“God bless you, Cuff the Duke!” someone in the audience yelled gleefully, as Cuff the Duke took the stage for their third full set at the Dakota Tavern last night.
It was one of two multi-set shows that the band is doing at the Dakota this month (the second show is next Tuesday – July 30). The audience seemed to be in full attendance of serious Cuff fans (as opposed to casual ones), as well as Hayden fans. The band had announced earlier in the day via social media that their good pal Hayden would join them for a few songs that night.
Opening the show with older songs “Blackheart” and “Hobo Night Stalker,” I definitely felt nostalgic up at the front of the stage – I’ve known the band since their early days, as an Oshawa native myself.
Frontman Wayne Petti thanked the audience for coming and said, “We’ll be playing Cuff the Duke songs all night.” An audience member yelled, “That’s what we’re here for!” to which Petti quipped, “Well, if that’s not what you’re here for, then you’re fucked.”
And the band delivered, playing three – count ‘em – three full-length sets consisting of songs from their six studio albums. Each set featured a cover song – CCR’s “Looking Out My Back Door,” Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and The Beatles’ “Get Back.”
As a live band, Cuff the Duke has pretty much mastered all the tricks of the trade – amusing stage banter with audience interaction, call-and-answer songs (“If I Live or If I Die”), singalongs (“Follow Me,” “Take My Money and Run” and oh yeah – having awesome secret guests join them on stage. Hayden joined the band for two songs during the first set. Having toured together as the supporting act and Hayden’s backing band as The Elk-Lake Serenaders in 2004 (they played Lee’s Palace in November, for trivia’s sake), Cuff proved that their synergy with Hayden is still strong. Playing “Dynamite Walls” (off Skyscraper National Park) and a fantastic rendition of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” it just felt like a rare and special moment to witness them all on the small stage together.
By the third set, it seemed that fatigue was setting in, but the band soldiered on. The crowd had considerably thinned out from its earlier attendance, but those who remained didn’t lack enthusiasm. When the band finished close to 2am (that’s nearly four hours of music!) to hoots, hollers and cheers, what can you really say, aside from “God bless you, Cuff the Duke.”
On a hot humid Tuesday night, at an outdoor sand-filled venue that calls itself a “beach,” I saw Björk for the first time ever, after being a fan since teenagehood. At this point in her career, it’s nearly impossible to read any kind of article about Björk without invoking words like “magic,” alluding to her otherworldly pixie-like qualities or her unmistakably adorable Icelandic accent.
But it’s also nearly impossible not to think of these things when it comes to Björk. Emerging from the shadows in a massive frizzy ginger wig (as featured on her 2011 album, Biophilia), in a glittery blue dress, Björk looked positively magical and otherworldly. The bouncy ginger wig also reminded me of the Disney-Pixar heroine, Merida from Brave, which adds to all the more cartoony magic that Björk seems to ooze from her very pores.
Accompanied by Icelandic female choir, Graduale Nobili (also wearing glittery dresses to complement Björk’s), an amazing multi-tasking percussionist and DJ/programmer/gadgets guy – and a whole ton of special effects (a massive Tesla coil which pulsed electricity in time with selected songs, a wall of sparklers and flames, and strobe lights) – Björk was always the focus of the show. On her records, it has always been a wonderment to hear the range and elasticity of Björk’s powerful voice – sometimes fierce, with a slight growl, or other times, cooing and girlish. To hear it in person was awe-inspiring and somewhat life-affirming (okay, maybe an exaggeration… I guess).
The bulk of the set list consisted of songs from Biophilia – opener “Cosmogony,” “Moon” (which featured projected animations of the phases of the moon on a large screen), “Thunderbolt” and “Crystalline.” The crowd went wild for “Hunter” and “Hidden Place” early on in the set and later, even wilder for a triple punch of older songs (and my personal favourites, how did she know?!): “Jóga,” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” The repeated refrain of “She loves him” from Graduale Nobili at the end of “Pagan Poetry” was truly breathtaking.
In a one-song encore, Björk and co. performed the jubilant and defiant “Declare Independence,” dedicating it to Trayvon Martin. Then, with one last “Thank you!” the Toronto audience wandered back into the hot summer night, shaking sand out of their shoes.
TURF Day 4: Belle & Sebastian, Xavier Rudd, Cat Empire, Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, Wooden Sky @ Fort York – July 7, 2013
The inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) is the city’s latest attempt to make a mark on the country’s competitive festival scene. With a promising 4-day lineup including She & Him, Hold Steady, Belle and Sebastian, and an amazing crowd response, it wouldn’t be surprising if TURF joins the circle of major summer festivals alongside Montreal’s Osheaga and Ottawa’s Bluesfest.
First band, Toronto locals Wooden Sky, began the day with a calm and nostalgic set. The voice of the singer, Gavin Gardiner, had a soulful and smoky trait that paired well with the long and drawn out Telecaster solos. The songs began to pick up in tempo and the sound started to swell as they were paired gospel-like back-up vocals.
Kurt Vile and the Violators played later in the afternoon as the crowd tripled in size since the start of the day. Violators guitarist Steve Gunn was like a modern mash-up of Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The band delivered a playful and effortless set with a huge sound, including atmospheric guitar sounds, crazy drum solos, and strong bass lines. Songs including “Ghost Town,” “Baby’s Arms,” and “He’s Alright,” were evenly chosen between their two albums Wakin on a Pretty Daze and Smoke Ring for My Halo.
After that set, crowds rushed to the west stage for indie rock royalty, Yo La Tengo. It began as a quiet, almost ghostly unplugged set. Eventually, the air was filled with distortion and feedback and the band shifted from their rather stiff stage presence to crazy and eccentric head-banging. The memorable moment during their performance was when the singer, Ira Kaplan, toned down the sound and invited the crowd to, “come into our living room,” as they launched into the crowd favourite sing-along song “Autumn Sweater.”
