Gig Review: Little Boxer at The Rivoli

I haven’t been to a concert in what feels like forever. I went to Field Trip at the beginning of June, but even that was nearly two months ago and the festival high is long gone. The constant cycle of recording and releasing and touring mean that a lot of my favourite bands end up playing shows at the same time, but that also means that there are long, long dry spells that seem to stretch on forever. Needless to say, I think I breathed an audible sigh of relief a few weeks ago when I stepped into the light-strung backroom of the Rivoli to see Little Boxer perform.

I adore this band. I have to admit that I’m not really a night owl and I don’t often make it out to a lot of local shows, but when the stars finally aligned and Little Boxer invited me to their set, I jumped at the chance to see them live again. They don’t feel or sound or look like a band that plays in tiny clubs – they’re a group that should be playing fairly hefty venues, a band that wouldn’t look out of place at The Opera House or The Phoenix. The four-piece walks onstage and fills the extra space with a brass section and a keyboard player and some kind of magic thrums in the air before they even begin to play. When the first song starts, things get electric, and there’s no turning back.

Little Boxer create a rare feeling that allows for both intense intimacy and sweeping expansiveness. There’s a sense of grandeur to their set, a practiced way they have of interacting with the crowd, a sense of camaraderie between them all that makes the audience feel like they’re being let in on their lives. That extends to the way the tracks come across, too, and every song feels like an inside joke or a vulnerable conversation at midnight or a secret that you only share with the people who are closest to you. It’s all raw and real, but it’s also the most fun you’ll have on a Saturday night in a bar in Toronto.

The group’s set list was pretty damn perfect, a selection of songs that blended the slow and steady tracks with the big ones that fill the entire room to the brim. It’s nearly impossible for me to choose a favourite – I love “Problems” and I love “Dementia,” but I would be happy listening to any of them on repeat forever. With names like “Downtown Girls,” “Hungry Poets,” and “Shot in the Dark,” there’s something there for everyone, and I guarantee you’d hear one that sounds like it was meant for you. To top it all off, they finished off the set with a cover of Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and I sang and danced along like it was the last night I had on earth.

I don’t really think Little Boxer needs any more explanation, because their music is overflowing with personality and their shows are bursting at the seams with it. They play like they were born to do it, they put their heart and soul into everything I’ve seen or heard them do, and they’re the kind of band that you know is never going to back down. They’re a group that’s here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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Gig Review: Local Natives at The Danforth Music Hall

There’s something refreshing about going to a concert on your own. The anonymity you feel being in the midst of a crowd of a thousand people who have no idea who you are. The fact that you can just let everything go because you’re not with anyone and you don’t care who’s watching. The ability you have to stand in the crowd and feel everything and not worry about anyone but you and the band on stage in front of you. It feels strange at first, and then you stop caring about the fact that you’re alone and the whole thing feels amazing instead. I’ve only done it a couple times, mostly because I often second-guess myself when it comes to doing big things alone. With Local Natives, though, I went anyway. I stood in that crowd and had one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

Local Natives stepped out onstage and I think I melted right away. The opening chords of ‘Past Lives’ began streaming through the speakers, a smile appeared on every face in the crowd, and the band went straight into the performance. That track in particular is one that I adore, one that soars straight into your soul to light you up from the inside out, and it was the perfect way to start the night. I was captivated from the very first second, I let go of everything outside myself, and I tuned in and didn’t tune out until I was on the streetcar home.

The band went on to play ‘Wide Eyes’ before moving into ‘Villainy,’ another personal favourite from their most recent album, Sunlit Youth. From his place on stage, lead singer Taylor Rice asked the crowd if we wanted to dance, only to be met with a resounding “Yes.” A “yes” that meant something. They dove into the song, the crowd began to dance while simultaneously screaming the lyrics back to the band, and I felt everything melt away. There’s something about that song that ushers in a new beginning, a fresh start, a shedding of your old skin to make way for a better, thicker one. And I felt all of that. And then Taylor jumped into the crowd to continue the dance party, and I fought to feel the moment while capturing as many seconds as possible. Three songs in and we were already off to an unforgettable start. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The set was a spectacular mix of songs from all three of Local Natives’ albums. From Gorilla Manor came ‘Sun Hands,’ ‘Who Knows, Who Cares,’ ‘Wide Eyes,’ and ‘Airplanes.’ From Hummingbird came ‘You & I,’ ‘Breakers,’ ‘Colombia,’ and a few more. The majority of the set list was from Sunlit Youth, but nothing felt out of place in relation to the older records. The nostalgic feelings brought on by songs I listened to throughout high school were balanced perfectly by the tracks off of an album that ushered in a new beginning for me. The show felt like a renewal – like I had to see the band who helped me through a tough time standing right in front of me in order for a new chapter of my life to actually feel real. I doubt I’ll ever stop being in awe of what the right music is capable of doing.

