Concert Review: Army Girls, Bent by Elephants and The Elwins

bent by elephants live garrison

Army Girls, Bent by Elephants and The Elwins at The Garrison in Toronto, August 4, 2011.

It’s rare that a line-up of local and up-and-coming bands fits so well together for me. As soon as I heard of this show, I was dead set on going. Each of these bands deserve any praise they get right now, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them in the future. So here are my thoughts sorted from over the weekend about the event:

Army Girls took the 10pm slot instead of their scheduled midnight post, for a reason I’m unaware of. Carmen Elle and Andy Smith didn’t let the earlier eve faze them though, as they tore through their new material and let any stops between songs be filled with giggles, jokes and thanks. Carmen’s voice is incredibly strong and gorgeous, and put to her guitar playing is a sweet sucker punch to the gut and heart. Andy Smith’s drumming is relaxed and serves as backbone well; but he had a solo moment towards the end when he let loose a bit, and that was fun to see. I see great things for this new duo in the future, hopefully when they release Close to the Bone next month.

Check out “The Power.” (One of my favourite songs this summer.)

Bent by Elephants has been here a few times this summer already, so if you missed them again, I shake my head in your direction. These Montrealers bring jazz to indie rock in a big, big way and they get better every time I see them. Led by Chesley Walsh’s lovely croon and wide range, there’s a plethora of findings through the horns, guitars, upright bass and drums. It’s unfortunate that Charlotte Cornfield left the group to focus on her solo efforts (which is also pretty good, and she’s taking off pretty quickly), but new drummer Eric Dew brings a new sense of urgency and gusto to the group, especially when the focus is between him and bassist Paul van Dyk. The group played a handful of new songs that left my concert companion and me with goosebumps and jaws hanging. The band will be embarking on a long US/Canada-wide tour soon, and I’m quite excited for everyone else to hear them.

Check out “Saskatchewan Pool.”

The Elwins have been playing around Toronto so much all summer, it’s like there’s another show every week (and even this week there’s been at least three). So while that gives plenty of opportunities for us to see them, that means a lot of times I’d be able to say “I will see them soon.” But I finally saw them, and I can say that it was really fun. They’re all charmers, interacting with the audience via giving us buttons, starting a dance competition and more. They’re youthful, but they have the adult groove to make everyone move. All of these qualities prove for not only an entertaining live show but nods towards their work, excitement for what they’ll do next and oh, the thought that they’d make a terrific wedding band.

Check out “Larry Pastorus.”


Concert Review: Allie Hughes’ Prom Queen Dream at the El Mocambo, May 14

allie hughes

Like you saw in last week’s preview post, Allie Hughes decided to throw a prom themed concert. She isn’t new to the themed bit, she’s performed a wedding at least twice now. But the prom was timely and a step in a new direction.

Allie performed the same sequence of songs as she did for the wedding, although it might have been mixed up a bit, plus there was definitely a great new song or two added in there. I was curious to see how the plot would work with her songs after the wedding seemed to fit so effortlessly into her music. The prom came across just as well. Basically, the gist is that Allie is in love with a man named Chad. Chad does Allie wrong in the thick of the moment. Havoc ensues. Where the wedding had Allie left at the alter, this time around, after she’s crowned Prom Queen, Chad sings a song with her (this time it was Gentleman Reg) and then proceeds to make out with a man in a sailor costume (for what felt like a full minute!). Cue “Oh Chad!” Oh, and by the way, this prom has all been a dream, and thus with a kiss, it has turned into a nightmare.

Allie consistently shows herself off in every way: from her go-get-em approach to the media, her hard work at planning these themed concerts and then her execution of the performance and her music. She’s one of the most unique female musicians coming out of Toronto at this moment, and I hope she’ll reap more benefits for it soon. She’s dedicated to the craft and the creativity besides the normal routine. Watching her on stage is charming. My prom date — a best friend, doing it right this time — who rarely ever goes to music events, was in total awe of Allie. Her theatrical focus, smiles that would peek out throughout the songs and eccentric moments were selling points. Also impressive was that most of the concert goers actually dressed up as if they were going to prom, and even the male attendees were more into it. Some strapping young men and women, you can’t go wrong with that. Allie also surrounded herself with a strong band, such as her back-up singers (two of the ladies from Rouge, as well as in other projects Green Go, Gentleman Reg) and guitarist Thom Gill (who had pictures of Justin Bieber taped all over his guitar).

