Tobias Jesso Jr. captivates crowd in solo show: review

The young performer has plenty of room to grow, but the charisma he exudes is certainly half the battle in advancing his career.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Mar 23 2015

Tobias Jesso Jr.
3 stars
At the Drake Hotel Underground, Sunday, March 22.

Tobias Jesso Jr. knows how to charm his audience.

About a half-hour prior to Sunday’s show at the Drake Underground, the 29-year-old Vancouver-born piano balladeer wasn’t holed up in a change room somewhere, fighting butterflies or playing whatever mental games performers use to psych themselves up to take to the stage.

No, the former bass player of The Sessions was out mingling with the sold-out audience who had paid to see him: shaking hands, offering hugs, signing copies of his acclaimed debut album Goon and talking about his music.

His 55-minute set, consisting largely of material from that album, was pretty similar in nature, save for the shaking hands and offering hugs bit, as he proved to be an adept conversationalist with a decent sense of humour, and one who wasn’t afraid to publically fess up his flaws, considering — his trio of appearances at SXSW this past week included — that this is his first tour and these are some of his first ever solo shows.

“I just got back from SXSW where I screwed up a song five times,” he told the partisan crowd of hipsters near the start of his 10 p.m. performance. “You guys will be getting better than that tonight, at least.”

Later he identified “True Love” as the culprit just prior to its performance, and yes, he performed it flawlessly.

But his predilection for spontaneity was first evident in his opening number, the John Lennon-esque “Can We Still Be Friends.”

Midway through the song, Jesso played a chord progression familiar to fans of the TV show Cheers.

“This is the ‘Cheers’ theme cameo; I swear I didn’t know that when I wrote it,” he joked, then continued with the singing.

Another sample of his deadpan humour: “My ex-girlfriend and her new husband are in the audience tonight. Excuse me while I write a song.”

While he may have a flair for stand-up comedy, Jesso’s music has been the magnet that has attracted the attention of such luminaries as Adele, Girls’ Chet “JR” White and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney for collaboration or praise.

Jesso’s songs are as straightforward and as simple as they come: very basic melodies that have no subtext or hidden meaning beyond what the singer and songwriter is expressing. Whether they’re exceptional songs is a matter of opinion, but what’s undeniable is the additional soulfulness Jesso brings as a performer.

Using his electric grand piano as his palette (he also switched to guitar for a couple of numbers, including “The Wait”), Jesso sang with added intensity and urgency when it was called for, and the crowd response of rapt attention was so impressive you could have heard a pin drop.

The Adele favourite “How Could You Babe,” “Just a Dream” and “Without You” all jumped out with stronger force than the song before it, relying on Jesso’s confidence and focus as the propellant, thus building the show’s momentum to its eventual apex with “Hollywood,” a rare tune in the Tobias Jesso Jr. catalogue that had little to do with romance.

It’s obvious that Jesso has plenty of room to grow as a writer, performer and showman, but the charisma he exudes is certainly half the battle in advancing his career.

Whether the informal atmosphere of his current show continues as he eventually graduates to bigger venues and hires a band remains to be seen, but there will probably be a day in the not-too-distant future where patrons who attended the concert will reminisce nostalgically, sigh, and perhaps boast a little, in declaring, “We saw Tobias Jesso Jr. back before he was…”

Tobias Jesso Jr. captivates crowd in solo show: review | Toronto Star

Ariana Grande takes flight at the ACC: concert review

The young “Problem” singer proves she’s got longevity, with a surprisingly under-utilized voice and a large, smartly G-rated production.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Mar 09 2015

 

Ariana Grande
3 stars
At the Air Canada Centre, March 8

Merchandisers did brisk business on plastic glow-in-the-dark cat ears Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre.

The significance?

At least a couple thousand girls — the audience was probably 90 percent female, ranging from 5 to 45 — wore the headbands as both a sign of allegiance and a nod of respect to headliner Ariana Grande and her prior career as a TV actress, portraying the character Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon shows Victorious and Sam and Cat.

That was before, of course, Grande decided to go the route of so many Disney-era teen actors, and stake a domain in pop music.

And although she’s only been at it a relatively short time — Yours Truly in 2013 followed by My Everything in 2014 are her only full-length releases to date, along with a bevy of guest slots on other collaborations — the 21-year-old exhibits enough drawing power to fill the Air Canada Centre with approximately 14,000 screaming fans, indicating she’ll probably be around for a good, long run.

As the charismatic, pony-tailed Grande — also sporting the cat ears accoutrement for a generous portion of her 90-minute set — proved repeatedly throughout the evening, she certainly has the performance thing down pat, exuding both the calm and confidence, poise and professionalism that are expected of today’s millennial pop stars.