On ‘Dark Days,’ the band brought out Charlotte Day Wilson, a Toronto fan-favourite. The collaboration was dreamy and expansive and over far too quickly. ‘Jellyfish’ was another amazing performance, and one made more personal by Taylor’s explanation of the track. ‘Masters’ was incredible. ‘Colombia’ was stripped back, emotions laid out for the crowd. ‘Fountain of Youth’ was the rally call that we all needed to hear, a small beacon of hope in a Trump-era world that feels like it could crumble in a second. Nearly twenty songs went by in what felt like a millisecond, and I would give anything to be back in that crowd once again.

Sometimes, when a concert is really good, you start feeling everything at a heightened level. The songs sound ten times better when the band is only a few feet in front of you, the crowd around you is unified under the same feelings and reasons for being, and your heart pounds just a tiny bit faster as you tune into the excitement of what’s occurring in that very moment. You get to forget about everything else because the most important thing to you is the band on stage and the people you’re surrounded by and the songs that you feel deeply connected to. I felt that as soon as Local Natives graced the stage last night. It was evident in the goosebumps on my arms, in the smile that didn’t leave my face for an hour and a half, in the way my heart pressed against the skin of my chest as though it was trying to escape, and in the way my soul was being stitched back together with every word muttered into a microphone. It’s not every day that you get to feel like that, and I’ve learned to really savour the times when you do.

There are lots of tiny moments from last night that I wish I could share with enough detail to do them justice. There was a moment during the encore when Taylor stood on the barrier, begging everyone to come closer, to be more unified, and we all did. During ‘Who Knows, Who Cares,’ the crowd sang so passionately that it sounded like a well-rehearsed choir, and the band stepped back for a moment or two, wide smiles plastered almost permanently onto their faces. Kelcey and Taylor argued about whether or not to tell the audience about the beautiful weather in their home base of Los Angeles, and Taylor made a joke about the crowd giving the band a warm welcome to an otherwise cold climate. Those are the things I’ll carry with me for a long, long time.

What I got last night was a thousand times better than anything I could have ever imagined. I danced. I sang so loudly that my voice disappeared for a little while. I smiled so big and for so long that my cheeks still hurt. Almost twenty-four hours later and I’m still riding a concert high, still feeling the immense joy that Local Natives brought to The Danforth last night. When I think about it, the only words that really come up are “thank you.” Over and over again. For the music, for the happiness I still feel, for the free feeling that lingers. For the crowd of people that weren’t afraid to dance their hearts out. And for the fact that I live in a city that allows me to see my favourite bands easily and often. Local Natives restored something in me last night in a way that only the right band can, and I wish I could thank them a thousand times over. Hopefully my words do that sentiment justice.

Gig Review: Hamilton Leithauser and Lucy Dacus at The Opera House

There’s a certain excitement that comes with the first concert of a new year. With a lull in live music around the holidays, diving back into my routine of as many concerts as possible is one of my favourite feelings, and I often look to the first one as the kick off. That night sets the tone for the rest of the year in a way, gauging my excitement and commitment and setting me up for the coming months. This year, my kick off concert couldn’t have been better, and it’s still fresh enough in my mind to make my heart beat fast as I recall it.

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij released I Had a Dream That You Were Mine last year, and within a couple listens it became one of my favourite albums of twenty-sixteen. I struggle to even find words to explain how it sounds or to slap a genre on it – a couple labels doesn’t really do it justice, because it’s so much more expansive than that. When it was announced that Leithauser would be touring the record, I jumped at the chance to see it performed live, and I had been waiting for it ever since scoring the tickets.

