By now, the music makers of Toronto’s Teen Tits Wild Wives are veterans of the local scene. For years they’ve been playing in various bands under various names, making their own brand of arty-noise without regard for anything other than the pure joy of arty-noise. Every now and then they release a little something. A kaleidoscopic postcard from the beer-strewn basements and stages of the sweet spots of the city. On Friday they’ll do a release show for their new Street Hawkz EP. But for those around the world who can’t make it to the Milk Glass Co. art gallery, the EP can serve as a quick peak at the realest of Toronto’s real-as-fuck local underground scene.
Saturday was the most action-packed day of the festival, so let’s get right in.
After waking up groggily, eating some bread & hummus and doing a quick workout, I made my way over to the Kazoo! Print Expo for the last hour (it ended at 3:00 pm). It was a pretty standard print expo type deal, with a lot of great artists and zinesters with their prints, zines, comics, silkscreens, etc. Koyama Press and Liz Worth (Treat Me Like Dirt, PostApoc) were notably there with their works. I ended up getting two issues of a short comic called Dumb by Georgia Webber. The ‘series’ is about her ‘prolongued voice loss, and the slow crawl of recovery’. There’s not a ton of story in the two short issues, but the art style is cool and minimal and it is kind of interesting to see how voice loss affects her whole life. She has to quite her job and go on welfare and it’s just not a great situation. Hope she recovers soon and her life can get back to normal – in the meantime, I hope she writes longer comics or combines more issues into one kind of graphic novel, because my biggest complaint is that the issues are too short.
There’s a dude inside this.
After the print expo I was off to a cool little space called Silence to see the Nihilist Spasm Band, perhaps the longest running noise band in the world. Originating in London, Ontario, the band has been together since 1965. They looked like the coolest, craziest grandparents in the world playing for a bunch of twenty-something/thirty-something hipsters. Admittedly, noise bands aren’t really my thing, so while I totally respected their ability to pull it off so stylishly (there is an art to noise-making – some are better at it than others), I didn’t need to hear that much before I was ready to leave.
Unfortunately, this picture doesn’t quite capture the storm of sound they were making. Try the clip below from their younger days.
Next stop: My Own Shortcomings ‘mixed media exhibition by Hugh Mater‘. There wasn’t really that much mixing of media other than a dude playing old singles played at the wrong speed (slow, which actually made them sound pretty interesting), but there was some cool art. I’m not an art critic, but I liked it. Here are some pictures.
After a breather and a curry wrap, it was time for EONS at the Red Brick Cafe. The solo project of Bruce Peninsula‘s Matt Cully, EONS‘ music is very traditional folk. Helping him out with pitch-perfect harmonies (and impressively snappy jibes) was another Bruce Peninsula member, Misha Bower. While EONS was maybe too traditionally folk for my tastes, their songs were well-crafted, tuneful, lyrically sound, and their performance was likewise faultless.
After another break for food, I was off to Cornerstone for Guelph’s Shopkeeper, a band I can describe most succinctly as being very ‘Canadian indie-rock’-sounding. Which is a good thing. It’s comforting, homey, Canadian.
And finally, the act of the night that I’d been waiting for, Mike Feuerstack: an artist who’d be a millionaire if critical praise could be converted into cash. I’ve written a lot about Feuerstack over the years, having loved his work with The Wooden Stars (Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars is a classic), his work under the Snailhouse pseudonym, and most recently his work under his own name. When I was in the IDF, I remember listening to him obsessively while stationed on the Syrian border, as his work also sounds very ‘Canadian indie’ and it reminded me of home sweet snowy home.
I’ve seen him play twice before. This time he was playing solo with an electric guitar and a beautiful sounding tube amp. Far moreso than Bry Webb and Destroyer – the other bigger names who played solo for the fest – Feuerstack’s songs lose the least when performed sans backing. Sure, on his records there’s a lot of beautiful padding, but most of his songs only require a guitar and vocals to sound full and perfect. And despite him charmingly forgetting lyrics and chords a couple times, Feuerstack effortless kills it every performance. With his sensitive cooing voice, and song after song full of pretty hooks and chord changes, he doesn’t need to try to perform well at this point in his career, he just does.
