april 2, pilate
Given the number of A&R reps per square inch at Pilate's Reverb showcase, you might have expected something more than the blandest Coldplay cover band this side of Starsailor.
The four-piece had all the moves down, from the swelling choruses to a crooning lead singer with acoustic guitar. The only wrinkle was the glum-looking backing band, who seemed like they'd be more excited unclogging a sink than playing in front of the city's music biz power brokers.
april 3, neal pollack
He's perhaps the only writer to sell tour shirts at his readings, so the sight of Neal Pollack performing with a live rock band shouldn't come as a surprise. For his Toronto appearance at the 360, the man who calls himself America's Greatest Living Writer was backed by the suburban Toronto combo Sudden Interest in Connecticut, who'd e-mailed Pollack asking to back him up.
The format was simple: Pollack set a tempo, the band started playing and then the author would begin yelling about dildos and Albania. That each of the band's songs sounded like Yo la Tengo was of less concern than Pollack's appalling singing voice, but let's see Michael Ondaatje rip his shirt off and kick a beer stein into the crowd.
april 3, tanya donelly
Maybe juggling motherhood and touring is wearing Tanya Donelly down, 'cause her performance at Lee's lacked heart. The set was scattered, with extended lags between tunes (Donelly disappeared in search of a capo at one point and made light of the confusion with self-deprecating comments about her failure as a road manager), and everyone onstage just seemed pooped. Newer tunes like Wraparound Skirt and Moonbeam Monkey garnered merely polite applause, while the crowd went apeshit over oldie-but-goodie Belly numbers. Donelly seemed a bit pissed at the mixed response. Still, her solo encore of The Bees, from Belly's breakout King disc, was hypnotic.
april 4, paul kelly
For Toronto's Australian expats, the chance to get up close and personal with Melbourne's Paul Kelly, aka "the People's Poet," in a club the size of the Horseshoe was a rare treat. Only, having requests repeatedly shouted in your face by loudmouthed louts can take some of the fun out of playing more intimate venues. Kelly was too gracious to do anything but nod and wink before getting on with job of plugging his recent ...Nothing But A Dream disc. Attempts at electronically updating his folkie acoustic sound fell flat, but a couple of lame tunes didn't stop the enthusiastic bunch up front from raising their fists and whooping at each drop of a familiar Oz landmark. Eventually, the Australian flag someone had brought was unfurled and shaken at the stage, although Kelly pretended not to notice.
april 6, girlsareshort
It's hard to know what to make of local cuties girlsareshort. Their strange brew of deconstructed Sonic Youth riffs, loungey melodies, zigzaggy beats and choirboy vocals kicks ass. But the tunes don't translate live. Sandwiched in between two solid bands during Saturday night's Indie Popfest at the Rivoli, the duo seemed weirded out by the crowd. Shrouded in identical heather-grey hoodies and baggy skater jeans, they were more like hybrid hobbit sound guys than performers. Neither boy made eye contact. They wandered aimlessly, singing inscrutable lyrics and tinkering with mixing boards while bobbing catatonically. Even the impromptu breakdancing interlude didn't make the set watchable. Skip 'em live, but pick up their first disc, Contact Kiss, just released on Hi-Hat Records (the home of kooky Spookey Ruben, who has a similar weirdo vibe).
april 6, exclaim! anniversary
The sight of unhappy ticket-holders standing on the sidewalk outside Lee's Palace being told that the club was at capacity did not bode well for Exclaim! Magazine's 10th-anniversary bash.
The combination of a huge crowd, poor timing of sets and only one staircase meant that once Manitoba's set finished upstairs in the Dance Cave, the crush of people streaming downstairs for Antibalas was overwhelming. The bouncers barking at folks who were trying to catch a bit of air at the back to "move forward so we can fit more people in here" didn't do much to help the situation.
Antibalas and flu-ridden DJ A Man Called Warwick did rock the house in funky Afrobeat style, but the dozens of people who left rather than overheat were not amused.