The night kicked off with an incredibly beautiful set by Lucy Dacus, a name that I had heard buzzing around music blogs and websites, but who I had never committed to listening to. The singer is soft-spoken and charming, and put on a set that had the crowd singing along and screaming loudly between tracks. Her music, as well as Lucy herself, is instantly likeable and hard to get out of your head. I loved the entirety of her performance, and as soon as she walked offstage I hoped that she would get back on for a couple more songs.

This was one of the rare concerts that is so perfectly timed you could cry. Lucy’s set lasted forty-five minutes, leaving only a short wait before Leithauser and his band turned up onstage. They wasted no time in getting started, and in my mind that’s always best. The audience is there for the music, the band is there for the music, so you might as well just get to it.

Leithauser played for an hour, moving rambunctiously through tracks from his collaboration with Rostam as well as songs from his own previous releases. He was engaging, telling stories between songs, pulling a harmonica out of his pocket and wailing away on it while the drummer fixed a broken pedal, and making a thousand-person venue feel surprisingly intimate. The entire thing felt haphazard and thrown together on a whim, but that’s what made it special, and it ended up being one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to.

The entire set was spectacular, but some songs just nestle themselves into your heart space, which makes hearing them live that much more special. I loved the performance of ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid,’ a bluesy, folky track that Hamilton fumbled and lazily spoke his way through. ‘Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)’ showed off his screeching vocals and had the entire crowd shouting simultaneously. ‘Sick as a Dog,’ ‘Peaceful Morning,’ and ‘In a Black Out’ were all wonderful in their own right, each one pulling me further into Hamilton’s world. That closeness is something I haven’t felt in a while, and it was amazing to be at a concert filled with moments that felt like mine and mine alone.

The last few moments of the set either make or break a show. Before the encore, Leithauser played ‘A 1000 Times,’ a mind-blowingly incredible song that had me retreating into my own world and closing my eyes to feel every word that was sung. Coming back on a few minutes later, the band brought out Lucy Dacus and did a haunting rendition of ‘1959,’ the one track on I Had a Dream That You Were Mine that features female vocals. Hamilton stripped himself of his guitar, standing right at the edge of the stage with the mike cord tangled through his fingers, singing with immense fervour. Dacus provided the complimentary melodies, standing shyly off to the side but catching the audience’s attention nonetheless. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

As the concert ended for real and the audience began to file out of the venue, I walked back to my apartment feeling full and content. The show had been more than I initially prepared myself for, and that kind of happy surprise stays with you. The past three days I’ve listened to nothing but Hamilton + Rostam, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s a lovely album created and performed beautifully, and I would die to hear it live again. I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.

EP Review: ‘The Search for Everything – Wave One’ by John Mayer

My dad took me to see a documentary called California Typewriter a couple weeks ago. It’s a portrait of a business struggling to remain relevant as the world continues to become digitized, but it’s also a look at well-known creatives who have recently discovered or continue to fight for the importance of analog. It was spectacular, and aside from leaving the theatre feeling fulfilled by the fact that all of these people are fighting so passionately for what they love, even though what they love is really just typewriters, I also left with a newfound respect for John Mayer. I’ll elaborate.

The film sees a number of people talking about their love for typewriters. Tom Hanks shows off his drool-worthy collection and pushes for handwritten thank-you notes over email (so down for this to become a thing again). An artist by the name of Jeremy Mayer shows off his incredible sculptures and explains why taking apart the typewriter is still an appreciation of the beauty. And then John Mayer comes along and talks about why he writes songs on a typewriter instead of a computer, and I agreed with every single thing he said.

Mayer speaks candidly – that’s the first thing that drew me in. But he’s also highly intelligent in a way I didn’t expect. His points are well thought-out and everything makes perfect sense. In his words, computers interrupt the natural creative process. When you’re using some form of software to write, spellcheck comes on and red dots appear under words that are wrong and it interrupts your flow, and that subsequently messes up anything you create after that. Typewriters take away the interruption and the anxiety that comes from knowing you spelled something wrong or used the wrong noun. Being able to block out anything that will distract you from being creative is the ultimate way to go, and analog lets you do that. On a typewriter you can mess up a thousand times, you can cross things out, and you can see your ideas form organically. There’s no erasing or backspacing – you see the entirety of your work right in front of you. John Mayer is apparently a big fan of this, and I have to agree.