Sure, themes are not everyone’s cup of tea, even I’ve turned down my roommates requests to have ridiculously themed house parties. But if you can do it well, get that many people into the whole spiel and talking about it days later, you must run with it. And to top it all off, definitely add a cover at the end like Allie does (Britney Spears’ “Toxic”).

For a play by play, read my friend Steve Fischer’s show notes on Torontoist.

Stream four songs and watch tons of videos of Allie performing.

Allie Hughes is asking you to prom this Saturday

There are two types of proms.


(let’s be honest, almost all of us have had this type of prom)


I’m going to re-live prom this Saturday with Queen shoe-in Allie Hughes (her new theme after conquering weddings). Come dance with me?

w/ special guests Gentleman Reg and Dwayne Gretzky
Saturday, May 14 at the El Mocambo
$7 at the door (or less with Prom attire)

CONTEST: Win 2 tickets + prize pack to see The Darcys, Freedom or Death and Wildlife

steamwhistle unsigned april 29

Well, well, well! The kind folks at Steam Whistle have done a major contest on blogs blast, and RoundLetters is happy to participate.

What you can win:

2 tickets to the Steam Whistle Unsigned show with The Darcys, Freedom or Death and Wildlife at the Steam Whistle Brewery in Toronto on April 29, 2011.

PLUS a ‘swag bag’ of refreshment tickets, 2 passes for a brewery tour, a bottle opener, a t-shirt and an iPhone cover. SWAGGG.

How to enter:

Email by April 25, 2011 with the subject line “I want to be Steam Whistle’d”

I will do a random draw that morning and contact the winner via email.

You must be able to pick up your winnings at the Brewery before the 29th.

Concert Review: Rich Aucoin at Kapisanan Cultural Centre, April 16

gobble gobble kapisanan

Everyone’s favourite party thrower and best pal Rich Aucoin rolled into Toronto yet again this past weekend. The man who must never sleep impressively opened for the Born Ruffians at the Opera House, a large venue, and then for Gobble Gobble at the Kapisanan Cultural Centre, a basement across town, in the matter of a hop, skip and plenty of jumps in the span of two hours.

I arrived at the sauna as Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt finished up his antics. As Rich urged me to check out the last song, I noticed that it was just like Rich’s set as a colourful parachute sheet was swept over everyone’s heads who were huddled in the middle of the room around the singer as he belted out chants. That wasn’t the best first impression for me to get of the artist, but I’ll keep my eyes/ears open for the future.

After everyone pooled out onto street level for air and cell phone service, they crowded up to the ‘front’ of the room once again. Layers of clothing were shed to the sides of the room or tucked between ceiling pipes. Lights were manually turned off as Rich’s multi-coloured flashing rings were turned on. The people who attend Rich Aucoin shows are that of the most dedicated dance partiers: they know where to huddle, waiting for Rich to burst in with his microphone. Rich quickly did a little sound check, introduced himself/band (including brother Paul)/work, and launched into his set full of sweat, YouTube videos and confetti. He introduced each song by getting the audience to chant the lyrics, something that really seems to bring people into the experience besides the whole dancing, jumping, getting down on knees and holding up a parachute sheet general party shebang. Rich’s become a beacon of energy, dedication and fun towards a craft and it’s great watching him in action. I’d recommend seeing him *at least* once, but I must tell you, it’s a completely different experience inside the huddle than out.

I stayed for the first few songs of Gobble Gobble’s set. In all honesty, it wasn’t my night to be inside that many sweaty huddles (yeah, you read that right). But what I saw was this fascinating display of crazy concert antics, what with a guy on stilts as he waved a shovel in the air, another guy with only something wrapped around his hips as he weaved around the basement flogging some sort of scented wooden plank and other guys in the front (and thus I couldn’t see as I retreated). They’re big on the dance parties too, but with less audience participation in the music besides dancing and drumming, with more crunchy beats and singing.

This night’s scene was so colourful and interesting, it reminded me of shows you’d read about on blogs of DIY underground dance parties. The ceiling pipes were dripping, the gallery venue was patched together by hanging sheets, the homeless woman outside was singing, everyone was there to light up their dreary Saturday nights and as they exited into the cool air each time, these party-goers were likely thinking about how quick they would be to do it all over again.

