Category Archives: Show Reviews

Show Review: Sara Bareilles @ Phoenix Concert Theatre

Sara Bareilles Goes it Alone

Sara Bareilles Brave EnoughPhoenix Concert Theatre

April 29th 2013

If the title of Sara Bareilles’ Brave Enough tour were a question, the singer-songwriter has already proven herself only a few shows in. Clearly, she’s brave enough to tour alone, unaccompanied on stage by backup musicians or an opening band; traveling with only a small crew. She’s also not afraid to break a number of performance customs; going on early for a headliner at 8 p.m., turning GA rock clubs like the Phoenix Concert Theatre into intimate seated venues, and opening the show with her two biggest hits- ‘Uncharted’ and ‘Love Song’.
A playful tone is set early in the night as Sara tells us not to be fooled by the other instruments on stage; there isn’t going to be anyone accompanying her. “So don’t expect Josh Groban to come out, it’s not fucking happening!” Laughing, she hops from her piano bench to grab a glass of whiskey that’s been brought to the edge of the stage.
It’s clear that this isn’t a show, as in something to be watched and admired from afar. It’s an intimate evening, a conversation between friends. This, she makes apparent when she calls on volunteers from the audience, asking them to explain the story behind ‘Love Song’ to everyone else in the room. There is no rock star façade to be found here, as she stops a song to tune her ukulele, forgets her lyrics, and generally draws attention to her (adorable) geekiness. Her witty one-woman banter and “verbal diarrhea” easily fill the spaces between songs, weaving a seamless flow of entertainment.
Her voice, as effortless and equally real as her personality, stuns. During ‘Once Upon Another Time’ she actually renders a 500 capacity crowd completely silent with her a capella- something I thought impossible amongst often chatty, distracted, and apathetic Torontonians. As if her vocal talent weren’t enough, she also plays the piano, acoustic and electric guitar, ukelele, and harmonium. Even if they are, Sara jokingly points out, all variants of the same instrument.
Not wanting to play her new music until fans have had the chance to actually hear it first, only ‘Manhattan’ is debuted from her upcoming album (along with the first single, ‘Brave’). This tour is to showcase songs that don’t often get put on a set list. Including covers of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of the Bay’, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, and a brilliant blues reconstruction of ‘Come Round Soon’.
On every stop of the tour, fans have been writing what they’re “Brave Enough” to do on postcards left at the merch booth. Tonight, a fan holds up a sign saying she’s brave enough to sing with Sara, so she’s invited on stage to perform ‘Fairy Tale’. While it could have been a complete disaster (even Sara admits this later), it actually turns out to be the highlight of the evening as the girl, Sarah Vanderzon, absolutely killed it.
Without getting too cheesy here; it’s easy to tell someone to be brave, or to just be themselves. It’s another thing to do it. Especially in front of hundreds of judging eyes night after night. Though Sara sings “I wanna see you be brave” in her new single, apparently she’s put herself up to the same challenge, and there’s no sign of failure so far.


Show Review: Volbeat @ Sound Academy

Feel the Pain Tomorrow

Volbeat at Sound Academy

20130407VolbeatSound Academy

April 7th 2013

How does a non-mainstream band from Denmark sell out a major Toronto venue? Moreover, how does one actually manage to have a good time at the Sound Academy? It seems, my friends, that Volbeat has the secret formula.
Maybe it’s their solid four-album catalogue (five as of April 9th), their heart-felt lyrics that lurk beneath a tough exterior, or their inability to stay within the confines of any genre. Regardless, 2500 people have “ignored God’s day” (as lead singer Michael Poulsen puts it), and trekked to the city’s most loathed venue to check them out.
Impeccably on time for a rock show, the house lights dim not long after Toronto’s own Danko Jones leaves the stage. Following a short Motörhead interlude, a smartly dressed Poulsen emerges, with bassist Anders Kjølholm, drummer Jon Larsen, and the newly added guitarist Rob Caggiano (previously of Anthrax). Like every other night on the tour, they launch into ‘Hallelujah Goat’ from 2008’s Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood.
The problem with a band like Volbeat is that they have so many good songs, and styles, that any concert set list is bound to disappoint a portion of attendees. Tonight’s set in particular, seems to favour 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. Luckily, they recognize the age and genre-variant crowd; honouring the country fans, the goth and punk rockers, the rockabilly faction, and the metalheads, even throwing in snippets of Johnny Cash, Slayer, and Judas Priest. Everyone responds accordingly; moshing, throwing the horns, fighting (at length, since even security can’t make their way through a packed Sound Academy) and swing dancing.
The show, which has run on the same set list for months, is a finely tuned machine. Never lagging, the guys pound out as many songs as possible in 90 minutes, stopping only to lay on the typical (but sincere) gratitude. Like a dance, Poulsen continuously floats across the stage, trading places with each band member; never once missing a cue. Since new material tends to be momentum killer, tracks from the upcoming Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies are kept to a minimum. The three that are premiered; ‘Lola Montez’, ‘Dead But Rising’ and ‘The Hangman’s Body Count’ are spread out and overall well received.
Despite a bit of intermittent feedback, the band manages to get a pretty good sound out of the venue (which isn’t known for great audio, go figure). Though this was perhaps accomplished via brute force- pounding double bass pedals, shredding guitars and throbbing bass. None of which, however, managed to drown out Poulsen’s vocals, with its nuances of Johnny Cash, James Hetfield and the Swedish Chef.
The regular set closes with a sing-along of the fan favourite ‘Still Counting’, before a four-song encore. Their rendition of Young the Giant’s ‘My Body’ is received by a few confused faces, even though Volbeat has never shied away from atypical covers (Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Only Wanna Be With You’ being perhaps the best.) The night ends, like a good one should, in a ‘Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza’.

