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LIVE ACTION: James Blake — Commodore Ballroom, April 25, 2013

22 Oct

James Blake live at Electronic Beats Festival Cologne 2013

Watching James Blake at the Commodore Ballroom was like eating at a gourmet restaurant of sound. Each oaky word, textured piano note, and effervescent synth riff was deployed with deceptive minimalism, so individual sounds could be distinctly enjoyed before melting into a song.

Humbly acknowledging the crowd with a simple, “How ya doin?” Blake launched into “Air & Lack Thereof,” his first single from 2009, and one that creeps up with some seriously heavy bass. This was complimented by the rat-a-tat-tat snare and impressive cymbal crashing of drummer Ben Assiter, to great effect.

As we heard Blake’s tenor chime the first a capella notes of “I never Learnt to Share,” the crowd went mad. Using the incredible vocal control, he sang over loops of his two-line, bluesy melody and layered those over lush keys and Rob McAndrews’ soulful guitar. Add the unique bass drop at the song’s climax, and you’ve got even the most aloof concertgoers dropping low.

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Blake delivered more treats from his 2011 self-titled debut, and created an intimate atmosphere with “Lindisfarne I” and “Lindisfarne II,” a pair of goosebump-inducing songs that were like a warm, enveloping blanket live. His popular cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” had audience members singing along as the 24-year-old’s silhouette was bathed in a sensual red glow.

Next came some new songs from Blake’s recent release, Overgrown. “To the Last,” with its minimal melody and fat bass synths, kept the mood mellow. Not one for stagnant emotions, Blake took things up several notches with the frenetic pace of Voyeur. Synthesized cowbells mixed with live drums and the simple phrase “I don’t mind, it was all me” created a tense, almost catastrophic atmosphere that could only be dissipated through dance.

My favourite track of the night (besides “I Never Learnt to Share,” I can’t get enough of that bass drop) was CMYK. Because I only have Blake’s two studio albums, I hadn’t heard this amazing electro-R&B gem from his 2010 EP CMYK. A densely woven fusion of Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and Kelis’s “Caught Out There,” paired with Blake’s trademark post-dubstep sensibilities, created an insta fave.

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Capping off his encore with “A Case of You,” a Joni Mitchell cover, Blake crooned, “I drew a map of Canada / Oh Canada / With your face sketched on it twice / Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine,” his stunning vocals emulating Michell’s cascading style. In an interview with Collective Concerts, Blake said, “”Joni embodies the things I’m talking about. She was the spark that led to [Overgrown].” His rendition of Joni’s song was so rich, so beautiful, that it created a proud Canadian moment for all of us.

Considering his otherworldly talents, James Blake is a very understated live performer. His unassuming nature paired with deeply introspective vocals and forward-thinking production is reminiscent of a child prodigy. As I left the Commodore I felt satisfied in the way one would after having indulged in a high quality meal. Flavours lingered in my memory, but not on my palate, and I was surprised to find my ears weren’t ringing. In fact, it was hard not to feel like a sound connoisseur, because his concert showcased some of the best fidelity I’d ever heard. If this Pitchfork-crowned “post-dubstep whiz kid” is just starting to mature, I can’t wait for what he’ll serve up next.

Photos courtesy of electronicbeats.net, smallworld.com and www.idealizela.com.

Mending my soul in NYC

17 Apr

I am heading to New York in a couple of hours.

New York!!!!!!!

I could not be more excited. I have never been, but I have been planning this adventure in my mind for years.

I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, so this trip is a big “grab the world by its ass” sorta experience. My intention is to launch myself into my third decade on this planet — head first! And with impeccable style.

This trip also feels particularly poignant because my grandma passed away on Sunday. She was a beautiful woman; a gentle, humerous, kind soul. She was a strong person, but she cloaked it behind a veil of modesty and genuine servitude for those she loved. She always told me to wait before settling down. She had wonderful style. She was from Indonesia. She loved Hawaiian music. She called my grandpa her “silver fox.” I think I inherited my coyness from her.

Unfortunately I will have to miss her funeral in California because I will be on the other side of the continent in New York celebrating my 30th birthday.

Is this self-indulgent?

Maybe.

I feel an odd mixture of elation and deep sadness, but I believe she would have wanted it this way. I will think of her a lot during my trip because it’s a celebration of my life, but I’m realizing it’s also a celebration of her life too. I plan to have a moment of silence in a church somewhere in NYC to honour her on Friday.

Rest in peace, grandma.

You inspire me.

Pieces of you are in every woman.

