Sunday, November 21, 2010

Biltmore Double Feature: Diamond Rings and Bonjay

Some bands sound good, albeit toned down, when you hear them on record. Then you go see them live and you're absolutely blown away by their energy and their immense stage presence. I have a strange habit of finding bands likes this. First there was The Bloody Beetroots show a few weeks ago, which the most explosive electronic show I've seen since Massive Attack. Then last week I saw Mayer Hawthorne, who sounds soulfully mellow on record, but puts on a show that induces an earthquake of nonstop dancing madness.

Tonight was double feature night at The Biltmore. Two separate shows, with Diamond Rings and a slew of opening acts taking the early show, followed by Bonjay for the late-night dance party.

During the opening acts, what really hit me hard was the driving electro sound of Vancouver's own Humans. I haven't found the one song I really liked that he sang about his shoes, but I'm listening to their album right now and I found another one. Avec Mes Mecs is their new album and the title track has my stamp of approval.

Humans - Avec Mes Mecs (YSI)

Diamond Rings has it all: a glamorous image, a riveting stage presence and a way of making his live music sound even bigger and better than the record. Between opening acts I was actually reading an article about him in the local Beatroute mag. John O'Regan's colourful new project had rather humble beginnings. He was hospitalized with Crohn's disease in the summer of 2008, but once he was recovering, he brought in his acoustic guitar and little Casio keyboards to write music. By the end of his hospital stay, he had the nurses coming in on their breaks and he would play for them.

He took the stage, instantly heating up the crowd with his scorching electro beats and his low-range indie rock voice. He sounds like a less-gloomy Matt Berninger, the frontman from The National. And he can dance! He was all over the stage, which had a mic for him on each side, one with his table of beat machines and one with his electric guitar. His shirt came off within a few songs (I still don't believe that The Biltmore actually installed air conditioning) and he showed off an elaborate necklace that his friend crafted for him from, in his words, at least five organic free-range unicorns. It seems that Diamond Rings has taken a lesson from fellow Toronto glam electro artist Peaches. Image is everything and extravagance is essential when it comes to live electronic music.

Diamond Rings got cut off at 11pm, after what seemed like a very short set. The crowd definitely wanted more, but there was nothing he could do about The Biltmore's "curfew". The stupid thing is, the next act, Bonjay, still didn't go on til after midnight.

Diamond Rings - All Yr Songs (YSI)
Diamond Rings - It's Not My Party (YSI)

After Diamond Rings, I left to find some late-night pizza. When I returned, there was a huge lineup of people waiting to join the Bonjay dance party. Luckily I had already been stamped, so I skipped the line and went inside. Bonjay started with that awesome song I already knew, “Stumble”, which is technically dancehall but is seriously sidetracked into experimental territory. It's like an atomic collision between Major Lazer, Animal Collective and maybe Rainbow Arabia.

A few songs later, they covered Caribou's “Jamelia”, which I didn't really take to when it made its rounds through the blogs, but Bonjay's Alana Stuart sang this one with so much intensity that I'm going to have to give it another run in my playlist. Next up was my favourite, “Frawdulent” which had a massive breakdown that doesn't appear in the recording. Their set felt a bit short as well, but Bonjay has only released on EP so far, so they had actually exhausted all their material.

Bonjay - Stumble (YSI)
Bonjay - Frawdulent (YSI)

Next up for Bonjay is Calgary on the 24th, as they head east across Canada for 6 more dates, then a couple US shows. Their debut EP Broughtupsy is out now on Mysteries of Trade.

Diamond Rings heads south for 11 US dates, starting on the 23rd in Los Angeles. His debut album Special Affections is out now on Secret City.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Doomtree's First Tour Hits Vancouver

Doomtree is a diverse collective of hip-hop artists from the Midwest, home of hip-hop's most underrated scene. Rhymesayers' own P.O.S heads up the crew, which includes an array of emcees and producers extraordinaire, Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak. When I talk to people from the Midwest, they have nothing but the highest praises for Doomtree, who many would consider the cornerstone of hip-hop in Minnesota. I have deep roots in one of Canada's finest hip-hop scenes, so this was a show I simply couldn't miss.

When I arrived at the Biltmore, Lazerbeak was already on stage. He usually takes the background position of producer, but right now he's Doomtree's rockstar of the moment. He just released his debut solo album, which I've been getting into lately. The album has an organic electronic feel to it, with catchy melodies and some great singing by Lazerbeak himself. For his set, he played electric guitar while Dessa backed him up on vocals and the others took over the tracks and drum machine.

I guess Doomtree likes to serve dessert first, starting things up with Lazerbeak before moving on the main course of breakbeats and underground raps. P.O.S brought the crowd into a frenzy with his double-time raps and triple-time breakbeat of “Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)”. I've seen him once before, and we was on fire as usual—onstage he's loud, excited and loves interacting with the crowd. Cecil Otter came up next with some raps from the deep, dark underground that brought me back to 5 years ago, watching my friends perform show after show in the local hip-hop scene.

Sims was next. His voice dominates and his rapid-fire flow feels like he's imprinting a headnodding subroutine into your subconscious. I can see why he received such high critical acclaim from URB Magazine and Okayplayer. His last album was in 2005, so I was glad to hear when he mentioned he has a new album with Lazerbeak coming out soon.