It’s almost as though there’s a list of seven commandments that they all subscribe to:

1. Thou shalt employ a large team of impressive dancers to exercise some meaningless, forgettable choreography.
2. Thou shalt have a large band supplemented with a DJ and a (in this case, a three-piece) string section.
3. Thou shalt include canned harmonies.
4. Thou shalt pull out all the bells and whistles one would expect in a top-flight production: fireworks, confetti, dry ice, lasers, video, more fireworks, more confetti, and at least one explosion.
5. Thou shalt employ the use of hydraulics to hover above the crowd at least once, nay twice, during any concert tour.
6. Thou shalt have a video cameo of any high-profile guest (usually rap) collaborator to insert where appropriate. Grande’s boyfriend Big Sean appeared on screen during “Best Mistake” and “Right There,” unlike Saturday’s show in Detroit, where he appeared in person.
7. Thou shalt have a minimum of five or six costume changes because, well, you’re hot.

Ariana Grande fulfilled this particular manifesto, using the fourth commandment to the best of her abilities: all that stuff happened in the opening high-octane number “Bang Bang.” The hydraulics came as the singer hovered above the stage on a cloud and, almost immediately afterwards, a giant chandelier.

But this Grandestanding is not what separated Ariana from the rest of the TV-weaned pack. In fact, there was a trio of characteristics that, in this scribe’s opinion, bodes well for her future.

The first is that amazing, almost underutilized voice of hers: she sounds like Mariah Carey with restraint (and believe me, that’s a compliment). There were times when her band overpowered her — and some of that could have been due to the cold she said she was suffering from — but when she took a solo spotlight, as on “Honeymoon Avenue,” there was a lot of soul and believability. You can’t say that about many of today’s TV ingénue converts.

The second is that Grande gave her audience a G-rated show — when was the last time you witnessed a tap-dancing DJ? — and was mindful that her audience contained a lot of young impressionable girls who obviously idolize her. She was sexy and romantic in songs like “Hands on Me,” but not overtly so, and of course, blatantly aware of her cuteness enough to play it up through video intros.

But the biggest promise she showed also happened to be probably the most boring part of the show. During one of the many costume breaks, Imogen Heap — one of Grande’s influences — appeared on screen to talk about this dull new invention she concocted: computerized gloves that allow her to manipulate her voice live in performance.

To her credit, Grande tried them, sounding like a Vocoder experiment that Neil Young pulled off during his Trans era as she harmonized with herself.

It was a pointless exercise that probably baffled her fans more than it entertained them, but the fact that Grande is open enough to experiment reveals an imagination that will elevate her game with subsequent releases, indicating she’s not going to be satisfied with simply being famous for fame’s sake.

As she saved the best for last — an energetic take on “Problem” and the blood-rushing burst of “One Last Time” — Grande left her fans happily buzzing about a well-consummated production, and with the anticipation that the so-called “Honeymoon Tour” was just a taste of what’s to come.

One quibble: if you happened to be in the first row, your sight lines were obstructed by monitors that prevented you from seeing everything that was happening on stage, despite the presence of video screens.

Not cool, but thank god for the catwalk.

Ariana Grande takes flight at the ACC: concert review | Toronto Star

Nickelback powers down the pyrotechnics: concert review

The band’s return to the ACC finds the usual frenetic energy somewhat lacking, owing to less anthem-y new songs and a very chatty Chad Kroeger, though the execution of the set was technically flawless.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Feb 23 2015

Nickelback
2.5 stars
At the Air Canada Centre, Feb. 22.

Nickelback has changed its performance tactic.

Once a combo that used all the bells and whistles available at its disposal with somewhat reckless abandon, the B.C.-based hard rock quartet showed unexpected restraint with the special effects at its Air Canada Centre performance Sunday night.

Explosions? Not a one.

Flashpots? Zilch.

Fire . . . okay, there was some pyro, but its inclusion seemed more of an afterthought to the three or four songs for which it was employed.

Switch them on.

Switch them off.

Woo-hoo!

No, the Chad Kroeger-fronted foursome (occasionally boosted by one member with the sporadic appearance of third guitarist Tim Hay), performing in front of a half circle-shaped projection screen and a light show that wasn’t anything to write home about, decided instead to focus on two traits: personality (Kroeger’s) and music.

And I never thought I’d say this about a Nickelback concert, but I missed the bombast.

Perhaps the thunderous detonations and unexpected bursts of flame added an illusion of intensity and energy to the proceedings in previous tours — this is my third go round with the rockers — but the razor edge that gives the band that additional power boost seemed a little dulled without them.

Some of the lack of dynamism might also be the result of a few developments: firstly, the band’s eighth album, No Fixed Address, finds songwriting genius Kroeger misplacing the Midas Touch that has sold over 50 million albums as he stretches into new territory: the political “Edge of a Revolution,” with its calls for change, and “She Keeps Me Up,” a funky, almost disco-ish number.

