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Live Review

IMG_0300Prior to their Riot Fest appearance, Stooges guitarist James Williamson issued a sarcastic jab to the show headliners: “Good luck to the Replacements on following us,” he told Exclaim!. Given the anticipation leading up to the Mats first gig in over 20 years, it sounded like a grab for media attention. But who knew this quintet of geezers would actually give them a run for their money.

IMG_0276The band – Williamson, bassist Mike Watt, drummer Scott Asheton and sax and keyboard player Steve Mackay – took the stage launching into “Raw Power.” The Lizard King wasn’t far behind, pausing behind Mackay briefly before James Osterberg had fully transformed into his manic alter ego, Iggy Pop. This guy is now well into his 60s, his body is lean, if wrinkly and his stage presence remains completely magnetic.

Iggy’s got a shtick, that’s for sure, but my God does it work for him. He remains a menacing figure, just

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ask the photogs standing underneath him as he leered over the photo pit during “Gimme Danger.” He’s matched by the Stooges, who, despite age and line-up changes, remain one of the fie


As if to prove that he can still be the real wild child his audience wants hi to be, he even launched
himself into the audience unexpectedly during “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” If he hurt himself in the process, he showed no sign of it, emerging back on stage as manic as before. “Search & Destroy,” “No Fun,” “Funhouse,” the list of classics was impressive even if they did skip over “Out in the Street” rcest bands alive, throwing down slabs of proto-punk riffage while Iggy did his thing.

While there was no way the Stooges were going to steal headlines from the Replacements, they certainly gave the band a run for their money. Moreover, they proved why they were (and continue to be) a catalyst for pretty much every single band who graced the Riot Fest stage over the weekend.

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IMG_0584There are plenty of people who will tell you that this current – unbe-fucking-lievable – Replacements reunion isn’t really a reunion. Original guitarist Bob Stinson died in ’95, replacement guitarist Slim Dunlop is sidelined after a stroke, his medical bills the catalyst for this whole shebang, and drummer Chris Mars is nowhere to be found. Their are people who can tell you that no Replacements reunion can live up to the Minneapolis band’s legend, a band who would play shows so drunk they couldn’t finish their own songs or would only play covers. A band who would be shit two out of three shows, but be the best band in the world on that third night. They might be right. But as a 32-year old who came-of-age in a post-Mats world, this night was everything I could have asked for. IMG_0608

The fervour Mats fans have for this band is kind of indescribable. You have to live with their music for a while for it to really get under your skin, but once it does, whoa-boy, you’re hooked for life.

Rapt anticipation awaited the quartet – singer-guitarist Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson and fill-in drummer and guitarist Josh Freese and David Minehan – as they took the stage. “We’re going to play some old shit,” said Westerberg, decked out in an oversized suit jacket and smirking the whole night, before the band ripped through “Takin’ a Ride.” “I’m in Trouble” followed, then “Favourite Thing.” The band, who’ve been in rehearsals for a couple months, walked the thin line between tight precision and sloppy mess, proving that the Mats’ signature sound was less calculated anti-rock stance and more natural playing style. Paul forgot the words part-way through “Androgynous” letting Tommy take the lead for a minute, and the two men seemed genuinely thrilled to be playing these songs together again. Freese and Minehan on the other hand appeared simply thrilled to be part of the event as they held up their end of the music with aplomb.

IMG_0745Some songs did drag a tad, while others were burned bright with the searing anti-authoritarian attitude that birthed them. The band engaged in a bit of audience fuckery, covering Chuck Berry and Sham 69 when they could have been playing someone’s “favourite song ever.” But that’s all part of the Replacements experience, part of being a fan of this band, isn’t it?

 

Their set ended with a series of winners. “Swinging Party” was apparently requested specifically by Dunlop. A horn and stringless “Can’t Hardly Wait” was spine tingling and “Bastards of Young” was the teenage anthem the mid-30s skewing audience always believed it to be.

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After a short break, the band returned to the stage, Paul sporting a Montreal Canadiens’ jersey and middle fingers before launching into… “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” from

the Broadway musical Gypsy. Finally “I.O.U.” and its telling screed of “Want it in writing/I owe you nothing” closed the night (there was a 10pm curfew).

