Friday, 12 September 2014

Hollerado and Born Ruffians @ Pepsi Pop Up, Toronto, 04/09/2014

A whole lot of energy had to be stuffed into the “world’s largest Pepsi bottle” on Thursday night rather than a bottle and had a maximum capacity of 120 sweaty people. Despite its small size, the odd venue held its own when it came to containing all of the energy brought forth by two Ontario-born bands. My only complaint? I was very disappointed when I found out that there was no AC to cool fans down on this horribly hot day. A member of the Born Ruffians certainly felt the heat, asking the crowd in the middle of their set, “It’s fuckin hot in here, isn’t it?”. Instead of an AC, free Pepsi was provided (I would have preferred Coca-Cola to be honest).

The first band to take to the tiny stage were Manotick-natives Hollerado, a quartet notorious for a high-energy, confetti-filled set. This was my seventh time seeing the band perform, and they never fail to disappoint. Opening their set with one of their more popular singles, “Pick Me Up”, the whole audience, even those who were unfamiliar with Hollerado's music, became immediately immersed in their set. It is near impossible to not dance to any of Hollerado's songs, which quickly became problematic as the already hot room became even more unbearably sweltering. The uncomfortable heat aside, Hollerado kept the audience entertained, playing hits off of both their debut record and their equally-as-successful sophomore album. Surprisingly enough, the boys omitted the heart-felt single, entitled "So It Goes", from their short yet sweet set. My only complaint? I wish they had played for longer. The ending of their set seemed somewhat rushed, seeing as they left the stage quite quickly, after the last chord of "Americanarama" was played, throwing a humoured "we have no more songs to play!" over their shoulders. However, with all of the energy Hollerado brought to the Pepsi Pop Up, I'm surprised that the venue was still standing by the end of their set.
Soon after Hollerado left the stage, I was lucky enough to find them outside the venue, where I had the opportunity to ask a few of the members a couple questions. Here's what went down (the boys seemed quite relieved that I was not asking them about the new album):
Me: How many times are you mistaken for-
Dean (the bassist): Nicholas Cage?

Me: Yep. How many times on a daily basis?

Dean: On a daily basis? Maybe up to 10. It depends on where I am. If I’m maybe in a place or a country where white people are not the main people, it’s like 50 times a day. Which is, I don’t know. It’s just how it is.
Me: Do they ever INSIST that you are Nicholas Cage?

Dean: No sometimes I insist that I am Nicholas Cage.

Me: Have you ever autographed something pretending to be Nicholas Cage?
Dean: Oh yeah. Hundreds of times. *laughs*
Me: How is being in a band, or actually, two bands, with your brother? Does that make you closer or is there a bit more tension there?
Nixon (the lead guitarist): I think it makes us closer because we have to sort out things that are not family-related, and when you do that, you learn how to get along in ways that you never knew you could!

Me: So is it fun being on a bus with him 24/7?
Nixon: Yeah exactly. It’s fun. I actually like it a lot!

 I also had the pleasure of talking to lead singer Menno about his love of horses. He says the band loves all animals, but they love eating them too. I also got to talk to the drummer of the band, Jake, about the economics of being in a band.
Afterwards, I was able to go back into the venue in order to watch the Born Ruffians take to the stage. I am not all that familiar with the Midland group's music, nor have I ever seen them  play before, so unfortunately I was not all that invested in the performance. Personally, I was only there to see Hollerado's banging performance. But, for the most part, the Ruffians were pretty entertaining, even though I could not really pick up on what frontman Luke Lalonde was yelling about. However, the Born Ruffians, even though their style and music is not really for me, seemed to put on a great, sweaty show for their fans.
Leaving the venue, I was extremely happy to see that Hollerado had left their mark on the majority of the crowd, seeing as a lot of us were left singing the catchy chorus from "Americanarama". Hollerado will surely have a lot of us thinking "lord I miss you" as we wait anxiously for their new album to come out.

Personal Highlight: Hearing Hollerado play "Desire 126". That is one of my personal favourites so I was elated that I got to hear it live.

Friday, 4 July 2014

White Denim and Arctic Monkeys @ Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Toronto, 21/06/2014

Never in my life have I seen more people wearing leather jackets, winged eye-liner, red lipstick, and high-waisted shorts all in one day. Only one thing could have brought on this multitude of sexy outfits to the huge Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, and that one thing is the Arctic Monkeys. Dripping with Sheffield swagger, the widely-popular foursome played to thousands of fans in Toronto on the first official day of summer, and if you ask me, there is no better way to start off the season than with the assistance of an epic band playing an epic show.

