Victoria Bergsman and her solo venture Taken by Trees took over the Knitting Factory Brooklyn Wednesday night, playing songs mostly from their 2009 release, East of Eden. Celebrated for its effortless synthesis of Pakistani Sufi melodies and the best of minimalist Swedish indie pop, it is a refreshingly diverse yet accessible record and one of last year’s best. Performed live, however, Eden’s precise and fluid rhythmic layers lost their form while its hypnotic melodies were reduced to a few unbalanced instruments and Bergsman’s melancholy voice. More than anything the show was completely devoid of energy. Beginning with a screening of a short film by Marcus Soderlund, “Taweel Safar-The Long Journey”, the group then performed several upbeat tracks from Eden, like “To Lose Someone” and the Animal Collective cover “My Boys”. But Bergsman was so listless while gently tapping her tambourine, and beyond simply exuding seriousness, that she appeared more indifferent to their set than those loudly talking over the music at the bar. Most of the time it was best to just close one’s eyes, listen, and replay Soderlund’s images in one’s mind.
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Multiple online music forums were abuzz when it was announced that The Magnetic Fields would be playing at The Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto. A gorgeous venue that provides comfortable seats and outstanding sound quality to its audience, it was no coincidence that the band performed the entire show seated and playing in an almost orchestral style.
However fans pronounced the group’s name (“Yeah-sayer”, “Yay-sayer”) all left the Music Hall of Williamsburg buzzing, humming, or both. It was hard to walk away without a melody or to not bob your head to Yeasayer’s polished sound collage. Celebrating the release of their second full-length album, Odd Blood, the synth, guitar, and bass trio (backed by a drummer and multi-instrumentalist) still seemed to produce their best sounds while playing material from their debut, All Hour Cymbals. The originally thin sounding and Indian-tinged “Wait for the Summer” was tight yet sonorous, catalyzing a swaying party and the crowd’s excitement before they completely lost it for the new single, “Ambling Alp”. At times the Hall was awash in ooh-ing choruses, of which “Madder Red” and encore “2080” were downright anthemic. While the group’s polyrhythms jumped from afrobeat to new wave to a pixilated dance floor thump bassist Ira Wolf Tuton filled in spaces with poignant fills on his fretless. Throughout, panels and columns of morphing neon lights that changed with their sounds flanked them. Also, Anand Wilder’s gold glitter guitar strap (with pick holster) is one the coolest I’ve seen around.
Illinois rockers Cheap Trick stormed the stage at Toronto’s Sound Academy Thursday night, putting to rest any doubts that there’s life after 50. The Rockford quartet—consisting of front man Robin Zander (lead vocals and guitar), Rick Nielsen (lead guitar and backing vocals), Tom Petersson (12 string bass and backing vocals) and Bun E. Carlos (drums)—put on a show packed with more zeal than most artists half their age can summon. Visually the band is stunning, donning rock star duds and flashy instruments, but it’s the crowd interaction (handled by crowd pleaser Nielsen) and their musical talent that clearly illustrates how they’ve managed to still be relevant after 35 years. The mostly 40-plus crowd was treated to songs spanning Cheap Trick’s long discography, including “Miracle”, iconic hit “I Want You To Want Me”, and “Baby Likes To Rock”. Between songs Nielsen would reminisce and share hilarious stories of gigs past, making self-deprecating quips about their old age. At one point he revealed what looked like a Cheap Trick banner, adding he “should use it as a diaper” now. More songs followed including the Elvis cover “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Ghost Town” and lady-killer “The Flame”. When Nielsen wasn’t swapping one crazy looking guitar for another he was showering the audience with dozens of guitar picks, while Zander demonstrated he could still hit all the high notes. Petersson’s skill on the 12-string bass was impressive as was Carlos’ tight drumming. The encore performance started a few minutes after the band left stage when Nielsen stepped out and asked “Do you mind if we play some more?” Naturally he was answered by enthusiastic applause and whistling. The encore was furious and the fans responded with renewed vigour to versions of “Dream Police”, “Auf Wiedersehen”, and “He’s A Whore” before the lights went out for the second and final time. With rock-solid performances such as this and a massive insatiable fan base, I don’t foresee Cheap Trick slowing down anytime soon.
Blue Rodeo has always been one of those bands I find difficult to lump into any one genre. They are definitely country. Certainly rock and roll. And you could rightfully argue they are a blues band too. No matter what you choose to categorize them as, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor are still going strong and doing their best work on stage. Even in a venue the size of Massey Hall, and surrounded in a sea of other musicians (I counted 13 on the stage at one point), the duo managed to create the atmosphere and intimacy of a saloon gig.