Poor Pilgrim’s Island Show 4, Toronto Islands
I skipped out of work a bit early on Sunday to catch the ferry over to the Toronto Islands for the fourth annual Poor Pilgrim Island Show. My first time attending this event, I decided to go as much for the music as for the chance to explore the islands alongside some friends. The forecast for the evening called for a thunderstorm, and with most of the acts performing outdoors, I was a little worried that the event would have to deviate from its plan. Luckily, the storm just missed the islands, so everything pretty much went as planned.
The first act of the day, starting a 5 pm and performing inside the Franklin Children’s Storybook Garden, was Picastro. They’re a band that I’ve always heard about but never actually sat down to listen to or see live. In fact I don’t know a whole lot about them, but checking their bio on Wikipedia they’re described as a “sleep rock.” An odd descriptor for a band, but not entirely inaccurate. Singer Liz Hysen sings quietly and some of the songs stretched on pretty long; I feel their intimate, nocturnal sound would have been a good fit for later in the day, not as the first band. Still, I liked their set, but I feel if I acquaint myself more with their material they could be a band that I could really get into.
According the our handy maps (which were available to pick up at Soundscapes during the week leading up to the show), the next two acts were going to be performing at the Gibraltar Centre for the Arts. The mob of people, which I’d estimate at about 50 or so, made the trek westwards to find that there were already a bunch of people waiting at the next stop. While Eucalyptus was setting up on one end of the room, we were treated to a puppet show retelling of the ugly duckling story, with a few twists. It was fun.
Eucalyptus is a bit of an all-star band, as far as having a lot of great Toronto musicians among its ranks. Led by alto sax-extraordinaire Brodie West, members include trumpeter Nicole Rampersaud, guitarist Alex Lukashevsky, bassist Michael Smith, percussionist Blake Howard, drummer Nick Fraser, and Ryan Driver on piano. I won’t pretend I know all that much calypso music, but the band sounded amazing. Cool stuff!
As we were leaving for the next spot on our map we were informed to check out the art installation on one of the beaches. It consisted of a few boomboxes playing music buried under the sand. It was pretty neat! A lot of people were putting their ears up to the sand to hear better but I didn’t stick around long enough to try.
At the Centre Island Pier under darkening skies and light rain I watched Not the Wind Not the Flag, an impovised duo playing a variety of instruments including kalimba, a homemade-looking guitar, recorder and drums. My friend who is more into improvised music seemed to appreciate their techniques, but it mostly just went over my head. Still, they kept it short and the backdrop was nice, so I’m not complaining.
It was back indoors for the next band, Toronto-by-way-of-California’s Snowblink, performing at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church. I’ve been a fan ever since I saw them in January 2009 and have given their last album Long Live many listens. I’ve seen them play a bunch more in the last year and I thought I knew exactly what I’d be seeing on Sunday. Happily, the band was playing almost entirely new songs that, dare I say, kinda rock? I mean, I don’t know if Snowblink could ever really rock out, but to me their live show has always been very precious and careful. This time, the band seemed a bit looser and the new songs floated less like butterflies and stung more like bees, to use a cliché. Very much looking forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeves.
The last stop of the night (for me) was Snake Island where I arrived just as the sun was starting to set. THOMAS played a stripped-down set of pop jams to kick things off. I’ve caught them live a few times now but still haven’t given their album Self-Help a proper listen. I was situated pretty far back from where they were playing and kinda zoned out for part of their set, but I could tell it was good.
Once it was dark out we moved to another section of the beach for both Tasseomancy and Daniel Romano. I saw both of them play very recently and have already written a lot about them, so I can’t add much more. Artist Yuula Benivolski built a “dream machine” which spun around during their sets and from my vantage point fit nicely into the Toronto skyline. Tasseomancy used a very cool sounding pedal that made their mandolin sound like an organ or something, and the lightning in the sky behind them added some fitting ambiance to their eerie music. Daniel’s set was different enough from last week’s show to make it stick out, including a few new tunes and a cover or two. After his set my friend said, “That man can do no wrong,” and I’d have to agree with him.
There were a lot of people filming the concert so I’m hoping to see some footage surface. I had some technical issues (I forgot my battery at home and had to get my brother to bring it to me, missing out on the first half of the night) but on top of filming Snowblink, I got another song from Daniel Romano, which I’ll post here:
I was exhausted come 11 pm and having to work in the morning made me decide to sacrifice catching the last two acts of the night, Alex Lukashevsky Trio and Drumheller. Fortunately, by that point in the evening a lot more people had showed up so despite a fair number of people taking the ferry back to shore with me, it’s good to know the last two bands would still be playing to a good crowd.
All in all, the mini-festival was a wonderful experience. It gave me the chance to see a lot of interesting bands I might not go see normally, and really let me see some cool parts of the islands that I had yet to explore. Kudos to the organizer Matt Cully and to all the bands that played for free. We live in a good city.