 Analysing the growth in popularity of the Monkeys in North America within the past two years is astounding. Back in 2012, the boys were playing this same venue, but they were only the opening band for The Black Keys. Last September, the band played the Kool Haus in Toronto to promote their latest album, which was a much smaller, more intimate venue. But this time around, the Monkeys had their own headlining show at a massive venue. Not only this, but the band managed to hypothetically blow the roof off of the place with what was the most spectacular live show I have ever witnessed. To top it all off, there was even a guy dressed up as the AM front man Alex Turner, rocking his iconic boots, dark jeans complete with a chain, silk button up shirt, leather jacket, and Turner's signature quiff. If this sky-rocketing growth that results in people dressing up as you does not indicate true success, I do not know what does. 

Standing in the huge, intimidating shadow of the Arctic Monkeys were the Texan-natives known as White Denim.The foursome sauntered onto the stage in their plaid button-ups, old t-shirts, and baseball caps, sporting getups that stood out in stark contrast to the sea of people before them wearing black, black, and more black. Surprisingly, the less well-known group held their own against the monster that is the Amphitheatre, refusing to get swallowed up by its intimidating size. They played a solid 45-minute set, producing a sound that almost mimicked the bluesy style that is pulled off so flawlessly by The Black Keys. However, as I find with most opening bands, the crowd did not really get too into White Denim's sound, as most people remained seated the entire time, absent-mindedly munching on pizza. However, White Denim did make a couple new fans in the audience, as the man seated beside me asked me who they were as he excitedly texted a friend about them. 

One thing I have to say about White Denim is that the most entertaining thing about their entire set was their facial expressions. Whether it was the scowls poking out from unruly beards or the full-on pouts, their animated faces were truly amusing. But, the music was not half-bad either.

After about a half hour of painful waiting, it was time for the Arctic Monkeys to arrive. It seemed as if the sun set as soon as the rock stars stepped onto the stage, really adding to their epic entrance. They strutted on stage in darkness, shrouded by fog and smoke, using the album art for AM as a backdrop for their performance. Wordlessly, the band launched into the intro of "Do I Wanna Know?", the sexy lead single from AM. As soon as the "step-clap" rhythm of the song began, it was greeted by a chorus of cheers and screams as people began to move in time to the track. Opening their set with "Do I Wanna Know?" was undeniably a great decision, seeing that it satisfied both long-term Arctic Monkeys fans, along with newcomers.

Following "Do I Wanna Know?" was "Snap Out of It", another hit off of AM that the band recently released a video for. The Arctic Monkeys continued their AM-streak by opting to play crowd favourite "Arabella" next, in which Alex Turner broke out all of his slightly embarrassing, magnificent dance moves. Just before the guitar solo of the sexy track hit, Turner scrambled to retrieve his guitar, leading to a bad ass Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" instrumental interlude in the meantime. But, as soon as Turner had his guitar in hand, it was back to ripping Arctic Monkeys material as he absolutely nailed the solo.

It was around this time that, in true Alex Turner fashion, the Sheffield singer took the time to look at the audience before sauntering up to the microphone and asking "did you miss me?" in a smug, smooth tone. This question received a very clear answer, as every member in the crowd began screaming as loud as they possibly could. Throughout the night, Turner also elected to call all of us in the crowd 'Ontarionians' in his Sheffield accent, and whoever told him that this was a proper term deserves a high five.

Breaking the string of AM tracks, the Monkeys went back in time a couple years and played "Brianstorm", the brilliant opening track on the band's second album. This song got an excellent response from the crowd, probably due to the fact that the guitar riffs in this song are absolutely amazing, sounding even better live than on the album. "Brianstorm" flowed effortlessly into the Monkeys' next song of the night, which was head-banger "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" off of Suck it and See. During this track, Alex Turner dropped an F-bomb, singing with his smooth, black velvet voice "don't sit down 'cause I've moved your f*cking chair", thus pleasing everyone in the crowd.

Next up was "Dancing Shoes", an old time favourite off of the band's debut album. This jam got everyone dancing and singing back every word. Following such a nostalgic treasure was "Library Pictures", another song off of Suck it and See, which pleased the die-hard Monkeys fans in the crowd.