For further inspiration, I’d like to share some of my favourite New York women captured on The Sartorialist. They embody a sort of elegant lightness and depth of style that could only possibly come from within.

Enjoy.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Doyer Street, New York

I love everything about this photo. The complexity. I am channeling it.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Ninth Street, New York

I want to drink the light up here. And the drapery. This looks like one of my grandma’s batiks!

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Mulberry Street, New York

She is adorable. I am inspired by her casual style and upbeat demeanour. Plus she’s been shopping, and she is obviously quite happy about it.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Rivington, New York

Love the combination of masculine, old-world style, pretty hair, and splatter paint. Also desperately want that dictionary backpack.

The Sartorialist, On the Street, Greene Street, New York

Ahh, BFFs. Adored. I will see mine in a few short hours as we board the plane for what is sure to be the trip of a lifetime. With this trip I am also celebrating her, for our friendship has fed my soul immeasurably. Without her in my life, I would be a different person.

I don’t mean to punctuate our trip on such a sombre note. There are soooo many fun things we have planned this week, it’s unbelievable!

Live music, fashion, art, theatre, sightseeing, photography, people-watching, tea in our little garden escape in Brooklyn — it’ll be insane!

We will have so much fun.

Because, of course, to please our grandmas — we wouldn’t have it any other way.

BRILLIANT EDGY PIXIE: Grimes @ Fortune Sound Club — Feb. 18, 2012

22 Feb

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be from Vancouver this week. It all started with a message:

“Anyone wanna see Grimes with me on Feb. 18 @ Fortune? She’s this wicked dreamy synthpop chick who opened for Lykke Li on her last tour, and she’s from here! Tix are only $13. Think about it! — L”

I rallied the troops to catch this rising star — born and bred of the same mountain air, sandy beaches, underground hippie culture and leagues of outdoor space as myself.

Because this was the first sold-out performance of her Visions tour, which is her first release after signing to epic indie label 4AD (home of so many favourite bands… oh the anticipation!), Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, was quite obviously a very nervous creature.

Plus this gig was in her hometown.

The tiny 23-year-old hopped onstage to face a packed crowd that was already showing signs of restlessness. I missed openers Born Gold so I wasn’t riled up yet, but the tone of people’s conversations was getting growly. Grimes was dressed in a simple v-neck longsleeved, her hair piled in a giant ponytail at the top of her head. Her eyes were awash with enough pink shadow to make Bowie proud. When she took the mic, she flopped her hair to cover one side of her face and said in a trademark, high-pitched register,

“H-h-hey!

…Uh, I’m Grimes.

Hehheh. Thanks. Thanks for coming to my show!”

So awkward! She was like a nervous teen asking for a first date. Adorable. Then she started up the synths and all cuteness evaporated into the ether.

This chick can lay down a beat. She started out with a more experimental sound, stopping at times to ask for more of this, or less of that, from the sound people.

She was joined by the two members of Born Gold who hit up the synths/keys/drum machines behind her as she would “coo,” or “goo,” or “gaa,” or “check” to test the sound at random intervals, which sounded strange — like a baby backed by a synthesizer and a lot of amps.

But what an unhappy baby that would be! Her bass was fucking loud. And her hits were immediately recognizable to the crowd. The chunky beats of Oblivion morphed into the speeding momentum of Vanessa, which melted into the warm and fuzzy haloes of Genesis. And all were matched with throaty catcalls and flailing limbs. The crowd ate her up completely.

The song Be a Body. Oh my god. What a GREAT track! And she absolutely KILLED it live! There was not a body there without arms in the air and feet stomping along to a deliberately simple electropop beat that masks some impressive experimental vocals. You can really hear how she’s inspired by Mariah Carey on this one.

I must say though, Grimes’ voice was obscured by frequent mic feedback and throbbing bass, so her  R&B-influenced soprano did get a bit lost.

And yes, her voice did come across as inconsistent at times, but I expected it to, because that’s how it sounds on the record. It doesn’t matter. Her voice is interesting, and her beats are wickedawesome. Like, The Knife-style wickedawesome. (If you’re a fan of me or my blog, you will know I have a permanent love-on for The Knife — I even wrote them a poem.)

Take a gander at Grimes’ latest video for Vanessa:

Regardless of any criticism of her musical ability, Grimes comes across as real during her performance. And that’s all I really wanted.

This is a tough feat I’d say, given the incredible amount of hype this girl is getting: New York Times, the National Post, the Sun, the Province, the Georgia Straight, Pitchfork, Exclaim!, Spinner, Discorder, etc. are all taking note.