While he should be applauded for trying to expand his horizons — Nickelback detractors often accuse him of repeatedly writing “the same song” over again — these songs don’t offer the same staying power as the naughty “Something in Your Mouth” or the country-flavoured ballad “Photograph,” both which drew wild cheering and applause from the estimated 15,000 in attendance.

The other change is front man Kroeger’s comfort level with his audience. Talk about casual: Kroeger was a regular chatterbox.

“It’s so great to be playing a rock ’n’ roll show on Canadian soil,” he bellowed after the opener, “A Million Miles an Hour,” a song noted for the disciplined rhythms dispatched by the anchoring tandem of bassist Mike Kroeger and drummer Daniel Adair.

“It’s fr*#$% cold Canadian soil, but we can handle the weather.”

The disarmingly frank and funny Chad Kroeger dialogue didn’t disperse after the first few numbers; it carried on for the entire show.

“Since this is a Nickelback show, there will be vulgarity,” he joked at another point, projecting an earthy persona that the audience just lapped up.

The relaxed informality again translated into a subtle loss of energy, although the execution of the show’s 19 songs — Silver Side Up’s “Too Bad” and a somewhat listless “How You Remind Me,” All the Right Reasons’ “Rock Star” and Dark Horse’s driving “Burn It to the Ground,” a solid choice for encore if there ever was one and one of the evening standouts — was technically flawless.

So yeah, it was a regular campfire gathering, even with a handful of covers thrown in, including an Eagles sing-along for “Take It Easy” and the first verse and chorus of “Hotel California.”

For all the Nickelback hits that could have been included — “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” “Never Again” and “Lullaby” among them — it made you wonder why precious concert time was given to meaningless covers like Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” or Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” the latter sung by Ryan Peake.

Oh, there was one constant from the old Nickelback days: beer.

The old tradition of flinging quarter cups of beer into the audience still gives Nickelback that blue-collar aura that it does so well.

Maybe that’s the secret . . . the drunker one gets, the faster they sound.

Either way, fans in general were thrilled to the point of delirium with how Nickelback reminded them that rock ’n’ roll in general is one big, escapist celebration — even without the explosions.

Nickelback powers down the pyrotechnics: concert review | Toronto Star

Dan Mangan forges new frontiers with Blacksmith

The Juno-winning musician and songwriter rides a layered new album into Saturday’s Massey Hall show.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Feb 25 2015

Dan Mangan is going deep.

The 31-year-old eloquent, observant singer and songwriter has returned with a newly named band Blacksmith to introduce what’s arguably his finest album to date in Club Meds.

The Smithers, B.C., native views the CD, his first since 2011’s Juno-winning Oh Fortune, as a new chapter in his life, following some life changes that included becoming a parent for the first time.

“It’s great,” says Mangan, down the line from Montreal, of son Jude. “For myself, it forced me to slow down a little bit. I have a tendency to be hyperactive — not really in my demeanour, but just in my incessant need to be working on things. If I’m idle for five seconds, I start to go crazy.
“So I think it forced me to stop and slow down and go ‘wait, wait, wait: Maybe all you need to do right now is hold this little human and enjoy that.’ So that’s been really good for me. I feel a little bit calmer since I’ve had a kid, which is crazy, because my life is a million times more hectic.”

Mangan, who headlines at Massey Hall Saturday night with his band Blacksmith (John Walsh, Gord Grdina and Kenton Loewen), special guest Hayden and Calgary’s Astral Swans, says the break after touring Oh Fortune allowed him to sit back and reassess his situation.

“We were pretty beat at the end of the 2012 Oh Fortune cycle. The band would be in the airport terminal, and we’d look around at each other and we were all bagged with circles under our eyes,” he laughs. “Even before I had the band, I’d been touring alone a good seven years, sometimes 200 shows a year.
“So I thought, okay, let’s take a breath, you know — and coming back after a little bit of time, it’s amazing what it did for the band. The mojo was intensified and everybody came at the new material with a lot of excitement and new energy and ready to grab it by the balls and go for it.”

Club Meds displays a continued maturity in the fully realized Mangan sound: intoxicating melodies and pointedly astute lyrics wrapped in soothingly warm and sometimes lush alt-rock arrangements.

Mangan says he’s become a better communicator.

“I’ve grown up a little bit, I’ve learned to articulate myself in different ways,” he admits. “And I’ve felt, in some ways, I’ve always been a little bit political. I’ve always had opinions coming through in the songs, but I think I was a little bit timid to really dig into it, partly because I don’t think I knew how to articulate these things through song when I was younger.”

Club Meds also has an irresistible momentum about it, with a strong, natural flow almost dreamily tying together songs like “Vessel” and “Mouthpiece.”
“It’s a fairly romantic and nostalgic notion at this point, but I still have a tender place for the album as a whole piece . . . I like how the album bobs and weaves and goes in all these different directions and takes you on a bit of a journey,” Mangan says.

