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.

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Daniel Romano, Baby Eagle, and Will Kidman at The Shop, Toronto

So last night I visited Toronto’s newest venue, The Shop, located underneath the restaurant Parts & Labour in the heart of Parkdale. I remember last fall when I started hearing people talking about a new restaurant, an offshoot of Oddfellows and The Social, opening up at Queen St. W. and Sorauren Ave. that was going to have a small “punk” venue in the basement. I’m always happy when bands have new places to play, but I was mostly excited to have a venue opening up so close to my apartment (Toronto’s west-end is severely lacking in rooms to see bands I like play). The venue now known as The Shop finally opened about a month or so ago and I meant to check it out sooner but I’m glad I waited until a show I really wanted to see popped up, as was the case on Sunday night.

Will Kidman opened the night with a quick set of songs that have yet to appear on any of his albums as Woolly Leaves (I’m still not sure if he’s playing under that name anymore). I captured some video but I had a feeling, perhaps because he was still reading the lyrics off a sheet, that a lot of the songs were still being developed and I don’t like to put stuff on the internet when it’s still being worked on. You know what I mean? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Anyway, I thought all his songs were among the best he’s written, and his cover of Neil Young’s “Shots” (which he also covered in the Constantines on their 2006 split 12″ with the Unintended) was particularly cool to hear.

Next up was Baby Eagle (Steve Lambke, also of the Constantines) who brought a full band with him, which I believed he dubbed “The Proud Mothers,” composed of three quarters of Attack in Black (Spencer Burton on drums, Ian Kehoe on bass, and Daniel Romano on acoustic geetar). It was a fairly similar set to the one I witnessed back in March at The Horseshoe when he opened for Daniel, Fred & Julie, which was fine because it gave me a second chance to hear all his new songs. My verdict: I like ‘em! While not too much of a departure from the rest of his material, with song titles like “Fisherman or Fish” and “River Bank Sitter,” moving to the East-Coast definitely seems to have informed his lyrics, at the very least. He has a new record called Dog Weather coming out soon on You’ve Changed Records, but it was available at the show last night! I listened to it today!

Daniel Romano was last up, armed only with his trusty acoustic and Bruce Peninsula‘s Misha Bower singing in harmony – the same formation I saw just over a month ago at his album release show at The Dakota Tavern. It was nice to see a lot more people come out to Sunday’s show, the record seems to be picking up steam and there were a lot of people up front listening attentively, but enough people towards the back of the room talking loudly and playing foosball made for a worse experience than at The Dakota. That’s okay though, there a plenty of other venues in the city that are better geared towards folk music. I think The Shop will be a good place to see louder music, when a little bit of chatter isn’t such a distraction.

Now that I think about it, are there any good places to see quiet music in Toronto? I mentioned The Dakota before, but even that place gets loud when there enough people there. I guess the only time you’re going to find a quiet room is if it’s a large venue and people have paid a lot of money to be there (Massey Hall for example). Any bar with a cheap enough cover is going to attract people who aren’t there for the music, and that’s okay. I feel fortunate enough that I can even see musicians I like on a weekly basis playing rooms that I can afford. What are your thoughts on this subject?

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Steamboat with André Ethier at The Dakota Tavern, Toronto

I never got a chance to see The Deadly Snakes play live while they were around, partly because by the time I discovered them, they were on the verge of breaking up. In fact, The Deadly Snakes played their last show a mere 21 days before my 19th birthday, and since it wasn’t an all-ages show, I didn’t get to go (the idea of sneaking into the Silver Dollar never even entered my 18-year-old mind).

I kept listening to the Snakes, especially the flawless double-LP version of Porcella, and my wounds began to heal. After all, how many other great bands did I never get to see live whose music I still listen to and love. The Snakes were different in that I actually had the chance to see them play, unlike say, Royal City, who broke up before I ever caught on to their music. Nevertheless, after a few years I realized it was time to look ahead and put the whole episode behind me.

