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Mainstream Biffy

Approaching winter down under, it was predictably crisp in Melbourne this past Wednesday night as approximately 700 people waited to enter The Hi-Fi Bar and Ballroom, to see Scottish Alt-Rockers Biffy Clyro strut their stuff. While I know some gig attendees prefer to be surprised with who are supporting the headline act, this night proved why I am exactly the opposite. Unannounced, local post-rock quartet These Hands Could Separate the Sky appeared and proceeded to open up with a 10 minute instrumental. Considering Biffy Clyro’s newfound gain in popularity, the support could not have been more poorly chosen. I am definitely no post-rock expert, so these guys could have been the greatest band of all time for all I knew. However, the fit was bad and the lukewarm response they received proved it.

Post-Rock…Ugh!

Following a rather long tuning session of all instruments by 2 roadies, the Scottish trio finally arrived on stage to anything but a lukewarm reaction. Raucous is a more appropriate description as Biffy Clyro tore straight into my #4 song of 2009; ‘That Golden Rule’. Even more energetic and frantic than the studio version, the symphonic finale was barely missed since the guys worked like a well-oiled machine all night to produce a stunning musical accompaniment to Simon Neil’s rapid-fire, pleading howls. For the following hour and a half, one could not help but be extremely impressed by the front man’s ability to pull…

There’s something so entrancing about the grimy heart of downtown Los Angeles. The old, art deco theaters converted into pawn shops and jewelry exchanges, the frames of the high-rises blocking out any of the remaining evening sunlight, and if you’re anywhere more than a two blocks away from the Staples Center and LA Live how even the fast food restaurants shut down early due to the city’s overall shadiness. In this run down and burnt out shell of a bustling metropolis lies the Mayan Theater. Despite lying in the heart of what is essentially a slum, the Mayan is Los Angeles’ most architecturally stunning venue, featuring hand carved walls and supports that make visitors feel like they’ve stepped into the Temple of Doom, not to mention it also houses the biggest god damn disco ball I have ever seen over its stage. Last night Minus the Bear owned it. Having sold out the 1500 seat venue, they were joined by indie-pop upstarts Young the Giant and bluesy alt-rockers Everest.

Young the Giant started things off. With the crowd still filling in, they played a rather entertaining set full of jangly tunes that came off sounding like a slightly less adventurous version of The Dodos. Once the crowd, an awkward and segregated mix of NPR types and teenage scenesters, warmed up to them they fed off of the audience’s applause, making the final half of their set more lively than the first. Everest on the other hand, while good…

If you’ve read my reviews for Pavement’s Quarantine The Past or Malkmus’ solo album Real Emotional Trash, it’s really no secret that I adore the band. Unfortunately, I was 9 years old when Pavement broke up and at the time probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, if I had even known. I was 9, I didn’t listen to music and I sure as shit didn’t care about some awkward indie band. I grew to care, though. A lot. Fast forward to adolescent me, trapped somewhere between overlapping fashion trends and habitual mood changes, and the demise of Malkmus, Kannberg, and co. was suddenly a big deal, regardless of how late I’d arrived to the party. Total bummer. What was left for me? Over time I’d learn every word to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, spend lazy Sunday afternoons pouring over special editions of Slanted and Enchanted and Wowee Zowee, and hell, I discovered The Fall simply because Mark E. Smith once contemptuously remarked of the band: “It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads”.

But, obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this if things had stayed that way. No, our old friends decided to give this whole touring business another go, no less than a decade after they originally called it quits and I was there to witness the conclusion of a 4-day run of sets at the O2 Academy Brixton. To warrant four back-to-back shows in such a high…

There’s a certain almost unexplainable grandeur about The National. It feels inherent in everything they do – the quiver in Matt Berninger’s baritone, the forcefulness of Bryan Devendorf’s drumming – and this quality was none more evident than last night at the Royal Albert Hall in London. As the lights dimmed and the five nearly still silhouettes on stage broke the nervous, excited silence with the first chords of “Mistaken for Strangers”, lead singer Matt Berninger beckoned the seated crowd beyond the standing pit to their feet, engaging them like a group of friends. The energy seemed to rush forward with every knee buckled upright, back past where I stood in the huddled standing crowd and on to the stage where these Ohio-born musicians had only just begun to charm a crowd that had long since fallen in love with them. They already had us in the palms of their hands.