One of the themes on Club Meds is hinted at in the title.

“I feel like it’s about sedation,” Mangan confirms. “It’s also the willful blindness, the complacence of delusion that we all wander in and out of. As much as it’s about sedation, it’s also about being awake.
“For myself, I can think about those moments of being truly awake and connected with other people and connect with other streams of thought in the universe. You know those moments where you feel really lucid and sort of tapped in and alive, like your blood is flowing. That’s a truly beautiful place to be.”

Dan Mangan forges new frontiers with Blacksmith | Toronto Star

Julian Taylor revels in versatility

Toronto musician plays R&B at the Horseshoe one night, partakes in folk festival the next.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Feb 12 2015

Julian Taylor is used to shaking it up.

For example, those headed to the Horseshoe on Saturday night will experience the full electrifying and soulful R&B glory of the eight-piece Julian Taylor Band as they perform songs from their acclaimed album Tech Noir.

On Friday and Sunday, you’ll find Taylor doing the solo singer-songwriter thing at the Irish pub Dora Keogh, partaking in the annual Danforth-centric folk fest Winterfolk XIII (David Essig, Jack de Keyzer, Lynn Miles and Hotcha! are among the headliners) and showing off his acoustic guitar chops.

Source his former band Staggered Crossing on YouTube to hear his rock edge.

Taylor is quite the chameleon.

“I can do many things,” he says. “Tech Noir is a rock soul record with which I think I’ve found my niche, but I like writing campfire songs and playing acoustic guitar just as much of that.
“It’s great to be versatile. Over the past couple of weeks I was part of the Gordon Lightfoot tribute at Hugh’s Room and I was also part of the global (Bob) Marley (70th birthday) tribute last weekend. So I get to do a lot of things.”

Taylor said the public’s modern and varied music tastes have allowed him to branch out accordingly.

“The general public has been exposed to so much stuff culturally — music, art, literature — that nowadays they’re way more open.”

The 36-year-old even points to his 3-year-old daughter Ella as “a barometer” of taste, saying she breaks out into spontaneous dance whenever she hears something she likes and will barely react if she hears something she doesn’t.

“When I was recording Tech Noir, I had a lot of friends listen to it, but it was mostly my daughter who told me if it was good or not,” he says. “If we could dance in the living room, then it was working.”

His latest song off Tech Noir, “Be Good to Your Woman,” has evolved into a campaign Taylor said is designed to “spark the conversation about trying to stop violence against women.”

He’s inviting everyone to submit a video to begoodtoyourwoman.com to share positive stories about their relationships and the respect with which people should be accorded.

He’s also pledged $2 from the sale of every copy of Tech Noir to the Canadian Women’s Foundation in honour of the cause.

In the meantime, Taylor, whose songs have been placed in such TV shows as Haven and Elementary, says he will be previewing new material for the Horseshoe Tavern crowd, and is grateful for the support radio outlets like the CBC have given his music.

“What Tech Noir means to me is ‘black future,’ he says. “I wanted to take the feeling of black music in the past and create something new and fresh, yet old, and I think we basically accomplished that.
“Folks that have heard it seem to like it, so I’m not complaining.”

Julian Taylor revels in versatility | Toronto Star

Jamie T: Out of sight, not out of work

British singer-songwriter Jamie T seemingly disappeared, but he never stopped writing music. Touring a new album, he plays the Mod Club on Saturday.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Dec 05 2014

In the seven years since acclaimed British singer and songwriter Jamie T released his Mercury Prize-nominated Panic Prevention, he hasn’t exactly been the most publicly prolific of musicians.

Indeed, aside from this fall’s release of Carry on the Grudge, the Wimbledon-bred artist, who appears at the Mod Club fronting a five-piece band Saturday night, has only one other album to his credit: 2009’s Kings and Queens.

Privately, it’s another story: while Jamie Alexander Treays may have been out of the public spotlight for the last five years, he wrote 180 songs, of which only a dozen made the cut for the album that will be considered a sea change in style for those who have followed him.

“It was pretty non-stop recording, to be honest,” Treays said late Tuesday afternoon prior to a San Francisco gig. “I’ve always recorded as I’ve written. I’ll write half a song and then finish it off in the studio. But it did take a long time for many reasons. I’m glad it’s done now.”

When he first burst out onto the scene with 2007’s Panic Prevention, Treays’ music was a concoction of Blur-inspired, rap-scented hyperactivity that mirrored fellow Brit Lily Allen’s smarts and energy, and he was quickly hailed by the U.K. music press as a trailblazer.

Kings and Queens was a tad more electrifying and streamlined, and more praise followed. However, at the end of the touring cycle to promote that album, Treays knew it was time take a breather.

