SNOWBLINK and DOOMSQUAD as part of FIRST THURSDAYS: LONG WINTER TAKEOVER at the AGO, Thursday, January 2. Rating: NNN
The two marquee music performances at First Thursdays: Long Winter Takeover were a study in contrasts.
Toronto indie pop duo Snowblink (backed by four other musicians) appeared in a black-walled room under bright lights, singer Daniela Gesundheit ethereal in a long forest-green velvet dress, playing an antlered guitar. There was a helluva lot of reverb in the sky-high space, but it suited their dreamy space-folk vibe. "It's like we're all in a really nice shower together," Gesundheit said.
Montreal sibling trio Doomsquad were decidedly less inviting, playing behind toxic green lights and a chicken wire installation they made themselves. Percussive instruments injected light into the band's shadowy experimentation. A flautist lent levity to the Darth Vader-style vocal distortion, and an engaging didgeridoo sequence made the swoony waves of seasick reverberating noise more accessible.
A strong beat often added shape to the psychedelic squalls and dense feedback. Challenging, yes, especially by set's end, but never staid.
MIMICO as part of FEAST IN THE EAST at Gerrard Art Space, Saturday, January 4. Rating: NNN
When the Feast In The East concert series started in the spring of 2011, it seemed like a cheeky response to the perception that the west end was becoming too expensive to support the vibrant underground live music scene it had been known for. Thirty-three shows later, it's proven there's an undeniably strong young artistic community establishing itself on the other side of the Don Valley. The event has changed locations a few times since it launched, but the overall concept has remained constant: DIY venue, great local bands and free food.
Pairing the hypnotic droning space rock of headliners Mimico with the angular post-punk of openers Bella Akira and New Fries was an odd aesthetic choice, but loud volume in a small space meant no one was in danger of nodding off. Combining elements of chugging Krautrock with sludgy hard rock riffing and chilly goth atmospherics for a sound that's familiar but not derivative, Mimico seemed charmingly unsure of how to respond to applause. Musically, though, they came across much more assertive than on their recordings.
THE SILVER HEARTS at Tranzac, Saturday, January 4. Rating: NNNN
Saturday's Silver Hearts show at Tranzac was a triumphantly fun set performed to a packed crowd. So packed, in fact, that one audience member cleared away tables for a dance floor.
Listening to the band's albums, you could easily lose sight of the fact that Silver Hearts are a musical freight train live, barrelling at you with their strange concoction of blues, folk, ragtime, jazz and Tin Pan Alley peppered with creepy saw solos, and sometimes sounding like you're at a wake.
They don't take themselves too seriously (one song was a soliloquy on the erotic life of Wookies), but they aren't just kitschy either: this is tear-in-your-beer bar music at its best.
Fronted by (the very tall) Trevor "Tiny" Davis, the Silver Hearts took turns singing the tunes: accordionist Kelly Pineault sang Danny, and harmonica player Patrick Walsh took lead on my personal favourite, Whiskey Talkin'. And good news: the band plans to make a new record (its first in eight years) this year.
LISA BOZIKOVIC, CHRIS CUMMINGS, RYAN DRIVER, SIMONE SCHMIDT, THOM GILL and ALEX LUKASHEVSKY as part of TORONTO DOES TORONTO at Holy Oak, Sunday, January 5. Rating: NNN
It was hard not to spend much of Toronto Does Toronto thinking about when Jennifer Castle might release her follow-up to 2011's Castlemusic. Two of the night's performers, Lisa Bozikovic and Alex Lukashevsky, chose to cover Castle songs, testament to the blues-folk singer/songwriter's influential powers.
But there were other highlights, too. Thom Gill stunned the loud talkers into silence with his soul-jazz interpretation of Ronley Teper's Single Girl; Simone Schmidt and Doug Paisley made a powerhouse duo covering deep cuts by Crash Vegas and Handsome Ned; and Chris Cummings's (formerly Mantler) rendition of Double Suicide, by Sandro Perri, with airy backup vocals by Ryan Driver, helped give the night momentum.
Maybe the bleak weather was to blame, but songs with depressing subject matter - two about ending your life - featured prominently. Gill's choice of closer, a chordally colourful reimagining of John Southworth's One Winter Rose, warmed us up enough to deal with the sleet pinging against Holy Oak's windows.