Of course, on October 17th 2009 they played on-off reunion show… in Portland, Oregon. So, good news I guess, at least they will play if someone makes the right offer. Can someone in Toronto please book them??? Until then, seeing André Ethier sing Snakes songs with Steamboat will have to do (I really appreciate it, guys).

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NXNE 2010, Toronto
17/06 – 19/06/2010

Well, I’ve been putting off writing this for days now and I really don’t think I can wait any longer. This year, like the last two years, I attended North-By-North-East. I decided to make more of an effort this year to check out multiple shows each night and in the end I did pretty well. As usual though, I ended up gravitating towards bands I already know and love rather than checking out new stuff. Here’s my weekend, day-by-day.


My night started at The Great Hall, a 120-year-old building at Queen and Dovercourt that recently started hosting concerts. It was my first time there, though I’d previously been to The Theater Center (which is in the same building). The Great Hall is a similar room, with a balcony wrapping around the room, but instead of seats in the middle, the main floor is entirely flat, which I guess explains the “hall” part of its name. I didn’t get too close to the stage, prefering to lurk in the shadows underneath the balcony, but the sightlines were good from wherever I stood. This would be thanks to the high stage, which reminds me of a miniature version of the one you would find a The Opera House or The Phoenix. Together with some great lighting and sound made for a pretty fine place to see some music.

The first band I saw was Women, who I last saw at the Horseshoe in March 2009, during CMW. The Calgary quartet’s first album came out in 2008 and I can’t say I’ve listened to it more than a handful of times, but I remember liking much of it. Unfortunately, the band really stayed a bit too still for my liking and my excitement waned early on. Still, the new songs were solid.

Taking the stage after them was LA’s Best Coast, who I caught last time they were in town back in April. I liked ‘em then, and I liked them here too. Good songs, good style, looking forward to hearing their album.

I left after a few songs, hoping to catch Metz at The Garrison, but by the time I arrived they’d finished playing. Nevertheless, DD/MM/YYYY were about to take the stage, so I decided to stick around because it had been a long time since I’d seen them play. I’ve never really connected with their music in the past and my attitude didn’t change too much this time, but I do appreciate what they do more than before. Their long repetitive grooves reminded me of Oneida, which I liked. They’re fun to watch and while the music isn’t always my thing, they obviously work very hard and I can back that.

I hurried over to the Kelp Records showcase at Clinton’s, and caught a bit of The Michael Parks (featuring Andy Swan, Sandro Perri, Greg Smith of the Weakerthans, and Shayne Cox, most recently of Sports: The Band) and stayed for some of Andrew Vincent. Both acts were laidback, loose, and delightful. Andrew Vincent was especially entertaining, as he decided to sing/rap over pre-recorded backing tracks for the first few songs. That might sound strange, but his smart lyrics, awkward gestures and hushed voice made for fascinating show.

I ended the night back at The Garrison, where my house-guests for the weekend, PS I Love You, were playing at 2 am. Not too many people were still there at that late hour, but you could tell that everyone who stuck around and saw them was pretty excited.


The first stop of the night for me was the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom for the NOW Magazine showcase. I was there to see Halifax’s Tasseomancy (formerly Ghost Bees, they announced the name change mid-way through their set), the project of twin sisters Romy and Sari Lightman. I last saw them when they played a show at my apartment in March, and their new songs have really stuck with me. Right off the start I knew I was in for a treat, when I realized that Timber Timbre‘s Taylor Kirk and Simon Trottier would be accompanying the twins, switching between drums, guitar, keyboard, and lapsteel. Also sharing the stage were a group of women covered in body paint and carrying staffs and sculptures and essentially just adding a theatrical element to an already dark and creepy set of music. One of them even did an interpretive dance to one of the songs, freaking me out further. Best thing I saw at NXNE this year, for sure!