Set List

  1. Hallelujah Goat
  2. A New Day
  3. Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood
  4. Heaven Nor Hell
  5. Sad Man’s Tongue
  6. Lola Montez
  7. The Human Instrument
  8. 16 Dollars
  9. A Warrior’s Call
  10. Mary Ann’s Place
  11. Angelfuck (Misfits cover)
  12. Another Day, Another Way
  13. Dead But Rising
  14. The Hangman’s Body Count
  15. Still Counting


  1. The Mirror and the Ripper
  2. Fallen
  3. My Body (Young the Giant cover)
  4. Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza

Show Review: Wildlife @ The Horseshoe

Lions, Tigers and Sharks!(?) Oh My

Wildlife at the Horseshoe

(Photo cred: Shawn Burgess/The Indie Machine)

May 11 2012

It was with much trepidation and excitement that I set foot into the Horseshoe on Friday May 11th to see Wildlife. I bought my ticket months in advance, having fallen in love with Strike Hard, Young Diamond, their debut album. But would they be able to pull off their multipart arrangements and anthemic gang vocals in a live setting? Would I go home disappointed?
Those fears began to subside before the set even began. Stage dressing is not usually bothered with at the ‘Shoe. But there it was, a hanging black drape and Dark Side of the Moon-esque triangle, glowing behind the drum kit. The lights dimmed as the band, their backs to the audience, launched into a drawn-out jam; playing the “what song is this gonna turn into?” game. Then, like a firing squad, every foot stepped forward, mouths to mics for ‘Stand in the Water’. Even drummer Dwayne came upstage to rap his sticks against the walls, the speakers. It was loud, full and spirited. A magnificent start.
The upbeat single ‘When I Get Home’ came next, though they rocked it like an encore. From the amount of sweat emitted by this point, it’s debatable whether they’d be able to play an entire set without burning out or shriveling up. But they did, providing the crowd endless opportunities to sing, pump their arms and dance along.
“This is usually the point of the show where we tell you to move up. But, well…” The band is overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and amount of people that stayed to catch their set (openers Reversing Falls, Topanga and Pkew Pkew Pkew Gunshots also drew crowds). The audience was reduced to kindergarteners with the introduction of two giant shark balloons (with moving tails!) which were piloted around the venue. The downside being that they produced so much childish glee that they distracted from the performance.
While Derek, Tim and Graham often changed up their positions and instruments between songs, lead singer and guitarist Dean remained centre stage. His voice, a curious mix of both Burt McCracken and Geddy Lee has the sensibility of an indie rocker and the passion of a screamo kid; as if he were tearing out his own heart with every uttered sound. And (sigh of relief) it sounds just as authentic in real life as it does on record.
The night seemed over after the emotive single ‘Sea Dreamer’ left everyone both exhausted and satiated. But with one last burst of energy, they riled the crowd one last time with ‘Money From God’. Having nearly played Strike Hard Young Diamond in its entirety, plus two songs from an upcoming record, Wildlife left fans wanting nothing more. Well, almost. The pining masses pulled them back on stage for a one song encore- a brilliant cover of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland)’.

Show Review: fun. @ The Kool Haus

Joy. Pleasure. Merriment. Fun.