At this point, after two nights out till the wee small hours and couch-crashing, I was pretty beat. I soldiered on to Jimmy Jazz to check out explosive punk instrumentalists Bleet – who were phenomenal – but a couple songs in I decided to call it a night.
The next morning there was a pancake breakfast show co-presented by Weird Canada. This was a brilliant way to end the fest, as all the artists and volunteers and frequent faces of the fest congregated together – many with their little kids – and just chilled, talked, ate pancakes (including vegan ones!). I caught experimental acts Eden Segal-Grossman and Isla Craig (pictured above), but their music – solid as it was – was more a background for good vibes and great food. Every festival should end like this.
And so the time came for me to trudge on over to the GO bus station and grab the bus back to Toronto. It had been an incredible weekend. Though Kazoo! Fest was perhaps a festival with a limited budget – all of the biggest acts played without their backing bands – it made up in heart and quality what it lacked in cash. Guelph is small but charming, with lots of friendly, interesting, intelligent people, and a ratio of women:men that puts the perennial sausage-fest that is Toronto’s downtown scene to shame. Every show was well-attended and people came out ready and willing to make friends and become fans. Though by this time next year I’ll be living in New York, maybe I’ll even make the trek up to the great white North to see what happens for next Kazoo! Fest.
The third day of the festival was most notable for featuring the two biggest acts of the festival: Bry Webb (of Constantines) and Destroyer. Both played acoustic sets in the Dublin St. United Church – indeed, a pretty nice setting for acoustic stuff.
The kick-off event of the night, the show began at eight with Bry Webb‘s set. Accompanied by Rich Burnett on lap steel guitar, Webb played a set of songs that one could reasonably presume were off his first solo album Provider and the upcoming Free Will (I haven’t heard anything off either). While the songs were fairly solid folk-ish tunes – admittedly lacking in hooks and a particularly strong flavour (though the more fleshed out recordings sound far more rustic) – Webb’s wonderfully full and mature voice – still one of the best voices in contemporary indie rock – was clearly the biggest asset on display. As phenomenal as he is tearing up his vocal chords in front of the powerhouse that is Constantines onstage (and in-studio), he sounds nearly as good on his own, and it doesn’t hurt that his lyrics are particularly inspired regardless of backing, setting, whatever.
I’ve seen Destroyer play two or three times now, both solo acoustic and with a full band. While he’s charming on his own, the fact is he is incomparably better accompanied by his backing band. Some of the earlier material - anything pre-Your Blues - sounds more or less fine acoustic, but anything after – especially everything off 2011′s incredible Kaputt – lacks all the nuances and melodies that his band provides and simply sound skeletal and lacking. I’ve yet to see Dan Bejar give a bad performance, but the fact is that an acoustic Destroyer set is a compromise in place of the ‘real thing’.
After a peak into the packed eBar to catch a couple minutes of the jazzy Manatee, I made my way over to Jimmy Jazz to catch some of Watershed Hour‘s set. The Whitby all-girl duo featured one 90′s haired chick storming the drum kit in true 90′s alt-rock fashion while another alternated between bass and guitar while valiantly attempting to manage her pedals with her toes. It was pretty chaotic and sounded like crazy kids going nuts with their ‘rock and roll musics’ in the garage, but their conviction was admirable and ultimately made for a good show. Unfortunately, their poorly-produced online recordings capture almost nothing of this.
Back over at eBar, Petra Glynt took the stage to deliver her whole weird solo sample-core shtick. This was the second time I’ve seen her and while I respect her experimentalism, I’m still not really enjoying it. That could change at some point in the future, though. I like her ideas and general vision – and I didn’t totally come around to the not-entirely-dissimilar Grimes until she put out her game-changing Visions in 2012.
Toronto’s DIANA closed the night with one of the best performances of the festival. I’ve been a fan of lead-singer Carmen Elle for years and it was great to see her new band live for the first time after enjoying their album Perpetual Surrender for the last couple months. They got on pretty late and eBar wasn’t quite as packed as it had been earlier, but DIANA brought no shortage of energy and character to a faultless set of songs. Kieran Adams‘ live electronic percussion was especially amazing.
