ALL TORONTO'S PARTIES in Kensington Market and other venues, Saturday, May 24. Rating: NNNN
For the second edition of All Toronto's Parties, the organizers took the theme of collaboration to absurd lengths. Curated and run by a growing team of indie labels and promoters (Weird Canada, Wavelength, Pleasence Records, Feast in the East, Silent Shout and Healing Power), the mini-festival focused on one-off experimental supergroups, combining performers from a wide range of local weirdo musician scenes into even stranger new configurations.
The daytime portion of the event was like a musical scavenger hunt, with small makeshift stages set up all over Kensington Market, which in some cases meant the performers had to collaborate with the surrounding environment and sounds. The no-shoes rule for Castlevania's afternoon set at the Krudar Muay Thai studio made for a stinky room, but their brain-melting, synth-fuelled cover of the Velvet Underground's noise rock anthem Sister Ray made it worthwhile. Later, the nighttime show at the Comfort Zone was loud enough to drown out your own thoughts.
The result? The ambitious project oscillated wildly between inspiringly creative and aggressively irritating, with just enough of the former to justify waiting out the latter. Highlights of the 10-hour event included the fractured folk songs of Isla Craig, the deafening noise rock techno of Fresh Snow and Jamie Kidd hybrid Frisch Kind, and the minimalist psychedelic disco of Nature.
PANDA BEAR at the Opera House, Tuesday, May 20. Rating: NNNN
Six years after Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) released his breakthrough album Person Pitch, the Baltimore native and Animal Collective member finally made his much-awaited (and long overdue) solo debut in Toronto. But rather than play material from his previous albums, he surprised the packed crowd with a preview of Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, a new album to be released later this year.
Judging from the show, the record is full of classic Lennox tricks: swampy modulating samples layered until they sound as if they're bubbling underwater; driving drums punctuated by alien effects; vocals that vary from banshee shrieks to soft coos.
But most interesting - besides the backing visuals of naked women, gummy bears, twirling snakes and technicolour clouds by artist Danny Perez - was witnessing how Panda Bear created his complex soundscapes. Starting with a bass or drum sample, he slowly added more samples - all drenched in woozy effects - until he reached peak density, when he finally added his vocals, which were then looped on the spot. Slowly retracting layers and subtly inserting new sounds, his transitions were so climactic that the crowd's anticipation between songs was palpable.
DANIEL ROMANO, SHOTGUN JIMMIE and WEATHER STATION as part of YOU'VE CHANGED RECORDS FIFTH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT at the Horseshoe, Thursday, May 22. Rating: NNNN
To celebrate its fifth anniversary, Welland-based You've Changed Records (founded by Constantines' Steve Lambke and Attack in Black's Daniel Romano and Ian Kehoe) staged a full-on love-in at the Horseshoe Tavern.
Toronto's beloved Weather Station reunited for the occasion and even played a handful of new songs from an upcoming LP that showcased lead singer Tamara Lindeman's deep, smoky voice and nimble guitar-plucking. Daniel Romano and his backing band, the Trilliums, were the night's not-so-surprising surprise guests. The country crooner, sporting a cowboy hat and leather boots, had us eating up every word of his 1960s-inspired hurtin' cowboy ballads.
In fact, Romano's raise-your-arm-in-the-air-and-say-yee-haw set would have been the perfect ending to the night if not for Shotgun Jimmie's encore performance of his song You've Changed from 2009's Paint It Pink EP. An ode to high school (but also a nod to the label), the lo-fi jam had Jimmie belting out, "You've changed, I know I don't feel the same." But in the case of the ever-evolving, tight-knit family at YC, change is - apparently - good.
CHILLY GONZALES, EVE EGOYAN, AFIARA STRING QUARTET at Koerner Hall, Friday, May 23. Rating: NNN
It was difficult to find any through-line between the four pieces that made up the 21C Festival's Friday program (aside from the fact that three were world premieres), but the night was still enjoyable.
The first half showcased the Afiara String Quartet playing the head-spinning, atonal Jagged Edges by and with pianist Uri Caine, and the cajón-fuelled Requiem Flamenco by Javier Limón, a work made up of three long movements that had sensuality but lacked soul. The post-intermission collaborative piece Surface Tension saw Eve Egoyan playing minimally on a disklavier, an acoustic piano with a computer interface, while David Rokeby's projections - rippling water, geometric towers, snowfall - screened overhead to delicate, evocative effect.
No surprise, Chilly Gonzales's headlining performance was most entertaining. Hunched at his piano in a pair of slippers and delivering comments with a side of humour, he debuted his Suite From The Shadow For Chamber Ensemble, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale for adults. It was dynamic and invigorating, moving through myriad moods (including one he later referred to as "stoner tango") and employing the Madawaska Quartet, a flautist and French horn player. The "rap song" follow-up, deeply rhythmic and bassy, earned him and the musicians a standing O.