STARS as part of INDIE 88 POWER PARTY at Lee's Palace, Saturday, January 18. Rating: NNNN
It's a bit ironic that swoony stalwarts Stars' would-be hit Hold On When You Get Love features this knowing gem of a line: "The world won't listen to this song / And the radio won't play it...." Well, thanks to Indie 88, their hometown now has a station that will, which brought the band back to their old stomping grounds to celebrate.
When they kicked things off with The Night Starts Here, it was hard not to wonder if Stars' epic sound no longer translates to smaller rooms, but the initially muddy audio was quickly resolved. Recent tunes like Song Is A Weapon showcased the full-on rock spectacle the band now trades in, complete with frontman Torquil Campbell's requisite anti-Stephen Harper tirades and angel-voiced singer/guitarist Amy Millan's adorably gushy T-dot anecdotes.
They may not be the twinkly popsters of yesteryear, but Stars still know how to deliver on their dark/light ethos, prefacing Midnight Coward with a tease of comrade Kevin Drew's new single, Good Sex, and bantering about death by hugging before a note-perfect reading of Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.
JAKE BUGG with ALBERT HAMMOND JR and THE SKINS at Sound Academy, Tuesday, January 14. Rating: NNN
The Skins, a NYC five-piece whose members range in age from 15 to 21, started the night with a half-hour set that had a distinctly 80s hard rock flavour. Incessantly hair-whipping vocalist Bayli Mckeithan showed serious chops and frontwoman skills.
Albert Hammond Jr. and his band let loose with their tripartite guitar attack that went past loud and into the realm of molecular vibration. Hammond's cold made his voice scratchier than usual, adding a pleasantly gruff edge to the songs.
Jake Bugg's set was much sparser. His drummer and bassist parked themselves on the far sides of the stage, leaving the young folkie to enjoy the spotlight. Bugg didn't need to do much to elicit a response from the crowd, but the relatively sedate performance failed to captivate those at the fringes until he went electric halfway through. At that point, his reedy voice soared above the band's surprisingly full sound.
An abrupt ending startled the crowd, but a lively rendition of Lightning Bolt during the encore sparked raucous cheering once again.
Stephen Du Manoir
THE PIXIES and FIDLAR at Massey Hall, Wednesday, January 15. Rating: NNNN
L.A. skate punks Fidlar's fly-by set of moshable micro-songs about girls, drugs and misspent youth was a great warm-up for what quickly turned into a standing-up-in-the-seats love-in for alt-rock heroes the Pixies.
The Pixies are touring a couple of new EPs minus bassist Kim Deal (who left the band last year), and their career-spanning two-hour set reminded us that they cannot be pigeonholed. The four-piece sashayed smoothly between acoustic/electric alt-pop, noisy rock and psychedelic experimentation, with some spoken word thrown in on new song Indie Cindy.
Touring bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) fit right in and seemed super-stoked to be playing and singing with the band. She kept moving as she laid down the grooves, and the crowd did, too.
The show felt like a temporary suspension of time, with Here Comes Your Man, Where Is My Mind and Gouge Away all sounding more present-day than nostalgic - and new songs like Bagboy and Magdalena could almost pass as classics.
ART DEPARTMENT, ÂME and NITIN at CODA, Saturday, January 18. Rating: NNNN
Art Department and Âme are a big draw, but a major reason why the lineup outside CODA was so long was everyone's eagerness to see the venue itself at its official grand opening. Run by the people behind the now closed Footwork, CODA (previously the Annex Wreckroom) is about twice as big as that club.
Though the plan is to expand beyond the chugging tech house that was Footwork's specialty, opening night at CODA wasn't a big departure. Âme's Kristian Beyer delivered the big melodies and moody chords the German duo are loved for, while local opener Nitin stood out even more with eclectic programming and plenty of unexpected twists and turns.
It was obvious when Art Department took over the decks that the hometown deep house duo were the night's real stars. Jonny White and Kenny Glasgow have developed obvious chemistry behind the mixing board, and their DJ sets reveal a much wider range of influences than is apparent on their recordings alone.
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL at Kool Haus, Monday, January 20. Rating: NNNN
Few things are as transcendental as hearing the song In The Aeroplane Over The Sea at full volume, performed by the guy who wrote it - Jeff Mangum, looking very much like Ian Blurton, with a scraggly beard, haunted eyes, long hair and cap - and the hobbit-like musicians who played it on Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 album of the same name.
The song - much less disturbed than most of the others - is about the fleetingness of life, about being young and in love and knowing it won't last forever and therefore relishing it while you can. The all-ages Kool Haus crowd took the words to heart and seized the moment, singing along and swaying and waving lighters, knowing full well that Mangum might decide to disappear again for another 15 years.
Aeroplane came about halfway through the hour-long set, and nothing else matched its intensity, though the mosh-worthy King Of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3 near the beginning and the stunningly spare Oh Comely near the end - just Mangum and horn player Scott Spillane under spotlights - came close.