“I’m 28 years old now, and I think part of it was just age,” he says of the break. “There were times in life where I wanted to put a stop on things and work out what I wanted to do. I had gotten into this music stuff when I was 18, and really hadn’t had a moment to stop. So it was important for me to take it at a slower pace, really.

“I also wanted to explore music, and you need time to go down those roads to realize some are dead ends. Also, my parents had been sick and I took time to care for them. So when I put it all into context, it’s really not that much of a long time. It might seem to others like a blank spot, but it wasn’t.”

The slower pace is the most significant adjustment of the Jamie T sound, reflected on several Carry on the Grudge tunes, including the striking ballad “Love is Only a Heartbeat Away,” the melancholy “They Told Me It Rained,” the winsome “Mary Lee” and the opener “Limits Lie.” They all serve as strong contrasts to the more active fare of “Zombie,” the rambunctious “Rabbit Hole,” “Peter” and “Trouble.”

For Treays, it was an opportunity to exercise more rhythmic restraint, and edit his prose.

“When I was recording Carry on the Grudge, I was listening to a lot of stuff that was pretty downbeat — Weezer, Marcy’s Playground, Bran Van 3000 — ’90s stuff. There were fewer tempos involved in everything I was listening to and I became obsessed with trying to find power in my own songwriting, without using tempo. It was becoming a bit of a crutch for me, to get out anger or some kind of emotion within the song.

“Plus, my stuff beforehand was so jam-packed with words and tempos, I was kind of getting pissed off with it, really. Before I knew it I was trying to write different styles of songs, because I noticed if I wanted to say less, I’d have to write in order to make them more ambiguous. It was a good learning curve and I was coming out with different material that was touching on more of a personal note, but was easier because I could hide it behind ambiguity.”

Produced in part by James Dring, the Blur and Gorillaz associate who has worked with Treays on all his albums, the title of Carry on the Grudge reflects Jamie T’s state of mind at the time of recording.

“I was talking to a friend about how hard it is to make up your own mind and have opinions on things when you’re force-fed opinions as you’re growing up,” he explains.

“You’re given these statements as though they’re fact, and it seems a lot of your post-teen years are spent trying to work out what’s fact and what’s bulls–t before you can become your own person. So the idea of the ‘grudge’ is, do you carry on living with all that bulls–t that you’ve been taught, or do you turn around and question things again to become your own person? That’s where me and a lot of my friends were at when I was writing this album, so it seemed like a good thing to call it.”

Jamie T: Out of sight, not out of work | Toronto Star

Siblings Jill and Matthew Barber play Massey Hall Nov. 15

Jill will showcase material from Fool’s Gold, while Matthew has new album Big Romance

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Nov 14 2014

 

Jill Barber has been waiting for this.

When the 34-year-old singer and songwriter takes to the Massey Hall stage on Saturday night as headliner, it will be the crowning achievement thus far of a career that has taken the Port Credit native through numerous styles, seven albums and three continents.

“It’s huge,” said Barber of her appearance at the 120-year-old venue.

“On Saturday night, there will be three big events in my life that are standouts: getting married, having my baby and performing my own show at Massey Hall. It is beyond my wildest dreams, which is an incredible feeling. I really think, when I was a teenager growing up in Port Credit, of being a musician, that playing the Rivoli felt like that would be the pinnacle, so to be invited to play onstage of Massey Hall is a great honour and I really feel it. I feel it a lot.”

Making the occasion even more special will be her warm-up act, her older brother Matthew Barber, a potent singer and songwriter in his own right who has eight albums to his credit, and the one who inspired her to follow her musical dreams.

“It’s totally a dream come true,” says Jill, who will perform material from her latest collection, Fool’s Gold. “My parents, who will be in the audience, what a big night it is for them. It’s a family celebration, obviously with my family, my parents, my brother and I, also with my musical family: my band, the label and all of the people that I work with on a daily basis. It’s a celebration for everybody. It’s not the size of the room, it’s the prestige and the fact that we all got here together is something that we’re all celebrating.”

Matthew, who’s pushing his own new album, Big Romance, has previously experienced the awe factor of the Massey stage.

“I’ve played there as a drummer with Doug Paisley when we opened for Jim Cuddy once and I know that when you’re up there the time flies rather quickly. You’ve got to take a minute to stop and savour the moment, so I’ll do that.”

Produced by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Big Romance offers more of Matthew’s predilection for strong, pop-hooked melodies that are both personal and potent; something he felt was strengthened by Louris’s presence.

“I was aiming for a classic sounding album,” says Matthew. “I’m a huge fan of Gary’s songwriting and the Jayhawks, and I wanted to bring him in to help us craft an album that’s interesting from beginning to end but has classic sensibilities and also some hooks. There’s really no more of a conceptual angle than that.”