All photography by David Emery


The show continued with this same momentous energy, following with “Anyone’s Ghost”, before reaching one of the many highlights of the night, just 2 songs in, “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. A staple in their live set since early 2009, it elevated the already terrific atmosphere into something close to life-affirming, the crowd moving and holding on to every word as Berninger collapsed into the exhausted “I’m on a bloodbuzz….God I am” chorus. Boxer favourite “Slow Show” was another highlight, coming in about half way through the initial…

Photo courtesy of BrooklynVegan.com

Waking up from a generous two hours of sleep on Sunday didn’t really do wonders for my outlook on the day, and it was obvious from the moment I entered back onto the festival grounds that a lot of people felt the same way. The whole vibe on Sunday was entirely different from the rest of the festival, a feeling of comedown shaded with “I can’t believe this is almost over.” It was sort of depressing, but the lineup more than made up with it with more of my favorite bands than either of the two previous days.

I first proceeded to the Sahara to see English dubstep producer Rusko, despite my earlier promise that I couldn’t handle any more wobble in my life. Rusko has always been more accessible than the darker dubstep that many of his countrymen prefer, injecting elements of house and dance with an upbeat sound that had the mid-afternoon crowd shaking off any Tiesto hangover they might have brought along. Following that I hustled over to the Outdoor Stage to see a bit of Deerhunter’s trippy live act, a frenetic set unfortunately marred by numerous technical difficulties. Bradford Cox’s unveiling of a new Deerhunter song that name-dropped “Coachella 2010” in the chorus was the clear winner amongst the crowd.

Florence and the Machine had the Gobi tent packed far past capacity by the time the redheaded songstress finally made it on stage fifteen minutes past…

Woke up at seven in the morning, went to the communal showers at the campgrounds, finally succeeded in showering by 9:30. Did I mention camping was a terrible idea? Although I had marked down Portugal. The Man as my likely first set of the day, the intense heat at the campgrounds had me headed for any shade I could find at the festival. I decided to hit up Rx Bandits on Sputnik’s recommendation and was presently surprised – despite the rather small showing thanks to the early (12:30) set time, the band played their hearts out on the Outdoor Stage, causing a number of passerby to question who they were. The guitar dueling between Matt Embree and Steve Choi was a particular highlight, the group making a good case for a later time slot next year with a high-energy set that leaned heavily on the group’s newest album Mandala.

Portugal. The Man predictably tore it up over at the Gobi stage shortly after two, playing to a crowd that was already spilling far out of the tent by 2:30. The band was expansive and appropriately psychedelic in the desert heat, with frontman John Gourley leading the way with memorable guitar lines and a confident vocal performance that the crowd took to immediately. The best received were those off The Satanic Satanist, particularly the sing-a-longs of “The Sun” and “People Say,” and the feedback-drenched jam session that they closed with set the bar quite high for the…

Photo courtesy of Format Mag

Even several days after the end, it’s hard for me to talk about Coachella in very many concrete terms. I saw a lot of artists; I met a bunch of people and even more freakshows; I spent my nights and mornings in campgrounds that would have called for UNICEF intervention in a 3rd world country; my sobriety was tested early and often; and I had more fun than I ever would have expected possible in such a short period. Those are the facts as I can see them now, and I certainly have plenty of opinions below. But as a whole? Coachella is difficult to conceptualize and even harder to summarize, a three-day festival that transforms a white-collar polo field into a musical oasis under the blazing hot desert sun. There were really only three constants over the three days: heat, drugs, and music. I was ready for the first, unsurprised but a little shocked at the overwhelming prevalence of the second, and (for the most part) utterly floored by the latter. Coachella is an experience, and anyone who tries to describe it in words will be doing a disservice. It’s more than just who played what and how well they played it, but it’s also so evasive a feeling that it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. So please, if you ever have a chance, be it to make it to Coachella or Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza…

The Bronx

Call me old fashioned, but there are few things in this world better than a quality punk show. The two hour dance-a-thon of a Girl Talk gig comes close, and even then, that’s more of a having a chill time fun, not the shit yourself kind of adrenaline rush fun that was on display at the El Rey theater on April 20th. Fresh off of a world-wide touring haul, The Bronx, and their mariachi alter-egos Mariachi El Bronx, were finally back home in Los Angeles, and from the looks of things, they couldn’t have been happier. Joining the LA natives were Aussie grunge-fanatics Violent Soho and the eccentric rootsy blues of Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss.

Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss kicked off the night. As they took the stage one couldn’t help but be intrigued. Wheeler’s sharp get-up and life-worn face made him seem like a visage of a younger Tom Waits at first glance, and with his guitarist Schloss armed with a beaten twelve-string and hiding behind a veil of Jerry Garcia-esque facial hair, they ripped through set of country tinged acoustic numbers filled with stories about hard women and hard drinking. Wheeler’s voice was well suited for his worldly tales, but it was Schloss that stole the show; his old guitar belting out emotive blues progressions and twangy pentatonic runs.

Mariachi El Bronx were up next. Dressed in full costume, the LA punks’ playful homage to the Mexican heritage of their hometown was…

The night of Sunday March 28 was a busy one in Melbourne town. Over 100,000 rev-heads had just got high on the exhaust fumes of the Australian Grand Prix and were now looking for somewhere to have dinner… A Greek festival had shut down an entire city street… The Melbourne International Comedy Festival seemingly had over 100 shows in bars & clubs… And Brand New were wowing a loyal audience at The Palace Theatre. However, my choice for the night was the Welsh double bill of Lostprophets & The Blackout, both of whom were long overdue a visit down under. 

A half-hour delay in opening the doors is never a positive, but it’s even less so when rain is threatening and the majority of the queue are made to wait in a rather pongy alley. Upon entry into Billboards, the timeliness did not improve since Mrs. Boy & I had ample time to purchase a shirt & down 2 terribly over-priced beverages each. The roadies were doing their usual thing, as were their sons. Oh, hang on a tick; that was the local (Sydney) support band Tonight Alive…..

Most pundits at the venue had no idea there was even going to be a local support (it was announced a week before the show) & you could almost feel the groans when the kids (the drummer looked about 12) came out to play. Thankfully, the mood picked up when the lead vocalist appeared. Taking a huge leaf out of…

Spring Break was supposed to be something like The Best Week Ever (not the show, just its literal title). I had a job working 6th street in Austin, Texas where the biggest music extravaganza would be taking over. Make bank, watch a few bands, mock crazy drunkards. Spring Break! 2010! Let’s go!

68 hours of work and one show later, I don’t have much but a decent check with overtime, lost sounds of music emanating from venues (to note: YACHT, Javelin, Califone, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Frightened Rabbit, Acid Mothers Temple) and the bizarre image of drugged out frat boys crawling across beams to the tunes of Maps and Atlases. This particular free show (lovingly dubbed South by South Mess) took place at the 21st St. Co-op, a place notorious for its outrageous (and partially nude) parties, and Friday’s event (leading up to the night’s headliner, Andrew W.K.) proved no different. If only I could explain the shape and architecture of this labyrinth, but upon late arrival (nearly 1 a.m.) I can only remember throngs of people spilling from the streets, from every door, spooling around corners into the backyard and up the stairs until eventually an impatient line broke forth into a jittery group of college students ready to rock out. And that they did, in mesmerizingly unique and gradually hostile ways: as the band (obscured by the freakishly tall gaggle of kids that positioned themselves directly in front) broke out into “Every Place is a House,” limbs flailed…

Sunday was the big finale as far as scheduling goes but a pretty barren night as far as the actual schedule. With only ten shows to choose from, my decision was obvious: Dillinger Escape Plan.

SputnikMusic and its staff have been drooling over Dillinger Escape Plan’s new album, Option Paralysis, since we got our promo copy a few weeks back. Having been a huge fan of the band through their first two albums and the Irony is a Dead Scene EP, but also having been majorly let down by Ire Works, I was endlessly excited to see Dillinger. It was also somewhat of an anniversary for me, since I hadn’t seen them for about 6 years when I watched them destroy the now-defunct Rockit club about a week before Miss Machine came out. But Dillinger was just one of four bands listed on the bill, the others being Animals as Leaders, Iwrestledabearonce and Darkest Hour.