The movie made my want to listen to Mayer’s music over and over again, and, coincidentally, he released a new EP called The Search for Everything – Wave One soon after my addiction began. I love it. It feels like the stuff I used to hear on the radio when the radio was actually half-decent, and it’s light and airy and free. It’s road trip music in a way only John Mayer can make road trip music.

The EP starts off with ‘Moving On and Getting Over,’ a groovy break-up track that doesn’t feel like a break-up track. It’s smooth and intricate, and, like always, Mayer’s voice is like velvet. Out of all four songs, this is the one I find myself constantly going back to, and I do feel like it’s nestled itself into my heart a little bit. I love how personal and nostalgic it is, and I can’t wait to listen to it all summer – because it’s definitely a summer track.

I love the second track. ‘Changing’ is about exactly what the title says it’s about. Last year was a lot about change for me, and it’s comforting knowing other people at every stage in their lives are going through the same thing. The song is an ode to evolution and growth, and rather than discussing how hard or uncomfortable it is, it’s really about the beauty that can be found in it. And I like that a lot.

‘Love on the Weekend’ is mellow and comforting. I’m pretty sure I relax into nothingness the instant I hear its opening chords – the thing is like instant happiness. The third track on the EP, it’s an obvious love song, but it plays out like a story. It’s vivid. It’s well-rounded. You can almost feel the sun pouring out of it. And that’s enough to make me adore it.

The Search for Everything finishes off with ‘You’re Gonna Live Forever in Me.’ And it’s tear-jerking, and it sounds like it could be on the soundtrack to a Winnie the Pooh movie. I find it to be the most poetic song on the EP, but it’s cinematic as well. The words he speaks form worlds around you, almost blanketing your being in whimsy. It’s spectacular.

At this point, I’m a little annoyed at myself for ignoring the beauty of John Mayer music for so long. With so many albums under his belt, he’s still captivating audiences and hearts all over the place, and that’s a really special quality that comes across remarkably easily in his music. He’s honest and vulnerable and I think that’s something we could all use a little more of in ourselves. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

Track Review: ‘Make Me Cry’ by FLIIIS

I first introduced you all to FLIIIS a few months ago, and the duo is kicking off the new year by releasing a trio of glossy, glittery pop songs. The collection is polished and varied, and it truly shows off the immense potential of the group. With this release, FLIIIS pulls the listener completely into their world and shows us all what they have to offer – and their offerings are vast.

Title track ‘Make Me Cry’ is impressive. The lyrics fall effortlessly from the mouth of the lead singer and the backing beat envelopes you in a harsh wall of sound. It’s heavy at times, but it also shines like a beacon out of the dark. Its contrasts are what make it interesting and worthwhile, and it’s definitely something you should be listening to. With the nostalgia of eighties new wave and pop but the modern draw of a track by The 1975, it would be hard to stay away from this song.

‘Fuga’ is the bridge between worlds. A field recording of New York City bustles in the foreground while a spoken word poem hums subtly in the back. You can hardly make out all the words, but the times when you can hear something clearly feel like finding a treasure trove that was thought to be long lost. It’s reminiscent of the sixties beat poets of Greenwich Village or the fearless performances of Patti Smith, and it’s spectacular to hear a group going back to something that feels like its pushing boundaries.

‘Daze BLVD.’ closes the whole thing off, and I think it may be the most dazzling track out of the three. To be quite honest, I’m on a bit of a Ryan Gosling movie kick, and to hear a band draw from ‘Drive’ and create something beautiful and interesting out of a haunting, thrilling film is awesome. It would fit in seamlessly with the soundtrack, with the early hours of LA, with the flashy cars and silk jackets and neon lights. It samples scenes from the movie and you can hear conversations and cars peeling quickly away intermingled with slow, heart wrenching melodies and beautiful lyrics. The track feels masterful, and if this is what everything else by FLIIIS is going to sound like, I’d be all for it.

