Posts Tagged 'toronto'

Cool Toronto Improvised Music

Marjan shared this site with me – she’s always finding me cool shit on the internet: It’s called Audio Pollination, and it’s a series of improvised musical performances over near Trinity Bellwoods. The blogsite shares the music and the names of performers, upcoming performance dates, and some of the pieces are downloadable. I’ll be gorging myself today on this. Yum. 


Buke and Gass at the Music Gallery

The Info Pusher and I have been making a point of taking in shows at The Music Gallery the last couple of years. It’s always a great experience: located in an old church with ghostly magical phantom sounds and gaggles of music-school nerds (who sport more interesting sub-fashions than you’ll see elsewhere, including pompadors of piled hair), the music is always a little over my head and mind-expanding. This week was the Music Gallery’s Avant X New Music Series V.6.

Last night she took me to see Buke and Gass who were NPR phenoms last year, getting promo’d on Radiolab and their own Tiny Desk Concert. They make their own instruments, amps and pedals, and make a massive amount of sound for a duo.

They were the third of three acts following a free-music sax player named Lori Freedman and a percussion sextet named Mantra, who played 6 2-by-4s with contact mics on them for an hour. Both of these acts were interesting, sometimes fascinating, generally challenging. As often happens, myself and the lovely Pusher had radically different reactions at times – she was astonished when, halfway through the Mantra piece*, I mimed blowing my head off. Apparently she was riveted and in heaven. Trying to figure out those reactions afterwards is half the fun.

Buke and Gass played really rocking, heavy music with intricate, precise structures that reminded me of the Rheostatics jamming with PJ Harvey. I loved it. The IP preferred the concept to the realization. You make up your own mind: go.

Here’s another track called Revel in Contempt.

… And here’s the Mantra Piece (Timber) in excerpt:

Free show sounds like a great idea

It is a really nice thing about living in a big city that free concerts come your way fairly often – last couple of years especially in TO. When I was a wee lass in Sarnia, I coveted the mythical “concert in the park” experience. You know, because of Simon and Garfunkel.

So it was not super-reluctantly that I went with some friends last night to see lady kd lang behind Roy Thompson Hall. We had burritos in our hands and it was nice out and I’d never seen a show in the middle of the bidniss district, among the tall buildings.

But it was a weird night – and not a great show. For starters, I’m used to us being the oldies at a show, with all our 40-ness. Nothing against old people – I’m just noticing: the crowd was oolldd. And the crowd was square – exactly the same sort of crowd that I witnessed while seeing Lord McCartney at the ACC (also a bad choice). The crowd at both does not go for live music: they go for spectacle  sans-spontaneity that resemble the Phantom of the Opera more than an actual, sweaty musical performance. They talk about their jobs loudly while standing in the crowd, clap whenever the people on stage ask for it, and visit the Loreal tent (not kidding) for free skin-care samples. The show is as important. To be clear: I don’t hate these people. I just don’t like attending shows with them.

It’s totally my own fault: this was my invasion of their space, not the other way around. kd lang has been easy-listening old epeople’s mall music for 20 years. Vague rumours of a return-to-roots – back to country music, maybe – encouraged me to check it out. That and the price tag. But artists do not return from that rabbit hole after going into it. Plastic rock star poses and perfect, just louder, renditions of the record represent a fork in the road taken. I can’t easily think of that road ever really looping around. I don’t even think this is an evil choice: artists often want to be rock stars and do the rock star job. I don’t like it. Knowing that, I shouldn’t have gone.

I was unable to dig in and enjoy (as my friends did) her wonderful voice – the other shit ruined it for me. I was put off by the apparent need for the show to push all of the obvious buttons all of the time; for every song to end with one Big Note that everyone in the audience could nod at and go “yep, she sure can sing”. I was uncomfortable with the Vegas vibe, the enormous makeup ads everywhere, including around and over the stage (lights with ads for Loreal). The button-pushingest song of the last 15 years – Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as encountered via Jeff Buckley or Shrek or U2 or the Watchmen or, apparently, kd lang – doesn’t require telegraphing or close-ups to bring the power, but lang did milk every possible moment for every possible sentiment.

Nevermind that she is pretty damn strange looking in her indeterminate but not young age: she looks, from a certain angle, exactly like Martin Sheen in an SNL fat suit. I am aware that this makes me sound like a royal asshole. Sorry. But I am one.

I did manage to look around a lot and just enjoy being out in the city, among the lit up buildings, doing something I wished I could do at 17. I got a cool picture (below). And I did avoid telling anyone what I thought until well-after the show, so they could enjoy it. That mitigates my assholeness, I figure, a little.