Waiting for Animals as Leaders to set-up it became very clear pretty quickly that, uh, they weren’t. Doors to the Opera House were at 7 and at around 730 I saw some instruments being shuffled about and drums being set up, but it wasn’t Animals as Leaders. Instead Iwrestledabearonce was opening and, as suspected, they later announced that Animals as Leaders couldn’t make it. I guess they had a problem crossing the border.

Iwrestledabearonce are a band with a clearcut gimmick, their off-the-wall aesthetic and shtick made

Friday night was up in the air as far as plans. There was only one band I’d really planned to see, Gypsophilia, so I made sure to get to Rancho Relaxo early enough to ensure I didn’t miss anything. Climbing up the narrow flight of stairs to the restaurant’s upper floor I felt like I was waking into a time-shift. I immediately heard what was the cacophanous sound of a 7 piece sound check, and the venue itself was not as I’d usually seen it. Any time I’ve been to a show at Rancho, it’s been one of those sweaty, curse-the-ceiling-fan kind of gigs. This wasn’t the case. It was about quarter to 9, so I had time before their set to scope things out. What I saw was the crowd was much older than the typical Canadian Music Fest variety: there was more than one set of sons and daughters with mothers and fathers. And there was a coat hanger, not coat check, and there were tables and it was just surreal. Well, not surreal, just atypical. I waited for a friend to arrive and quickly spotted the band members sauntering about. To say they stood out wouldn’t have been a stretch: the trumpetist, who must have been at least 8 feet tall, was wearing a suit with matching pork-pie hat. The bassist came off as Matt Stone in costume: pinstripes, bowtie and moustache were all there. But the image fit the bill, something that took just a few…

For better or worse, Canadian Music Week is always a cluster fuck. First off, the performances were all crammed into “Canadian Music Fest,” which is exactly the same thing as Canadian Music Week; they’ve just decided to compartmentalize it this time year. Secondly, you’ve probably seen a few non-Canadian names headlining the bill on the festival’s main poster. Now we should get it straight, Canadian Music Week (and therefore Canadian Music Fest) isn’t just about showcasing Canadian music. International acts have always been highlights (as you’ll read later), and there’s always been an element to exposing these cross-national acts to Torontonian ears. But Ke$ha and Daughtry, the two most damning names on the Canadian Music Fest poster, are not Canadian, nor are they in any need of exposure. The thing is their inclusion on the poster is consequential: Ke$ha was playing a “Fan Fest” for Chum FM, the “mom jeans” of Toronto radio stations. So the wristbands, which sold for $60 and gave access to every non-VIP Canadian Music Fest concert, didn’t actually get you into Ke$ha. Colour me heartbroken.

Daughtry? Well honestly, I don’t know how that happened, where it happened or even if it happened. If it did, I wasn’t there.

Here’s where I was.

On Wednesday, otherwise known as the first day of the festival, I was nowhere. I went down to the Royal York Fairmont Hotel to pick up my wristband and that was pretty intimidating. I walked in and was immediately surrounded by guys who…

Of the major music festivals in the United States, tickets to Austin’s South by Southwest festival are by far the most expensive.  Still, in the “world capital of live music”, Austin brings in more groups than any festival in the country, likely in the world.  As your average citizen, I did not have the money for a SXSW wristband or badge, but during the time of SXSW, many unofficial, free shows take place all around the city.

In three days, I managed to see 26 different artists at countless different venues.  Instead of writing a full feature profiling every performance I saw, I decided to forego some of the tediousness of a 26-band review of my experience and simply give some highlights of the festival.

Minus the Bear:  Starting from the end, Minus the Bear were the very last group I saw, going on just before midnight on Saturday night at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop.  The show had two purposes—a promotion of Dangerbird Records artists and a benefit for the Pablove Foundation, a fundraising organization for children’s cancer research.  Clearly, everyone in the crowd that night had been waiting to see Minus the Bear, and the anticipation was high.  Audience members told Dangerbird Records CEO and founder of the Pablove Foundation Jeff Castelaz to “shut the fuck up” so Minus the Bear could play.  Castelaz made them feel like dicks after he explained how he founded the Pablove Foundation after his child, Pablo, died of cancer at age 6.

Minus…

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