You could complain if you really wanted to; they didn’t play enough of their early hardcore material, they skipped classics like “Unsatisfied” and “Skyway,” the were too sloppy, they weren’t sloppy enough etc, etc.  But really, in 2013, we got all we could reasonably want from a Replacements reunion. The band have two more shows scheduled. What will become of the Mats after that? Who knows. But one thing’s for sure. Now they really do owe us nothing. – Ian Gormely 

 

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The Replacement’s Tommy Stinson @ Riot Fest

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The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg @ Riot Fest

IMG_0655The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson @ Riot Fest

 

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Dinosaur Jr have never been one for witty stage banter; J Mascis and Lou Barlow prefer to let their instruments do the talking. “So, this is our set?” Barlow asked as Mascis’ guitar squealed into action. The trio were, as ever, thunderously loud, working through song from their entire career. Notable was a move into their 90s records – the ones Barlow didn’t play on – that the reformed trio’s avoided since reforming in the mid-2000s. Tracks like “Out There” and “The Wagon” joined “Watch the Corners” and “Freak Scene,” much to the delight of the aging audience. Even the side stage was packed with onlooking musicians like Grade’s Kyle Bishop and Fucked Up’s Pink Eyes. As always Dinosaur Jr. played a searing set, anchored by Barlow’s thundering bass and a drummer who looked suspiciously unlike Murph. Seriously, I kind of can’t get enough of seeing these guys play together. – Ian Gormely

UPDATE: Dino Jr’s fill-in drummer was apparently Kyle Spence from Harvey Milk. And while I’m adding to this post I should also mention the band played “Feel the Pain” and an old Deep Wound (J and Lou’s pre Dinosaur band) track.

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Dino Jr’s Lou Barlow @ Riot Fest

IMG_0150Dino Jr’s J Mascis @ Riot Fest

IMG_0029As Bethany Cosentino and her band Best Coast graduate to bigger venues (or at least the opportunity to play bigger shows once in a while) they’re going to have to think bigger. Best Coast are, in the realm of groups playing this fest, a small indie band. But their music can be big, huge even, when Cosentino let’s her voice really open up. But she seems more comfortable playing to a nightclub or small hall as opposed to the open field of onlookers at Riot Fest. Their mid-afternoon set was chock full of great songs from their small, but stacked catalogue. “The Only Place” and “Bofriend” got heads bobbing and a new tracks promises at least a semi-return to the buzzy pop of the band’s debut. But their set just wasn’t the jolt of caffeine this crowd needed to get their Sunday started. – Ian Gormely

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Bob Bruno of Best Coast

IMG_0049Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast

 

IMG_0057Burlington, ON hardcore OGs Grade came out of hibernation to play a late afternoon slot at the Toronto edition of Riot Fest. Sandwiched between metalcore crew the Ghost inside and pop-punks Mayday Parade and playing to an audience full of people who were still in elementary school during IMG_0088the band’s height, Grade had an uphill battle.

They came out swinging with “the Inefficiency of Emotion,” “Stolen Bikes Ride Faster” and “Seamless” in quick succession before frontman Kyle Bishop took a break and addressed the band’s alien-like status on the bill. “We don’t really fit in…but that’s always been the story,” commented singer-guitarist Greg Taylor later in the set.

Rather than playing as if they had something to prove, Grade instead played like a band with nothing to prove; they’ve earned their punk rock stripes and at this point, it was up to people to come to them. As Taylor pointed out, it’s a stance the band are used to. They certainly stuck out when their two opuses – Separate the Magnets and Under the Radar  – catapulted them to the top of the underground in the late 90s. This was a band playing for themselves, and revelling in it.

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Their set was primarily culled from the latter record, their best, but they’ peppered in favourites like “Conceptualizing Theories in Motion” from Separate and “Little Satisfactions” from swan song Headfirst Straight 

to Hell, an album more than half of the current line-up didn’t even play on.

After apologizing for the un-punk prices for t-shirts at the merch booth (it was apparently out of their hands, a rare concession to a force outside the group) they ended with “A Year in the Past, the Future Forever,” the closest thing Grade ever had to a traditional hit, and “Triumph and Tragedy.” When these guys will pop up again is anybody’s guess, but it’s a sure bet it will be on their terms.

Check out an interview with Grade guitarist Greg Taylor here.

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IMG_0336In 2006 I moved from Vancouver to Halifax for school. I knew no one; I’d never even been east of Toronto. The entirety of my Atlantic Canadian knowledge came from local artists like Joel Plastkett, whose songs like “Love this Town” and “Nowhere With You” painted a quaint, loving picture of the city. While living there I interviewed Plaskett twice – I even met his mom (according to her he was a “chubby baby”). So clearly I have a bit of a bias when it comes to his music.

Still, I hadn’t seen the Darmouth, Nova Scotia native since I left the Maritimes, so it was hard to know what to expect when the lanky singer-guitarist took the stage at the inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival. His national profile has grown since I moved to Toronto in 2008, and he’s released a slew of new music in that period. Yet from the moment he stepped on stage, beaming, it was clear that the humble, self-aware artist who introduced me to my temporary home had changed little.

