ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER and HOSPITALITY at the Garrison, Friday, May 4. Rating: NNN
Something didn't quite come together at Eleanor Friedberger's headlining show at the Garrison. The Fiery Furnaces singer and her three-piece band sounded solid enough, and her stage presence was as confident and charismatic as ever. But the set was loaded with unfamiliar new songs, many of them repetitive and still unshaped, that failed to connect with the half-full room. Others did, though, including Stare At The Sun, One-Month Marathon and My Mistake.
Also weird was her bassist, who was either incredibly Zen, stoned or overtired, expending as little energy as humanly possible. By the end, Friedberger seemed frustrated, grumbling about feeling "road rage" during the solo songs she played for the encore. Ironically, the quiet intimacy of those songs - just her lightly plucked guitar, formidable alto and reams of lyrics - made them really stand out.
Openers Hospitality, on the other hand, were exuberant. The Brooklyn band specializes in clean, gleeful indie pop that verges on saccharine but never falls into it, thanks to Amber Papini's near-petulant delivery, guitarist Nathan Michel's busy Televisionesque leads and Brian Betancourt's melodic bass playing.
KID KOALA at 918 Bathurst Centre, Friday, May 4. Rating: NNNN
As a genre built on virtuosic technique and crate-digging for esoteric samples, scratch-based turntablism can be alienating for casual listeners. So kudos to Kid Koala (aka Eric San) for finding a way to make his music accessible and approachable to any fan... even toddlers.
San has always stretched the limits of the genre, and on his latest project he also stretches the limits of his live show. His Space Cadet graphic novel and its soundtrack can be heartbreaking when experienced together, but since that doesn't make for the best dance party, his Space Cadet Headphone Experience sees the audience reclining on inflatable "space pods" (essentially plush cushions) and taking in San's performance through individual pairs of headphones.
Rather than strictly delivering the soundtrack, he performed a career-spanning set that checked off many of his facets: composer, scratcher, artist, storyteller. He cracked as many jokes as samples. That diminished the immersive effect of the headphone experience, but it was impossible not to leave with a grin.
SPIRITUALIZED at the Phoenix, Saturday, May 5. Rating: NNNN
Spiritualized are a consistently satisfying live band, no matter which configuration they're exploring. Whether they're performing with acoustic guitars, choirs and string sections or with a stageful of synths, Marshall amps and lasers, the impact is surprisingly similar but effective.
Without moving or talking much, bandleader and only constant member Jason Pierce (aka J. Spaceman) conducts the hypnotic, pulsing walls of sound that fans come out for. At the Phoenix, he achieved that not with effects pedals and electronics but with the arrangements themselves, making great use of the female backing vocalists. Stripped of some lushness, this less ethereal version still had the power to put us into altered states of consciousness.
There's a subsection of bands that define themselves early on by narrow parameters and then spend the rest of their careers experimenting within them. Just like we wouldn't want Motörhead to suddenly reinvent themselves, there's no reason for Spiritualized to dramatically change things up.
PRINCE INNOCENCE with ELL V GORE and MAUSOLEUM at the Silver Dollar, Saturday, May 5. Rating: NNN
In its quest to promote young Toronto bands of all genres and styles, last year's inaugural Thaw Festival presented lineups that were cohesive despite their eclecticism. The final night of this year's festival, rechristened No Thaw, indicated that the organizers have largely abandoned that paint-at-the-walls approach but have retained a focus on fresh, underappreciated local sounds.
At the Silver Dollar, the bands all drew from the same well: 70s/80s British underground. Mausoleum's wiry post-punk resembled the Cure at their rockiest, but they were a little rough around the edges. Ell V Gore, despite a noisy style that flirts with No Wave, were a tight, well-oiled unit that seems to improve with every performance.
The late-night draw was Prince Innocence, the new duo of Josh McIntyre of Little Girls and his girlfriend, Talvi Faustmann. McIntyre covered keys and drums, while Faustmann added spectral, airy vocals. Their dark take on 80s synth-pop was impressively atmospheric and hooky, though Faustmann's occasionally stilted stage presence reminded us that this was their first performance.