Esben & The Witch, Wye Oak, Telekinesis, Braids, Toro Y Moi and Ron Sexsmith – Last Week in Rock

The plan was to make it six shows in seven nights. The start of Gig Season, proper.

But during the first three, colds and flus were practically dripping down the walls at the venues and someone at each snotted on, or near, me…so by Gigs Four and Five, the BackstageRider was a bacterial mess. Had to not say hi to Say Hi and was sad to miss the missive from Mount Kimbie. Instead, I consumed litres of OJ and mixed my own cold meds mid-week, before bouncing back briefly to make dinner for Ron Sexsmith’s band and wrap up the week. *coughcoughcough*

Here’s what the week – March 26 – April 1-  in rock (and Ron) looked like:

Rachel Davies, Esben & The Witch, Mikala Taylor photo

MARCH 26: Brighton, UK gothic three-piece Esben & the Witch were plunged into pitch black and dry ice at the Waldorf Hotel, which was cheesily apt for the evil fairy tale sound (but brutal to shoot in). But rather than bore with fuzz, whining and shoegaze, Esben have got some serious awesome up their young sleeves, not the least of which is Rachel Davies’ astounding wail. Live, they’re utterly compelling, bashing drums, bending guitar, being just the right amount of intense. New album is Violet Cries is excellent if you like your goth EPIC. Ran into guitarist Thomas Copeman before the show and thanked him for doin’ the rockhands (with an ice lolly!) for the gallery whilst they were down at SXSW. Weirdly, I also ran into the band the next day at brunch (good Mexican at the Waldorf), and spooked Rachel by actually talking to them. I love seeing young English goth bands in daylight in North America. They look so…lost.

Jenn Wasner, Wye Oak, Mikala Taylor photo

MARCH 27: Mind = blown. With a hyped opening spot for Seattle’s Telekinesis, Wye Oak at the Media Club was the gig I was looking most forward to.  Wye Oak are a Baltimore duo (Jenn Wasner – above – and Andy Stack) who’ve just released my so-far-fave-album of 2011, Civilian. It’s a harrowing and beautiful album and I’ve been hawking it around to anyone who’ll listen. In fact, I told Jenn that when we started chatting in the ladies washroom (they toured with Lou Barlow so we had friends in common) and promised them space at the BackstageRider B&B next time they were in town. “Good, we don’t know anybody here”, said Wasner. I’ll make up the beds, shall I?

Andy Stack, Wye Oak, Mikala Taylor photo

Andy Stack is the other half of Wye Oak, and my hero. He plays drums with one hand, and keys in the other. At the same time. Subsequently, you feel like you’re watching a four or five piece.  “We noodled a LOT”, Wasner said, of the John Congleton-knob-twiddled album Civilian, whose songs massively featured in the band’s set. Highlights? The triumverate of “Holy Holy”, “Dogs Eyes” and “Civilian” for def sure…but old tracks like “For Prayer” which starts off all country, ended up heavy and delicious.

Jason Narducy from Telekinesis and Sara from Callers, Mikala Taylor photo

Here’s Jason Narducy (centre, with Cody Votolato peeking next to him behind dude with glasses) from Telekinesis and Sara Lucas from Brooklyn’s Callers, watching Wye Oak. You know you’re awesome when the headliner AND the other opener are watching you side stage. Wye Oak = go see.

Michael Lerner, Telekinesis, Mikala Taylor photo

After Wye came Merge Records label mates Telekinesis from SEA, WA. I haz a bit of a time for their radio-friendly altrock. Saw ’em open for Superchunk a few months back and a few weeks ago in Toronto, and I dig. Not often can a band pull off the “lead singer is also the drummer!” thing. That’s Michael Lerner, above, talking about what he’d put in a space capsule (“Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0, a copy of Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’, some pistachio nuts and the Huffington Post to see if it’d survive the trip”).  Was the last show of a very long tour for the band, and they looked giddy. Jason and Cody hugged off stage while Michael sang through a nice little cover ofTeenage Fanclub‘s “The Concept”. Awww, bless.

Teen Daze/Jon Baerg, Mikala Taylor photo

MARCH 28: the gig to make all the university students cream: Teen Daze, Braids and Toro Y Moi at the Biltmore. That’s Teen Daze, above, aka Jon Baerg (but shhhh, he doesn’t want you to know his real name), rocking the MacBook and getting the kids dancing. Whilst wearing a cardie. No. Small. Feat.

