Heavy metal at The Opera House has become a tradition in Toronto, but the gathering of four metal bands all hailing from Finland was a rare novelty. Survivors Zero, Swallow The Sun, Moonsorrow, and Finntroll entertained an all-ages crowd on Monday night that made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers. The appearance of each new band onto the stage was a theatrical moment which included apocalyptic entrance music and the hoisting of banners, like armies storming a battlefield. The effectiveness of the mood preparations was underscored by the fact that each band was given ample time to perform complete sets. The resulting steady flow of black metal infused with Finnish folk music had heads banging, hair swirling, devil horns pumping, and mosh pits in full swing even before headliners Finntroll had their instruments in hand. At the end of each set, fans feverishly chanted “one more song”, and thanks to the efforts of a highly efficient stage crew, gap times between bands were mere minutes. The Finn rockers clearly fed off the crowd’s energy and they willingly expressed their appreciation for the zeal. There were many highlights but the overall upshot of seeing these strongly unified metal bands was a bona fide treat.
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Power to the androids! Self-proclaimed “thrival” Janelle Monáe recently descended upon New York City to preview The Arch Android, her forthcoming follow-up to 2008’s Metropolis Suite I: The Chase, which updates the story of Cindi Mayweather (Android #57821) and her adventures in Metropolis.
At Joe’s Pub, Janelle Monáe possessed even more drive and confidence than her 2008 debut appearances. Her typically epic opening medley was capped off with “Locked Inside”, which wafted over the audience like a salted sea breeze. It’s destined to be the “summer song” of 2010. If Monáe’s performances of “Cold War” and “Tight Rope” were any indication, The Arch Android might even surpass its predecessor as the mirror to Monáe’s genius. With a wink towards James Brown’s histrionics, Monáe knelt on the stage floor with a cape and stirred the audience to a frenzy on the latter tune. Call her The Godmother of Android Funk.
Girl in a Coma had the distinct honor of opening for indie-rock powerhouse The Wedding Present at the Bowery Ballroom last Saturday. If the preceding sentence just provoked thoughts of a bunch of indie sad-sacks, it’s understandable. After all, their name references a Smiths song, they were playing a Lower East Side landmark and opening for one of indie’s forefathers. Girl in a Coma surely consists of four prematurely balding but bearded young men who together have amassed the greatest sweater collection in the world, right?
Two things are all but guaranteed at a Xiu Xiu show: frontman Jamie Stewart will turn in an impassioned, harrowing performance and at least some portion of the audience will flee as a result. The band might not clear out a room quite like it used to—at this point, most folks seem to know what to expect—but Stewart’s performances are still as unflinchingly distressing as they ever were. Luckily, the music helps the confrontation go down a bit easier, pegging pixilated melodies and driving rhythms to Stewart’s narratives of violence and exploitation. In their latest incarnation as a two-piece (Stewart and multi-instrumentalist Angela Seo), Xiu Xiu proved that they’re still capable of making plenty of noise, employing guitars, live percussion, electronic instrumentation, various toy whistles and the Hello Kitty-clad Nintendo DS that features so heavily on their latest full-length, Dear God, I Hate Myself.
As good as Xiu Xiu were, opener Tune-Yards, a.k.a. Merrill Garbus, just might have stolen the show with her whimsical pop collages. Building loops on the fly from drum hits, ukulele strums, vocal chants and other spontaneous noises, Garbus proved to be a skillful and charismatic performer who had little trouble winning over the sold out crowd. While her loop station skills recall Andrew Bird’s, her sound is more global in its reach, incorporating bits of indie-pop, hip-hop, West African guitar-pop and various traditional musics. And while she employed a bassist on a handful of songs, she carried the majority of them all by herself—a fact that made Xiu Xiu’s two-person lineup look downright excessive.
Having grown up in refugee camps buried in the deeper Saharan parts of Mali and then come of age during a rebellious uprising by their fellow Toureg tribesmen in the 90’s, Tinariwen could have hard-knock street cred by the bushel—if they had any use for such things. They don’t. Instead their songs are excellent, joyous extended jams with one chord (and it’s a major chord, natch) and what I’d bet would prove to be soaring celebratory vocals, if I could understand them. It’s quite unfortunate that they get filed away, and often subsequently ignored as “world music”; the flavors are West African enough, plucked strings and hand drums and so on, but the mission is solidly rock ‘n’ roll, with guitars and most everything else turned up as loud as they’ll go. (To be fair to the pigeonholers, the African garb and outlandish headdresses are a pretty substantial red herring on this front.)
// Notes from the Road
"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.READ the article