Unfortunately I missed the first day of Guelph’s charming Kazoo! Fest, but I got in yesterday (Thursday) to begin my coverage of the five-day-long (sort of) fest and so far it’s been fun.
The first event was a showcase for some video works, including one with a live score.
Taking place inside of the quaint St. Andrew’s Church, the showcase began with The Impermanence Of The Ordinary, a short film about photographer Patrick Cummins‘ work photographing Toronto’s houses and storefronts as they change over time. Cummins was present to introduce the film, which was an interesting look at, indeed, a very ordinary subject that, upon closer inspection, inspires some interesting thoughts about what the architecture of a city says about its history, culture and architecture as it changes over time. You can actually watch it in its entirety on Vimeo.
The second film of the night, and my favourite, was This Is Now Here, Toronto-based photographer and music video director Colin Medley‘s short film about the Sackville, New Brunswick music scene and its annual Stereophonic Festival. Feist once spoke in an interview about how one can only truly appreciate Canada if one sees the great empty spaces and small towns between the big cities. These words were already echoing in my head as I rode the bus from Toronto to Guelph, and this film fit in well with the idea. Indeed, there is something beautiful and romantic in the glimpses someone from the city gets of small town (or small city) life in the relatively empty spaces of the great white North. Medley’s film portrays Sackville as this tiny, snowy little town in the lonesome Maritime where a bunch of University kids get together and make really cool music in small, intimate spaces. Huddled together in badly lit rooms, toques and scarves still on, the kids in the video appeared to truly have a secret but wonderful little scene of interesting and inspired noisemakers. Visually touching, with a perfectly restrained ambient score by Mike Smith, Medley’s film is a snow-covered gem of beautiful Canadiana. Luckily, it’s also streaming in its entirety on Vimeo.
The last work of the event was called Foster and was an experimental video soundtracked by a live band. Admittedly, the video itself was not all that impressive, as it largely consisted of random stuttering footage of ordinary thing (walls, basements, people), a hick-ish seeming Canadian, and kaleidoscopic effects. Maybe it was meant to be some kind of Gummo-esque look at a small town Canadian guy – I’m not really sure. The live band, however, was excellent, ably providing a phenomenal post-rock score with different sections and shifting rhythms (pounded out by two drummers) to compliment the segments of the video.
Next stop was eBar, where a couple bands provided the rest of the night’s festival entertainment. I’m sorry to say I was kind of bored by the theatrics of The Medicine Hat and The Furys, who simply didn’t provide the strong songs to justify their powerful stages presences. Long-running, long-beloved Halifax indie-garage drums-guitar duo Cousins closed the night with a lot less people onstage, but a lot more hooks, power, and mosh-age.
Luke MacDonald – who apparently resides somewhere in Canada (though I’ve a sneaking suspicion that somewhere is Toronto…) – has recently released a little seven-song EP with the wonderfully mystical title I’m Alive, You Are The Whole Creation, Let Our Frequencies Rise under his pseudonym Grizzly Waves. It’s acoustic stuff, which usually bores me, but it’s recorded well with nice double tracking and a little percussion and some overdubbed parts and all in all it sounds pretty good. Also songs. They’re for the most part legits if you’re into a Bright Eyes kinda thing.
Aaron Levin – the genius behind Weird Canada and now Wyrd Distro - was pumping these guys on Facebook. Always a good chance the band is gonna be pretty solid (or crazy weird)(or both) when you see that. Mormon Crosses hail from a city I look forward to spending more time (or my entire life) in: Vancouver. They make dark, weird, noisy musics.
After travelling around in the last couple weeks, I feel like Toronto isn’t where I should be. The culture of the city is too unintellectual, middle-of-the-road – good thing I’m moving to New York in the fall for Law School. In the meantime, I’m prepping to go on my grand cross-USA trip at the end of this month. Here’s a mix for all of those dreaming of faraway places where things are better…