Backed by the Emergency (drummer Dave Marsh and bass player Chris Pennell) the trio opened with “Down at the Khyber” much to the delight of the numerous Haligonians peppered throughout the crowd. By second song “Through & Through & Through” it was clear that while Plaskett as a person hasn’t changed, Plaskett the frontman has.

IMG_0293For such a modest figure, he’s developed a stage persona that’s part storyteller, part Southern preacher leading the revival. The former took hold particularly during a brief acoustic interlude; Plaskett detailed the genesis of his ode the the Cabot Trail, “On the Rail” even briefly teasing at a performance of Thrush Hermit classic “the Day We Hit the Coast.” The latter appeared in the band’s jammier moments, particularly the epic “Work Out Fine.” Verbally riffing off the song’s distinctive drum and bass groove, interpolating Sam Cooke “Cupid” and a sing-a-long of “Doo-Wah-Diddy” before finally settling into the song proper. And when the band hit the crowd favourite line “All my friends/Where did they go?/To Montreal/Toronto!” line, he implored “little Halifax” to sing along.

IMG_0393The set split the difference between his latest CBC commissioned record, Scrappy Happiness,  and older material like “Natural Disaster” and “Extraordinary.” Yet there’s an incredible congruity to Plaskett’s music, which has mixed the singer’s heart-on-sleave sentimentality with a knack for self-referential whit (“I’m Yours,” which details meeting his future wife on the set of Thrush Hermit’s “French Inhale” video shoot, being a prime example) throughout his career. In the wrong setting this seeming clash of tones can go awry, but on this night it hit its target as “Love this Town” and “Lightning Bolt” closed out a triumphant set that set an incredibly high bar for the weekend to come. A biased opinion maybe, but one that certainly from the heart.  – Ian Gormely

Ian Gormely is CHRY’s music director. 

Though perhaps I should have guessed, my big question going into the night was: what is Ariel Pink going to be like as a performer? Before-hand he looked awkward and brooding on stage. Dressed in white jeans and striped Russian navel shirt, he aimlessly paced up and down playing anxiously with his hair. He stared vacantly at band mates as they hurriedly readied their instruments and then he stood, centre stage, rocking from one foot to the other scrutinizing the crowd face by face. His demeanor changed as soon as the music started. Singing he looked focused, and as the set progressed he relaxed and started to let loose. During one early song he removed his belt and proceeded to swing it around his head accidentally whipping his own arm. Then he took the belt and feebly lashed the monitor speakers lining the front of the stage. Returning to the mic stand, he dropped his trousers to the knee revealing baggy black under-pants rumpled up at either side to his hips. (This wasn’t the first time the trousers came down either, later when asked to ‘show us your cock’, they came off again, only this time fully and permanently. He performed the final stages of the show in what could have been his pajamas – underpants and tee). He thrashed about the stage with great energy and exuberance but he can’t really dance. He was pretty creative with the belt though; it featured throughout, done up in a noose around his neck, swung around lasso-like or just dangled between his legs.

There’s no doubting Pink’s creative intelligence and originality. I suspect as time goes by and he settles into this new way of doing things we’ll see more drama (and I hope more costumes!) in his performances. His theatrics last night were a bit silly, but never-the-less endearing. There was no irony; this is just the way the man gets down – like a child messing about in his bedroom when no one’s looking.

A very mixed crowd seemed to feel it. The venue was comfortably full, some danced, and some nodded frenetically while others just stared stolidly at the stage.  It was hard to gauge whether these guys were enjoying themselves or not. There were allot of fans – classics like “Gettin’ High in the Morning” and “Flying Circles” from 2006’s House Arrest were welcomed with claps and cheers, however it was a new number – the ethereal disco of “Round and Round” – that got the night’s biggest reception.

Much has been made recently of the new material and what Pink’s transition from lone bedroom recordist to live group means for his distinctive lo-fi sound. Based solely on last night I think having a band has extended his range of possibilities. Sure, we’ve lost the swathes of analogue crackle and hiss that veiled his early songs and wooed fans and critics alike and leaving us too is the image of Pink as a somewhat tragic genius destined to work away on primitive recording equipment in relative obscurity. But both his music and his persona have so much more about them than this and with the band there, these obscured elements can come to prominence. Beneath the sonic haze there were always joyous, beautifully constructed pop tunes and now we get to hear them in all their splendid detail.

In this week’s Now magazine Pink told of his hope that people would have fun at his shows. And I think they will. It’s easier to dance to his songs now. Some of the old tracks have a cool swaggering rhythm but I never really danced to them. Pink has always been a head-phone listen for me in part because the loose beats and less-than-metronomic playing didn’t help a dancer keep time, but also because his small sound was never sufficiently enveloping. The combination of a tight band and big sound-system meant that last night I danced my ass off! – Thomas Barker

Fan Vid for “Round and Round”