Cat Empire played the next set on the west stage and was the first band to hold the achievement of getting the entire crowd to completely let loose and swing like drunken sailors. The fusion band’s party music included anthemic choruses, fast percussion solos, afro beats, salsa, funk, and ska sounds. Best yet was trumpet player/singer Harry Angus’ scat solo in “Wild Animals.”
When Xavier Rudd took the east stage, the first thing that came into my mind was, “Sweet Moses, this guy is amazing.” The next few minutes then blew my mind. Rudd launched into a tribal-dubby song with intricate instrumental layers of the didgerdoo, stompbox, bass drum pedal, and all sorts of percussion. No loops. Just himself and a few recorded bird calls and animal noises. His socially-conscious themes and earthy-natural feel connected with the audience on an emotional and spiritual level. The crowd seemed to know all the words and it was nearly impossible to look around and not break into a smile as people swayed and danced to his acoustic reggae beats.
The crowd for the day’s headliner, Belle and Sebastian, was already waiting an hour before the actual set time, sacrificing Neko Case’s performance on the west stage. Finally, after the second torrential downpour of the day, the 7-piece band came onto the stage and delivered an amazing performance for their legion of die-hard fans. The band started with “Judy is a Dick Slap;” its catchy synth beginning got the crowd dancing and splashing mud everywhere. Frontman Stuart Murdoch was a brilliant performer, whose charming personality, dry humor, and self-deprecating dancing helped bring the stage alive. His stage tricks included playing scrabble with a fan on the stage mid-performance, asking a fan to apply on mascara as he sung “Lord Anthony,” and inviting several people on stage to dance to “The Boy with the Arab Strap.” The band ended the set with an encore song “Get Me Away from here, I’m Dying,” leaving the audience euphoric, muddy, wet, and fulfilled.
TURF Day 1: She & Him, Joel Plaskett, Camera Obscura, and The Barr Brothers @ Fort York — July 4, 2013
The kickoff of the inaugural four-day TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Festival) took place on the Thursday night, featuring She & Him, Joel Plaskett, Camera Obscura, and The Barr Brothers.
There was a buzz in the air under the pressed tin ceiling of the intimate yet spacious Danforth Music Hall, which, on this particular summer evening, gradually filled with a very handsome and diverse array of people to see if all the hype around 26-year old Solange has some ground.
Donning long braids and a funky skirt-suit kinda thing, Solange sauntered on stage to deliver a sly version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” which for me, unveiled her tremendous and tasteful vocal ability, as well as the subtle honey soul of her band.
Once she broke into her originals, I was glad to notice that the majority of the audience knew her tracks, considering the obvious tourist contingent amongst the audience. The funk soul vibe of her precision band was delicious, and though Solange’s vocal timbre sometimes throws Erykah Badu, I found it hard to pull comparisons.
Her arrangements throw back to the 80s without being twee or forced, and the entire set was well-crafted between slow soul numbers and relaxed funk. I am forced to say that she is very unique, especially in the current indie pop climate.
Solange truly pulls off an excellent balance between performance and musicianship, confirming for me that she is a true artist and a complete joy to watch. The entire band is sexy as hell too. It’s always such a pleasure to see performers so comfortable in their own skin. The crowd went nuts every time Solange made the slightest well-placed, perfectly rationed dance move. Sexy and comfortable – Solange is a huge presence. I look forward to her being around for a very long time.
“The siren works with this,” electro-rock artist Lights said, as an ambulance speeded past the Toronto venue. She was tuning her guitar to perform “Suspension,” just one of the many Siberia Acoustic songs on her set list that day at the Pepsi Pop Up shop. Although Queen St. is an expectedly noisy and busy street, it was surprising to hear loud voices seeping through the quieter parts of Lights’ acoustic set.
Lights, alongside cellist Kevin Fox, played to a small, sweaty, and a partially disinterested crowd. Battling through the unbearable heat, the artists glided almost effortlessly through the set, although Lights claimed her whole face was sweating. Lights moved between her guitar and a grand piano, starting with “Flux and Flow” on the guitar. It’s the most powerful ballad on Siberia Acoustic, with Lights’ hard punctuation on the “flows.” It was a surprising start to the show, however, Lights was able to carry the rest of her songs powerfully without losing too much energy.
Between songs, Lights gave anecdotes for the inspiration behind her songs, noting a small Toronto earthquake that gave her the idea for “Peace Sign.” Switching to the grand piano after “Suspension,” Lights played “Pretend” off of her album The Listening. This choice seemed a little out of place compared to the strong lineup of Siberia songs. “And Counting” would have been a brilliant substitution — it’s a touching, tear-jerking song with a backstory linked to themes like longing and change. However, “Pretend” is a staple in Lights’ long list of songs about bravery and adventure. When she sings it acoustically, it’s not simply a string of empty words and strokes of the piano keys to fill a spot in her set list. Music is her gift to the world, and songs like “Pretend” remind us of the messages she creates.
Before finishing with her single “Banner,” Lights rounded off her performance with a cover of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2, which she told the audience was her favourite song. Unlike her cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” which she has previously performed during her electro performances, Lights covered this song in a way that made it her own. Away from her synth and millions of buttons, it’s as though Lights was able to focus on her voice and soft strokes of the guitar strings. This is the epitome of Lights’ acoustic performance, which is an essentially stripped down version of what’s usually weighted with electric pops. Her acoustic performance is definitely proof that a danceable, radio-friendly performer can take her own songs and re-work them to the point where they become something new and even more special.