And living in Vancouver myself (I grew up in Metro Van), it’s hard not to notice her popping up everywhere here. The sky’s the limit for this Vancouver girl, though now she calls Montreal home.

So what does it mean to be from Vancouver?

Let’s ask some notables:

“The sea has now changed from it’s natural, to river coloured water, the probable consequence of some streams falling into the bay, or into the ocean to the north of it, through the low land. To describe the beauties of this region will, on some future occasion, be a very grateful task to the pen of a skilled panegyrist.”

–George Vancouver

“It’s a foodie town, a chef town, a multicultural city. A proverbial melting pot where the elements don’t melt too much and lose distinct flavours.”

–Anthony Bourdain

Hm. If you asked me what it meant for an artist to be from New York, or Tokyo, or Paris, or even Cleveland, I’d definitely have a picture in my mind; at least some distinctive imagery to describe the artist’s influence.

So what of Grimes?

I think her music — with its airy melodies and deep pop hooks; tingly synths and jagged beats — shows that being from Vancouver means we’re all a little raw.

You know. Edgy. Unfinished. Beautiful, but hauntingly vague. Like the rain we must endure for so many waking months, we can’t be pinned down.

People are really transient here. Friends come and go. Summer lovers get washed away with the seasons. The perpetually grey sky can make us desperate for light. We don’t talk to each other enough in public places. We’re inside our heads a lot of the time.

As Grimes herself said to the Vancouver Sun, “I don’t have a phone. Everyone I know is always on their fucking phone on the Internet all the time. I just wanted to write a song about being alive in the real world — ‘be a body.’”

With her edgy, experimental beats and enough artistic talent to rival seasoned pop divas like Robyn and La Roux, Grimes is coming out of her head and into yours.

So you better check her while you can.

First photo courtesy of the New York Times; second photo courtesy of Arbutus Records; third photo courtesy of Pitchfork.

TWO DAYS AFTER A RIOT: The Mountain Goats gave me love (love love)

23 Jul

North Carolina’s poetic indie-rock outfit The Mountain Goats makes music like bittersweet breakup letters. Like heartache put to 4/4 time.

I love this band and have only seen them once before at Sasquatch 2010. They were great, but admittedly, they’re not a band you can appreciate at a big music festival. Their show at The Biltmore Cabaret on June 17, 2011 was far more intimate, and way more memorable.

And John Darnielle is a great frontman — one of the best I’ve seen, in fact.

He is so intelligent, well spoken, gracious… and funny! He chatted with the audience between every song, speaking about his artistic influences, his personal life, anecdotes from the band and current events. His trademark, witty musings were simultaneously dark and light-hearted — just like his music — and my three friends who were not familiar with the band had no trouble forging a connection.

Darnielle even apologized about the riots that happened in our city two nights before, eloquently lamenting the negative impact of such a pointless event. Having been there for the start of the riots, I was surprised at how emotional I felt as my friend and I fled the downtown core. Everyone we met during the exodus was surprised and angry; opinions were infinite; any feelings of civic pride were dashed.

Though it was sad for me to realize the bands I love will probably talk about the riots before gigs in VanCity for a while to come, it was really nice to belong to a loving, respectful crowd on this night. Truly, this is the Vancouver I am proud to be a part of.

The Mountain Goats played an energetic hour-and-a-half-long set, switching effortlessly between crooning love songs, bitter ballads and upbeat indie dance tracks. Darnielle, with Jon Wurster on drums, Peter Hughes on bass, and touring keyboardist Yuvol Semo, had no shortage of energy as they all wailed on their instruments in the most sincere fashion. This band is known for their sincerity, and their stage presence confirmed it as they all looked like geeky college professors breaking loose from grading papers.

Speaking of stage presence, Darnielle’s is excellent. He is truly a seasoned performer. He had no trouble interacting with the crowd, and at one point pressed his face against the steel enclosure along the side of the stage and crooned through it. After that, he hung himself off the side of the stage and caressed people’s faces as he leaned in for a few intimate moments with fans.

Oh, and he wasn’t wearing any shoes.

Did I mention I love this band?!

Anyway, given that it was an early show with a 10:30 pm curfew, The Mountain Goats played a rich set that included 18 songs (I was too busy swaying to count — thank you Setlist.fm). They started with“Liza Forever Minnelli,” a new, slower track, and worked on building an infectious energy that carried us through “Broom People,” “Damn These Vampires,” and “This Year.” And the energy didn’t peak for a moment. From this secretly emo heart, I was particularly excited to hear “Broom People.” The songwriting makes me feel mushy every time:

’36 Hudson in the garage
All sorts of junk in the unattached spare room.
Dishes in the kitchen sink
New straw for the old broom.
Friends who don’t have a clue
Well meaning teachers
But down in your arms, in your arms
I am a wild creature.