Overall, I found the whole thing uncomfortable. No more: Life seems to be as much about trimming as adding, lately, and I intend to trim this sort of experience from my life. Luckily, nobody will miss me.

Dear Stephen Harper: Fuck You

There’s not much intelligent to say about the G20 debacle in Toronto that hasn’t been said, but I do feel like hitting somebody with a small tree.

This thing is a display of power: Stephen Harper’s showing off to the other members, and he’s doing it here to show us he can if he wants to.

He’s sitting on our face and farting because he’s bigger and stronger than us, for now, and it’s giving him a laugh.

Fuck you, Stephen Harper. You’re a shithead.

Little Fucker – Vic Chesnutt (again)

RIP Tim Perlich and NOW Mag’s Unholy Union

Toronto’s oldest and second-best-of-two weekly papers has been the home of reviewer Tim Perlich’s music writing for as long as I can remember, and been pretty big-wiggy (a lot of page space, his own column) for some time. So it’s a surprise to read that he is not there anymore, and probably canned. A good surprise.

Perlich is a reviewer of the worst type, in my opinion – very informed, with wide and sophisticated taste (all good) with a snide meanness of spirit and a profound snobbery (all bad). I don’t pretend to know the guy, and admit that maybe he’s a swell cat in real life, but I felt a little happy to hear that NOW canned him, for just a second. He was awful. He hated everything: anything you might like, he hated.  The only stuff he liked was stuff he found used in a Goodwill bin, on vinyl, which you just Absolutely Had To Hear – too bad you never could. He seemed to know a lot, but he wrote like a real jerk. That venn-diagram from last year – that’s him.

I hated Perlich’s reviews, and frequently felt compelled to compose angry letters to NOW about them (I only refrained because I knew he wouldn’t give a shit.) But when I heard about his firing, as I say, I only felt happy for a second – because it occurred to me that NOW Magazine in general shares that nastiness, that superior tone. They can’t have fired him for being a dick – they’re a dick magazine. Which makes you wonder.

The other thing mitigating my happiness? I hated him, but I still looked to see what he was saying. I was curious whenever he liked something (“What is it that this fucker likes?”) – so that’s something.We’ll see how long before he’s working elsewhere, or starting some website. I myself wouldn’t read it, but if someone tells me he’s doing something new, I’ll go, Ahh, that’s where that fucker is.

That’s something.

Live show lightweight has choices to make!

I get out to about 5 shows a year these days, so what were the odds I’d have to choose? But tonight, in the calm of the eye of Snowmaggeddon 2008, we have Yellowjacket Avenger at the Tranzac – and CATL at the Dakota (for their album release party). (See comments for explanation).

Either way’s a winner. I need myself a Decider.


My Two Cents on the Big Box Issue

I live in Leslieville* – a Queen East neighbourhood in TO which you may well read about in Toronto Life or the New York Times or anywhere else  concerned with finding the latest Swell Location For Young Urban Professionals who can’t afford to live where they really want to live.

The neighbourhood hosts a large number of overpriced nick-nack shops and antique stores, with a sprinkling of Dog Pampering spots, organic butchers and snooty restaurants. In between these shops are dive-bars (of the non-hipster, actual-drunks-within variety), hooker corners, gas stations, and stores that must be fronts for something else (like a [removed]).

When I moved here – about 8 years ago – it was sort of a non-descript “not the beaches” neighbourhood. It was said to be Up and Coming, and I was hopeful that that meant it might gain a bookstore, or a small grocer. Maybe a falafel joint? But my hopes have been dashed: this bit of Queen turns out to be a magnet for the useless and precious. Proof? Last month, right on the edge of a massive recession, a store called [removed] moved in. They sell party favours.

Anyway, if you’ve heard of this neighbourhood, you’ve probably heard of the No Big Box In Leslieville campaign. I won’t restate the issues – just look here and here. I just want to add my two cents to the debate, and to make it clear that not all of the newcomers to this neighbourhood are self-righteous control freaks. Whatever the problems are with the big box stores – and there are plenty – I think this knee-jerk Upper-Left “not in my Leslieville” campaign is utter horseshit.

First, the spots the big boxes will land in are not parks or housing or even nice – they’re giant empty industrial (film-industrial) lots. They’re already ugly.