Aside from “On the 505,” which is a song concerning the Sammy Yatim streetcar shooting last summer, and “Magic Greg,” an ode to one of Matthew’s late friends, Barber says the remaining eight songs on Big Romance are deal with “existential issues that I’m always interested in, or issues of science and nature and making sense of the world, or just issues of the heart and the emotions that go along with love and relationship. That’s my usual terrain for songwriting.”

But not his only terrain: Barber will also provide the music for the new John Patrick Shanley play A Woman Is a Secret, premiering at Toronto’s Theatre Centre on March 20.

It’s not the first time Barber’s dabbled in theatre; he finds scoring for plays refreshes him when it comes to penning material for his records.

“It’s a nice diversion. I think it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to keep the songwriting wheels turning, but having these set parameters to contend with where you’re writing for a particular show or writing for particular characters is a nice, different way to work. So when I come back to writing my own material for my next record, it’s fresh.”

He also revealed he’ll be cutting a duets album next year with Jill, whom he calls “amazing.”

“I’m very proud of and inspired by her,” says Matthew. “She’s really crafted her own sound and her own esthetic package, for sure. She experimented with some sounds and has found a style that really works for her.”

Central to that sound is Jill’s plush, torchy voice, described by the authoritative All Music Guide website as a “mid-century blend of little-girl timbre and orotund vowels,” and suited to the jazz-influenced songs that she’s written for Fool’s Gold, some of which sound like a throwback to yesteryear.

It’s been a journey of stylistic twists and turns for Vancouver-based Jill, who began her career with more of a folk esthetic on her first two EPs and 2006’s For All Time before switching directions and being embraced by the jazz community for 2008’s Chances.

Barber said her writing style evolved accordingly once she left her guitar out of the process.

“The way I write songs most of the time these days is a cappella,” says the bilingual Jill, who also released a collection of French-language covers last year called Chansons.

“So it’s really just my voice. I’ll take a little demo recording of me singing a cappella to one of my band mates and they will help me create the music underneath it, so my vocal melody is always the first thing that is written, along with the lyric.

“Back in the day I wrote with my guitar at the same time. But because I’m not the world’s greatest guitar player, I started to find as I started to explore jazzier vocal stylings it became harder for me to accompany myself. So when I put down my guitar, I could sing any melody and was free to let my voice lead the way.”

Jill says she’s always felt a deeper connection to older music.

“Back in university, I would go to the local record shop and thumb through the old dusty records. I would essentially pick out the records that I thought had cool record covers, and I’d take them home and I’d listen to them. There was something about this old jazz, these old standards, and the way these men and women delivered these songs that, to me, instantly felt like a soundtrack: this beautiful, whimsical, romantic experience.

“So I think that when I’m writing, it doesn’t matter what style I’m writing in, I’m trying to write music that is timeless, that might be old but hasn’t aged.”

Massey Hall concertgoers will receive a generous taste of these contemporary “vintage” originals, as Jill says she’s employed a three-piece string section, a three-piece horn section, backing singers and hired a special lightning designer for the show.

“We’re gonna go to town!” she declares. “My two Fool’s Gold producers — Drew Jurecka and Les Cooper — have been working tirelessly on arrangements just to put this show over the top. We’re pulling out all the stops that we know how to pull out and it’s going to be really special.”

Siblings Jill and Matthew Barber play Massey Hall Nov. 15 | Toronto Star

Homegrown acts Moist, Tea Party return after long absences

New touring circuits, more cash and ego spark musical reunion craze.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Nov 20 2014

With the imminent return to Toronto of acts like Moist and The Tea Party after lengthy hiatuses, reunion fever is running high.

While it isn’t necessarily a new trend, many domestic and international acts are mending fences in 2014 and flaunting new leases on life.

Whether it’s the recent return of Christine McVie to the Fleetwood Mac fold, Queen resurfacing with Adam Lambert or the Spandau Ballet reunion that hits Toronto in February, there are common denominators explaining a band’s decision to get back together, including new touring circuits and better cash for bookings, says veteran music industry observer Larry LeBlanc.

“Nowadays the casino business is a huge business and it loves the heritage acts,” says LeBlanc, a senior CelebrityAccess writer. “In some cases, those groups end up making more money today than they made back then. At the same time, the money being paid today is astronomical from what it was.”

But LeBlanc says the motivating factor to reunite may be a simpler one: ego.

“It all goes back to nobody wants to go work in a hardware store,” he laughs. “I’m serious. Once you’ve been in the spotlight, and the spotlight may get smaller and smaller, but to be removed from it is very unnerving.”

Homegrown acts Moist and The Tea Party are returning after absences of 13 and seven years, respectively, and with new albums.

MOIST

For Moist, which performs at the Danforth Music Hall Saturday night on the heels of its new Glory Under Dangerous Skies, the reconsolidation came following a get-together for drinks in 2013.