Floor two foot high with newspapers
White carpet thick with cat hair
Half eaten gallons of ice cream in the freezer
Fresh fuel for the sodium flares
I write down good reasons to freeze to death
In my spiral-ring notebook
But in the long tresses of your hair
I am a babbling brook

God I love those lyrics! It was very cathartic live.

After this, it was just Darnielle, mic and guitar. When the bare-bones love song “It Froze Me” began, the crowd fell silent, entranced by his wavery vocals and expressive guitar plucking. This song goes all the way back to ’96, and it was amazing to hear Darnielle’s poetry come alive much like it would have on his early demos. Watching him perform this song felt like experiencing a first kiss with someone you really like: soft, electric and infinitely uplifting. I’m a big fan of this band, but I’d never heard this song before and the title described my reaction exactly.

What a beautiful song, and such a pleasure to experience live:

Later in the set, the band played a special song only performed live called “You Were Cool.” Darnielle told the crowd he first performed it in Victoria, B.C., and that it was “really special” to be able to play it for a Vancouver audience. Aw!

To close the set before the encore, the band played the ever-popular “This Year,” which had everybody shouting out:

“I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me.”

In a city that is still reverberating from the deep wounds of senseless, violent rioting over nothing, where young people are wearing the blame and everyone is searching their souls to find a way to understand, this felt very apropos.

When the first few chords of “No Children” rang out and I shrieked with glee. This is one of my absolute favourite songs EVER! I quickly discovered I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm: nearly everyone around me was shouting or muttering along with every word, which was awesome, because for this band the words are many.

The words are what it’s all about:

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow
I hope it bleeds all day long
Our friends say it’s darkest before the sun rises
We’re pretty sure they’re all wrong
I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn’t over

And I hope you blink before I do
Yeah I hope I never get sober
And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can’t find one good thing to say
And I’d hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You’d stay the hell out of my way

I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

All in all, it was the ideal end to a very un-ideal week in Vancouver. I’m so glad I was there. While falling asleep that night, I thought about how The Mountain Goats are the perfect symbol for how to behave with dignity in the face of negative emotions.

Their music illustrates how anger, when met with intelligence, can inspire beauty.

All of Darnielle’s lyrics are poetry. I could spend hours flipping through the band’s massive catalogue of tracks.

Buy music by The Mountain Goats on iTunes and check out the setlist from the Biltmore show.

Also, check out this sweet poster I bought!

Top photo courtesy of Brooklynvegan.com. Second photo courtesy of Stereogum.com.

Sandals = feelings of greatness

20 May

It’s gonna be 20 degrees today! At last, spring is upon us. And you know what that means…

Scandals. IN SANDALS!!!

I love wearing sandals. In fact, I recently confessed to a friend that I measure success and happiness by how often I get to wear a bikini and sandals in a given year.

I am going to do both of those things tomorrow and I’m guessing my serotonin levels will skyrocket.

Here’s a sneak peak of the sandals I’ll be sporting today. Picked ’em up at this year’s epic shoe sale at Army and Navy for a tidy $40. Not too shabby for Nine West! And today is the first wear! O how I love them.

In her book Shoes, Linda O’Keefe says sandals were the first crafted footwear. They date back to 3500 BC, when ancient Egyptians made imprints of their feet in wet sand, fashioned soles out of braided papyrus and added rawhide thongs to keep them in place. The sandal existed in some form for thousands of years — in Italy, Japan, Spain and even rainy England.

After having gone out of fashion for more than 1,000 years, the sandal made a comeback in the ’20s. Heels were attached, accentuating the feminine arch, and this gave the previously modest foot an excuse to sport coloured toenails and rhinestone straps.

Tres sexy.

Shifting gears back to modern day, I always get excited for sandal season’s new styles. Here are a few choice finds for spring 2011:

Pour La Victoire at Umeboshi, $259

John Fluevog, $259

John Fluevog, $259

Free People, $114

Aldo, on sale for $52

Camper, at Gravity Pope, $200

Jigsaw, on sale for $124 CAD ($72 GBP)

Anthropologie, $138

Anthropologie, $188

Click here for more spring 2011 trends from InStyle. If you’re hoping to create a look that’s a little outside-the-box this season, check out this guide for pairing sandals with tights. It’s a fashionable and strategic option in a city where the weather reinvents itself as often as Madonna.

Enjoy the sun!

