s post-rock synth trio, Trans Am, played to a full house at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on Wednesday night, and goddamn it was LOUD. My ears they still be a buzzin’. Live shows at The Horseshoe always tend to be a bit on the louder side, but Trans Am had it right cranked — to the point where it’s so loud it makes no difference even if you have your ears plugged. But I guess a little aural degradation is the price you gotta pay to live like a rock star.

I love Trans Am. But I haven’t listened to any of their albums since Red Line came out in 2000. They’re one of those bands from my youth that hold a very special and revered place in my heart. However, over the years the trio started getting weird and inconsistent, and although I liked the robot and electronic angles they were embracing, there were just so many other musicians who were making similar sounds and doing it better, and so I abandoned Trans Am for close to a decade. But when I heard they were on tour, some friends and I decided to go for nostalgia’s sake, and as an excuse to drink on a Wednesday, so we bought tickets and showed up and were pretty much blown away by their show. It was deep, dark, moody, tight, heavy, trippy, aggressive, poppy, and 100 percent relevant. In short, Trans Am still kick ass.

Drummer Sebastian Thomson was an absolute machine, banging hell out of his kit, shirtless (as always) and spitting and swearing in between tracks. Best quote from him when the crowd requested “Futureworld”: “NO. We play what we want, when we want.” Haha. Fucking rock stars. And true to his word, they didn’t play it, but it didn’t matter, their set still rocked.

Philip Manley was stellar on guitar, effortlessly playing big fat riffs and soft delayed chords to the delight of the crowd. And frontman Nathan Means is always a large presence on stage, and not just because he’s 6 foot 5. He gets right into it, all smiles and occasional looks of innocent wonder, as if while he’s playing the song he’s surprised that it’s actually his band he’s hearing. Plus he loves him some vocoder and did a sweet job playing the part of the robot last night. ‘Twas a tight set and a great one. Go see Trans Am if they play in your town.

Warp Records up and comers Nice Nice was second on the bill and also played a fun and hectic, sample heavy set, that was pretty damn loud and awesome in its own right. Check out their debut album Extra Wow at your local record store. I missed the opener’s Jonas Reinhardt because I had to work late, but all in all it was a great midweek concert to help usher in the weekend.

Loved it.

The xx at The Phoenix in Toronto

April 5, 2010

4 April 2010

London trio the xx returned to Toronto for their first headlining show on Easter Sunday and delighted the crowd with an intimate and understated live show. Beginning the set with moody album opener “Intro”, the band was shrouded behind a white curtain and their silhouettes were cleverly illumined against the scrim. As the track ended, the curtain dropped revealing the giant X (that has become their hipster branding) and their trademark light boxes lit up in the centre of the stage. They immediately followed with “Crystalised” and had the crowd in melancholic rapture. The overall mood was dark and big props have to go out to their lighting team who deftly added excellent atmosphere to the band’s timid and shoegazey stage presence.

Guitarist Romy Madley Croft and bassist Oliver Sim stood on either end of the stage, while beatmaker Jamie Smith worked the drum pads behind them. At times the percussion seemed a bit muted, but the bass drops were deep and rattled appropriately. Croft’s guitar work was a bit rusty, perhaps still adjusting to the absence of rhythm guitarist Baria Qureshi, but I enjoyed the very live feel of it all — a young band on their first big tour, exploring the capabilities and further possibilities of their sound in a live setting. They played every song off their debut album and one cover by UK artist Kyla called “Do You Mind”, which featured Smith manipulating the vocals to great effect and vigorously playing a snare and floor tom during the song’s kick. The additon of real drums is one thing the three-piece will surely realize as a necessary expansion for live gigs, but overall, the xx are a young band with loads of potential and subtle class. I dug it.

Sweden duo jj, on the other hand, played a ridiculous set of their Pitchfork lauded, pot leaf and blood stained album covered, cheese pop garbage, to a very bored and befuddled crowd. jj are sure to fade into indie-rock obscurity just as soon as Pitchfork finds another crappy band they decide to make popular for no reason other than the fact that they can. The singer Elin Kastlander does have a very nice voice, but it could do nothing to save their set from totally sucking. The guy was air-guitaring on stage instead of actually playing the real one next to him. Haha. So bad.