The foursome opted to play a song from their darker, gloomy third album next. Choosing to play "Crying Lightning", it received cheers from several thousand fans in response as Turner brought out his aggression for the second verse. 

Reverting back to playing hits off of AM, the band broke out "Knee Socks", a crowd favourite (I saw several people wearing knee socks to show their support) and potential hit for the Monkeys. Their AM-themed backdrop lit up in time to the song, which added to the overall enjoyment of the performance. For the purpose of a better live show, the Sheffield rockers extended the outro of "Knee Socks" in a way so that it would flow perfectly into "My Propeller", a song off of their third album that the Arctic Monkeys have not played live since 2010. This was a special moment for everyone in the crowd, seeing as it is a rare occasion for the Monkeys to break this song out of its box, blow the dust off of it, and play it again after four years of silence. 

"I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" came next, meaning that it was time for Alex Turner to break out his signature "laaadies!" before starting the debut album favourite. Whether Turner yelled "ladies" this time around or not before the song is a mystery to me. He yelled something, but no one was quite sure what it was. That slight confusion aside, the band executed the nostalgic tune flawlessly.

 According to the Arctic Monkeys, it was time to slow the show down for three tracks. The slowdown started with AM's passionate tune, titled "Fireside", which gave a lot of fans a little bit of time to breathe and relax. Next came "No. 1 Party Anthem", a tearjerker off of AM, so this is the moment where people broke out their phones and their lighters, swaying in time as Turner, now playing an acoustic guitar, crooned the beautiful tune in front of us. This moment was truly stunning as thousands of little white lights appeared from all sides of the venue, mimicking the stars in the sky that many crowd members could not see because of the huge roof of the Amphitheatre. 

After that gorgeous spectacle came "Suck it and See", a "love song for the ladies", according to Alex Turner. This statement was met by a magnitude of girls screaming. The Arctic Monkeys followed that single off of Suck it and See with another single off of AM, playing the slightly humorous fan favourite "Why'd you Only Call me When You're High?". Each member in the audience sang the words to this one, and it was without a doubt one of the many highlights of the night.

 To end the show, the Monkeys played two popular tracks off of their second album, starting with the cheeky "Fluorescent Adolescent", largely pleasing the crowd. They ended with the much slower "505", which only made the crowd crave more. When the foursome exited the stage, they already knew that they would be called back for the encore within a manner of seconds. They made the crowd wait for a couple of minutes though, just to drive everyone slightly crazier.

By the time the band re-entered for an AM-centred encore, Turner looked as if he wanted to say something, but he would have been drowned out by the manic cheers and screams. So, he told the crowd to just "get it all out of your system", which we did, just in time for the Monkeys to start "One for the Road", another crowd favourite that the majority of the audience sang along to. The boys decided to slow down the show one more time with "I Wanna be Yours", setting a dreamlike mood with the help of a disco ball that scattered bits of shattered light throughout the venue. They ended the entire show with "R U Mine?", driving the crowd into a wild, dancing frenzy full of waving arms and head-banging. They extended the ending just a bit, not wanting to leave all of us 'Ontarionians' high and dry. It was a very sad moment when fans realized that the show was over, and as Alex Turner walked off and out of our lives forever, he blew kisses that were returned by a huge portion of the audience.

The Arctic Monkeys have been around for years now, but they are still improving as a band and steadily becoming more popular. They can work the stage like no other band I have ever seen, resulting in the best concert I have ever witnessed in my entire life. I can hardly wait to see what these four talented men will do next, because I just know that they have some aces up their sleeves. 

Personal Highlight: Definitely Alex Turner's dance moves and relevant hand gestures. He is such a cool guy, so it is simply amazing to watch him dance like a dork; it just makes him more lovable. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

St. Lucia and Foster the People @ Massey Hall, Toronto, 13/05/2014 - Concert Review

Nothing beats that feeling of anticipation as the lights in the venue slowly fade to black. As soon as those lights cut out, people of all ages start to gradually lift themselves out of their seats, heart beats fluttering faster, eyes shining with excitement, and cheers start to commence from all sides of the room. Every person in that venue knows exactly what is coming: the main attraction, the reason why everyone is there. On Tuesday night, that main attraction was Foster the People. The indie rockers played to a packed show in the perfectly vintage, beautiful Massey Hall, right in the heart of Toronto.