First photo by me; second photo courtesy of mensrag.wordpress.com; all other photos courtesy of the links below.

NEW LINK IN MY LIFE: Polyvore.com

14 May


Polyvore.com is my new favourite website ever!!!! With this site, you can browse fashion spreads made by both pro and self-made stylists, and you can pick through and save the items you like best to make your own spreads. Finally! My dream of being a fashion magazine editor has come true!

This is what I would wear to Sasquatch if I were going this year, and if I had unlimited funds. But since I can’t make it, and I don’t have unlimited finds, I’ll live vicariously by creating this fantasy look using these coveted Paul Smith boots and amazing utility vest as my staples.

I dare you to look at the back of that vest and not be driven to buy it.

Also, I simply must have those boots. The desire is rooted deep. But at $525 saving for them will be a lesson in delayed gratification, which is a lesson I sorely need to learn.

For now I’ll just create the dream on Polyvore.

LIVE ACTION: Spoon at The Orpheum – April 11, 2010

10 May

Blusey indie rock act Spoon are the masters of minimalism. Their strong, simple sound contains guitar hooks you can’t get out of your head, and lead singer Britt Daniel’s sweet yet gravelly voice cuts right to the core.

Theirs is the type of pop-rock that could fill an empty room, or help you stay sane on a deserted island. You’d only need a candle, a stump and some Spoon to survive.

So when I arrived at The Orpheum on a sunny Sunday evening I was pretty darn stoked. I’ve seen them once before at the Commodore and they gave a flawless, emotionally-charged performance. Needless to say, I was READY for this!

But I cannot lie about what came first. Openers Micachu & the Shapes were difficult; their frenetic, experimental sound didn’t match the venue. Perhaps it was because I had balcony seating and I wasn’t able to witness the band’s penchant for hammering away on hand-made instruments. Or perhaps it was because a large open space like The Orpheum with its gilded interior and fantastic acoustics created a very stark and uncomfortable contrast — I don’t know.

In any case, Micachu & the Shapes’ jangly, ragged guitar and droaning, post-punk vocals made me feel hungover.

After this, ambient punk/alt rock act Deerhunter took the stage. I was pretty psyched for this as I’m a fan of lead singer Bradford Cox’s side project Atlas Sound. Deerhunter’s set was good, not great, but generally pleasant. The general pleasantries were aided by Cox’s dorky yet lovable stage manner (he is super tall and incredibly thin, and uses words like “sock hop” and “groovy”). Cox even flopped his lanky frame onto the floor the for the last number causing a jubilant dance party at the front of the stage. It was adorable!

As well, Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Rob Pope and Eric Harvey all pitched in intermittently throughout the set, which was pretty rad.

And then, it was time for Spoon.

The stage was decorated simply, with just a few strands of Christmas lights, some floor-mounted lightboxes and a single spotlight to highlight the band’s pared-down approach to rock and roll.

Lead vocalist Britt Daniel started the set with a bare-bones rendition of “Before Destruction” that gave me chills. His voice is so raspy and masculine it makes me want children. And right as the last notes faded like smoke, the band revved up to a bluesy rendition of “Nobody Gets Me But You.”

Yes!

Some additional highlights were a totally transcendental performance of the “Ghost of You Lingers” that was so powerful it had me reviewing images from the last ten years of my life. All my failures and accomplishments flew by in rapid succession to the stark, repetitive notes of Eric Harvey’s controlled keyboarding.

Then it got fun. Popping out hits like “Cherry Bomb,” “Rhythm and Soul,” “Don’t Make Me a Target,” and “The Underdog,” Spoon had everyone in the joint bobbing heads, tapping toes and showing teeth. God, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is a great album. (Try saying that three times fast!)

Luckily their massive catalogue is so solid that the band doesn’t have to coast on just one album. With tracks hearkening all the way back to 2002’s Kill the Moonlight, and an encore boasting two of my favourite Spoon tracks of all time — “I Turn My Camera On” and “Don’t You Evah” — it was impossible not to cheer my heart out for them when they exited the stage for good.

If I were to make one complaint, nay, two: there were a few instances where the guitar was turned up too loud drowning out Daniel’s vocals. Also, their rendition of “Anything You Want” didn’t contain any keyboard action. They did the riff with guitars, and it didn’t sound nearly as good as it could have.

But all in all, their entire performance was given with such controlled precision that I can honestly say Spoon is one of the most professional, and accessible, acts in rock and roll.

Now you must watch a live bootleg of “The Way We Get By” recorded live from the very same night. Enjoy!

Download Spoon here.

View the complete set list here.

All photos by me.