“I started do to solo projects and I got drawn away by all sorts of different things,” singer David Usher, who has released seven solo albums, said Tuesday. “Everyone else did too, which in my mind is a very natural thing. You want to try new things as an artist at a certain point.

“But we’ve remained friends. Kevin (Young, Moist’s original keyboardist) plays in my band, and then every year we’re having a drink and it always comes up that we should play a show. Last summer was the first time when everyone said, ‘Yeah, let’s play a show.’ Then that turned into six shows over Christmas.”

Those six shows featured original members Usher, Young, guitarist Mark Makoway and bassist Jeff Pearce, along with newer members Francis Fillion on drums and second guitarist Jonathan Gallivan. Pearce has since dropped out and been replaced by bassist Louis Lalancette.

According to Usher, whose band burst onto the Canadian scene with the driving hit “Push” and the bestselling album Silver, the concerts and favourable fan reaction sparked the desire to reconvene for recording and touring, which demanded more of a commitment than Pearce was willing to give.

“It was kind of an unspoken thing that we just naturally wanted to get back into the studio and write together again,” says Usher. “After the Christmas show, we did four days of writing in Montreal and the songs were coming so quickly that we really felt that we were coming into a record cycle. When we started talking about going back on the road, that was more than Jeff was really up for. He’s got a young family. He still remembers that this band tends to take over your life.”

TEA PARTY

Windsor’s Tea Party, performing at the Kool Haus on Nov. 27, reunited in 2012 with original members Jeff Martin, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatman, and has already issued a live album of its Australian tour

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They spent the better part of 2014 in Australia — nowadays singer, guitarist and songwriter Martin calls Perth home — and Toronto’s Revolution Studios recording The Ocean at the End, their first studio album since 2004’s Seven Circles.

Speaking on the phone en route to a Halifax gig, Martin said the band members entered their hiatus acrimoniously, but missing friendships and the urge to create paved the way for their reunion.

Their motivation to reconnect was “the fact that we couldn’t stand to be away from each other anymore or the music that we’ve made or the music that we could make once again,” says Martin.

“I think that the three of us as individuals did a lot of maturing and soul-searching during our seven-year hiatus. At the end, we really couldn’t have been further apart. It just didn’t feel like the band anymore. It was too many cooks in the kitchen and I wanted that Tea Party back that was of the era of Edges of Twilight/Transmission where we were just firing on all cylinders, when I was the captain of the ship and that was it.

“It took awhile for us to come back to something like that, but we certainly have it now. It’s great.”

Martin says that unlike many bands, economics weren’t a factor in the Tea Party reunion.

“It’s the work ethic, the love of making the type of music we can make,” Martin explains. “The Tea Party is a pretty successful band; we don’t need the money. We’re not doing this for anything else except for art. We did the record on our own terms, made the record we wanted to make and now the three of us are just having a blast.”

Homegrown acts Moist, Tea Party return after long absences | Toronto Star

Sinéad O’Connor gives audience what they want

Controversial Irish singer delivers a mostly solid set of old and new favourites to adoring Toronto fans.

 

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 25 2014

Sinéad O’ Connor at Massey Hall
3 stars

Boy, have they missed her.

The moment the diminutive Sinéad O’Connor stepped on the Massey Hall stage on Friday night, she was greeted with a standing ovation so thunderous, she literally couldn’t start the show until the screams and applause died down a few minutes later.

Beaming at the unexpected reception, the controversial, head-shaved Irish singer and songwriter issued a few short curtsies and then gestured for the near-capacity crowd to settle down.

Then, with her five-piece band standing at attention, the 47-year-old O’Connor endeared herself even further by performing a solo, instrument-free version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” dedicated to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the Hamilton army reservist mercilessly gunned down on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

photo of Sinéad O’Connor performing at the Hague via Creative Commons and Leah Pritchard

Her performance of the I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got classic she first recorded in 1990 revealed the full range of O’Connor’s extraordinary vocal abilities: her wide-ranging voice oscillated between loud intensity and breathless whisper, often within the same phrase, with enough gripping, dramatic effect that your ears were unable to resist being drawn in to catch every syllable.

“I Am Stretched On Your Grave” was a preview of what was to encapsulate the 75-minute show’s best moments: an enviable dynamic range that seemed to work best the more O’Connor was isolated from her bandmates.

Not that there was anything wrong with her accompanying lineup that included guitarist Brooke Supple, bassist Clare Kenny, keyboardist Graham Henderson: au contraire, they were technically strong, united, in sync.

From this reviewer’s vantage point on the first row of the lower balcony, the frustration came from O’Connor’s sound staff: her vocals were so under-mixed that whenever the band played full-tilt, the singer became the weakest link … not so great when O’Connor’s fans are paying good money to hear that inimitable voice.

