Posts Tagged ‘the wooden stars’

Sappyfest XI Coverage

August 3rd, 2016 | Features | 0 Comments

IMG_1067

Sappyfest XI was my second Sappyfest and it was great. The lineup was not quite as good as the lineup in 2014 (which featured Constantines, Cousins, a Shotgun and Jaybird reunion, and Dusted, among other great acts), but it was still absolutely wonderful.

For those reading about the festival for the first time, Sappyfest is a three day festival held every summer in the wonderful little college town of Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, featuring various up-and-coming, as well as long-beloved bands from across Canada. Festival goers camp out around town, chill, meet new people, shop, grab coffee, explore the area, check out sets. Everyone’s really nice and well-behaved. There’s no hard drugs (or even much soft); good vibes abound. The whole thing is pretty utopian.

IMG_1063

In the positive spirit of the festival, I’m not going to write about any of the bands I didn’t like. There were no bands I actively disliked, but there were a couple that just didn’t really interest me much. But who wants to read about bands they shouldn’t like? Nobody. So let’s talk about the bands that were great, and that you should check out.

DAY I

IMG_1031

Due to a flat tire and other issues encountered on the drive up to Sackville from Brooklyn, I didn’t get to the festival until like 9 or 10pm. The first set I saw was Halifax/Toronto power-pop supergroup Tuns‘. It was pretty cool. As one might expect from a band consisting of former members Sloan, Super Friendz and The Inbreds, the songs were extremely well-composed, and the performance was legit.

IMG_1061

Canadian East-coast folk-punks Horses played the first late set in the bowling alley under Thunder and Lightning bar. I’d never heard the band before, but I really liked them. The played an appropriately raucous set.

IMG_1062

East-coast indie-rock legend Shotgun Jimmie closed the first night. A former Sackville resident himself, Jimmie’s set was effortlessly great, and easily the standout of the festival’s first night.  He played most of the set solo, banging out a beat with his feet on some floor drums while playing guitar and singing.

The song selection drew on an abundant number of quasi-classics from his stellar discography. At one point he stopped playing guitar in the middle of “King of Kreuzberg” and sang both the lyrics and instrumental melodies of one song along with the audience before kicking everything back in. At another, he called Jon Mckiel (another great East-coast indie rocker in his own right) up to play drums while he sang Guided By Voices‘ “Game of Pricks” a cappella. He also played this song (it went over very well).

After the set I went to sleep.

DAY II

IMG_1064

The next day I spent most of the morning at the zine & craft fair.

IMG_1065

I managed to catch the last song of Hamilton, Ontario’s ornate Cosmos Quartette. It was pretty impressive. A lot of people seemed blown away by them (I think Shotgun Jimmie, the night before, even said “they’ll change your life” or something).

Toronto folkies Luka went on next. It wasn’t bad. My girlfriend said they were her favourite band of the festival.

IMG_1069

Guelph’s wonderful Kazoo! Fest had a little showcase in the bar Duffy’s. Guelph experimental two-piece Badminton Racquet played and were one of my favourite discoveries at the festival. Guitarist Kyle Coveny used a wide array of pedals to get a really warped guitar sound, banging out metal power chords and sneaky riffs over drummer Nathan Campagnaro‘s avant beats. Their $2 cassette EP was an easy sell. They were followed by Cupcake Ducktape, but I missed their set to see The Wooden Stars.

IMG_1070

Formed in 1994 in Ottawa, The Wooden Stars were a great 90s Canadian indie rock band. They’ve reunited for a bunch of shows since more or less disbanding after 1999’s classic Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars album (more on that later). In 2008 they even released another album called People Are Different (admittedly, not my favourite Wooden Stars album). As great as The Wooden Stars are, both as songwriters and musicians, the set was kind of low-key, and maybe didn’t feature the best song selection.

I went to sleep soon after their set, since I hadn’t slept well for two nights and was exhausted at this point.