Secondly, I have no doubt that the wankers who oppose them also shop at Big Box Stores, in someone else’s neighbourhood. I don’t believe that the relentlessly renovating young professionals get their lumber or their tiling or their stainless steel appliances at independent mom and pop shops. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

Thirdly, these new Giant Stores are not in competition with any of the merchants who sport the No Big Box in Leslieville signs in their windows. Neither WalMart nor Home Depot sell hilarious postmodern baby clothes, or bags made of old records, or special cheeses. The new shops will be in competition with Gerrard Square and the Canadian Tire. So … what are they on about?

Fourth, these stores will employ SO many more people than any of the boutiques – even if they’re “icky” jobs that apparently belong in the suburbs (shame on you, Paula Fletcher).

Fifth, this is not some quiet little village that will be overwhelmed by the new traffic. Eastern is a huge, fast, dangerous road. Traffic might slow down the racers. And Lakeshore? Lakeshore might as well be a highway. It takes two lights for a pedestrian to cross the road. Nobody’s daily walk takes them strolling through this land: it’s dead. Paula Fletcher wants office buildings there – as if those are warm neighbourhood hangouts.

To be clear, I don’t like WalMart. I regularly oppose their shoddy practices – by not shopping there. If this movement is about WalMart, it should address whether WalMart exists at all – not just try and keep it out of one precious neighbourhood. If it’s about Smart Centre and Big Boxes, then I challenge the protestors to stop shopping at them.

But I think this is really about class. I think it’s about sculpting a little oasis of yuppiedom right downtown. I think it’s about a certain type of jerk who votes NDP because they really like the environment but give not a shit about actual people. So I’m throwing in my vote by saying, Come On In, big offensive store!

(To again be clear: there are no doubt some legitimate urban activists with solid ideals and good intentions involved in opposing these stores. I mean them no harm or offense. I support the right of any 20 year old communist to groove on those ideas. But I hope they know that their allies do not like or agree with them on anything but this one issue, and for different reasons.)

Here: let me fill out my rant by describing the sort of weasel I think is really behind this shit. On my street, some of the other newcomers suggested that we have a street party – to get to know each other. That’s a sweet idea – very nice. But when it came down to it, this fun Street Party had sponsorship from the Sierra Club, to pay for the insurance they got for the event. The street was shut off to cars unilaterally (meaning they wanted even the cars of people who always park on the street moved out of the way). And while a fair number of neighbours came out, the numbers quickly dwindled due to widespread unfriendliness and stilted conversations. In the end, the party was pretty much for its organizers and their children, who had a rollicking time. I tried to like it. I volunteered to help, did my job, and even tried  to “get to know each other”; I quickly felt like the loser who thinks because he’s painted a sign for the prom that he can talk to the mean girls in charge. It really felt awful.

I realized afterwards that the people on our street who want to be friendly neighbours already know each other – there’s a lot of Hello’s on this street. Few of these actually friendly folks attended the street party – because the people who needed a special event to connect with their neighbours were exactly the unfriendliest people on the street. The street needed to be closed off to cars because that’s the only way they’d allow their children to play outdoors (they don’t use the very nice, crowded playground  everybody else uses).

The second year of this event was attended only by the people who organized it. Next year I hope it’s gone altogether. I’m certainly not moving my car for them. They oughta go play in the park.

I think that’s all indicative of the whole Leslieville problem. People who choose to live downtown (as opposed to those who grow up there, already say Hi to their neighbours, and play in the park) should join their neighbourhood, not try to sculpt it in their own image. The Leslieville Elite are over-empowered, self-important and irritating. No wonder at all that some want to chase them out.

*South Riverdale, until some clever real estate people decided to give it a brand new name
I have to cop to feeling badly about some of this rant, a couple weeks after posting it. In my best moments I remember that people deserve respect all around, even people that piss me off or make me feel uncomfortable. In my other moments, it’s great fun to slag people off. I do dislike the fact that some people in this neighbourhood are trying to make-over the place they live, rather than fit into it. And I definitely have a knee-jerk hate-on for the snotty and pretentious. But I am aware, in my better moments, that all parties in the debate are decent people trying to make their way in the world as best they can.
And no, nobody wrote and complained. I’ve had a lingering discomfort over aspects of this post, and realized this morning that I was betraying an idea that I try to keep in mind, usually: that aggression begets aggression, and insults prohibit the sharing of ideas. My use of words like “wankers” and “freaks” was lame, and I shouldn’t have linked to the store I dislike – they’ve got a right to try out their idea. This is why I’ve removed the words/link in the article. I stand by the rest of it, but I apologize for those bits.



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