‘Make Me Cry’ is a near-perfect effort from a band that deserves a hell of a lot more recognition. The capsule of songs they’re about to release is nostalgic and yet still modern and current, it’s packed with emotion but it still lifts your spirits. I couldn’t recommend it more, and I can’t wait to hear what’s coming next from FLIIIS.

Track Review: ‘I Don’t’ by Eadie

With a new year comes great new music, and Toronto-based musician Eadie was ahead of the curve with that one. The soulful singer released her newest track, ‘I Don’t,’ just a week before ringing in twenty-seventeen, and it’s the perfect song for the first pages of the next three hundred and sixty-five days.

Eadie’s vocals are clean and effortless, dripping with heart and soul and bearing all sorts of emotion. That complexity works well for her here, complementing the impeccable production beautifully and immediately pulling in the listener. Despite its simplicity and bare bones, the track is far more than interesting while still being the kind of thing you’d willingly listen to a thousand times over. Eadie’s output sounds more like that of a veteran soul singer than something released by a young adult who’s just getting off her feet, and that definitely makes ‘I Don’t’ feel like a remarkable creative effort.

Produced by Canadian music producer TreyR., ‘I Don’t’ is a perfect display of some of Toronto’s most impressive up-and-coming talent. The track is spectacular, but more than that it shows off the incredible things that musicians and creatives in this city are getting up to, and that’s one of my favourite things about being so entrenched in the Toronto music scene. Every layer of the song, from the enticing beat to the incredibly well-written words to the intricate melody is wondrous, and as a result, the track is too.

In all honesty, I think Eadie is definitely one to watch. With vocals reminiscent of Amy Winehouse and a style that seamlessly blends pop and soul, the musician is remarkably easy to love. Her lyrics are relatable and beautifully crafted, her songs are catchy and addictive, and she sounds like the cool girl next door who you’d just about die to be friends with. All of those pieces fit together to form a wonderfully gifted pop star in-the-making, and I am dying to see what she does next.

Album Review – ‘A Strange Sense of Humour’ by Alex McCulloch

Toronto-based singer-songwriter Alex McCulloch has released her debut full-length album, A Strange Sense of Humour, and it’s something spectacular. The record is a well-rounded portrait of a life filled with bits of Canadiana and the modern world, and it’s a captivating entity that I often find hard to come by. It’s polished and well-done, something far better than you’d expect from a self-released debut – Alex sounds more like a musician with decades of experience than a young woman high off the release of her first LP.

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The album starts off with ‘Depression,’ a shiny, catchy tune that instantly alerts the listener, pulling them in and allowing them to warm up to the artist. I adore the contrast of stark honesty and impeccable production, and that thread of similarity runs through the entirety of the record. A song called ‘Empty House’ follows, and at times it’s nearly gritty, pulling at your heart strings and dripping with unfiltered emotion. It’s not often that such depth of feeling is showcased so plainly to the world.

McCulloch weaves worlds with her words, displaying her talents as an artist by painting pictures with her voice. It’s difficult to listen to A Strange Sense of Humour without crafting visions in your own mind, easily inserting yourself into the narrative of the record itself. One of my favourite tracks on the album, ‘Butterfly’, rouses brightly lit images of a relationship clouded by the haze of summer, while ‘A Light Goes Out’ contrasts it with dim bars and long nights.

Other album highlights include ‘Genesis’ and ‘One Time Show’. The former is rhythmic and engaging, a track that moves effortlessly through dynamic melodies and great lyrics. The latter is a slower, harmonica-backed ballad that shows off McCulloch’s vocal range beautifully, highlighting the ease with which she moves through each word. The album closes out with a trio of live tracks and demos, and the addition of the rawer, stripped-back songs makes the record feel more intimate and real. You can tell that McCulloch sings straight from real life, drawing experiences out of her heart and mind and soul and sharing them with her audience like some kind of self-led therapy. At times it can feel like she’s reading pages from your own journal, and although the tales she tells can be remarkably personal, they’re also believably universal.

It’s beyond inspiring to listen to a woman bare her every emotion, laying her thoughts out like puzzle pieces to be linked together by the audience. A Strange Sense of Humour is a phenomenal debut – it’s effortless, it’s complete, and it engages the listener from the very beginning. Already, Alex McCulloch seems to be in a league of spectacular singer-songwriters who wear their hearts on their sleeves in the best way.