Opening for the vastly successful FTP was a less well-known band known as St. Lucia. I always feel a twinge of sympathy for the opening band: they know that very few people are actually there to see them on their own, and that most people regard the opening band as one more obstacle between them and their idols. However, St. Lucia held their own under the great shadow of FTP, ensuring that they would not be forgotten as soon as Foster the People stepped out onto the stage. Bright and enthusiastic, the group tried to get each and every member of the crowd to also feel all the energy that was simply radiating off of the band: one could really tell that St. Lucia loves playing music. Each member seemed to throw in every bit of energy they had into every note they played. Unfortunately for St. Lucia, the crowd seemed to have a hard time getting into their poppy, fun sound as the singer asked on several occasions, "does Toronto have a law against standing up at a concert?". 

St. Lucia served its purpose beautifully as an opening band: they whet the appetite of the crowd by playing their biggest, most fun hits such as "Closer Than This" and "Elevate", and got the audience amped up for the headlining band.

Now came the moment that I mentioned at the beginning of the review: the lights cut out, putting a quick end to brief snippets of small talk and texting. The time had come for Foster the People to make their entrance, and they made quite a brilliant one. Opting to start their show off with a crowd-favourite from their debut album Torches, Foster the People launched the crowd into a frenzy of flailing arms and legs as most of the audience sang every word to "Miss You" back to the band. The synth-filled instrumentation had everyone up and jamming, mirroring the way that front man Mark Foster was dancing on stage.

The band kept the energy high as they transitioned from "Miss You" into "Life on the Nickel", yet another favourite off of Torches, leaving me to wonder when the band would start playing songs off of Supermodel. I did not have to wait long for the band to jump right in to their fantastic sophomore effort, seeing as the next song they played was the exotic-sounding "Are You What You Want To Be?", the first track off of Supermodel. This track led right into the chilled-out "Ask Yourself" at their live show, just as it does on the album. Hips swayed back and forth in time to the tune as the anticipation for the band to play some of their hits kept on building.

Instead of playing one of their biggest hits such as "Helena Beat" or "Coming of Age" next, the band decided to tempt the audience a little more before finally giving them what they wanted. Foster the People played yet another song off of Torches, a slower jam entitled "Waste". There was a moment in which Foster sat himself down at a piano and continued to beautifully sing the chorus to an eerily quiet Massey Hall: all the other instruments had cut out in order to let Foster's stunning voice shine. However, Foster was not alone for very long, because soon the majority of the crowd began to sing the chorus with him, forcing Foster to stop and smile for a bit, in awe of how far both he and the band had come. You could see the excitement on his face as he continued to allow the crowd to sing for him, before jumping back in and singing with us. That was a truly intimate moment that no fan at that show will forget.

The show sped along like a freight train, never faltering, and Foster the People kept bringing out its A-game. Each song sounds exactly like it does on the band's albums. They decided to slow down the show at a couple points later on, where Mark Foster exposed himself to the world, playing emotion-filled tunes such as "Goats in Trees" and "The Truth", but each time they would play a slower song, Foster the People would bring the energy back by playing one of their hits right afterwards. These musicians truly know how to work and alter their own set list so that it flows flawlessly.

By the time the show ended after "Pumped Up Kicks", "Helena Beat", and "Houdini", Foster the People were brought back out on stage in a record-time for their encore, lured back by repeated chants of "F-T-P!" For the encore, the band opted to play "Best Friend" and "Don't Stop", but in between songs, Foster decided to have a heart-to-heart with the audience as he dropped a motivating speech. Foster urged fans to get off their cell phones and help each other out, for together we "have the potential to be the greatest generation to ever be". The speech was followed by a roar of cheers, which the band used as momentum to start the opening guitar riff of "Don't Stop". Foster the People had everyone on their feet from the beginning of their show right until the end.

The only negative thing I have to say about the show is that I wish Foster the People had played Supermodel closer "Fire Escape", because that song would have suited a vintage venue like Massey Hall perfectly. 

However, Foster the People definitely put on a fantastic live show that satisfied all in the audience; after the show, I even heard a group of boys saying how they wanted to go listen to Supermodel right then and there, and I think that if a band can manage to get some people to feel that way, then they must be doing something right.