The emcees took a few more rounds, when finally singer/emcee/poet Dessa came up front to perform material from her new album A Badly Broken Code. It felt like a lot of the audience had been waiting for her, and despite an apparent headcold, she graced the mic beautifully.

Doomtree continued their rounds, including some great collaborations from their various albums, until finally Sims, Dessa and P.O.S brought the almost 3-hour set to a close with the “uh huh, uh huh, it's real gold!” chorus of P.O.S's “Low Light Low Life”. No encore necessary—Doomtree had just served us all dessert and a six-course meal of P.O.S, Dessa, Sims, Cecil Otter, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger, with seconds all around. Damn, I'm glad I chose that over karaoke last night.

Tonight they play Portland and then 21 more dates across the states and Canada. And of course, here are my top picks from Doomtree's latest offerings:
Doomtree - Dots and Dashes (YSI)
Doomtree - Kid Gloves (YSI)
Lazerbeak - Dream Team (YSI)
P.O.S - Goodbye (YSI)
P.O.S - Drumroll (We're All Thirsty) (YSI)
Dessa - Seamstress (YSI)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mayer Hawthorne with Gordon Voidwell at The Biltmore

I arrived just as Gordon Voidwell was getting things started. I went in completely blind—I don't think I had even read what type of music he plays. He already had the entire crowd dancing at the front, a surprise for someone that no one in the audience had likely heard of before; they were all here for Mayer Hawthorne. His music was nonstop funky hip-hop with electro beats. The perfect warmup for Mayer Hawthorne.

After Gordon Voidwell, the audience members planted their feet firmly to guard their valuable shoulder-to-shoulder dancing spots in front of the stage. Everyone knew what was coming. Mayer Hawthorne hit the stage with a suave confidence that made us feel like he was playing for all his best friends. After a couple songs, he made a remark about how intimate the show was compared to the big venue last time when he played here in Vancouver with Passion Pit (yes, I was there too), then he proceeded to instruct the audience that now was the time to put away your cameras, and if you're not here to dance, move to the back!

Mayer Hawthorne has a voice that will leave you spellbound, especially once you see him in person. He draws influence from all the great soul singers of the 60s and 70s, but it's all packaged in the slightly perplexing form of green eyes, pale skin, a sharp suit and some dorky Buddy Holly glasses. It's when he opens his mouth, you see that he's got style and he can charm a crowd with little effort. Hawthorne and his band looks like they timewarped here from the 70s to put the realness back into modern soul and funk music.

By the time he reached the last song, he had taught us a new dance and everyone in the room was exhausted. Nevertheless, the crowd gasped and panted for more, coaxing him back to give us a gracious triple encore. You can never have too much Mayer Hawthorne.

Mayer Hawthorne - Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin' (YSI)
Mayer Hawthorne - Held the Hand (Daniel Johnston cover) (YSI)
Gordon Voidwell - Ivy League Circus (YSI)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Bloody Beetroots Death Crew 77 at Commodore Ballroom

“Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, the bastard son of the Misfits and Daft Punk. As gruesome as the act of conception may appear, the union would generate the most grandiose of offspring.” Normally I wouldn't copy and paste from the official artist bio, but I couldn't have said it any better.

I arrived early at the Commodore and had a delicious burger while the first DJ put on a smashing offering of dubstep, soulless like it should be. How many concert venues have food, right? Never mind good food! Congorock transitioned to his own fidget house sound, and by the time he was done the whole dancefloor was jumping. He was more than just a warmup; more like the icing on the cake for Bloody Beetroots fans who are probably all just as familiar with Congorock.

I didn't know what to expect from The Bloody Beetroots. I had only really listened to the album. Would they just transition into their set like most DJs, but with the interesting addition of the live drummer I had heard about? No. The music stopped and the lights dimmed, igniting the screams of the crowd until The Bloody Beetroots and their Death Crew 77 took the stage. And what an entrance.

The music began dramatically, lights flashing, and slowly built to a devastating climax. Of course, a climax implies that you have to come down from it shortly after. Not when you're dancing in front of a stage full of The Bloody Fucking Beetroots. I don't know how they do it, but their music peaks at the start of the first song and just keeps peaking.

The stage was manned by four masked men: one guitarist, one drummer, one synthesist and one DJ mixing it all live. People often put electronic music in a lower category because they think it can't be translated to a live show. Well, the Bloody Beetroots bloody well figured it out.

I haven't even described the actual sound of their music and I feel I've said enough. Tomorrow, November 6th, is part two of their double date with Vancouver, and the last stop in their North American tour. Then, with hardly a few days off, they start a massive European tour on November 10th in Paris.

The Bloody Beetroots - Butter (YSI)
The Bloody Beetroots - Awesome (feat. The Cool Kids) (YSI)

This video for “Cornelius” is another great way of describing a legendary night with The Bloody Beetroots.

Friday, November 5, 2010

You Say Party Films Big-Budget Video in India

Pardon the lack of postings lately; I'm still recovering from an legendary Halloween weekend of hijinks and tomfoolery.

You Say Party has just dropped their new video for “Lonely's Lunch”, filmed on location in India. It looks big-budget, like a mini action movie. Check it out.

Going to see The Bloody Beetroots tonight, so a concert review will be coming soon!