Obviously I wanted to stick around to see Timber Timbre, but I also really wanted to go check out Katie Stelmanis at Wrongbar. I decided to try to see a bit of both sets, ducking out during Timber Timbre’s third song to make my way west along Queen St. I don’t think I missed much – I’ve seen them play so often and I always enjoy it, but I’m really itching for some new material!

It was my first time visiting Wrongbar, and the layout was not at all how I pictured it in my mind, but I still thought it was a pretty cool room. I was able to catch the last half of Katie and her band’s set, which included one very danceable number that I’d never heard her play before. They’re one of my favourite acts in Toronto right now and I hope more people catch on to what they’re doing because it’s really quite good.

Diamond Rings played next, dressed like a peacock. People lost their shit, of course.

At midnight, I hurried over to the Dakota to catch Evening Hymns. The place was jam packed, and unfortunately it seemed like a lot of the people weren’t there to listen to music. It was a damn shame people didn’t shut up for their set because from what I could hear it was beautiful. I got fed up with the chatter and left early to try to get into Lee’s Palace for PS I Love You.

When I arrived, Japandroids had just finished and there was a steady stream of people exiting the building. All I could think to myself is, “These folks don’t know what they’re missing!” I think a lot of Japandroids fans would dig PS I Love You – they’re both guitar and drum duos who write really catchy energetic anthems – but if I’m not out there checking out new bands, I can’t expect others to as well. I found my spot up front and had my brain melted by them for the second night in a row.


I was pretty exhausted after the first two nights, so for Saturday I chose to just one show: The D’Urbervilles at The Drake. They weren’t going on until midnight though, so I decided to go see if my boys in Attack in Black were hanging out at the Horsehoe. I’d be missing their set for The D’Urbervilles, but it was good to hang out for a while anyway. I did manage to catch some of Bruce Peninsula‘s set, and to my ears they’ve never sounded better. I wish I could have stuck around for their whole show.

So yes, the festival ended at The Drake, with my old friends The D’Urbervilles. Seeing them play is a NXNE tradition that I’m happy to keep up.

To wrap things up, I agree with everyone else who has said this was the best NXNE ever. Though I wasn’t around in the mid-90s when it began, it was certainly the most fun I’ve had out of the past three that I’d attended. With all the new venues that have opened up in the last year, and with the nice weather we had over the weekend, walking around the city at times reminded me of being in Austin for South-By-South-West. About a million less people, but the feeling was still there.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations, here’s a video of PS I Love You playing their song “Meet Me at the Muster Station” at Lee’s Palace from the Friday of NXNE.

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Emma McKenna, and Canadian Wildlife at Hype House, Toronto

Emma McKenna’s name has been tossed around a lot since I moved to Toronto some two years ago. For whatever reason, my friends were always telling me about seeing her play or just wondering out loud when she would finally release an album. Once I finally heard Emma’s music, I understood exactly why everyone was always talking about her.

I’ve listened to her album three times today knowing I would have to write about it, and I still can’t come up with a good way to describe it. She’s a singer-songwriter, that much I do know, but don’t let that paint a picture of her as an acoustic folk balladeer. Simply put, Emma is fierce, with a voice that grabs you by the ear and doesn’t let go (in a good way).

I’m getting ahead of myself though, so let me back up. In March, my roommates Adam, John and I hosted CMWTF?!, a house show featuring acts not officially playing Canadian Music Fest. John is friends with Emma so he asked her to play and I was delighted when she said yes. I thought the show went over pretty well, and I guess Emma did too because a few months later she approached us about playing our apartment again, this time to celebrate the release of her long-awaited debut album, Run With It. Obviously we said yes, and the date June 11th was decided upon. Our friends Jenny and Casey Mecija (of Ohbijou) opened the show as Canadian Wildlife, and Emma’s set had special guests in the form of Katie Stelmanis and Tasseomancy.

Yes, it was a pretty special night, and with over 100 people in attendance it was a huge success. Check out the video to hear Emma play a song that isn’t on her album.

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