Personal Highlight: Mark Foster's maniacal laugh during "Don't Stop". That is truly something that has to be heard live and in person. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Foster the People - Supermodel Album Review

L.A. natives Foster the People are back with their stellar sophomore effort, aptly titled Supermodel. Over the course of an astounding 45 minutes, front man Mark Foster provides an insightful look at not only his opinion of society, but also himself.

Much different from their debut album, Torches, the band toys with darker lyrics and strays from using the happy, poppy synthetic sound that was extremely prevalent in Torches. Foster also experiments with his voice on quite a few tracks, such as "Goats in Trees", where he risks exploring his lower register rather than using his impressive falsetto as a crutch.

The band could not have chosen a better song to open the album up with than "Are You What You Want To Be?". The track provides almost a Moroccan feel from beginning to end. Listeners can definitely hear how influenced Foster was by other cultures. "Are You What You Want To Be?" sets the tone for the rest of the album, and it is most definitely one of the more interesting, dynamic tracks on Supermodel. It hooks listeners in as soon as they hear the epic instrumental breakdown that occurs within the first 30 seconds of the song. This track flows effortlessly right into the second thought-provoking track, "Ask Yourself", which may inspire listeners to reconsider their life choices (it certainly did that to me).

The first single off of Supermodel, "Coming of Age", is almost a Torches throwback: it provides the same sort of groovy, dance-y feel that fans grew so accustomed to from FTP's debut, which is perhaps why this track became the album's first single. On its fourth track, 'Nevermind", the album seems to take a chilled-out breather in which Mark Foster assures you that "you'll always find what you're looking for". Thanks, Mark. "Nevermind" has a dreamy guitar riff that just makes the listener feel cool.

Ah yes. "Pseudologia Fantastica". This track might quite possibly be the highlight of Supermodel. The instrumentation on this track is absolutely stellar: from every drumbeat to the beautiful piano breakdown to the gripping guitar riffs, the listener is engaged for every second of the song. To top it all off, Foster brings his A-game with his lyrics on this track. The song has a very psychedelic feel that carries on for the entirety of the song, leading the listener to the haunting 30-second "The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones", a track used as a bridge that connects one half of the album to the next.

Right from its snappy bass line, "Best Friend" shows itself to be a potential smash hit. Foster the People goes back to its Torches roots on this track as it is more synth-focused. The track sounds undeniably happy, yet the lyrics might hold a darker meaning that may go unnoticed at first. Could "Best Friend" be as big as "Pumped Up Kicks"? Quite possibly. It definitely deserves to be.

Following "Best Friend" is "A Beginner's Guide to Destroying the Moon". This dynamic track seems to be where Foster releases all of his rage at society, as he progressively gets more aggressive as the song goes on. Towards the end of the track, the song trades in its angry feel for a more whimsical, wistful one. Due to its drastic change partway through the song, "A Beginner's Guide" is one of the more dynamic songs on the album that will keep bringing listeners back for more.

Supermodel seems to run out of energy for its last three tracks, though that is not necessarily a negative thing. Foster completely strips himself down, so to speak, and lets listeners understand who he truly is. Foster's voice is beautiful yet almost delicately vulnerable in these last three tracks as he completely exposes himself to his fans. He sings about his troubling drug addiction in "Goats in Trees", a moody song that accents just how impressive his vocal range is. The track almost takes on a Radiohead-esque feel as Foster hauntingly sings " the numbness was getting closer, the feverish days upon you".

The next track, appropriately titled "The Truth", provides a personal insight into Foster's character. It takes a lot of guts to write a song about yourself and put it on an album that hundreds of thousands of people are going to listen to, and thankfully for Foster the People's fans, Foster was brave enough to put "The Truth" on the album. If he did not, fans would have been missing out on a truly phenomenal song.

The album comes to a slow, acoustic finish with "Fire Escape", a song about Foster's life in Los Angeles. In this track, Foster's melodic voice takes centre-stage, and it is the main focus of the song.

Though it might have been better if Supermodel had spread out its three slowest, saddest tracks throughout the album instead of putting them one after the other, Supermodel is an amazing sophomore album that deserves all the attention that is coming its way. Supermodel shows off Foster the People's coming of age as a band, and it shows off just how mature they have gotten within the past few years.

"But I think it is one of those moments that I feel like a second record is defining for a band, because that's when your fans decide whether they trust you or not", admits Mark Foster on his second album jitters. Oh Mark. You have nothing to worry about. After this stunning effort, how can any of your fans lose trust in you?