DAY III

IMG_1073

Jay Arner opened up the MainStage show on the third day of the festival. The Vancouver synth-pop artist was another one of my favourite new discoveries of the festival, and even though he played an early set, it was nonetheless excellent. If he hadn’t run off so quickly with his merch, there’s a good chance I would’ve grabbed a cassette of his recently released Jay II.

IMG_1079

Montreal sample-gazers Phedre also played a nice afternoon set. I’ve been a fan of the band for a long time. The chill, afternoon outdoor setting worked well for their kind of gooey experimental pop.

IMG_1086

Moncton’s French-language Les Hotesses d’Hilaire rode into town in a distinctively-painted tour bus that let everyone know the band was a big deal. Thankfully they lived up to expectations. Their songs may not have been Radiohead-y masterpieces of creativity and composition, but all that really mattered was that the band hold down the fort behind boisterous frontman Serge Brideau, who stomped around the stage sing-shouting ridonc jokes about French-Canadian politics (“I’ll French you on the English!”) in his thick French-Canadian accent. Being from Toronto and not speaking French, I probably didn’t get half (or even 10%) of the jokes. But the man’s boundless charisma needed no translation to make for an incredibly entertaining stage show.

IMG_1087

Julie Doiron‘s performance with The Wooden Stars some 17 years after the release of their album together was debatably the centrepiece set of the festival. As guitarist Mike Feuerstack predicted the reviews would note, the set was plagued by all kinds of technical issues, from the band not having enough beers (that’s a joke…kind of…), to a broken guitar string, to a replacement guitar that didn’t work, to monitor levels taking a while to get to where the band wanted them to be. Even with all the issues, the set was the best of the festival. The ensemble performed the album’s meticulous arrangements with the skill and grace of seasoned veteran musicians. Which, of course, they are. Even some of the album’s less memorable songs became masterpieces onstage.

The set was also notable for its non-musical qualities. The band’s (especially Feuerstack’s) hilarious stage banter kept everyone entertained while Shotgun Jimmie changed guitarist Julien Beillard‘s string backstage. At one point, in the midst of technical difficulties, Feuerstack said “oh god, I can see the Exclaim! review now…” He also asked the crowd how many people’s nipples were getting scratched by the festival wristband while they were in the shower. A lot of hands went up. Apparently this is a common problem.

It was also amazing how many people were there with small children. Kids were present throughout the festival, running around the maze of legs, wearing big, hearing-protection headphones. But it seemed this was the set their parents were all waiting to see. It was the set that brought young and old together. There was even a funkily-dressed old lady standing on a chair. After the set, I saw her walk off with a Julie Doiron & The Wooden Stars vinyl.

IMG_1088

The last set I saw was Halifax slack-rockers Nap Eyes. I wanted to watch their set while drinking my last Canadian beer (so much better than American beer) of the trip at Thunder and Lightning. That’s why the pic above is an over-the-fence shot. I could hear the band just fine, and they sounded great. Three days of driving, sleeping in tents, bathing in rivers, watching sets and exploring Sackville had left me exhausted. The band’s lazy-day serenades served as a beautiful and fitting coda to the whole Sappy experience.

I went to my tent to get an early night in. I had to wake up early the next day to get a good start on the 12-hour drive home. I could still hear Sackville super-crew Weird Lines. Good night, sweet Sappy…good night…

IMG_1028

Kazoo! Fest: Day 4 & 5 (12/04/14, 13/04/14)

April 14th, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

Kazoo-Fest-2014-web

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.

IMG_0964

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.

IMG_0965

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.

IMG_0967

IMG_0968

IMG_0969

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.

IMG_0979

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.

IMG_0983

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.

Loom

November 11th, 2011 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

Lot of good music around lately and I’ve got a lot of posts lined up. First one: Toronto intimate indie-songstress Loom – she’s got a really solid new album called Epyllion you can stream or buy off her bandcamp. Stuff hits the same sensitive vibe as stuff like Julie Doiron and The Wooden Stars – really touching, beautiful, etc. Canadian winter in audio form. (via Weird Canada)

Loom – It Is Love