We missed Nosaj because he went on so early, but I have seen him twiddle his knobs before. Next time he comes back, he better bring his visual accompaniment with him. But overall, yes, twas a great night. I’m out.

Beach House at the Opera House in Toronto

March 31, 2010

30 March 2010

Beach House played to a sold out crowd at The Opera House in Toronto on Tuesday night and lulled us with hits from their newest album, Teen Dream. The best word to describe the capacity crowd would be sedate — they stood, unmoving, in typical unenthused Toronto fashion, as the duo with the addition of a live drummer, faithfully rendered their songs live. With eyes closed it was close to impossible to tell the difference between live show and recording, which isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes the joy of a concert is seeing the band jam out a little and reveal new twists and extended codas to favourite songs. Nevertheless, Victoria Legrand’s voice is absolutely stunning live — powerful and assured, yet restrained. I’m sure she can just belt it out if she really wanted to, and it would’ve been nice to hear a bit more of her vocal chops live.

I guess what I’m saying is I felt a bit disappointed, even though the show was totally great. They played just about every song off the new album, plus my personal fave, “Gila” off Devotion, but it simply wasn’t mind blowing. Perhaps, I was expecting too much from a band that writes quiet and sparse pop songs, but still . . . I dunno, maybe the blasé crowd also had something to do with it, or the fact that the sound guy needed to turn up the guitar a bit, or maybe I’m just a curmudgeonly sonofabitch myself, but overall I was underwhelmed.

Our generation’s two greatest forms of entertainment, films and concerts, are supposed to be engaging, unforgettable, thought-provoking, and reassuringly visceral collective experiences that change us, even if only a smidgen. And the best ones do in fact do this. Before the show I completely expected Beach House to be one of these “best ones” — where the crowd leaves the show slightly high, smiling, elevated beyond the normality of life and work and all the stupid stresses that come about in our personal day to day — but unfortunately all I wanted to do after the show was head to the bar for another drink.

Yet, as my friend Trish said as I complained to her about the lackluster crowd, good vibes are infectious, and I guess mine just weren’t reverberating loudly enough last night. Wow. Maybe that one too many drink I had after the show is also inflecting my opinion here. Who knows? I still love the album and the band, but I probably won’t pay 30 bucks to someone on Craigslist for a Beach House ticket again.

Good vibes to you all. Haha.

Hudson Mohawke at Wrongbar in Toronto

March 27, 2010

25 March 2010

Ross Birchard aka Hud Mo played to a wild and packed house at Wrongbar Thursday night. Returning to Toronto after two years for his proper Hogtown ‘debut’, the young producer (who recently released his full-length Butter on Warp), had the crowd acting as if they were at a rock concert. People were crowd surfing, moshing, jumping up on stage, and just going ape shit as he ripped through tracks from his last few releases. It was a great vibe and Hud Mo seemed totally excited at the capacity crowd’s reaction as he threw down his bass heavy crunked beats and “wonky” sounds. To be honest, I find Butter hard to listen to all the way through. It’s a really eclectic mix of almost too many things slapped together, however, it totally worked live, and I was glad I was able to catch this upstart musician at a small venue, cuz he’s about to blow right the fuck up.

A big props has to go out to local promoter and DJ mymanhenri who has helped bring some great talent to Toronto: Flying Lotus, Falty DL, Nosaj Thing, Mayer Hawthorne, Joker, DâM-FunK, and Hudson Mo are just some of the artists he’s helped usher in over the last year. He’s becoming known as a tastemaker around town and deserves all the cred he can get. Please keep it up my man! Good times all around.


The Sashimi Mural

March 14, 2010


Queen Street West just east of Dovercourt

Rather than boarding up a currently abandoned storefront facade with eyesore plywood or covering the windows with garbage bags, the Lens Factory Gallery commissioned some local artists to create a piece of art to conceal the unsightly and make it something worth looking at. For years now, back alleys in Toronto have been hosting some of the most visually vibrant art being made, and with this storefront painting, which I have lovingly dubbed “The Sashimi Mural”, back alley art is brought right up to the front door. And I totally dig it.