Concert Review: Foster the People at Lee’s Palace, April 3

foster the people

It’s not often that a band can sell out a city’s medium-sized venue with only three recorded songs. In this case, Los Angeles’ Foster the People have three really catchy songs and the buzz was strong. The single “Pumped Up Kicks” has been in fairly heavy rotation lately in these parts, which has resulted in periods of days when I can’t get it out of my head. It’s the catchiest song I’ve ever heard about gang violence! So based on that song and hearing the other two — “Houdini” might actually be my new favourite and “Helena Beat” proved to be a worthy encore banger — I was excited. The band had even announced their next Toronto show (June 18 – Mod Club) before they played this one.

I enjoyed the show last night, but I know they’ll do even greater when they come back to the Mod Club. Their audience will know the songs better by then, even more arms will be waving in the air, and the sound will be bigger. They’ll even fit better on that bigger stage.

Last night, lead singer and baby face Mark Foster led the five-piece band with his slightly high-pitched voice and funny dance moves (some quirky shoulder shaking with arms just hanging by his sides). Each member had multiple live duties; everyone but the drummer had different synths to tinker with as well as their guitars, other drums and bass, getting them into this fuzzy pop dream land. The emphasis in Foster the People songs comes from the piano though, which brought me and my concert goer and blogger companion Ricky from The Panic Manual to observe live that the band could be the fresh new Maroon 5 or one of those other OC type bands. Not a bad thing, as these songs are clear concise pop rock pushes and you can’t deny getting your attention caught by the charm. All the other songs they played from their upcoming album — with the set just under an hour — followed that suit. I noticed a lot of songs simply hook onto a lot of  “oos” or “las,” and they all will get your feet tapping.

Like mentioned above, since they do have a lot of buzz on those three songs, the audience didn’t really seem to know what to do with themselves for the rest of it, so the usual energy that should bounce between wasn’t there the whole time. It will be there next time, I see these guys getting pretty big. You might not even have to look out for them, their hooks might just find their way to you first. The show last night was fun and I’m glad I saw them now.

Their album, Torches, will be out May 24.

Listen to the EP here.

Take a Look: Slow Down, Molasses

slow down molasses

Photo by: Chris Graham //

I’ve yet to go to the Canadian prairies. I hear they’re vast, with wide skies, long roads and friendly people. I have some great friends from those parts, who feed me lovely stories. While most say land like that can be boring, I’ve always wondered about going there. Last week I met some other Saskatonians, those touring for Slow Down, Molasses. They have a band name that most could pair with the thought of prairies, but their music is a guide to the interesting routes only they know.

This collective released their second album, Walk into the Sea, on March 15. It has nine lush songs, each full of instruments that flutter in and out or swell up like a gorgeous sunrise. Sometimes with everything together it can sound a bit messy, but there’s beauty in that. The highlighting of horns and strings whether together or separate always shines light on songs heralded by fuzzy guitars.

“Bodies,” the longest song clocking in at almost seven minutes, boasts soft siren-like female back-up vocals and soothing guitars and then half-way through, switches to lullaby-like strings that build up into something more worthy of a story book’s climax. “Late Night Radio” is the group’s indie rock hit, but I find the stream of “Feathers,” “Wake Me Up at the Coast” and “Light” together are the album’s true winners. “Feathers” is a bit more country with nice vocal pairing of one of the group’s singers, Tyson McShane, with Julie Doiron. “Wake Me Up at the Coast” gains great momentum, like you’re running happily in a movie montage, plus you can really feel the fun that went into making this, especially when the guitar changes half-way and kicks things up a notch. “Light” is a gorgeous, female vocal-led (who I believe to be miss Jeans Boots) trek. It makes me think of weaving through a forest at night with a flickering lantern, and it all comes to a point when she sings “the hardest part of being a light is knowing you’ll go dim. So hurry to make a mark for all the places you’ve been.” It’s also worthy to note some of the cool production work that they’ve employed on vocals, especially in this song.

Honestly though, there is so much to absorb with this album. It’s taken me many listens to feel like I even skimmed the surface of what I was hearing. There are a lot of members in the group; though six tour, there are easily a handful more on the album and who play the hometown shows. Even Olenka and the Autumn Lovers have contributions here, and James Bunton of Ohbijou mixed it. Each member’s part builds off someone else’s, and it just keeps revolving. It’s nice to listen to on a sunny walk, but you’ll gain more out of the experience if you can sit down with it.

Seeing them live is something else, where you get the full blast of instrumentation and frienliness. See it for yourself tonight at the Garrison, where they’ll play with Kite Hill and Forest City Lovers. $10, doors at 9.