In “The Ront”

April 25th 2012

Let me tell you right now, I’m not gonna be that dick who peppers their review with a whole bunch of “clever” fun. puns and play on words. If that’s your sort of entertainment, I suggest a different publication. More specifically, a thesaurus. That being said, “fun” is unfortunately the best description of what this band is about, in the studio and especially on stage.
Even though the venue of fun.’s Toronto show changed twice (once without any notice), seemingly every member of the sold-out (and somewhat Gleeky) crowd made it to the Kool Haus. A welcome change, as both the Mod Club and Guvernment would be unsuitable for such a suddenly-popular group.
Without much warning, the band explodes on stage to the sound of trumpets (real trumpets!) for the regal march ‘One Foot’. Though it didn’t strike me as such on the album, this song is one of the hands down best opening pieces I’ve witnessed in my concert-going history. And the excitement didn’t peak there, every ounce of energy thrown out by Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, Jack Antonoff, Emily Moore, Nate Harold and Will Noon throughout the night was matched by the crowd; who sang their hearts out to every song.
Nate laments being called “just a boy inside a voice”, but it’s at least true of his onstage persona. Slight and youthful, his powerhouse voice is a shock. He sings like it’s the last thing he’ll ever get to do; physically and theatrically embodying his grand musical arrangements. Never wavering or strained, he holds notes while jumping up and down like a temper-tantrumming toddler. And the rest of the band? They ensure that every song translates to a live setting, with their complex harmonies and instrumentation; even including a piano in addition to the keys and synths (a real piano!)
Perhaps to buck convention, the single ‘We Are Young’ showed up second to last in the set. No doubt, putting more than a few people into an “it’s over already?!” panic. Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t the most celebrated song of the night, leading me to believe there were more than a few actual fans in the crowd (what a concept). ‘Why Am I the One’, ‘All the Pretty Girls’ and ‘At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)’ all garnered massive praise and crowd accompaniment. The set ends with a cover of the Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, Nate showing off his sounds like Jagger (hey, at least it’s not fun. wordplay…)
Though the set only lasted an hour, the two piece encore which started with ‘Some Nights’ and ended with the 7-minute epic ‘Take Your Time (Coming Home)’ added almost another half hour. Though I wish the show was longer and that they were coming back soon, I’m pretty sure the enthusiasm fun. radiated all evening will keep everyone, myself included, smiling until next time.

Show Review: The Naked & Famous @ Sound Academy

Getting Naked & Famous

at the

Sound Academy

April 5th 2012

Let me admit something; I’m a bit of a music snob. It concerns me when a concert audience is greatly comprised of girls dressed to go clubbing. Plus, I loathe the Sound Academy, especially when it’s sold out. (Who puts “Sound” in the name of a venue known for crappy audio? Moreover, who builds a venue with one exit? Seriously…) So while I’m excited to see New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous, there are so many obstacles my enjoyment must overcome right off the bat.
‘All of This’ starts the show on a shaky note. It’s so quiet that I actually remove my earplugs until the sound guy wakes up and raises the levels from “Bar Mitzvah” to “Large Scale Rock Show”. Thankfully, this does not set the precedent for the rest of the night. The 16 song set loosely follows the track list of their EP, Passive Me, Aggressive You. Cutesy pop beats slowly give way to harsher industrial sounds, peaking with ‘A Wolf in Geek’s Clothing’.
There’s always a looming uncertainty over electro bands when it comes to recreating their sound outside of a computerized studio. For a less-than-mainstream band, The Naked and Famous have an impressive live quality, in both sound and display. Picture Nine Inch Nails’ kid sister; that is what’s on stage tonight. The synths are spot on, the drums sharp and Alisa’s voice cuts through the electronic ambiance like church bells. Not to mention, a collective knee-weakening is felt every time her adorable Kiwi accent fills the silence between songs.
Only one thing attempts to derail the near-perfect flow of the evening, and that’s the inclusion of a B-side. Void of the usual electronic accompaniment, the relative quiet comes as a shock. Glaring spotlights replace the light panels and lasers, leaving the stage looking house-lit. And with the general fan base not singing or clapping along, it’s just an awkward few minutes all around.
The dueled anthem, ‘Girls Like You’ finishes the set, fading into synth obscurity as the stage goes black. Alisa, Aaron, David, Jesse and Thom return a few minutes later with ‘Outside’ before launching into the obvious ‘Young Blood’. The crowd explodes into “OMG I was hoping they would play this!” splendor. And even though it takes a good twenty-five minutes to squeeze out of that fire trap of a building, bumping into high-heeled dimwits the entire time, I leave smiling and satisfied.