Raphaelle Standell-Preston, BRAIDS, Mikala Taylor photo

BRAIDS came next and was a weird one. Curiosity got me to the gig: Braids are a young art-rock buzzband from Calgary, AB (living in Montreal) who have more knobs and pedals than they know what to do with and whose vocalist Raphaelle sorta channels Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins. Leading track from album Native Speaker is Lemonade.

In fact, SO hyped was the gig that there were two video cameras documenting it, and countless blogger cameras. But then Raphie started complaining one of her 18,000 pedals wasn”t really working. And she was losing her voice (poor lass). But they soldiered on, at times sorta playing at odds with each other…until Raphie, bent down between songs, frantically gestured for bandmate Katie Lee to come over to her. Lee did. What did Raphaelle want? Help fixing a pedal? Tuning a knob? NO. She wanted A HUG. Nothing says “hey, audience, our show is unravelling!” quite like a singer who needs a reassuring squeeze. You had to feel for her, but oh dear. However…

Austin Tufts, BRAIDS, Mikala Taylor photo

…this guy, Austin Tufts, saved BRAIDS for me. Despite the fact that he looks 15, he plays drums like he’s been playing for decades. Amazing skill. Nice one, Austin.

Chaz Bundick/Toro Y Moi, Mikala Taylor photo

If you fuckin’ say the phrase “chillwave” around me one more time I’m gonna ram your fixie bike and side-ponytail up your… Huh? What? Sorry, distracted. That’s Chaz Bundick, also known as Toro Y Moi. He basically does jazzy electro groove stuff, and does it pretty well. He’s big on the uni circuit. Did it excite me? Erm…about as much as waiting for him to come on at midnight on a Monday. I am old. #FAIL

Tim Bovaconti and Mikala Taylor

APRIL 1: After two days of dying due to my regular, near-monthly colds, I was ready to head out to a venue a whopping two blocks from my house to see Toronto folkie troubadour Ron Sexsmith play at the Rio Theatre. I’ve known Ron for years – my old friend Tim Bovaconti (above, with flu-ey, knackered me) is his guitarist – and I have seen him at countless gigs in Toronto, Vancouver and London, England. Ron’s an oddball, should be more famous, great with his fans and shy but funny. And yet despite the fact that I’ve  hung out with them 7 million times, every time I see him it’s like we’re meeting for the first time.

Here’s a phone-cam excerpt of Ron soundchecking a new track from his latest platter Long Player Late Bloomer, “The Reason Why“.

I went to collect the gang at soundcheck. As the boys’d been out on the road for a few weeks (playing on Jimmy Kimmel, and doing SXSW) and because I lived so close, I did what any BackstageRider would do…invited them all over for a big feed at my place. Ron ditched my dinner for dinner with Paul Hyde (remember Eyes of a Stranger by the Payolas? Rock and Hyde’s “Dirty Water“?), who sang on the latest album. From the peanut gallery during soundcheck, when we bumped into him on the street before the gig, and after the show, I teased him mercilessly for missing out on my legendary fajitas… Hell hath no fury like a BackstageRider scorned! Just kidding. When I left and kissed him goodbye, he was all apologetic. Yeah, you would be if you’d missed…

Tim Bovaconti and hot sauces, Mikala Taylor photo

…beer, wine, chicken fajitas marinated in beer and secret spices, tons of hot sauces and the chance to unwind, take a shower or dance to the Specials and the Stranglers and chill the fuck out at Casa BackstageRider. Was fun to have Tim, drummer Blake Manning (who’s played with Rush’s Alex Lifeson and toured with Matthew Good and Jill Barber) and the most excellent Jason Mercer (former Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and Ani DiFranco compatriot) over for max good times. And of course…

Blake Manning and Jason Mercer, Mikala Taylor photo

…it wouldn’t be a Week In Rock (and Ron) without rockhands! Okay, so they’re sedate rockhands, but still. That’s Blake checkin’ his texts and Jason throwin’ the horns from my leather sofa. And the Ron gig?  Always fab to hear the oldies, “Strawberry Blonde”, “Gold In Them Hills” and “Secret Heart”, but the new stuff (includingLove Shines” from the same-titled Ron doc) is also made of the pretty.

So that was the week that was! Now if I could just get over this cold, I have some hardcore drum and bass this weekend comin’ with High Contrast! Gotta go BIG. Yup, the BSR is nothin’ if not eclectic. \m/

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