A torrent of personality and vocals, Sharon Jones will make your feet ache. Singing for two hours, and accompanied throughout by her controlled collective, the Dap Kings, even Ms. Jones removed her silver sandals for a bit, the better to pantomime her ancestry. The story of her West African and Native American ancestors dancing was an inevitable climax to the group’s physical and musical storytelling, always best personified by their eponymous leader.
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It was only a matter of time before someone put DeVotchKa and Gogol Bordello out on the road together. One would be hard pressed to think of a better pairing. The two bands share many common threads of influence yet bring distinctly unique approaches to their music. Both bands put their own spin on more traditional Eastern European music, while adding their own brand of gypsy flair, and both share an apparent love for brilliant literature (or so I infer from their band’s names). They go together a bit like an ushanka hat and a cold glass of vodka. However, musically, these commonalities appear drastically different. DeVotchKa’s music takes flight, like a bird, soaring in open air with a grace and beauty that feels cinematic and untouchable, while Gogol Bordello’s music is a bit more like a battering ram, forcing its will upon you.
The first time I saw Owen Ashworth a.k.a. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone perform was in 2004. He was opening up for the Mae Shi at Chicago’s Empty Bottle and in a manner befitting of his nom de plume, carted a box full of battery-powered keyboards up on stage, which he proceeded to daisy-chain and feed into a sequencer. What in lesser hands might have amounted to little more than a lo-fi parlor trick was transformed into a series of rich, if minimalistic, sonic landscapes, rife with harsh, hip-hop-influenced beats and twinkling 8-bit tones (before said 8-bit tones were in style, I might add). But it wasn’t just the music that captured my attention that night, it was Ashworth’s lyrics, which tenderly sketched out portraits of disillusioned, lovelorn, post-collegiate drifters. A breed, one sensed, with which the author was intimately familiar.
When I heard that Echo & The Bunnymen would be performing at The Phoenix in Toronto, I was raring to go. A big fan of the band since the ‘80s, I never dreamed I’d get to see them perform live—let alone twice, in six months. The first show was back in October, when they played with full orchestral accompaniment at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The audience was treated to plush comfy seats and a mid-show intermission during which bar staff in formal attire served beer and cocktails.
Anyone familiar with the pathos of Elvis Perkins’ songs was in for a real treat at his sold out show at Brooklyn’s Bell House last Saturday night. Not only was he in pique form, but he was also supported by his band of multi-instrumentalists. With his band, In Dearland, Elvis adds a horn section and, most importantly, tempo. It’s as if the ever melancholy Elvis has shaken off some of his sadness and introspection and decided to rock out his songs.