From info I’ve gathered on the net, this piece is a collaborative effort from emerging local artists Alexa Hatanaka, Logan Miller, and Kellen Hatanaka, who are part of a collective known as Feed the Ponch. The work is really quite striking, but I think what I like most about it is the geometric shapes on the boy’s hands and face, and the rich complimentary colours of the salmon.

I’d like to see more of this kind of thing in Toronto and hope these talented young artists continue making art in my community. Click on the photo for a bigger view. That’s it, I’m out.

Tortoise at Lee’s Palace in Toronto

February 20, 2010

18 February 2010

Post-rock darlings Tortoise played to a packed house at Lee’s Palace on Thursday night in Toronto and effortlessly showed the crowd why they are one of the best bands in the business. Playing choice tracks from their extensive repertoire, they had us hanging on every note, synth line, and cymbal crash — and I gotta say, the crowd at Lee’s was one of the most agreeable Toronto audiences I’ve experienced in recent memory. Strangers cheered and slapped each other five, all of us momentarily morphing into a contented collective that was simply enraptured by Tortoise’s good vibes.

Tortoise are professional musicians that love what they do, and it’s wonderfully apparent on stage, as they’re grooving and smiling and rocking out a fabulously tight set. With two drum kits up front, and synths, Vibraphone, guitars, and an electronic xylophone set up around them, the quintet played tracks from their latest release “Beacons of Ancestorship”, and fed the crowd hits from “TNT” and “Standards”. They came out for two encores and ended with one of my all time faves, “Glass Museum”. It was an emotional, nostalgic, and mature set that never failed to impress. Simply put, you can’t go wrong seeing these guys.

Tortoise and I have a long history together. I have been with them since the beginning. I’ve seen them play live 7 or 8 times. I saw them at The Magic Stick in Detroit for their “Millions Now Living” tour way back when, where they showed up on stage silent like automatons with little headlamps and played “Djed” in its entirety. Jeff Parker wasn’t even with them yet. And now over a decade later, they’ve only gotten tighter and classier at their craft, and it’s amazing that at the same time they remind me of good times and great memories from the past, they’re also launching me into this new and bright decade. Love ’em.


Monster Mash

November 24, 2009

Southwest corner of Queen and Sherbourne, Toronto, Ontario

Toronto is home to an amazing abundance of street art and graffiti artists. I’ve spotted this particular piece in two different spots along Queen Street, and I’m sure there’s more around the city. They appeared about a month or so before Halloween, and I kept noticing them out of the corner of my eye as I zipped by on my bike en route to work. There’s something about the childlike simplicity that I find appealing. I really dig the use of an already existing “framed canvas”, with the basic squares of complimentary colours, coupled with the pre-designed decal monsters, which the artist lovingly arranged to create what I have dubbed ‘The Monster Mash’. It’s simple, catches the eye, and for some reason makes me happy when I see it.

That’s all. Peace.

Northwest corner of Queen and Vanauley, Toronto

Dog Day at The Horseshoe Tavern

November 8, 2009

5 November 2009

dog day

Halifax quartet Dog Day played The Horseshoe in Toronto on Thursday as part of their extended Pop Explosion tour. The group played a tight and energetic set, clearly in the groove from playing shows every night for the last two weeks. Their new drummer Rob Shedden was a welcome addition, giving hell to his kit in perfect time. The band played their set unabashedly, without a hint of rock star—just good old DIY indie rock. As if we’d been invited to their jam space for a party where they just happened to blast out a set of tunes before they joined us for a beer and a joint. I was impressed and had a really fun night.

Yes, they do sound like Eric’s Trip, but it’s all part and parcel of the Halifax music scene. The Maritime provinces have been producing lo-fi and moody power pop for decades now, and Dog Day fit right in. It’s a sound I yearn for in a sea of ‘dance-rock’ bands, it brings me back to my high-school days, and churns up some heavy nostalgia. Dog Day are one of my favourite ‘newly discovered’ bands of the year, and I expect only more great things from them. Check out their recently released “Concentration” on Outside Music, you will dig.

I didn’t see openers The Balconies or Immaculate Machine because we drank a few pops at home first due to a shortage of beer funds, but the buzz from the crowd seemed very positive. All in all a great night of Canadian indie rock. Peace.

dog day