And especially when the songs O’Connor chose to perform following the sarcastic “Queen Of Denmark,” “4th and Vine,” “Take Me To Church” — her moving declaration of independence — and “8 Good Reasons,” — scattered between her last two albums — I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss and How About I Be Me (And You Be You) — are lyrically intriguing.

O’Connor seemed to be aware of the problem, continuously fidgeting with her monitor control and conferring with her side stage sound man to the point of distraction (and one she apologized to the crowd for) and ultimately subtracted from the overall potency of her showmanship.

So, the barefoot O’Connor, dressed in her cleric collar (she’s an ordained minister), a Catholic cross necklace, a hybrid black/leopard spotted shirt and leather pants, was most effective when she accompanied herself on acoustic for her extraordinarily hypnotic and pensive ballad “Black Boys On Mopeds;” the a cappella “In This Heart,” which she dedicated to her mother, started solo and eventually had the whole band add their voices to; and the first encore of “Streetcars,” softly sung with even softer keyboard accompaniment by Henderson.

But she rocked out as well, with the audience particularly responding to the unleashed aggression of the pair of Do Not Want main set finishers — “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” — with more standing ovations.

If there was a disadvantage for O’Connor, it was that her audience seems to be aging with her: the majority of the crowd represented the late 30-through-50 age demographic.

It’s a shame that today’s youth are either unaware of her or ignoring her: still integral as an artist, songwriter, lyricist and performer, the outspoken O’Connor could teach them a thing or two.

Sinéad O’Connor gives audience what they want | Toronto Star

Chrissie Hynde turns back the clock: review

In concert at Massey Hall on Thursday, The Pretenders founder seemingly hasn’t aged a day since 1978.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Oct 31 2014

Chrissie Hynde
3 stars
At Massey Hall, Oct. 30

 

Dorian Gray, eat your heart out.

Anyone attending the opening night of Chrissie Hynde’s Stockholm tour at Massey Hall on Thursday night could be forgiven for doing a double take and wondering where exactly she’s hiding the painting: The Pretenders founder’s birth certificate may read 62 years, but it’s clear the Akron, Ohio, native hasn’t aged a day since she first kicked out the jams back in 1978.

“You’re so hot!” yelled an admirer from one of the upper balconies early into her 90-minute set, and you really couldn’t belabour his point: the incredibly svelte Hynde stood centre stage, decked out in full rock ’n’ roll regalia of blue necktie, black vest, jeans and a pair of leather boots that stretched to just above her knees, beaming as she surveyed the adoring crowd.

And if rock ’n’ roll has indeed proven to be the source of her fountain of youth, that ageless glow that illuminated Hynde’s skin also extended to her classic Pretenders songs and her husky voice, as both rung with authority and vitality. Joined by a four-piece band that included the current Pretenders lineup of guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson, Hynde turned back the hands of time with a performance that ensured she has lost none of her wallop.

But it did take her a while to get there.

After the lights dimmed, Hynde stepped out on stage and started out with “Don’t Lose Faith,” a snorer of a ballad from her new solo album Stockholm, before veering into a lukewarm blues number called “Biker.” Maybe they’re actually better tunes, but the sound technician was still twiddling knobs and adjusting levels as the guitars blared and drowned much of Hynde’s initial vocals, so you’ll have to pick up the new album to find out.

The first four songs, all new ones, were blasé enough to make one wonder if this was going to be a long night.

But that all changed once the first Pretenders song emerged — an edgy “Talk of the Town” that revealed a nicely gelling chemistry between all five musicians — as Hynde and her band shifted out of neutral gear and the momentum began to swell.

The real turning point came with a gritty rendition of “My City Was Gone,” as the gifted Walbourne’s sinewy handiwork on guitar in terms of handling both solos and complementing Hynde’s strum jacked up the song to a new level of intensity.

This happened again with “Night in My Veins,” another thrilling number that spirited Hynde and her gang into peak form, with a good portion of the crowd on their feet and dancing in their seats as old favourites like “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “Back on the Chain Gang” continued to maintain the flow of high energy.

It should be noted that there were only two tragic occurrences.

The first is that there were way too many empty seats for a woman who is one of rock’s most astute songwriters, an artisan whose topics, even when it comes to love or urban decay, have always offered a provocative and profound perspective. The Massey crowd still delivered a healthy showing of around 1,800-1,900 music lovers, but the place should have been packed.

The other tragedy? That although Hynde and company pulled practically every Pretenders number one might want to hear — including “Precious” and the Kinks’ “I Go to Sleep,” the one she omitted was the biggest of them all: “Brass in Pocket.”

So everyone was left hanging, receiving the cake without the icing, leading one to hope that if she comes this way again, Chrissie Hynde will right the wrong and make sure she plays all the hits next time . . . Hyndesight being 20/20 and all.

 

Postscript:  During the show, Hynde told the crowd how much she loved Toronto and pleaded with them to stop building so many condos, noting the skyline had changed abruptly since her last visit.